Wednesday, December 14, 2005


What Enlightenment??! has learned that What Is Enlightenment? magazine editor Craig Hamilton has left his position as Managing Editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, his home at Cohen's Foxhollow Lenox, Massachusetts compound, and his membership in Andrew Cohen's group.

Hamilton recently explained in a letter to other Cohen students that he decided to part ways with Cohen and WIE due to his desire to continue what he is doing on his own, and that the door is open to his return. But we are informed that other Cohen students are rejecting this attempt to put a nice face on the split, and that Cohen and others in the group have been heaping the same kind of abuse, shame, guilt and accusations of betrayal on Hamilton that they usually place on individuals who leave the sect.

What Enlightenment??! wondered if something was amiss between Craig Hamilton and Andrew Cohen when the last two editions of What Is Enlightenment? magazine failed to contain a single article bearing Hamilton's by-line. Then Craig was removed from the WIE website's listing of the magazine's staff without any explanation.

In the past, Hamilton was a staunch (considered by some an angry) critic of contributions to this blog by fellow former WIE editors Hal and Susan Bridle . Now, WE can't help but wonder whether and when he will follow in the footsteps of his WIE editor predecessors Hal and Susan (if he hasn’t been forced, like at least one other former student, to sign a gag order). Will he, like Roberta and so many other former students who have contributed to WE, have a change of heart and face the facts of Andrew Cohen's authoritarian abuse of his students--including Cohen's use of physical assaults, financial and psychological abuse and manipulation, coercion, humiliation, and brainwashing techniques against followers?

Only time will tell whether Craig Hamilton will join the brave ranks of so many other former students who are exposing Cohen's abuses and helping the students he has injured and betrayed recover and find their way. To his credit, he (like most other supporters of Cohen on WE) never denied the truthfulness of the factual descriptions of Cohen's abuses of his students—in fact, although he engaged in a deceptive sort of apologetics for Cohen, he confirmed Cohen’s abuses and serious ethical violations. But it remains to be seen whether Craig will have the fortitude to face the real depth and harmfulness of Cohen's betrayal of his students and his own stated ideals, as will be necessary for him to heal and genuinely move on.

Despite Mr. Hamilton's past hostility toward what we are attempting here, we at What Enlightenment??! wish him the best. We understand where he was coming from, and his perceived need to defend his corrupt guru, because we used to participate in this kind of self-deception ourselves. We know that leaving Cohen is difficult and takes a great deal of courage. And we hope that it does not take him too long to realize--as we and almost every other person who ever studied with Cohen have realized--that, contrary to Cohen's rhetoric, it's life after enslavement to Cohen that presents the real possibility of freedom and the discovery of truth.

We welcome any contributions Mr. Hamilton may wish to make here. But, at this difficult time, we want to say to you, Craig, we know it will likely take some time before you are ready to face the truth and speak out for the benefit of others. Maybe you'll never be ready to do that. That's ok. At this point we only hope you can slowly find your feet again, begin to enjoy your new freedom and heal.

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Friday, December 02, 2005

Why Leaving Andrew Cohen’s Group Can Be So Hard

In addition to the direct difficulties Cohen often creates for close students who wish to leave him, including threats and acts perhaps just this (or the other?) side of false imprisonment (see my previous article Karma Will (Literally) Cost You And Leaving Isn’t Easy), there are psychological reasons why leaving a group like Cohen’s can be very difficult. In many ways, abusive spiritual groups like Andrew Cohen’s replicate the circumstances created by Dr. Philip Zimbardo in his famous Stanford Prison Experiment.

A friend who was a former close Cohen student recently pointed me to Geoffrey Falk’s Stripping the Gurus, a book available on-line, that contains a chapter that makes this point, compares abusive groups and analyzes the reasons members often have a difficult time leaving them despite their abuse. Here is a brief excerpt:
AS WE HAVE SEEN, a common set of alleged problems, even expressed in nearly identical words, tend to occur in our world’s spiritual communities. Indeed, the reported characteristics observed are essentially independent of the specific beliefs espoused by the community, and of the historical time and place in which the spiritual leader and his disciples have existed.
Why would that be?
A large part of the answer surely comes from well-known research done at Stanford University in the early 1970s. There, Dr. Philip Zimbardo—later, president of the American Psychological Association—was able to inadvertently transform a group of “healthy, intelligent, middle-class” college-age individuals into “fearful, depressed, neurotic, suicidal shadows” in less than a week. He did that simply by arbitrarily assigning them (via the flip of a coin) to guard/prisoner roles in a simulated prison environment which they all knew was just an experiment.

Falk describes the Stanford Prison Experiment and discusses the similarity of the psychological coercion created there to the environment in abusive groups. In examining the role of psychological trauma and abuse in disempowering students in abusive spiritual communities, he mentions Andrew Cohen’s group. For example:
To a more chronic degree, though, much of the emotional violence and psychological abuse reportedly perpetrated in the name of “ego-killing discipline,” as a betrayal of trust and widely recognized “spiritual rape,” would also qualify as trauma. Indeed, Tarlo’s (1997) and van der Braak’s (2003) stories of alleged discipline at Cohen’s hands are nothing if not descriptions of repeated emotional trauma/shocks, humiliation and degradation. Further, those occurred in an “intimate or bonded relationship” with the guru-figure, which they could not escape without being “bad disciples” or “failures.” And wherever there is such inescapable trauma, one will find instances of both “learned helplessness” and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Thus, “crazy wisdom” or “Rude Boy” environments in particular cannot help but be breeding grounds for exactly those ailments.

Many former Cohen students find this chapter of Falk’s book eerily familiar. The complete chapter can be found here:

Stripping The Gurus: Chapter XXVII, Gurus and Prisoners.