Thursday, December 21, 2006

Andrew Cohen and Donations Under Duress

By Jane O’Neil

[Editors' Note: This is Jane O'Neil's second feature article on the What Enlightenment??! blog. Her first article was "Andrew Cohen and the Corruption of Power."]

The article, "A Revolution in Finance," is a brilliant and articulate analysis of Andrew Cohen's financial wrongdoing, and a call to action that I sincerely hope Andrew and his students will take to heart. In response, I feel compelled to reveal some more of the details surrounding my donations to Andrew and his organization.

But first, regarding "A Revolution in Finance", I was unaware and surprised to hear of the teacher training courses that Jeff Carreira is leading. I knew Jeff well while I lived at Foxhollow; he has a heart of gold and I know that left to his own devices he would have tremendous integrity. That said, and having myself been one of Andrew’s personal assistants for more than a year, I can testify that those close to Andrew employ tactics against fellow students in the name of evolution and ego-death that are potentially very damaging. Tough love? The techniques used under Andrew’s direction would not pass the smell test of your average intelligent person in the street, to whom they would appear as damaging as boot camp under the command of a pathological CO. In a similar way, I am sure that those responsible for the tactics used at Guantanamo Bay considered themselves comrades in a fight against evil, trained to use any and all means necessary to destroy it.

On the subject of Andrew returning donations solicited under duress, I obviously would be profoundly grateful if he would return the $2 million dollars that I gave him toward the purchase of Foxhollow. I have certainly asked, but so far have heard nothing.

Andrew always tried to maintain a cloak of secrecy around his securing of donations from students. Andrew’s desire for secrecy regarding his strategies to secure donations from students is related to the most critical issue surrounding them: whether the student, under immediate duress or otherwise, has the awareness and the objectivity to say no. In my case, there were tremendous secretive machinations behind Andrew’s solicitation of the largest of my donations (the $2 million for Foxhollow). The worst aspect of the situation was the fact that my communication about this decision was severely restricted in terms of the number of people I was in a position to discuss it with.

When I met Andrew in 1993, I had been seeing a psychotherapist four times a week for eight years. Andrew and many others in his community knew this. It’s clear to me in retrospect that in making my $2 Million and other donations to Andrew I was acting out some of the self-destructive issues that I had long been in therapy in to deal with. When I told my therapist about meeting Andrew, she warned me I that was vulnerable to potential brainwashing. In contrast, when I revealed to Andrew the insecurity and anxiety I felt about the prospect of joining his community, he told me how intelligent and bright I was, and how fully capable I was of making a mature decision on my own. Who was I going to listen to—someone who told me I was weak (my therapist), or someone who told me I was strong (Andrew)? At the time, the choice seemed clear, however misguided, and I left my therapist and fell deeply into the vortex of Andrew’s community—the amazing people, the happiness, the feeling of belonging.

Early on in my life as his student, Andrew benefited from my endless and ridiculous need to prove my love for him through gifts, both personal and to his Moksha Foundation. Before the end of my first four months as his student, I had ‘donated’ my house in Mill Valley, California, then worth over $300,000, to his community (after which I felt so sick that I promptly threw up at the Marin County Civic Center). I feared I would not be able to sustain the feelings of happiness I had discovered and remain in my ordinary life. I believed I had to give it all up for his world. During my first two years in his community I showered him with exquisite Tibetan rugs, furniture and clothes (Loro Piani, Armani, any beautiful and expensive Italian clothes that I thought would suit him), none of which he refused or seemed to regard as anything less than his due. I also bought a $4000 display system for trade exhibits of his books and a computer for his Marketing Department. Calculating the receipts over the years, these purchases amounted to well over $150,000 in gifts to Andrew and his Foundation.

While I cannot hold Andrew responsible for this behavior, I do believe it is reasonable to ask whether a truly enlightened person would have failed to question—rather than perpetuate—the illusion that being showered with extraordinarily expensive gifts was about love and devotion rather than (as would have been obvious to any normal, sensitive human being) a symptom of a personal problem that needed to be addressed. The sad truth is that Andrew didn’t care one iota for my wellbeing, my ambivalence, or the general state of my mental health at the time. He cared for one thing and one thing only: to take advantage of an obvious weakness of mine and a clearly twisted situation. Why address these issues if it might ultimately mean gaining less than every possible advantage from the loyalty of a wealthy and gullible student? Thus the stage was set for the reeling in of the big bucks.

After learning from his close student Michelle Hemingway, in whom I had confided, of the imminent potential of a large family trust being dissolved and distributed to me five years earlier than scheduled, Andrew quickly communicated through her that he wanted these assets. Michelle, who at that time I regarded as a trusted friend and colleague, knew me well—my doubts, my aspirations, my plentiful neuroses and weaknesses, including my profound fear of being valued, by friends who knew of my wealth, for my money alone. Michelle was well aware of my fear that Andrew, too, valued me more for my money than for anything else. Acting on his orders, she sat me down in an office at the community’s headquarters and, vacillating between a nervous giggle and a serious tone, told me that Andrew needed this money for the purchase of a property in Massachusetts to establish a worldwide center for his teachings. I remember feeling sick again. She told me that she knew this pricked my deepest fears about Andrew ‘wanting me’ only for my money, but that I must ‘trust his vision,’ because it was for ‘the greatest good.’

By this time I had been a student of Andrew’s for three years and was now a formal student, a status in the community characterized by unconditional commitment and devotion. My life was completely consumed by Andrew and his teaching. His community represented my work, my friendships, my living situation, my inner life and my sense of self-worth. Without the real freedom to deny his request, I was suddenly and profoundly at risk of losing everything that, at that point in my life, I really cared about. Even I knew that Andrew had now gone too far. It was perfectly clear that there was no chance I could stay with him if I were to refuse. I was tormented; I didn’t believe for a second that I could say no and remain his student.

As I wrestled with this dilemma, the only people authorized by Andrew to speak with me about it were Michelle and Mimi Katz, and I was instructed not to discuss it with anyone else. Mimi was a close friend of mine as well as a Moksha Foundation board member co-responsible for its accounting office. After learning from Andrew that he had had Michelle solicit the donation, Mimi had advised Andrew that he had to be willing to accept no for an answer. I talked through the predicament I was in with Mimi many times. This ultimately led to her receiving a severe dressing-down from Michelle, who believed (along with Andrew) that in these conversations Mimi had given me ‘too much rope’ to indulge my doubts about donating the money. They must have feared that I was close to saying no and, not wanting to risk this, now closely choreographed who got involved. I was coached daily by Michelle, a few others, and on a few occasions Andrew himself, about how to proceed with the manipulation of my uncle, via my sister, to convince them of my urgent need for this money. At that point, the trust had not yet been dissolved; I didn’t have the money, nor had I yet consented to donate it. But the pressure was on because a suitable property, Foxhollow, had been found.

I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. The formal students went on a retreat for a weekend in Marin County and I sat in my bed in the middle of the day, crying hysterically. I ran from meetings, unable to complete a thought or find my way. I was desperate. I didn’t know what to do or how I would survive the loss of this life that I’d found, which had brought me my first experience of real happiness, but suddenly none of my community friends seemed even to care enough to ask me how I was doing or why I was so obviously upset. I felt abandoned by them. I learned only this week—ten years later—that everyone had been told to steer clear of me, to refrain from speaking with me about this mysterious ‘personal problem’ I was having. God forbid that someone might actually reinforce my doubts and insecurities, or strengthen my inclination to say no.

Obviously, I did, in the end, say yes. By the conclusion of the retreat, no longer able to bear the separation and isolation to which I’d been subjected, and feeling so alienated from everyone that I simply wanted to be welcomed back into the arms of the community, I finally consented to the ‘donation’ of my inheritance—which, in case I haven’t made it clear already, had never been my idea in the first place. The condition I made with Andrew, communicated through Michelle and Steve Brett was that it remained anonymous (Andrew, the board of directors and the few responsible for securing the property were the only ones to know). I did not want my peers treating me differently. Andrew personally apologized for having told two editors of his magazine by the time he learned this and promised no one else would know.

After I consented I was welcomed back with an overwhelming sense of acceptance. And now Andrew himself and a few others carefully coached me in my dealings with my uncle. As the Foxhollow purchase documents were to be signed within weeks, the daily pressure to get the funds released was immense. They were pushing so hard for the liquidation of the trust that my uncle and sister became suspicious and there appeared at one point to be a ‘risk’ that he might change his mind. Once the trust’s assets were released to me, under continuing pressure, I was subsequently forced to sell the underlying assets at a considerable loss, incurring a huge tax liability that fell on my shoulders. Once the Foxhollow purchase had been finalized, Andrew then decided that it would be best for me to move to the London community! Why? So as not to raise suspicion among my family members that the timing of the community’s relocation to a new $3 million property in Massachusetts was in any way connected with the release of my inheritance.

Despite an overwhelming sense of approval from Andrew and all the thrill that comes with proximity to him, I felt utterly traumatized. I left the community the day after the purchase was complete, until I was manipulated into returning for what turned out to be another two years of community life. A great deal more transpired subsequently in my life with Andrew, much of it no less outrageous, which I intend to document in some other forum. During this time, Andrew continued his careful orchestration of appearances, doing everything he could to prevent my family from discovering his despicable conduct and taking legal action. Details of these efforts will also be fully documented elsewhere. But more to the point of this discussion is the fact that during the remainder of my time in the community I was to witness countless additional demands for money, no longer from me personally (my well having pretty much dried up, providing only what I needed to pay my Foxhollow room and board, student dues and the like) but from groups of students collectively after each alleged ‘screw-up’ that Andrew accused them of.

Andrew’s words, ‘put your money where your mouth is,’ accurately characterize the venal pattern of manipulation that permeates the culture of his community. Whether to prove one’s love and devotion, or to make up for some individual or collective infraction of the code of guru worship, the injunction is always to ‘pay up’—pay whatever you can, as much and as often as you can—and it has taken me years to see through this. If you are currently in Andrew’s community, then I entreat you to watch out, because it really can take years for the fog to clear.

And in the meantime Andrew has his arsenal waiting. Whether it is a gag order or multiple copies of devotional letters stored in several places as ‘proof’ of consent, Andrew has covered his bases. Further, he will ensure that his legal counsel (one of whom advocated on behalf of Japanese cult criminal Aum Shinrikyo) also have such letters on file to ‘prove’ in the event of litigation that your donations were given rather than extorted. Because of the devotion expressed in my ambivalent parting letter, written before I fled Foxhollow for the last time, Andrew is known to have had it photocopied and secured at several secret locations as insurance against a lawsuit.

On the issue of Andrew's promise of confidentiality, as I and others on this blog have described, Andrew spoke publicly of my contribution two days after I left the community for the second and final time. This betrayal of confidentiality burned. But not nearly as painfully as learning from an ex-formal student who told me he had known about the donation within a year of the Foxhollow purchase when Andrew told a large group of men in the sauna at Foxhollow. It was his understanding that all the men had known. Andrew claims in his "Declaration of Integrity" that he has never lied to his students. Really? I consider this a lie; a violation of a clear, perhaps legal, agreement; and generally something a "mensch" would NEVER do. He lied to me and he had a dozen or more men lie to me for many many months.

When I consider how behavior of this sort appears to the average person, I now have surprisingly little trouble arriving at the conclusion that Andrew is simply clueless as to what this all looks like in the real world, and how staggering, according to any standard other than his own, his compromises of integrity actually are. And I am quite certain that sheer momentum will keep him successfully peddling his teaching to individuals who don’t bother to concern themselves with these issues. A lot of folks can ignore the blatant character flaws of a messenger and listen only to his message, but I for one can not do so.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Our Readers Are the Bomb!

[Editors' Note: We just received this comment that we thought was so uplifting and fitting for the holiday season, that we thought we'd feature it. You folks are great and we want you to know you shine so bright that people everywhere can see it.]

The collective dignity of Cohen's students is indeed the most impressive thing that emerges from these pages like sunlight breaking from dark clouds.

Given the pressures reported by the many who have borne witness on this blog, let the record reflect that no one could live for years at a time under such reported pressures without having been an unusually strong person, and unless endowed with unusual physical and mental stamina.

Persons who get panic attacks when yelled at, who get quickly and seriously ill when suffering chronic anxiety and lack of sleep would not have been able to last longer than a few weeks, possibly a year at most, under the conditions reported on this blog.

Those who spent 5 years or more--you're strong, not weak. Your unusual physical and mental stamina probably enabled you stay as long as you did.

More sensitive, vata-predominent persons, who quickly generate high levels of adrenaline/cortisol (aka 'yin deficiency) when under ordinary stress--they would not have been able to remain for very long.

In hurtful organizations persons in the leader's inner circle may seem enviably privliged but may actualy incur levels of abuse much worse than anything visited upon peripheral members.

Those on the periphery are apt to get their bliss experiences and rarely think to ask whether those blis experiences have been purchased at the cost of other people's pain.

(In new age circles it is rare to question bliss itself.

These days, we are learning to select coffee and chocolate based on whether these have been grown by persons fairly paid and compensated, vs coffee and chocolate grown by persons tormented in slave labor or debt bondage.

Its time to educate the new age to ask if its bliss or transformative experiences originate from organizations that are honest and non-coercive)

Because peripheral members/bliss beneficiaries never directly witness the abuse meted out to inner circle members, they have no frame of reference when the full news is reported and they go into shock--and hasten to defend their bliss, because the alternative is painful disorientation.

Meanwhile abused inner circle members have often been persuaded that they were selected for such treatment because they are tough enough to take it. Americans have a horror of admitting to weakness, so few would say, 'I am too weak to put up with this horror--I'm outta here.'

Being sensitive, easily fatigued and requiring lots of sleep may actually be a blessing if it saves a person from being able to endure chronic abuse as an inner circle member.

This difference between the segregation of abuse between inner circle members who suffer the leader's shadow side and peripheral members who enjoy only the sunshine of the leader's sunny side is not confined to just one group.

A former Morman gave a twenty point list. Here are two:

19. Witness and Accept the Leaders' Faults

Once they reach the highest levels of the cult pyramid, members are privy to their leaders' darkest actions. Members must also come to terms with the abusive behavior of their leaders.

"Mormon missionaries also experience this cult phenomena first hand. True Believing Missionaries in the field think their assignments are inspired and the Mission President is a prophet.

"Those who end up working in the office learn the President has a dark side that is petty, arbitrary and cruel. Yet those exposed to this still propagate the myth that the President is divinely-inspired leader. This is also common in ward and stake leadership.

20. The Cult Leaders Are Perfection

"The final stage of cult indoctrination is to accept the leaders as the perfect center of the universe, from which all else derives. The "fully evolved" cult member thus understands all the pain and suffering as resistance to the cult leaders' divinity. The leader is the single point of entry for God and perfection in the otherwise imperfect universe.

....Thwarting one's natural tendency toward self-preservation becomes a pleasurable, almost fetishistic obsession. "

Amy Wallace's memoir of her life as a member of Carlos Castaneda's inner circle 'Sorcerer's Apprentice: My Life with Carlos Castaneda.' gives a description of her experiences as a member of an abused inner circle who encountered utter incomprehension from those who had been on the periphery of the group.

What was good in the organization was your own goodness, in aggregate. There are events, such as the old California AIDS Ride, where that kind of collective goodness, centered on a clear goal, generated that same splendor.

Its yours. Its not as obvious when you're at home by yourself, but you each still have that inner pilot light. It is still there. No one can take it away from you. You can be distracted from it if suffering terror, or shame, but your original goodness is still there, waiting for the clouds to pass.

Friday, December 15, 2006

A Revolution in Finance

By former student

[Editors' Introduction: The following piece is by a former Andrew Cohen student and editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine. This is the former student's third contribution to the What Enlightenment??! blog. His previous articles are "A Response to Andrew Cohen's 'Declaration of Integrity'", part 1 and part 2.]

I was very moved by Jane O’Neil’s post, and would like to follow up with some additional remarks of my own.

The greatest mystery, for those of us who have embraced an ‘absolute view’ in the context of a relationship with a charismatic teacher, is confronted when we realize a) that its powerful appeal to our idealism is at least partly illusory, and b) that the teacher’s own adherence to such a view is a manifestation not of goodness but of pathology.

After an investment of years in a spiritual subculture based on an absolutized understanding of human motivation and behavior, these are shocking recognitions that require time to accept, absorb and appreciate. Only with time and distance does it eventually become clear to us what we have gained and lost through submission to a teacher who falsely professes perfect purity, and what the defining dynamics of our relationship with him actually were. But once these questions have been wrestled with, it becomes apparent that a human being who is less than perfect—who has faults and shortcomings—can still be a force for good in the world and make useful contributions to others. At first, it hardly seems possible to us that this could be the case—that the collective evolution of humanity does not depend on the attrition and eventual destruction of one’s ego—but it turns out that in fact it doesn’t, and that the acceptance of our complex wholeness doesn’t remotely resemble the ‘compromise with evil’ that Andrew’s ‘absolute view’ represents it to be.

Despite all this, the opportunity to strive in an environment that calls for ‘ego-death’ may still prove in retrospect to have been incredibly instructive and useful for our development—but only to the extent that it has not been irremediably damaging; and even so it may appear to have entailed an investment of time far greater than the benefits of such an experience will ever justify. This is the ‘burn’ of re-evaluation, and if in addition to our time and energy we have also been prevailed upon to ‘contribute’ large sums of money, the process is potentially even more infuriating.

The principal factor in my own decision to undertake a real reckoning with the facts and implications of my involvement with Andrew was the ever-expanding reservoir of evidence (in my own often repressed experience) that his conduct and underlying motivations are in reality far different from his own understanding of them, and that his capacity to comprehend their probable origins and tangible effects is, shall we say, less than adequate. To the extent that Andrew requires an illusory perfection of himself in order to deserve the adulation and respect he seems to crave, he most certainly has my sympathy, and I do mean that sincerely. But to the extent that he is driven to secure the collusion of others in the maintenance of this self-image through physical, emotional and financial abuses that overtly contradict it, I do not see him as entitled to my support or cooperation. Similarly, while Andrew’s deep-rooted discomfort with the status quo also elicits my genuine sympathy, I am viscerally disturbed by the spectacle of someone so busy ‘creating the future’ that he doesn’t care whose pockets he has to pick, in the present, to finance his bringing of ‘heaven to earth.’

This is not to say that I have no appreciation for the historical significance of figures like Andrew and the opportunity they represent for groups of people to gather together, perhaps at critical evolutionary junctures, for the completion of important individual and collective tasks. However (as Andrew himself points out in his ‘declaration’), the occurrence of this social phenomenon is by no means a guarantee of the ultimate integrity of the individuals involved, and with respect to corruption there have been as many permutations of the leader/follower equation as there have been leaders and followers. To go even a step further and acknowledge that Andrew and his teaching have attracted many good people, and that their engagement with his system—such as it is—has ‘produced’ many inspiring results, still leaves us with no ultimate certainty as to the wholesomeness and authenticity of his own personality and motivations. At the very least, we have to admit that there now exists a substantial body of evidence that calls these into question.

Like the initial emergence of such groups and leaders, their trajectory over time is also a social (and eventually a public) phenomenon, and to the participants who experience this trajectory in real time—inspired current students and disaffected ex-students alike—it’s something like watching a slow-motion ping-pong match. Even inwardly, emotions and reassessments volley pendulously back and forth, perhaps with somewhat greater intensity now that a public ‘dialogue,’ however dysfunctional, has begun to materialize.

In this public context, at the same time as there is ostensibly nothing to prevent individuals from drawing their own conclusions as they see fit, it would be foolish to suggest that the views of current students, prospective students and the interested public at large will escape the influence of the media through which this dialogue is taking place—principally this blog and Andrew’s blog, but also, and only somewhat less directly,,, What Is Enlightenment? magazine, EnlightenNext’s new ‘Evolutionary Enlightenment’ courses, and Andrew’s retreats, interviews, public dialogues and speaking engagements. Andrew has never made a secret of his desire (or responsibility) to create a ‘revolution in culture,’ nor has he ever abjured an opportunity to promote himself (including sharing the stage with public figures that he freely disparages in private). Thus it is only natural that the resolution, or lack thereof, of issues publicly aired will also be publicly witnessed and processed. Undoubtedly, for example, expedient abuses of Spiral Dynamics for the purpose of relegating critics to First Tier and elevating navy seals to Second Tier will continue and perhaps even evolve—though for my part I would echo Jane’s hope that Bill O’Reilly will not be roused from his restless meme to jump on anyone’s bandwagon.

The vicissitudes of public opinion aside, an area that now cries out for genuinely responsible handling on the part of Andrew and his organization is that of questionably solicited donations. It is difficult to imagine that anyone making public ‘declarations of integrity’ would want to have these tainted funds in his organization’s bank account if he could possibly afford to return them. This is after all not only a practical but a moral issue whose relevance is enhanced by the imminent prospect of EnlightenNext offering ‘Evolutionary Enlightenment’ courses to the employees of major banking and financial firms. As if this were not incongruous enough, the creator of these new courses, who has publicly stressed the importance of manifesting a level of personal integrity far exceeding conventional standards—and who as Andrew’s longstanding personal assistant has presumably cultivated such himself—was on at least one occasion given the responsibility of ensuring that the details of student donations solicited under pressure remained a secret not only to the public at large but to the vast majority of Andrew’s international ‘student body.’

In a truly ethical organization, these financial issues could and would be addressed not through legal channels but directly with the parties concerned. As practical matters, they transcend differences of perspective or opinion, and protocol as well as basic gratitude and common sense suggest that donors should be taken at their word with respect to the circumstances surrounding their donations. If dealing forthrightly with such ‘disputes’ represents a threat to the solvency of EnlightenNext, there is nothing in these donors’ histories to suggest that they lack the patience and generosity necessary to negotiate a mature and mutually acceptable compromise. One would also hope that any forthcoming refunds, should they materialize, would not have legalistic, truth-defying ‘gag orders’ attached to them as they have previously.

It hardly seems necessary to point out that when such matters are left to fester, a reasonably perceptive Spiritual Teacher needn’t look very far for explanations of bitterness and ill will among his former devotees.

A final and extremely pertinent question, given the secretive and coordinated nature of the pressure exerted on Andrew’s highly vulnerable donors, is whether the ‘integrity’ of the vaunted navy seals who colluded with him in his dubious fundraising practices really does dwarf that of the miserable green losers who have left his orbit. Interestingly, everything we know—and we know a lot because we used to be them—suggests that the answer to this question is a resounding no. On the other hand, all of these students (momentarily misguided though they may have been) were simply doing their utmost to live up to a personal standard best served, in their humble estimation, by total submission to their guru.

Should this be regarded as an invitation to cynicism? Hardly, because what it actually indicates is that the line dividing ex-students from current students is an illusory one that serves no purpose other than to inhibit the very ‘coming together’ that Andrew professes to stand for. And the two-million-dollar question is: Why? Is Andrew so insecure with respect to the efficacy of his own teaching that he believes its effects evaporate into thin air the moment someone has the courage to leave his company? If so, this is a pity for him that may well speak to his own isolation and loneliness, but it doesn’t change the fact that there is an inspiring and indissoluble solidarity between ALL of us who have sought to nourish our idealism at his feet. And the fact that in the end we know our own and each other’s hearts far better than he seems to be capable of is truly a mysterious and fascinating thing to ponder.

I mean—isn’t it?

And wouldn’t it be great if somebody at Foxhollow did some meditating on this and then mustered the courage to tell Sri Andrew-ji to get with the program?

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Andrew Cohen and the Corruption of Power

By Jane O'Neil

[Editor's Introduction: The author of this piece, Jane O'Neil, is a former close student of Andrew Cohen. It was her devotion to him and her contribution of $2 Million that made possible the purchase of Foxhollow, Cohen's residence and the headquarters of EnlightenNext in Lenox, Massachusetts. After she left the group, Andrew Cohen betrayed his promise to her to keep her contribution confidential by publicly discussing it while severely disparaging her for leaving him. This part of her story is briefly recounted in Dr. Andre van der Braak's book Enlightenment Blues (page 210-211):
"In December 1998, Andrew is in Amsterdam again for his semi-annual visit….During his talk Andrew gives an example of the viciousness of the ego by talking about another student of his that left him a few days before, a rich American woman. He calls her a narcissist and speaks about how she once gave him two million dollars for his Foxhollow center, but was unwilling to give up her ego. I am shocked and upset by his derisive and aggressive tone of voice. He's throwing a tantrum in public at a student who gave him two million dollars! I find the whole thing unbecoming, to say the least. As a matter of fact I know the woman in question, and a few days later I manage to speak with her on the phone. She is devastated and outraged by Andrew's public treatment of her, not only because of the humiliation, but in particular because she had believed and trusted that Andrew would keep the two million dollar donation confidential. Listening to her story, a chilling picture emerges. Andrew had actually solicited the two million dollars from her, which amounted to over 80% of her total assets. She had been deeply upset and confused about what to do because she felt she could no longer continue to be his student if she said no. She loved the community, Andrew, and the spiritual path. Two of Andrew's students had talked to her repeatedly over several weeks. Finally she had given in and promised to donate the money. She believed it would be serving the world, since the estate of Foxhollow would allow others to have access to Andrew's teachings. Complicating matters, the money was not immediately available from a family trust. Andrew exerted pressure on her to rush the donation as he had already proceeded with the purchase of the property. The rushed transaction resulted in a loss of a great deal of money and she seriously risked losing her family relationships. In retrospect she described his request as a corruption of power. It's a story that makes me nauseous."

This is Jane's first contribution to the What Enlightenment??! blog.]

A flood of responses to this blog, its articles and to its subject lie inside waiting to explode out of me.

It is important to have a venue for individuals like us to express our perspectives on Andrew. It seems this blog has provided a valuable forum for that. However, what has made me reluctant to jump in and join the dialog has been the various personal attacks on the people who chose a life with Andrew. We are all complex individuals with very mixed experiences. It is discouraging to read over-simplified gross generalizations and assumptions about both students of Andrew's and former students. It is also a bit unnerving to hear about the angle of “taking Andrew down” via Bill O’Reilly and Fox News. Why, because it is not a simple matter to understand and dissect the complexity of a situation like this. I think those looking at students or ex-students from the outside need to have a bit more openness and compassion for their experiences. And I am pretty sure the sensational media outlets are not the answer. Looking from the outside, in, the world will have a difficult time understanding or appreciating the context that we lived in.

I left Andrew's community over seven years ago. I was a student for only five years. Though I have been gone longer than I participated, I don't think I have really even begun to unravel the complex motivations that led me to him and kept me there for five years. Nor have I unraveled what the truth is about what I discovered and experienced there. I do know that my experience can shed further light on Andrew's corruption of power.

I am moved by the courage of those who have written of their experiences in his community. I think it is important for each individual to discover their own path to bear the light of truth on the situation.

Andrew is the most masterful individual I have ever known-a master of discerning the hidden and not so hidden weaknesses and character flaws of all those that come to him, and he exploits them, knowingly or not, always and ultimately to his own advantage--serving to feed his endless hunger to perceive himself as a great master.

Power Corrupts and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely.

I look back on my 5 years in his community with mostly shame and regret. I recall the amazing people, some of the most talented and intelligent people I have ever known. Many of whom I miss deeply. It has become very hard for me to maintain any contact with those who are lucky enough to have left. I have wanted to move on with my life, put the past behind me. But the fact is, I really hope that there is some way I can have an impact. I would love to prevent someone from following the path I took. Though, at the time I joined Andrew's community, there was virtually nothing anyone could have said to me that could have moved me away from the momentum I was on. But perhaps as some of you have done, I may be able to reach someone who is not as easily blown away and sold a fantasy of Andrew’s enlightened teaching.

I remember when Andrew asked me to read Luna’s book [The Mother of God, by Luna Tarlo,] Andrew Cohen's mother, not long after she wrote it and tell him what I genuinely thought. At the time, I was so blinded by his perspective, I am sure I wasn’t particularly objective. But what stayed with me was a moment of clarity I had. He was wondering how she was able to get the media attention with her book at the time. The Boston Globe, LA Times and quite a few London tabloids were writing about him. I sat with him and remember telling him that even Jeffrey Dahmer’s mom stood by him, telling the world she supported him. It was newsworthy that a woman was calling her son a monster, and particularly newsworthy that he is theoretically a spiritual leader.

I used to feel ashamed that I fled before any really heavy pressure was put to bear on me. I fled in the darkness of night (a hard thing to do, given I was scheduled to begin my one-thousand daily prostrations to Andrew’s picture followed by 3 hours of meditation with a whole crew of others—mostly women). It was the departure of another Formal Student that influenced me to flee that way. I did not want to go through the humiliation, interrogation and virtual house arrest the other woman had experienced. Not two days after leaving, Andrew attacked me (my name/intentions and motivations) publicly in a 20 minute unleashing of accusations in an Amsterdam teaching calling me the essence of ego, the essence of evil.

What is evil is the misogyny and inhumanity that underlies Andrew’s world view.

Wendyl’s memory of that Rishikesh retreat is so much fuller than my own. But memories of the endless, obsessive, manic attempts by the group of women to reclaim some approval from Andrew came flooding back to me. And a memory of the special treatment I remember receiving despite the fact that I had committed the same “crime” of apologizing. You see, any woman that said “I’m sorry” to anyone for any reason was kicked out of the retreat to join the other women in the private hell Wendyl described. The women were desperate, doing anything that they could to get out from under the boulder of accusations of being subhuman, and “I’m sorry” is the refrain of individuals who either are wholeheartedly sorry for their behavior, trying to end a personal conflict or, as in our case at the time, in that context, and under those circumstances, profoundly sorry for our own existence.

But I was treated differently, I believe because I had given Andrew well over 2 million dollars by then-nearly all of my money.

I regret the time I spent with him, ashamed at some of the outrageous competitive behavior I engaged in, vying for proximity to Andrew. But what I regret more than anything is allowing Michelle Hemingway and Steve Brett, among others, to coerce me into giving Andrew my money. It is that act that helped give him a power base and some semblance of legitimacy. It was at the time about two-thirds of the purchase price of Foxhollow.

It is all about understanding the context as someone put it. In the context of the world outside Andrew's community or cult, what he did was illegal, something called "undue influence." It is akin to a therapist seeking sexual company from a client or a priest who manipulates a parishioner into donating to the church. I imagine if it wasn’t me, there would be others like me who would have and I am sure continue to give away their money and soul to him as I did. If someone still within the community reads this and considers giving away their wealth, please reconsider. It was the greatest mistake of my life. The genuine human tragedies that have happened in our world since then, 9/11, the human rights abuses throughout the middle east by us and others, the AIDS crisis in Africa and the world, the illiteracy in the world, the Tsunami, the flood in the South, the earthquakes…each would have been an opportunity to give my money to and actually served a greater good.

I have spent the last seven and a half years creating a life for myself. I have sought peace and truth in my life as a mom, wife, friend and ordinary person in the world. Since leaving, I considered legal action, I considered drawing the media's attention, and I considered simply writing my story. But what is the ultimate goal? Personally, I am interested primarily in gaining a full perspective on what my experience was, if possible. And I am interested in seeing if my experience could help prevent someone from walking down the same path I did, with the same consequences or perhaps destructive consequences. Even if it is simply helping a family member who has someone they love in Andrew's or any other guru's community to gain understanding and, most critically, compassion for the individuals who choose that spiritual path. But I believe it is deluded to think one can "take someone down." I also believe NO ONE could have stopped me from diving into Andrew's world at the time I did. I only wish I had had the maturity and insight to find a less destructive forum to nurture my spiritual aspirations.

I don’t know if I will write again, but thank you for the opportunity to vent.

Not as an afterthought, but I am not sure how to even begin to express my sadness at the news of the death of Caroline Franklyn. I feared there would be a tragic outcome from Andrew's behavior.


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