Thursday, July 18, 2013

THE “A” LIST: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse

The following is a list of categories of abuses committed over the years against students by Andrew Cohen and the EnlightenNext community, with selected representative examples. All of these acts have been reported, verified and corroborated by first-person witnesses. Most have been documented in three published books written by critical former students—Mother of God by Luna Tarlo (Andrew Cohen’s mother), American Guru by William Yenner and Enlightenment Bluesby Andre van der Braak—and on a blog by former students, What Enlightenment??!  This list is by no means exhaustive. Many other reprehensible acts, both subtle and gross, have been documented and, as former students are finding their power and their voices, more are emerging every day. This list is only a summary reference. It fairly represents the kind of abuses that frequently occurred in the EnlightenNext community, often justified under the rubric of acts of “crazy wisdom” designed to destroy “ego.” It is hoped that this list will aide former students in coming to terms with their history and trauma, and that it will serve as a warning and wake-up call to those who are currently engaged with Andrew Cohen, EnlightenNext, “Evolutionary Enlightenment” or its teachers, spin-offs and associates, and those who are considering engaging with them in the future. [We acknowledge and appreciate that some of the senior students of Cohen mentioned here may have played a role in recent events leading to Cohen stepping down from leadership of EnlightenNext, either temporarily or permanently. Yet, as of publication of this summary of abuses, none have publicly disassociated themselves from Cohen or disavowed the abuse of students documented here or their support of and participation in it in the past.] It is also hoped that this list may provide food for contemplation for Andrew Cohen himself and inspiration for his reform and remediation.
In the title of this list, “A” is for Andrew Cohen, for abuses committed by Cohen and his organization, and for long overdue meaningful apologies and reparations.

I.               Physical Abuse
1.    Hitting, slapping, punching of students by Andrew Cohen and other students at Cohen's command. At times a group of men were ordered by Andrew Cohen to corner and attack fellow students and at times men were ordered to restrain a man while Cohen hit him. 
2.     Having women repeatedly do full-immersion prostrations in a freezing cold lake in New England in the autumn (on EnlightenNext’s Foxhollow premises) as penance for perceived faults and “women’s conditioning,” some to the point of hypothermia, delirium and unconsciousness. Some women had to be rescued or helped from the lake, and some developed illnesses afterwards. Some women were berated and ordered to repeat their attempts to complete a required number of prostrations despite having become delirious or suffering hypothermia. No medical care was provided for women who passed out, suffered hypothermia or became ill, even though there was a doctor in the community and on the Foxhollow premises.
3.     Having students pour buckets of paint over the head of a former student who was helping to work on the Foxhollow EnlightenNext premises, as a form of punishment and humiliation.
II.    Financial Exploitation
4.    Using repeated group and individual pressure tactics on a student who Andrew Cohen knew to be psychologically vulnerable, in order to induce her to contribute approximately $2,000,000 for the purchase of the Foxhollow compound in Lenox, Massachusetts, the headquarters and residence of Cohen and the EnlightenNext community. Soon after meeting this student, Cohen had elicited from her that she had a trust fund and was in intensive psychotherapy four times per week, and persuaded her to cease her psychotherapeutic treatment.
5.    In preparation for the move to Foxhollow, Andrew Cohen required every Marin County, California student (where his major center of operations was at the time) to contribute $1,000 for every year they had been a student (up to $5,000), telling them that those who did not comply “would never set foot on the Foxhollow property.”
6.    In preparation for the move to the Foxhollow EnlightenNext Center, students were required to make a full disclosure of their finances to Cohen and the organization, and to undergo financial “counseling” as to how they would support themselves and the community after the move. In at least one reported case, a student was encouraged to lie to his parents in order to receive financial support so that he could pay rent to the organization after moving to Foxhollow.
7.    Frequently and repeatedly charging students "fines" of thousands of dollars for what Cohen considered to be various infractions, failures or slights. Ordering these students to pay these amounts or to leave their homes at his Foxhollow center or be banished from the spiritual community.
8.    Inducing a number of students to give Cohen or his organization their inheritances or obtain advances from their families of their expected inheritances in order to turn the funds over to Cohen or EnlightenNext.
9.    Using in excess of $500,000 in funds contributed to EnlightenNext to build and expand accommodations just for Cohen, including extra offices, a music studio and a yoga practice room.
10. Requiring students to provide Cohen with elaborate and expensive gifts, flowers and engage in various other forms of penance in order to apologize for perceived failures, wrongs or slights.
11. Imposing demands of long hours of work and labor for Cohen’s organization that made it impossible for students to earn a living and support themselves, often forcing students to incur thousands of dollars of debt.
12. Requiring a student to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting him from publicly criticizing Cohen or the community for a period of five years after leaving, as a condition of returning an inheritance contributed under Cohen’s pressure.
III.   Violation of Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Privacy, and Interference with Family and Personal Relationships
13. Requiring a student to visit prostitutes repeatedly over a several week period and to provide detailed faxed reports on these visits to Cohen, despite the student strongly expressing his strong disgust and emotional trauma over having to do this and daily begging Cohen to be allowed to stop. Witnesses saw Cohen reading and listening to the reports of the prostitute visits with great interest, enjoying and laughing at them.
14. Pressuring women to have tubal ligations (have their “tubes tied”) so that they could not conceive children. Encouraging men to have vasectomies. Actively discouraging the having of children by women and couples. Requiring some women to commit to having no children as a condition of being a student of Cohen. As a result of having made a commitment to having no children, as required by Cohen as a prerequisite for becoming a student, one woman had an abortion when she became pregnant. Many women refrained from having children, in some cases past the age to become pregnant, to their later regret.
15. Requiring some parents to live separately from their young children, sometimes in other countries and for long periods of time; actively discouraging parents from giving their children ordinary love, time, attention and priority in their lives or spending holidays and free time with them; sometimes advising parents to slap their young children.
16. Directly ordering the break up of numerous couples and families.
17. Exercising direct and complete control over students’ decisions regarding sexuality and relationships, including whether the student would be celibate or in a relationship, with whom the student could have a relationship, if and when students should end a relationship or marriage, and whether married couples or students currently in a relationship could have sex with their partner.
18. Ordering a student to tell his young daughter about her mother's (his wife's) long past infidelity, traumatizing the daughter and contributing to her alienation from her father and to alienation between her parents.
19. Directly giving harsh and critical messages to children in the community, including, in one instance, telling a thirteen year old daughter of students that she was “a little bitch now and soon you're going to be a big bitch.”
20. Telling a student she was a bad mother and threatening to have authorities take away her child.
21. Questioning students’ sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual. In one instance, forcing a heterosexual male student to spend an entire retreat questioning his sexual orientation because Cohen was mistakenly convinced he was really homosexual.
IV.  Emotional and Psychological Abuse and Ostracizing
22. Ordering a student who is a physician to simulate the amputation of the finger of another student who had sworn, under pressure, that he would cut off his finger if he failed to complete a writing project. This simulation included full preparation of the student for the amputation by the doctor and the doctor’s readying of surgical knives and only ceased just before actual amputation. As a result, the student was emotionally traumatized and soon thereafter fled Cohen's residential center, Foxhollow.
23. Yelling at a student whose husband had just committed suicide, calling the husband a “loser” and telling her that she should be happy to be rid of him.
24. Having a senior student telephone and loudly and harshly criticize at length an elderly and infirm former formal woman student (Caroline Franklyn) for a misperceived slight to Cohen, telling her that Cohen was furious at her for her failure to “admit her sin” and that she would “die a miserable old woman.”  Her health deteriorated alarmingly soon after this event, and within approximately a week she was dying in the hospital. Cohen failed to offer any communication to the woman of sympathy, support or forgiveness after her concerned family requested this until it was too late, as the woman had by then become unconscious. She died eleven days after her verbal scourging by the senior student. Cohen’s acts in this regard are considered by her family and others to be a direct cause of her decline and death.
25. On multiple occasions, criticizing, disparaging and finding fault in students who were suffering bereavement at the death of family and loved ones. For example, on one occasion, having the community harangue and yell at a student who was grieving the death of half of her family--the death of her sister, followed thirty days later by her father's death-- for “betraying Andrew” when she was grief-stricken and therefore unable to be as enthusiastic about Cohen's visit to Israel as was expected. When the student went abroad to look after her sister’s affairs, having students pile all of her belongings on the street, where most were stolen before the student could return to rescue them.
26. Ordering students to spend hours and days in a former sauna, and in a basement area of the EnlightenNext Center. These areas had been decorated with students’ letters splotched with red paint, representing "the guru's blood," and with cartoons of students who had left Cohen depicted as demons falling off cliffs and causing destruction. Students with whom Cohen was unhappy were characterized as having injured him and “spilled his blood.”
27. Frequently and repeatedly disparaging and criticizing women for their “conditioning” and resistance to him. Having female students repeatedly and at length contemplate disturbing cartoons depicting sexually predatory, violent and sado-masochistic acts, including one of a student eviscerating Cohen.  This was supposed to be either a punishment or cure for "female conditioning."
28. Requiring a student to move her office to a room in the Foxhollow basement that was painted red and decorated with a cartoon of her as a devil, and requiring her to spend many hours working there.
29. Isolating students for long periods of time in their apartments at Foxhollow, allowing them to leave only to work.
30. Ordering a student to have his newer luxury Saab crushed because he was too “attached” to it.
31. The frequent use of abusive, profane, shaming, jeering and insulting language by Cohen toward students, and the subjecting of students to public humiliation and shunning.
32. In small private groups of close students, Cohen frequently insulting attendees at public forums who he had behaved warmly toward in public, by calling them “fat,” “stupid,” “useless,” “disgusting” and other disparaging terms, and encouraging close students to do the same.
33. Giving students insulting, demeaning and humiliating names (e.g. “Dizzy,” “Mad Dog,” “Vacance,” “Raging Bull,” “Q the Clown,” “Mephisto,” etc.) and requiring the exclusive use of these names in the community.
34. Requiring students to shave their heads and take on celibacy vows as penance for perceived faults.
35. Threatening and enforcing excommunication and ejection of students from the EnlightenNext Center and from their homes, often without warning and, at times, late at night.
36. Revealing students’ confidences disclosed to Cohen to other students, including confidences of an intimate and sexual nature.
37. Depriving students of sleep to the point of exhaustion, often for years.
38. Depriving students of ordinary friendship and emotional support, frequently turning the entire community against individual students and prohibiting them from speaking, touching or having other contact with them.
39. Creating such psychological pressure on students that numerous students secretly fled the community, some at night, and many hiding and having little or no contact with other students or former students for years.
V.    Denying and Discouraging Students’ Freedom to Leave the Community
40. Holding and withholding students’ passports, credit cards and car keys so that they could not leave community premises.
41. Posting guards outside a students’ bedroom so that he could not leave, forcing him to secretly exit through a window at night and flee.
42. Having a student who was trained in the Dutch equivalent of the military special or commando forces threaten another student with serious physical injury should he ever leave Andrew Cohen, telling the student that if he ever left Cohen, “no matter where you are on the planet, I will find you and break every bone in your body.”
43. Subjecting students who expressed their wish to leave the community, or to lessen their involvement with the community, to lengthy interrogation, haranguing, meetings and coercive discouragement from leaving or lessening their involvement.
44. Having students track down other students who left the community, bringing or attempting to bring them back. 
45. Having students write disparaging and insulting letters to students who chose to leave the community.
46. Andrew Cohen repeatedly telling students that if they left the community it would be the equivalent of “literally committing spiritual suicide” and that they “can never escape me” as “I am their direct connection to the Absolute.”
47. Repeatedly telling students that there were no valid spiritual teachers other than Cohen or valid spiritual paths other than his, and that if they left him their lives would be meaningless and hellish.
48. Cohen, when among close students, ridiculing, laughing at, insulting and dismissing other teachers, public associates and peers, such as Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama (“an idiot”), Don Beck (“a disgusting old man”), Craig Hamilton (“a big baby”), Ken Wilber (“a huge narcissist”), Michael Beckwith and Barbara Marx Hubbard (“they just don’t get it”)  and various members of the Integral community, such as David Deida, Terry Patten and others, and encouraging close students to do the same.
49. Disparaging and expressing extreme anger and hatred by Cohen toward students who left him; labeling such students as devils, traitors and “losers” and often “disappearing” them, denying their contributions and the years of labor they had given him and his community.
50. Discouraging students who leave from having any contact with other students who had left, labeling those who left as “losers” and “the shadow sangha.”

As a result of abuse suffered in the community, many former students experienced trauma, depression, disorientation, loss of connection to spirituality in any form, and the need for psychotherapeutic treatment after leaving Cohen’s community. Numerous former students are still struggling to come to terms with their experience in Cohen’s community, sometimes a decade or more after leaving.

[version 2.1-6/11/14 (numbering; minor factual correction; student names removed from intro)
v. 2.2-1/10/15 (revised #14)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

Sunday, July 07, 2013


What follows is an account of my attendance at a half-day “Evolutionary Enlightenment” seminar given by Andrew Cohen in Toronto on 22 June, 2013, and a private meeting that I had with him afterward. The seminar was entitled “Living at the Edge of Everything.” As the afternoon progressed, it became increasingly clear to me that my impressions might be of value to those interested in a power struggle that had occurred recently in Cohen's universe: He had been forced into some sort of reckoning with his conduct as a “guru,” and pressured by his “senior students” into vacating his leadership position at the organization he had founded, “EnlightenNext.”

It must be borne in mind that these are my personal impressions, and that anyone else in my position—as well as Cohen himself—might have come away with something different. That being said, I'm surprised at how well I've been able to recollect the sequence of our interaction; the conversation presented here is quite close to a verbatim transcript. I find it harder to tell whether my approach was either too aggressive or too indulgent. I do believe that the questions I raised with Cohen are relevant and valid given his role and his record.
I attended Cohen's seminar reluctantly, as I felt that it ought to have been possible to arrange a simple meeting with him on the strength of our past relationship. (I am a former “student” who worked closely with Cohen for five years.) At the time, it was common knowledge among some disaffected ex-followers of Cohen's that he had recently begun engaging by telephone with some of the many individuals who had become alienated from him as a result of his manipulative and abusive behavior. But it had also come to light that he had been instructed to do this by his organization's PR strategist as part of a more comprehensive campaign to refurbish his reputation.
I had initiated contact by means of a friendly email a few weeks earlier, and Cohen had responded in kind, agreeing to a meeting and requesting that I contact him closer to the date of the event. I did so, but had heard nothing by the night before the seminar, so I decided to purchase a ticket. I sat in the first row on the far right facing the stage, and when Cohen came out to be introduced he was standing directly in front of me. I waved to let him know I was there, and he acknowledged my presence.
A bit of research had alerted me to the fact that Cohen had developed a sizable following in Toronto, including a dedicated core group that meets regularly to discuss his publications and videos and registers for his online courses and virtual seminars. According to EnlightenNext's 2010/11 “Biennial Report,” some members of this group (“EnlightenNext Toronto”) had donated thousands of dollars to the organization, and it was clear that they had effectively publicized this event and made sure that many of their friends were in attendance. The assembly gave Cohen a big round of applause as he mounted the stage, prompting him to wonder why, “with a reception like that,” he hadn't visited the city sooner. 
For the most part I found Cohen's lecture extremely boring, although some of the things he said struck me rather differently than they would have several years ago. In particular, I was aware that the “enlightened condition” that he was describing as authentic and revelatory seemed more like a dissociated state essentially devoid of human emotion. Cohen's sermon on morality, which hinged on an examination of the differences between Adolf Hitler and Martin Luther King, struck me as a subtle strategic disavowal of any possible similarities between Hitler's actions and his own. (Obviously, I'm not referring here to scale of devastation but to unacknowledged unsavory motivations.) And in his instruction to his listeners to take his words “with a grain of salt, but not too big a grain”—so as not to miss something of potentially crucial importance to their lives—I recognized a stratagem for short-circuiting critical thinking and encouraging suspension of disbelief. An apparently new direction in Cohen's teaching was his observation that some Christian organizations, along with “the greatest gurus in India,” have created facilities for helping to ease the suffering of the poor. He went on to suggest that “relieving people's suffering” is an important aspect of enlightened spirituality, but this talking point seemed out of place, as if it had been implanted in his brain somewhat recently and had not yet been fully integrated. Finally, I found that I was hearing Cohen's descriptions of his mental state during his formative years differently than I once had; they elicited compassion while offering some measure of insight into his present condition.
During the bathroom break, I had interactions with a few of Cohen's current longstanding students. The odd impression I took away from each of these conversations was that these students seemed relieved (and possibly even overjoyed) to be able to talk disparagingly about Cohen and his travails. Smiles would appear on their faces as they said daringly disrespectful things—but they were still Cohen's students, were still working for him, and without exception shared the conviction that his “teachings” remained valid and legitimate. Some had traveled great distances to be there.
One of these—a “Senior Teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment” who had served for several years as Cohen's personal assistant—had capitalized on his status in Cohen's organization to form a business arrangement with another (more financially successful) organization while continuing to function as EnlightenNext's “Director of Education.” When I asked him if this meant that he was now more “out” of Cohen's group than “in,” he said “out,” but I had to wonder how this held up logically against his presence in Toronto as a facilitator for this event. (He had relocated to Philadelphia from Foxhollow, Cohen's Berkshire ashram, only two months earlier, having worked closely with Cohen for the previous seventeen years.) This “Senior Teacher” explained to me that the “virtual holon” he belonged to, which included five of his male colleagues in the U.S. and Europe, was the mutinous vanguard that had stood up to Cohen, forced him to take a good look at himself, and relieved him of his authority. Despite this development, however, each of the individuals he mentioned remained, like him, closely involved with Cohen and EnlightenNext.
A second longtime student I spoke with, when I asked him what he thought Cohen would be “looking into” during his forced sabbatical, glanced carefully over each shoulder before smiling slyly and confiding, “Pathology.” This was definitely unusual; in the past, I had seen references by students to Cohen's shortcomings inspire him to heights of punitive creativity.
When Cohen's seminar was over at 4:00 pm, the leader of his local fan club let me know that Cohen intended to spend some “quiet time” with me at a bar once he had finished signing copies of his “international bestseller,” Evolutionary Enlightenment. Would I be willing to wait for Cohen at the bar until 5:30? Glancing over at the book-signing table, I noticed that Cohen was quite busy, so I gave his representative my number and asked him to call me when he thought Cohen would be ready to meet.
I didn't receive the call until 6:00 pm, at which time I was told that I should get myself to the bar immediately, as Cohen had just arrived there and ordered a drink. I said that I couldn't get there immediately, but would need a few minutes. Cohen's representative said “Okay” and hung up. Five minutes later he called again to ask where I was. I said I needed a just a little more time. He said that Cohen only had until 6:30, when he was due for dinner with his local acolytes. I indicated that since in that case we would only have fifteen minutes together at the most, it might be better to ask Cohen if we could meet after his dinner. He said he would ask and hung up. Thirty seconds later, he called back to say that if I wanted to meet with Cohen I had to “make it happen now,” otherwise I should just forget it. He added that Cohen was willing to postpone his dinner an extra ten minutes if I came right away. I told him (having anticipated most of this) that I was already en route. (The vibe I got from this intermediary—who otherwise seemed like a nice enough fellow—was that if Cohen had instructed him to waylay me in an alley and shoot me, he would gladly have done so.)
When I arrived, Cohen was sitting at the bar with his drink, and he motioned his companions to leave so that I could sit down on the barstool next to him. I extended my hand in greeting, but Cohen said, “Don't I get a hug?” I obliged him, but I felt extremely uncomfortable doing so, and given the circumstances it seemed to me that things were getting intimate between us rather too quickly. I felt that while Cohen was genuinely happy to see me, he was trying to pull me in by sheer force of will. We had not seen each other in fourteen years, and our parting had not been amicable.
I asked Cohen how he felt his presentation had gone. He said it had seemed to go well, then asked what I had been doing lately. He wanted to know about my academic and creative activities, how old I was now, and whether I was married. He was also interested in exploring my familiarity with certain philosophers, as he had been in the past. But I felt that all these inquiries, though innocent, were leading stubbornly in the direction of a premature camaraderie and an illusory commonality of interests. After responding to several of them, I said, “And what's been happening with you, Andrew?”
Cohen stopped cold and said, looking at me intensely, “Well, that's a pretty vague question, don't you think? Maybe if you could tell me more specifically what you're asking about, I could give you a better answer.” His eyes met mine somewhat warily. He blinked, but just once or twice.
“I hear you've been dealing with some difficulties lately,” I said.
“Oh, that,” he replied—of course he knew exactly what I was talking about.
“Yes, that,” I said. “What about that, Andrew?”
Cohen immediately went into a somewhat robotic speech about looking at himself in ways he never had before, taking six months off to deal with these new issues that had come up, and implementing measures intended to facilitate “healing” with former students who still had longstanding grievances against him.
“And after that?” I asked.
“I don't know. We'll see what happens. It's all unknown.”
“Do you plan to teach again?”
“We'll see.”
“Are you planning to explain to people why you're doing this?”
“Do you really think six months is enough?” I persisted. “If I were in your position, I'd think six years would be more like it.”
I asked Cohen what he thought his former students were angry about, and he launched into a philosophical explanation about how, in his role as a “guru,” he had “overemphasized Eros at the expense of Agape,” with the result that he hadn't been as “kind” and “sympathetic” toward these students as he should have been.
Having read Cohen's infamous “PR plan,” I had certainly been expecting this, but something about actually hearing him say these things unnerved me, and I began to feel uncomfortable and a bit clumsy. I found that I couldn't bear to look at him—a feeling that had already been developing for a short while, since he had been staring at me pretty consistently without blinking. I couldn't figure out what to say next. My mouth was dry, and I asked the bartender for some water.
Cohen quickly pounced. “The reason you're having trouble,” he said, “is because you're thinking too much.”
I found it thoroughly annoying that he thought he was still my teacher.
“Andrew,” I said, “this isn't about me. It's about you.”
“Well that's a new one,” Cohen rejoined with a wry smile. “Most of what I've been hearing lately is that it's not about me, that I should be paying more attention to them and how they feel.”
“Andrew,” I said, “it's not that they want you to pay attention to them. They want you to pay attention to what you did to them that made them feel the way they do. You did some pretty awful things, Andrew. You. You did those things.”
“I know.”
“And they want you to consider what it means about you as a person that you were capable of such actions. What do you think it means?”
“I know I've made some mistakes,” Cohen admitted.
“You're giving me such a strange feeling!” I said.
“What is it?” he asked.
I couldn't quite get a handle on what it was. “What's the word? Impervious. Impenetrable. I feel like I can't get through to you.”
He was staring at me with such detached intensity that I felt I had to wave my hand in front of his eyes to get his attention. I actually tried this. It had no effect whatsoever.
I decided to be more direct.
“I was talking about you with one of your students this afternoon, and do you know what he said? He used the word pathology. That's a word that would've been verboten in my time.”
Cohen's gaze went slightly vacant.
“Andrew,” I said, “I'm sorry, but believe it or not, I'm here to support you in getting clear about this, because in spite of everything, I care about you and I would like to help you if I can.”
Cohen had rallied. “Thank you,” he answered, “I appreciate that. Sincerely.”
“Andrew,” I said, “I have to ask you something.”
“Are we speaking as equals here?”
Cohen looked me in the eye. “Yes,” he said, and then, after a pregnant pause, “as peers.”
This struck me as an odd choice of words. It seemed to imply that he was inviting me up to his level, instead of coming down to mine or just abandoning altogether the notion of some implicit hierarchy. I felt that I didn't want to be his peer, I simply wanted to create the conditions necessary for a modicum of uncomplicated honesty between us.
“Andrew,” I said, “what I'm offering you, if you're interested, is dialogue—whether it's now or in the future. I'm not too bad at it, you know, even though it might not seem that way at the moment.”
Cohen smiled.
“Anyway,” I said, “I'm glad to know that we're speaking as equals, because otherwise I'd feel uncomfortable saying what I have to say here. Even knowing that you were once my teacher is going to make what I'm about to say feel kind of strange. May I say it?”
“Okay, I'm listening.”
“Andrew, I've been reading your PR plan, and I have to tell you that chalking this up to 'Eros versus Agape' isn't going to cut it. Chalking it up to 'Founder's Syndrome' isn't going to cut it. Chalking it up to some 'Mythic Guru' nonsense isn't going to cut it. None of that is going to cut it—do you know why? Because this isn't philosophical, it's human. What you did to these people wasn't philosophical. You caused real harm, and some of the harm you caused was simply incredible. How are you going to justify that with some philosophical explanation? And Andrew, this is going to sound especially strange since you were once my teacher, but you can't allow yourself to go in that direction at all, because if you even get near it, the temptation to be philosophical about this is going to become so strong that you'll never be able to pry yourself away from it, and nothing will ever change. Do you know what I mean? I'm really sorry to be talking to you this way, but we both know that that's how it is.”
“Look,” said Cohen, “as I said, I know I've made mistakes, and because of the mistakes I made, something that is very beautiful is not as beautiful as it could have been, and I feel terrible about that, because if I hadn't made those mistakes, those people wouldn't have left. And that's why I'm trying to make amends with the people I hurt—so that the potential of this beautiful teaching can be realized.”
“Andrew,” I said, “how can you say that something is beautiful when it's bound up with so much incredible damage and destruction? It doesn't make any sense. Don't you think you might at least have to ask yourself a few questions about everything that's happened? Don't you think there might be some flaw in the whole thing that you might have overlooked?”
“I have no doubt that I brought something beautiful into the world,” said Cohen, “something that wasn't here before and that is significant for the evolution of humanity.... When did you leave?”
“When did I leave? What do you mean?”
“When did you leave us? What year?”
“So you weren't there for what happened on July 30th, 2001.”
“July what?”
“July 30th, 2001.” [I forget what he called it—please excuse my ignorance, but someone reading this is bound to know; apparently a monument was erected to commemorate the event referred to.] “You left too soon,” Cohen went on. “Everyone who was still there at that time saw the beauty and potential of this teaching become manifest in a way that left no room for doubt, and it's because of what happened on that day that I have no doubt that I brought something beautiful into this world, and that because of that, nothing will ever be the same. But without having the context of that experience, you can't possibly understand what I'm talking about.”
I was visibly touched by this, and Cohen seemed more than ready to attribute the moisture in my eyes to the incontestable logic of his cosmology. Actually, it was the condescension and desperate grandiosity of his declaration that amazed me. I was awed, stunned and humbled. How I could ever hope to be Cohen's “peer” when I lacked this vastly superior context?
“Well, Andrew,” I said with some sadness, “I guess that's my loss.”
And I really did feel at a loss. The power of Cohen's conviction was so strong that I'd begun to realize I would never get through to him—I was by now certain of this. But I was also realizing how lost I would have been had I remained in his orbit long enough to witness the “miracle” (of July 30th, 2001) that his faith in himself was now eternally tethered to. I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I had not remained in his community a moment longer than I had.
“Listen,” Cohen said, leaning in toward me as he took my hand in his and rested his other hand on my knee, “I know I let you down. I'm sorry.”
How could he have let me down, I asked myself, when he had never had anything real to offer me in the first place? The idea that I had needed something from this man, and that because he had failed to provide it I had missed out on one of the most significant events in the history of the universe, struck me as ludicrous and vaguely insulting. But I somehow continued to feel entranced, as if I'd been manipulated against my will into an alternate reality. I felt that I was in the presence of an individual with such tremendous willpower that I had to be constantly vigilant in order not to abandon the most basic premises of my own experience. Even more strangely, I suddenly had the profound intuition that he was utterly devoid of conscience, that he lacked any authentic ability to care for or about another human being. It was clear that his deluded agenda took absolute precedence over everything. He was perfectly singleminded. Feeling his hand on my knee suddenly made my skin crawl.
“Andrew,” I said as I pulled away from him, “don't you realize how much anger people feel toward you? Don't you ever wonder what that's about?”
“Are you angry?” Cohen inquired, leaning in again. “Why don't you tell me a couple of things that I did to you, so that I can apologize?”
This felt very weird to me, and though I may be paranoid, when Cohen made this request I had the distinct impression that he was anticipating with a kind of perverse pleasure the opportunity of hearing a specific example of how he had caused me to suffer, and everything in me resisted the possibility of allowing him this gratification.
“Andrew,” I said, “I'm fine. It's you I'm worried about. I feel for you and for what you're going through. From a certain point of view, when I think about what lies ahead of you, I feel that it would have been easier for you if you had managed to die this way.”
Our eyes locked momentarily.
“Well, as you know,” he said matter-of-factly, “I believe in the continuity of consciousness, so if I don't deal with it now, I'll just have to deal with it later. So I might as well do it now.”
I looked at my watch. It was 6:30. “Looks like you've got to go,” I offered, but Cohen said that he could stay a bit longer. I had a message from a former colleague on my laptop that I wanted him to read, and I took the brief opportunity to disengage that reaching for my knapsack afforded me. I opened up my computer on the counter. Cohen put on his reading glasses and we read the message together in silence. Then I handed him a message from another former colleague in a sealed envelope, and told him who it was from.
“Where did you get this?” he asked. He had an expression on his face that made me think he might have had a soft spot for this former student and missed her. I told him that she had emailed it to me and that I had printed it out for him.
“Oh,” Cohen said, “they knew you were going to see me.”
“Of course, Andrew,” I said. “I know that you've talked to a few people on the phone, but I'm the first one who's had a chance to speak with you in person, so of course people are going to be curious to hear what happened.” Though it seemed highly unlikely, I felt an obligation to give Cohen a chance to say something that might reassure his disaffected ex-students, that would give them some faith in the possibility of a genuine expression of remorse on his part. “Andrew,” I said, feeling somewhat helpless, “what am I going to tell them?”
“I can't tell you what to say,” Cohen answered curtly.
We could have spoken longer, but I suddenly felt a strong desire to leave. “I don't have anything else,” I said. “I'm going to go.”
“Okay,” said Cohen.
We embraced again, and I asked him to give my love to his wife. I reminded him that he was welcome to contact me whenever he liked. Then I was out the door.
* * *
While it may strike some observers as overly generous, I've concluded since the above encounter that it is pointless to hold Andrew Cohen responsible for the considerable devastation he has left in his wake. The reason for this is the “pathology” now alluded to even among those of Cohen's students who, despite his destructive behavior, still remain loyal to him. Though many of Cohen's past actions cannot fail to strike all but his most indoctrinated followers as perverse if not evil, it seems clear that his psychological condition is such that he cannot will himself to behave differently. In light of this, it goes without saying that his functionality as a “spiritual teacher” is essentially a non-issue, and that it would be to everyone's benefit if his general reputation, rather than being manipulated by consultants, came to reflect his fundamental incompetence.
As adept as they may have become at rationalizing it, Cohen's students have always been at least dimly aware of a Jekyll-and-Hyde quality to the disjuncture between Cohen's “highly evolved spirituality” and his extremely predatory conduct. Looked at from a perspective that privileges Cohen's self-proclaimed “enlightenment,” this incongruence tends to be pretty confusing, whereas when examined in a context that includes the possibility of narcissistic personality disorder (“NPD”), one finds that it makes perfect sense. But this is a hard won insight, and as I discovered during his seminar, perceiving Andrew Cohen in this light requires a willingness to squint, to listen critically, and to read between the lines. Then one begins to recognize in his “teaching” not just an evolutionary spiritual doctrine but a well-developed technique for inspiring the reverence he requires from others in order to affirm his own tenuous sense of self. Accordingly, what a “teacher” like Cohen banks on is the effectiveness of his Orwellian strategies (“The Bondage of Liberation,” “The Epidemic of Narcissism”) for preempting or circumventing the critical capacities of his listeners.
Whatever genuine spiritual progress they may also have achieved through dedicated spiritual practice, all of Andrew Cohen's students have at one time or another found themselves infected by this viral “transmission.” They discover the core tenets of Cohen's formulations rolling off their own tongues in a hypnotic and intoxicating way, and are gratified by the magical consensus they are able to generate through the articulation of some mind-blowing “transformational truth.” Cohen's currently expanding galaxy of alumni spin-offs consists of those “stars” most successful at cultivating—perhaps less compulsively than the master—the underlying manipulation and opportunism of his technique. Some were predisposed in this direction from the beginning, while others have been corrupted through prolonged exposure without (one hopes) fully realizing what they have become. And some of these “leaders” appear to be facing a confusing dilemma in the aftermath of their guru's abdication: How does Cohen's “teaching” stand up once its narcissistic roots have begun to show? Are they, as individuals, sufficiently charismatic to aspire to guruhood themselves, or are they merely residual spokespeople for a newly secularized spiritual ideology?
No doubt such questions will also figure in Cohen's own forecasted dialogues with Ken Wilber on “the death of a mythic guru,” which are clearly intended to pave the way for Cohen's expedient reinvention of himself as Wilber's fellow “pandit.” (Or were; at the time of this writing, the first of these broadcasts had just been cancelled or postponed.) From the point of view of accountability, Cohen almost certainly now regards “pandit” as a safer role than “guru” to the extent that it reduces the likelihood of his having to face aspects of himself which, in all probability, he simply can't afford to look at. (Anyway, that's what he seems to be shooting for at the moment.)
Len Oakes's book, Prophetic Charisma, provides a useful template for understanding the phenomena considered here. Also, for a detailed and revealing description of NPD, the content to be found in Sam Vaknin's book, Malignant Self Love, is extremely helpful. Those who have spent time in Cohen's intimate company will recognize the dynamics forthrightly depicted there by one who (refreshingly) actually acknowledges suffering from this condition.
The communal social structure that Cohen has surrounded himself with for the past twenty-five years was built on such skewed “intersubjective” dynamics, and Cohen's students, even when they have wished to do so, have found these understandably difficult to see through and resist. This is even less their fault than it is Cohen's: When you have on one hand a prospective follower who is idealistic, credulous, and perhaps a little too hungry for guidance, and on the other an established communal social order organized around a spiritual ideology that has been bent to the needs of a sociopath, you have all the ingredients necessary for a perfect storm. With any luck, those seeking clarity will now have an opportunity to come to terms with their past experiences and move on. For those just getting involved, caution remains in order. Failure to recognize the truth about Andrew Cohen can still leave the credulous seeker defenseless against a mediated spiritual “brand” of compulsive predation and vampirism. If you have any doubt, read American Guru or the archives of this blog, which have been around for a while now.
—former student

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, June 21, 2013


Controversial spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen will be stepping down from his role as guru and leader of the organization he founded, EnlightenNext. In a startling turn of events, Cohen has also begun apologizing to some former and current students for misdeeds and abuses of the past. Core students in the leadership of EnlightenNext have left the organization and apparently struck out on their own. But a recent “PR and Communications Plan” message, widely circulated to EnlightenNext students, leaves both the scope of future change in the organization and the depth of Andrew Cohen’s remorse over his abuse of students in the past unclear.
We at What Enlightenment??! first got wind that significant changes for Cohen and EnlightenNext were happening several weeks ago. We heard rumors that core members of Andrew Cohen's EnlightenNext organization had been calling Cohen to task for some time, attempting to get him to change an autocratic and authoritarian style of leadership. We also heard that some members of the EnlightenNext leadership had recently left the organization. There were rumors that large numbers of students had followed suit. But all of this was difficult to confirm as no one concerned had made any public statement of schism or disaffection.
So, in awe and wonder, we began to investigate. Sources close to EnlightenNext have since told us that criticism of Cohen began in the upper echelons over four years ago. Sometime over a year ago, some of these senior students were ordered by Cohen to meet together in London, apparently to attempt to purge themselves of their rebelliousness. Instead, at their meetings their questioning of Cohen’s authoritarian style of leadership deepened. They eventually stopped sending Cohen notes of their meetings, as expected and required. Soon they were joined in their dissent by other EnlightenNext leadership. A united front formed. As if this were not shocking enough, we heard that things had recently come to a head in a meeting between senior students and Cohen in Europe. A line was drawn in the sand, it was said. Not being satisfied with Cohen's response, a number of leaders left the community. Many other members followed suit.
Yet nothing was publicly disclosed of this rift. We waited to see how things would develop and if any public statement would be forthcoming. Recently, we noticed a public web announcement that the Netherlands EnlightenNext Center would no longer be associated with Cohen’s organization as of this summer. But the bombshell fell when we received from an anonymous source the “PR and Communications Plan” sent out to EnlightenNext members on June 15, 2013. This fascinating yet puzzling document is reproduced here, below.
It remains to be seen what this all means, or how it will play itself out. We have heard from several former close students of Andrew Cohen that he has contacted them personally to apologize for past misdeeds. Yet these students have also reported that Cohen seemed “cut off,” even “robotic” in his communication. Cohen has also personally contacted some current EnlightenNext students, presumably to apologize for past misdeeds to them. The news of apologies was unexpected and somewhat encouraging. Yet the “PR and Communications Plan” reproduced below makes one wonder whether all of this is part of a well-orchestrated public relations campaign, rather than the sign of a genuine turn to humility by enlightenment’s infamous “Rude Boy,” as Cohen’s friend Ken Wilber called him.
EnlightenNext appears to be attempting to explain the changes as part of a natural evolution away from the authoritarian-mythic “blue meme” guru model, using terminology originated by Don Beck and Chris Cowan in their Spiral Dynamics model of human development, a model which has been widely adopted by Integral Theory teachers and thinkers, such as Ken Wilber. The PR Plan also identifies the need to address “Founder’s Syndrome,” a situation where the founder of an organization impedes its development. These theoretical explanations, with no mention of the harm Cohen and his organization have done to students and with no inkling of empathy for the suffering those students endured, make one wonder whether EnlightenNext’s culture of authoritarianism and abuse will really change.
And what to make of the silence of those in the leadership who reportedly parted from Cohen? We wonder whether the senior students who left Cohen will attempt to follow the course of former student, What Is Enlightenment? magazine editor and Integral Enlightenment founder Craig Hamilton. Readers of What Enlightenment??! will remember Hamilton from years past as a vitriolic and insulting defender of Cohen on this blog. Later, Hamilton secretly fled Cohen’s Lenox, Massachusetts Foxhollow compound like so many other abused and damaged students, and was severely disparaged and ridiculed by Cohen, again like so many others who fled Cohen’s abuse. Yet little more than a year later, Hamilton re-created himself as a successful “graduate” of Cohen’s community, and the founder of his own “enlightenment” school, Integral Enlightenment, offering webinars and on-line courses on his philosophy, a close cousin (some might say almost a carbon copy) of the integral-oriented “evolutionary enlightenment” teaching created by Cohen. Hamilton has been financially successful at this enterprise, far more successful than Cohen’s EnlightenNext, which has been plagued by financial difficulties. Indeed, when once asked by a former Cohen student what value he had added to Cohen’s “evolutionary enlightenment” teaching, Hamilton is reported to have answered, “I figured out how to monetize it.” This seems to be the case. We cannot help but wonder if the silence of senior students who have left Cohen indicates their possible plans to re-create themselves and start lucrative “evolutionary” oriented “enlightenment” businesses like Hamilton’s.
Finally, what will become of Andrew Cohen? Can we really believe that his role as the “Mythic Guru” is over, as stated in the “PR & Communications plan for Andrew” reproduced below? Can Cohen’s purported self-examination and newfound remorse for the harm he has caused scores of past and present students be believed? Or is this just all part of a public relations stunt?
Only time will tell. But judging from the June 15 “PR & Communications plan for Andrew” and reports from those close to the organization, big changes for EnlightenNext and Andrew Cohen seem to be afoot. And these changes will almost certainly profoundly affect both current students and the scores of former students who saw through the “Mythic Guru” and left him.
----by Hal
From: R____ B____ <>Date: June 15, 2013, 7:09:43 PM EDTTo: R____ B_____ <>Subject: PR & Communications plan for Andrew
Hello there,
I just sent out the email below to the current Core students (Defining, Resolute and Committed Core) and also wanted you all to hear about our PR communications plan for Andrew. I'm sending this to everyone who I know is involved in the current programs and who I've personally spoken to, please feel free to forward this email on to others involved who would like to hear the messaging going forward.
Thanks so much,
Dear All,
I wanted to let you know the PR communications plan for Andrew that will roll out in the next few weeks.
As most of you know J__ P___ and I are responsible for Andrew's PR and media platform and we have been working on a message to the broader public regarding the situation we are in the midst of with Andrew, and all the subsequent changes.
Many of you have contacted us sharing your urgency around making a public statement, and we thank you all for your input! We have taken everything you have said into consideration and come up with a plan that we are very happy with.
Before I go any further I want to point out that while we're working very closely with M__, A__, M___ and the Education Department in our communications, what J___ and I are specifically responsible for (and what we've outlined in this email) has to do with communications from the Andrew Stream (to the broader public, Andrew's personal relationships, etc), and not the communications for the education programs and long retreats.
We felt it was imperative to get an "outside perspective" on our PR communications as, being close students of Andrew in this emotionally charged situation, it's very difficult to envision the right message for the public at large. Our primary consultant has been our PR advisor N___ W____. N___ is not only an excellent PR consultant, but he also trained in crisis management. He has been working with us for the last several years, and is fully appraised of Andrew's history, the history of EnlightenNext, and the current situation. Given his experience and his friendship with Andrew, we feel that he is the perfect person to help us with this messaging now, and his input has been invaluable.
N___has helped us to see that the most important point to consider in relationship to our PR strategy is that there is a tremendous difference between communicating to our "internal" audience of past and present students, and our "external" audience of people who follow Andrew's work, but are not part of any formal structures or communities (see a breakdown/description of our audiences at the end of this email). N___ also stressed how important it is that our public messaging be appropriate to our external audience, and that this should not be expected to address the issues that pertain to our "internal" audience of past and present students.
He made it very clear that from an outside perspective, what is currently happening represents an evolution of both our organization/movement and Andrew's work. The fact that Andrew is acknowledging his mistakes, has stepped down from his role as Guru, and will be stepping down as head of the organization, is a reflection of the fact that our movement is changing and growing, and that Andrew is taking the necessary time off to reflect, respond, and take the next step in his own development.
For the internal group of past and present students, Andrew must find a different and appropriate way to make peace; and, as most of you know, this internal process has already begun. He has already stepped down from his Guru role, which is on hiatus until spring 2014, and he is in the midst of responding appropriately to many past and present students.
Another very important distinction in our messaging that N___ helped us to understand has to do with how to announce Andrew's "sabbatical." He clarified that to frame the time that Andrew will be taking to reflect and respond as a sabbatical is not accurate. Given that Andrew will be doing a minimum of teaching work during this period, (the retreats and French forum) and that our many programs and content streams will continue in some form, from an outside perspective calling this time period a "sabbatical" would be confusing. Instead he suggested we emphasize in our public messaging that Andrew is stepping down from leadership, both within the organization and the spiritual community, and will be taking time to reflect and respond.
So in our public statements, which will launch on Andrew's blog on June 28th(see Blog Themes below for more detail), we will announce that Andrew is "stepping down from leadership" rather than "taking a sabbatical." We feel that this is also more authentic as to what is actually happening, so please consider this in your own communications.
Our public messaging will center around a series of blog posts which will be published on all of the sites where Andrew writes (BigThink, HuffPo, etc) in addition to They will be on two themes outlined below. The first blog will also be accompanied by an email to our list announcing Andrew's decision to step down from leadership and offer some description of how the EnlightenNext programs will be continuing forward:
Confronting Founder's Syndrome: In this initial post, Andrew lays out what is happening for him right now in the context of "Founder's Syndrome," which is a common phase that organizations go through when due to a lack of willingness to give up control its visionary Founder gets in the way of the further evolution of the organization. He'll announce in this post that to address this situation, he's stepping down from leadership of both the organization and the spiritual community, and will radically reduce his teaching engagements to take time to reflect and respond.
The Death of A Mythic Guru: In this second post (which may end up in multiple parts), Andrew will speak about his own development as a Guru and how he created a "mythic" Guru model within the postmodern world, outlining the negative and positive consequences of that. He'll talk about how difficult it has been for him to recognize the mythic structures within himself, and how he's going to now take the time necessary to develop both himself and the teachings.
Below is a list of the various communications that will go out to our different audiences over the next month:
Today: Overview of communications strategy/plan to the Defining, Resolute, Committed, and Past students (this email!)Next few weeks: Series of calls/emails to various donors.6/28: Blog #1 on Founder's Syndrome will go up on BigThink6/28: Accompanying the blog will be an email to our email list announcing that Andrew is stepping down from leadership and giving a brief overview of what kinds of offerings they will continue to get from both Andrew and EnlightenNext.7/6: Guru & Pandit Virtual Broadcast on the theme of The Death of A Mythic Guru7/12: Blog #2 on The Death of A Mythic Guru goes up on BigThinkThank you all for taking the time to read this. I apologize for the length of this email, but we felt it was important that we keep everyone informed as much as we can during this challenging period of our lives.
Also, when we have an approved plan of how Andrew's business line will be going forward, I'll send out another email.
Best wishes all,
R___& J____
Below is a description of the various audiences that we're reaching out to and an overview of the basic messaging strategy for each:
Past and Present Students:Includes all Defining, Resolute, and Committed Core students and people who have been close students in the past. We are the people who are the most affected by what is happening and have the most investment in the whole situation and subsequent changes. These communications have several dimensions: First and foremost, Andrew is following up personally with people, both current and past students. Second, we as his communications team want to keep everyone abreast of our overall communications, so that everyone knows why we're saying what we're saying.Donors:This audience has a significant overlap with past and present students. Since they have all committed financial support to Andrew and EnlightenNext, it is important for us to communicate how the current situation will affect Andrew's and the organization's short and long-term future, and the financial implications of this. We will be reaching out to communicate directly with our current donors within the next few weeks."EXTERNAL AUDIENCES":
Blog Readers:This is our broadest audience and consists of people who engage with Andrew's content on a wide variety of external platforms (BigThink, Speaking Tree, HuffPost, etc). This audience is least familiar with Andrew and sees him more as a spiritual thought leader and less as a Guru with a community of students. This audience is the least interested in hearing about the details of our current situation, and our plan to communicate with them is through a series of blogs in which Andrew will speak about the current situation in more of a philosophical/cultural context (outlined in the Blog Themes section).Email List:This is a group of about 35K people (~12K of which are very active) who receive consistent communications from us about new content, events, and products. This audience is a mix of people, but generally has more familiarity with Andrew's role as a teacher and also leader of our organization. Our primary communications to them will draw upon themes in Andrew's blog, but speak specifically about how we as an organization plan to respond to this situation and how that will affect the content and programs that they are used to hearing about.Integral/Evolutionary Community: This is the segment of our public audience that is most familiar with the deeper dimensions of Andrew's work as a Guru and spiritual innovator. This audience has been following Andrew's work through the magazine, through the Guru & Pandit dialogues, and through other platforms like Craig Hamilton's, and is more familiar with the spiritual and philosophical stands that Andrew has taken in the post-traditional spiritual world. Our plan for this audience is for Andrew to use some of the remaining Guru & Pandit Virtual dialogues with Ken this year to explore some of the "Mythic-to-Post-Mythic-Guru" themes that are at the heart of the current situation.

R_______ B______

[v. 2.0 6/11/14: removed names of students]

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,