Friday, December 15, 2006

A Revolution in Finance

By S.A.

[Editors' Introduction: The following piece is by a former Andrew Cohen student and editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine. This is S.A.'s third contribution to the What Enlightenment??! blog. His previous articles are "A Response to Andrew Cohen's 'Declaration of Integrity'", part 1 and part 2.]

I was very moved by Jane O’Neil’s post, and would like to follow up with some additional remarks of my own.

The greatest mystery, for those of us who have embraced an ‘absolute view’ in the context of a relationship with a charismatic teacher, is confronted when we realize a) that its powerful appeal to our idealism is at least partly illusory, and b) that the teacher’s own adherence to such a view is a manifestation not of goodness but of pathology.

After an investment of years in a spiritual subculture based on an absolutized understanding of human motivation and behavior, these are shocking recognitions that require time to accept, absorb and appreciate. Only with time and distance does it eventually become clear to us what we have gained and lost through submission to a teacher who falsely professes perfect purity, and what the defining dynamics of our relationship with him actually were. But once these questions have been wrestled with, it becomes apparent that a human being who is less than perfect—who has faults and shortcomings—can still be a force for good in the world and make useful contributions to others. At first, it hardly seems possible to us that this could be the case—that the collective evolution of humanity does not depend on the attrition and eventual destruction of one’s ego—but it turns out that in fact it doesn’t, and that the acceptance of our complex wholeness doesn’t remotely resemble the ‘compromise with evil’ that Andrew’s ‘absolute view’ represents it to be.

Despite all this, the opportunity to strive in an environment that calls for ‘ego-death’ may still prove in retrospect to have been incredibly instructive and useful for our development—but only to the extent that it has not been irremediably damaging; and even so it may appear to have entailed an investment of time far greater than the benefits of such an experience will ever justify. This is the ‘burn’ of re-evaluation, and if in addition to our time and energy we have also been prevailed upon to ‘contribute’ large sums of money, the process is potentially even more infuriating.

The principal factor in my own decision to undertake a real reckoning with the facts and implications of my involvement with Andrew was the ever-expanding reservoir of evidence (in my own often repressed experience) that his conduct and underlying motivations are in reality far different from his own understanding of them, and that his capacity to comprehend their probable origins and tangible effects is, shall we say, less than adequate. To the extent that Andrew requires an illusory perfection of himself in order to deserve the adulation and respect he seems to crave, he most certainly has my sympathy, and I do mean that sincerely. But to the extent that he is driven to secure the collusion of others in the maintenance of this self-image through physical, emotional and financial abuses that overtly contradict it, I do not see him as entitled to my support or cooperation. Similarly, while Andrew’s deep-rooted discomfort with the status quo also elicits my genuine sympathy, I am viscerally disturbed by the spectacle of someone so busy ‘creating the future’ that he doesn’t care whose pockets he has to pick, in the present, to finance his bringing of ‘heaven to earth.’

This is not to say that I have no appreciation for the historical significance of figures like Andrew and the opportunity they represent for groups of people to gather together, perhaps at critical evolutionary junctures, for the completion of important individual and collective tasks. However (as Andrew himself points out in his ‘declaration’), the occurrence of this social phenomenon is by no means a guarantee of the ultimate integrity of the individuals involved, and with respect to corruption there have been as many permutations of the leader/follower equation as there have been leaders and followers. To go even a step further and acknowledge that Andrew and his teaching have attracted many good people, and that their engagement with his system—such as it is—has ‘produced’ many inspiring results, still leaves us with no ultimate certainty as to the wholesomeness and authenticity of his own personality and motivations. At the very least, we have to admit that there now exists a substantial body of evidence that calls these into question.

Like the initial emergence of such groups and leaders, their trajectory over time is also a social (and eventually a public) phenomenon, and to the participants who experience this trajectory in real time—inspired current students and disaffected ex-students alike—it’s something like watching a slow-motion ping-pong match. Even inwardly, emotions and reassessments volley pendulously back and forth, perhaps with somewhat greater intensity now that a public ‘dialogue,’ however dysfunctional, has begun to materialize.

In this public context, at the same time as there is ostensibly nothing to prevent individuals from drawing their own conclusions as they see fit, it would be foolish to suggest that the views of current students, prospective students and the interested public at large will escape the influence of the media through which this dialogue is taking place—principally this blog and Andrew’s blog, but also, and only somewhat less directly,,, What Is Enlightenment? magazine, EnlightenNext’s new ‘Evolutionary Enlightenment’ courses, and Andrew’s retreats, interviews, public dialogues and speaking engagements. Andrew has never made a secret of his desire (or responsibility) to create a ‘revolution in culture,’ nor has he ever abjured an opportunity to promote himself (including sharing the stage with public figures that he freely disparages in private). Thus it is only natural that the resolution, or lack thereof, of issues publicly aired will also be publicly witnessed and processed. Undoubtedly, for example, expedient abuses of Spiral Dynamics for the purpose of relegating critics to First Tier and elevating navy seals to Second Tier will continue and perhaps even evolve—though for my part I would echo Jane’s hope that Bill O’Reilly will not be roused from his restless meme to jump on anyone’s bandwagon.

The vicissitudes of public opinion aside, an area that now cries out for genuinely responsible handling on the part of Andrew and his organization is that of questionably solicited donations. It is difficult to imagine that anyone making public ‘declarations of integrity’ would want to have these tainted funds in his organization’s bank account if he could possibly afford to return them. This is after all not only a practical but a moral issue whose relevance is enhanced by the imminent prospect of EnlightenNext offering ‘Evolutionary Enlightenment’ courses to the employees of major banking and financial firms. As if this were not incongruous enough, the creator of these new courses, who has publicly stressed the importance of manifesting a level of personal integrity far exceeding conventional standards—and who as Andrew’s longstanding personal assistant has presumably cultivated such himself—was on at least one occasion given the responsibility of ensuring that the details of student donations solicited under pressure remained a secret not only to the public at large but to the vast majority of Andrew’s international ‘student body.’

In a truly ethical organization, these financial issues could and would be addressed not through legal channels but directly with the parties concerned. As practical matters, they transcend differences of perspective or opinion, and protocol as well as basic gratitude and common sense suggest that donors should be taken at their word with respect to the circumstances surrounding their donations. If dealing forthrightly with such ‘disputes’ represents a threat to the solvency of EnlightenNext, there is nothing in these donors’ histories to suggest that they lack the patience and generosity necessary to negotiate a mature and mutually acceptable compromise. One would also hope that any forthcoming refunds, should they materialize, would not have legalistic, truth-defying ‘gag orders’ attached to them as they have previously.

It hardly seems necessary to point out that when such matters are left to fester, a reasonably perceptive Spiritual Teacher needn’t look very far for explanations of bitterness and ill will among his former devotees.

A final and extremely pertinent question, given the secretive and coordinated nature of the pressure exerted on Andrew’s highly vulnerable donors, is whether the ‘integrity’ of the vaunted navy seals who colluded with him in his dubious fundraising practices really does dwarf that of the miserable green losers who have left his orbit. Interestingly, everything we know—and we know a lot because we used to be them—suggests that the answer to this question is a resounding no. On the other hand, all of these students (momentarily misguided though they may have been) were simply doing their utmost to live up to a personal standard best served, in their humble estimation, by total submission to their guru.

Should this be regarded as an invitation to cynicism? Hardly, because what it actually indicates is that the line dividing ex-students from current students is an illusory one that serves no purpose other than to inhibit the very ‘coming together’ that Andrew professes to stand for. And the two-million-dollar question is: Why? Is Andrew so insecure with respect to the efficacy of his own teaching that he believes its effects evaporate into thin air the moment someone has the courage to leave his company? If so, this is a pity for him that may well speak to his own isolation and loneliness, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is an inspiring and indissoluble solidarity between ALL of us who have sought to nourish our idealism at his feet. And the fact that in the end we know our own and each other’s hearts far better than he seems to be capable of is truly a mysterious and fascinating thing to ponder.

I mean—isn’t it?

And wouldn’t it be great if somebody at Foxhollow did some meditating on this and then mustered the courage to tell Sri Andrew-ji to get with the program?

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Simeon-san, you zen master, you shot arrow right into heart of the matter. I am . . . speechless . . . awestruck . . . with gratitude . . . gassho!

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


You advise Andrew Cohen to "get with the program", and you mentioned Cohen's personal assistant, Jeff Carreira who has started a program of teaching Evolutionary Enlightenment.

Have you seen his blog at Zaadz? It's here:

He writes: "...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."

So it's apparent that the "program" is to have Cohen's teaching usurp the spirits of his disciples.

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

Thanks for the link Martin. Reportedly, it's critical to Andrew that teachers "walk their talk" authentically. Duh? Where's the integrity, where's the "facing everything, avoiding nothing" in Andrew's own behavior with respect to coercing Jane into the donation and his response to her request for repayment?

Saturday, 16 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks Simeon!

I had to take the time to read through this piece a couple of times. You make so many great points so well.

There were a few points that really stood out for me. Firstly, how hard it is to let in that the investment of so much time and idealism might have been totally overbalanced by the damage done. A real burn as you said. A lot of us gave a lot of money under extremely dubious circumstances and still want to believe that somehow it went to something good. Jane's piece really bought home how dreadful it is to realize that the money you put in is being used ultimately to give Andrew credibility and standing.

Also the point you made about there being only an imaginary line between the second tier navy seals that are currently with AC and the green meme losers that didn't make the cut. You made that point elegantly and pursuasively. And I for one would genuinely hope that some of his closer students would be able to read that without the overwhelming predudice that comes with the territory of being in a 'for us of against us' regime.

Anyhow ..... Simeon, it was masterful! Andrew must really miss you as an editor for WIE :)

Sunday, 17 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew's skills of manipulation were quite evident in coercing Jane's donation and another event that immediately followed. The entire formal community in Marin was marched into a large meeting room and the riot act was read to them. Andrew was very dissappointed in their stinginess in the face of the large anyonymous donation Andrew secured. Matters would now be set right. Before any of the assembled formal students would be allowed to set foot on the grounds of the new center, they must each donate $1000 for each year they had been a student of Andrew's (up to $5000 max). End of discussion. Assembly dismissed.

Sunday, 17 December, 2006  
Anonymous Rick A said...

Dear Simeon and Friends

What I most like about this blog is hearing from so many good friends I lived with so closely as a student of Andrew Cohen's. The intensity of life in the community created a deep place in my heart for all my brothers and sisters on that path, so to you all this is a big HELLO and much love from Rick A.

What I least like about this blog is the polarizing tendency of the writers who generally would either have Andrew be a perfect villain or (much less commonly) a perfect saint. Clearly those of us who committed serious amounts of time and (often) money to the community experiment are left after the event with radically different evaluations of the benefits and significance of our experience.

This is what is most interesting to me – not trying to choose between two equal but opposite points of view but looking at all the individual variations that occur in weighing out the “incredibly instructive” ageist the “irremediably damaging.”

I am one of those who remain profoundly grateful for my time with Andrew and the community despite the very challenging events that others have documented in this blog. My lasting impression is not resentment, anger or distrust, although I can certainly relate to all of those responses in myself. But much stronger than that is my recollection of what a joyful life it was for the vast majority of the time and how the relentlessly restless vacuum I felt in the center of my being before joining the community has been filled by a deeper presence.

To gain this small degree of inner peace and understanding was a difficult process and I would not have stayed for ten years if it had not always been clear to me that genuine transformation of the individual was happing to me and to many of my friends around me. And this is why I have found it difficult to respond to this blog – because I know many of the writers went through the same process but they do not seem to acknowledge it, or at least not sufficiently.

Thank you for providing this blog space, for your openness to comments of all shades, and for the opportunity to once again to send you all much love.

Rick A

Monday, 18 December, 2006  
Anonymous Jane O'Neil said...

From Jane O'Neil

Dear Rick,

It is so nice to be reminded of you. I appreciated your thoughts and experience and respect your perspective.

I am someone who has a rather stark interpretation of Andrew's methods of reaching his teaching goals.

I, too, cherish the amazing love, connectedness, profound evolution that occured within the student body of Andrew's. The profound longing for truth and belief in real evolution among his students is a rare and beautiful in this world. I honor the experience, while simultaneously seeing it through a lense that I believe to be much clearer than during my years with him and the many years after.

At the end of the day all that matters is that the hidden is revealed and the details are exposed, then all the beauty and the corruption of power (that in my opinion was real) can be seen in the light of day. There should be no problem revealing all the nitty gritty details of actual events that took place if it all demonstrates real integrity and common sense practices to reach new heights of evolution. Nothing needs to be hidden or secretive if it all lives up to the scrutiny of observation.



Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Anonymous Hal said...

I also send my greetings and appreciate your contribution here.

I don't think it is as helpful to pit one "interpretation" of Andrew and community life against another as to talk about the actual facts and circumstances of Andrew's behavior and life in the community. Like Jane, I think the truth will come from really facing the "nitty gritty details" of what occurred and of what is occurring. We are all free to express our opinions, of course, but it is only when the real facts are openly revealed that we will be in a position to genuinely evaluate.

Just saying you think transformation occurred doesn't by itself say very much.

For example, in your case, how did you leave the community? (did you run in the middle of the night like Craig Hamilton, Susan B. and so many others? Were you asked to leave? Or did you leave with Andrew and the community's warm blessings communicated to you?) What specifically caused you to leave, feeling, as you do, that it is so positive? And why haven't you returned?

And please, I really hope you are not going to say it is because you are a loser and a "failure" as Andrew describes his former students in his "Declaration of Integrity."

It would be great to hear more detail about your experience and what caused you to leave.

Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Blogger Stuart said...

Martin Gifford said...
>Have you seen his blog at Zaadz?
>It's here: http://jeff-

I just took a look at this link. So OK, I'll stipulate that maybe Jeff is mostly interested in "preaching to the choir." But still... it's kind of amazing to me that this blog entry say practically *nothing*. I'm not saying he's wrong, but rather that he doesn't make any coherent point that could be right or wrong.

Check it out for yourself. "This group of people started at a much higher level in terms of both their ability to communicate in a teaching format and in terms of their understanding of the teaching." Talking about "a much higher level" is meaningless in the absence of addressing who's creating the scale on which "high" or "low" are measured, and why. Talking about "understanding of the teaching" is meaningless in the absence of clarity of exactly what the teaching is supposed to accomplish and why.

I took the trouble to go to Jeff's blog and actually read what he said. I gave him the opportunity to teach me something. Why did he offer nothing but vague generalities that taught me nothing?


Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I were Rick, I would have felt a little bit unwelcome by Hal's comments. I think Rick should be free to express his experience of both positive and negative and where he ultimately landed in terms of evaluating his experience that he shared with all of us for many years without having to be prodded to explain why he left the community in order to make his contribution to the blog legitimate....

Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I really agree with the last person's posting. I for one was just really happy to hear from Rick and found his comments totally open hearted and spacious.

It just feels really important, for all of us who spent many years with Andrew, and with each other, to give ourselves the space to freely express ourselves.

Where anybody finally lands in this is anybody's guess. Personally I just find that everyone sharing their experience deepens mine and gives me the space to explore my own.

Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Anonymous Hal said...

To the last anonymous poster:

I did say that everyone is free to post their opinion. The point was definitely not that Rick's or anyone else's opinion is not legitimate, but that it would mean more to hear facts than unsupported opinion.

It is stating an opinion without factual support that is polarizing (something Rick expressed he didn't like). The facts are not polarizing--they are the facts!

And since Rick opined that the community had great value for him, I think it's fair to ask him why he left and why he has stayed out.

My general point is that facts speak alot louder than opinion or interpretation without facts. I believe that when the facts are clearly seen and expressed, than our intrinsic ability to discriminate will guide us as to whether what is happening is harmful or beneficial, and ethical or unethical. And it will benefit not only those who were members of Andrew's community, but those who are trying to understand what they or their loved ones might be getting into when considering being a part of it.

Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think everybody is truly happy to hear from brother and sisters we've been separated from. I don't see Hal's comments as heavy-handed as others. If we're truly interested in knowing what's really true, we've got to ask tough questions and shine the light. Personally, I think the true gift that we received and came away with, was our relationships with each other. Whatever "evolution" occurred, was an evolution in relatedness. I gladly question the whole notion that what we experienced had anything do with enlightenment (whatever that is) or any kind of personal spiritual advancement.

And the idea that "they" have something inside the present community that anybody else doesn't have, is rubbish. The only separation is illusory and created by Andrew to keep his grip on his community of students. It is very dissappointing because of both Andrew's stance and the unquestioned acceptance by his students.

Tuesday, 19 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When investigating the Andrew Cohen phenomenon for a period of about three years, it was the students that impressed us the most. We found their passion and dedication to the teachings inspiring and energizing. The example of coming together to create a new model for community really captured our interest and got us very excited. Of course we fell in love with Andrew and got swept up in the idea that there could be a perfect teacher who would take us on and guide us in a new way to live and contribute to a new paradigm. The level of intelligence, passion and integrity that we recognized in Andrew's students really was the proof of the validity of the teaching to us. Had we known what was actually going in secret between Andrew and his committed students we would have been horrified and instantly repulsed. In a previous association with a spiritual teacher and heirarchy it became apparent that whenever anything good happened, we all immediately credited it to our teacher. Whenever anything negative happened it was always clearly attributed to a personal failure on our part. This got very confusing as we witnessed high-ranking students clearly abusing their positions of power and authority in ways that hurt us emotionally, spiritually and financially. Eventually we gave up and walked away. The dynamics involved are really worth looking into. Where does the spiritual teacher get all their power? They get it from their students. We give it to them. There is much to come to terms with here regarding our motivation and responsibility for our actions. Cudos to this forum for providing the space where we can come together, reflect, encourage, challenge and recognize our common experience. It is painful to be dissillusioned, but it is also the first step to true freedom. To the former students who contribute here, what you lived together was truly a grand adventure and I for one am deeply grateful to have witnessed people living out an experiment in what is possible when we break out of the status quo. I am dissappointed that Andrew could not recognize and support your dedication, nurture and inspire you onward. He had amazing people responding to his challenge. Something went terribly wrong.

Wednesday, 20 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Finally a recent entry to What Enlightenment blog that spotlights and questions not just AC's actions but his philosophical absolutism which he employs to justify those actions. When has absolutism not led to legitimized abuse? I myself am not anti-duality but since AC claims his teaching to be 'non-dual', one has to notice that nothing is more 'duality' ridden than the black-and-white absolutist position he takes in that name. I personally find AC's contention that the ego is unrelievedly evil to be benighted, a modernized version of the old Christian shibboleth, "All good comes from God; all evil comes from man". It is neither enlightened nor remotely evolutionary. Nor is the related contention that AC and Ken Wilber so cozily agreed upon, that 'the higher self has the right to force the lower self'. At best, these odious and time-worn convictions may serve a homeopathic purpose, rousing one's psyche to thoroughly wrestle and come to terms with these ancient imprints. His focus on purity as an ideal should recall to the collective mind the actual history of other movements that zealously pursued purity as the ideal, the God-serving cruelties of the puritans, the human-evolution-serving horrors of Hitler. It is not to AC's credit that such large-scale extremity of abuse has not yet transpired; it is entirely thanks to the goodness, the intelligence and the gravitas of his former followers.

Wednesday, 20 December, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The collective dignity of Cohen's students is indeed the most impressive thing that emerges from these pages like sunlight breaking from dark clouds.

Given the pressures reported by the many who have borne witness on this blog, let the record reflect that no one could live for years at a time under such reported pressures without having been an unusually strong person, and unless endowed with unusual physical and mental stamina.

Persons who get panic attacks when yelled at, who get quickly and seriously ill when suffering chronic anxiety and lack of sleep would not have been able to last longer than a few weeks, possibly a year at most, under the conditions reported on this blog.

Those who spent 5 years or more--you're strong, not weak. Your unusual physical and mental stamina probably enabled you stay as long as you did.

More sensitive, vata-predominent persons, who quickly generate high levels of adrenaline/cortisol (aka 'yin deficiency) when under ordinary stress--they would not have been able to remain for very long.

In hurtful organizations persons in the leader's inner circle may seem enviably privliged but may actualy incur levels of abuse much worse than anything visited upon peripheral members.

Those on the periphery are apt to get their bliss experiences and rarely think to ask whether those blis experiences have been purchased at the cost of other people's pain.

(In new age circles it is rare to question bliss itself.

These days, we are learning to select coffee and chocolate based on whether these have been grown by persons fairly paid and compensated, vs coffee and chocolate grown by persons tormented in slave labor or debt bondage.

Its time to educate the new age to ask if its bliss or transformative experiences originate from organizations that are honest and non-coercive)

Because peripheral members/bliss beneficiaries never directly witness the abuse meted out to inner circle members, they have no frame of reference when the full news is reported and they go into shock--and hasten to defend their bliss, because the alternative is painful disorientation.

Meanwhile abused inner circle members have often been persuaded that they were selected for such treatment because they are tough enough to take it. Americans have a horror of admitting to weakness, so few would say, 'I am too weak to put up with this horror--I'm outta here.'

Being sensitive, easily fatigued and requiring lots of sleep may actually be a blessing if it saves a person from being able to endure chronic abuse as an inner circle member.

This difference between the segregation of abuse between inner circle members who suffer the leader's shadow side and peripheral members who enjoy only the sunshine of the leader's sunny side is not confined to just one group.

A former Morman gave a twenty point list. Here are two:

19. Witness and Accept the Leaders' Faults

Once they reach the highest levels of the cult pyramid, members are privy to their leaders' darkest actions. Members must also come to terms with the abusive behavior of their leaders.

"Mormon missionaries also experience this cult phenomena first hand. True Believing Missionaries in the field think their assignments are inspired and the Mission President is a prophet.

"Those who end up working in the office learn the President has a dark side that is petty, arbitrary and cruel. Yet those exposed to this still propagate the myth that the President is divinely-inspired leader. This is also common in ward and stake leadership.

20. The Cult Leaders Are Perfection

"The final stage of cult indoctrination is to accept the leaders as the perfect center of the universe, from which all else derives. The "fully evolved" cult member thus understands all the pain and suffering as resistance to the cult leaders' divinity. The leader is the single point of entry for God and perfection in the otherwise imperfect universe.

....Thwarting one's natural tendency toward self-preservation becomes a pleasurable, almost fetishistic obsession. "

Amy Wallace's memoir of her life as a member of Carlos Castaneda's inner circle 'Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda.' gives a description of her experiences as a member of an abused inner circle who encountered utter incomprehension from those who had been on the periphery of the group.

What was good in the organization was your own goodness, in aggregate. There are events, such as the old California AIDS Ride, where that kind of collective goodness, centered on a clear goal, generated that same splendor.

Its yours. Its not as obvious when you're at home by yourself, but you each still have that inner pilot light. It is still there. No one can take it away from you. You can be distracted from it if suffering terror, or shame, but your original goodness is still there, waiting for the clouds to pass.

Wednesday, 20 December, 2006  

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