Thursday, February 17, 2005

In The Hope Of A Shared Inquiry Toward Deeper Truth

Although I have never been involved in Andrew Cohen's community, I have read with interest the dialogue currently appearing on this blog. The considerations raised are essential and challenging issues for anyone attempting to follow a spiritual path. What is the optimal relationship between student and teacher? How do we confront and penetrate the egoic resistance to obedience and surrender, while maintaining the very inner authority and responsibility that enable us to become truly useful, vibrant servants of the divine rather than thoughtless automatons? Without a guide in unknown territory, we almost inevitably become lost--so a teacher is necessary to real spiritual progress; yet in an age of epidemic distortion of ancient teachings, how do we discriminate between the false and the real, in professed teachers as well as in ourselves?

What I find particularly striking in reading the current dialogue, is the contrast it provides between examples of real self-observation with heartfelt inquiry, and examples of projection, diatribe, and attack. Unfortunately for those who are defending Andrew Cohen, it is the students who have left this teacher who provide examples of the penetrating practice of self-observation, which involves taking full responsibility for one's actions. Susan, Hal, and other former students engage in a respectful inquiry into the complexity of the human being, their teacher, and their own actions. Those who intend to defend Andrew ironically demonstrate precisely the weaknesses of which he and his community are accused. Craig's letters in particular are replete with simplistic, crude, and manipulative attacks and blame. They evidence emotional manipulation with a strong element of cruelty; disrespect and psychological invasiveness; personal attack and vindictiveness; refusal of responsibility; and cloying defensiveness of the teacher. From Craig's letters even more than from the measured considerations from former students, the relation to Andrew appears as that of abused child to adored yet abusive father, with both child and parent desperate to maintain the illusion of the parent's perfection, even godliness, that will make all the hurt alright.

Over many years as a spiritual practitioner, I have found that one of the ways to evaluate the effectiveness and integrity of a spiritual teacher is to observe his or her students. The students, however imperfectly they emulate their teacher, nevertheless reliably express the principles at the source of their school. A spiritual school in which the teacher lives as a servant of the divine, will produce students who also express this essential humility and selflessness. (Again, this expression is (in my view) inevitably imperfect, because this is the human condition, and both student and teacher have willingly made the sacrifice to enter this condition. I have come to think that the expectation and demand for perfection, in teacher or students, is one of the biggest doorways into self-deceit and hypocrisy. Human beings rarely if ever live up to this demand, and it is more healthy to see the flawed yet committed human being in all his or her faults and glories.) A teacher who, despite his inspiring rhetoric, actually lives from a basis of self-centeredness, manipulativeness, and competition for power, will eventually animate a community of students who express these same negations of true spiritual principles.

Susan, Hal, and Stas speak with heartbreak, respect, and even gratitude, toward their former teacher. At the same time they express with clarity the weaknesses, the fault lines, they discovered in Andrew and his community. Their heartfelt wish for the good of their former teacher and his students is palpable even in the midst of an anger that could be called righteously indignant.

The defenses of Andrew, on the other hand, are permeated with "cheap shots," while accusing others of such vulgarity. Craig attacks, belittles, and attempts to degrade those who have shared their observations of Andrew. His childishness is truly pitiful. To ask condescendingly of a former editor of the magazine, "Remember the magazine?" does not degrade the editor, as was the obvious intention, but it portrays Craig himself as totally out of relationship and even disconnected from reality. In what isolated, walled, impenetrable castle can he be living? The attempt to manipulate others by feeding self-doubt and to twist their emotions by auguring low self-esteem--this is an ugly tactic which corrupts and poisons his letters. It is not a savory invitation to his teacher and his community, for any outsider reading his communications. To dishonor others is not an effective way to honor his teacher.

I heard Andrew speak a number of times in the early years of his teaching. I was impressed by the pristine brilliance of his communication of the dharma, and I found his students at that time to be inspiring and challenging practitioners, deeply committed to inquiry and to living the principles they investigated. Yet even at that time, from my admittedly lowly position as a novice spiritual student, I felt uneasy hearing the vehemence with which he attacked a number of other spiritual teachers for their failure to live up to his rigidly pure standards. In my experience the people who attack with that kind of harshness, even viciousness, are those who have not honestly observed their own human failings and the endemic, painful imperfection of the human condition. Who was the far-right Christian television evangelist who lambasted others for their sins and sexual impurities, until he himself was caught with a prostitute in his hotel room (saving her from her sins, no doubt!)? Someone like Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, is too busy serving as a truly ennobling example to his people, to waste time with pillorying others.

The spiritual teachers I most respect are those who freely and intimately admit their own failings, as examples to their students of real self-observation and of confrontation with the forces that seek to subvert even the highest realizations. The tendency for Andrew to present himself as beyond reproach, and his community as advancing into realms never before touched by human beings, has over the years seemed to me a marked red flag. Yet I hoped that his obvious commitment to the spiritual path would bring its own natural self-correction and purification. Our troubled world desperately needs wise guidance, and it seemed that Andrew had the potential to provide guidance of a high calibre. The Ocmulgee Native Americans had a saying, "All things are connected." The interplay of real spiritual schools and committed practitioners provides a matrix of support for all of us that is unparalleled, unique, its flavor affected by each element even while the different schools remain distinct and in some ways vastly different.

Unfortunately based on the evidence of his own conversations reprinted in his magazine, as well as the energy in the letters of his apologists, it appears that Andrew's unexamined shadow has been progressively devouring that in himself and his teaching which was originally clear and bright. The tendency to megalomania has grown, and the openness to any corrective input from others has correspondingly shrunk. I see no evidence of real self-inquiry and deep dialogue between Andrew and any other teacher. I see only a kind of self-serving publication of those who offer him no real challenge, those whom he can control, manipulate, or use to his supposed advantage.

Watching the devolution of Andrew's teaching from pristine dharma to a psychologically and physically violent and abusive perversion of spiritual life, I see the central missing element as the lack of a lineage which holds and guides the individual teacher. Andrew is not the first or the last initially inspiring teacher to lead his students into this kind of cul-de-sac. Without the matrix of spiritual tradition, without the weight and wisdom of a lineage which guides and informs the individual teacher, it is perhaps almost too much to expect of the fallible human being, to hold steady against the immense forces of darkness which seek to distort and use the power of the light.

The poverty of spirit evidenced in Craig's letter, which undoubtedly was closely supervised and approved by his teacher, leaves little hope that Andrew will listen to the many voices which are trying to offer him help. There is still respect being offered to the man who was once visible; there is still obviously some faint hope among many people that Andrew might listen to these voices. It is Andrew himself who is choosing to act as less than he could be, notably in his total refusal even to recognize this respect and deep care that is still given to him. In a way his value now becomes that of a sacrificial example of one of the biggest traps on the spiritual path--an aspect of what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called spiritual materialism; what the ancients called hubris: the pride of the human who thinks himself God.

What I find most ironic, painful, and even heartbreaking, is the fact that in spite of the demeaning and hurtful tone that pervades Craig's representation of Andrew's community, it is clear that Craig, Andrew, and their community as a whole consciously wish only the best for all beings. The problem is not the conscious intention, but the unconscious motivations, elements of what Carl Jung called "the shadow," which powerfully drive us in directions that can cause great harm while we justify and disguise them with our conscious sincerity. G.I. Gurdjieff said that even those who commit the greatest evil are doing what they truly believe is for the good. To see one's teacher fall off the razor's edge of the spiritual path is one of the deepest heartbreaks a student can experience. To be that teacher, whenever remorse finally breaks through, must be a heartbreak almost beyond bearing. The defense against feeling such a depth of sorrow and responsibility is deeply ingrained in all of us.

in the hope that this letter may contribute to a shared inquiry toward a deeper truth…

--Anonymous (received by e-mail)

7 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bet Craig Hamilton got into some serious trouble with Andrew for what he exposed via his comments on this blog. His comments do more to reveal the serious mental conditioning going on in the community than all the other contributions made by ex-students on this blog.

Friday, 18 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

don't for a moment think that Andrew didn't see every word of Craig's (and Carter's) letter before it was posted, and likely added a few lines himself. As a former student, we know Andrew micro-manages everything including his student's public responses to such allegations as made on this blog.

Saturday, 19 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As another former, longtime and very involved student of Andrew Cohen, I can also say from much personal experience that Cohen definitely vetted each and every word expressed by Craig and Carter. He would never have allowed any public expressions relating to him or his publications to be made without his full involvement.
The unfortunate picture is that the ugliness of their letters is none other than Cohen himself.

Monday, 21 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I first met Mr. Cohen back in the early 1990’s. He was well-groomed on all levels. He was handsome, charming, powerful, clear and impeccably presentable on all levels. His brightness and the pristine nature of his teachings were visible and tangible. And this brightness was reflected in the eyes and demeanor of his students.

No more, no more.

These entries from Craig Hamilton seem unnecessarily defensive and childishly immature. And as I read the reactive statements and zealous rebuttals, I was reminded of a very famous Zen story of the two monks.

Briefly, (and this is my own rendition) there were two monks traveling on the road together and they came upon a prostitute in distress overlooking a river. She was in dire need of crossing and was afraid. The one monk decided although strictly against his vow of ever touching a woman that the service of helping her across the river was a higher practice. He offered to carry her and very quickly he was wading across the waist-high water with her on his shoulders. His fellow monk and traveling companion followed along behind incredulous. The first monk placed the woman down safely on the other side. And the two continued to walk on. The second monk fumed with indignation, judgementalism and false righteousness until he felt as if he would explode. The second monk broke the silence and admonished the first monk for breaking his vows. The first monk calmly pronounced:
“I put her down over an hour ago, along by the river...and You are still carrying her!”

Some of the people who have left Andrew seem to be clearly processing what happened and honestly working through the ‘blame game/guilt game’ that most students must confront in order to practice real spiritual work. And I was moved by their desire and hard efforts to put it down by the side of the road, take what was obviously extremely useful in their time with Mr. Cohen and go into their lives more honestly and with greater maturity.

So, in contrast, Craig’s responses seem petty and lacking true insight...hence not willing to really let them go. I’ve lived in spiritual communities, I know the choice one can make inside to really let people leave, of their own free will and wish them well, in some cases missing their participation deeply. It’s not unlike a divorce. It can be messy, full of hooks, resentments and anger that can fester for years. Or one can grieve over the missed opportunities, the mistakes of the other and more importantly the mistakes one has made with ruthless self-honesty and thus awaken the transforming power of remorse. Then, no matter how painful, the parting can be with some grace and dignity. It takes tremendous strength of maturity to truly let go. It is an awesome thing to witness. The drive to belittle and criticize those who choose to leave as always being a function of ‘them just not getting it’ or ‘letting their ego get the best of them’ also presumes with it that those that stay in the close proximity of their spiritual group in which they study with a teacher or a particular path, means that ego is not getting the best of one. I have observed this dynamic in myself to be a very, very dangerous assumption.

I used to read the magazine, “What is Enlightenment?” cover to cover. Mr. Cohen appears to be overly impressed with brilliant intelligence and genius and seems to want to equate that with an enlightened context. In fact, the word ‘enlightenment’ seems to have become an abomination in itself. In the great teachings of Mr. G. I. Gurdjieff, he describes the imbalances that can occur when there are deep mystical experiences that are not grounded in creating ‘a unified man’ as in the proper higher functioning of all three centers. That the intellectual center is functioning in the case of Mr. Cohen seems evident. Yet in regards to what may be lurking in the others?

If any of this letter is of use to anyone, it is solely due to the blessings of my teacher and the grace of the lineage. And if it reflects immaturity and lack of understanding then the responsibility is solely mine.

Tuesday, 22 February, 2005  
Blogger Daeneon said...

The bottom line to all this, is Andrew did have an awaking, but I think it was of the intellect, not the heart. There has to be a total awaking or trouble starts.
I learned a lot from Andrew, and will always be grateful. I left the community because you can't expect anything to happen just from the intellect,it has to happen in both intellect and heart....

Saturday, 26 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I once heard Andrew speak about the heart. He said, "In the heart of which I am speaking, the universe is a speck of dust." Pretty big heart!

Tuesday, 01 March, 2005  
Blogger Jeff Feldman said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Sunday, 13 March, 2005  

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