Friday, October 01, 2004

Rebuttals by Cohen's Defenders

Here are articles rebutting the main points and allegations of WHAT enlightenment??!:

WIE Editor Admits Slapping, Smeared "Blood" Incident by Craig Hamilton

"You're Bottom Dwellers!" by Don Beck

What Enlightenment??! - another view by Jeremy Lyell

Real Teachers Are Scarce as Hens Teach by Roberta Anderson

IN ADDITION to the above articles posted on WHAT enlightenment??! there are several comments to various articles which are also rebuttals to some of the main themes of this blog. Here are a few of those comments:

At Friday, 04 February, 2005, Craig Hamilton said...
Reflections of a current student
by Craig Hamilton

Dear Susan,

I’m glad to hear that you had a good sesshin, that you finally feel you have gotten your feet back on the path, and that you have regained your self-confidence. But after reading your diatribe against Andrew above, I have to ask you one question: Do you really believe the picture you laid out? Or perhaps more to the point, did writing all that out so eloquently and forcefully help you to believe it a little more?
Having worked closely with you on the What Is Enlightenment? issue “What Is Ego: Friend or Foe?,” I know you get why I’m asking, but for those who are peering into our little fishbowl here let me lay out a little context.
As Sigmund Freud saw clearly, and as Anna Freud explained in its details, the ego, or self-image, protects itself with an army of defense mechanisms which, in effect, endlessly reshuffle the details of reality in order to keep one’s picture of oneself intact. The “wisdom of the ego” as Harvard psychologist George Vaillant refers to it in his book by the same name, lies in its ingenious ability to distort reality to protect us from uncomfortable, even devastating truths. This is why authentic spiritual paths are so challenging. They attempt to disarm the ego, so we can see clearly, free of its distortions. And as any tradition worth its salt will tell you, except in the rarest of cases, human beings will not give up their defenses without a fight. And most of the time, we won’t give them up at all.
The problem this presents for the authentic spiritual teacher, then, is that it puts him or her in the difficult position of having to, in an often painfully literal sense, start a fight with the student. Granted, it’s a fight that the student has agreed to, perhaps even begged for. But, let’s face it, a fight is a fight. And once it has started, the outcome is never assured. This is probably why many of the great Zen masters would put their would-be disciples through such extreme trials before they would even consider accepting them as students. They wanted to gather some data: how likely is it that they are going to let me win the fight? When push comes to shove, as it inevitably will, are they going to side with the aspiration that brought them to me? Or are they going to side with the part of them that wants absolutely nothing to do with me and the freedom from delusion I represent? And as history tells us, no matter how much data they gathered, still there was no way to be sure.
Now, here we are in the postmodern world. A world in which, as Ken Wilber points out in Boomeritis, and Christopher Lasch makes clear in A Culture of Narcissism, the personal, egoic, narcissistic self-sense has become something of a god without peers. Let’s admit it together. We postmoderns answer to no one but ourselves. And if we have a God, it is a God (or Buddha) we have constructed to perfectly suit our spiritual self-image. A God that serves us well. Certainly not a God who challenges us. So, what happens when an authentic spiritual teacher—a teacher interested only in the real liberation of his or her disciples—walks into the middle of this narcissistic, postmodern world and gets to work? Any guesses?
Well, for starters, he ends up with a blog like this one and a couple of books written by angry former students who, surprise, surprise, got their egos bruised one too many times and decided to retreat to sunnier climes. But the problem is, once they got there, they realized they were still in the fight—only this time the fight was between two parts of themselves—the part of them that had been awakened by the teacher and the part that ran away. Of course, now the part of them that ran away is fully in control, but for all of its internal efforts, it can’t get that other part to shut up. Imagine the predicament. How to respond? You guessed it. Attack the one who started the fight in the first place in the desperate hope that tearing him down will stop the fight. It is truly a horrendous, and perhaps uniquely postmodern, predicament.
So, to return to my question at the beginning, the reason I’m asking Susan if she really believes what she said is that she and I both know that behind all of her confidence and feigned sincerity, she isn’t really quite as sure about this picture as she is making out to be. Although no doubt, she feels a bit emboldened, and at least temporarily more certain, for having said it so well and so publicly. This was, like most of the entries on this blog, an attempt to stop the internal fight, to untangle what she referred to as the “miles of black and white yarn entwined in a big ball at the pit of my stomach.”

But, of course, this isn’t really mainly about Susan. What I’m trying to shed light on here are the three areas that people reading this blog understandably tend to find confusing:

1) Why are some people so angry at Andrew Cohen when he seems to be such a powerful and inspiring teacher so wholeheartedly and selflessly committed to humanity’s highest ideals?

2) Why are people still angry enough to fight this fight so intensely even many years after they’ve left? Why haven’t they moved on?

3) Why are the sentiments so strong when there is no actual scandal to speak of?

I think that so far, I’ve pretty well covered the first two. But in light of how many truly self-serving, corrupt gurus have generated far less animosity, this third question is particularly intriguing. Take note: Andrew, for all of the respect he has garnered among today’s most prominent thought leaders and visionaries, does not have a particularly large following. And in contrast to many of the past few decades’ more prominent spiritual leaders, he has not been accused of any financial or sexual improprieties—nothing at all that would constitute any sort of scandal. And yet, he has already had two books (and one blog) written about him attempting to assassinate his character. Think about it. For all of their dramatic impact, somehow the cries of “he told me to jump in a cold lake,” or “he had my friend draw a cartoon caricature of me and post it on my office wall,” or “he threw me out until I was ready to be serious,” or even, “he had my best friend slap me in the face when I was being a jerk,” or even, “he told me to sleep with three prostitutes a day to try to get me to stop sleeping with prostitutes instead of my wife!” (which only happened once, just for the record) just aren’t the stuff of scandal. Even if they might offend our more conservative sensibilities.
Now, to return to your post, Susan, there are a few specifics I can’t help but respond to. First, I don’t know where you’re getting your data, but your characterization of what is happening around Andrew now is so far off the mark that I would suggest, in any future diatribes, you stick to the usual fare on this blog—rehashing the past. As for the “core group”, whatever that was (some special elite you saw yourself as part of?), it has not only gotten bigger and stronger, but more importantly, it has expanded to include everyone. Far from being the “monument to what might have been” you describe, Andrew’s global community is exploding—exploding with passion, exploding with creativity, and most remarkably, exploding with individual and collective liberation. The revolution in consciousness that Andrew and all of us have worked so hard to bring into being is now bursting out of every corner. It’s bursting out of the magazine (remember the magazine?), it’s bursting out of our new international speaker’s series, it’s bursting out of our new broadcast media website, it’s bursting out of the new documentary film we shot last summer at the Parliament of World’s Religions (incidentally, did you know Andrew spoke at the Parliament, and I hosted a panel on the Future of Religion?), and most importantly, it’s bursting out of every aspect of our collective life together, our meetings, our meditations, our Enlightened Communication groups. It’s by no means a finished product, and hopefully never will be, but some kind of critical mass has happened that is creating a momentum of awakening in the collective that anyone who visits here can feel in their cells. You wouldn’t believe what it’s like at Foxhollow now. Hardly a week goes by that some spiritual or cultural luminary doesn’t drop in for a visit to see what the buzz is all about. And the same could be said for our beautiful new five-storey evolutionary megacenter in London. And, of course to a lesser degree, our smaller but no less thriving centers in New York, Boston, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, and Rishikesh.
Second, your characterization of Andrew as an ivory tower guru who thinks his is the only game in town has to be one of the most absurd distortions I’ve ever heard. I think any of us would be hard pressed to name one other spiritual teacher alive today who has made more effort to personally connect and maintain relationships with as many other teachers as Andrew has. Not to mention his efforts to actually promote the work of other teachers through his magazine, our speaker’s series, our broadcast media website, etc. This was really a low blow.
Third, your (and this blog’s) characterization of Andrew as someone who rejects and vilifies former students is another cheap shot. No doubt, splitting from such a close and involved relationship can evoke all kinds of feelings on both sides. But particularly in light of the fact that it was Andrew and I who reached out to you last year, simply to see how you were doing and try to reconnect, this emphasis in your letter was frankly painful. There are many former students who have maintained good connections with Andrew and the community, and we are always delighted to see anyone who drops in for a visit.
Finally, I have to point out the irony of your using the Lee Lozowick quote to try to build your case against Andrew, given that he’s one of the many people who knew you before you met Andrew who couldn’t believe how much you’d changed as a result of your time with Andrew. I hope some of that change has managed to stick, and that in your next sesshin, you come a bit closer to the truth that might really set you free.

Craig Hamilton
Managing Editor
What Is Enlightenment?

At Sunday, 13 March, 2005, Jeff Feldman said...
I was quite surprised to hear from Richard Pitt, after all these years. With regards to what he wrote about those who leave the community, it wasn't my experience, even early on (in 1989), when I decided to leave the community, then newly set up in California. I have written about it as part of a longer contribution submitted under Ed McDougal's 'Emperor's New Clothes'. Knowing that I was struggling, Andrew actually called me, at the time, and said that although he was disappointed, I was free to go and encouraged me to do it with dignity. Actually, I found that I was given more of a hard time by Andrew's male student body, which included Richard and others who have contributed to this site and spoken of as having being abused, terrorized, etc. during their time in the community. Andrew was a prince, which was more than I could say about a few of the male students.

At the time I am referring to, I did go away and ended up keeping in touch with Andrew, on a regular basis. Every now and then, I received messages from him and had a couple of very sweet and supprotive phone conversations with him, during that period. Eventually I returned, for a few years.

During the past ten years, I have not been part of the formal community, but continue to have a healthy relationship with Andrew and his students, as well as a few ex-students.

Perhaps Richard and others have not yet discovered what it was, in them, that evoked such a strong response from Andrew.

Jeff Feldman

At Friday, 25 March, 2005, Mo Riddiford said...
Hello Hal,

Six days ago I saw a reference to a blog on a discussion list I'm on. Immediately I clicked on the link and, feeling responsible to keep my eyes open concerning everything around Andrew Cohen, I took two hours that day to read the entire blog. What an unpleasant but strengthening experience that has been. I now understand why Andrew wrote a book called "In defence of the Guru Principle" and not just a book called "The Guru Principle".

Sometimes we each have to stand up and defend what's right.

Do you remember me, Hal? Do you remember you were the first one to show me how to use a computer mouse in an office in Mill Valley in California well over a decade ago? I remember and also know well almost all the people you mentioned in your letters.

Having read the entire blog, I feel compelled to stand up in defence of Andrew and in defence of the guru principle. For the record, I live in a country where there is no centre devoted to Andrew's teachings and I am married to someone who, at the time of our wedding, had no connection whatsoever to Andrew or his organisation. No one could describe me now as part of Andrew's "inner circle", whatever that might possibly mean. For the record, no one has asked me to write this letter, nor have I discussed it with anyone.

As you might well remember, Hal, I met Andrew during his first year of teaching over eighteen years ago. Within weeks, it became irrevocably clear to me that Andrew is a genuine teacher and he is also my teacher. This recognition has endured over the ensuing years, whether physically close to Andrew living in a house with him and other students, or far away on the other side of the planet.

You're a lawyer by profession, Hal, so I'll present some legal facts, of the type where a person can stand up in court and declare to the whole world,
"These things I have seen with my own eyes!"
"These things I know from my own direct experience!"

In my eighteen years of relationship and communication with Andrew, we have had very many interactions and communications. When necessary, he has used every creative means possible to keep me true to my own deepest intention to be free.

Over all these years he has NEVER made one mistake, not even one time, in his many communications with me. His advice to me, for my own evolution, has always been PERFECT, and I do mean perfect. Perfect means impeccable. Perfect means also that, try as I might, I could not attribute personal motivation to his advice. Very often I've looked back to what he told me and only later, sometimes many years later, have I understood how perfect his advice has been.

Those reading this testimony might well believe that no human being could possibly live with such integrity. My own mind still finds it hard to comprehend but these are the facts.
But facts are facts and I present them to the court of world opinion.

Every one has to decide for themselves about who Andrew is, and what he teaches.
Everyone has to find their own way from their own experience.
No one should ever just believe someone else's words.
But I will say to anyone at anytime; this is my own *tested* experience over many years.

But there's more, Hal.
It's all about how any of us interpret these reported possible events.

Cast your mind back to a moment in your life in which, perhaps when making your very first steps on the spiritual path and perhaps bursting with transcendent inspiration, you felt willing to face the hottest fires of Hell, just to see one time the screaming fact of non-separation.
Weren't you ready to do whatever it takes, to face whatever, just to discover this glory?

After reading your litany of puny accusations, and in my opinion they are very puny, I came to realise how thrilled I would be if ALL of it is true and accurate!
I have no direct evidence that *any* of it is true but, if it was, isn't this truly the GOOD NEWS? *If* all that you say is true, we would then have evidence of a teacher willing to do whatever it takes to develop his students. Those, endeavouring to be true to our noblest motivations but also grappling with all in ourselves that wants to wallow in the swamp, can then have confidence in a teacher who is so committed to our evolution that he is willing to go that far.

Your puny accusations are such very good news, Hal !
DON'T YOU GET IT, Hal ?????

So I've now given you some facts, personal testimony that could be accepted in any court.
I've also told you how I interpret your puny accusations.
Finally I'll give you my own opinion.
And, yes, it is my own judgement (God forbid!) on what you and others (some without even having the courage of using their name!!) are doing here with this blog.
I find what you are doing here only destructive ― there is so much to be done globally at this critical time in human history and you are wasting your life with this miserable thing?

I concur with Don Beck in what he called you.

I simply have neither the time nor any interest to read this blog further.
I am not anonymous, I do have a name, I use it when I criticise, and I can be reached - so here's my email address
Mo Riddiford

At Saturday, 09 April, 2005, Tabitha Cooper said...
I was lucky enough to be a formal student of Andrew’s for 4 years. In the five years I was involved with him and his teaching, I learnt more of value about myself, Life and what’s important than from anything in my life up until that point, it was 4 years ago that I left, and it remains an un-erasable and precious reference point in my heart now. Nothing bar death itself can cause this knowing to be not known in me, and for this I am so profoundly grateful.

In a world so full of doubt and cyncism, it is not difficult to find support for suspicion, in authority, integrity of action and wholeness, and very rare to find people willing to have the courage and faith to find out and live what that might mean at this very confusing time in the story of the world.

Andrew always warned us of the difficulty of the path to Enlightenment, he has always said it is not for everyone, he never forced anyone to be involved in his teachings and making the choice to be his student was never taken lightly. But all of us did make that choice, and this is key.

I know for myself that the joy in awakening to another context, and feelings associated with realising that something else really is possible caused an almost drunken relationship to everything whereby I filtered what I wanted to hear – things Andrew said that acknowledged my interest in Enlightenment, filtering out any other more grounding elements that might conflict, so that I could stay intoxicated. I wasn’t the only one.

It is very easy to do this, even now, to hear what you want to hear, to remember what you want to remember, and forget what is convenient, to affirm the way that we want to live our lives now. The Context for the life we lived in the Community cannot be compared to a more regular life lived by most of us in the world, and it is misleading to reference events out of this context. The media - as an example – often do this, not to give a fair representation, but to meet their own ends.

I have found peace in facing the fact that I am not the warrior for freedom that I wanted to believe, that as much as I may have recognised the perfection of the goal of Enlightenment, I am not up for the kind of surrender that it takes. I am responsible for what I do and the choices I make, - I always have been.

This forum has been set apparently to warn people against Andrew, but isn’t it a bit patronising to assume that people are not capable of discriminating for themselves? The context being built through the teachings is precious, throwing mud at it so it doesn’t shine for others is as destructive to ourselves as it is to the possibility of Freedom. Should people not be allowed the freedom – without the fear you are generating - to make up their own minds? It is an ugly battle being fought here, and in your hearts you must know that this is not an even playing field.

I agree that the truth matters, which is why I feel compelled to respond. I don’t expect anything I’ve said here to make any difference to the initiators of this blog, but to anyone else reading – if you do draw conclusions, let it at least be free from fear.

Thank you Andrew, and deepest respect to his students.

Tabitha Cooper

At Thursday, 14 April, 2005, Dave Reid said...
Tabitha you're post was a welcome diamond in the rough. You astutely point out the profound calamity that those behind this blog are seeking to wreak.

The calamity is that WHAT they are actually out to destroy is the greater evolutionary context of enlightened communion and knowledge that is being revealed and explored by Andrew, his community and others participating in that with them. They are making this about soiling Andrew's reputation, but really its about tearing apart something even more precious which is the context I quote here in Tabitha's post: "The context being built through the teachings is precious, throwing mud at it so it doesn’t shine for others is as destructive to ourselves as it is to the possibility of Freedom."

These people's ego's got hurt seeking enlightenment from a real teacher, and rather than be man or woman enough to accept that, they instead seek to destroy the profound context that is undeniably being revealed around Andrew. EVEN if you think he's a farce, or a mean guru who hurts people, its still hard to deny the miraculous discoveries he, his community, his retreat participants, fellow teachers and pundits are touching upon as seen in and

I'm sure the efforts of this blog will fail overall, but its still sad and pathetic to see how willing so many are to jump on the bandwagon of assuming that Andrew is as much of a monster as he's made out to be in this blog. Too all those people - prove you are not weak minded and at least look deeply into all this before accepting that this is "just another cult."

Dave Reid

At Sunday, 17 April, 2005, Jeremy Lyell said...
Here we go again…. someone, in this case Dave Reid (but the same applies to Roberta, Tabitha, Mo and others’ posts), dares to speak out in support of Andrew… and surprise, surprise, immediately there’s another bout of angry, anonymous mud slinging. Interesting how most of these mud slingers post anonymously, whereas those on the pro side post almost invariably with their own names. This anonymous posting is cowardly, invulnerable and oh so safe.

There have been calls to hear from those either still in the community or at least willing to write in Andrew’s support. When some current students wrote, they were fairly viciously put down, so don’t expect any of them to show their faces here. But at least they identified themselves. After I posted several weeks back, I received several positive emails from other former students, none of whom wanted to be involved with a blog in which so much negativity is being expressed.

I wonder how an impartial reader, someone new to Andrew’s teachings without an agenda to jump into the feeding frenzy, would really view the various posts ? Who sounds like they are seething with rage – those that express enormous, lasting gratitude for the time they spent with Andrew, or those who are still furious all these years on ?

What I find so sad is that so many former dharma brothers and sisters, many of whom left before me nearly TEN YEARS AGO, are still stuck in the past, trying to justify their actions on this blog in the name of serving the spiritual community….. well I know too many of you to believe that is your true motive and in my opinion, Dave has really hit the spot where he writes “Tell your readers how you could not bear to realise that you don’t want to be free more than anything else…… and that you are quite angry about that revelation and the loss of your spiritual identity”. I understand that this is a very hard thing for any individual to face, but until it is faced, I’d say it will be almost impossible to move on. I’m left wondering if some of you guys truly want to move on ? There is so much more to life than being a student of Andrew’s, however valuable that may be at the time – so why stay hung up about it for so long ?

It’s also interesting to note that although we have heard stories about face slapping, paint throwing etc etc, we have heard these stories primarily from people who weren’t even in the community when these events took place. Roberta for example was there, prostrating herself in the freezing lake etc – she doesn’t sound so very bitter, does she ?

I remember hearing Krishnamurti responding many years ago to a question about what could one do for society. K replied that society does not actually exist, individual people exist and that the best thing one can do for the Whole is to find true freedom for oneself. So I ask those former students who are giving so much energy to the Andrew bashing – can you honestly say this is constructive to your own spiritual development ?

If you feel like you were misled and wasted years of your life with Andrew, I urge you to take responsibility both for putting yourself at his feet and then for choosing to leave. But victimhood can be a tragically attractive place in which to dwell, especially as a group, and that’s what I see happening here.

I’d like to add that I have nothing whatsoever to do with Andrew’s community, nor have I had since shortly after I left. I nevertheless remain eternally grateful to Andrew for the invaluable time I spent there, which was truly transformational.

Jeremy Lyell.

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