Sunday, January 30, 2005

Now I Don't Know Whether to Trust Cohen


I read your comment about Andrew Cohen with interest. I’ve been on one of his retreats and have found him to be a compelling teacher. Reading about his former students’ bad experiences has left me confused and wondering what to do. I feel in my heart that I can learn a great deal from Andrew Cohen. But now I don’t know whether or not to trust him.

I just did a google search and found an article you wrote for WIE about gurus and the abuse of power and a conversation you had with the authors of “The Guru Papers.” I’m wondering how you feel about this topic now, especially the part about “oneness idealogies.” In the story, you wrote that, according to these authors, “oneness and selflessness are given precedence over separateness and individuality, and thereby authoritarianism is born.”

I can see for myself being lured into the authoritarianism of the guru (Andrew) since the goal of enlightenment is to forgo the separate self/ego and submit to the higher self. But since the higher self is elusive, and the guru represents the higher self, then it would seem prudent (if a person wants to evolve) to follow the authority of the guru.

I do get a real sense that Andrew is established in the enlightened state. So how is it that he can be so blind to the abuses he’s subjecting people to? I’m guessing he would say that he’s trying to “kill the ego.” But slapping people in the face and making someone visit prostitutes and so forth is overkill by anyone’s standards!

Also in your WIE story, the authors of “The Guru Papers” said that these philosophies of oneness draw conclusions about human nature and the nature of existence from the experience of oneness, and this is where the trouble begins.

Is that what’s going on... Andrew’s “perfect responses” are sometimes false conclusions?

Do you feel, in retrospect, that he has something to offer as a teacher, so long as a person doesn’t get involved in his community? Or would you recommend that a person look elsewhere altogether? The problem is, how many truly enlightened teachers are there who aren’t corrupt in some way?

I also wonder if you or someone else can explain Andrew and his community in terms of Spiral Dynamics. It seems that he’s at Coral or beyond, memes we don’t know much about. According to Don Beck, the higher level memes have similarities to the lower, but are up an octave. I’m guessing that Andrew is at whatever meme would correspond to Blue. But since it’s evolutionary, it can’t be perfect--still a work-in-progress that can fall into dysfunction. I don’t know enough about Andrew’s community to speculate too far...
An interested reader

Response to "An Interested Reader"

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my posting. I wouldn't presume to tell you whether you should continue to study with Andrew Cohen. The most important thing, it seems to me, is that whatever you do, you do it with your eyes open. Please continue to check this blog. I think more detailed accounts of Andrew's methods and actions will be posted soon. After you read them, you'll be in a better position to know what to do.

The guru issue is one of the trickiest. When you have a glimpse of reality with a guru, it is very difficult to avoid confusing that with the person with whom that glimpse occurred. And I believe that every person--guru or not--has flaws. If you meet someone who claims they have none, if I were you I'd take one of two actions--laugh in their face or run the other way as fast as possible. Which action you take depends on you, the other person, and the circumstances.

I agree with most of what the authors of the Guru Papers wrote. I think they have real insight on this subject. Their analysis of authoritarianism in spirituality is profound, and I think it applies very well to what has happened and is happening around Andrew Cohen. But I do not share their wholesale rejection of the guru as an innately flawed concept and institution. I think there are some trustworthy teachers out there. They can be hard to find. But I do believe in the old adage, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." The only problem is that the teacher you get often mirrors your own unresolved issues, including unresolved desires for a Mommy or Daddy who will solve everything and tell you what to do.

A real teacher won't allow himself or herself to become a participant in such a psychodrama. A real teacher may be tough, but will never take away your autonomy. Most of all, a real teacher will never claim to be anything but a flawed and imperfect human being. In fact, throughout history, most of the greatest saints seemed to believe--and have no hesitation saying--that they were the greatest sinners.

Historically, most gurus have been part of a tradition that tended to provide some kind of checks and balances. They had their own guru who would oversee them. Andrew rejected his. They would have peers who could guide or rebuke them when necessary. Andrew acknowledges no peers of that kind. They would be within a tradition where certain norms, usually set forth in scripture, were generally known and acknowledged by teacher and students alike. A self-proclaimed post-modernist guru like Andrew holds himself outside of any norms or tradition. Yet even with such traditional checks and balances of the sort mentioned here, the guru system often became corrupt.

That doesn't mean one should not study with a teacher. These days many disagree, but I think it is very difficult to go far without one. Still, I believe that the teacher's primary function is only to show you your own true self. I think Andrew is capable of giving such a glimpse. If that has happened to you, then the main job is done. You can trust yourself to find another teacher now to take you further, if that's what you decide to do.

How a teacher who has realization goes off track is a mystery. But there is no doubt it occurs. Andrew himself has written extensively on this. He wrote about how ego and impurity can actually be empowered by realization, and how, in the brilliance of realization, the shadows of impurity may not even be seen by most observers or even the realizer himself. These are some of Andrew's most original and profound teachings, I think. How ironic (and sad) to discover how useful they are to explain him!

Personally, what has helped me find other teachers who are trustworthy and have humility and compassion is learning to value humility, trustworthiness and compassion over excitement, charisma, apparent perfection or any kind of "big bang" experience. Humility and genuineness are so much more valuable. They are usually found outside of the limelight, and away from the masses.

Whether you decide to look elsewhere for a teacher with those qualities, or take your chances with Andrew, I wish you luck. Even if you stay with Andrew, if you at least read some of the things on this blog--and some of the things that will be posted soon--I think you will be better prepared to recognize pitfalls and take the right action when necessary.

May you and all beings be happy!


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