Andrew Cohen & The Dark Side of Enlightenment

Andrew Cohen & The Dark Side of Enlightenment

Jun 05

Andrew-Cohen

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Editor’s Comment:

While it has been a long time in coming, Andrew Cohen is finally coming to terms with just how deeply undone he was as a spiritual teacher — and how badly he mistreated his students. He is also beginning to realize how much personal work he has to do in order to heal his life, work, and relationships.

While there are many remarkable things about this situation, there are two that I want to mention here:

1. Gurus who have fallen into the hole that Cohen fell into seldom come clean. Most continue to live imbalanced, destructive lives never realizing something is fundamentally wrong with themselves and the path they are walking and teaching. Or they self-destruct when one or more scandals tear their lives a part. Cohen, by publicly admitting his failures and trying to make amends, is breaking new ground here. I applaud him for that.

2. Cohen is also able to articulate what happened and why. Simply put, he understands that he overemphasized vertical or spiritual perspectives while underemphasizing horizontal and human ones. Here’s how Cohen describes his failings:

“Even though I always said the Teachings were a work in progress, I certainly was not aware of the obvious and important holes that I had left in them. The most obvious and the most important has been the absence of Agape or Love as a FUNDAMENTAL principle that stands in contrast to and in support of the emphasis on Eros that I gave so much importance to over the last 10 to 15 years. Eros is the VERTICAL manifestation of the Absolute principle. Agape is the HORIZONTAL manifestation the Absolute principle. To say I neglected Agape is an understatement to be sure. Eros and Agape BOTH are essential ingredients of a truly Evolutionary Dharma. They BALANCE each other. They hold each other in a dynamic embrace of loving, creative and Integral tension. My over-emphasis on Eros with little respect for Agape created the circumstance where a collapse was inevitable. And that’s why it happened so fast…and for this I am to blame.

“In order to open up to the deeply painful truth of my own central role in this great calamity, I have had to open my heart in ways I have denied to myself for most of my life. That’s what has made it possible for me to begin to truly let in the damage I have wrought and the harm I have caused to too many of you. I only wish I had been more awake to and in touch with my own flawed humanity from the very beginning. If I had been, so much of this would have never happened.

“Over these 2 years I have struggled to awaken to my Shadow, to those unconscious forces and drives within us that will, as long as they remain hidden, continue to wreak havoc with our lives. This will remain the case even if in many other ways we are unusually conscious and aware, and as hard to believe as it may be, even if we may be lucky enough to have access to Enlightened awareness. I know this is hard to fathom, but it certainly has been true in my case, and has been true in many other cases where powerfully awakened Teachers have acted out in either destructive or self-destructive ways…or both. It’s been a significant part of the rocky legacy of eastern Enlightenment coming to the psychologically informed west. Ironically, I spent much of my early career speaking and writing about this very issue.”

To learn more about how these two elemental forces can (and must) be balanced in our lives — and what can happen if they aren’t — watch What Near-Death Experiences Teach Us and read The Formula for Creating Heaven on Earth.

Since this situation is a text-book case of what can happen if vertical and spiritual perspectives are overemphasized, I encourage everyone to become familiar with this situation. As human beings, we all have the tendency to lean one way or the other — to focus too strongly on the vertical, spiritual side of our natures, or too strongly on the horizontal, human side of our natures. In order to live healthy, happy, balanced lives, we have to balance and integrate both. When we swing too far one way or the other it’s only a matter of time before we get into serious trouble.

This post begins with a recent letter that Cohen wrote to his former students. Cohen’s letter is followed by links to websites, interviews, articles, and books that graphically flesh out the whole situation.

For additional insights, be sure and read the comments that follow Cohen’s letter.

— David Sunfellow

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AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL MY FORMER STUDENTS UPON RETURN FROM MY SABBATICAL
By Andrew Cohen
May 12, 2015

Original Link

Dear Ones,

It has been almost 2 years since the structures of our shared Utopian experiment collapsed so violently and so completely. It’s also been almost that long that I have dropped out of sight. As most of you already know, I was asked to step down, which I reluctantly agreed to. Ever since that moment, I have wanted to find out what happened. I have understandably been desperate to find out why this has all occurred. Why did this terrible destruction have to happen? To be honest, for a long time I have simply not been able to take in the unbearable truth that I somehow actually caused this collapse to occur. How could this be the case? I have dedicated the last 28 years of my life to the Spiritual upliftment of humanity, to the evolution of consciousness and culture. For so many years I thought of little else. So with all of this in place, how could I have caused this collapse to occur? As I have let this in, I have had to embrace both the truth and beauty of where we all went together and my own participation in the downfall that occurred two years ago.

During those years just the notion of higher development, the extraordinary possibility of emergence, would make my heart beat a little faster. It really WAS possible… and I could always feel the immanence of the miraculous always just around the corner. Over the years I took many risks so that great leaps forward could actually happen. I also whole-heartedly encouraged others, my students, to do the same. It was all so amazing because it was so tangible. My gift was my capacity to inspire others to believe that it was possible… and to be willing to take great risks so that miracles could really happen. As the years went by I gradually began to define the meaning of the spiritual life lived in earnest in our post modern era as the willingness to be someone who would care so passionately about what appeared to be humanity’s next step at the leading edge, that they would be willing to make any sacrifice and take any risk, so that that future could emerge here and now in the present between us, as our very own selves. And it actually happened. More than once. These perceived and intuited potentials did reveal themselves again and again and so many of my students saw and felt the power and potential of what we had all given so much for. It was so exciting and such a grand spiritual adventure the likes of which most people never experience or even imagine.

At the same time as all this was happening, slowly but surely cracks appeared in the shared fabric of our new world. Some people left. This had been happening from the very beginning when it all started back in 1986. The existential challenge of what we were trying to do together was simply enormous. In some cases the challenge was just too much and people also suffered, at times unnecessarily.

Over the previous 15 years I had become an evolutionary through and through. I had experienced a profound awakening to a process perspective and to be honest, have now understood that in that light, I had come to see my students as means to an end, hopefully a higher end, but not as ends in themselves. I gradually lost sight of people’s humanity, including my own, and only saw all of us as the living Self Aware consciousness that, in an evolutionary context, was going somewhere. And that was all that I believed was important or really mattered. I even stated this clearly and unequivocally at times when I was teaching. As I was losing touch with my own simple humanity and everyone else’s, I also was simultaneously not paying attention to the gradual growing of my spiritual ambition, of my spiritual ego. I believe that my intense longing for the evolution of consciousness in my students was real, but I have begun to see more and more clearly how over time my pride and my desire for fame and recognition slowly but surely began to blur and corrupt my vision. The worst part of it is that I was oblivious to the many different ways some of my students were being pushed too hard and at times too relentlessly to make breakthroughs and too often breaking down as a result. It’s hard even now for me to grasp how I could not see this happening right in front of my eyes. The very human, frail, fallible and vulnerable dimensions of myself that I was denying, I was simultaneously denying in those who had come to me for liberation. I was blind and ambitious and yet sincere in my spiritual aspirations as a teacher and as a thought leader. The left hand didn’t know what the right hand was doing much of the time…I became more and more a living paradox.

Most often when I would teach, I would experience the grace of my Guru, the gift of enlightened awareness, which would engulf my being in the most glorious way. The amazing part of it all is that in the midst of the growing problems I have been describing, I was simultaneously continuing to evolve and develop as a teacher and as a thinker. I was moving and was still often creative in finding ever-new ways to express the inexpressible. And I was still curious. Even after 28 years of being a guide and a guru and a public thinker, I was still reaching and stretching to understand more and more about Life, Reality and the meaning/purpose of it all. It was really because of this that I wrongly felt that I was ok and in good shape and on the right track. This fact of my still evolving and developing as a teacher made it that much easier for me to avoid and deny that slowly the world that I had given so much to give rise to over so many years, was beginning to crumble from the inside. My closest and most devoted senior students were beginning to see through my façade, could see that I was out of control, and see that I didn’t even know it. What made matters much worse is that I ignored the evidence; I ignored their respectful pleas for me to slow down and listen to them. For over six months during this period I literally couldn’t sleep, and night after night I convinced myself that I had no idea why this was the case. My self became more and more divided. I was still an inspired teacher and speaker, but I adamantly remained steadfastly and obstinately oblivious to the growing storm I was creating.

It was only a matter of time before the entire edifice came tumbling down and it has taken me the better part of these last 2 years to begin to come to terms with all that has happened and all that I have done. I realize that much harm has occurred, and that I am to blame. I justified my at times ruthless attacks on my students’ egos as being akin to the revered Tibetan Master Marpa’s ruthless treatment of his famous disciple Milarepa. And at times this indeed was the case. There were times when with individuals or groups of individuals my arrow of discriminating wisdom hit the bulls eye and magic happened…dramatic and meaningful Liberating Clarity and Love Beyond Description emerged…and new potentials and miraculous possibilities that had been previously unimaginable and unseen were collectively experienced. In those historic moments it all seemed worth it. But there were and have been too many moments where I simply have been wrong. Not only did my arrow miss the target but it caused unnecessary pain and suffering to too many people. For this I am deeply and terribly sorry. Too much suffering has resulted from my at times misguided efforts to create breakthroughs. I should have known better.

Slowly over time I have come to see the parts of myself that were broken, that I have been in such ferocious denial of. In that denial I became at times untrustworthy. I see that now. So many of you trusted me with your souls and I proved myself at certain pivotal moments unworthy of that trust. Again I am sorry.

What I feel dreadful about is that the very idealism that I inspired and released in so many of you, I have wounded in the worst way possible. It’s difficult to bear that this is the case, but it just is. I would do literally anything to turn back the clock…but I can’t.

I am committed to finding a way to honour all that was real and true that we stood for, for so many years. There is nothing else for me to do. There is nothing else I want to do.

I still believe in the fundamental principles that I taught and stood for all these years. I feel the Teaching is basically sound. Like someone said to me recently, the Teachings of Evolutionary Enlightenment are self-consistent. That is one of the reasons why so many of you stayed for so long. And that is why we spent so many hours learning how to look at reality through the extraordinary multidimensional lens that the Teachings provide. That being said, it has also become obvious that there have been important gaps in the Teachings from the very beginning. Even though I always said the Teachings were a work in progress, I certainly was not aware of the obvious and important holes that I had left in them. The most obvious and the most important has been the absence of Agape or Love as a FUNDAMENTAL principle that stands in contrast to and in support of the emphasis on Eros that I gave so much importance to over the last 10 to 15 years. Eros is the VERTICAL manifestation of the Absolute principle. Agape is the HORIZONTAL manifestation the Absolute principle. To say I neglected Agape is an understatement to be sure. Eros and Agape BOTH are essential ingredients of a truly Evolutionary Dharma. They BALANCE each other. They hold each other in a dynamic embrace of loving, creative and Integral tension. My over-emphasis on Eros with little respect for Agape created the circumstance where a collapse was inevitable. And that’s why it happened so fast…and for this I am to blame.

In order to open up to the deeply painful truth of my own central role in this great calamity, I have had to open my heart in ways I have denied to myself for most of my life. That’s what has made it possible for me to begin to truly let in the damage I have wrought and the harm I have caused to too many of you. I only wish I had been more awake to and in touch with my own flawed humanity from the very beginning. If I had been, so much of this would have never happened.

Over these 2 years I have struggled to awaken to my Shadow, to those unconscious forces and drives within us that will, as long as they remain hidden, continue to wreak havoc with our lives. This will remain the case even if in many other ways we are unusually conscious and aware, and as hard to believe as it may be, even if we may be lucky enough to have access to Enlightened awareness. I know this is hard to fathom, but it certainly has been true in my case, and has been true in many other cases where powerfully awakened Teachers have acted out in either destructive or self-destructive ways…or both. It’s been a significant part of the rocky legacy of eastern Enlightenment coming to the psychologically informed west. Ironically, I spent much of my early career speaking and writing about this very issue.

I often wonder how much of the outrageous evolutionary Fire could have awakened and been shared between us in the way that it was, without there being some kind of fall out, some measure of pain and suffering. And if that’s possible then how much would have been acceptable, and when would it all have become too much? At this point I really don’t know.

I do know that without the ultimate challenge this enormous calamity has given to me personally on a soul level, my own ego would never have backed down. It’s been extremely challenging on many levels to even begin to let in what has actually happened and why it has happened. And I know there is further to go.

I am beginning to become simply human after so many years of hiding out in transcendence. It’s like coming back to earth after almost a quarter of a century of flying above the clouds. As much as I spoke about the need to “embrace heaven and earth,” I was obviously still rejecting so much of what it means to be a fully human being.

In so many ways I thought I was awake when I was clearly not. In my rejection of Agape, I was also rejecting the feminine principle in myself and in others and most painfully in women as a whole. I am ashamed of how badly I blamed women for their evolutionary challenges. Instead of being truly encouraging, after some time I let my frustration with the enormity of the task at hand get the better of me. I blamed and condemned instead of encouraged and nurtured, which was after all, my job as mentor. Many people accuse me of hating women. This is not and has never been true. But I was in so many ways arrogant and insensitive and even cruel in my impatience at times. Uncovering deep (and outdated) developmental structures in our psyches takes time and long-term commitment. It takes a DEEP vision and LOVE of ourselves. Not blaming and condemning and ridiculing. I apologize to the women who were affected and am so very sorry for being so lacking in the real heart that was desperately needed. I failed many of you in the worst way and for this I really have no excuse. I became a caricature of the very behaviour and attitudes in men that I was so sure I had transcended. And the painful and ironic truth in all of this is that I did have a real passion and commitment for a very radical expression of women’s liberation. I had seen a truly miraculous potential and possibility. But, in the end, I proved to have neither the patience, nor the skill, nor the deep humility and care (agape) to create the conditions that would have made a stable breakthrough actually possible.

In the middle years of my teaching career, at times I came up with and tried many outrageous stunts in order to once again catalyze big breakthroughs. Also to be honest I was many times actually in a state of desperation because I cared so much, and was trying to get my students to care as much as I did about what was possible, the very promise we had all given our lives for.

But as well-meaning as many of these attempts were on my part, some were certainly just too much…too outrageous and simply lacking in compassion and a deep appreciation of what is actually involved in change at the deepest level. More often than not what is needed is simply more love and encouragement, not more shocks, challenges and confrontations with one’s own division. There were times of course where strong challenges are called for and many former students have reminded me of many ways in which I did help them to reach breakthroughs through harsh tactics…but there is no doubt this happened too often, and more often than not it caused more harm than good. I apologize for this. I should have known better…but I was misled by the conviction that without such big pushes, most people would simply compromise their own inherent potential to evolve and grow in the deepest and most profound way. I was a revolutionary, and publicly declared myself as such…and that’s why many of you came to me. But that can no longer be an excuse for my own insensitivity and at times ruthless attempts to force deep changes to occur. Again I deeply apologize to any of you who suffered unnecessarily because of this. Elizabeth Sahtouris’ famous statement that “no evolution occurs without stress” became a justification for those times when I inappropriately pushed people too hard to let go and face themselves.

Over these two years away, I have come to appreciate with growing regret that the hierarchies that I had used as a teaching tool gradually over time become ossified and rigid, becoming for some not too different to being held in a straight jacket or a prison. Originally this was intended to humble my students’ culturally conditioned narcissism and often exaggerated sense of self-importance. And for many years it actually did help a lot of people to learn how to become humble, to learn how to keep their egos in check, to learn how to put Spirit first. In our time this is no small feat. But instead of helping people to grow spiritually, over time the hierarchies ended up putting people in boxes, actually inhibiting the very growth they were intended to nurture. I know some of my students who made very deep commitments to our work together have suffered very much as a result and, for good reason, are angry about this. I am very sorry that this happened and in particular, apologize to those previously known as the Resolute Core Students. With all of my interest in Integral Philosophy, I should have known better and seen the obvious error that I was making.

Finally what has been hardest for me has been facing and coming to terms with the fact that I have let down so deeply and betrayed my former students whom I was closest to, those former senior students who had entrusted me with their lives and souls and who gave so much to make it possible for the promise of Evolutionary Enlightenment to come alive in the world. And largely because of their commitment, it actually DID. So much that is Good, True and Beautiful has come into being as a result of the precious commitment of those who dared to be leaders. I know they also have made mistakes and at times caused much suffering, some of which is yet to be atoned for, but it must be said that most really did give from the deepest parts of themselves and did have the courage to care more than most. I know that when push came to shove when I, their teacher, seemed not to have the resources to live my own teachings, it was experienced as the ultimate betrayal. I who had demanded so much was, when my turn came, seemingly unable or unwilling to do the very thing I had asked from them. I am so ashamed about this and my public apology was really meant for them.

Almost 2 years after my fall from grace and the collapse of EnlightenNext, I still care as much as I ever did about most of what I taught and a lot of what I stood for. I am committed to giving the rest of my life to trying to make good on it all. What that will mean, of course, remains to be seen. Through this process of coming to terms with all that has happened, so many important questions have understandably arisen. As I make progress in my inquiry, I will be writing more about it here.

I still love you all very much and hope from the bottom of my heart that you will find it in yourselves to believe that even Gurus with big egos can find the courage and humility to change. I know in ‘Embracing Heaven and Earth,’ I boldly stated that once Enlightenment has occurred, an individual gets frozen in their development – that from then on their evolution actually comes to a halt forever.

I am committing the rest of my life to proving myself wrong.

With Deep Love,
Andrew

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Previous NHNE Post

• Andrew Cohen’s New Book: ‘Evolutionary Enlightenment’

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Supportive Andrew Cohen Links

Andrew Cohen’s Website
Andrew Cohen’s Blog
Andrew Cohen on Facebook
Andrew Cohen on Twitter
Andrew Cohen on YouTube
EnlightenNext on Facebook
Guru-Talk (Positive testimonials about Andrew Cohen by students)

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Websites & Resources That Challenge Andrew Cohen

• Blog: WhatEnlightenment??!
• Blog: EnlightenNixt

• Article: Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment (Be Scofield)
• Discussions: The Rick A. Ross Institute on Andrew Cohen
Ken Wilber’s Dubious Endorsement of Andrew Cohen
• Interview: Andrew Cohen on Andrew Cohen: The Rude Boy of Enlightenment

Wikipedia on Andrew Cohen

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Insider Books

Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru
By Andre Van Der Braak
January 1, 2003

Z

Enlightenment Blues is Andre van der Braak’s compelling first hand account of his relationship with a prominent spiritual teacher. It chronicles both the author’s spiritual journey and disenchantment as well the development of a missionary and controversial community around the teacher. It powerfully exposes the problems and necessities of disentanglement from a spiritual path.

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The Mother of God Paperback
By Luna Tarlo (Andrew Cohen’s Mother)
July 6, 2009

2Q==

This is a mother’s account of her experience as a disciple of her own son — Andrew Cohen, a well-known American guru — and of her struggle to free herself from his control. What had been a close, affectionate relationship slowly becomes a nightmare of domination. The story begins quiely in India and unfolds with growing intensity as Andrew, his mother, and a few people who have gathered around him, travel to England, Holland, Israel, and finally the United States, but which time Andrew has attracted hundreds of devotees to his “meetings.” The abuse of power, incessant fear, and the pyschology of obsession are all explored here from an intimate perspective. Since brainwashing cults and their grandiose gurus are proliferating — in this country and all over the world — this book is not only a mother’s lament, but also a finger pointing to the growing appeal everywhere of authoritarianism and absolutism.

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American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing — Former Students of Andrew Cohen Speak Out
By William Yenner
August 11, 2009

9k=

American Guru is a multifaceted account of life in the contemporary spiritual community known as EnlightenNext, and the controversial “teaching methods” of its New York-born founder, self-proclaimed “guru” Andrew Cohen. With contributions from several of Cohen’s former students, William Yenner recalls the thirteen-year trajectory of his career as a leader and manager in Cohen’s community — his early days as an idealistic “seeker,” his years of service on EnlightenNext’s Board of Directors, his ultimate disillusionment and departure,and his efforts to make sense of his experiences as a once-devoted follower of a “Teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment.” With wit and insight, Yenner and his colleagues have produced a riveting cautionary tale on the dangers of authoritarian spirituality, and an insider’s case study on the promises and pitfalls of postmodern discipleship.

American Guru Website
American Guru on Facebook
• American Guru Book Review: Andrew Cohen Exposed (David Christopher Lane)

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Stripping the Gurus (pdf)
By Geoffrey D. Falk (Author)
February 1, 2009

Z-1

Ramakrishna was a homoerotic pedophile.

His chief disciple, Vivekananda, visited brothels in India.

Krishnamurti carried on an affair for over twenty years with the wife of a good friend. Chogyam Trungpa drank himself into an early grave. One of Adi Da’s nine “wives” was a former Playboy centerfold. Bhagwan Rajneesh sniffed laughing gas to get high. Andrew Cohen, guru and publisher of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, by his own reported admission sometimes feels “like a god.”

These are typical of the “wizened sages” to whom otherwise-sensible people give their devotion and unquestioning obedience, surrendering their independence, willpower, and life’s savings in the hope of realizing for themselves the same “enlightenment” as they ascribe to the “perfect, God-realized” master.

Why?

Is it for being emotionally vulnerable and “brainwashed,” as the “anti-cultists” assert? Or for being “willingly psychologically seduced,” as the apologists unsympathetically counter, confident that they themselves are “too smart” to ever fall into the same trap? Or have devotees simply walked, with naively open hearts and thirsty souls, into inherent dynamics of power and obedience which have showed themselves in classic psychological studies from Milgram to Zimbardo, and to which each one of us is susceptible every day of our lives?

Like the proud “Rude Boy” Cohen allegedly said, with a laugh, in response to the nervous breakdown of one of his devoted followers: “It could happen to any one of you.”

Don’t let it happen to you. Don’t get suckered in. Be prepared. Be informed. Find out what reportedly goes on behind the scenes in even the best of our world’s spiritual communities.

You can start by reading this book.

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2 comments

  1. When Andrew Cohen started his magazine and group, I was at the U.Conn Medical School working on after effects of the NDE. I wrote him because of the close proximity and suggested exploring how we could share. I never got a response. I read his magazine a couple of times and had a huge “Yuk” reaction.

    I now had no idea what was going on til I read the above and have been telling myself — “I told you so.” When people throw around the word “enlightenment” (I believe) it throws them right back into their shadow because now they have to defend that position. People who “don’t know” and are “nobody special” (an Eastern belief that we wrote about in The Power of Humility) have nothing to defend so they’re not energizing their shadow or ego.

    Kundalini Research Network, the organization that I have belonged to since its inception 25 years ago, has always had this debate going on — “To Guru or not to Guru?” In fact I wanted to have panel discussion on it years ago and the Guru followers reacted in negative ways and refused. I still don’t know the answer to all this.

    Charlie and I have been invited to several ashrams where we saw good, lots of good, and some bad too. The one that stands out was when a group of us visited Yogiville, Satchdananda’s ashram before it even opened 30 or so years ago. He is (or was) a real hoot. He pulled up in a pink 1950s Cadillac convertible with a license that read “Peacock.” The most interesting part of the tour was in the temple, a vault that was positioned in the center of the lowest floor (positioned under what appeared to be a huge neon lit pyramid.) This had something to do with initiations and had raised letters that were from a different kind of language. I took pictures of it. Later that day I took my film to Kmart to be developed. When I went back a few days later, they had lost the film. I knew there was no way they could trace it.

    I also observed the way the women in his and other ashrams “flutter” around the Guru and that is sad, very sad. These are American women who weren’t raised in that culture. I just don’t get it!

  2. Joseph Dillard

    Dear David,
    Thanks for this. That Ken Wilber hung out with Cohen and did joint Interviews on enlightenment was not a good Reflexion on Wilber for me. I question his judgment on that. I note that while the message is balance the vertical and the horizontal, Eros and agape, I do not see any examples of over-emphasis among gurus and spiritual teachers on agape/the horizontal in the quest for enlightenment here. Why is that? Surely such examples exist? Could it be that these sources have a blind spot when it comes to over-emphasis on Agape/horizontal spirituality?

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