Wednesday, January 11, 2006

“Either I’m Crazy…or…”

A Behind The Scenes Look At Andrew Cohen's Black Or White Logic

By Stas M.

[Note: The following article is by a former long-term and close “senior” student of Andrew Cohen, who was known in Cohen’s community as “Ernest.” His previous contribution to this blog is Letter From A Senior Student.]

“Here it comes”, I thought to myself. As a longtime student of Andrew Cohen I heard him utter these words many times over the years. And now I found myself sitting with a handful of others, in anticipation, waiting again to see where his broad, sweeping logic would take us.

“Either I’m crazy…or there’s something so pure, so absolutely good about me that brings out the devil in people who get close to me. And I can’t help it, but my function is to purify everyone around me from ego.” Andrew made this bold statement on a mild summer evening in August 2002 at a rustic, but elegant restaurant-villa in the village of Tourettes-sur-Loup, Southern France, where with his inner circle of senior students he was celebrating the successful conclusion of the retreat he had just given in nearby Les Courmettes. At our guru's words the table fell silent, save for a few murmured “ummms” and nods of assent.

There was a somber note to the occasion, because at this retreat Andrew had been putting tremendous pressure on his women students to give up what he considered their female “personal perspective” for “the sake of the whole.” As a result, yet another of his close, longtime people, a leader among his “formal” women students had “crashed and burned,” dramatically leaving the retreat (and Andrew) under the intense psychological and emotional pressure. This pressure included being videotaped in a small room as I and another student berated her, at Andrew’s request, for betraying him and for responding to criticism with what Andrew considered a “demonic” expression on her face. (At the time, Andrew was obsessed with trying to capture the “smile of the ego” or the face of the “devil” on video. Andrew had a number of such videos made of students being interrogated and humiliated.) These kinds of extreme, anger-fueled tactics had been used by Andrew for some years to try to “crack” someone’s ego, but lately he had given it a name – he was calling it "evolutionary tension." Those with leadership responsibilities were especially susceptible to Andrew's displeasure and wrathful imposition of such “tension” when they didn't measure up to his expectations. The result was nearly always the same –- sooner or later they would leave. It was at difficult and tragic moments like this that our guru would resort to his flawed black or white, “either-or” argument.

“Either I’m crazy…or…” was designed to force us to complete the Aristotelian logic in our heads -–“our guru is definitely not crazy, therefore…what he’s doing is obviously completely and cosmically right.” And so our response was: “Yes, Andrew we’re with you no matter what!” It had to be. The logic dictated it, since it was never really a matter for serious consideration that our teacher may in fact BE “crazy.” For to entertain the possibility that our guru might actually be crazy, or even just flawed, would be to cast doubt on what we had given years of our lives to, the validity of our cherished spiritual experiences, and even our own judgment and sanity, as well.

It had been hard to ignore the steady stream of committed students in responsible positions exiting the ranks each year--a fact that might have given another teacher pause for self-reflection and re-assessment. Yet for our guru, the pain, devastation and leaving of his students were only proof of the sanctity of his mission. He would often gather together his remaining troops and once again trot out the “either-or” argument. Then there would be Andrew’s scathing assessment of the student who left--the disparagement and erasure from our lives of one or more of our former compatriots and friends (now “traitors”) in “the revolution”.

Andrew’s trashing of this person would have already happened at least a few times prior to his or her departure, while they were still there, present and struggling to deal with the pressure being put on them from all sides. These were the "meetings" where one or more committed students on the hot seat were severely criticized, screamed at and insulted by Andrew in front of the others. Generally, most of these gatherings were held in his office in the Foxhollow compound or in his living room. Still, on more than a few occasions, we would be called to a local bar, where we’d find Andrew sternly sitting at a table, like the Godfather, next to his right-hand person of the moment, greeting us with "I called you here because I have to get drunk first before I can talk to you!'" Then the usual bullying would ensue without inhibitions.

However, Andrew's special "either I'm crazy or…" speech would normally be reserved for meetings after the bloodbath, when the student in question had been kicked out or had left in an emotionally and spiritually crushed state. (See Susan Bridle's article A Legacy of Scorched Earth.) He would then speak retrospectively to the remaining faithful in an attempt to explain the recent painful events. This would allow Andrew, once again, to gain reassurance from us, his devotees, that we understood the "context." Here the "context" meant basically that anything goes in the name of liberation, and that no matter what, Andrew's judgment must be trusted. Remember, “either I’m crazy or...”! Andrew would also remind us that ego death is not for wimps. "Right?...Right!" We would then acknowledge to him that we understood how the collective force of ego is against him at every turn, and that, yet again, he is being let down and betrayed by even his closest people only because he is such a purifying “force for goodness.” In effect, we would be tapping into the primary myth of our lives with Andrew, and as "Greek chorus" in this tragedy, would "sing" to him: “No, Andrew, of course you are not crazy, you are a living Buddha!”

It is important to see that there is no middle ground in Andrew's argument. That is, either he is insane or he is a prophetic vehicle for an absolutely perfect cosmic unfolding of consciousness, divinely inspired and guided by universal principles of evolution. Otherwise, his actions might have to be judged by the same shared standards of human decency we mere mortals apply to vet out narcissistic and even abusive behavior toward each other. His many punitive actions with his students (including the kinds of emotional, psychological, financial and even physical abuses documented on this blog) are supposed to be seen in the context of coming from someone who has no “shadow,” hidden agendas or blind spots, and who is thus only serving as an agent for the evolutionary needs of the student. Andrew and his apologists have criticized this blog precisely for failing to give this "context" to his actions. For without this “context” of an unquestioning shared belief in Andrew as enlightened agent for the cosmic "guru principle", his actions would be seen for what they are, as dangerously misguided, harmful, and self-serving.

There is a truism, expressed humorously by the Italians: “tutti pazzi”— we’re all a little crazy! Yet, it appears to be impossible for Andrew to even consider that he might have some faults, blind spots, a shadow like the rest of us. Having been a close student of Andrew over the years, it seems to me that what is at stake for him in this regard is nothing less than his absolute conviction in the cosmic rightness of his mission, and his confidence in his infallibility and the efficacy of his methods. But, I believe, it is exactly this grandiose position that is Andrew’s madness. This is borne out by the harm he has caused many of his students by imposing on them his brand of “evolutionary tension.” It seems that because he is so busy constantly trying to convince everyone (and perhaps himself, as well) that he is not crazy, his ability to clearly and consistently manifest real wisdom and compassion has been severely hampered. And, as evidenced on this blog, this is a real danger to those who might enter into relationship with him as spiritual mentor and authority.

By recognizing the thinking which underpins everything Andrew does, there is the hope that those who are or have been involved with him as teacher can see through his “either-or” framework to a more inclusive and real picture of Andrew as a human being like everyone else. They might even dare to openly question and test what he says and does against their own experience and values, and consider the possibility that real freedom must include our shadows, flaws and imperfections. Then the question “What is enlightenment?” would become subtler (and more complex), and could be pursued in an open-ended way, free from Andrew’s dangerously closed, authoritarian and self-serving “logic.”

Labels: , , , , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stas was a willing and conscious participant who knew the way Andrew viewed things all along. He didn't like it, so he left. Why is he whining so much?

Thursday, 12 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the previous post. I consider it particularly important that someone in Stas's previous position speaks out about Andrew Cohen and his misguided and damaging ways. It's necessary and brave and I commend him on writing another revealing article about his ex teacher. Many of us have at some point in our lives got involved in wonderful while abusive relationships of different kinds. Stas became student of a teacher who claimed in all but words that he was God himself. Clearly it is healing, revealing and hugely valuable to publicly expose real workings of this flawed God-man who still resides in a position of unchecked power. To label someone’s change of heart and perception as “whining” clearly tells us more about the writer of that comment than about the writer of the article itself.


Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stas, thank you for a very eloquent description of the pivotal inclusion/exclusion dynamic at play between Andrew and his inner circle. It's an eye opening account of Andrew's manipulation, rigidity and inhumanity at its worst. Your contributions are GREATLY appreciated.

Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I listened to a video of Buckminster Fuller (The Lost Interviews) last night in which he said that people aren’t necessarily right or wrong, but that humanity learns by trial and error. I think that’s what’s missing with Andrew’s teaching. His ideas about “evolutionary tension” simply don’t work. If you push button A for 20-odd years and no one becomes enlightened, perhaps it’s time to reconsider one’s tactics. The other possibility is that Andrew simply enjoys tormenting people. If that’s the case, then yes, perhaps he is a bit crazy!

Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Blogger Hal said...

Regarding the first anonymous commenter, who wrote "Why is he whining?"--there's a big difference between whining and warning. Stas has done many a great service by warning the unwary of Cohen's egomaniacal, manipulative and authoritarian rhetoric. He has done those of us who lived through abuse and manipulation faciliated by such thinking a service by revealing its inner workings so clearly.

It's interesting that a Cohen supporter like the anonymous poster would label Stas's sensitive and insightful article as "whining." This kind of hurtful, personal attack and psuedo macho stance (one wonders why someone with such machismo would lack the cajones to reveal their true identity and affiliation) is illustrative of the illness that permeates the inner workings of Cohen's community, where humiliation and abuse of others is the stock in trade.

Thank you Stas for a great contribution to this blog.

Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello everyone at Whatenlightenment!

Just wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to all of you who have contributed to this very important discussion forum.

For the lovers of the truth it is important to speak openly. It is amazing that for so long we felt gagged. Gagged by our own faulty beliefs more than anything else.

I spent some five years in the community and I loved, admired and worshipped Andrew Cohen. I considered, for all its secretiveness and faults, the community and the people within it sacred.

These feelings and beliefs were deep and because of them I hardly ever accepted the stories and the accounts, either from the letters posted here or from my friends who had left the community and who have had first hand experiences, that incidentally, have never contradicted anything that anyone has written here.

I guess I did not want to believe. Its heartbreaking and its hugely disappointing. And it means that once again I am on my own, face to face with life, with existential doubts, with my self.

And its OK. I've learnt to accept it, to cleanse myself of the necessity of being dependent on anyone. It feels good, though not without a tear, a tear for the infinite spirit once shared with all of you, for the aliveness and freshness, for the shared courage and love.

For what is shared seem to double and treble.

Wishing you all the best.

With gratitude,

Dragan Matijevic

Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

People need to understand what occurs within the inner workings of 'the revolution'. I am sometimes amazed at how middle schoolish it all seems. Name calling, slapping, money extortion (not middle schoolish anymore...), throwing paint on people, is THIS the future? Is this where evolution is taking us?

I'm sorry, but for a teacher demanding perfection from all of his students I expect the same from the teacher. Especially one who rallied against crazy wisdom for so many years, only to now turn to using it ("the context") as the excuse for his own behaviour.

My biggest problem honestly comes from no longer being able to trust the teaching itself. I can see at least a half dozen aspects of the teaching that could arise from the teachers own misapprehensions and shadow.

It is depressing, and confusing, and at the same time liberating to realize that things are not what they seem to be from the outside (I've been close to the inside for a time).

People should remember also that many of the posters here were very close compatriots to Andrew, his warriors for his mission. These were people that left family, friends, jobs, lives, and the everyday world behind, to spend as many of their waking moments serving the revolution as possible. These are remarkable spiritual aspirants who are often demonized for rather small indiscretions, while Andrew having a bucket of toxic paint poured over someone is viewed as 'skillful means'.

Anyone who has read Andrew's Autobiography of an Awakening would likely come to the conclusion that Andrew would have NEVER tolerated similar treatment, and he had turned his back on many teachers for much much smaller indiscretions. I seriously doubt that a young spiritual aspirant Cohen would have ever tolerated his own teaching techniques. I would bet he would have shared some sharp words with himself, and been on his way to brighter pastures. Anyone else get this feeling?

Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "pushing button "A" without result" comment is right on the money. Where are the results? If a math teacher could not produce a student who could add we would not hesitate to call a spade a spade. When a self-proclaimed teacher of Enlightenmnet cannot produce one enlightened student in over 20 years of 24 hour per day commitment to the cause, we place the blame on the students. Duh!
I cannot even imagine Andrew declaring anyone besides himself to have achieved the goal. Can you?
As for the comment on "whining", anonymous is obviously a good candidate for the blind leading the blind parade that is devoid of of reason and common sense. One can experience a sense of relief by sacrificing their autonomy to another, no need to take responsibility or face into one's own "not-knowing". This relief is short-lived. You either realize you have given away your soul, or you add to the weight of suffering being caused by ignorance in our world. Why the need to ignore?

Thank you Stas for another first-hand account of your experience in Andrew's Inner circle. It is revealing to learn about what is going on in the name of ego-masacre. Once you sign up for that trip, there's no way out but to leave. Your courage and the resulting clarity are deeply appreciated.

Friday, 13 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If the "Unenlightened" see a problem with the "Enlightened", I'd say we have a problems on our hands.

Saturday, 14 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Andrew , Is sophisticated method actor who merely echo’s and mimics things he has heard and seen. Evolutionary tensions is a concept that has no meaning. He is a product of the national psychosis of the American nation that centers on the myth of Americas Exceptionalism and its so called virtuous hegemony. The American nation with virtually nothing to do but consume the worlds resources and its on going degradation of the planet is a threat to mans ongoing survival. Andrew is just a symptom of a such a people that have lost their way, a nation and a people consumed by its own reflection.

Sunday, 15 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

anonymous said, "the way andrew viewed things".. I thought the Authentic Self was beyond point-of-view, beyond positionality. EC was all about relaxing the separate-self sense, and looking deeply beyond "the way I view it".

don't defend (or attack!) your guru until you actual 'get' what his teachings are pointing to.

Monday, 16 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I wanted to let you know how much I appreciate the care and the sincerity in all of your writings to this website. While I don't agree with everything written here, and I don't agree with the attacking going on on both sides, your writing has made me deeply question both my time with Andrew and what it means to follow a guru while remaining true to the deepest part of me.

Thank you for your thoughtfulness and your courage in sharing your insights with all of us.

Wednesday, 18 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stas, thank you for your courage in speaking out. I was involved in the "est" organization in the 1980s and have personal experience of mind-control methods. The first commenter here is "correct" in saying people are "willing and conscious" participants, but I believe part of our path is to break out of the fog of "this guy/guru/leader/healer/parent has the answers, so I'll just turn my life over to him."

I've never had the displeasure of meeting Andrew, but just reading his words makes it crystal clear that the guy is delusional. As a delusional guru, he's serving a useful purpose in helping people wake up, but not at all in the way he intends to. Anyone who breaks out of the system and has the courage to speak up is doing others a great service -- it's part of our great waking up. It's similar to growing up in an abusive family and having the courage to tell the truth about it rather than continuing to play "Let's pretend." Our culture wouldn't be in such a dismal mess if people would stop playing "Let's pretend." Good for you.

Wednesday, 18 January, 2006  
Blogger Hal said...

For a perspective in sharp contrast to Andrew's, I came across this quote from the great Zen master, Shunryu Suzuki Roshi:

On one side we are all fools, but when we realize this we are enlightened, and when we make efforts in the face of it, we are bodhisattvas.

----Shunryu Suzuki, from Crooked Cucumber: The Life and Zen Teaching of Shunryu Suzuki,, by David Chadwick.

Thursday, 19 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Stas--I have been following and occasionally participating in this blog for some months now. Your last post is one of the most personally helpful to me in attempting to sort out and shed some light on what it was that went so horribly wrong with Andrew and the whole mess that has blown up around him--so thank you very much!
I remember in the early days of my time with Andrew that one of his favorite expressions was about how "It's Black or White". Absolutely no room for subtlety or complexity here. At that time I appreciated the simplicity of his teachings. Little did I or any of us know the suffering and insanity that would ultimately erupt out of this "simplicity". I often remember him asking us, as Stas points out, "Am I crazy?" In retrospect I find it fascinating that Andrew needed such constant reassurance from all of us blindly devoted students. And also as Stas makes so clear, the one thing that could never be questioned was our beloved Guru's sanity! We had all given up so much, believed so deeply and even fanatically in his vision. To question him would be to question our own sanity! And to even maybe conclude that we had wasted many years of our lives by choosing such a flawed teacher. Even now to begin to let in the possibility that Andrew could have gone quite mad seems terribly radical. But at another level it also makes sense. I remember towards the end of my time as his student seeing nothing but coldness and utter fanaticism in his "mission" to utterly purify all of us and ultimately the world. I remember even entertaining the flickering thought that he seemed pretty crazed and had somehow badly lost his balance in his zeal to maintain "evolutionary tension", i.e. to fundamentally brutalize us in the most intense way under the guise of fulfilling his "mission". Wow, it's all so much and basically too much to let in consistently. But I like all of us who were deeply involved for a long time continue to be obsessed with trying to understand What Went Wrong!
The other point that Stas made about "the shadow" I also found helpful. I remember how once a Canadian teacher had asked Andew about his "shadow". Andrew often told this story about he could not possibly even relate to the notion of having a shadow. We spoke a great deal in the early days about Andrew's "total purity", and this notion was very much a part of the early litany. He was a Perfect Being, and our goal was to emulate him in every way. Now after so many years of being involved with the dharma I find it interesting and amazing how easily all of us swallowed this utterly fundamentalist concept which clearly at this point smacks of "wrong dharma".
So thanks again for your guts and clarity, Stas--much appreciated!

Sunday, 22 January, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As well as his many revealing insights, a full and humble apology from Stas would be most welcome, for all of the psychological and physical abuse that he blindly carried out in his guru's name for so long.

Thursday, 02 February, 2006  
Blogger Hal said...

While I can understand the previous anonymous poster's desire for an apology, I think this article is better than an apology.

Besides, everyone involved in the community helped Andrew in his abuse. Andrew and the system he set up required it. If you were going to survive in the community, it was inevitable that you would have to participate. And the higher up in the heirarchy, the more you did so. That's not an excuse, but it is the reality.

Personally, I don't need or expect apologies for anything from fellow community members. I am satisfied if we see and learn from the insanity of what we were all involved with.

Thursday, 02 February, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By amending our mistakes, we get wisdom.
By defending our faults, we betray an unsound mind.
--from The Sutra of Hui Neng, 6th Zen patriarch

Friday, 10 February, 2006  
Anonymous Rebecca Saxon said...

Thank you Stas. (I knew you as Ernie in Marin, shortly before I left the "serious students" for being chastised for talking to a "formal student" about a dream I had and asking him and asking how his new relationship was doing at the cafe one day. I don't know if you remember me, but you worked with me and our group very closely.)

I think that what you write here is logical. I went on to get my masters degree in Transpersonal Psychology, and I could say so much about the psychology of what is going on there... But I would rather share my own personal insights... to be vulnerable since that is such a rarity within his active group.

I feel I was a lucky one to leave. I could feel the pressure to conform and I had just enough insight to listen to that still voice within. Having said that, I am sure that if Andrew had showed just a little more personal interest in me, I might have stayed and gone on to have a similar experience as you write about.

I recently ordered Bill Yenner's book, and have read the posts here. I feel a similar rush and obsession that I felt in the community- just reading this and considering all the implications.

I agree with Hals statement that anyone that calls admitting mistakes and trying to learn from it "whining" is participating in the same kind of all-or -nothing machismo thinking that Andrew exhibits.

Wednesday, 11 August, 2010  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home