Friday, April 29, 2005

What Is The Purpose Of Enlightenment?

A Beginning Student's Story

I’ve been reading your blog regularly and would like to thank all those who contributed to its creation, as it has helped me tremendously to understand my own experience with Andrew’s community. I admire your courage, openess and honesty.

Although my experience was rather short lived and I never lived in Foxhollow nor was I involved personally with Andrew, I went to many long and short retreats with him, to simply find out what he has to offer. That was in 2000/01/02. Soon after the last long retreat I decided to move into his “orientation house” inspired by the retreat.

Although at first my great enthusiasm and joy kept me going, I only stayed about a month and moved out, as I could not stand it. Only in my first week staying there I was put into the famous “hot seat” where I did not know most of the people, people who never even talked to me, strangers, have told me all and everything what was wrong with me, with very angry outbursts.

I had to listen to all that and was not allowed to speak nor to question their opinions, where did they got them from? My feeling was so unreal, as if I was a part of a theatre play, where the script was pre-written, well in advance, nothing to do with me. Only later I understood that I witnessed the “scoring points” meeting. It happened every week and in between I was regularly verbally abused by senior female student member and called names, I rather do not repeat. It continued and it was enough for me to say NO MORE and leave. I could not tolerate abuse in any form. There were other newcomers who also left at the same time with the same experiences of disappointment, confusion, hurt and abuse.

We just could not understand what is wrong with the students, where was their “unbearable lightness of being”? their joy, their enthusiasm, their happiness ?
Most walked around like zombies, running on gallons of coffee a day just to keep going.

I often thought that by some terrible mistake I joined some fanatics following a military dictator and not a spiritual teacher. The atmosphere of constant spying on one another and being very careful what one says to others, reminded me very much of the Communist regime, and the emphases on the collective good and the total ignorance of the individual.

Perhaps my own little experience is really trivial and not important and yet even after such a short time of connection with the students and Andrew, I left very confused, sick and totally bewildered.

It has taken me a long time to make any sense of it and with the help of your blog I understood why all this was happening. I often compared his community to an army camp where most people slept only a few hours a night, then went to work and then worked at the centre or had their 10 meetings a day together.

I cannot claim that I really got to know Andrew’s students from anywhere else, but this one centre. Nor I have had any experiences with Andrew, apart from the retreats, as I was only the beginner student. I found his retreats relatively helpful to me, as he is very good and entertaining when it comes to the EGO, and he makes people understand why it is important to see it.

Yet I find his teaching lacking when it comes to some greater picture, apart from the ego-games. It seems to me such a waste of life to spend so much time focusing on the ego and nothing else.

The questions I asked myself during my stay in the community were: Do I want to be like those people, live this kind of life? “The proof is in the pudding”…I really did not like the taste!

The value of any Dharma Teaching is in the students living that teaching, yet what I saw and experienced was most of the time truly repulsive, so totally different then the atmosphere of the retreats and the promise afterwards of this “Heaven on Earth” to follow, if one commits oneself and joins the community. In my very short experience it was “Hell on Earth.” My answer was NO, I also found most of the senior students really dull and suppressed, who would only repeat over and over more or less the same mantras: “Isn’t Andrew great?” “Wasn’t it a great retreat?”, “Isn’t he wonderful?”, etc.etc.

But what really surprised me was the atmosphere of fear and luck of authentic, free self-expressions, lack of any original individual thoughts about any subject whatsoever. Most students would just use more or less the same kind of expressions about anything, as if some kind of scripts were handed to them earlier, so they did not have to use their own brains. And the most infuriating was the expression” I disagree” used by everyone in situations where it was totally inappropriate and illogical. Like after someone has expressed their own personal feelings and experience on a subject, someone would say “I disagree”, nothing else, no explanation, nor argument, nothing.

Probably I do not know any of you, ex-students, yet you all sound like very intelligent, bright, sincere individuals and I wish I met people like you in his community…and yet I wonder if you would have been the same open, honest, courageous beings you are now? As it seems that theoretically this kind of qualities were asked for from his students by Andrew but in practice they were discouraged very harshly.

Anyway, the last question I’m still asking myself is not What is Enlightenment? But WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ENLIGHTENMENT? I know that historically the purpose of Enlightment has been to alleviate human suffering. When one looks around this world the greatest suffering here is still poverty, hunger, disease, death and no hope for better life. Apart from the very small minority of the Western Developed World, the rest 70 % of the population suffers terribly.

I was wondering what is the purpose of that “Freedom for the sake of all” Andrew promises to his students and how it relates to the rest of the suffering world? I hope his organisation does support charities and not just his lavish lifestyle.

The “suffering” in the developed western countries is mostly on emotional/mental level, where in the rest 70% of the population it is basically about the survival on the physical level. And then there is the common suffering of old age, disease and unknown death. .

Is spending years masturbating with one’s ego individually and collectively, as in Andrew’s teaching, being cruel and abusive to his committed students, has anything to do with “alleviating suffering” in this world? I wonder. I know this is a huge topic and I’ll not going into it, yet I wonder if anybody else ever thought about it ?

WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ENLIGHTENMENT?

My very best wishes to you all,
AD.

PS. writing in english is not my best ability, as it is not my first language, so sorry for the lack of any sofistication in my expression.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Durwin Foster said...

Thank you for your courage in sharing your experience. I hope you are finding your way forward in a way that is healthy for you.
I think it is important that the public know what kinds of practices are going on in Andrew Cohen's community.

Friday, 29 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always wondered when Andrew talked about 'for the sake of the whole', he did nothing about alleviating the suffering of the world by contributing to the poverty of the world. He never expanded beyond his small community of adherents who he was abusing.

Friday, 29 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very true the gap between rhetoric and action is very curious. Life inside sounds so horrible is it really like that ? or are you folk (naturally) just focussing on the negative ?. Whats day to day life like ?

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello again,

To answer your question ”was life inside really so horrible”? “what was day-to-day life there”?
I must say that my experience was very limited and short lived, so I cannot really give you the whole picture, nor can I speak for others for whom the experience was perhaps positive.
In the few weeks I was there I found myself very alone, with none to talk to apart from the other beginners, and apart from the evening meditation gathering together, and the “hot sits” sessions, I almost never saw anyone.

I had the feeling that there were many unwritten rules about being there, that were expected of me to know and follow and yet none explicitly explained them to me.
80% of my experience was very disappointing and negative. My enthusiasm, joyful anticipation and openness changed into deep depression, anxiety, moods swings & lethargy.
This is not something I often experienced in life before.

I felt that I was treated like a villain or a criminal; I started to feel guilt, not knowing its source, as inside I felt innocent. Perhaps I was picking it up from the group consciousness.
I suppose I was one of those who just “did not get it” whatever that is and the expectations of me were that I supposed to be already perfect and enlightened, yet I was only begging to inquire and practice the teaching.

The everyday life of the serious students, looking from the outside and only from the very practical level, seemed to me very harsh and hard.
They shared houses where often there would be 3-5 people sleeping in one room. The people in my house had to get up at 5am and were back home well after midnight. They were constantly engaged with meetings and more meetings at the Centre, apart from their full time work and long hours of meditation and chanting.
They did not have any time for any outside life or a family and friends not involved with Andrew, but I suppose that was part of the package they were getting, one of those “unwritten rules” one finds out much later about.

It all does not sounds so sinister or negative, I suppose, it’s just an alternative lifestyle, and some people might even like it.
As it is well known phenomena that if one chooses to join any highly structured and orginised spiritual group or community, slowly and very naturally one’s own ego dissolves into the group ego, esp. if this is encouraged.
One no longer needs to make any individual thinking or decisions for one’s own life, it is already organized for him or her by the structure and the context of the group, one only needs to submit to it and follow.

That brings the sense of “relief” and the feeling of relative “freedom” from one’s owns ego, and yet all it had happened is that individual ego got dissolved into collective ego and one may even kid oneself that he/she is already free.
It is a very pleasurable experience for most, as it relives them from responsibilities and the pressure of everyday decisions and choices; it actually frees a lot of energy otherwise engaged in thinking about one’s life.

So it is well understood that it could be very difficult for many to leave this kind of limited sense of freedom and energy it creates, despite the harshness of the living environment and the abuses one gets on the way.
This seems to be the main reason young men join the army or a similar highly structured living environment, as it leaves one no time to think about anything else and in the worse scenario leads to the person's consciousness becoming more and more like an automated machine capable only of following orders, as thinking for oneself is no longer required and highly discouraged.
Even in the famous Andrew’s new Enlightened Discussions groups the discussion is never free, as there are limited by a specific topic, not mentioning the constant pressure to “say the right thing” rather then what one really thinks.
Again my question is; what this kind of lifestyle has acctually anything to do with the Purpose of Enlightenment ?

AD

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AD asked "what this kind of lifestyle has actually anything to do with the Purpose of Enlightenment?"

You were being honed toward acceptable standards as a formal student, where you could make an irrevokable commitment to lifelong service in Andrew's evangelical mission. The only way to revoke that commitment, once made, is (was?) stealing away in the night as many have described in this blog.

I'm not quite clear whether you were just a lay student in the Orientation House, or whether you had become a serious student. For the unitiated, the student ranks inward toward Andrew are lay -> serious -> formal -> committed -> senior -> Andrew, unless they've changed lately. There aren't many committed/senior students.

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AD asked: "what this kind of lifestyle has actually anything to do with the Purpose of enlightenment"

AD. Absolutely nothing. All one ends up with is slavery being part of a bee hive and serving a leader as a drone worker and slave. You were geared to become an automan, robot, a willy nilly nothing who ends up serving the leader unquestionable. The leader appoints himself as the"One" and everyone else is just a tool in furthering his own goal. It is extremely dangerous to become part of any group mind. What if this mind and the leader are insane....you become part of this insanity. and are sucked into it's gravity center. To accomplish this your own will has to be broken and that is why you describe these attrocious tactics used on you and others.

To me enlightenment means" I am that I am", which amounts to freedom in my thinking, feelings and actions and all of its consequences. It holds myself responsible and not a group mind. To be enlightened means to gain more knowledge about God, His Light and His love for others and myself and to be in service to Him with my fellow human beings, as Spirit's Light is my guide.

Thank you for your courage to come and post with us. How is your life now?.

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi,
I was just a begginer, lay student.
AD

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I was just a beginner, lay student."

Congratulations for not buying into Andrew's self-improvement plan or, should I say, spiritual enslavement plan.

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous One said...

Thank you for your "enlightening" post. Your english is fine and you express very clearly your view of your experience in Orientation House. As far as what this lifestyle has to do with Enlightenment, it has nothing to do with it.
How could "Enlightenment" be dependant on any kind of restricted lifestyle? Surely Enlightenment, Freedom, or any other word we choose to point to that which is beyond words, could never be "imposed" or be realized by pressure to "fit in". When all concepts, ideas, and strategies fail and thought collapses, one experiences THAT which can never be contained in form. Until this shift happens mental projections cover up and distract awareness of Consciousness.
What is going on "For the sake of the Whole" in Andrew's community has no relevance to the Whole. Where are the good works? What is the purpose of all this activity the students are committing themselves to? Can a small group of individuals giving themselves totally to an ideal, in isolation from the rest of the world actually change the Whole? The students believe that if they commit 100% to Andrew and follow his guidance unquestioningly they will in some mysterious way affect an increase in Consciousness for The Whole. Even if this were true, surely the first result would have to be a community of highly evolved beings living in peace together. The abuses described in this blog make it clear that this is not the case. Expand the reality of what is happening in his community outward to cover the world and what would we have? A world controlled by Andrew where mental, emotional and physical ego assaults would be the order of the day. A sad prospect.
Consciousness is arising and is not dependant on any particular form. Forms appear for a time and then pass away. Consciousness Is Eternal Space and needs no help from form to bring it into Being. Enlightenment is Realization of this Fact, which changes everything.

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

********************
Anyway, the last question I’m still asking myself is not What is Enlightenment? But WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF ENLIGHTENMENT? I know that historically the purpose of Enlightment has been to alleviate human suffering.
********************

We get born into this world not knowing what our job is, so we can decide for ourselves. So we can choose to make it our job to help others.

"Enlightenment" is a teaching word, & this word/idea is one tool that can be used to help others. But if someone hasn't chosen the direction of helping others, "enlightenment" is just another word/idea.

Saturday, 30 April, 2005  
Blogger the Editors said...

Note--A few comments (along with responses to them) have been removed that were antagonistic to the purpose of this blog.

Sunday, 01 May, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The purpose of enlightenment:

The aim and purpose of man is to co-operate with the Divine and to be it's instrument in matter. To enlighten....means Light (knowledge) doing God's Will. When all of humanity realizes that The Divine God is within us, and that our purpose in life is to serve Him, we can then truly love our neighbors as ourselves. To do so, we must not surrender our minds to another human being and become enslaved to their mind-set, but for us to be truly centered in God within ourselves. The realization of the Supreme Identity is the goal. It is through man that the great plan of the Divine can be realized and His love be finished.

We as co-workers of God can by our acts of love and service help lift humanity a little higher, or by selfish self-centered acts bring all of humanity toward a lower level. This path has been made easier for us by all the Holy man and women that have walked before us.

We are all connected in this fabric of life within the tapestry of God's plan. In awe and wonder we shall gaze upon the completed work and see how each and everyone of us mattered like threads of gold, silver, red, green, blue, etc. all connected and interwoven. God's Will be done.

Sunday, 01 May, 2005  
Blogger the Editors said...

NEW COMMENT POLICY

We have been forced to institute a new comment policy. In order to avoid further abuse or harassment of those who are courageous enough to post their stories on this blog, all comments from this point forward will be screened by the blog administrators. They should be submitted by email to the blog administrators at WHAT Enlightenment??! Thank you for your cooperation, and we regret any inconvenience this may cause. We do hope that you will continue to submit your views and your accounts of your experiences with Andrew Cohen. They are extremely valuable to both past and potential future students, and are greatly appreciated.

Sunday, 01 May, 2005  
Anonymous tricia said...

YOUR EXPERIENCE SOUNDED MORE LIKE BOOT CAMP THAN A RETREAT FOR SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTMENT- NEVERTHELESS -ILLUMINATION OR RAPTURE IS TO EXPERIENCE THE JOY OF LIFE IN EVERYDAY MOMENTS- INNER RAPTURE-AS FOR THE EGO-EGO IN PART IS HEALTHY- WHEN YOU BUILD A HOUSE TO YOUR THROW OUT THE FIRST THREE FLOORS? SEX POWER SURVIVIAL WILL ALWAYS BE THE FIRST LAWS OF LIFE- ONCE THAT IS SETTLED- YOU CAN START BUILDING A LARGER HOUSE!!!!!!!!!TRICIA

Wednesday, 01 June, 2005  

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