Sunday, February 06, 2005

My Turning Point

by Richard Pitt

Craig Hamilton’s response to Hal’s letter showed exactly the tactics consistent with life in Andrew Cohen’s community. A nasty attempt at character assassination under the guise of spiritual superiority. The language also reminded me of another cultic dynamic in our present time – the current US administration – with it’s rhetoric of freedom against the tyranny of evil doers, an administration that Andrew Cohen has vocally supported, for heaven’s sake!

To reduce all the points that Hal, Susan Bridle and others have brought up to be the clamor of cynicism reveals an arrogance and delusion that is a hallmark of Andrew Cohen’s community. When I left the community after 8 years, the turning point happened when I realized that there was no room for anybody to leave the community with Andrew’s blessing. There was no respect given to those who left and I realized that Andrew simply didn’t care. Initially that made me very sad, and then angry, and then I realized how bitter and deluded a teacher he must be when he can’t let people leave and wish them well and hope that each of them finds what they’re looking for in life. As far as he’s concerned, if you’ve gone, you’ve betrayed him and you’re going to rot in the hell of your own ego. I wrote to him saying that each person has to find their own way, that ultimately no other person can do that for another and we all have to walk our own path. Any teacher worth their salt would know this, but Andrew has been caught up in an expectation of betrayal from everybody he meets, his mother and teacher included, and so this is the prism of his own reality. Those that knew him and then left after many years just confirmed this expectation.

Craig Hamilton and Andrew’s community cannot reduce those behind this blog to being disaffected cowards, hyenas yapping at the ankles of Truth. That is too easy. One of the great things that happened in the community was the level of sincerity of those involved. That sincerity doesn’t leave when a person departs the community, contrary to the rationales given by Andrew to justify why people would leave him. Life is more subtle than Andrew Cohen would have us think. This is the trouble when someone attempts to live his life in such simplistic absolutes; everything and everybody who is not sitting in adoration of him is the enemy, a spiritual “axis of evil” to be battled with.
How many times in human history has this happened when one group of people think they have some kind of unique angle on Truth, and where those that disagree with them are viewed with suspicion, hatred and worse. This is what cults have always been about and whilst I joke that, yes, I was in a cult but it wasn’t as bad as many other cults, none the less it is still a cult and one day Craig may realize this. However, that will happen only after he leaves. Whilst in it, he will never be able to see what is really going on and can only resort to thinking that the very many people who committed many years to living in Andrew’s community and then left are nothing more than lost souls, unresolved individuals, whilst he, Andrew and others bask in the light of wisdom and truth. How noble of you Craig! However, it really is quite good out here with the rest of humanity - not perfect, but maybe perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, including our spiritual authorities.


Blogger Carter said...

Dear Bloggers,

Hello all anti-Cohen bloggers. Long time no see for many of you ex-students, and for the rest I hope I can help insert a little extra context into the discussion. But first in defense of my friend Craig Hamilton, I have to say that there is something downright bizarre about Andrew being criticized on a blog for months and months, and then Craig comes up here and says a few words in Andrew’s defense, and lo and behold he is suddenly accused of squelching all dissent. :) Is that Orwellian or just a catch-22?

The bottom line from my point of view is that things are better than ever right now around Andrew. The community is more sincere (thanks for the compliments there Richard), more authentic, more full of life, love and excitement about what’s possible than ever before. There is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Andrew’s teaching and greater awareness of their power for personal transformation and their potential to release our own desire and capacity to contribute to a greater cultural transformation. What Is Enlightenment? magazine continues to inspire us to reach further and explore what could be and should be the spiritual and philosophical context for life in a new millennium. We’re finding common cause with all kinds of committed, interested people in this world who really care very deeply about the state of our fragile planet and about changing things. We’re discovering more and more individuals who are waking up to the thrill and excitement of an evolutionary vision of enlightenment, more and more people out there on this ever smaller globe who are beginning to appreciate and truly cognize the powerful developmental context of our cosmological and biological heritage, and are interested in how we human beings can play a constructive role in life’s further evolution. And in the community itself, there is the joyful recognition of a new consciousness rising between us, a deepening understanding of Andrew’s vision of evolutionary enlightenment that has been forged by years of hard work, consistent commitment and more than a little soul-searching and spiritual reckoning. The living fruits of that labor are sweet indeed, quietly exploding among students around the world, impacting our lives in ways we never could have foreseen, and having unexpected and profound affects on all of our activities.

Whatever up and downs that the community has been through over the 18 years of it’s own evolution, whatever challenges it has faced, whatever individuals have come and gone—some for wholesome reasons and some not—the most important thing in my mind is the future. And let me tell you, the future is so bright, and as much as it drags anyone down to have to endure personal, context-less, unjustified and sometimes even vicious attacks from former friends about the life that I and so many treasure and love, the fact remains that the future is what we’re interested in. That’s truly what concerns us. That what gets me out of bed in the morning, that’s what lights up my life and makes me thrilled to have a place where I can contribute in my own very small way to serving the much needed awakening—spiritually, socially, culturally, politically—of this world that is so much in need. What could be better? What could be more deeply satisfying and fulfilling? What could be more important? Andrew is my teacher, friend, guru. He has provided a context and teaching in which such a life is possible and I am deeply grateful to him for it. It’s a life that hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been more than worth it for so many reasons. So anyone who reads this blog, anyone who reads the words of these few disgruntled former students of Andrew’s teaching and community, they should also know there is another side to the story that you’ll never hear on this board. It’s a great story with many dimensions to it, and over time, I look forward to writing more and more about all of those dimensions. And it’s a story that is continuing to challenge, inspire and uplift those who have the fortune of helping write it in real time. In short, from where I’m standing, we may have a few arrows in our shields, but man oh man, the vistas of what lie ahead are fantastic.

Carter Phipps
Senior Editor, What Is Enlightenment? magazine

P.S. Richard, just for the record, Andrew, like myself, does not like our current administration or its policies. Whatever you heard must have been taken out of context.

Sunday, 06 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm finding this whole blog rather amusing.

I look at all the "abuses" that are mentioned, and they remind me of something- the sort of training that one goes through in a US millitary boot camp. Boot camp has often driven people to abandon the training, break down psychologically, or even commit suicide- yet those who make it through the training become part of the finest fighting force on Earth, one capable of subduing entire countries in hours. Gurus are similiar- it's their job to break the ego, the illusionary "will" of their students through ANY MEANS POSSIBLE. You don't question your drill instructor- you do what he says. It's not abuse- it's necessary for your development.

I look around at most "spirituality" these days, and I see nothing but soft, cushy pushover teachers who coddle their students... Cohen seems to be an exception, which is why he's starting to look attractive to me, after visiting several Zen teachers who didn't seem to do anything but smile and tell people they were perfect the way they are. Dammit, I don't need to be told I'm fine as is- I need radical treatment. I need to feel some pain... the weakness leaking out, letting my radiant self shine through.

So, rather than complaining about your own weaknesses and projecting them as abuses, I'd suggest you folks toughen up and join the real world- where pain and struggle as we chase the the will to power to our final cosmic destiny is what it's all about.

Or you can continue to whine on your blog... your call.

-Nicq MacDonald

Sunday, 06 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Carter,

Thanks for chiming in! BTW, since Craig won't seem to respond, and now two main members of the What Is Enlightenment? staff are involved with this blog, let me ask you--

You will make sure that a prominent mention to this blog, and its URL and link, are included in the next issue of WIE and on its web site, won't you?

After all, this blog is giving you and Craig a forum for promoting Cohen, and left up Craig's link to the Cohen endorsement web page. And WIE claims it is willing to go anywhere and explore anything.

So, mentioning and linking to this blog on WIE is only fair, isn't it? Please confirm that will happen. Thanks.

Sunday, 06 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wearing Army greens and spit-shined black shoes, the cadets stand ramrod straight and silent. It is 7:30 a.m., time for dress inspection. "Drop!" barks a platoon leader, spotting a uniform infraction, a cadet without a name tag on his jacket. Busted, the cadet hits the deck, pumps 10 push-ups, then asks for mercy: "Permission to recover, sir?" The request is granted, and the offender jumps to his feet, still huffing, and calls out his gratitude in military rote: "Thank you, sir." he says, "for conditioning my mind and body." The day is just beginning in this Chicago public high school, where the traditional three R's are joined by a fourth: regimentation.

The three-year-old Chicago Military Academy, in the street-tough Bronzeville neighborhood on the city's South Side, is part of a growing experiment by public school districts, mostly in America's urban centers, to adopt the ethos and structure of the armed forces. Like compulsory uniforms and zero-tolerance policies, the move marks the latest step aimed at bringing order to schools that can be unruly and even dangerous. Educators like Jeffrey Mirel of the University of Michigan say urban school leaders have become willing to take radical steps because "the problems in urban schools are so severe, and have gone on so long," despite two decades of reforms. For many children growing up without a cohesive family, the military model seems to offer a bedrock of stability--a world of clear-cut rules and unmistakable authority figures. – from “High School at Attention,” Newsweek, January 21, 2002

Nicq MacDonald is right, some people need to be in a spiritual “boot camp” under the guidance of a spiritual “drill instructor,” just as many children growing up without a cohesive family need the bedrock stability and world of clear-cut rules and authority figures that military model high schools provide.

Some people need it until they grow beyond needing it.

Judging by the tone, tenor, balance, and lack of bitterness in the reports about life in Andrew Cohen’s community written by former Cohen students Andre van der Braak, Hal Blacker, and Susan Bridle, they grew beyond the need for a spiritual “boot camp” approach and beyond the need for a spiritual “drill instructor.”

It goes without saying that some people who leave Cohen’s community leave because they somehow “failed” at or couldn't handle spiritual boot camp training. They couldn’t take it, they were weak. And instead of facing themselves, they turn around and whine and cry foul. They are malcontents or “disgruntled,” which is the word Carter Phipps uses to characterize ALL former students of Andrew Cohen who have voiced concerns about Cohen. Phipps says, “anyone who reads this blog, anyone who reads the words of these few disgruntled former students of Andrew’s teaching and community, they should also know there is another side to the story that you’ll never hear on this board.”

I think it’s more than reasonable to assume that some former students of Andrew Cohen who voice concerns about Cohen are disgruntled, but I do not think it’s reasonable or “integral” to assume that ALL former students of Andrew Cohen who voice concern about Cohen are disgruntled or couldn't hack spiritual boot camp training.

I also think it’s more than reasonable to assume that some former students of Andrew Cohen who voice concerns about Cohen have legitimate concerns.

But so far, I have seen not one iota of acknowledgement from Cohen’s apologists that this could even be possible. My friends, if you honestly believe that it is not possible for there to be any legitimate complaints about your spiritual master or spiritual drill instructor or however you might think of him, and if you would tell us that so far not a single former student of your teacher has voiced a single legitimate concern, then you do not pass the Kool-Aid test, and I don't mean the Electric Acid Kool-Aid Test.

Sunday, 06 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My name is Anne Sweet and I was a student of Andrew's for nearly eight years. I left just over a year ago, unwilling, finally, to live in such a pressurised environment and to make the sacrifices necessary in order to stay. During all those years, I never had cause to doubt Andrew's integrity, love, spiritual realisation or breadth of vision. I had known from the beginning (and he is always at great pains to make clear) that I was entering into something very big, very demanding and ultimately challenging (ego death for the sake of something greater than ourselves ~ the transformation of human consciousness).

I knew it wasn't going to be easy and it wasn't, but at a fundamental level, everything always made sense, even at the worst of times. I don't think any of us would have stayed so long if it hadn't. Not to say that as students we always treated one another with kindness and respect. I think a lot of mistakes were made along the way. There was also, as in any group context, pressure to conform, fear, and inevitable compromises. All of this was in stark contrast to what Andrew wanted, and he was willing to do battle with us ongoingly and often ferociously in order to change it.

When I left, I wasn't shunned or ostracised, and was welcome to return or visit. I, however felt the need (unnecessarily as it turned out) to cut off completely and did so.

I continued with spiritual practice, and over the months, discovered for myself the depth, freedom, and stability the training with Andrew had given me. It started to make no sense to me to remain separate from him in this way and there was a deep longing in my heart I was unable ignore. I began to write to him and eventually over the last three months or so to meet with him again. At no point did I want to return to the student body, but it became blindingly apparent that my relationship with Andrew (and his students) exists at a level of depth, magnitude and significance that I could no longer deny. My meetings with him (I've just returned from the latest one at Foxhollow, where I spent last weekend) have all been glorious - free, deeply moving, full of love and
Vulnerability, honest and challenging. And all of them to an overwhelming degree, providing the depth and soul recognition I'd been craving, and had been unable to find elsewhere. I've also been given the space to be involved with Andrew's work and his students, which I very much wanted.

It hasn't been easy getting to this point, and there's always further to go, but my relationship with Andrew is now deeper, more real, more free and more tender than ever before, and my heart, finally, is whole. I know we can work anything out together, just as I know that this relationship is possible for anyone who wants it and has the courage to pursue it.

With love


Sent by anne sweet

Monday, 07 February, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just want to say that as a former serious student of Andrew (a serious student was one who is being considered as a candidate for a formal student relationship), that when I made the decision to leave the community Andrew was generous, gratious, positive, and understanding. While his words of wisdom were cautionary, they all proved true in time. I never experienced the kind of thing that other people have reported while leaving. I did spend less time with him than many long term students which I admit could bear some relevance, thought I wasn't an overnighter at all, having several years total exposure to the teaching and community.

But people saying no one has left without any blessing or consent, I have to disagree with. Andrew not only remained perfectly calm while I broke down but he extended a type of generosity, spiritually, mentally, and physically, that has been virtually unequaled in my lifetime. He also shared words of wisdom that will be with me throughout all time.

I pray that this blog represents this comment, as it was truly my experience.

Tuesday, 15 February, 2005  
Blogger Bruce Scharf said...


Sunday, 27 February, 2005  
Blogger 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

Sunday, 13 March, 2005  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I find this so interesting. What we are looking for , we are, and yet we continue to seek the mirror...usually in human form. I am not a "Cohenist" or "ex-cohenist". I have read a bit about him, both positive and negative.
I watched his "info-mercial" with amusement. It seems some of those who have had a taste of the Real in themselves, but have yet to finish the meal, are abundant these days. Andrew Cohen may have some words of wisdom, but take what is useful and lose the rest. The ultimate trick of the ego is to think the truth lays outside of one's own experience...and can somehow be found or aquired. I especially would like to address the lady that left the group and returned after three months. It seems to me that you felt insecure outside of the cult and the desire for connection with human beings is strong. It is not that different from a woman who leaves an abusive relationship, only to return, because she feels an emptiness and loss at the absence of a painfully affirming experience of her identity. I hope that you come home to yourself.

May all beings know their own inherent joy, free of all trappings, gurus, and systems.

Tuesday, 08 August, 2006  

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