Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Karma Will (Literally) Cost You And Leaving Isn't Easy

Breaking The Code Of Silence, Part IV
By Hal

May all beings be happy!

This is the fourth and last part of my "Breaking The Code Of Silence" series of articles about Andrew Cohen for the WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog. For those just arriving, the previous articles in the series are:
Karma Will (Literally) Cost You
Andrew Cohen's extraction of large contributions from community members in trouble has been touched on in this blog before. Stas (Ernest) recounted in his article "Letter From A Senior Student" how Andrew had expressly told students that when a "committed" or "senior" student "blows it," it will cost them $20,000 in karmic retribution. When Stas once offered Andrew a contribution of $3,000 at a time when he was desperate to regain Andrew's good graces, Andrew angrily threw the check on the floor, shouting, "Do you think you can buy me off for a lousy three grand?" As a result, Stas borrowed money so that he could make a $20,000 contribution to Andrew. Later, when he told Andrew the money was given under duress and asked for its return, Andrew coldly refused.

Stas was far from the only student who had large sums extracted from him by Andrew Cohen at a time of emotional confusion and vulnerability. These are only a few other examples.

Another long time close student, named Bill, told me in a private communication, at least one half year before this blog came into existence, about how he, like Stas, gave a large contribution, under pressure, at a time when he was psychologically devastated. Bill had been instrumental in the acquisition of Andrew Cohen's main center, Foxhollow, in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1996, he found and handled the purchase of that $3 Million, 220 acre former Vanderbilt estate. After years of service to Andrew, Bill, like so may others, incurred his wrath. He endured being slapped, having to attend numerous meetings with fellow students where he was shouted at, being exiled to Australia, then soon after being called back to Foxhollow, where he was told he was not welcome and could not stay. After further similar twists and turns and "demotions," Bill finally received a message from Andrew that he should send in his inheritance of $80,000, an amount he had once offered Andrew at an earlier moment of desperation. Bill complied with the request. Later, after Bill left the community he demanded the money back, and threatened legal action if it was not returned. Andrew did return the money, but only on the condition that Bill sign an agreement drafted by Andrew's lawyer. The agreement contained a release of Cohen's organization (the Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship, or "IEF," formerly known as Moksha Foundation) from all claims forever, and a "gag order" prohibiting Bill from speaking to the press or making any public statements about Andrew Cohen or his organization, particularly any "disparaging" ones, without prior approval, for a period of five years.

Another former close student of Andrew Cohen told me how she gave her entire Individual Retirement Account, amounting to $60,000, and promised to give her future inheritance to Andrew's organization under psychological duress. She had run away from Foxhollow, but was located and persuaded to come back. This was the second time she had left the community. When she returned she was told how she had utterly betrayed Andrew. Her acts were described as being completely "off the map," in the scale of possible offenses. It was stressed to her repeatedly how she was guilty of a hellish crime, and how upset Andrew was with her. She offered to contribute approximately $10,000 as retribution. She was told this was insufficient, that she'd have to "dig deeper" and had to be willing to "give everything." Three days later she offered her IRA and her inheritance. This presented some problems, as her father had some control of the IRA account, and she would have to transfer the funds to an account from which the "contribution" could be made without her father finding out. During the several weeks it took to accomplish this, IEF's secretary, Cathy Snow, repeatedly called her, asking how long it would take, and making sure she was not backing out. She was in great anguish and turmoil, and recalls being essentially insane at this time. She told Cathy that this was all the money she had in the world. Cathy had given her a message from Andrew that "You have to be willing to give up any idea of having a back door." She ultimately gave IEF the $60,000, but left the community for good when her father died, and before she could give away her inheritance.

Such "contributions" were often given under conditions of great secrecy. One student told me that she had complied with pressure to give $10,000 contributions twice when she was in trouble after having left. The $10,000 figure was expressly specified by close students and IEF administrators Steve Brett and Cathy Snow. She was told that a $10,000 contribution was a condition of coming back into the community, and that she should do whatever she needed to get the money, including obtaining a bank loan. IEF director Jeff Carreira tolder her at least three times regarding contributions "Do not tell anyone about this." When she later left the community again she knew she would have to give even more to return. At one point she told Carreira she would give Andrew the proceeds for the rest of her life from a trust for her. He seemed satisfied with this, but, as she told me, "I came to my senses and backed out."

There is a close English student who was kicked out of the community for about two years, but who continued to live in Lenox, Massachusetts, hoping to regain Andrew's good graces. A witness recounted a conversation with Andrew regarding the student’s request to return to IEF. Andrew said he would get this student to give him all of his money, so that he would be dependent on Andrew and have no "back door." “Then he’d be mine,” Andrew said. The student is now, again, a leader in Andrew's organization.

Andrew became extremely outraged with another student who had taken a celibacy vow and admitted to Andrew he had masturbated. Wracked with guilt and remorse after being called a hypocrite by Andrew, the student wound up obtaining an advance on his inheritance and giving it to IEF.

In addition to direct financial contributions, students frequently purchased Andrew Cohen expensive clothing and other gifts. Most of these students have little of their own money. One student told me how she had purchased him an $800 pair of Armani pants and many $200-$300 sweaters. The giving of flowers to express sorrow or gratitude, common when I was a member of the community, stopped being sufficient years ago.

It is not unusual for nonprofits to ask members for contributions. But it is unusual to obtain such contributions through psychological manipulation and the use of shame and guilt, as occurs in Andrew's community. A glance at the finances of IEF do not appear to show the need for using extraordinary measures to obtain contributions. According to IEF's 2003 Federal Income Tax Form 990 (the latest one viewable at the Guidestar.org web site, obtainable by doing a search for Moksha Foundation), IEF had total revenues of over $4 1/3rd Million Dollars in 2003, with a net over expenses of $2,184,927.00. Its total assets exceeded its liabilities by $7,653,439.00. In the last several years, Andrew Cohen had a large new office built for himself at Foxhollow, despite already having a luxurious office suite in the Foxhollow Manor House. That office suite included a private yoga room, private bath, private secretary's office, fireplace, porch, views and a main room of about 500 square feet. Andrew Cohen's lifestyle, while not as ostentatious as some famous gurus', could be fairly called lavish by most people's standards.

Leaving Isn't Easy
Given the pervasiveness of physical and emotional abuse and financial exploitation in Andrew Cohen's community, it would be reasonable to ask (as some on this blog have) why students don't just leave. In fact, most of Andrew's students do leave. He has far more students who have left him over the years than who have remained with him. Few of his early students remain. I have learned from an inside source that there are currently less than 400 students and "practicing members" combined, worldwide. This is far from the "revolution" that Andrew has always claimed he is spearheading.

For many students, however, leaving Andrew is traumatic. This is due to a combination of factors. Some of these factors are psychological and entrained by Andrew. Students are told repeatedly that leaving Andrew and his community is the greatest betrayal. They are taught that it is tantamount to admitting that they do not "want to be free" and to giving up any chance of spiritual enlightenment. Andrew's close students have witnessed numerous times the way Andrew denigrates and demonizes those who leave him. Andrew frequently complains about a conspiracy of former students who only want to undermine him. Students are repeatedly told that if they leave they should have no contact with other students who left the community. This means that it is likely they will be alone and without emotional support if they leave Andrew and IEF. Close students have generally devoted years of their lives to Andrew, have derived their whole sense of meaning from the community, and have lost touch with other friends, interests and support systems. The prospect of facing a huge void in their lives makes the idea of leaving Andrew very intimidating. But sometimes leaving Andrew is difficult for another reason-Andrew and his community sometimes make it almost impossible to do.

It is generally not possible to openly talk about leaving the IEF community if one has been a close student. If one does leave, one is often hounded by the community. There have been many instances of this. Marvin, a student who left on the pretext of visiting family, was called repeatedly by community members, and asked to come back. He finally agreed to return briefly to discuss the matter. When challenged for leaving without telling anyone, he made the memorable comment, "Leaving is not a formal student topic." Many other students were hounded after they left. Jeff, the student who left after Andrew had Michelle, a physician student, pretend she was going to surgically remove his finger for failing in a writing project (See "Shame, Guilt and The Guru's Blood") was sent a series of e-mails, each with symbolic pictures of the cover of the video "The Picture of Dorian Gray," with the images becoming progressively more distorted and ugly.

Many students have run from the community during the night. A couple of examples of this follow. The female student who made the $60,000 contribution and pledged her future inheritance, whose story was told above, did so after secretly escaping Foxhollow one night. Before she left, Andrew knew she was in a delicate condition and there was a danger she might leave. She had left once before. One night after receiving serious "feed-back", Andrew's wife Alka came to her room, and asked her for her driver's license, passport, and credit cards. She said she could not find her passport, but handed over what she claimed was her only credit card and her driver's license. She had previously hidden, however, another copy of her license and another credit card. She took them, along with her passport, "borrowed" the community car, and drove to a car rental office in Lenox. There she rented a car, left a voicemail message at Foxhollow about the community car's whereabouts, and drove off into the night. She didn't know where she wanted to go, just that she wanted to get far away. Eventually, she drove the thousands of miles from Massachusetts to New Orleans. She figured no one would find her there. A few days after she arrived and got a room, she went to return the rented car. There, to her shock, she found Debbie, an IEF community member, waiting for her. Debbie had waited at the car rental's Lenox office until she overheard a phone conversation from which she learned the student would be returning her rented car in New Orleans. She flew there and waited in the New Orleans rental office until the escaped student showed up. Debbie eventually persuaded her to return.

One Dutch student, who was close to Andrew and who had been a leader in his communities in Europe, fell into disfavor. He was put in a community home in London, where Steve Brett was told to keep an eye on him and prevent him from leaving. Steve slept just outside the Dutch student's room, so that he could not leave in the night without being noticed. But one night Steve failed to do this. The Dutch student packed a bag and threw it out his bedroom window to the ground below. Then he sneaked silently out of the house. He retrieved his bag, and found a pay telephone a block or two away, from which he called a cab. A couple of weeks before this, Rob, a close community member and an old friend of the Dutch student, had warned him against leaving. Rob was highly trained in martial arts, having been a member of a special division of the Dutch military, roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy Seals or Special Forces. Rob had told his friend that if he ever left, he would find him and break every bone in his body. After the student escaped, he chose to go as far away as he could imagine, settling in Costa Rica. A few weeks after getting there, he got an e-mail from Rob. All it said was, "I'm coming." Andrew himself had instructed Rob to send this e-mail.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this is the last in my "Breaking The Code Of Silence" series. It also marks the end, for now, of my contributions to this blog. The stories I have recounted in these articles are only examples. There are many more to tell in all the categories of weirdness and abuse I have discussed. There are some areas that I barely mentioned. One such area is Andrew's intense involvement with his students' sex lives, his betraying of sexual confidences of students, and his use of such information to humiliate students. These stories will have to wait for another day, or another author.

For now, the ice has been broken, and much of what was previously kept hidden by unwritten rules has been revealed here. People interested in studying with Andrew Cohen and becoming a part of his community now have essential and previously unavailable information about him, so they can make an informed decision. Students who have left him and are hurt or confused can now discuss these matters openly without feeling they are the first to betray some deep dark secret, because the secret has already been told.

It has been my privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to this blog, and I am grateful to all the readers, commenters and other contributors. I hope that the breaking of the code of silence that occurred here will benefit everyone, that we all continue to grow in openness, and that all of us have success on our path.

May all enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, be free from suffering and the root of suffering, and enjoy the great equanimity that is free from passion, aggression and prejudice


Saturday, May 21, 2005

If Andrew Cleaned Up His Act And Walked His Talk

An Essay And Miracle Story
by AD

I might be wrong but I would not agree with all those who see Andrew as an evil incarnate who is only after the power and his own egoic goals. I think he has a lot to offer to some people, at least on the preliminary level of self-knowledge, or rather ego-knowledge, which are not the whole story of the spiritual life but an important first step.

He just needs to clean up his act… and that's a serious job, is he up to it? will he do it? Who knows?

People like him will be around as long as there is a need for that kind of “teachers” and the need is created by some unquestioned collective beliefs like; "Only someone else can show me the way to God", or "other people are more spiritual then I", etc. or just people who think they need this kind of thing as they cannot find it anywhere else or in themselves or in existing churches or religions. It’s a spiritual market gap he fills to cater to some of the unexamined human "wants & needs & beliefs". As long as there is a demand for something the service will be provided sooner or later by Andrew or someone else.

Which of course does not excuse his barbaric behaviour towards the people around him a one bit. Prostitution is also a problem, the prostitutes too provide a kind of service catering to human needs and will be here as long as the demand exists.

So whom do we blame? The prostitutes? Or the guys who go to prostitutes for service and keep them in business? Or just Human Ignorance? If the guys stop going there, the prostitution would die, same with people like Andrew, as long as there is a demand for people like him, he will be in business…spiritual Sado-Masochism?...spiritual ecstazy mixed with a hudge dose of existential and emotional pain, it's a volitale mixture.

I'd like to believe, although I do not know for sure, that initially AC motivation has been pure, perhaps still is and he has not set himself up to rip people off financially, emotionally and spiritually. Yet obviously he got seriously corrupted somewhere on the way as the people around him allowed themselves to be mesmerised by him and hand him more and more power and control over their lives in the hope of getting from him whatever that was they projected,that they will get.

His financial status, over the years, also has become very powerful and perhaps being there on top, it’s extremely difficult to stay innocent and uncorrupted. Again saying all that, this does not excuse his behaviour one dot. It is the responsibility of the spiritual teacher to find skilful ways to deal with such unholy temptations, it is his own private yoga.

I think that half of the time he does not have a clue what he is doing, he is just groping in the dark, and he often said this himself that he “makes things up as he goes along”.

This is not surprising, as often noticed and expressed on this blog, he has no spiritual teacher himself, he never lived in highly structured spiritual community, he also never had normal job, family, kids, etc. His circumstances and lifestyle is just so very uncommon, so it is understood that he might lack the understanding and wisdom to relate to people who actually have full-time jobs, family life, kids, normal friends, etc.

His only pseudo “spiritual teachers” since about year 2000 seems to be people like Ken Wilber and Don Beck, as even the language in which he present his current teaching is borrowed from the ideas and expressions from those two men, I hope that they are aware of it. As I did not known him earlier I’m not sure who were his favourite “idols” before that.

It is all OK, as long as he himself believes in what he is saying about his teaching, that it is “made up and changed as he goes along” and do not behave as if it is the "final and absolute" teaching and imposes it cruelly on his students with no room for challenge, true free dialogue, questioning or deep inquiry. The only possible “dialogues and deep inquiry” are usually only limited to contemplate his five tenets. On one hand he is asking people on his retreats to “have guts, courage, think deeply” on the other hand, closer to home, he is punitively discouraging any challenge, discussions or questioning of the validity of any part of his teaching or himself as a teacher.Again this is a very tricky and dangerous situation for any human being to be in, because if he is wrong, he will fall from a very high place and might not survive it as a spiritual teacher or even a person. His castle already started to crumble.

I think that even this very sorry situation is still remediable with a huge dose of true conscience and humility on his part. I do assume of course that he has it.
Again, “true conscience and humility” are at the very top of his favourite topics at the retreats. It seems that now he needs a dose of his own medicine in homoeopathic form; “Likes Cures Likes.”

Lets just imagine that we all heard a story called "Andrew Walks His Talk":

“Andrew decided to get a dose of his own homeopathic medicine and for the sake of all, for the sake of peace and harmony in this world, and for the sake of his own conscience and soul he decided to face everything and avoid nothing:

He quickly and extensively apologised to all the many students that have been abused while trying on them his “ever changeable, new and improved spiritual formulas” and failing.

He deeply acknowledged his responsibility and wrong doings.

He soon after sold both of his lavish estates, in Foxhollow and London, and gave all the money back to the people that over the years have been emotionally blackmailed to give it to him.

He also gave the magazine away as a Spiritual Gift to all those people who actually do all the hard work for the Magazine and to all those who have been doing it for years and left.

The rest of the money he donated to charities plus all the expensive designer clothes to go with it.

He also sold his expensive cars and uses public transport, as now he feels one with the universe and started to care about the environment, experiencing it a part of his own body, mind & spirit.

As a daily spiritual practice he and his wife have chosen “service to others” and now visit all those who for years have been serving them. Now Andrew and his wife for a change do their cooking, cleaning, ironing, gardening, etc for free and are grateful for the opportunity to serve and deepen their own humility.

Afterwards he has gone into seclusion for a couple of years to reflect deeply on his actions and to find out if he still has a calling to be a spiritual teacher.
Eventually he has returned into the world, with free conscience, ever-present humility and the restored sense of purity and innocence, he has changed, and became less ignorant, more enlightened, more sensitive and aware, more compassionate.

He now supports himself as most people do in this world, as not to be regarded as “special or better”, by working as a musician and lives in a small two-bedroom house somewhere.

He and his wife share the domestic duties and responsibilities together, again as not to be regarded as “special, different or better”; they no longer have free servants.

He is still filled with spiritual enthusiasm, with grace, deep humility and he realises that the True Purpose of Enlightenment really is to serve the world and fellow human beings, to help to alleviate their suffering, rather then make fellow human beings serve him in the name of Enlightenment and contribute to world suffering.

He fulfils that purpose by running occasional retreats, renting the premises elsewhere already made for that purpose. He keeps the cost to bare minimum and offers free places, so as many people as possible can participate, as he deeply realised that after all spiritual teaching is his true vocation in life”.

Miracles do happen.
If that were to happen I’d be the first to book myself on his retreat.


Sunday, May 15, 2005

The Seeds Of Abuse Were In Place

A View On Andrew Cohen From 15 Years later

By Douglas Wallace

I left Andrew Cohen’s community in December of 1989. Unlike others who have written about their experiences here, I was involved with Andrew Cohen and his sangha for barely over a year. But, as many readers of this blog will understand, that time was extraordinarily powerful, and marked the most intense and profound commitment I had ever made to anyone or anything. I encountered Andrew weeks after I had begun a graduate school program, but quickly abandoned my studies, job, and home to follow him. Meeting Andrew felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and there was no choice but to give myself to it completely.

Falling in love was the easy part, because what Andrew offered was so astonishing and revolutionary. I had spent years as a Buddhist practitioner, but in a scant few days Andrew opened my eyes to more freedom than I had believed possible. I became convinced that Andrew was offering me a high-speed ride to liberation, and I was among the chosen few.

Within weeks, though, I also sensed some disturbing signs in the community and in Andrew’s behavior that would only intensify over time. There were strict, but unwritten rules that tripped up even the most experienced students. Violations resulted in public humiliation and crushing “house meetings” – two words that I would come to dread. Crossing Andrew, or even appearing to disagree with him, guaranteed swift retribution.

Reading through the various accounts that former students have posted here, on WHAT Enlightenment ??!, it’s clear that the seeds of the abuse and manipulation were in place long ago, probably from the start. The details are horrifying, but not surprising. Andrew is just reenacting a role that has been played by other gurus before him – one theme, many variations – and the drama always unfolds along the same lines.

My departure from the community also followed script. After enduring a number of men’s group meetings where faltering students were shouted at and brought to tears, I finally spoke up and suggested that maybe there was a better way to help people through their difficulties. Oddly, in the weeks leading up to these events, I had been feeling increasingly confident in my own experience and judgment. I must have known, in some way, that this challenge would bring their scrutiny directly on me and force the issue of my own skepticism about Andrew.

If this was an unconscious wish on my part, the men quickly gratified it and blasted me with criticism about my treachery and lack of gratitude toward Andrew. While I acted a little contrite, I quietly knew that I wasn’t about to tolerate weeks or months of abuse for my egoic crimes. After a day of reckoning with the consequences, I gathered my clothes and my courage, and left my group house without notice.

I did have one phone call a few days later with Andrew, during which he asked me if I would reconsider my decision and return to him. With my heart in my mouth, I said I couldn’t and explained why, feeling wrenched with anger and love for him. I later learned that Andrew had recounted that conversation to my fellow students with such fabulous distortion that I became an easy villain. Abusive phone calls from the community chased me until I left the area.

I embarked on a trip to Asia for lack of a better destination, already weary from loss and depression. My life took me to an improbable encounter with Poonjaji (Andrew’s teacher) in India, and a slow healing through a desolate mental landscape, back to a semblance of wholeness. Being with Poonjaji also brought back to life the beauty of Ramana’s teachings, which Andrew had offered me my first glimpse of, but little more.

While my time with Poonjaji was critical in helping me through my separation from Andrew and the community, I still simmered in a stew of outrage and reactivity for several years afterward. My bridges to Buddhism had been burned, and I felt mistrustful and negative toward other Advaita teachers, especially those who had anointed themselves after an awakening experience. Caught in a deep disillusionment, I was intensely critical if there were any question of their integrity or authenticity. As for Andrew, I found his lingering presence in Marin County, where I finally returned to live, a source of great agitation.

As with a brief affair, I ended up spending a lot more time processing my experience with Andrew than the months I actually spent with him. Of course, I thought long and hard about sending him a letter that would finally set him straight. But each time I considered it, I remembered Andrew’s bullet-proof defenses and self-justifications, and knew that there was no getting through.

The passing years have made a difference, and I’ve been fortunate to meet several fine teachers who offered their guidance without demanding my allegiance. They were all rooted in a dharma that transcended their personal interests, and it was a deep joy for me to return to the truest part of my spiritual calling. None of them claimed perfection, and I never asked it from them. All were human, and they knew it.

I look back, bemused now, at my hopes that I would finally be free of certain kinds of experiences, particularly difficult emotions. I wanted Andrew to help me escape my basic human predicament, and he seemed more than willing to accommodate me, for a price. It was a bad bargain for both of us. I’ve learned the hard way that my spiritual longings were complex: unfulfilled narcissistic drives were interwoven with a genuine love of truth, and revulsion toward the mess of the world joined with a deep contemplative nature.

Now when I think of Andrew, I appreciate the doors he opened for me, but his delusions and failings don’t keep me up at night. He’s just another guy.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

THE CHALLENGE OF GETTING CLEAR--An Essay On Andrew Cohen's Teaching

By Bruce Ryan

[A Note From WHAT Enlightenment ??! : What follows is the Prologue of a longer essay critiquing Andrew Cohen's teaching by former Cohen community member Bruce Ryan. Due to the length of the essay, it has been posted in its entirety on its own website where it can be downloaded as a Word document. If you would like to download a copy of the whole essay, go to GETTING CLEAR. On the front page please double click on the second module in the right hand column. This will bring up an active link to the essay on the left side of the front page. Double click on that link and the essay will appear as a download.]


I’ve noted in my conversations with members of the "shadow" community that many of us are still under the illusion that Andrew Cohen has victimized us with his teaching. One even noted on the WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog that she didn’t care about that because her evil, stubborn ego deserved to be victimized. It is difficult to get to the bottom of this issue from a viewpoint like that because that is precisely the viewpoint Andrew brings to the table. Perhaps that accounts for the fact that on the WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog, while I have not yet read all the contributions, I have yet to read any really pointed observations on the so-called “dharma” that Andrew proposes. This is a pity because from that “dharma” has flowed all the perceived abuses which have sent so many people fleeing the community. The confusion behind that “dharma” must be deeply understood and one must see very clearly how it pales in the light of the Dharma that liberated Andrew.

True Dharma is that Dharma which describes the phenomenal world exactly and precisely as it is. It does not add anything to that description, nor does it take anything away. Dharmas that do not meet this standard are typically larded with colorful metaphors, clever phrasing, and poignant images that prey on the seeker’s emotions and seduce him into thinking they are true. This is especially true of seekers who approach them with an open heart. That is why it is the seeker’s obligation not to respond to a dharma solely on the emotional level but rather to dig beneath the surface and find out if it is true. It is the truth which sets one free, not dharma-talk.

Take, e.g., a description of Enlightenment posted currently on Andrew’s website in which he urges the seeker to “drop his ego like a hot potato.” Who could not respond to such a colorful metaphor? It is part and parcel of his idea that Enlightenment always occurs in the “now” and that when one really looks, one will see that the “now” is all there is. So it communicates a kind of urgency. It tweaks one’s desire to be free. It inspires one to get on with the process. But any seeker who takes up the challenge of dropping his ego “like a hot potato” will find that he is in for a rude awakening, if you’ll pardon the pun. The trouble with it is that the “now” Andrew is talking about is timeless while the “now” the seeker is in is karmic. The seeker’s “now” is a coalescence of all the “thens” which went before it. Those “thens” were filled with seeking and as a result so is his “now”. The truth is, of course, that he is already free. But that is his truth only from the point of view of the timeless “now”. But from his perspective he is not in that “now”. This means that he is not in possession of this truth. If he were in possession of it, why would he be seeking? So in his actual condition he is not free. As a result he is not free to “drop his ego like a hot potato” either.

I urge the reader not to take my word for this. Try it for yourself. Try to drop your ego “like a hot potato” and see what happens. This kind of dharma-talk has a sort of instant appeal to it. It gives the seeker the idea that Enlightenment is easy. But it puts the cart before the horse and only ends up dashing one’s hopes in the end.

Andrew’s teaching is filled with this kind of talk so to call it a Dharma is quite a stretch. Indeed one is hard-pressed to find words to describe it, since no one in the world of Spirituality has had either the audacity or the gall to turn his back on the very Teaching that liberated him before the advent of Andrew Cohen. Perhaps the best descriptive phrase is a “mock” dharma because it radiates out of a false premise. This might explain why in all his many years of teaching no one has been able to make it come alive in his or her heart. One might say that it is basically a collocation of half-baked ideas, linked together by a false logic flowing from an unexamined assumption. At any rate that might do for starters.

In order to see these points clearly however, one must free oneself from the shackles of the victimization game. This is edgy stuff and the emotions run deep around it. For this reason advice is often risky. Still, if one has had some headway in this endeavor one has an obligation to speak up. In this sense I can only relate what worked for me.

When I left the community I was crest-fallen. I felt that life had derailed my eight-ball in the biggest possible way. All my hopes and aspirations were tied to that teaching and had been for ten years. I wallowed in self-pity for several weeks. But as bits and pieces of my former life began to come back to me I was overcome with a deep sense of relief. This sense had to do with, not so much a return of the familiar, but the knowledge that I was not going back to Moksha again. This knowledge allowed me to relax. It gave me a sense of space. That space was deeply inviting. Occasionally thoughts would enter somewhat like a bird might land on a door stoop. They would look around, flutter their wings, and fly off into the sunlight again. One thought persisted over time however: a sudden and deep recognition that this “teaching” was not The Way. This was the bird that would not fly away.

At first I had no idea where this intuition came from but I did remember that I had had that same intuition during my association with several other spiritual communities. In those cases, while I did not drop my ego “like a hot potato”, I did drop those teachings in precisely that manner. But soon I began to recognize it as an intuition that had been lurking in the background during my involvement with Andrew for actually quite a while. I had just not paid much attention to it because I was uncomfortable with the power it had to let my ego off the hook. But as I continued to look at it, it seemed to pull together my experiences with Moksha in a way that no other idea did. It was deeply satisfying. For several years I did not take my eyes off that intuition. I watched in silence as it grew stronger. I began to see my association with Moksha as a sort of experiment I had undertaken to deepen my understanding of the Dharma. The experiment failed, or so I thought. But so what? The experiment was much like the driver who goes the wrong way down a one-way street and ends up at a dead-end. Does he sit there and rant and rave at what a dirty blow life dealt him? Of course not. He turns the car around and moves on. Let’s face it: he gambled and he lost. Whose responsibility is that? In this way I came to the end of the idea that I had been victimized.

The one word which embodied my experience with Moksha like no other was failure. I was a total failure at Andrew Cohen's teaching right out of the starting blocks, and right to the very end. For the last year of my life in that community I felt like I was walking around with a big X on my forehead and that the only issue at stake was who got to make the kill. In the end it was Andrew himself but he did so in the gentlest of manners, sort of like he was executing a bird which had broken its wings. This was interesting in itself because I had witnessed several ugly blow-ups in precisely this kind of circumstance. At any rate what felt like an execution in the beginning, turned out to be a liberation in the end. He liberated me from his teachings and for this I am eternally grateful. It’s an exhilarating feeling to be free of it! In my crazier moments I’ve often wished I could return the gesture. But that will never happen. His karmic circumstances will not allow it.

This paper grew out of that sense of freedom. It is excerpted from a work-in-progress on the difference between true and false religion. I had intended to entitle the online version OUTING ANDREW COHEN, but after much reflection I became concerned by the provocative nature of it. It seemed to appeal to a part of me that is still in rebellion against the world. That part is better left unexpressed in this case because it would cheapen the point of the paper.

It is not about the idea that a teacher made foolish mistakes. It is far bigger. It is about an intense challenge which faces every aspirant on the Spiritual Circuit: how to get clear on the Dharma. Indeed, the challenge is bigger, even, than that. It is a challenge not only for the aspirant, but for the teacher himself. If the teacher is not clear on the Dharma, how can his students be clear?

I first began to think around this topic almost a year ago. My lifetime of failed involvements with religion covers a span of almost sixty years. The specter of this failure has haunted me continuously, especially since exiting from the Moksha community some years ago. That was my seventh – and final - spiritual community, or so I thought. Previously however I had always approached the examination of this issue in a personal way – how I failed here, why I failed there, etc. My investigation was all about me. Suddenly it occurred to me that this too was just another idea. Perhaps I didn’t fail these religions. Perhaps they failed me.

Teachers, of course, don’t like to hear this kind of talk. Religions don’t fail. People fail. Many see it as just another version of the blame game. I was willing to concede that possibility but I wasn’t willing to take it for granted as I had on so many previous occasions. I had to find out whether it was true. As I pushed into this issue it became clear to me that I needed a new tactic. Previously I had bounced these ideas round and round in my mind, mulling them over incessantly as I walked my mail route. Often a thought would come to me and I would dash it down on paper. After a while thoughts would come so fast I found myself scrambling in the bushes to find scraps of paper to write them down on. Several times I found myself using gum wrappers! All these pieces of papers were put in a little basket that had come to me as a Christmas gift. One night I began poking through them and realized that they seemed to link themselves together in a sort of logic that was really quite convincing. On the other hand, how could I know for sure unless I tried to work this logic out? Such a task could only be done with pen and paper. So the name of the game became: put it all down on paper.

I recommend this strategy to anyone who thinks he understands an issue, whether it is religious or not. I guarantee that you will find out very quickly whether or not you do! One doesn’t have to be a Hemmingway to do this and one doesn’t have to have an ulterior motive either. All I am doing is trying to get clear on an issue that has gnawed at my innards for years. I never had the intention to write a book and to this day, although I’ve often talked that way, I have no idea whether that will be the result of my reflections or not. Only time will tell. Still, the attempt is revealing. I tried to write down my reflections exactly as I had thought them in my mind over the previous months and the result was an embarrassing hodge-pod of false ideas, illogical conclusions, incorrect facts, unexamined assumptions, and just plain bad thinking. Nevertheless as I wrote and re-wrote a kind of clarity began to emerge.

It seems to me that if one brings the issue of true versus false religions to the table in an open minded way three permutations appear. One can live a true religion, or one can fail to live a true religion. On the other hand one cannot live a false religion. One can only fail to live it. In fact it is guaranteed that one will fail to live it. That is because it is false. If a religion is false that means it cannot come alive in the human heart.

To meet this challenge of this paradox I had to get very clear about the structure of a true religion. This meant that I had to develop a vision of religion in the biggest possible way. There was no help for me here, and rightly so, as no one I talked to saw things my way. Nevertheless the issue was clear: is there such a thing as a true religion? If so, one has to be able to identify the principle which makes a religion true and distinguish it very clearly from the principle which makes a religion false. As I pushed into these issues it became apparent that the principle in question is an assumption. Not any assumption, but an assumption about the nature of the Universe itself. If one does not make this assumption there are an endless number of ways a religion can go false. I present one of them here. So while I see Andrew Cohen as a stand-in or a proxy for false religion in our time, in point of fact any TV preacher would do just as well. Andrew’s thinking, of course, is obviously deeper. And there is no denying that his insights are often more poignant. But these are not stand-alone features of the Truth that sets us free. While Andrew does not trick his audience with a feel-good story about how, even though they have egos, they will go to heaven and sit at the right hand of God forever if they will only believe so-and-so, he does something just as wrong: he cons them with a feel-bad story about just how evil the human ego really is. Both of these stories are false. Neither recognizes the transcendental nature of the human heart and its impulse to move beyond ego. Both lack a commanding vision of the Truth. That is why, with respect to the fundamental concepts of religion, there is no substitute for clarity.

Bruce Ryan

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If you would like to download a copy of the entire essay from which the above prologue is an excerpt, go to GETTING CLEAR. On the front page please double click on the second module in the right hand column. This will bring up an active link to the essay on the left side of the front page. Double click on that link and the essay will appear as a download.