current suggested assesment
back to alphabetical listing
|"Guru" or "Pandit"?||"Guru", but fails the Guru Test (disaffected ex-devotees, tries to break down ego/sadomasochism, asks for money, thinks he is enlightened)|
|Gurus/Infleunces||Adidam ( ref), HWL Poonja (now rejected), Ken Wilber|
|Disciples/Devotees||Craig Hamilton (former ed. WIE?), Carter Phipps (current ed.), many others|
|Contributions||Collective spiritual evolution ("Evolutionary Enlightenment") - basically standard Epic of Evolution holism|
|Wrong views/actions||Claims "Enlightenment", "breaking the ego" (well-meaning but misguided psychological abuse), financial abuse, misogyny (unresolved issues with his mother?), widespread abuse, alleged many times by many former devotees (see criticism section)|
|Praise/positive assesment (includes ex-devotees and others)||Ken Wilber, Guru Talk (former students), Lee Lozowick, Steve McIntosh (non student),|
|Criticism (includes ex-devotees and others)||What Enlightenment? blog by former students; Luna Tarlo, Andre van der Braak, John Horgan, William Yenner, many others|
|Assesment||Not a Realised being, not even close. Completely exoteric, albeit pluralistic/worldcentric; "translucent" sensu Ardagh; i.e. charismatic "alpha male" type with smidgeon of spiritual knowledge. I went through a period where I was critical, then another where I tried to considered him sincere and well-meaning. And he may have been that in the start, but from many accounts by ex-devotees he would seem to be classic selfish Abusive Guru; status as a spiritual teacher he is highly problematic (see criticism links above and my introductory comments), helped some (I suspect this was due to devotee effect, and temporary Intermediate zone powers via Papaji) but also caused great suffering to others due to the pernicious fallacy of "breaking the ego", no understanding of what he is dealing with or the responsibility he has been given, too much ego, the blind leading the blind.|
Andrew Cohen is an American guru, editor-in-chief of EnlightenNext, and friend of Ken Wilber. (Cohen regularily features mutually self-congratulatory interviews between Wilber and himself in his magazine, under the heading "The Guru and the Pandit" ). He seems to follow the basic Vedanto-Buddhist approach of many popular and western gurus. There have however been some serious accusations of cultic behavior levelled against him. Because of this, I have also been very critical. However, I have never met Cohen in person; for all I know he may be perfectly charming (at least as long as one does not become a devotee!). I do get the feeling from reading his words that he is sincere in his aspiration - however exoteric it may be - of planetary evolution. So I cannot speak from personal experience, only from the impressions I have from what others have said. In this, my assesment of Andrew Cohen is very much like my assesment of Sathya Sai Baba - one is confronted both with devotees who attack and condem ex-devotees, claiming they are liars or have big egos or whatever, and ex-devotees who by all intents have had real experiences of abuse that have been deeply traumatic. My deciding, in the case of Sathya Sai Baba, on the side of ex-devotees has meant that I have been slandered on the Internet by an extremist devotee. This seems to be the price that one has to pay, for speaking out against abusive gurus.
In an earlier version of this page I tried to give Andrew Cohen a fair and balanced treatment; neither whitewashing nor demonizing him. I have also tried to do this with Da Free John (a similarly controversial figure, although imho a much more powerful one).
However, reading William Yenner's book American Guru convinced me that I was right the first time, that Andrew Cohen would seem to represent a classic example of the Abusive Guru Syndrome. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying he is an evil figure (even if - through lack of empathy - he inadvertently does deeds that are evil); I get the impression (from reading the material in Yenner's book) that he is simply someone who with a big ego but very little emotional/empathic development (these two things go together in any case; they constitute the Selfishness stage of lack of development); in short, the very worst candidate for position of guru. That anyone would follow someone who does such actions shows not only how naive and lacking in gnosis such seekers are, but also, I have to say, an undercurrent of sado-masochistic relationship. I honestly do not believe that anyone with any sense of self esteem would tolerate any connection with someone who acts in the way Cohen does as portrayed in Yenner's book.
My own position regarding the role of the Guru is that unless one is totally and perfectly Realized - and by that I mean equal to Ramana Maharshi and other figures of that stature - then one should never pretend to be a guru; that is, pretend to be something one is not. For all I know, Andrew may be a really great guy with a lot to offer, and may indeed have helped many people, but unless he has attained a state of total selflessness, I can never consider him a bone fide Guru. That is my position and the reason for my criticism here. But it is also very likely that the critics have misrepresented the situation by demonizing him. Just because Cohen's not a Realized being doesn't mean he is a monster either. So that is why I want to be sure that as much as is humanly possible I give the guy a fair and honest coverage. But that doesn't mean I should turn a blind eye to allegations of abuse either!
As I said, I've never met Andrew, so I can't make first hand judgments, except just one. And that is that is that if even only one single negative thing about him is true (if all the other accusdations are false and is saintly and selfless but only one is true) then that woudl be enough to prove that he is not Realized. That is a fact, and it applies to every guru. And if you have a guru who acts in an abusive manner, even just once, well, it is equally a fact that you have dedicated your life to someone who is a million miles from true Realisation.
And, therefore, if it is the case that Andrew Cohen (or any other guru or pop guru, it doesn't have to be Cohen in particular, as I do not think he is any better or worse than anyone else who pretends to be Enlightened in this respect) has abused just one devotee, and even if it was only one time, when he was tired or irritable or whatever, but he is still claiming to be enlightened, then either there is some major self-deception going on, or else he uses the word "enlightenment" in a very different context to the way I do. Or both (I suspect that option!). He does say some very interesting things about collective evolution as collective "enlightenment" (and vice-versa), and I believe he really is onto something here, as is the Wilberian Integral movement in general (which is focused on the intersubjective sphere). From that perspective at least there is much of value in what he says, although i wonder how much of it is not taken from more original thinkers like Ken Wilber (Integral theory) and Peter Russell (Global Brain). I have found reading some of his stuff on his website, and apart from the above themes, the rest of it doesn't appeal to me. There is none of the power one finds in the words of Nityananda of Ganeshpuri, or Ramana, or even Da Free John. Beyond that, I don't know. All I have is second hand positive and negative accounts by students, ex-students, and critics. So, with these biases, disclaimers, and misgivings, I present the following account. Note: all of the first two paragraphs of the biography, and a few sentences in later paragraphs, are from information provided by someone more knowledgable of this subject than I.
Cohen came to spirituality through Theravedan Buddhist derived Insight meditation (vipassana). I have been told (I cannot however confirm this information) that he doted on a particular vipassana teacher, but had a traumatic break up with both that teacher and his girlfriend, then possibly on the rebound, went to Lucknow in India.
At Lucknow Cohen met HWL Poonja, the guru whom he claims gave him enlightenment, although this "enlightenment" might much more likely be considered of the nature of the intermediate zone or simply inner/subtle experiences. Cohen's mother Luna Tarlo in her book The Mother of God gives precise descriptions of what appear to have been some sort of subtle energy/kundalini catastrophe that befell her son. Tarlo does not mention having any personal background in yoga, and does not herself name it as such, but her description of how her son changed after he met Poonja resembles reports by others who have endured subtle energy/kundalini upsurges, For more these sort of experiences, see Gopi Krisnna, Living With Kundalini and The Call of Spiritual Emergency by Emma Bragdon)
I haven't read Cohen's Autobiography (and really have no interest in doing so, as I would much rather associate with the Presence of genuine Adepts. But according to someone who has, "The first third of Cohen's “Autobiography of an awakening” I found intensely exciting. The last two thirds absolutely horrified me, as it reads as a long victim story of how how his guru betrayed him and how hard it is to be a teacher, of how his students, who lack his good fortune to have been totally awakened at once like himself, resist his teaching, how nobody understands the majesty and power of his teaching, etc." ( blog ref). Compare the above with this Cohen anecdote
update: After reading William Yenner's American Guru, it occurred to me that at the start Andrew Cohen really did have a lot of intermediate zone power. But that he got all this power from Papaji, perhaps via shaktipat. This is what drew the seekers and devotees to him. Most of these seekers and devotees would have been at the worldcentric and holistic, as is typical of young alternative people and spiritual seekers in general, especially those on the "hippy trail" and attracted to Eastern philosophy.
I do believe that had Andrew Cohen at that time, instead of setting himself up as guru, Surrendered everything to the Supreme, adopted the path of bhakti, and renounced his ego, as is necessary in the True Spiritual Path, that Power would not have deserted him, nor would he have become abusive. But as it was, the more he became caught up in the power games of the "vital" (to use Sri Aurobindo's terminology), the more the authentic intermediate zone presence left him, and the more abusive and power hungry he became in compensation, cravuing and grasping after what he lost through too much ego. That in turn made him lose more power, and so the vicious circle continued, as he spiralled downwards into the role of abusive guru led community. This process I believe can be very clearly traced through reading Bill Yenner's personal account.
To return to the earlier narrative (and I am impressed at how much more sense it makes in the light of the above hypothesis)...
Very soon after Cohen quarreled with and broke with Poonja, he got involved with Wilber. Perhaps he needed something to keep him going (Wilber himself is a charismatic/daimonic holistic/integral teacher, obviously not anywhere as advanced as Poonja, but well beyond Cohen). There is a section in Enlightenment Blues, where Cohen talks of hoping to recruit Wilber. Actually, the reverse seems to have happened, in that Cohen became a convert for Integral philosophy (or Evolutionary Spirituality" as he calls it). There is no doubt that Wilber is the more powerful personality, and Cohen the follower. Cohen began to associate with Wilber, according to one commentator his magazine, What Is Enlightenment? "morphed into a house-organ for Wilber's philosophy and has become increasingly abstract and jargon ridden. It is quite interesting to look at back of WIE issues and see how high the editor turnover has been." (blog ref)
Consider also the ongoing "The Guru and the Pandit" series of What Is Enlightenment?/EnlightenNext, where Wilber is the dynamic and powerful teacher, and Cohen the sycophantic student whose contributions often involve little or no more than echoing the master's words, or saying "yeah", or asking questions in a very uncritical "please enlighten me" manner. So it does indeed seem that Wilber has added Cohen to his list of loyal disciples, and not the reverse.
Yet while Wilber is certainly the one who holds the power, the Wilber-Cohen relationship might also be a symbiotic one. Wilber benefits from lots of free publicity in a glossy and professional-looking magazine, and of course the devotional adulation of Cohen and his followers. And in Wilber, Cohen may have a new mentor-advocate who is in a position to send lots of fresh new potential devotees his way, seekers who have put their trust in Wilber's "Rude Boy" endorsement of abusive gurus.
A lot of Cohen's early converts were also practitioners of the same tradition of Vipassana meditation. What is interesting is that Andrew didn't seem aware of any significance in making a switch from Buddhist practice, which denies any sort of atman or essential self to a teacher of neo-advaita (Poonja), a belief system which would teach that there is atman/essential self. In keeping with the standard pop-Advaito-Buddhism that is also taught by Wilber and others, they seemed to roam between traditions with totally incompatible belief systems, yet saw no contradiction in doing so. This shows the difference between the Western eclectic/perennialist nonduality approach and the more traditional orientation.
From the little I know of it, I haven't found much of interest in Andrew Cohen's "Evolutionary Enlightenment" (much as I love the name, the content disappoints). It seems that what he has done is taken the ideas from the evolutionary philosophies of Sri Aurobindo, Briane Swimme, Ken Wilber, and possibly also Peter Russell (The Global Brain), and mixed it with his own brand of Advaito-Buddhist philosophy. Many people have it seems been inspired by what Cohen says, but they would do better to look at the original source of these ideas in the evolutionary spiritualities of Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin. But perhaps people want dumbed down stuff; the result of immersion in TV and internet is short attention span; therefore idiot philosophies flourish because no-one has the patience to plough through the heavy spiritual density of the early 20th century originals. Certainly this is the secret of Wilber's success. Thus much of the modern Integral Movement is based on the watered down syntheses and plagarisms of Wilber and Cohen. Cohen's greatest contribution is probably his magazine EnlightenNext, which is an important, if biased and devotional, voice in the Integral Movement.
I will be honest - I have never read any of Andrew Cohen's books, nor am I attracted to reading any of them. His concept of Enlightenment is as far from my concept of Realization as it is possible to get. I've expressed my opinions pretty strongly in the introduction, and that's how I feel. Nevertheless there are as many people who speak highly of him as who condemn him (and vice versa). I asked a former student (who is still positive towards Cohen) to recommend some books, and he recommended these. For those interested in exploring further, here is a list of books.
Embracing Heaven & Earth: The Liberation Teachings of Andrew Cohen. This is a title that seems to come up a lot, although maybe just in the ads in EnlightenNext. But my correspondent suggested this book as the best one. I myself don't know whether or not it is Cohen's best book, but the Amazon com readers comments for this slim (100 pages) volume are strongly polarised here, as they are with all his material.
Living Enlightenment: A Call for Evolution Beyond Ego - a book with one star and five star ratings (and a single three star).
Enlightenment Is a Secret: Teachings of Liberation - an early collection of dialogues taken from Cohen's teachings. Once again the reviewers' opiniosna re strongly polarized.
There will be a new book out soon, Evolutionary Enlightenment
by Andre van der Braak
Review of "Enlightenment Blues - My Years With An American Guru" - a review by a Cohen devotee which is highly critical of van der Braak.
The following is a powerful review posted on Amazon com by "rain cloud". The comparison with Ramana Maharshi, a genuine sadguru, is revealing.
Courageous, Laudible, a Classic., May 29, 2004
This book is harrowing and took a lot of honesty to write. Andrew Cohen is a guru who underwent something like two weeks training with a teacher in India--supposedly in the lineage of Sri Ramana Maharshi--before being turned loose on the public. He's so out of control that his own mother wrote an expose' of him (Luna Tarlo and her book, "The Mother of God", is available on amazon). I suppose the people who believe in Cohen are just good but immature kids. And for those still capable of hearing a dissenting voice, I offer this anecdote.
I once knew an American who was a direct disciple of Ramana Maharshi. In the late nineteen forties he flew to India at age 17 and arrived at Ramana's ashram unannounced. The Maharshi was in the meditation hall sitting on a slightly raised dais, as always. He greeted the american kid warmly, asked some questions about his hometown of new york city (for example: "Are the buildings really that tall?") The Maharshi already had advanced cancer and could only hobble around painfully with a cane, but he personally got up, took the kid's hand, and led him to a dilapidated cabin where he could bed down. Having made certain the kid was comfy, Ramana left. My friend then practically fainted from exhaustion (trans-oceanic flights then were still endless propeller-driven marathons).
The kid was awakened nine hours later by a soft tapping at his door. He opened it. There stood Ramana, all alone, holding a palm leaf filled with food. Ramana sat down, like a good dad, and watched the half-starved boy scarf the meal. Apparently satisfied that the boy was recovering, Ramana Maharshi slowly stood up and limped back to his seat in the meditation hall.
This is a true story. (The man was the Gnani Robert Adams and his book Silence of the Heart is available on amazon. He died in 1997 with the same nobility with which he'd always lived).
This book I'm reviewing tells a parallel story. Andrew Cohen kept a whole restaurant full of his devotees waiting for lunch while he piddled around, becoming extremely late. Finally they ate without him. When Cohen arrived he threw a HUGE TEMPER TANTRUM how DARE they eat before him?
Now, here's the punch line: does this sound like Sri Ramana Maharshi to you?
Ramana probably would have insisted they all eat FIRST then would have painfully limped around freshening everyone's drink. Don't kid yourself, being degraded never sped anyone to enlightenment. (Ignore Ken Wilber, Cohen's big defender, ALL he knows is books).
However, buy this book and decide for yourself. By all means, think for yourself.
Discussion on the strongly pro-Wilber and pro-Cohen Zaadz (postscript: since renamed Gaia but does not seem as vibrant) community regarding Cohen. Most responses were naively devotional, although there were also a few critical voices. In the course of discussion, the critics asked for clear replies from Cohen loyalists concerning whether the violent acts reported on What Enlightenment? actually happened or not. Cohen loyalists responded with glowing testimonials or in some cases, psychological projection and ad hominem attacks. Finally some of the Cohen loyalists demanded that the thread be closed for further discussion, and the thread was locked by the moderator while the discussion was still active. This should not be seen as an example of deliberate censorship, but rather the inability of the current Integral movement, and for that matter the alternative / spiritual movement in general, to come to terms with the paradoxical nature of the intermediate zone where abusive behaviour can be found mixed with genuine experience and inspiration.
Cohen has responded to criticism of his behaviour with a long, rambling, and highly narcicisstic blog post, entitled "declaration of integrity": I found out about this thanks to one of Bill Harryman's (WH) blog post. WH has favourably adopted my thesis of the "abusive guru" (even if he doesn't talk about the Intermediate Zone, he seems like a very decent guy who like me is appalled at the behaviour of some of these so-called gurus). Soon after, a good friend of mine who had independently read Cohen's blog sent me a long rant which conatined a lot of spiritual insights, as does all the material written by this person (who will remain anonymous for now). I edited it and posted it here; it makes, I think, a nice counter-response to and refutation of the claims of self-appointed gurus like Cohen.
See also What Enlightenment??! blog posts - A Response To Andrew Cohen's "Declaration of Integrity" By Simeon Alev (Former What Is Enlightement? magazine editor), and Part 2 – A Response To Andrew Cohen's "Declaration of Integrity"
See also Andrew Cohen and the Corruption of Power by Jane O'Neil. Especially revelaing is this comment in the above thread:
"The interesting piece is that after the cult leader, Aum Shinrikyo, had his disciples poison the subway with sarin gas killing and harming innocent people. http://www.holysmoke.org/report/homicide-defense.htm Andrew's lawyer was one of the American attorneys who went to Tokyo to defend the cult's religious freedom and challenge the authorities That is the type of lawyer Andrew chooses. INTEGRITY?????? Who on this earth would use a lawyer such as this?"
Before going further I'll list some links. I've inclosed both pro and anti Cohen links; as always in these cases, it is upto the reader to review the evidence presented by both sides and make up their own mind on these matters.
Andrew Cohen - home page
What Is Enlightenment? Magazine - Exploring Spiritual Transformation in the 21st Century.
Andrew Cohen - wikipedia page
Two threads on the Integral Naked forum (#11798 Andrew Cohen and #21922 Andrew Cohen/Personal Experiences Anybody?) - which I linked to here but didn't make a copy of, have since been removed
WHAT Enlightenment ??! - A pull no punches multi-authored blog criticizing Andrew Cohen, founded by ex-devotee and ex-WIE? editor Hal Blacker, ex-WIE editor Simeon Alev is another contributor/critic. Full of harrowing accounts by former students who were seriously traumatised under Cohen. See also Enlightennixt for the important archives and early posts constituting the essential WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog articles. Neither blogs are currently active
Sometimes I Feel Like a God - chapter on Andrew Cohen from Stripping the Gurus: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment by Geoffrey D. Falk
The Myth of the Totally Enlightened Guru by John Horgan - a sceptical overview of his personal experiences with the enlightenment community including an interview with Andrew Cohen.
The Daism Forum - Adi Da discussion at What Enlightenment? - Lightmind discussion.
Andrew Cohen, Evolutionary Enlightenment and EnlightenNext - is it a cult? - from Adventures in Relationship/Community blog.
WHAT Enlightenment Uncensored $$$ - "A closer look at the suspected motives of the faceless micro-managers behind the supposedly "uncensored" Andrew Cohen exposé-blog called "WHAT enlightenment??!"" - this blog, a response to WHAT Enlightenment ??!, is no longer active (most recent post Dec 2005). I am probably quite biased, but I cannot but feel that the accusatory tone here is strongly reminiscent of Sathya Sai Baba abusive devotees Joe Moreno and Lisa De Witt - shadow projection, emotional invective, and all. I have been told by a former student however that this blog is not by any former students of Andrew Cohen.
Update August 2009: The majority of this page (biographt, criticism, links) was written in 2006 (last modified 14 December 2006 apart from some small html and menu modifications 18 November 2008). In the several years since, my opinion of Cohen, and of gurus in general, has mellowed somewhat. Not that I in any way excuse his actions. If there is any substance at all in even a fraction of the things said on What Enlightenment blog then it is inexcusable. But Cohen may simply be someone with the misfortune and ego to set himself up as a guru, self-deluded into thinking he is genuinely realized. In fact Cohen's use of the term "Enlightenment:" is one of the main reasons why I no longer use this word. But to paint him as a monster is I believe just as unbalanced as to see him as an (inverted commas here) "enlightened being". Rather, he is a guy with issues and problmes, who attracts a certain class of disciple with complementary issues, so that the two sides can resolve things in the typically incompetent and deluded way that humans do. There is also the fact that I have corresponded with one or two followers and they do not seem (at least to my superficial approaisal) to have been abused or the type to justify abuse. But in all these things it is so hard to judge. In any case, I believe Cohen would have been a much better teacher if he hadn't made pompous claims of Enlightenment, but rather took on the role with his students and followers as first among equals rather than infallible guru. In this way he could better be an advocate of evolutionary spirituality, even of the Integral project. So, while not in any way excusing or apologising for his abusive behavior - because abusive gurus should be shown up - I at the same time would like to present a book and a link that present him in a more favourable light. Ultimately of course it is upto you the reader to make up your own mind
11 Days at the Edge: One Man's Spiritual Journey into Evolutionary Enlightenment
by Michael Wombacher, Findhorn Press, 2008
"In 11 Days at the Edge, the author joins spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen -- a self-described idealist with revolutionary inclinations -- in an exploration of an emerging new spiritual paradigm. In this paradigm the traditional revelation of enlightenment is explored in the context of the evolving universe with truly mind-expanding results. Cohen, once a teacher of "personal enlightenment," now teaches enlightenment as a collective emergence -- the emergence of a "higher we" -- which he sees as the ground for the emergence of a new culture of enlightened values. Here we find that place where our spiritual longing intersects with our care for the world, empowering both to levels neither could attain alone..."
I'm not saying the meaning is the same, but there are these parallels.
Now for the link, this time to Integral philosopher Steve McIntosh's blog Speaking in Boston, Lenox, and New York City (Thursday, January 31, 2008 ). Now I correspond with Steve on an occaisonal basis, and certainly he doesn't strike me as the sort of guy to buy into any sort of abusive behaviour. In fact he has nothing to do with Wilber or his Integral Institute, so that he can provide an independent voice within the Integral community; very similar to myself in fact except that he comes at things from a Wilber-Beck-Whitheead-Teilhard-Christian perspective, whereas I come at things from an Aurobindo-Mirra-Ramalinga-Ramana-Teilhard-Gnostic perspective. (although we do have Teilhard in common! And he does speak highly of Sri Aurobindo). In any case, his comments here represent support for Cohen, his community and students froma non-polemical source, even though he admits he has (like me) "reservations about the Guru model of spiritual community".
Also of mention, although probably not contributing anything either pro or con, is a recommendation by Lee Lozowick, a self-proclaimed "Western Baul" (tantric minstral). In a forward to Andrew Cohen's book, Freedom Has No History written in 1996 or 7, Lee Lozowick writes very highly of Andrew Cohen. Lozowick himself seems to be not without criticism, and his recommendation can perhaps viewed in the same light as Ken Wilber's. I don't have any specific personal attraction to him or his teachings; his main interest to me is as one of a number of devotees of Yogi Ramsuratkumar, an authentically Realized being. The fact that Lozowick and Cohen known each other, although coming from totally unrelated traditions (it would be hard to think of a more unrelated tradition than Buddhism and Wilber (Cohen) and devotional guru worship and Silva Mind Control (Lozowick). Both however are musicians, born in New York, and (like myself) non-religious Jewish background. It also shows how small the spiritual / New Age teacher community is, or maybe its just the six degrees of separation thing.
(Undated, but I probably wrote this in 2006)
In Sri Aurobindo's account of the "internediate zone" he describes it as a region or rather a stage in which light and dark, truth and falsehood are inextricably mixed. The following words by an ex-devotee (ex-student) of Cohen (posted on WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog) seem to be referring to this as well, although it may well be that this is just standard Astral Plane Light/Dark duality.
Hal Blacker's recent very thoughtful posts to this blog have inspired me to send a contribution, also nonanonymously. I was a student of Andrew Cohen for ten years, and worked very intimately with him for many years in my work as a writer and editor for What Is Enlightenment? magazine and other Moksha Press publications. I have witnessed or experienced everything reported in this blog and a great deal more. I left Andrew's community a little over 3 years ago, and while I am busy with new academic, career, and spiritual goals, I am still "digesting" my experience of my relationship with Andrew and my time in his community.
Bottom line, I experienced so much that was truly profound and transformative -- and that I will forever be grateful for -- and also so much that was really abusive and twisted -- and that still deeply saddens me. The lightest light and the darkest dark. Both. All tangled together like miles of black and white yarn entwined in a big ball at the pit of my stomach. I guess for me, I feel my work is to digest the whole thing, tease it apart, and try to come to some real maturity and wisdom about it
Towards a Larger Definition of the Integral, Part Two, Wilberian paradigm – a fourfold critique. - my essay on Integral World - presents the thesis regarding abusive gurus and the intermediate zone
The Abusive Guru: Andrew Cohen - Tuesday, July 11, 2006 entry in William Harryman's Blog Zaadz mirror - based on part of my essay and comments critical of that
Some reflections on abuse and Andrew Cohen - on What Enlightenment? blog - quote of the relevant section of my essay and intelligent commentary
Although the above essay was widely received and popular, I no longer consider Andrew Cohen to be simply explainable or redable to the category of Intermediate Zone guru. No matter what his strengths and weaknesses may be, he is not in the same league of authentic Intermediate Zone candidates like Da Free John and Meher Baba (so it is a shame therefore that the essay wasn't about Da Free John). The paradoxical nature of experiences associated with him can be better explained, I feel, through a combination of Devotee Effect, projection of the ego, both authentic and psuedospiritual Astral Plane phenomena, and authentic "Intermediate Zone" phenomena, both in the experiences of Andrew Cohen himself and his students.
Well, it looks like I have to revise my opinion yet again! As mentioned it seems that Andrew Cohen really did have intermediate zone (IMZ) power in the beginning, which he aquired from Papaji. So the devotees around him would have felt this in the early days. Later - because of ego and inability to Surrender - he lost that power. In order to fill the gap left by the departure of the IMZ power, he began to become increasingly abusive and power hungry; that is, swept into a vortex of adverse forces. The contradiction between this latter, very negative consciousness, and the earlier, uplofting (but not Realised) conscipousness, plus persisting devotee effect , results in the paradox that his ex-devotees feel. This is very different to the case of Adi Da or Swami Muktananda, who it would seem retained their power right up to the end, but nevertheless also persisted in abusive behaviour.
The following is also instructive, and shows that Andrew Cohen's mental understanding is exoteric worldcentric. So he is appealing to people only one notch above the dualistic/"ethnocentric". This explains the strange inability of his magazine to discriminate between fundamentalist religion, cultural creative pluralism, and holistic; it's all the same, it's all good.
While I always strongly disagreed with Andrew Cohen's teaching methods, obviously, for the reasons mentioned on this page, I still used to believe for a long time that he at least was receptive to the possibilities of the non-materialistic worldview. I then (back in late 2008) discovered a very revealing post on his blog - No More Fairy Tales. I'll just quote the relevant parts (the actual blog post itself is quite revealing for its psychological projection - Cohen's criticism of his two vistors can equally be applied to himself! I haven't quoted it here because it is not what I want to refer to in this section):
"Two Western spiritual teachers came for a visit last week. One was American; one was English. They both claimed to be enlightened....They both had undergone many powerful transformative spiritual episodes and were considered by some to be masters or gurus in their own right...
...I remember what struck me...was that they both shared a view that is common among spiritual adepts that I believe is out of date....They both kept referring to the common popular refrain...that "something’s happening in consciousness". And because something mysterious and powerful is happening at the mystic level for an individual, a group of individuals, or many groups of individuals at the deepest unseen internal level, that a big external “shift” is imminent.
There’s nothing new about this particular idea but I find it remarkable that even today, when we’re well on our way into the twenty-first century, that many spiritually minded individuals seem to be the last ones to get what’s really happening right now. The "big shift" that’s about to occur is occurring on the national stage in our Presidential election. This election will make an immeasurable difference on just about every level for literally billions of real living souls all over our precious planet Earth. There’s nothing mystical about this shift and how important and meaningful it is for all of us who put consciousness first and foremost.
Let’s give up the need to believe in fairy tales-"
Except of course for the messianic fairy tale belief that President Obama will somehow change the world of course! I couldn't resist leaving that paragraph in full to show how ridiculous it sounds, especially in hindsght, when the Honeymoon period is over, and Obama is revealed as a real human being faciing real problems, real intransigence to his reforms (so much for his Bipartisan dream, it never had a chance), and himself being not quite as radical or progressive as people hoped. But perhaps I am being unfair, he blog was written in September 23, 2008, so maybe since then Cohen's gone through the same dissillusionment the rest of the Obamites have, and can more fully say "no more fairy tales"! What is more interesting is the materialism of the post, which Andrew Cohen may have picked up from Wilber. e.g."-Consciousness doesn't exist or work in mysterious ways outside of or away from the innermost depths of our individual and collective selves...-"
Who says it doesn't? Indeed, nonphysical realities are a fundamental insight that emerges (if we are assuming a Wilberesque linear continuum; of course it doesn't necessarily follow that path because the stages develop in parallel, not sequentially) at the mature holistic stage (see e.g. Mark Woodhouse, Paradigm Wars which combines holistic/intellectual and New Age mesoteric worldviews) is established in the mesoteric stage.
"-Awakening to consciousness and its movements, its evolutionary leaps forward and its infinite failed attempts to do so, can be clearly and obviously discerned by looking closely at human history...."
In other words, a materialistic view of evolution as the emergance of consciousness. It reminds me of once when I was at a ConFest, and a guy was talking about all the terrible problems facing the world, and it was pretty depressing. Then as a solution he appealed to our evolutionary heritage "father Australopithecus - help us!" and so on with Homo habilis and the rest. It was supposed to be funny and light-hearted, and I guess it was, but it also shows our empty this stage of consciousness is; as it is still so much based on materialistic externals. I found this same degree of consciousness at an Eco-conference I wnet to more recently, and it is evident here as well, except with Andrew one has the added burden of having to bow down to an ignorant human being and consider him Enlightened!
"Consciousness is not a mysterious dimension where forces disconnected from human volition are at work making all things possible or not-"
Actually there are occult forces and spiritual hierarchies, but this is something that the materialistic consciousness cannot understand. And this is where the Mesoteric/Pre-Gnostic New Age stage differs from and is more advanced than the Pluralistic/Worldcentric (Obama) and early Holistic (emergant evolution, systems theory, integral theory etc) stages. This is not to deny the admirable value of adoptinga worldcentric position; however an esoteric and gnostically-informed worldcentric position is superior to an exoteric and non-gnostic worldcentric position.
"Consciousness is who we all are at the deepest level of our interiors—and how profound our recognition of that is can be seen through the choices we make and the actions we take. The more we not only awaken to that fact but take responsibility for it, the more quickly this world will become the paradise that we all long for in our most inspired moments."
Here is another fairy tale, the pluralistic and "Aquarian" fairy tale that somehow ignorant and imperfect human beings can change this world into an idylic paradise. It didn't work in Revolutionary France, Soviet Russia, or Maoist China; in fact just the opposite happened, and a worse dictatorship was instituted in each case! And once again Andrew Cohen's call for responsible actions jars with the numerous accounts of abuse recorded by ex-devotees. There seems to be (at least this is the impression I get, as an external observor having to rely on 2nd- and 3rd hand sources) an extraordinary psychological disjunction between a very adnirable intellectual words on a worldcentric level (with some holistic insight) and the profoundly selfish and manipulative emotional being of Cohen's own personality in relation to his students (re the latter, see discussion regarding American Guru, as well as Criticism and experiences by ex-devotees in general).
American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing-former students of Andrew Cohen speak out, by William Yenner (Epigraph Publishing, 2009)
The book is about the author's 13 years as Cohen's student, written with contributions of several other former students, and covers the story from the idealistic beginning through disillusionment and departure. The dangers of any authoritarian system are explored as well as the promises and pitfalls of postmodern discipleship.
See also new commentary about former students posted on Integral World - which discusses Craig Hamilton among others.
I have read some of the book, and I have to say, it is distressing reading, to learn that someone could set themselves up as a spiritual teacher and act in such a manner. It includes material from WHAT Enlightenment ??! as well as original material. I confess it is too difficult for me to read this material closely, I have a high sense of justice but little control over my emotions, and I find reading these sort of things distresses me greatly. But this book is very highly recommended for anyone interested in learning about Andrew Cohen, the abusive guru phenomenon in general, and the psychology of the holistic stage person who becomes a vict8uim to these manipulative characters. There is also a revealing interview with Luna Tarlo, Cohen's mother who was for a time one of his students.
Amazon reviews are highly polarised, with the one star ratings clearly by disc\iples or students of Andrew, and the five star ratings by critics of the authoritarian guru phenomenon.
Review of William Yenner’s American Guru - Marc Beneteau's intelligent and objective review and commentary of Yenenr's book, which also examines various issues regarding the narcissistic/abusive guru phenomenon.
Guru Talk - From the blurb:
"Who is American Guru Andrew Cohen? Is he a radical Awakened trailblazer forging a profoundly significant spiritual teaching for our times? Or is Andrew Cohen an inspired, but ultimately immature and "abusive" Guru? What is really going on in the spiritual community and organization EnlightenNext, is it brainwash or breakthrough, transference or transformation? Have former students been badly betrayed or enormously benefited? Is the Guru-Student relationship obsolete for sophisticated 21st Century post-modern seekers? What is this controversial entity/non-entity called the Ego that needs to be transcended if we are to authentically Awaken? And what the heck is Evolutionary Enlightenment all about anyway?"
This is a multi-authored pro-Cohen site that avoids (at least so far as I have seen) the ad hominem tone of WHAT Enlightenment Uncensored $$$. I have been informed however (see email quoted) that the whole site is simply a response to American Guru, which is everywhere refernced but never actually named. That sort of intellectual dishonesty isn't really encouraging. I mean, if they don't like the book, why not say - we set uup this blog in reply to American Guru? After all, there is an Aurobindonian devotee blog that was set up in response to, and as a refutation of, Peter Heehs The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, the name Lives of Sri Aurobindo is even in the blog's title (which makes it confusing from another perspective, like the slanderer and Sathya Sai Baba extremist Gerald "Joe" Moreno calling his attack pages The Official (insert here name of Sai Baba ex-devotee he is slinging muck at) Page, he even has one on me. But at least these critics are being upfront and not beating around the bush)
Update. I take back what I said!!! See Reblogging Brad Warner - Andrew Cohen's Underhanded Web Tactics Revealed! (Thursday, March 11, 2010) for info on the underhanded manipulation of google rankings by the Guru Talk people. Now, who else do I know that also resorts to manipulating google ratings? i yes, the afore mentioned Gerald "Joe" Moreno. Indeed, the more I learn, the more suspicious I become of these tactics. Even their magazine has completely lost its appeal for me; I mean, it never goes beyond holism to begin with, and supports some fundamentalist types while attacking atheists, why so one-sided?
A new link, on Andrew Cohen and the moral laxity of the mainstream (Wilberian and associated) Integral Movement in general Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment - Be Scofield - April 27th, 2010 . This includes material from Yenner's book and elsewhere. See also the follow up, Disease of Conscience: A Response to Pete Bampton and Andrew Cohen Supporters Be Scofield - May 4th, 2010 - which gives a good example of how seriously disfunctional and screwed up teh whole Andrew Cohen guru movement is.
The Hypnotic Trance of Cults and Cultists blog post dated (wednesday, november 18, 2009). Interesting observations on Cohen, Adi Da, Poonja, Gangaji and Eli, and others, by ex-Daist The Broken Yogi. Cohen apparently was involved in Adidam for about 18 months, sometime around the early to mid-1980s. According to Da's followers he left because he wasn't satisfied with being a devotee, and wanted to be a guru himself. William Yenenr's book American Guru is briefly but favourably mentioned.
You Tube - Ego Is a Closed Loop a woman with existential questions asks Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber. Wilber and Cohen are rather like "good cop bad cop" in their responses. Highlights: Wilber: "that's beautiful." Cohen: "why don't you commit suicide?" Cohen appears irritated and stressed when Wilber cutrs him off, but has to suck it up. No-one there seems to have any idea about Realization, the way they bandy around the word "enlightenment" (Wilber in particular) is a good example of why I don't like to use that word any more. Wilber comes across as a nice guy, or alternatively (as someone wrote in the comments section) as wanting to get into the lady's pants, take your pick. Cohen should be sitting in audience as a rank beginner, my impression from this video is that all he has is a bit of head-knowledge; he basically knows (in the sense of gnosis) nothing. I find it bizarre that anyone would follow Andrew Cohen; he leaves me cold. With Wilber I can understand what the appeal is. Not that he's anyone special, he's no Realizer, and more importantly his unqualified support of Andrew Cohen is pretty disturbing. Seems to be some poretty dsfunctional stuff all through teh mainstream integral movement, guess it's upto people outside the centers of authority there to set things straight!
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