Thursday, February 02, 2006

A Travesty of “Enlightenment”—Wendyl’s Story

A Response to The Story of Caroline Franklyn

By Wendyl

[Wendyl was a formal student in Andrew Cohen’s community. In her words, “I was so blown apart by Mario’s story about Caroline, these words just flowed from me.” She sent this article by e-mail.]

I lived as a formal student in the US community in California and Foxhollow from 1994 to 1998. My heart ached in reading Mario’s story of what happened to Caroline, whom I knew only from a couple of retreats. Mario’s sensitive and painful rendering also opened deeply an old wound in me. I feel I have to write about my own experience to let potential devotees know that these stories you read about on this blog are not rare, isolated cases. Mario, like Susan, Stas, Hal and others, shows what it is really like to be in the middle to upper echelons of the hierarchy around Cohen and what can happen to your spirit. There was something in the story of Caroline, like others have already said, that disturbed me in a way nothing before on this blog has done, like a dentist drilling and drilling an extremely sensitive tooth and finally hitting a nerve…..maybe because of the cruel tragedy around Caroline’s death. If one multiplies this aggression and bullying of a spirit by a thousand or more, one will get an idea of what goes on behind the scenes of the bright, cheery, interested faces presented to newcomers at the centers, on the Cohen website and behind the scenes of Cohen’s self-aggrandizing, self-promoting marketing vehicle called What is Enlightenment? Magazine.

I was in the 1998 India retreat that Mario mentioned “was the first indication for what was to come for Caroline” when Cohen unleashed his “vitriolic attack on formal women students.” When he “accused [us] of being insufficiently devoted to him, manipulative, untrustworthy and therefore in need of deep and complete inner change”. We were also subhuman, lesser than men – in fact we had to be subservient to the men, walk behind them, and not talk to them. The 1998 retreat in Rishikesh was a travesty. Cohen—a self-proclaimed savior of women, in fact according to him the ONLY spiritual teacher in the history of humankind that ever cared about the enlightenment of women—was relentless with his attacks and aggression. We, 40 or 50 formal women who were cramped into about a 150 sq. foot cinderblock cell of an ashram room maybe 50 meters from the holy Ganges, were like deer caught in the headlights, competing for hasty solutions to the attacks, looking for the key to overcome or transcend or see through our subhumaness. Day after day we had fresh bullying from Cohen himself or via the “senior” students—the same Steve Brett who in Cohen’s honor broke Caroline; and we also had Debbie, Michelle, and Chris Parish among others—all sent by Cohen to batter and break us, to make us so terrified and crazy we would become “free.” It was disgusting and pathetic and had no positive results. When has this kind of aggression ever had results except in torture tactics to gain information?

Why did I stay? I can say that my already fragile spirit for Cohen and what he had to offer broke completely at that retreat. I thought the whole thing was so spiritually deadly and appalling, but I didn’t know what to do about it. I just went mute. In those days with Cohen in India and afterwards I witnessed and participated in such collective hallucinations induced by him and his puppets—harsh words—terror—then possible solution—then euphoria—all of it washing over us like a drug stupor. We were all insane. When you are so self-preoccupied for so long and so intensely with your womanly “badness” your vision becomes so inverted and leaden. No light shines in you and you become numb and blind. Some, like the senior students and those formal students who rose to the top, got good at parroting Cohen’s techniques; others didn’t have the stomach for it.

At the end of that retreat (and in fact this retreat was the apex of an entire year or two of bullying the women with their badness), Cohen went with a group of women to meet Vimala Thakar, who is the spiritual heir to J. Krishnamurti, in Mt Abu in Rajasthan. She is a very beautiful, generous and wise soul who had been featured in an interview in WIE magazine at the beginning of Cohen’s preoccupation with “women’s conditioning.” The women were so self-conscious and flattened after a year or two of intense self-preoccupation with how “bad” women are, and this travesty of a “retreat,” they could barely speak with Vimala. It was just one year earlier, before the women became such “pariahs” in the community, that I had gone with two other “formal” women to meet Vimala and had two beautiful, open, simple and profound meetings with her. In Cohen’s “meeting” everything centered on what was “wrong” with women, all the women being under Cohen’s watchful eye. And of course after this pathetic encounter the women were harshly criticized. I say, what do you expect?

We “formal” women paid for our “sins” of being less than human by each being required to pay $750 to Cohen for a Meditation Hall, a hardship for many, and just another insane, desperate idea put forth by one of the women at the end of the retreat and jumped upon in the euphoric promise of possible solution to future attacks. Desperate and insane—just like the woman who suggested that all the women prostrate in a freezing lake in Foxhollow! There were scores and scores of insane ideas coming out of our leaden, inverted, compressed spirits…….

“You can die a miserable old woman,” like Steve Brett (almost certainly at Cohen’s behest) said to Caroline, or you can prostrate for hours each morning to Cohen’s picture because you are so miserably inhuman. I ask: WHO is inhuman? As Mario stated, we women were “in for it.” After this retreat we continued endless hours of women’s meetings which were unbearable, as they were poisonous forums for bullying, aggression and self fixation. Any truly transcendent moments—and there were some transcendent moments—were quickly battered and beaten out of recognition—too positive and uplifting (and therefore unreal) in a time of preoccupation with darkness and negativity. We were always paying for our “sins” by “contributing” money to buy Cohen expensive clothes, floral bouquets, whatever, staying up all night writing flowery and sickening apologies to Cohen and his chief puppets for one “transgression” after another, for how awful, inhuman we women were and how grateful we were for their “wisdom.” And we were insane and became more and more insane with this treatment. I am not saying that we women did not have deep conditioning to explore. But Cohen’s methodology is sadistic and had deeply sickened our spirits. WHO, I ask, is insane?

Why did I stay? Why did I choose this? Due to community demands, I had by that time (after 4 years in the community and 6 months before I left) cut myself off from friends, family, work possibilities; I was broke, and I doubted myself profoundly and was in a mild stupor most of the time from lack of sleep. It was only a matter of time before I was demoted as my heart had long since fled. Like Caroline I was given cruel and nasty messages from Cohen. And I too was accused by other women of things I never did. I was lucky because when I was demoted I did not have the $2000 required by Cohen to buy my way back into the “formal” students.

When you are demoted it becomes a free-for-all. Every Mary, Debbie and Cathy watches you like hawks and vultures; they shun you but also take every opportunity to peck at you, to give you their “opinion” about your behavior, also known as “feedback”. What a horror show in the name of Truth and Freedom. What a dishonor to the words in Enlightenment is a Secret that resonated deep in my heart and experience and made my spirit soar in the early 1990’s when I first read them. I was so dispirited in my last months that when I finally escaped in late 1998 I was in a state of deep traumatic stress for months afterwards. I would wake up every night in terror, with panic attacks and my thoughts were often on suicide. When I left Foxhollow to be “in hell” (according to Cohen) with my family, with the “them” not the “us.” I was humbled by how beautiful and generous my family was/is, how gracious and kind.

What makes one student resilient in spite of the severe beating of the spirit “for its own good”? And another student succumb to thoughts of suicide? I have asked myself this many times. Maybe it cannot be answered. My heart aches at the tragic situation with Caroline and her family. We can euphemistically call Cohen’s behavior “lack of skillfulness” or “crazy wisdom” or just simply and transparently call it sadism and potentially deadly terror tactics, in some arenas called “torture.” A woman who had been in the US community wrote in response to Mario’s story “I have no doubt that Andrew had no intention to cause this kind of harm to Caroline.” I don’t believe this. His intention is to break people.

So this time with Cohen was “crazed deviation” (thank you, MeroSanthi) but it showed me there had to be something in me that resonated with Cohen’s “them and us” mentality, the “cutting edge” spiritual superiority, and narcissism. And these “concepts” I have left behind in the years since leaving Foxhollow. There is nothing unusual about my experience. The whole thing is so much bigger than Cohen and many have written about this whole phenomenon. When I left, I read everything I could find which explored this kind of group/guru/authority phenomenon. Why do many of us choose these situations, whether in ashrams or corporations or any other group situation? There are a number of books out there which explain cult behavior, many of them already mentioned on this blog. There are psychologists, like Robert J. Lifton who delve deeply into Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and the psychology of traumatized peoples. Other books like Prophetic Charisma, The Guru Papers, Stripping the Gurus and many more explore the actual phenomenon of charismatic figures, authoritarianism etc. I am certain from my own recent experiences that the authoritarian/dominating paradigm is an anachronism. Many of us are finding other ways to experience and express our unity and oneness with our brothers and sisters.

When I look at the beautiful sanity and simplicity of my life now I can hardly believe how insane and sick I became in the Cohen community. Living for the last 5 years in Bali, I have moved out of my head and into my heart. After the terrorist bombings here in October 2002, I started some sustainable economic development projects—sewing and agriculture—in a poor mountain village with my close Balinese woman friend, Jero, who is from the village and is a traditional healer and Hindu priest. I fell in love with an amazing group of young people who are a wellspring of positivity, and moved by this love found that I wanted to help them find ways to support themselves, so they could help their families—bring some money in to pay for health care, schooling and food. They have been a force of inspiration and change for their whole village. What an amazing and rich adventure. Every day opportunities and challenges teach me and move me. I meet and work with many who are simple, humble forces of goodness, kindness, generosity and deep wisdom from this little village and from many countries.

Thank you very much, Hal, for this forum. Susan, Stas, Mario, Roberta, Richard, Smadar and all my “anonymous” friends……….

My love to you all.



Blogger MeroSathi said...

Another response to the story of Caroline – speaking out when you know you have to - not an isolated incident

Looking aside for a moment from the outrage that is the most natural response to hearing how Caroline, a 79 year-old woman was treated by Andrew and Steve, I would like to look at part of the dynamic that took place there, which is something that took place numerous times throughout community relations with Andrew. To do so I want to give a try at portraying a sense of the logic and motivation which was taking place in our shared experience and value system, a logic that made our choice to be so deeply involved with this community, seem as one of the most intelligent, exciting, and meaningful choices we could make.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, so many of us got swept up in and "signed-on" so to speak with Andrew's "revolution" precisely because of his perceived high level of integrity, and his refreshing willingness to involve us mutually into an unending and empowering investigation into the truth itself, for itself. We were engaging with an authority figure, yes, but that was made palatable because of a perception that in its essence this relationship was really about rising up as individuals to join a noble camaraderie in the truth with someone who had gone further than us. I never ever considered myself aligned with and committed to a movement that called for unquestioning hierarchical submission, so when any suggestion of this came along, I found it highly objectionable. I remember fondly a time with Andrew when his authority was based on many individuals’ cohesive, yet independently-based perception that, over and over, Andrew seemed to resonate with, support and touch the recognition of the truth in our hearts, minds and everyday interactions. He was the leader of our search party into the unknown (as Lee Losowick so poignantly put it).Thus did we believe ourselves to be encouraged by our teacher to search out and share our perceptions, feelings, intuitions and intimations about any or all given situations. It seemed a rare opportunity in this world to actually grow in confidence with others by autonomously standing forth and speaking our truth, so to speak, to see how it stood against the same experience of Andrew and our brothers and sisters.
This was no ordinary environment and its many benefits gave us impetus to step apart from and de-prioritize so many of our other relationships, which we now saw as driven by a “status quo” mentality, one that did not support the love, intimacy and bold honesty which we seemed to be sharing. The situation inherently implied taking risks, the risk of being willing to be seen more authentically - sometimes unnervingly so - with what our most honest view was on any given matter, from the mundane to the sublime, thus exposing our weaknesses as well as our strengths. We were learning experientially together what was hitting the bulls-eye and what was off the mark, what inside of each of us was more or less reliable or unreliable, what brought a group of people further in consciousness, and what dragged them down in the muck.
It was an exploratory lab made up of willing individuals, who understood that they were on the hook as much as everyone else. If something in the direction of a given dialogue, interaction, or even the overall compass of the group itself seemed awry, it was our responsibility to speak up, to "respond."
Now that still seems healthy to me, a group of individuals each with an autonomous sense of responsibility for the truth, that autonomy ideally merging with others when our responses brought forth a deeper truth that resonated strongly with our brothers and sisters. Then suddenly we would be sharing communion in the truth, and it empowered and uplifted all of us who were available for it, taking us ever-forward on our fantastic journey. But, slowly or quickly (I haven't figured that out yet) that all changed drastically, much of that change taking place as the hierarchy solidified and began to dictate more and more and more how we should lead our lives in any given moment…

My point here as it relates to what happened with Caroline, is that if anyone truly wanted to keep that investigation of the truth active, to keep their side of the cord tight, then from their own experience they knew that they could not maintain a healthy degree of "authenticity" unless they held themselves ongoingly accountable. Bottom line here, gutsy honesty required, even if authority figures may resist you. And Caroline was doing just that, standing up for the truth of the matter, courageously not caving in even if her teacher, who didn't have his facts straight here (and this happened on numerous occasions – and why shouldn’t it if you think about it?) insisted. Caring about the truth above all implies standing apart at times, even with your friends, your lovers, and yes, even your teacher! It means being willing to hold your ground sometimes, even if, precariously you have been labeled stubborn. Kudos to someone who had that much courage, especially at 79! It used to be that I fully believed that Andrew would have seen such courage and tenacity and responded to it supportively, especially knowing what had been at stake in Caroline’s life when it came to standing up for what is true. But instead, somehow this was seen only as a sign of extreme willfulness, ego, a cause for purification, a betrayal of Andrew even! I just don’t understand this, and I don’t understand how Steve could have continued on for so long letting Caroline have it. Even more, the cover-up is really shameful, doing insult to deep injury, by giving her no human recognition, even in death! Is this yet another example of the supposed new ethical and moral framework?

But there were/are many instances of similarity to Caroline’s, where a student would be subjected to Andrew's absolute take on any given matter, in situations where to be honest, he really didn't have enough of the context, the facts, or direct contact with the matter at hand. In fact he may have been quite far away from and removed from a situation and its dynamics, communicating only with his senior students, who of course have proven their own foibles and limitations. This is not a denial of the fact that Andrew quite often had an uncanny and profound intuition into many matters, its just that that ability got translated mythically across all in the community as an unfailing capability that should always be heeded and never doubted.
I believe that some of the unskillfulness (I know it’s a kind word in this situation) here stems from a belief Andrew displays (and the group ego buys into) that he has the capability to perceive the right response about every situation in his entire community around the world at all times and in all places. If you stop to think about it, isn’t that outrageous?! Does anyone know of any other spiritual authority figure aside from perhaps Adi Da that holds to such a claim? And I have been wondering for a while if this doesn't come from an ambitiousness that clouds the accurate perception of his capabilities along with his natural limits. And it is a shame I believe because it ultimately distorts and undermines the great gifts that Andrew does have to give and communicate to others.
No person, no matter how awakened I believe, can cut through and understand it all! Life is just way too complex, in fact that is part of the fun of the journey. And frankly, what would be the horror of it all, to acknowledge you had limitations, foibles, areas to grow? We all know that pride is no fun to swallow on. But hey, would that necessarily deflate all that you had come to give in this life? I doubt it. Unless of course you had built up something for so long that was based on a denial of this simple, humbling fact. In my own life, I have, since Andrew, seen more than once this phenomenon of highly talented and gifted individuals, intent on their vision of integrity, be profoundly incapable of admitting error. And it too often ends up as alienation and isolation from others who once admired and respected and even loved them devotedly.

So if you were ever subjected to a scenario similar to Caroline’s, it meant that you were stuck between a rock and a hard place, because at times like these, to remain honest, loyal to the truth, might mean disagreeing and resisting even your own teacher. No insult, no disrespect would be intended, in fact you wouldn’t enjoy doing it, but you just had to be honest. You either demonstrated under serious pressure some real backbone, some true individuality, or you submitted to Andrew's directive no matter what, right or wrong. And if you chose the latter at times when this ran deeply against your better judgement, so would begin an inevitable flight into inauthenticity and unreality – justifying it all by deciding you were going to take one on the chin for the noble cause. But wait, an hour or a week later, you get pegged by another student for being unreal, a phony. Out of nowhere the pressure’s back on and you realize you cannot pull something out of nothing. And you are feeling “at nothing” now, because you just gave away what you instinctually and rationally believed to true. Around you people are saying to you forcefully, “Where's your heart man! You are going to have to come up with something real and respond!”
You probably see how it goes by now, I'm guessing - you are caught in a catch-22. And since you aren't “coming through” for Andrew and everyone, since you are now possibly feeling fairly victimized, guilty, with confidence battered, you try the only thing accessible to you: macho-efforting your way through everything. Why? Because people who are in the hierarchy above you and beside you are everywhere upset with you. This is their overall, ongoing tone of your relationship with you. So you don’t have time to regroup and recover, get back in touch with the only thing that can pull you through, your self! But since you seem so far from trusting yourself, so far from real, it’s time to try a different strategy. It’s time to give a lot of money, man - to at least demonstrate your loyalty to the cause, to burn some karma, to make up somehow for all the discomfort and frustration you have been causing Andrew. And the amount you give possibly won’t matter unless it’s all or more than you have. There’s a fairly good chance you will have to go into some steep debt over the matter.
Slowly or swiftly, you are giving over way too much trust and inner resources to the group and the hierarchy of the group ego structure. Submitting to Andrew without question has taken over from the original principles of why you ‘signed on’ to the revolution, to what it was that originally set your soul on fire, namely your ability to individually stand for and in the truth, with other like-minded individuals, boldly, but lovingly, supportively, and with humility. There went the only real thing you can stand on in the end, your autonomy - intellectually, morally, emotionally, spiritually and financially, and you wonder how this all happened!
Now as far as the money matters goes, it doesn’t take a moral giant to understand a basic, non-subtle idea about money: you just don’t pressure it out of people, especially large amounts, when they are in fragile, and deeply confused states. These desperate individuals then go off to other people, often friends and loved ones, and exert similar pressures on them for money to cover the matter. And so the alienation to the situation magnifies even more, not to mention the inherent disrespect community members end up showing the generous benefactors via such actions…Its not wholesome, and if your community can’t cover its expenses, then its time to come up with a new, yet moral strategy for increasing income.
Its time for still-involved students to start deconstructing a lot of the grand “battle with ego” myths that are simultaneously empowering for them, yet allow some of this immoral behavior to remain intact through callous and convenient oversimplifications. Just the remember, the myths empower often at others expense.
Maybe, just perhaps, there is something other-worldly about the whole process with a guru figure that is beyond our mortal ability to understand such glaring matters, but frankly it doesn’t wash for me. I think this is an imbalance that is eating away at the whole movement, and on the other side it is a huge conundrum for many who have already left, a multi-year investigation of sorting it all out and coming to some grounded, authentic place in ourselves to put the whole experience in perspective and move on effectively with our lives.

These are disturbing themes, and I have probably oversimplified, but so many of us feel these points must be spoken about more, because the situation has become so blurred. I know that many people are still getting a lot of benefit out of the situation with Andrew, with the magazine, etc., and I love and still miss many friends there. But I deeply wonder at what cost? I personally am not out to try and bash and burn, I am grateful for a lot of the growth into a deeper adulthood I personally was thrust into in my time there. And I for one can stand by the notion that sometimes pressure does work, yet not as an oversimplified overly authoritatve directive. But there are parts of the situation that really require taking the risk of actively and passionately questioning.
Krishnamurti has said a number of times that enlightenment is about the flowering and deep coming together of both love and reason. So with that in mind, there are times indeed in life when loyalty to the principles of what we originally set forth together on, requires honest dissent, risking the oversimplified labels of becoming an enemy to the cause, a betrayer. Nobody I know of in my time with Andrew signed on for deep financial impropriety, unskillful psychological harassment and abuse, and little or no accountability from a deeply lopsided hierarchy.

Thursday, 02 February, 2006  
Anonymous Dragan said...

Hi Wendyl (from Dragan - we met here and there),

Thank god and thank you for all this is finally coming out! It fills me with rage as I let it all go in. A tyrant that portrays himself as a saviour, an infantile bully that sells himself as the most profound thing that walked the earth. You describe it so well. With the fall of an idol comes a realization of the betrayal of trust, of lies, of everything considered sacred. But in the acceptance of the truth there is cleansing, there is flowering of the heart and appreciation of all that is truly simple and beautiful, of fantastic discoveries that one has on this life journey. In losing all hope of return to the spiritually dead bullying-fold there is a birth of independence.

Thursday, 02 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


What a beautiful and insightful post. I think you summed up what I have been thinking about for a long time: what went wrong? How could there be such powerful transcendence and a deep, honest passion for the Truth in Andrew's community along with such obvious callousness? The Truth is between an individual and the absolute. That's it. If we deny the Truth in ourselves, then we lose that which is most important.

Thank you for clarifying something that I have struggled with for a long time.

Friday, 03 February, 2006  
Anonymous Stas said...

Hi Wendyl. I’m happy to hear you’re doing well. Thank you very much for sharing your experience so fully, clearly and heartfully. I remember the meetings in India you mentioned with Vimala Thakar and Andrew’s “formal” women students. She impressed me too as a deeply awakened, wise and humble soul. It also made me recollect that how in the months that followed that visit, Andrew corresponded with Vimala to let her know what was happening with the women. I remember he sent her a letter claiming that although it had been tough going, a “breakthrough” had occurred for the first
time with his female students – this of course, was all because of his tireless efforts (sound familiar?). However, he received no response from her. So again he wrote her, this time with more vehemence. It seemed important for Andrew to have Vimala's acknowlegement of this achievement. Well, Vimala did finally write back, but it was a letter that in the end Andrew only showed to a few people. In it, Vimala told him in no uncertain terms that she thought he was totally off the mark in how he was dealing with his women students, and that she did not support what he was doing because he was harming, not helping them. Andrew of course was outraged by this criticism, and dismissed her opinion outright.

Friday, 03 February, 2006  
Anonymous Roy said...

Oh my God,

The more you look at the Cohen situation, the more rot that appears.

What happened to "face everything, avoid nothing"?

Of course this doesn't apply to Cohen himself!

Vimala, like Caroline, held true to her own experience, even in the face of Cohen's insistence on his monopoly of the truth.

Would that all the current women students of Cohen realize this, for their own good and safety!

Thank you Stas, Mario, Wendyl. Let all the truth come out.

Saturday, 04 February, 2006  
Blogger MeroSathi said...

Dear Stas,
Thank you. How very revealing it is to hear finally what happened between Andrew and Vimala. Vimala is indeed a truly beautiful being, humble and full of awakened wisdom and genuine compassion. I have always been deeply moved her story with Krishnamurti, by what she has said, and what she has done with her life. Many, like myself, were also deeply moved by Vimala's articles in the WIE magazine, and wondered why the communication didn't continue.
After Rishikesh that year, I remember the dialogue in the community about the women's meeting with Vimala - how confirming Vimala was of what Andrew was doing and how they had struck up a very positive relationship. So it is quite revealing to finally know what happened in the end (more cover up it seems to me), and to know why people no longer heard of Vimala in the magazine.
Personally, I remember while on retreat in Switzerland in 1998, a few months after Rishikesh (described by Wendyl), being within earshot of Andrew and one of the caretakers of the retreat center in Switzerland, as they were talking together.This individual was speaking about his love and devotion for Vimala and her message. Andrew smiled and said very emphatically, "I think she is Perfect."
So there you go, from 'Perfect' to total dismissal in a blink of the eye. You would think that someone who you viewed as perfect giving you a message would be cause for at least some pause, for a moment of self-reflection. No wonder Andrew seems to shrug off public critique of himself made by Ken Wilbur (his good friend), who, while acknowledging that he loves Andrew and that they meet in the non-dual, says that on the personal levels of development, he feels "Andrew is lower, much lower", having said this with alot of emphasis. More food for thought.
On a similar note, I always wonder what happened with the seeming deep friendship between Mr. Lee and Andrew. Any inight there?

Saturday, 04 February, 2006  
Blogger MeroSathi said...

Link to previous reference to Ken Wilbur dialogues:

Dialogues 7 and 26

Saturday, 04 February, 2006  
Blogger Heather said...

Quoting THE PRESENCE PROCESS by Michael Brown:
"Let us remind ourselves that Jesus did not change anyone's experience. Nor did Buddha, Hazur Maharaj Charan Singh, J Krishnamurti, or any other of the Masters and Spiritual Teachers who have graced this earth and who will always continue to do so.
The act of deliberately changing someone else's experience is interference and any evolved Soul knows better.
All Masters and Spiritual Teachers awaken themselves by actively changing their own experience of this world.
Wherever they travel, they then radiate their present moment awareness responsibly into every cell of the creation that they encounter. Those blessed enough to step into the radiation of their present moment awareness are automatically infected by it.
Present moment awareness is highly contagious. Anyone exposed to the radiance of Presence automatically activates changes in their own experience.
On the surface of life, it appears as if these awakened Masters and Spiritual Teachers are 'doing something' to others. But this is not so. Whatever they do, they do only unto themselves. Their acts of spiritual alchemy occur within; then, we see the consequences reflected outside in the world that they walk through.
This is how we can tell a real Master or Spiritual Teacher: they never interfere with the path of another's evolution. Never. This is becuase real Masters and Spiritual Teachers know better than to take power from another. Their Soul purpose is not to interfere but to be an example of human potentiality. Their example is their compassion."

Saturday, 04 February, 2006  
Anonymous Mario said...

Wendyl, thank you for writing this powerful, heartfelt and telling article. Andrew Cohen’s punishment of his female formal students, under the mask of caring for their spiritual freedom, is quite possibly the worst case of serial abuse that he has committed during his destructive reign. I hope that this article will encourage more of his former women students to write about their experiences, there is indeed much to tell.

One cannot help but feel that one of Andrew Cohen’s main reasons for such merciless treatment of women had to do with his relationship with his mother. That subject in itself almost certainly deserves a whole article. It felt as if our teacher was executing a bitter revenge on his mother through a ferocious hunt on his devoted and hence vulnerable formal women. The process of vilifying women Cohen started well before the 1998 Rishikesh retreat but it was on that retreat that he made it the tragic theatrical centerpiece of his “teachings” at the time. It carried on intensely for at least two years afterwards and the fallout from it was substantial – many demoted and spiritually harmed women and noticeably decreased numbers of formal women students.

Andrew Cohen also effortlessly manipulated his formal men students on the retreat into giving him a complete and unquestionable support in his endeavour. He told us how much better we were doing than women and how he needed us to hold up the standards of his teachings now that the conditioning of formal women was finally exposed by him for what it really is. Not one of us, to the best of my knowledge, ever challenged Cohen’s judgment or handling of the whole affair and I don’t even know if any of us actually realized how appalling it all was. We in many ways relished the sense of being finally acknowledged by our teacher as being better and more spiritually advanced than formal women. We felt privileged as the chosen ones who were assisting our master in his yet another monumental spiritual mission, this time to break “thousands of years old women’s conditioning”. Looking back it is clear how utterly blind and misguided we were in siding so readily with Andrew Cohen despite simultaneously witnessing deep suffering that he subjected the formal women to. Our eager compliance in this appalling case of abuse simply cannot be justified.

Thank you Stas for the crucial piece of evidence about Vimala Thakar and her unambiguous rejection of Andrew Cohen and his harmful methods of dealing with formal women. That fact as well as Cohen’s absolute refusal to even try to engage with her views speaks for itself.


Sunday, 05 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I will write more at some point but reading this post from Mario made me want to reply something now...
I've personally been devastated the last few days since reading Stas's explanation of Vimila's response to Andrew of no support for his treatment and view of his women. It was such a painful and confusing time and as I've been gone from the community, and been trying to find the flow and softness of the woman I would like to be, I've become more and more convinced that Andrew did more damage then good for my evolution as a woman and certainly as a sexual woman. (But that's a whole other topic) So to hear that Vimila had told Andrew that he was damaging us, and that she wouldn't support him, and he chose to completely ignore her, has just totally shaken up my world. Even after all this time, and all that I’ve seen that was wrong, I still somehow believed that Andrew was trying to help us and was sincere, if deluded, in how he treated us. But clearly this isn't true - he was sure he was right - even in the light of a reflection by a woman who until that time he had highly respected and considered to have gone beyond woman's conditioning.
The thing that I think has shaken me in this is that through all those years when he was intensely focusing on the women, and all the years since when we were all more often then not still bad, I got through it, and justified the torture done to me and the torture we all in turn did to each other, from the point of view of trusting Andrew and that his goal was worth it all...I cannot begin to describe how betrayed I feel now and I wonder how many other women feel this too.

Thank you Mario for your expression of the way the men responded to Andrew’s call for them to stand with him against the women. It was good for my heart to hear this now. I was in a relationship with one of the formal men during those times and let me tell you, it was so incredibly painful to have my partner, who I loved so much and trusted so much, and all my men friends, turn away. I know that in later years the men also went through so much but there was something about the way Andrew saw the women that was so very intense!

Monday, 06 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Mario, it will be a good day the one when both men and women that have left the community will come to understand that the whole thing about women’s conditioning has been some sort of a nightmare spell that they have lived under for too long.
I know a lot of the women have a lot of stories to tell, and I think they will start telling them when they will understand that Andrew’s view of us is a view heavily weighted on the patriarchal side of things. Too cliché what I’m saying? Maybe, but it seems to me similar to the issue with Luna: almost too obvious to believe that is real. In our minds it’s hard to conceive that such a gross psychological blind spot could actually drive the beloved teacher.
When I was in the community and left (two years before 1998) I had already started to believe that my gender was a major hindrance in spiritual life. Once I was out I decided to pursuit the whole gender thing by my self and see what I could find historically to prove that women could not possibly make it in the spiritual life.
I came to this search with the conviction that my basic nature was power hungry, manipulative and corrupt.
Now, after 10 years and a lot of reading, documentary watching and listening to other spiritual figures, all I can see is that what happened to us as women in the community is proof that 40 years of women’s lib are not enough to change a psyche that has gotten used to be abused for millennia. We are all healthy intelligent and educated women, and yet in few years with Andrew all of us started to believe that there was something really wrong with us as women as a group. That conviction has sparked many actions and the acceptance of other people actions that no person would normally submit oneself to. There is no doubt that Andrew initiated and incited many humiliating moments, somehow convinced that this deep humiliation could change women’s nature. We participated and we did it because we believed that we were doing something truly evolutionary instead of seeing that we were buying back into a truly patriarchal view of women.
Seems too cliché? Again I invite the women that have left, to open up this painful chapter and start their own research. I invite the women to read the painful declarations of some of Andrew long standing female students on his blog, and also to question the fact that the moment Andrew declares ‘victory’ he shuts the women up.
This post was inspired by Wendyl’s and the anonymous women that have posted recently on the blog about this issue. Thank you. There is a lot to say about this and it’s very important to say it. Please do.
With much love to everybody,
Karen Merigo

Monday, 06 February, 2006  
Blogger Barry said...

Thanks for that link Karen. It's an unbelievable juxtaposition viewing the victory pronouncements from the community on one hand and the recent postings here from Mario, Stas, Wendyl and others concerning the means towards achieving that "victory".

Much appreciation and love to the posters and readers here,
Barry Gross

Tuesday, 07 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Karen, thanks for your post. I appreciate your
speaking out as you have. In the years since I left
the community I’ve also been trying to make sense of
where Andrew was coming from in his brutish
treatment of women students. Curious, what you said about Andrew “shutting up” the women as soon as he claims some victorious breakthrough. And with what’s been revealed here, I find it kind of ironic that in that link you mentioned, Elizabeth Debold sites Vimala Thakar as giving meaning to the Andrew-imposed “silence” of the women. Thank you again.

Friday, 10 February, 2006  
Blogger Hal said...

The response to Wendyl’s article (and Mario’s, about Caroline Franklyn) has been really great. It is particularly disturbing to hear that Andrew, after claiming for years that his analysis and treatment of women was fully supported by the sage Vimala Thakar, in fact concealed from the community her strong disagreement with him. (And it is ironic, as the last comment mentions, that Andrew’s group continues to misleadingly cite Vimala Thakar as support for the imposition on female community members of mauna (silence) at a time of purported “victory”—the latest example of punitive conduct by Andrew toward women).

It is one thing to question Andrew’s methods with the women—which seem clearly wrong and abusive—and another thing to question, like Karen has, his whole viewpoint on women.

Although I left the community in early 1997, before many of the more horrendous acts done to the women that are described here occurred, I was witness to years of Andrew talking about “women’s conditioning.” I can recall him saying many times that the mere presence of a woman would tend to bring the whole level of “investigation of the truth” down.

I recall once being in a meeting about What Is Enlightenment? magazine with him when Michelle, his personal secretary at the time, came to the office to give him a message. As she entered the room, he stopped everyone and said, “Wait. Can you feel it? Can you feel how as soon as she came in the room the whole energy changed?” Then, while Michelle stood in the doorway smiling sheepishly, he went on to make the point that just having a woman enter the room interfered with our high level of inquiry. Let me tell you, this made me very uncomfortable and my heart went out to Michelle. But, I’m sorry to admit, I didn’t dare to say anything at the time.

Like Karen, I wonder now about Andrew’s whole concept of "women's conditioning." Of course, all of us as humans have "conditioning"--but why single out women's conditioning? Sure, men and women appear to have some differences in style as to how they respond to pressure, fear, the unknown. And this is worthy of note. But why concentrate so much on women's style as opposed to men's?

There was precious little talk of "men's conditioning." Women were criticized for “personalizing” their experience, but I think men habitually do that also. Men also often "depersonalize" (not "impersonalize") and over-intellectualize their experience as a way to avoid painful feelings. Is that better? I don’t think so. Yet this was rarely, if ever, addressed.

I think, in the end, Andrew just has a problem with women, he dislikes women's styles of ignorance more than men's, and he understands and empathizes with men more than women. What about the potentials in women for wisdom and compassion, that may in some respects exceed men's? Why were they never mentioned?

Andrew harped on a statement attributed to Buddha resisting women’s entry into the Buddhist sangha. Of course, he never mentioned the centrality of Vajroyogini and other female deities in Tibetan Buddhism (despite Tibet’s admittedly strong patriarchal tendencies), and the great reverence with which many female sages are held in that tradition, such as (to name only a few) Yeshe Tsogyal (considered an emanation of Vajrayogini), Machig Lapdron (the originator of Chod practice) and the legendary nun Gelongma Palmo, who played an important role in promoting the practice of the Bodhisattva of compassion Avalokitesvara/Chenrezig and his popular mantra Om Mani Padme Hum.

In any case, I think it is worthwhile to keep the possibility open that, while some of Andrew’s criticisms of women (like his criticisms of all of his students) may have some accuracy, not only his methods but his basic viewpoint on women’s conditioning may be very one-sided, if not entirely misconceived. Seriously considering that possibility would foster a genuinely high spirit of inquiry.

Friday, 10 February, 2006  
Anonymous Lea Morgan said...

I now have to write to this blog, after reading the tragic and appalling story of Andrew’s handling of Caroline. I can no longer be a spectator and not respond. Thank you, Mario, for writing this heart-wrenching account of Caroline’s experiences in the last days of her life. I got to know Caroline through the retreats and during her stay at Foxhollow and I saw how much she loved and revered her teacher. To have been abused and cast out as she was, is not only horrific, but cold and a crime of cosmic proportions. Where is the responsibility of the guru in all of this? For Andrew not to respond sooner to Caroline’s situation and to not respond to Caroline’s insistence that the way things were being presented to him were not true, is morally unacceptable to say the least. Where is his investigation? Where is his conscience?! I was a formal woman when we were told of how Caroline shunned her guru in the final hours of her life. At the time I was saddened and horrified by this so-called fact.

Thank you, Wendyl, for sharing your experience of Andrew’s handling of the women’s conditioning so fully and clearly. Much of what you wrote about was my experience also. I was a formal woman at the time you left and, as is always the case, shunned, criticized and turned my back on you. This is the usual way it goes, doesn’t it. I find that it is sad that so many of us turned against each other under the guise of investigation into the women’s condition, even to the point, that, for some time after I left the community, I did not want to be in touch with anyone who had previously left. How insane is that? There was still an element of feeling that this would be betraying my teacher. For a couple of years after leaving, I still felt that Andrew had integrity and that my view was still limited and falling short of his expectations. I therefore felt I needed to sort things out by myself. Sounds like “divide and conquer” tactics now and that seems to be the way Andrew orchestrates his students. As for his handling of the women’s condition, I have to say that a lot of what Andrew did with the women was confusing and miserable (although we wouldn’t dare question his tactics as we were the low-life gender) in contrast to the inspired spirit with which I and all of us joined with Andrew’s community.

I want to also thank you, Hal, for starting this blog as it has helped me to begin to see things in a way that does not continuously berate myself for leaving and for my not being able to make it in Andrew’s community. I was told by my teacher that I would “rot in hell” if I left. Breaking the silence has rendered many shocking details that were never known to many of us who had been students of Andrew’s even for years. I regret my silence and lack of standing up against what I saw to be unfair and puzzling when I was a student.

And Stas, I also was shocked to hear of your experiences and even doubted their validity as they were so outrageously beyond what I thought Andrew would do. This is another example of the mistrust reaction we learned so well when a student goes against Andrew. I have since learned more and I thank you for sharing them on this blog. I have to say that the letter from Kenzo, the dog, was unbelievable in the sense that it was so demeaning to you and so undignified and mocking from Andrew. At least that’s how it seemed to me. Thank you also for clarifying Vimala’s stand regarding Andrew’s handling of the women. I too had the joy and privilege of meeting for two days for many hours with Vimala and felt that she was a beautiful human being with a depth of love for the Truth. I find it interesting and very suspect that Andrew seems to repeatedly drop his investigation into himself when it suits him and gathers support around himself to substantiate his view (“either I am crazy or…”). Wouldn’t it be revolutionary for him to come on this blog and investigate/respond to all these things that question his integrity and his actions? After all, many of us put our souls in his care and gave our lives to him for many years. And, I’m not saying that we didn’t receive a lot of benefit by being in his community (as Roberta so eloquently expressed) and that I am very grateful for, but why is it tinged by a black cloud hanging over the whole experience?

And, to all the rest of you who have been contributing, I thank you and wish for you all the goodness of life’s many blessings.


Sunday, 12 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


Which of the many talks of Ken Wilber on the formless mountain webpage that you gave the link to is where Ken commented that on the personal levels of development, Andrew was much lower?

Saturday, 18 February, 2006  

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