Sunday, February 06, 2005

How Not to Defend Your Guru

By anonymous 1

1. Don’t bring up Freud. Here's the first reason not to use Freud when defending a spiritual teacher:

Anthony Storr is a Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians, an Emeritus Fellow at Green College at Oxford, and a former Clinical Lecturer in Psychiatry at Oxford University.

Storr writes, “Freud’s dogmatism and intolerance of disagreement led to the departure of many colleagues, including Adler, Stekel, Jung, and eventually Rank and Ferenczi, from the psychoanalytic movement. When his associates remained faithful disciples, Freud gave them his approval; but when they disagreed, he abused them, or accused them of being mentally ill. Adler was described by Freud as a paranoiac; Stekel as unbearable and as a louse; Jung as brutal and sanctimonious. Psychoanalysis became more and more like a religious cult, and Freud himself applied the term heretic to defectors.”

2. Here's the second reason not to use Freud when defending your spiritual teacher:

Craig Hamilton, in his response to Susan Bridle's post, writes: "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."

In addition to the first reason I gave for not citing Freud when defending your spiritual teacher, the second reason is that what Craig says here applies, in theory, to Sigmund Freud, Anna Freud, Craig Hamilton, Susan Bridle, Andrew Cohen, me, and about six billion other people. We might be especially suspicious of individuals who have power over others and who represent themselves as being enlightened. Perhaps Craig can tell us if he believes and especially if Andrew Cohen believes that Andrew Cohen has no "defense mechanisms." If Andrew Cohen believes that about himself, and/or if his students believe that about him, then we will know that we are indeed dealing with a cult phenomenon (in the pejorative sense of the word "cult"). No one is without defense mechanisms at all times, anymore than anyone is infallible.

3. Don't accuse critics of your spiritual teacher of comprising a "cult," such as the "anti-Cohen cult," because it makes it appear that you are desperate to neutralize the term. If the term "cult," in its pejorative sense as it is typically used in psychology and sociology, does not apply to your spiritual teacher's community, then as long as critics don't slander your teacher or spread challengeable lies about the community, you have nothing to worry about if critics accuse your community of being a cult and your teacher of being a cult leader. If you think you do have reason to worry about that, then it makes sense to bring that word into the discussion.

4. Don't accuse critics (explicitly or by innuendo) of distorting reality unless you can show that they are distorting reality.

Craig wrote, again in his response to Susan: "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."The problem here is that no one who fits into the category "human being" is incapable of distorting reality to protect themselves from uncomfortable, and even devastating truths, and that includes self-styled enlightened spiritual teachers. This goes back to the question of fallibility. If a spiritual teacher implicitly represents himself and/or if his students represent him (or her) as being infallible, that is a bright red flag that signals potentially serious problems. No one is infallible, not the Buddha, not Jesus, not Jerry Falwell, not the Pope, and not Andrew Cohen.

It's unlikely that all critics distort reality at all times. If only 1% of the criticisms directed at your teacher have merit, this should be vulnerably acknowledged. (An example of not vulnerably acknowledging that your teacher is indeed a fallible human being who is not perfectly skillful in his or her means at all times, would be to say, "We admit that the teacher uses harsh methods at some times and that this may cause some of his students distress, but the ego's stubborn resistance demands such means..." That's a rationale, not an admission. And let's be honest; if you honestly believe that your teacher's means are consistently skillful at all times and that he or she has never made a "mistake," then say so. It's okay... there are Catholics who believe the Pope is infallible, so you won't be alone in the world, and the rest of us will know where you stand.)

5. Don’t bring up Marpa and Milarepa, or how tough some Japanese Zen masters are reputed to have been with their students. At the time of this writing it is the early 21st century, and I imagine that most of us are not living in feudal or militaristic cultures that were at a relatively low level of "vMeme" development according to the Spiral Dynamics model which has been written about in What Is Enlightenment? magazine.

As for references to Marpa, see this post (which is elsewhere on this blog):

6. Don't quote Famous People who have penned endorsements for your teacher to defend your teacher against criticisms from former students, because everyone knows that the Famous People were most likely only exposed to the teacher's and the community's best side and that anything the teacher didn't want the Famous People to see was kept from their view. It's also well known that spiritual communities under suspicion of being toxic cults often respond by saying, "Our doors are wide open, visit any time!," and then make absolutely certain that visitors will see a squeaky clean community filled with shiny, happy people.

The upshot of all this is that it's difficult to defend one's spiritual teacher against critical feedback from former students when the critical feedback is as articulate and free of bitterness as is the critical feedback of Andre van der Braak, Hal, and Susan Bridle. It's possible that they and other former students are all thoroughly deluded individuals who simply could not stand the spiritual fire generated by Andrew Cohen. And it's also possible that monkeys fly out of Madonna's butt, as Garth of Wayne's World once said.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anonymous 1,

I just wanted to say that your lucid, objective and no nonsense contributions to this blog are highly appreciated--not just by me but to everyone I've spoken with.

Thank you.

Tuesday, 08 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also really appreciated this post. Together with Ernest Mavrides, Susan Bridle, Richard Pitt and Hal Blackers posts it gives a very full, very helpful and deeply human dimension to this whole subject. Its a subject I've avoided looking into too closely, I was a close student of Andrew's for over ten years....and I can say that for the first time my experience is starting to make real sense. The glory of it and the hell of it. For the first time I'm starting to feel its possible to be free of it in a way that none of the experience and deep self - knowledge gained has to be thrown out the window. Thank you everyone!

Tuesday, 08 February, 2005  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home