Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Andrew Cohen and the Corruption of Power

By Jane O'Neil

[Editor's Introduction: The author of this piece, Jane O'Neil, is a former close student of Andrew Cohen. It was her devotion to him and her contribution of $2 Million that made possible the purchase of Foxhollow, Cohen's residence and the headquarters of EnlightenNext in Lenox, Massachusetts. After she left the group, Andrew Cohen betrayed his promise to her to keep her contribution confidential by publicly discussing it while severely disparaging her for leaving him. This part of her story is briefly recounted in Dr. Andre van der Braak's book Enlightenment Blues (page 210-211):
"In December 1998, Andrew is in Amsterdam again for his semi-annual visit….During his talk Andrew gives an example of the viciousness of the ego by talking about another student of his that left him a few days before, a rich American woman. He calls her a narcissist and speaks about how she once gave him two million dollars for his Foxhollow center, but was unwilling to give up her ego. I am shocked and upset by his derisive and aggressive tone of voice. He's throwing a tantrum in public at a student who gave him two million dollars! I find the whole thing unbecoming, to say the least. As a matter of fact I know the woman in question, and a few days later I manage to speak with her on the phone. She is devastated and outraged by Andrew's public treatment of her, not only because of the humiliation, but in particular because she had believed and trusted that Andrew would keep the two million dollar donation confidential. Listening to her story, a chilling picture emerges. Andrew had actually solicited the two million dollars from her, which amounted to over 80% of her total assets. She had been deeply upset and confused about what to do because she felt she could no longer continue to be his student if she said no. She loved the community, Andrew, and the spiritual path. Two of Andrew's students had talked to her repeatedly over several weeks. Finally she had given in and promised to donate the money. She believed it would be serving the world, since the estate of Foxhollow would allow others to have access to Andrew's teachings. Complicating matters, the money was not immediately available from a family trust. Andrew exerted pressure on her to rush the donation as he had already proceeded with the purchase of the property. The rushed transaction resulted in a loss of a great deal of money and she seriously risked losing her family relationships. In retrospect she described his request as a corruption of power. It's a story that makes me nauseous."

This is Jane's first contribution to the What Enlightenment??! blog.]

A flood of responses to this blog, its articles and to its subject lie inside waiting to explode out of me.

It is important to have a venue for individuals like us to express our perspectives on Andrew. It seems this blog has provided a valuable forum for that. However, what has made me reluctant to jump in and join the dialog has been the various personal attacks on the people who chose a life with Andrew. We are all complex individuals with very mixed experiences. It is discouraging to read over-simplified gross generalizations and assumptions about both students of Andrew's and former students. It is also a bit unnerving to hear about the angle of “taking Andrew down” via Bill O’Reilly and Fox News. Why, because it is not a simple matter to understand and dissect the complexity of a situation like this. I think those looking at students or ex-students from the outside need to have a bit more openness and compassion for their experiences. And I am pretty sure the sensational media outlets are not the answer. Looking from the outside, in, the world will have a difficult time understanding or appreciating the context that we lived in.

I left Andrew's community over seven years ago. I was a student for only five years. Though I have been gone longer than I participated, I don't think I have really even begun to unravel the complex motivations that led me to him and kept me there for five years. Nor have I unraveled what the truth is about what I discovered and experienced there. I do know that my experience can shed further light on Andrew's corruption of power.

I am moved by the courage of those who have written of their experiences in his community. I think it is important for each individual to discover their own path to bear the light of truth on the situation.

Andrew is the most masterful individual I have ever known-a master of discerning the hidden and not so hidden weaknesses and character flaws of all those that come to him, and he exploits them, knowingly or not, always and ultimately to his own advantage--serving to feed his endless hunger to perceive himself as a great master.

Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.

I look back on my 5 years in his community with mostly shame and regret. I recall the amazing people, some of the most talented and intelligent people I have ever known. Many of whom I miss deeply. It has become very hard for me to maintain any contact with those who are lucky enough to have left. I have wanted to move on with my life, put the past behind me. But the fact is, I really hope that there is some way I can have an impact. I would love to prevent someone from following the path I took. Though, at the time I joined Andrew's community, there was virtually nothing anyone could have said to me that could have moved me away from the momentum I was on. But perhaps as some of you have done, I may be able to reach someone who is not as easily blown away and sold a fantasy of Andrew’s enlightened teaching.

I remember when Andrew asked me to read Luna’s book [The Mother of God, by Luna Tarlo,] Andrew Cohen's mother, not long after she wrote it and tell him what I genuinely thought. At the time, I was so blinded by his perspective, I am sure I wasn’t particularly objective. But what stayed with me was a moment of clarity I had. He was wondering how she was able to get the media attention with her book at the time. The Boston Globe, LA Times and quite a few London tabloids were writing about him. I sat with him and remember telling him that even Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom stood by him, telling the world she supported him. It was newsworthy that a woman was calling her son a monster, and particularly newsworthy that he is theoretically a spiritual leader.

I used to feel ashamed that I fled before any really heavy pressure was put to bear on me. I fled in the darkness of night (a hard thing to do, given I was scheduled to begin my one-thousand daily prostrations to Andrew’s picture followed by 3 hours of meditation with a whole crew of others—mostly women). It was the departure of another Formal Student that influenced me to flee that way. I did not want to go through the humiliation, interrogation and virtual house arrest the other woman had experienced. Not two days after leaving, Andrew attacked me (my name/intentions and motivations) publicly in a 20 minute unleashing of accusations in an Amsterdam teaching calling me the essence of ego, the essence of evil.

What is evil is the misogyny and inhumanity that underlies Andrew’s world view.

Wendyl’s memory of that Rishikesh retreat is so much fuller than my own. But memories of the endless, obsessive, manic attempts by the group of women to reclaim some approval from Andrew came flooding back to me. And a memory of the special treatment I remember receiving despite the fact that I had committed the same “crime” of apologizing. You see, any woman that said “I’m sorry” to anyone for any reason was kicked out of the retreat to join the other women in the private hell Wendyl described. The women were desperate, doing anything that they could to get out from under the boulder of accusations of being subhuman, and “I’m sorry” is the refrain of individuals who either are wholeheartedly sorry for their behavior, trying to end a personal conflict or, as in our case at the time, in that context, and under those circumstances, profoundly sorry for our own existence.

But I was treated differently, I believe because I had given Andrew well over 2 million dollars by then-nearly all of my money.

I regret the time I spent with him, ashamed at some of the outrageous competitive behavior I engaged in, vying for proximity to Andrew. But what I regret more than anything is allowing Michelle Hemingway and Steve Brett, among others, to coerce me into giving Andrew my money. It is that act that helped give him a power base and some semblance of legitimacy. It was at the time about two-thirds of the purchase price of Foxhollow.

It is all about understanding the context as someone put it. In the context of the world outside Andrew's community or cult, what he did was illegal, something called "undue influence." It is akin to a therapist seeking sexual company from a client or a priest who manipulates a parishioner into donating to the church. I imagine if it wasn’t me, there would be others like me who would have and I am sure continue to give away their money and soul to him as I did. If someone still within the community reads this and considers giving away their wealth, please reconsider. It was the greatest mistake of my life. The genuine human tragedies that have happened in our world since then, 9/11, the human rights abuses throughout the middle east by us and others, the AIDS crisis in Africa and the world, the illiteracy in the world, the Tsunami, the flood in the South, the earthquakes…each would have been an opportunity to give my money to and actually served a greater good.

I have spent the last seven and a half years creating a life for myself. I have sought peace and truth in my life as a mom, wife, friend and ordinary person in the world. Since leaving, I considered legal action, I considered drawing the media's attention, and I considered simply writing my story. But what is the ultimate goal? Personally, I am interested primarily in gaining a full perspective on what my experience was, if possible. And I am interested in seeing if my experience could help prevent someone from walking down the same path I did, with the same consequences or perhaps destructive consequences. Even if it is simply helping a family member who has someone they love in Andrew's or any other guru's community to gain understanding and, most critically, compassion for the individuals who choose that spiritual path. But I believe it is deluded to think one can "take someone down." I also believe NO ONE could have stopped me from diving into Andrew's world at the time I did. I only wish I had had the maturity and insight to find a less destructive forum to nurture my spiritual aspirations.

I don’t know if I will write again, but thank you for the opportunity to vent.

Not as an afterthought, but I am not sure how to even begin to express my sadness at the news of the death of Caroline Franklyn. I feared there would be a tragic outcome from Andrew's behavior.

Jane

oneil.jane@gmail.com

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28 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Jane,

thank you so much for sharing this painful experience with Andrew.You and all the other ex-students open your deep wounds for all of us as well who have the blessing to read this. I experienced similar abuse through a female cult leader/therapist 20 years ago and still a lot of dark feelings are emerging when I read this important blog. Thank you all. Love and blessings from Vienna Austria

Thursday, 07 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I sit here shaking as I read Jane's story, which fills in a very important piece, sadly more evidence of ruthlessness and corruption.

Andrew Cohen said in his Declaration of Integrity that the critics against him were only a small band of "miserable failures." Well, Jane sounds like a very alive, caring and honest individual to me.

Cohen also stated that the criticism comes from only a very small band of leavers - but since he made that statement we've heard from two more: Simeon (former WIE editor), and now from Jane, who made his ashram possible.

How dare he attack those who have given him so much!!!

Thursday, 07 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jane, surely you have an actionable case of extortion here. You were manipulated and pressured, disrespected and robbed. Thank you for being willing to share these painful facts with us. You have a very open heart and your desire to contribute so much to what you believed was a noble cause speaks to your character. I find it abhorent that you were swindeled. Even worse than having your money stolen, is the attack on your heart that was delivered by Andrew. There can be no justification for what happened to you. None.

Thursday, 07 December, 2006  
Anonymous Edda said...

Dear Jane,
I was present in Amsterdam, when Andrew was making fun of you. I do honour the way you present yourself. Taking full reponsability for your own actions. You know it is not the solution to stay in the blame. Yes, it is not right to put someone under pressure to give money and I have always been stunned when I read reports of people doing thousands and thousands of prostrations and push ups as a spiritual exercise. Ridiculous! (it is also in the book "The Buddha from Brooklyn" about this woman guru Jetsunma etc. I have been inspired by Andrew Cohen since 1992, but I have never been tempted to become his student. I had learned my lessons in Osho's community. What strikes me most is, that in these first years listening to Andrew, he gave me a deep insight in the dynamics of the guru-disciple relationship. So that was a deep healing time for me. I was able to let go of pain, confusion and sorrow about being with Osho and the community of sannyasins.
But at the same time, I thought about Andrew: Well let us see if you can live up to your own demanding teachings yourself!".
I remember him saying in a discourse in Switzerland summer 1992: "I am not really interested in you personally, I am only interested in the teachings".
He gave me the inspiration and instruments to be able and willing to "stand alone in the truth" . For me the concequence of his teaching was: not to become his student. I have seen many students come and go in the Netherlands.
My heart cries for the women who give up their dignity and selfrespect for this teacher. As you write in you report, I know that I cannot reach them. This blind spot of the guru will reveal itself in its own time or not. For some women this relationship really suits. I see them come to blossom.
And of course it would ask a lot of humility and courage of Andrew to be willing to apologize and maybe ask for forgiveness to the people who have been deeply hurt. But then again, in the end this is not about Andrew, but about you and which choice you make in this lifetime. So I learned to 'sit on it', that is letting go of my expectations and integrate these kind of experiences, so this is now the fertile soil from which my present life and work is growing and flowering.
Namasté to you all.
Edda

Friday, 08 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with virtually all you have written, but do question the following....

I have always been stunned when I read reports of people doing thousands and thousands of prostrations and push ups as a spiritual exercise. Ridiculous!

prostrations have been part of spiritual practice in virutally every tradition since ancient times, as a form of humbling oneself. I have done them, and it does have a powerful effect of stilling the mind, quieting and softening the heart and opening oneself up to something much bigger than ourselves...and physcially, they are valuable too. I am not commenting on them in the context of Andrew's work, but rather as a general spiritual practice.

Friday, 08 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In relation to a genuine and nonexploitative spiritual tradition where the emphasis is on the practice itself, not the charismatic personality of the teacher, prostration is a valuable exercise.

Properly done it can even be an effective form of body-tonification.

But in relation to a new movement improvised to center on a leader's charismatic personality and one in which the leader constantly changes the ideology over the years, the mental and physical effects of prostrations might serve to stifle doubt and insight, rather than support cultivation and stablization of insight.

If misapplied, prostration might possibly have the effect of hindering the practioner from recognizing that the situation is harmful. The effect of the prostrations might cause the devotee to remain longer than he or she might other wise have done.

From what has been described by Tarlo and van der Braak, and many others, those involved with an abusive guru, will often experience doubt, and often try to stifle doubt. Len Oakes mentions this in his book Prophetic Charisma.

One thing that deserves much closer scrutiny is whether discples remain with abusive leaders by mis-using healing methodologies to suppress their genuine suffering and to suppress their doubts.

These methods include and are not limited to prescription medication, stress reduction, acupuncture, massage therapy, yoga.

Healers consulted by abused devotees may be unaware that the client is suffering chronic abuse. All too often devotees keep quiet and conceal the origin of thier stress--physical injuries.

A body worker or therapist may lack the alertness needed to tell clients, 'For you, the treatment of choice is NOT yoga, body work, or acupuncture. Its to pack your bags and leave, ASAP.'

Like alcohol or tranquilizers, alternative therapies can be mis-prescribed and applied in such a way as to enable suffering disciples to tolerate the chronic anxiety of living in a hurtful community, rather than feel their suffering with full awareness, claim their energy--and leave.

So it is worth asking whether one has used (or told to us use) yoga, bebirthing, acupucture, presecribed medication, etc to numb out and remain in a bad situation longer than they would have, without these palliatives.

Otherwise, one may never comprehend using these methods for numbing conscious awareness instead of supporting conscious awareness could have played an important and unexamined role in causing them to delay their departure.

It may well be that for every abusive leader, there may be a network of massage therapists, yoga teachers and other stress reduction specialists who are unknowingly colluding by assisting suffering devotees to tolerate a harmful situation instead of recognizing it for what it is--and leaving before worse harm is inflicted.


This is part of the social network that keeps a bad guru going.

It is far more than students 'giving their power away to the guru.'

Gurus are kept in power by collusive social networks that go far beyond the student teacher relationship.

Friday, 08 December, 2006  
Anonymous sadhvi said...

It was interesting to see that i was not the only one reacting to the prostrations mentioned in Jane's post. But what struck me was how truly bizarre it is to do 1,000 prostrations to a Western guy who piggybacked on a tradition (Hindu) that does not generally do this practice at all...my experience of it (probably like most Westerners) was in Tibetan Buddhism, where it is part of an entire structure of practice. Did Andrew simply cobble together whatever he thought might "work" from the various traditions he investigated during interviews or what? And why would he do this, being "enlightened" and all?? Wouldn't he have a less derivative take on the process? just curious.
sadhvi

Friday, 08 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prostrations are part of Christianity (particularly Catholicism), Judaism, and Islam as well. Those who introduced them to the traditions would likely have absorbed them from other traditions. I am hesitant to criticize Cohen for this. As a spiritual teacher (whether we believe that what he is doing is right or wrong) it seems to be that it would make complete sense to use any means possible - especially ones that have a long tradition - to attempt to achieve certain results. I think we're off track - and even the contributor who had the reaction to the comment about prostrations being ridiculous said that his or her intention wasn't to focus on Cohen, but more of a general response to the previous contributor's comment.

Friday, 08 December, 2006  
Anonymous Martin Gifford said...

$2,000,000 - that’s a nice tidy sum! Yes, Jane, your cool $2,000,000 gave him a power base and legitimacy, and it helped his marketing. It must have helped his magazine indirectly too. He says that reality doesn’t need anyone to hold it up, but he needs disciples to hold him up.

Andrew would argue that he is a guru and part of that is that you give up everything for the sake of the whole, including your money, and your money is going towards creating a revolution on the planet that will help everyone. However, it looks suspiciously like it’s giving up everything to support his egotistical ambition. Involvement with him is a gradual process of your ideals being replaced by his ambition.

I believe you are too forgiving of Cohen’s disciples. While we should never say that anyone is a bad person, we can say actions are bad. People were physically, psychologically, and spiritually hurt by Cohen and by those acting on his wishes. He hasn’t addressed this straightly and his students haven’t addressed it straightly. I believe this is because they are blinded by their idealism. They think anything is okay in the name of an idealistic cause. They are struggling to correlate their actions with their idealism rather than honestly and straightly dealing with the wrong they did. Idealism makes you focus on your own good and others’ bad. You start to downplay your own bad. In fact, Cohen glorifies his bad as being heroic non-compromise and tough love.

Re: “…one-thousand daily prostrations to Andrew’s picture…” Is that for real? Did he actually demand that people do one-thousand daily prostrations to his picture? And did people actually do it?! That clearly demonstrates extreme narcissism and brainwashing at Foxhollow.

Re: “The women were desperate, doing anything that they could to get out from under the boulder of accusations of being subhuman…” Cohen often said that gurus fall for power, money, or sex. He fell for power and money, but not sex. I suspect he fears sex because you lose control in sex, so he attacks female disciples in order to distance himself from temptation.

Re: “But memories of the endless, obsessive, manic attempts by the group of women to reclaim some approval from Andrew came flooding back to me.” This seems to be a case of needy daughters trying to regain punitive daddy’s love. I’ve seen this around all gurus - many spiritual people are like children recreating parental abuse.

Re: “I also believe NO ONE could have stopped me from diving into Andrew's world at the time I did.” It’s the law of the jungle - he catches the weak, the vulnerable, and the deluded. Then those who leave inadvertently fuel the self-esteem of those who stay - stayers appear to be the winners, and the leavers appear to be the losers. In reality, it’s vice versa.

Andrew Cohen is an advocate of idealism, not an example of idealism. He mixes the two things up and so do his disciples.

Friday, 08 December, 2006  
Anonymous Jane said...

From Jane

Martin, your comments are accurate, certainly for me. I am doubtless that I was a profoundly needy individual who was seeking some "dad" figure to guide and direct me. His seduction, in my case, was to call upon my desire for "true independence and true integrity." I knew I was a needy insecure person and I wanted relief from it and he seemed to promise real spiritual depth and INDEPENDENCE. Which was an utter lie, obviously. For him it is ultimately about submission and dependence.

I did actually try to pursue the legal front, which is when I discovered the law regarding undue influence. At the time I think I was in a pretty confused, perhaps traumatized, state and couldn't bear fighting Andrew publicly. I feared he would use all he knew of my life to make me suffer more emotionally. I feared he would bring out all the endless love letters I wrote to him as proof that it was all voluntary. (he saves them) I feared facing all this. Again about two years ago I sought legal counsel and discovered there is a statute of limitations on this kind of case and a judge may have interpreted it as 5 years from "the gift", 5 years from the last "donation", or 5 years from the time I left. It would be difficult to know. What would be hard to prove, which I believe to be true, is that it should be 5 years from the time you get out from under the spell and confusion of the situation, which for me has taken years! When I did begin legal proceedings, even threatening a class action lawsuit, where my attorney would gather a group of people in the same situation and bring the case up to date, thereby, circumventing the statue of limitations. Andrews lawyer challenged us and are waiting to hear from us. We'll see what develops. The interesting piece is that after the cult leader, Aum Shinrikyo, had his disciples poison the subway with sarin gas killing and harming innocent people.http://www.holysmoke.org/report/homicide-defense.htm Andrew's lawyer was one of the American attorneys who went to Tokyo to defend the cult's religious freedom and challenge the authorities That is the type of lawyer Andrew chooses. INTEGRITY?????? Who on this earth would use a lawyer such as this?

On the prostration front, it is no joke. To be more accurate, at that time I had had 3 knee surgeries and couldn't do the full prostration so I did 1000 push ups each one ending with the full hands over the head, fingers touching his picture. I was one of the few who had to modify the real prostration, but it wasn't unusual if someone was hurt. Yes it is true. The men and women did them separately. At the time I think I was with a group of 10 or 12 women. (we each had our own personal photo). On one weekend a month, Andrew had push up competitions. The men had a world-wide competition. On Sunday night we would find out how many the "winner" had done in how-ever long a time it took. It was actually a time of fun and sport and joy and teamwork, everyone supporting each other. I was in the best physical shape of my life at that time. Emotionally, psychologically, a shell, an empty, individual. I can hardly do 100 push ups now. Besides when I do do them, a lot of memories come back, not always welcome when I am at the gym. By the time you are doing the kind of practice I was, you have proven to Andrew your total submission to him. Folks who are on the periphery don't know whats going on closer in. And by the time I was that far in, I was, as you say brainwashed or at a minimum, so sold on the ideals he set up that I would do what he asked. So yes we did do this. We did horrendous things to each other in the name of surrendering the ego. We allowed Andrew to break us down and we broke each other down, in the name of destroying ego. we broke each others spirits and hearts and in some who were already too vulnerable and fragile, we perhaps destroyed their spirits. I AM compassionate of the students because I have seen that it has taken me nearly 8 years to feel comfortable in my own skin, enough to take responsibility for what I participated in, and to call a spade a spade, or as in this case, a narcissist a narcissist. The biggest problem I see is that I don't think Andrew has the capacity to recognize that he does not measure up to any normal standard of integrity. He has drunk his own Koolaid. He defines the boundaries of what is acceptable and what it is not. And the concern would be that the boundaries keep shifting until it gets really really dangerous to be close to him. He always said the closer you'd get, you'd burn, but ideally that should mean you are less and less selfish, self-centered and unethical, not the opposite.

Any way, I continue to have compassion for Andrew's students. Not for the behavior. I don't look back with pride at the times I peppered my "friends" with examples of their weaknesses in our endless meetings. I am not proud to have participated in rituals that utterly humiliated individual women who were in need of whatever Andrew would call it. There were lots and lots of ways we used humiliation on each other to try to "destroy the ego." What else was destroyed along the way?? No I am not proud, I am responsible for my part. But it is complicated. And it is possible for someone to find their heart and soul and heal it and I have compassion for them because I hope they too find their heart and soul and can live with genuine integrity or at least try to. Instead of buying into a delusional package of a life of integrity.

Several years after leaving I met a woman (not from his community) Andrew had been very upset with when I was his student, because she pulled out of a business deal with him that would have given him even more credibility. I was in the community at the time and his response to her was extreme and bizarre. He spent $5,000 of his own personal money (not the organization's) sending her a truckload of flowers. When I met her I was curious to know what her reaction to this was and tell her a bit of my story. It had been years at that point, but she told me she pulled out of the business deal because it was like helping someone masturbate themselves and she realized it was a bad direction for her company. I thought it was a perfect metaphor. That is what I feel is so unseemly about the whole thing.

Jane

Saturday, 09 December, 2006  
Anonymous No Longer a Prostrator said...

Did Andrew actually demand that people do 1000 prostrations daily to his picture? The answer is yes – I was one of those prostrators.

All who were doing the prostrations would get up very early (many had to go out to jobs afterwards), and meet men to one room and women to another. In silence, with mitts on my hands, wearing only shorts and t shirt, I began each day for a couple of years prostrating to a photo of Andrew smiling at me while I struggled for 2 plus hours through what can only be described as an extreme form of self-denial, exertion and mind numbing repetition. I felt at the time that I got nothing from it, and still do. Perhaps in another context this would have been a very ennobling and purifying experience.

Interestingly, I can also relate to another previous commenter. During my prostration years, my doubts, anger and rebellion were going strong, but of course repressed like all holy hell. My turmoil roiled my sleep and to find some peace I went to an acupuncturist who treated me with some good and strong needle therapy which helped in the short term. I didn’t dare tell the acupuncturist the whole story of why I was there, so I only told her that I was in a lot of emotional conflict with some of my friends. Perhaps if I didn’t have the relief her therapy provided me with, I would have left sooner.

Relating to other events Jane has written about, and also mentioned elsewhere on this blog, it was during this crisis period that I “donated” to Andrew what to me was a very large sum of money – it was all I had.

And relating to yet another part of the stories posted here, it was during this period that I got slapped.

May the story of Andrew Cohen get fully exposed.
And may we all find peace.


Signed, no longer a prostrator

Saturday, 09 December, 2006  
Anonymous sadhvi said...

"Prostrations are part of Christianity (particularly Catholicism), Judaism, and Islam as well. Those who introduced them to the traditions would likely have absorbed them from other traditions. I am hesitant to criticize Cohen for this. As a spiritual teacher (whether we believe that what he is doing is right or wrong) it seems to be that it would make complete sense to use any means possible - especially ones that have a long tradition - to attempt to achieve certain results. I think we're off track - and even the contributor who had the reaction to the comment about prostrations being ridiculous said that his or her intention wasn't to focus on Cohen, but more of a general response to the previous contributor's comment."
With all due respect, I think we are very much ON track here. To "cherry-pick" a practice from a tradition (i.e.prostrations) and leave the traditional checks and balances behind, implies that the only safeguards are the integrity of the teacher and his/her discrimination...To me, this is exactly what is being discussed here...
sadhvi

Saturday, 09 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

There's been lot of staff turnover.

New people keep joining the inner circle and editorial staff as the others are reportedly driven away or are kicked out.

So, where are the new staff coming from?

Years ago, I attended a Cohen lecture. He seemed extraordinarily tense and angry and constantly paced back and forth.

What was strange was that the students who were there seemed used to this, and didnt show any sign of being frightened or on guard.

If there is some sort of recruitment/selection process, do the 'talent scouts' look for persons who show signs of being willing to accept disrespectful behavior? Is there some process of pre-screening prospective recruits to identify the ones willing to tolerate disrespectful treatment?

Very early in battering relationships what often happens is that the violent party tests someone to see if she (it can also be he) is willing to tolerate abuse.

Start out being entertaining or friendly. Turn on the charm. Be romantic.

Then do a sudden, brutal switch from charm to vicious confrontation, preferably by finding a way to shame your target.

THen, see if the person puts up with it an accepts the blame and your shame.

If the person buys into it--they're worth cultivating. Switch back to charm and romance. They'll be so grateful they'll forget or rationalize the earlier nastiness.

Repeat. Repeat....until one of you dies or flees.

If the person pulls back and refuses to tolerate the your blaming message--let them go.

(A really good hustler will fire a parting shot at those who refuse to buy into the routine. They may suggest that anyone who refuses to play their game is egotistical or lacking in compassion.

A hustler tries to keep us from walking away with any feeling of clarity or mastery)

If an entire group of persons have been pre-selected bbe willing to tolerate emotional or physical battering, it may up a group undertow where its very hard for any one person to find clarity and leave. If one person tries to leave, the other battered ones may beg him or her to stay. Leaving is hard because you feel survivors guilt and worry about those left behind.

Those outside the situation may find it incomprehensible.

Saturday, 09 December, 2006  
Anonymous sadhvi said...

Dear Jane,
I would really like to extend my sympathy to you wholeheartedly. At this point, I want to make it clear that my only contact with Cohen was at two programs given in Cambridge, MA, luckily after spending years on the "spiritual circuit" so that his attraction was pretty minimal for me. My experience of abusive teachers is in a different context (Buddhist and Hindu)..but the patterns and methods of abuse are very similar, especially regarding the "dirty work" expected of students and the lingering guilt and self-disgust that this self-betrayal engenders. The only main difference I can see regarding Cohen is that he didn't sexually abuse his students. I have two friends who have been consistently attacked for NOT pursuing legal action against a sexually abusive guru, despite the reality of what happens to sommeone who has the courage to do that...the "weapons" of the organization really come out in very peculiar and personal ways. This problem (of egotistic, narcissistic and abusive teachers hiding within the "crazy guru tradition") has become so common that no one is even surprised by it anymore.
I admire your courage in coming forward. It's a real service!
sadhvi

Saturday, 09 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also did many prostrations and was not asked to have a photo of Andrew in front of me. I remember running into a friend (from outside of the community) who I hadn't seen in a few months, She looked at me and commented on how I seemed different - in a positive way. I found the prostrations to be very valuable. I was calmer, more attentive to others, and was grateful to Andrew for the practice and the opportunity to do such a concentrated spiritual practice - ended up leaving for different reasons.

Saturday, 09 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was a close student of Andrew Cohen's for around 11 years. So...there has not been much posted on this blog that I wasn't either aware of first or second hand. I didn't know the full and painful story of Caroline's death. But I knew enough to know it was strange that a very sudden curtain of silence was drawn around it. I didn't know about Vimala Thakar's letter to Andrew expressing her great concerns about his treatment of us, his female students. But again, it was strange that she was very suddenly not being held up as an example of purity and integrity to us. I had no idea that Andrew had ordered one of his closest students to go to a prostitute-repeatedly. But I knew that that student had been put under guarded house arrest at the time and enormous pressure.

Also, I knew a bit about Jane's story. Enough to know that she was manupulated behind the scenes on Andrew's instruction by some of his closest students at the time. That this was done in great secrecy. I remember being in a 'discussion group' on one of our retreats and Jane leaving suddenly in tears and great distress. We - her friends - were told not to bother her as she was working out some personal issues (strange, as we were not supposed to have anything personal going on). I found out later that this was the time that people were meeting with her to try to pursuade her to give her money to Andrew. But even though I knew all of this I still find that I'm totally shocked that Andrew would hire the same lawyer to defend him as defended Aum Shinrikyo and his disciples.

I just want to thank Jane for her courage in posting this. It not only helps to fill in the picture on what was happening in the community in the years we were there but also shows that behind the public face which is so compelling and positive there are still some deeply disturbing undercurrents. Personally I find it really tragic as I still have good friends who are very involved who are bright, intelligent, funny and caring souls and I wonder at this stage what it could possibly take for them to open their experience up to question. One question, sincerly asked, might be all it would take to crack open the bubble and let some real oxygen in. Maybe then something could be salvaged and some of the great energy and dynamism that does exist around Andrew could really do some good.

Sunday, 10 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies for being slightly off-topic, but I tried adding a link to this important blog (and Jane's pivotal testimoney) and a comment on Andrew Cohen's Wikipedia entry. It was up there for a few hours (see http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Andrew_Cohen&oldid=93193711 for the historical entry) but then was expunged on the current entry for Andrew Cohen. Very frustrating.

Sunday, 10 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Double Standard For Compassion

Here are some ways to test whether we have ventured into a part of the seeker's circuit that is fundamentally spiritual or one that seems spiritual but that covertly worships authoritarian power and is fundamentally elitist and cruel.

In the parts of the seeker's scene that unconsciously honor only power, there is double standard in relation to suffering and compassion.

Only the crazy wise guru's suffering is real and deserves compassion. An abused disciple's suffering is illusory and must be treated with contempt.

If the guru has misfortune or falls ill, we will see tender compassion expressed. The suffering guru is NEVER accused of wallowing in victim mentality.

But if abused disciples try to speak up---they are jeered at, told that their suffering is illusory.

It all shows that the real religion of those who dote this way on crazy wise gurus (including those who take very good care never to live with such gurus)---their actual religion is to worship power. To thrill to authoritarian power that is exercised with zero ccountability.

In this warped universe only the suffering guru has human rights and dignity.

The suffering disciple has none.

In short, the best way to find out whether we have ventured into a sector of the seeker's community that is covertly power kinky and sadistic is to ask these two questions and see how the denizens respond:

1) 'Is it ever possible for a guru to abuse his or her power and harm disciples?"

If you're rebuked or sneered at--
you've entered a scene that only honors gurus and has no respect for the humanity of the guru's followers.

2) If there are reports that a guru is ill or suffering bad publicity, ask, 'Its good to pray for him but how about showing *the same compassion* for the persons he has reportedly harmed? What about them?'

Finally---and only try this if you have a clear exit out the door and a car waiting for you with the motor running:

3) If a guru is suffering illness or misfortune and you're being implored to pray for him, ask, 'Isn't there some
risk that he's wallowing in victim mentality? Shouldnt Guru X just get on with life?'

Because--that's the standard response given when abused disciples try to speak up about what has been done
to them...

Monday, 11 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for coming forward and disclosing this distressing abuse of power. Though Jane's experience was by far the most extreme, there was a general expectation that all formal students in Andrew's community at that time would willfully disclose their financial situation (we ALL had to actually fill out forms) and give generously when asked, without complaining about it or asking questions.

Monday, 11 December, 2006  
Blogger Stuart said...

sadhvi wrote:
> It was interesting to see that i
> was not the only one reacting to
> the prostrations mentioned in
> Jane's post.

One of the earliest teachings I got in my own tradition was along the lines of: "It doesn't matter if you do Buddhist meditation, Yoga meditation, Christian meditation, or whatever. The important thing is your intention; why are you doing it?"

My understanding of this is: if the intention in doing a practice is to get something (good feelings, status, enlightenment, etc) for myself, then it's a cause of suffering. If the intention is to find clarity that will serve everyone, then it can be medicine to remove suffering.

So I wouldn't focus so much on prostrations, or any other particular practice. I think the critical thing is why someone is doing it.

Stuart
http://home.comcast.net/~sresnick2/socalled.htm

Tuesday, 12 December, 2006  
Blogger Stuart said...

> all formal students in Andrew's
> community at that time would
> willfully disclose their
> financial situation ... and give
> generously when asked, without
> complaining about it or asking
> questions.

If a down-and-out person on the street asks me for spare change, I consider it a positive thing if I feel an impulse to be generous. Still, even then, I'd never give without asking questions. If not to the beggar himself, I'd at least be asking myself internally whether giving him money would actually be helpful, or whether it would just fuel addiction or dependency for example.

Of course I never know for sure how to help, but hell, isn't that why I've got a rational mind, so that I can at least make an effort to do what's helpful?

So if Andrew's students are generous in their giving, that's wonderful, but why is the generosity unquestioned, why is it simply assumed that giving to Andrew personally is what's most helpful? It'd seem to me that the unexamined belief (groupthink) that Andrew is a higher or perfect being (making distinctions of high and low, enlightened and unenlightened) is the source of the problem, and the specific abuses (such as coerced donations) flow from that, no?

Tuesday, 12 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stuart, a bit of patience is called for. What you describe on your blog sounds rather different from what is described here.

From what you mentioned on your site, your former guru was Muktananda.

M hit on women, rather than men, so you were not in the catagory he preyed upon.

Nor did you mention that your former guru obtained embarrassing love letters from you and then held on to such material after your departure.

Demanding that devotees grovel, abase themselves, write intimate, embarrasssing letters then keeping those letters on file after the devotee has been hounded out--that would be an extraordinarily shaming thing to live with and so hard to think about that one might never think to mention it to a therapist.

Wednesday, 13 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, Stuart, but the question I would then ask is was the money for Andrew personally...

Wednesday, 13 December, 2006  
Anonymous sadhvi said...

"My understanding of this is: if the intention in doing a practice is to get something (good feelings, status, enlightenment, etc) for myself, then it's a cause of suffering. If the intention is to find clarity that will serve everyone, then it can be medicine to remove suffering.

So I wouldn't focus so much on prostrations, or any other particular practice. I think the critical thing is why someone is doing it. "<< Stuart.
Ummm...firstly, I think I was talking about Cohen's intention, not the intention of the person doing the prostrations..the act of removing a practice from it's context and the inherent dangers of using intense "devotional" practices (i.e. prostrating to a picture of a very flawed individual )under the direction of that same very flawed individual, who is also your spiritual director ! The practice itself isn't the issue at all but the context seems to be very problematic...and all the "pure intention" in the world is not going to make prostrating to a photo of say, George Bush, the same as prostrating to a photo of the Buddha...except on the level of "the Absolute".
The other thing I have thought lately is that "intention" can be a very "slippery" thing indeed. We can imagine that we are doing a practice to "serve everyone" and be quite deluded..as evidenced by the Bodhisattva vow and how it has often been used by practitioners to simply feel "special".
So at a certain point in your practice, you might think your "intention" is very "pure", only to realize years later that you were really driven by ego after all. It seems to depend somewhat on just how much you are led around by your mind...?
sadhvi

Wednesday, 13 December, 2006  
Anonymous Martin Gifford said...

Jane,

No one begins the quest for enlightenment with the intention of becoming a slave to another human being and giving away $2,000,000 to that person! Isn’t it interesting how subtle the change is? The freedom-loving peacock gradually metamorphoses into an enslaving pickpocket. Yet the alarm rings at every step. The law generally protects the rich and businesses, not normal individuals - it’s the same process of subtle change.

Meanwhile, we have proof of brainwashing by Andrew Cohen: Jeff Carreira, Personal Assistant to Andrew Cohen for the past 5 years, wrote about Evolutionary Enlightenment teacher training in his Zaadz blog (see: http://jeff-wie.zaadz.com/blog/2006/12/eight_day_teacher_training). In that blog he said:

“…the only thing that will allow anyone to be able to convey the vast mystery and implication of this teaching is the degree to which the teaching itself has usurped their own spirit and guides their own lives.”

Yes, you read that right - spirit usurpation is the goal. That’s why so many of his disciples have become remote controlled Andrew Cohen clones. He sucks you in by pretending to be the embodiment of your ideals, then he convinces you to let your spirit be taken over by his teachings, and finally he convinces you that have achieved true autonomy once you have become a qualified Cohenism teacher. The above quote should be enough for everyone to leave him, but they won’t because his teaching has indeed usurped their spirits. I thought the goal was for your spirit to take over your life, not for another’s ideas to take over your spirit. [BTW, the Webster’s Dictionary definition of usurp is: “to seize and hold a position, office, power, etc. by force or without legal right.”

“I feared he would bring out all the endless love letters I wrote to him as proof that it was all voluntary.” “He always said the closer you'd get, you'd burn…”

To help clarify things for you or others, do you think those letters were actually to your own ideals and hopes, but you projected those ideals and hopes onto him instead? Of course, he believes in the love letters to him, but disbelieves criticisms. Once you’re close enough, you’ve got no personal will (no ego?), so he can get away with anything - he knows he can bite, and the disciple will not bite back. Those who rise up the ranks are supposed to be progressing, but in reality they are regressing. They don’t see it until they get out for a while. But ultimately, as he says, his failure is a challenge for you to do better - and simply becoming truly liberated would be doing better than him.

“…it has taken me nearly 8 years to feel comfortable in my own skin, enough to take responsibility for what I participated in, and to call a spade a spade, or as in this case, a narcissist a narcissist.”

This is the key. He receives lots of praise from those close to him and it takes ages for people to extricate themselves sufficiently to be able to objectively evaluate him and his teachings. He surrounds himself with yes-men and yes-women - that’s the real purpose of his magazine. It’s strange that people take ages to notice that he is a narcissist. His ego is one of the most obvious things about him - it’s gigantic. Would a sane respectful human being demand that others perform prostrations to his own photo?

“He spent $5,000 of his own personal money (not the organization's) sending her a truckload of flowers.”

This sounds like some kind of compensatory action, or perhaps it’s to prevent her from saying something bad about him. He goes to extremes when protecting himself, and also when attacking others. He gives a woman who withdraws money a truckload of flowers, while he denigrates his enlightener (Papaji) in multiple attacks, even writing a book about it!

In fact, his whole drama can be traced back to Papaji not loving him perfectly. In My Master is Myself, we find Cohen repeatedly calling Papaji his perfect father, and calling himself Papaji’s perfect son. That in itself is bizarre, but in his blog, Cohen wrote, “Our eventual parting of the ways was one of a series of extremely painful, emotionally shattering breakups that I’ve experienced because of my unwillingness to compromise my own integrity.” This reads like a cry-baby pretending to be a hero. How can someone who is supposed to be enlightened be emotionally shattered so easily?

In Living Enlightenment, Cohen states, “The fairy tale turned into a nightmare when it eventually became apparent that my teacher had more than one face. The agonizing ordeal I went through in trying to come to terms with the extreme split in his personality played a large part in initiating my ongoing quest to deeply understand what enlightenment actually is.” This raises a number of questions: Why is discovering that another human being is two-faced a nightmare leading to an ordeal? Is this an enlightened response? Why couldn’t he just shrug his shoulders and warn others not to stop short? Is the goal to become one-faced? Are we that simple? Is life that simple? Relationship is always a two-way street, so why doesn’t Cohen take responsibility for his input into Papaji’s actions? Does Cohen have an “extreme split in his personality”? Could the answer to his question, “What is enlightenment?”, be “to grow up, to accept the complexity of life, and to respect others which is the same as respecting life”?

Friday, 15 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Jane can find the stamina, and once her lawyer gives the 'all clear' she might consider sharing her story with persons who are financial planners, who create and manage trust funds, who advise persons inherit or acquire large sums of money--or are thinking of bequeating money to good cause organizations or to young relatives who are idealistic and potentially vulnerable to exploitation.

Trust fund managers need to know the signs that someone is being subjected to undue influence/extortion. Jane's information would combine very well with presentations on elder abuse--a very important concern.

Janes story is unique. Many who are defrauded of huge sums of money keep silent because so often they encounter vile and shaming ridicule when they report what has been done to them. If they have been traumatized by an extortionist who was an expert at instilling shame, this will make it all the harder to speak up.

Persons with wealth often may not suspect how they can be identified and then groomed for selective recruitment--and then have an attack launched right when they are vulnerable, and after the pepetrator has studied that
person's trigger points.

Many victims never imagine that their perp was studying them and perhaps keeping a dossier.

(A form of anti-therapy?)

It is worth speculating whether some abusive new age entrepreneurs select and cultivate people the way finance specialists select and manage investment portfolios--certain disciples may be tapped as short term investments, others more carefully groomed for long term investment purposes and so on, still others others utilized because they look good in PR adverts--the ones in the latter group probably dont get their faces slapped--they'd not photograph well. Yet others (eg yoga teachers, alternative healers in the neighborhood) may be targeted because they are a potential source of referrals to the leader. These sweet persons will not be shown any evidence of a dark side.

So, if Jane is up for it, she could at some point become a valuable consultant who could offer
in house trainings to financial institutions and investment firms.

This URL has advice for abuse survivors on how to go through a deposition. It is of course, no substitute
for proper preparation from one's own attorney.

http://pokrov.org/Articles/deposition1.htm

General guidelines for reporting abuse

http://pokrov.org/Editorials/reportingabuse.htm


Some random reflections on legal avenues and remedies:

I am not a lawyer or a Cohen survivor--just amazed that this pattern of human rights has been perpetrated for an astonishing 20 years. It calls into question the ability of the 'spiritual world' to self correct in relation to abusive leadership--and its inability to care for its own when they report being wounded.

Next, it is puzzling that a grand jury has not been called in.

It is just as strange that there appears to have been no recent coverage by a major US print media source since Luna Tarlo's book was published nearly 10 years ago.

1) It would be good if Cohen could be made legally accountable for his use of intimate letters students have written to him and that are reportedly kept on file at Foxhollow after they leave. Ditto if audiotapes, videotapes of students have been recorded while students are browbeaten/humiliated.

As part of any settlement, Cohen should agree to surrender any files he has kept on students and promise never to refer to them by name in public.

It may be that one reason why survivors feel such fear and shame after leaving is that their former leader has retained this kind of humiliating material. This may be so painful to contemplate that some may find so difficult to
remember clearly that they may be unable to stabilize that memory long enough to be able to tell a lawyer or mental health professional that their guru has embarrassing letters or captured them on film while breaking them down.

Persons tormented by lingering shame or depression may be haunted by these fears. This payload of shame may be so dreadful that they can't fully comprehend the role that apprehension about thier letters and other records might be
contributing to their depression.

Their lingering anguish may be seen as personal weakness when in fact, it is a valid response by healthy people to serious boundary violations.

2) Cohen's court physician/s may have legal liability if they have concealed injuries caused by
abuse. Even if a devotee of a guru, a physician remains accountable to the rules that govern his or her profession. Ditto for lawyers or accountants who conceal assets or assist in immigration fraud.

3) Persons in Cohen's inner circle may be at grave risk of being pressured to do things that are illegal.

At some point, if Cohen gets into trouble he could do what dope dealers do, cut a deal with the authorities and throw his loyal lieutenants to the wolves. Rajneesh did not serve jail time. His close associates did.

A physician or dentist who knowingly conceals injuries due to assault and fails to keep records and does not obey mandatory reporting laws is accountable. Ditto if injuries are treated at the ashram so as to avoid visits to the local emergency room.

**If Foxhollow is ever raided, authorities should make a point of securing medical files and financial records.

It would be also be interesting to find out if controlled substances were illegally/impropertly prescribed, procured
or coercively utilized at the ashram.

It would be very interesting to find out the extent to which local health care professionals colluded, knowingly or
unknowingly, in concealing the physicial and stress related injuries suffered by those at Foxhollow over the years.

Alka is probably the most-abused person in the whole group. Because she is the only person Cohen can permissibly have intimate relations with, he is profoundly dependent on her. And he probably resents that. She has probably been battered for years.

It may take Alka a very long time to speak up--if she ever does.

Finally, Cohen is, despite his bluster, vulnerable to exploitation. He has no children, is estranged from his blood family. At this time, he has no student whom he respects enough to consider a worthy successor.

It appears that he does not respect his wife.

He is rich and has a media empire. This will attract fortune hunters. Cohen could easily be exploited by someone who knows how to play to his dependency needs, which will only increase as he gets older.

It would be poetic justice if someone bled Cohen for his assets the way he has reportedly done to Jane and others.

Monday, 18 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reading these accounts makes me shiver. And it makes me grateful -- grateful that I never met Andrew Cohen and now, never will. I and many others were taken advantage of in similar ways by "Sri Sri" Ravi Shankar of Bangalore India. It amazes me to see just how similiar the tactics are with these people! The lambasting of the "inner circle", threatening de facto demotions because of lack of spritual progress. But even SSRS didn't demand thousands of prostrations! LOL That is sick and funny at the same time. I was only present one time when he demanded that each teacher bow to his feet. When I refused, he became red, but contained his verbal anger. He unleashed a kind of cold, sickening condemnation on me at that time. I was subsequently labeled "Judas" by the other teachers (I don't know if he told them to do that or not, when I left the session in disgust.)

It also amazes me how otherwise intelligent, talented, worthy people, allow themselves to be reduced to such levels by people like Andrew Cohen and Ravi Shankar. What starts out as trust and admiration of an "enlightened" one is quickly turned into servitude and self-doubt.

I am truly impressed at the lack of fear with which Jane and others express their hurt and anger openly. I, personally, to this day, really fear reprisals from SSRS and his organization (larger and possibly crueler than Andrew's) and so only speak out anonymously, that too, only recently and only with partial stories, to evade my identity being found out.

I found your blog linked to "guruphiliac.org" which I find extremely amusing and which I view as a help to all seekers who have been burned in various ways by false gurus.

Thank you all for being here and for being brave enough to confront someone like Andrew Cohen.

Wednesday, 03 January, 2007  
Blogger themeanderingmushroomman said...

now that some time has past, some of the dust has settled and some wounds have begun to heal ~ I would like to say, just for the record, that I will happily give up my ego for 2 million dollars. all anyone has to do is pay me in advance. andrew?

Friday, 27 January, 2012  

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