Thursday, June 02, 2005

Essential and Concise

EnlightenNixt presents the real story behind Andrew Cohen, his community and his teaching of "evolutionary enlightenment." It is part of an on-going project to warn and enlighten past, present and potential future students about the dangers and pitfalls of getting involved with self-styled guru Andrew Cohen.

Why are we called EnlightenNixt? Andrew Cohen claims that his "evolutionary" teaching is the new, or "next" form of enlightening spirituality. We feel that his conduct and the conduct of his community negates (or "nixes") the potential of enlightenment (however you define that), and has caused harm, not benefit. Unless and until Andrew Cohen is able to acknowledge, show genuine remorse and make amends for his misconduct, the likelihood that he can be a force that is "evolutionary" in a positive sense is essentialy nil.

EnlightenNixt was created as a companion to the WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog to make it easier to find and read its essential articles and discussion. There are no comments on this blog and it will have new posts less frequently than WHAT Enlightenment ??!. Here are the essential articles in chonological order.

See the list to the right? Click on any title to go to that article. Or, you can just scroll down the page. If you're new to this discussion, we suggest starting with the first article, Breaking the Code of Silence, and reading down.

You can still find the original articles with all of the comments from readers, as well as many other fine articles and contributions that are not posted here, on the WHAT Enlightenment ??! site.

We hope you find EnlightenNixt useful and enlightening.

Breaking the Code of Silence

Part 1: Breaking the code of silence, by Hal Blacker.
Part 2: What is Enlightenment? editor responds.

Part 1: Breaking the code of silence, by Hal Blacker
May all beings be happy!!!

I am certainly happy because I have been granted the privilege of non-anonymously breaking the Cohen Silence Code on our What Enlightenment?! blog. And it feels real good. Don’t be shy and don’t be the last one on your block or on this blog to join in. Come on in, the water’s fine!

My name is Hal Blacker. As many readers here may recall, I was the editor in chief of What Is Enlightenment? magazine from 1994 until late 1996—the period during which Andrew Cohen’s periodical made the transition from being a small in-house newsletter to an international spiritual publication.

I left Andrew’s community in early 1997. Since that time I have experienced a gradual unfolding of understanding about what happened during my time there and what went wrong. My own personal story is not that important. In many ways, I think, I personally suffered less than many. I was one of the few who left with Andrew’s blessing (although against his wishes), and with the door (initially) left open should I wish to return.

In the past, I have not wanted to speak publicly in any way that might be seen as negative about Andrew, his community or his teachings. I was hesitant to do this at first because, despite misgivings, I felt some loyalty to Andrew. I was concerned that due to my renown as the former editor of and frequent contributor to his magazine, anything I said that might sound critical would receive undue attention, and possibly cause him harm. I was also not sure how to sort out events and their meaning. I felt that before I said anything critical, I wanted to be certain that I was not motivated by personal hurt or animosity. I wanted to wait before speaking out until I was no longer subject to anger that might skew my perspective. Finally, I felt it was more important for me to move on with my life, and continue my own spiritual path. I did not feel it was healthy to shovel energy into a bottomless hole of resentment or recrimination. So, except for personal conversations with friends who were also in the community and who had left, I remained largely silent.

But a few years ago I began to learn of things that caused me great concern. An old friend who I worked with on What Is Enlightenment? magazine called and told me she had left the community. I told her a little about my thoughts about it—how I had come to see how oppressive life in the community was, how wrong it was that there was no personal freedom or autonomy permitted, how abusive the confrontational methods used to enforce conformity now seemed, how frequently we lived in fear, and how criticism was always forcibly squelched. She interrupted me and said, “Hal, things have gotten a whole lot weirder since you left.” I asked her what she meant, and she told me stories involving the use of physical force and abuse against students. She spoke of being ordered by Andrew to deliver “messages” to fellow students consisting of slapping the student in the face as hard as she could. She told me she had been ordered by Andrew to paint messages in blood-red paint on the walls of a student’s room at Foxhollow. She described to me the conversion of the spa at Foxhollow into a kind of psychological torture chamber.

As the years passed I spoke to many other former students who confirmed these stories, elaborated upon them, and told me many more. I learned of students having large “contributions” psychologically extorted from them. I heard how a student was required to sign a “gag order” agreement prohibiting him from publicly criticizing Andrew as a condition of having his “contribution” returned. I was told the story of community women prostrating in a freezing cold lake in the winter, some suffering dangerous exposure, as a symbol of their devotion and repentance for “women’s conditioning.” I learned of a student being forced—against his will and his moral compunction—to engage in daily visits to prostitutes in Amsterdam for weeks on end as a kind of penance for past sexual indiscretions. I was told by a student how he was ordered to reveal to his estranged teenage daughter her mother’s infidelity that occurred many years in the past, in order to teach the daughter not to hold her mother, now a critical former student, in such high esteem. I heard these stories and many, many more. As the weight of the awful truth about what Andrew and his community had become accumulated, I began to feel that something must finally be said. People must be warned. At the very least, any prospective student should know what they are signing themselves up for when they join Andrew Cohen’s community.

As a result, I’ve decided to begin to write publicly about these things. I’m throwing off the cloak of anonymity. I hope to write as frankly and revealingly about what I’ve learned as I can. I plan to contribute my own opinions about Andrew’s methods and his teachings, but in the end, each of us must decide for ourselves what it all means. I hope that others will join in with their own stories, comments and contributions, anonymously or not.

Please join in. May this discussion be of benefit.

May all beings enjoy happiness and the root of happiness; be free from suffering and the root of suffering; and dwell in the great equanimity that is free from passion aggression and prejudice!

Originally published January 27, 2005
Original article on What Enlightenment??!, with comments: Breaking the Code of Silence

Part 2:

WIE Editor Admits Slapping, Smeared "Blood" Incident
by Craig Hamilton

I nearly laughed out loud when I read Hal Blacker’s preamble to his “Breaking the Code of Silence” entry on this blog. How noble of you, Hal. You’re finally going to enlighten us all to what’s really going on around Andrew? What “code of silence” exactly are you referring to? As far as I can tell, so far the only code on this blog seems to be a code of kvetching. Let me try a new approach. I’ll call this entry “Breaking the Code of Victimization.”

My name is Craig Hamilton. I’m the managing editor of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, where I’ve worked full time since 1997. I’ve been a student of Andrew’s for nearly thirteen years, and have been a close friend and colleague for the past eight of those years. I’ve been watching this latest incarnation of the anti-Cohen cult with mild curiosity since its small handful of founders started repeatedly emailing announcements about it to all of the magazine’s advertisers and contributors. I never planned to respond, but at a certain point, the rhetoric of mischaracterization got to be too much to listen to.

So, for anyone who, upon reading the entries on this blog, finds themselves scratching their head at the bizarre, two-dimensional, and often surreal picture it paints; for anyone who finds it nearly impossible to reconcile the diabolical PowerLord depicted here with their own experience of Andrew Cohen (either through his writings, his magazine, his video dialogues on the web, or his public talks and retreats), I thought it would be worth offering a few words of explanation to help set the record straight.

First, a couple of questions:

(1) if the community around Cohen even remotely resembled the sort of life-destroying police-state this blog depicts, why would most of those writing on this blog have stayed with Cohen of their own free will for ten or more years? And why would so many others report it to be the most enriching, life-affirming, and genuinely evolutionary environment they have ever experienced?

(2) if Andrew Cohen really were the menace to society this blog describes, why would so many of today’s wisest and most respected spiritual and cultural authorities have expressed such strong support for his work? (A small sample of these can be found at:

For starters, just to be clear, yes Andrew Cohen is a demanding teacher. And if he accepts you as a student and you get close enough to him, he’ll likely challenge you in ways you have never been challenged. Sometimes warmly. Sometimes affectionately. Sometimes fiercely. But if you’ve been even a few steps down the path of transformation, and have begun to glimpse the usually obscured face of that dubious cluster of self-serving motivations traditionally known as ego, you’ve probably realized that, frankly, sometimes you need to be challenged. I know I had. In fact, a big part of the reason I came to Andrew for help was that, after years of meditation and therapy, I had managed to see myself just clearly enough that I was starting to become faintly disgusted by the self-aggrandizement, narcissism, and deep-rooted selfishness that was playing itself out in all my relationships. And it was clear that, despite my growing concern about it, I wasn’t in a hurry to give it up on my own. Andrew made it clear from the word go that he was in a hurry for me to give it up, and that it wouldn’t be easy, that I would at times resent him or worse for forcing me to confront and leave behind the self-image I had grown so fond of. But I was pretty convinced that without the kind of “evolutionary tension” a relationship with a teacher like Andrew promised, I would likely spend the better part of a lifetime in spiritual self-delusion, in love with my own image as a seeker.

In case there was any doubt, Andrew delivered. And then some. And he was right. There have been many times when I have resented him and worse for the sometimes stark or even severe reflection he has unfailingly provided. (I was the one mentioned in Hal Blacker’s letter who got slapped in the face and also had fake blood smeared on his wall—which, incidentally, we already wrote about in the magazine three years ago—so much for the “code of silence”). And if I had, at any one of those times, followed my bruised ego out the door, as a number of others have, I might well be joining the feeding frenzy along with them. The spiritual path has always been a high-stakes game. The mystical literature isn’t filled with metaphors like “Razor’s Edge” and “Chasm of Fire” simply for poetic effect. Indeed, before I met Andrew, I always wondered why the traditional stories were so replete with images of demons trying, and often succeeding, at tempting people from their own highest aspirations. For all of my meditation and therapy, I had encountered nothing in my own experience that could help explain their existence—metaphorical or otherwise. But in my thirteen years with Andrew, where the fires of transformation burn bright, I have seen in often painful living color just why the traditions made such a strong, if metaphorical, point of this. The sad and at times devastating truth is, not everybody makes it. And some barely make it to the starting line.

But for those who have remained steadfast through the struggles that come with the territory, something miraculous is unfolding. On an individual level, it manifests as a deep authenticity and vulnerability, a profound freedom of being, whose human face is care for others and for all of life. But the greater fruits of this sacred labor are revealing themselves on a collective level. Coming together beyond the fears and desires of ego, we are discovering a new way of being together, in which the autonomy of each individual is fueled and animated by the power and love of communion beyond difference. If you want to get a glimpse of what heaven on earth might look like, I strongly encourage you to pay us a visit. Our doors are always open, and many who have come through have commented that they’ve never experienced anything like what they tasted here.

Just to be clear, I’m not saying that Hal Blacker or any of the other writers on this blog shouldn’t have left. Nor am I suggesting that everyone who leaves this path does so because they have an ego tantrum. No path is for everyone, and least of all this one. But having known Hal for many years, I have no doubt that the reasons for his departure were as I described above. And that in light of that, we would do well to question his motives for writing what he has, and the accuracy of the picture he paints. (For the record, Hal served very briefly as the lead editor of What is Enlightenment? while it was making the transition from a two-color in-house newsletter to its first issue or two as a small, four-color magazine. Those of us who worked with him remember him as an emotionally unstable and often aggressive colleague. Indeed, it was his unwillingness to make any effort to control his fitful aggression that eventually compelled Andrew to give him the nickname “Raging Bull,” and which also ultimately led to his departure).

Finally, I think it needs to be said that this blog’s portrayal of Andrew as a self-proclaimed infallible authority who answers to no one is little more than a cheap shot. It ignores the fact that since he began teaching, Andrew has gone out of his way to seek out meetings with other teachers, traditional and non-traditional, with whom he shares not only his insights but his struggles and questions. It also leaves out the fact that Andrew regularly speaks about his own continued evolution as a teacher.

I was hesitant to write this letter. I recognize that, given the level of aggression we are confronting here, this small effort at explanation may well backfire, generating a yet greater wave of animosity, even if again only from that small minority whose axe will not be sufficiently ground until it is but a stub of a handle. But at some point, silence on such matters starts to look like consent. And if nothing else, perhaps this small statement will at least raise a question for anyone who might have been fooled by Hal and his gang. I guarantee that if you dig deep enough to find out for yourself, you’ll discover that the picture of Andrew Cohen portrayed on this blog is nothing more than a small-hearted rendition of loosely assembled half-truths, a coward’s caricature. Yes, there is another side to the story. It’s a side whose glory cannot be contained in the space of this letter. But one well worth investigating for anyone in whom the heart’s cry for freedom cannot be drowned in the clamor of cynicism.
Craig Hamilton

Originally published February 3 (comment) and 4 (as article), 2005
Original article on What Enlightenment??! with comments: here

A Legacy of Scorched Earth

Part 1: A Legacy of Scorched Earth
Part 2: WIE Editor Responds

A Legacy of Scorched Earth
Reflections of a former student
by Susan Bridle

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. And without saying that Andrew doesn’t have responsibility for where, in my considered opinion, he went off the rails, take responsibility for all my choices and actions, for what brought me to him, what kept me there, and what enabled me to finally move on.
One thing that continues to strike me with painful irony is that fact that Andrew would, almost tearfully, lament about other teachers who had shown such great promise, whose passion for the spiritual life and searing dharma inspired so many spiritual seekers to abandon “the world” and give their entire lives to a spiritual revolution—but whose abuses of sex, money, power, or other addictions in the end disillusioned thousands of seekers and instead promoted cynicism about the whole endeavor. This is, in fact, the reality of the situation now with Andrew. He inspires such passion, such commitment, such sacrifice in so many seekers…for a while, a few years, maybe ten, perhaps longer. But Andrew’s legacy is, for the most part, scorched earth. Hundreds of disillusioned seekers who, when they eventually extricate themselves from their highly compromised relationship with Andrew, are scorched souls, burnt out entirely on the spiritual life, afraid to risk or trust or commit again. Many, even most, of Andrew’s former students, at least those who spent significant time in his company, have lost faith in themselves, in their own aspiration and capacity, in the possibility of a healthy student-teacher relationship, in the whole enterprise. This is a crime, a sin. Worthy of a tearful lament.
When his students leave him, rather than wishing them well and hoping that they are able to make good use of their experience with him, his community, and his teachings, Andrew scorns them, heaps abuse upon them, calls them “pigs” and “monsters,” and asserts that they have “sold their souls to the devil.” Rather than hoping that they will go on to use what they’ve learned in living fruitful lives, continuing their spiritual paths, and doing good work to relieve suffering in the world, he responds gleefully when he hears news of former students who are struggling to find their way. “That loser!” he would laugh. He delighted in hearing news about struggling former students. It vindicated what Andrew saw as their personal betrayal of him, the one true living embodiment of all that is holy and evolutionary in this world. For Andrew, his game is the only real game in town; no other spiritual teacher, path, or practice can hold a candle to it. Former students’ continued belief in this myth makes it very difficult for them to consider other spiritual paths and practices.
It seems that around Andrew and his communities today is a revolving door of students who discover him through the magazine or books, and have visited one of his centers, and perhaps attended a retreat or two. They stay for a while, and probably benefit tremendously. The “core” group of students who have been with Andrew for longer periods—and who are exposed to the kinds of tactics reported on this blog—has shrunk markedly over the years. Foxhollow, Andrew’s large and lavish residential and retreat center in western Massachusetts, when not filled with people during retreats and seminars, is significantly less populated than it once was. Some report that it feels like a monument to what might have been, a pretense of grandeur elaborately and expensively maintained, a slowly shriveling relic. Whether this is what becomes of Foxhollow and Andrew’s worldwide spiritual community remains to be seen; Andrew’s teaching and community have changed and evolved significantly since he began teaching in 1986. Maybe he will be able to adjust course regarding some of the matters discussed on this blog. That is my hope.
One other painful irony I’d like to mention—among so many others—is Andrew’s early, strong criticism of “crazy wisdom” teachers. During this period, he asked Hal to interview the American spiritual teacher Lee Lozowick about it. Lozowick has enormous insight on this subject, and his comments almost seem prophetic:
WIE: What is crazy wisdom?
LL: One of the primary aspects of crazy wisdom is that crazy-wisdom teachers are willing to use any behavior, no matter how shocking or irreverent or disturbing, if, and only if, that behavior has a very high likelihood of provoking a shift in the student, a deepening in the student. Of course, in this day and age, because of the communications industry, we hear about every idiot throughout the world whose ego takes on a crazy-wisdom function and then goes about using shock techniques whenever they feel like it, with complete disregard for the timing of the matter. Everything is timing. Gurdjieff was a master of timing. He didn't just produce shock like a research scientist to see what would happen. He only produced shock when the likelihood of its being effective, in terms of deepening a student's relationship to the Divine, was high. It didn't always work because it is only a likelihood, but still he wasn't random about it. And the teachers who I call charlatans today are teachers who are completely irresponsible in their use of power and crazy manifestation. I would consider a crazy-wisdom teacher someone who might use anything, but who is never arbitrary, and never follows their own personal motives. They only use dramatic and shocking manifestations under specific circumstances at exactly the right time. It's like faceting a diamond—if you don't understand the structure of the stone and you just take a chisel and hit it, all you get is diamond dust. You've got to know exactly the structure of the diamond because you've got to tap it along a particular fracture point. If you tap it in the middle of two fracture points, then you just smash the stone instead of getting a perfectly faceted jewel. Human beings are the same way. They've got what we could call revelation lines, so to speak, or enlightenment lines. A crazy-wisdom teacher is a master at faceting. A charlatan is someone who just takes the hammer and chisel and whales away and hopes that there are some beneficial results—or maybe doesn't even care but just loves the euphoria of the exercise of power and people groveling at his or her feet.
…[The fact that Reality cannot be understood with the conceptual mind] is one of the revelations that can deepen a student's relationship to the Divine. So one might do something under a specific circumstance to produce the revelation that reality is nonlinear. But ordinarily, one wouldn't function like that all the time just to prove that point. One would do that only when the student was just on the edge of the real possibility of getting that point, beyond just knowing the party line. Another important consideration is that the kind of behavior that would demonstrate the absurdity of linearity would not tend to be violent behavior or the kind of behavior that would psychologically scar someone.
I think that, so sadly, Andrew became the kind of teacher Lozowick speaks about here, one “who just takes the hammer and chisel and whales away and hopes that there are some beneficial results—or maybe doesn't even care but just loves the euphoria of the exercise of power and people groveling at his or her feet.”
Andrew’s passion, inspiration, insight, and personal example melted my heart, and enabled me to take great risks in my commitment to the spiritual life. My association with him transformed my life in many very positive ways. I carry with me enormous benefits from my time with Andrew, and I do not regret those years. But now, reflecting on his techniques, I have to say that he is an exceptionally ham-handed teacher, willing to inflict great harm in his clumsy and often extreme dharma experiments.
On a personal note, I’m now quite involved with the Zen Center of Denver. I’ve been meditating there and very slowly getting more involved for the past couple of years. I did a sesshin (intensive Zen retreat) last June that was very powerful. I had been afraid to do an intense retreat like that before then because I guess I felt I wasn’t ready, that it would be too painful, that too much stuff around Andrew would come up. And sure enough, for the first half of the sesshin, layer after layer of stuff about my relationship to Andrew, to the spiritual life, to my own aspiration, to pain and cynicism came up. But I just sat with it, let it be, experienced it without clinging or pushing away. And layer by layer, it burned away like fog. I experienced a lot of pain and grief and sadness, but also a lot of gratitude about my whole experience with Andrew. And what was also amazing was that Danan Henry Roshi, the abbot at ZCD was at the same time coming to the end of a long process of coming to terms with his first Zen teacher, the renowned Philip Kapleau Roshi, who had died just before the sesshin. The sesshin was dedicated to Kapleau Roshi, and we listened to recorded dharma talks by Kapleau every morning. Henry broke with Kapleau more than 10 years ago, a few years after Kapleau had sanctioned him as a dharma heir and had sent him to open a Zen center in Denver. Henry had felt there was still something missing in his understanding, and began his Zen training all over again with Robert Aitken Roshi. (Aitken and Kapleau had both trained with the same Japanese Zen masters, but they developed very different teaching styles). Henry’s break with Kapleau was difficult for a few years, but he remained in an essentially friendly and respectful relationship with him. Nonetheless, he had a painful process of coming to terms with breaking with his first dharma father, with some of the painful and confusing aspects of his training with Kapleau, and the difference between Kapleau’s understanding of the dharma and the subtleties of teaching, and his own. Kapleau had a very passionate but also a militaristic style of teaching, and people would be beaten black and blue with the Zen stick during sesshins. Henry came to realize that Kapleau began to teach before his own Zen training was complete. While Kapleau had had a very powerful awakening, there was something incomplete in his understanding of the dharma and of teaching. In Zen, kensho and satori are by no means the end of the road. Henry suggested that he and many others were casualties of this incomplete training on Kapelau’s part. BUT, what was more interesting and helpful was Henry’s example of clear-eyed love, respect, and gratitude for Kapleau, even while knowing of his limitations. (Which it would seem were far less serious than Andrew’s; my point here is not to compare Kapleau with Andrew, but to share Henry’s approach.) Henry had dealt with most of this before Kapleau’s death, but there was still a bit further for him to go in coming to total peace with his dharma father. So, during this sesshin where I was doing the work I needed to do about my relationship with Andrew, Henry was finishing the work he needed to do around Kapleau. In the mornings we listened to Kapleau’s dharma talks, and in the evenings Henry would comment on them and put them in the context of his own teaching and that of Robert Aitken. He really modeled a way of being around this that avoided nothing, and was at the same time incredibly compassionate for both himself and Kapleau, wise, mature, respectful, grateful. So this going on in the sesshin was like a container for me to go through my own process. Interesting, I said very little to Danan Henry Roshi about it in dokusan (formal interviews with the teacher). Things just came up and burned off. Toward the end of the sesshin, Henry said of Kapleau, with enormous emotion, that he loved him and he owed him. And that Kapleau was fully himself, limitations and all, a great lion of the dharma, and could not have been other than he was. And at that moment that was exactly how I felt about Andrew. So, that sesshin was very powerful for me. The last couple of days of the sesshin were different. I went beyond my attachment to and interest in thought and insight, and glimpsed beyond a deep ego-entrenched fear/shame of my “self” being somehow antithetical to the Absolute. I was able to get past, at least briefly, some blocks that had always hung me up in all my practice with Andrew. I can’t say this big opening lasted very long, but I feel the sesshin planted my feet firmly on the path again. I regained the path, and my faith, and my willingness to risk again. And now it wasn’t attached to a particular person, but just to my own aspiration. I’m doing the Zen training here, gradually. It’s sooo different from Andrew’s community. Much more spacious, much more respectful of the individual, definitely not authoritarian. I’m finding my way with having a completely different, non-guru-like relationship with my spiritual guide.
May we all learn how to turn our challenges and travails on the spiritual path, and the path of life in general, into pearls of wisdom and compassion.
Susan Bridle

Originally published February 2, 2005
Original article on What Enlightenment??!, with comments: A Legacy of Scorched Earth

Part 2:

Craig Hamilton's "Explosion"

Reflections of a current student
by Craig Hamilton

Dear Susan,

I’m glad to hear that you had a good sesshin, that you finally feel you have gotten your feet back on the path, and that you have regained your self-confidence. But after reading your diatribe against Andrew above, I have to ask you one question: Do you really believe the picture you laid out? Or perhaps more to the point, did writing all that out so eloquently and forcefully help you to believe it a little more?
Having worked closely with you on the What Is Enlightenment? issue “What Is Ego: Friend or Foe?,” I know you get why I’m asking, but for those who are peering into our little fishbowl here let me lay out a little context.
As Sigmund Freud saw clearly, and as Anna Freud explained in its details, the ego, or self-image, protects itself with an army of defense mechanisms which, in effect, endlessly reshuffle the details of reality in order to keep one’s picture of oneself intact. The “wisdom of the ego” as Harvard psychologist George Vaillant refers to it in his book by the same name, lies in its ingenious ability to distort reality to protect us from uncomfortable, even devastating truths. This is why authentic spiritual paths are so challenging. They attempt to disarm the ego, so we can see clearly, free of its distortions. And as any tradition worth its salt will tell you, except in the rarest of cases, human beings will not give up their defenses without a fight. And most of the time, we won’t give them up at all.
The problem this presents for the authentic spiritual teacher, then, is that it puts him or her in the difficult position of having to, in an often painfully literal sense, start a fight with the student. Granted, it’s a fight that the student has agreed to, perhaps even begged for. But, let’s face it, a fight is a fight. And once it has started, the outcome is never assured. This is probably why many of the great Zen masters would put their would-be disciples through such extreme trials before they would even consider accepting them as students. They wanted to gather some data: how likely is it that they are going to let me win the fight? When push comes to shove, as it inevitably will, are they going to side with the aspiration that brought them to me? Or are they going to side with the part of them that wants absolutely nothing to do with me and the freedom from delusion I represent? And as history tells us, no matter how much data they gathered, still there was no way to be sure.
Now, here we are in the postmodern world. A world in which, as Ken Wilber points out in Boomeritis, and Christopher Lasch makes clear in A Culture of Narcissism, the personal, egoic, narcissistic self-sense has become something of a god without peers. Let’s admit it together. We postmoderns answer to no one but ourselves. And if we have a God, it is a God (or Buddha) we have constructed to perfectly suit our spiritual self-image. A God that serves us well. Certainly not a God who challenges us. So, what happens when an authentic spiritual teacher—a teacher interested only in the real liberation of his or her disciples—walks into the middle of this narcissistic, postmodern world and gets to work? Any guesses?
Well, for starters, he ends up with a blog like this one and a couple of books written by angry former students who, surprise, surprise, got their egos bruised one too many times and decided to retreat to sunnier climes. But the problem is, once they got there, they realized they were still in the fight—only this time the fight was between two parts of themselves—the part of them that had been awakened by the teacher and the part that ran away. Of course, now the part of them that ran away is fully in control, but for all of its internal efforts, it can’t get that other part to shut up. Imagine the predicament. How to respond? You guessed it. Attack the one who started the fight in the first place in the desperate hope that tearing him down will stop the fight. It is truly a horrendous, and perhaps uniquely postmodern, predicament.
So, to return to my question at the beginning, the reason I’m asking Susan if she really believes what she said is that she and I both know that behind all of her confidence and feigned sincerity, she isn’t really quite as sure about this picture as she is making out to be. Although no doubt, she feels a bit emboldened, and at least temporarily more certain, for having said it so well and so publicly. This was, like most of the entries on this blog, an attempt to stop the internal fight, to untangle what she referred to as the “miles of black and white yarn entwined in a big ball at the pit of my stomach.”

But, of course, this isn’t really mainly about Susan. What I’m trying to shed light on here are the three areas that people reading this blog understandably tend to find confusing:

1) Why are some people so angry at Andrew Cohen when he seems to be such a powerful and inspiring teacher so wholeheartedly and selflessly committed to humanity’s highest ideals?

2) Why are people still angry enough to fight this fight so intensely even many years after they’ve left? Why haven’t they moved on?

3) Why are the sentiments so strong when there is no actual scandal to speak of?

I think that so far, I’ve pretty well covered the first two. But in light of how many truly self-serving, corrupt gurus have generated far less animosity, this third question is particularly intriguing. Take note: Andrew, for all of the respect he has garnered among today’s most prominent thought leaders and visionaries, does not have a particularly large following. And in contrast to many of the past few decades’ more prominent spiritual leaders, he has not been accused of any financial or sexual improprieties—nothing at all that would constitute any sort of scandal. And yet, he has already had two books (and one blog) written about him attempting to assassinate his character. Think about it. For all of their dramatic impact, somehow the cries of “he told me to jump in a cold lake,” or “he had my friend draw a cartoon caricature of me and post it on my office wall,” or “he threw me out until I was ready to be serious,” or even, “he had my best friend slap me in the face when I was being a jerk,” or even, “he told me to sleep with three prostitutes a day to try to get me to stop sleeping with prostitutes instead of my wife!” (which only happened once, just for the record) just aren’t the stuff of scandal. Even if they might offend our more conservative sensibilities.
Now, to return to your post, Susan, there are a few specifics I can’t help but respond to. First, I don’t know where you’re getting your data, but your characterization of what is happening around Andrew now is so far off the mark that I would suggest, in any future diatribes, you stick to the usual fare on this blog—rehashing the past. As for the “core group”, whatever that was (some special elite you saw yourself as part of?), it has not only gotten bigger and stronger, but more importantly, it has expanded to include everyone. Far from being the “monument to what might have been” you describe, Andrew’s global community is exploding—exploding with passion, exploding with creativity, and most remarkably, exploding with individual and collective liberation. The revolution in consciousness that Andrew and all of us have worked so hard to bring into being is now bursting out of every corner. It’s bursting out of the magazine (remember the magazine?), it’s bursting out of our new international speaker’s series, it’s bursting out of our new broadcast media website, it’s bursting out of the new documentary film we shot last summer at the Parliament of World’s Religions (incidentally, did you know Andrew spoke at the Parliament, and I hosted a panel on the Future of Religion?), and most importantly, it’s bursting out of every aspect of our collective life together, our meetings, our meditations, our Enlightened Communication groups. It’s by no means a finished product, and hopefully never will be, but some kind of critical mass has happened that is creating a momentum of awakening in the collective that anyone who visits here can feel in their cells. You wouldn’t believe what it’s like at Foxhollow now. Hardly a week goes by that some spiritual or cultural luminary doesn’t drop in for a visit to see what the buzz is all about. And the same could be said for our beautiful new five-storey evolutionary megacenter in London. And, of course to a lesser degree, our smaller but no less thriving centers in New York, Boston, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Paris, and Rishikesh.
Second, your characterization of Andrew as an ivory tower guru who thinks his is the only game in town has to be one of the most absurd distortions I’ve ever heard. I think any of us would be hard pressed to name one other spiritual teacher alive today who has made more effort to personally connect and maintain relationships with as many other teachers as Andrew has. Not to mention his efforts to actually promote the work of other teachers through his magazine, our speaker’s series, our broadcast media website, etc. This was really a low blow.
Third, your (and this blog’s) characterization of Andrew as someone who rejects and vilifies former students is another cheap shot. No doubt, splitting from such a close and involved relationship can evoke all kinds of feelings on both sides. But particularly in light of the fact that it was Andrew and I who reached out to you last year, simply to see how you were doing and try to reconnect, this emphasis in your letter was frankly painful. There are many former students who have maintained good connections with Andrew and the community, and we are always delighted to see anyone who drops in for a visit.
Finally, I have to point out the irony of your using the Lee Lozowick quote to try to build your case against Andrew, given that he’s one of the many people who knew you before you met Andrew who couldn’t believe how much you’d changed as a result of your time with Andrew. I hope some of that change has managed to stick, and that in your next sesshin, you come a bit closer to the truth that might really set you free.

Craig Hamilton
Managing Editor
What Is Enlightenment?

Originally published February 4, 2005
Original comment on WHAT Enlightenment??!: Craig's Explosion

Three Responses

Part 1: "My Turning Point" by Richard Pitt
Part 2: "An Angry Brainwashed Person" by anonymous
Part 3: "Hello Anti-Cohen Bloggers" by Carter Phipps

Part 1
My Turning Point by Richard Pitt
Craig Hamilton’s response to Hal Blacker’s letter showed exactly the tactics consistent with life in Andrew Cohen’s community. A nasty attempt at character assassination under the guise of spiritual superiority. The language also reminded me of another cultic dynamic in our present time – the current US administration – with it’s rhetoric of freedom against the tyranny of evil doers, an administration that Andrew Cohen has vocally supported, for heaven’s sake!

To reduce all the points that Hal Blacker, Susan Bridle and others have brought up to be the clamor of cynicism reveals an arrogance and delusion that is a hallmark of Andrew Cohen’s community. When I left the community after 8 years, the turning point happened when I realized that there was no room for anybody to leave the community with Andrew’s blessing. There was no respect given to those who left and I realized that Andrew simply didn’t care. Initially that made me very sad, and then angry, and then I realized how bitter and deluded a teacher he must be when he can’t let people leave and wish them well and hope that each of them finds what they’re looking for in life. As far as he’s concerned, if you’ve gone, you’ve betrayed him and you’re going to rot in the hell of your own ego. I wrote to him saying that each person has to find their own way, that ultimately no other person can do that for another and we all have to walk our own path. Any teacher worth their salt would know this, but Andrew has been caught up in an expectation of betrayal from everybody he meets, his mother and teacher included, and so this is the prism of his own reality. Those that knew him and then left after many years just confirmed this expectation.

Craig Hamilton and Andrew’s community cannot reduce those behind this blog to being disaffected cowards, hyenas yapping at the ankles of Truth. That is too easy. One of the great things that happened in the community was the level of sincerity of those involved. That sincerity doesn’t leave when a person departs the community, contrary to the rationales given by Andrew to justify why people would leave him. Life is more subtle than Andrew Cohen would have us think. This is the trouble when someone attempts to live his life in such simplistic absolutes; everything and everybody who is not sitting in adoration of him is the enemy, a spiritual “axis of evil” to be battled with.

How many times in human history has this happened when one group of people think they have some kind of unique angle on Truth, and where those that disagree with them are viewed with suspicion, hatred and worse. This is what cults have always been about and whilst I joke that, yes, I was in a cult but it wasn’t as bad as many other cults, none the less it is still a cult and one day Craig may realize this. However, that will happen only after he leaves. Whilst in it, he will never be able to see what is really going on and can only resort to thinking that the very many people who committed many years to living in Andrew’s community and then left are nothing more than lost souls, unresolved individuals, whilst he, Andrew and others bask in the light of wisdom and truth. How noble of you Craig! However, it really is quite good out here with the rest of humanity - not perfect, but maybe perfection isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, including our spiritual authorities.

Part 2
An Angry Brainwashed Person by anonymous

Craig--Your words sound like those of an angry brainwashed person to me. I have nothing to do with Andrew's community and never have, but I know the sound of someone who is brainwashed when I hear it.

The first thing of course, is to attack the character of someone who is speaking the truth. We all have character flaws. It's just a cheap shot to do that.

One other interesting thing is that you point to Ma Jaya Sati Bhagavati, as endorsing Andrew. That woman is the biggest fraud going! Joya, or Joyce Green, (which is her real name), is a total scam artist. A scam artist endorsing a scam artist! Great!

Good luck to you Craig. May you find the help and support and friends that you need when you finally find your way out of the mental torture chamber you have put yourself in.
- by anonymous

Part 3
Hello Anti-Cohen Bloggers by Carter Phipps

Dear Bloggers,

Hello all anti-Cohen bloggers. Long time no see for many of you ex-students, and for the rest I hope I can help insert a little extra context into the discussion. But first in defense of my friend Craig Hamilton, I have to say that there is something downright bizarre about Andrew being criticized on a blog for months and months, and then Craig comes up here and says a few words in Andrew’s defense, and lo and behold he is suddenly accused of squelching all dissent. :) Is that Orwellian or just a catch-22?

The bottom line from my point of view is that things are better than ever right now around Andrew. The community is more sincere (thanks for the compliments there Richard), more authentic, more full of life, love and excitement about what’s possible than ever before. There is a deeper understanding of and appreciation for Andrew’s teaching and greater awareness of their power for personal transformation and their potential to release our own desire and capacity to contribute to a greater cultural transformation. What Is Enlightenment? magazine continues to inspire us to reach further and explore what could be and should be the spiritual and philosophical context for life in a new millennium. We’re finding common cause with all kinds of committed, interested people in this world who really care very deeply about the state of our fragile planet and about changing things. We’re discovering more and more individuals who are waking up to the thrill and excitement of an evolutionary vision of enlightenment, more and more people out there on this ever smaller globe who are beginning to appreciate and truly cognize the powerful developmental context of our cosmological and biological heritage, and are interested in how we human beings can play a constructive role in life’s further evolution. And in the community itself, there is the joyful recognition of a new consciousness rising between us, a deepening understanding of Andrew’s vision of evolutionary enlightenment that has been forged by years of hard work, consistent commitment and more than a little soul-searching and spiritual reckoning. The living fruits of that labor are sweet indeed, quietly exploding among students around the world, impacting our lives in ways we never could have foreseen, and having unexpected and profound affects on all of our activities.

Whatever up and downs that the community has been through over the 18 years of it’s own evolution, whatever challenges it has faced, whatever individuals have come and gone—some for wholesome reasons and some not—the most important thing in my mind is the future. And let me tell you, the future is so bright, and as much as it drags anyone down to have to endure personal, context-less, unjustified and sometimes even vicious attacks from former friends about the life that I and so many treasure and love, the fact remains that the future is what we’re interested in. That’s truly what concerns us. That what gets me out of bed in the morning, that’s what lights up my life and makes me thrilled to have a place where I can contribute in my own very small way to serving the much needed awakening—spiritually, socially, culturally, politically—of this world that is so much in need. What could be better? What could be more deeply satisfying and fulfilling? What could be more important? Andrew is my teacher, friend, guru. He has provided a context and teaching in which such a life is possible and I am deeply grateful to him for it. It’s a life that hasn’t always been easy, but it’s always been more than worth it for so many reasons. So anyone who reads this blog, anyone who reads the words of these few disgruntled former students of Andrew’s teaching and community, they should also know there is another side to the story that you’ll never hear on this board. It’s a great story with many dimensions to it, and over time, I look forward to writing more and more about all of those dimensions. And it’s a story that is continuing to challenge, inspire and uplift those who have the fortune of helping write it in real time. In short, from where I’m standing, we may have a few arrows in our shields, but man oh man, the vistas of what lie ahead are fantastic.

Carter Phipps
Senior Editor, What Is Enlightenment? magazine

P.S. Richard, just for the record, Andrew, like myself, does not like our current administration or its policies. Whatever you heard must have been taken out of context.

Letter From A Senior Student

I am one of the many longtime students of Andrew Cohen who you don’t see around or hear about anymore. My name is Anastasi (or “Stas”). Those of you who’ve been (or are) in Andrew Cohen’s community have known me as “Ernest”. But for those readers who don’t know me, I was a student of Andrew for fifteen years before I left (read: ran away) in May of 2003. In later years, I was one of his ”senior” students leading centers for him in Tel Aviv, Stockholm and London, as well as being in a leadership role while we were all in California, then later in Massachusetts. I was also his so-called ‘close friend’, and even played music with him in his band.

Some posts on this blog suggest that things are “better than ever” in Andrew’s community. They always are aren’t they?…always evolving, changing, expanding, ”transcending and including.” Who would want to deny that? Yet, simultaneously there seems to be a kind of selective and collective exclusion of a shadowy side of things, of the past, which if constantly denied or minimized, in due course rears it’s ugly and angry head. Lke a “crazy” family member who, unable to openly voice perceived hypocrisy and emotional pain in the family becomes an uncomfortable embarrassment. How about some of those “disgruntled” and “whining” voices that just won’t shut up and go away, and let us be our squeaky clean, fantastic, ever-evolving, better-than-ever enlightened selves?

Like Hal Blacker and others, I feel strongly that it’s time that a fuller picture of Andrew Cohen, the teacher, be revealed and spoken about, a picture that includes some of the pitfalls and even dysfunctionality that are often encountered by his closer students. In saying this, I am not meaning to imply that Andrew isn’t a profoundly awakened individual, and a passionate and inspiring teacher with much to offer students and, for that matter, the larger “spiritual” world. Over my years with him, I’ve had such appreciation and unbelievable love for him, as he was one of the catalysts for my own awakening process —otherwise, why would I have gotten so close to him as a student and stayed for so long? For years, I considered him to be my spiritual “father.” But it took me quite some time to realize that ”daddy” has some fundamental issues of his own. Side by side with all of his gifts is an unquestioned narcissism, that, unacknowledged and unchecked by anyone, has led him to make some pretty serious mistakes with students. Because Andrew has a supporting cast of people around him (like me) who daily reaffirm his self-image as a “living Buddha”, or Perfected One, his personality traits, wounds and proclivities have somehow been “absolutized,” and viewed as an expression of the goal of perfection, or perfect response. We are all imperfect beings on a human level –Andrew, as well —yet there is a lot to protect if you’ve already closed the book on questioning your own motivations just because you’re “enlightened” (whatever that means), and infinitely more so if you’re a teacher with no lineage or tradition to answer to. I communicated this point directly to Andrew in a letter 5 months after parting company with him. This is an excerpt from that letter:

“…Andrew, one problem I have is that you answer to no one. Even the holiest of the Orthodox Christian fathers and saints had elders and ‘brothers’ before whom they humbled themselves and sought spiritual guidance and correction if needed. You humble yourself before no one, and have no peers -- not really. Anytime you’ve seemingly “questioned yourself” before your closer students (the usual lip service is: ’Am I doing something wrong?’) of course no one dares suggest that you might be on a wrong course of action or that you’re reacting out of outrage or indignation rather than making an objectively appropriate call in the face of the transgressions of a student. At such times you frequently alienate people from you, and so from their conscience, and their own heart, further activating their ego rage. Please understand that I anticipate your usual response along the lines of how much you always have acted only out of care for the freedom/evolution of myself or whoever it happens to be. I don’t doubt this. However, my point is not to question your good-hearted intentions or motive, but to question your judgment, as borne out numerous times with respect to others and to myself…

…On the matter of humility, something has stayed with me – a little thing – but it’s just that you never gave any weight whatsoever to the reflection, given in semi-jest from your so-called ’brother and peer,’ Ken Wilber, when he suggested that you have some uninspected ’boomeritis’ of your own. You didn’t seem the slightest bit curious if there was maybe something to it. You just chuckled that one off. Perhaps your narcissism is on a messianic level -- but whatever the case, its effect is real, and has left the bodies and souls of some of your closest students strewn needlessly all over the world…”

Now, I guess I run the risk here (like Hal Blacker and Susan Bridle) of having my weaknesses and flaws thrown up at me because I am daring to raise questions about the guru. Craig Hamilton's letter really felt like a personal ”slap” from Andrew to potential student-critics to get back in their place, spiritual peons that they are. He went right for the jugular with Susan, questioning where her confidence is coming from. Yet, I wonder how much sustained confidence Andrew would have in his position if he weren’t constantly supported and reaffirmed by everyone around him. This is not to let myself off the hook here. I never had the guts to break the “code of silence”, as Hal puts it, while I was his student. As one example -- I didn’t question or hesitate to carry out Andrew’s numerous orders for me to slap people for him, although it strongly went against my nature to do so. And I have also been on the receiving end of a number of these “messages” from him. (Contrary to what was implied in one of Craig’s posts, “slapping” and other forms of physical abuse were frequently used against many students over the years. Andrew explicitly ordered or directly committed these assaults himself.) So it’s pretty clear what a “wimp”-- one of Andrew’s favorite words -- I am.

My story isn’t really unique, yet often people inside the community don’t really know what goes down when a close longtime student or a leader leaves. They usually hear some variation of the vague party line that he or she “refused to live the teachings”, a two-dimensional picture with zero compassion or empathy, except to say how much Andrew has suffered because of this person. Then every effort is made to erase this ”mess” from all the ”new and amazing evolutionary things that are happening now.” Yet somewhere people must harbor feelings of uncertainty of how they will fare if they ever get close enough to their guru, Andrew, and hit that invisible and unchallengeable wall around his ”perfect responses.” I know I did.

I hit that wall for the last time almost two years ago in May of 2003. That’s when, feeling beaten down under the psychological and sometimes physical pressure to conform to what Andrew wanted from me, and unable to deal with or raise my own doubts about the situation, I packed my car without telling anyone, and drove away from Foxhollow, the headquarters of the Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship in Lenox, Massachusetts, and headed south for New York City. Not a very dignified exit, I know, but sneaking away like this was really the only effective way one could leave after years of close association with Andrew Cohen. This is because close students have seen the extreme lengths to which he’ll go to prevent his longtime people from even thinking about leaving…and now he was hot on my trail trying to track me down to get me to return. He had other students calling my family members trying to reach me. In the first month, I communicated with him via email, and knew that he was extremely upset that I had left. He had told me that my departure was making him look bad: what was he supposed to say to everyone who looked to me as his representative and close student?

In these first few months, I was an emotional wreck, feeling guilty, confused, alone, financially broke, trying to reckon with the fact that my guru was writing to me calling me a “coward,” but still knowing somewhere I didn’t want to go back – I knew it was over. Yet, perhaps sensing some unsureness, Andrew was now frantically pulling out all the stops. He even wrote me a bizarre email from his dog, pleading for me to “come home” (sounds weird, but I’m not kidding). I asked him to please not involve my family in this; that I needed some time on my own away from his constant badgering to return. Still, he persisted having people call my parents, my ex-wife, and my daughter. I knew I had to make a clear break, and so I wrote him the letter (excerpted above), which I’ve decided not to post in full. (In this letter, I describe a situation with some of the children in the community that I felt Andrew severely and completely mishandled. I’ve left this out because I want to write more fully at a later time about Andrew’s dysfunctional relationship through the years to the children in the community. This issue deserves special attention.)

A year later, after much soul searching and trying to understand more clearly everything I went through with Andrew – the awakening, the help, and the horror show – I wrote the following letter. In it I particularly address the extremely unethical way he extracts sizable monetary ”donations” from close students at times when they are struggling and under extreme emotional stress. I also tried to get him to do the right thing, and return the money he got from me under precisely such conditions. I received no response from Andrew to this letter, except indirectly, as reproduced below it.

Stas M.
October 7, 2004
Dear Andrew,

I wanted to let you know that in the months since my departure from you and IEF back in June of 2003, I’ve been trying to understand more clearly, the multi-dimensional, mixed bag of my fifteen-year relationship with you as my mentor and teacher. And, I’ve realized with unsettling clarity the staggering degree of emotional manipulation and abuse that I and so many others “close” to you have been unhappy recipients of. It’s been quite unnerving, but freeing, to finally recognize that despite your claims to the contrary, there is a strong subtext of narcissism that is deeply woven into your particular brand of guru-disciple relationship, which often seems to compel you to make inappropriate demands from your closer students. In this letter I want to elaborate in factual detail on this point, which continues to have an adverse affect on so many of your students, past and present. And, above all, I personally want to redress the unethical means that you used to get me to donate all the money that I did to you. The money I handed over to you was not in any way freely given, but was given as a result of intense emotional and psychological blackmail. And, I am writing to tell you that I would like it back now.

Andrew, for me, our relationship began with the ecstatic realization of my deepest Self and heart in meeting you, spending time and, in gratitude, working closely together for noble and lofty aims. During and after the blush of my awakening to a deep, transcendent Love, I felt very close to you in a fatherly way (even though I was older than you), and took you to be my guru, as you seemed to be the catalyst for my profound awakening. But, in time, I gradually found myself being beholden to you personally above anything or anyone else, including family, friends and even my physical, psychological and financial well-being, which I dared not question for fear of threatening my relationship to the self-proclaimed ‘Source’ of that love – you. In fact, what I have realized is that you treat all your closest students (male and female alike) as in a co-dependant romantic relationship with you – with all the hooks and emotional stickiness one finds in such a relationship. Guilt, betrayal, feelings of specialness, self-unworthiness, etc. all abound, as we hopelessly try with all our hearts to please you. Remember, I was there when you pulled Mary and Debbie back into this relationship with you after kicking them out months earlier, calling them “fucking bitches” and other demeaning epithets. I watched you court and manipulate them, trying to get them back in your fold with your most seductive “you’re mine” heart appeals. I sat with you in your car as you played Body and Soul, a song of romantic longing to Mary over the phone, relishing it as she started sobbing. After I had run away from Foxhollow to escape the overwhelming pressure, and regain, some sense of sanity, I got your warm, fuzzy and bizarrely repulsive letter to me from your puppy, Kensho, pleading to me to “come home”. I ask, what’s spiritual about all this? Is this “impersonal” Love? It’s sickness.

It strikes me that whenever one of your close students, God forbid, wants to or does part company with you, you always seem to hysterically re-enact your break-up with the first real love of your life, Donnatella. That’s exactly how we all feel on the other end. Is this supposed to show us what a real relationship to an enlightened master is all about? Relating your Donnatella story in one of your videos, in true narcissistic form, you’ve actually made the part where she “destroys the best thing that ever happened to her” – i.e., her relationship to you – a definition of what ego is. Wow! Maybe, she just didn’t want to be your girlfriend anymore, Andrew. Maybe she wanted to move on. I know it’s a hard one to swallow.

I, in fact, came to you for spiritual liberation, yet the added gift of a friendship with my teacher was something I was grateful for and cherished deeply. Still, I never really wanted to be in a position of making a binding commitment for life to you personally or to your organization. Through the years, I was constantly at odds in myself with my contradictory feelings of loyalty to you and to my own autonomy. And, instead of being given the freedom to choose, reassess and possibly change relationship to you or to my practical involvement with IEF over time, I was always made to feel that I was never giving enough in an ever-escalating level of commitment -- either as a community leader on your behalf or as a manager in the Audio Visual department. And when I didn’t meet these expectations, I was made to feel guilty for betraying you personally, for having no sense of obligation to you in return for everything you’ve given me. Yet, my real fault was my inability to be honest with you about all of this, to attempt to break the spell of this binding, ‘love’ relationship with you.

At your request, and out of loyalty to you, I led your communities fulltime for years, running your centers in Israel, Sweden and the UK. As a matter of record, although my rent was covered, I was never paid a cent. I did this out of love and dedication to you, and at great personal sacrifice, including the compromise of my relationship with my daughter, who, due to your demands, I could only manage to see for short visits once or twice a year for nearly four years. All this was during critical years of her development while she was growing up. Both she and I can never regain what we lost due to my total immersion in my work for you during those years. But this wasn't enough for you. On top of that, you insisted that I run the AV department long distance from Stockholm, then London by phone, a ridiculous idea that could never work. Anyway, since, as always, there was no disagreeing with you about this (or anything), when it didn't work, I was chastised by you for my ‘disobedience’, and made to feel like I had betrayed you.

When the same situation recurred while I was in London, you became outraged, and sent me packing to Sydney, Australia for a couple of weeks at my expense to be brow-beaten and counseled daily by Mary and Debbie, who were there for similar reasons, for the “betrayal of my master”. When I was sufficiently repentant, I was allowed to come to Lenox, stay in a motel room, again at my expense, until I proved to Bob, through endless meetings with him in my room that I was really “with you”, and ready to surrender to what you felt was best for me, which was to begin to make up for my defiant ways and “take on” the AV department.

You then allowed me to come to Foxhollow to do a half-time retreat in the morning, while burning my ‘bad karma’ by working the rest of the time in AV. Initially, you offered to loan me money to live on while I worked in AV, although you never actually made good on this offer. And, at no time was there ever the thought of paying me anything for my production work for IEF, which I felt resentful about. But, I never dared say anything, as it was considered a privilege to be able to work for you for nothing. After all, you already had “given me everything”, so I owed you everything. And so, the following downward spiral would occur on more than one occasion: (1) First, was your unreasonable demand on my time and dwindling resources, followed by (2) my unexpressed resentment, and ultimate “failure to produce”, leading to (3) your overly intense expression of outrage toward me for the personal betrayal of you, for which I was put under enormous pressure by you and my fellow students to feel remorse about, while making some gesture of contrition to you. As you well know, this psychological pressure and manipulation from you and others would even extend to being physically slapped in the face repeatedly, and verbally insulted and humiliated (often by women) until I could be “trusted” to turn over a new leaf. But at no time was I able to question you or your methods because I knew that at anytime if I didn’t comply, I could be out on my ear, ostracized and even shunned by all my friends of 15 years. (And you made it clear to me and others on numerous occasions that if I would decide to leave and make a go of it on my own, that would be equivalent to “spiritual suicide” (your words) and exile to the lowest realms of hell.) I have seen this sort of banishment happen to many others, and knew the anger and even hatred you harbored for those older students who left the community and/or according to you, didn't give you all their time, attention, respect, obedience and at times even their money.

Under the psychological intensity and despair of one of these early cycles with you, I was struggling to prove to you that I cared enough, and so took the course that had by then become the prescribed means of getting out of hot water with you, showing remorse and proving how much one cared – offering you money.

In desperation I wrote you a check for $3,000, I think it was. I remember distinctly when you received my offer, you stormed into my room, angrily throwing the check to the floor and shouting at me dramatically, “Do you think you can buy me off for a lousy three grand?” I was flabbergasted. Could it be that there was an amount that I was expected to give that would show the necessary amount of intention and resolve to change? The right amount of care for you? I had remembered a time when buying you flowers was a symbol for this; but times had changed, and now the currency of forgiveness and intention apparently was cash.

As you well know, I was around to watch as many others who “bottomed out”, and wanting to prove their sincerity felt pressured by you to buy their way back into your good graces. In fact, any longtime student in the community knew that sooner or later a “donation” would be required as the only way to resolve matters if they ever got into real trouble with you. Extracting “donations” from your students generally took place at a time when they felt victimized, emotionally overwrought, guilty, and trying to gain back your love, trust and affection. You actually even said to me and a few others at one time that when a ‘committed’ or a ‘senior’ student “blows it”, it’ll cost them $20,000 in karmic retribution. And all this, of course, normally happened without the slightest regard on your part for the student’s actual financial situation. As appallingly manipulative and abusive as I now see your attitude to be, I know that this was still the accepted way that things operated around you up until the time I left.

So, despite grave reservations about being able to do what your “rules” dictated in this situation, I dug deep, cleared out my bank account, borrowing the rest, and offered you what I thought would surely show my heart was in the right place – a check for $20,000. It was accepted and deposited by you. (This was followed by another pledge of $10,000. made to you a bit later when I was in London after having failed once again to meet all that you were demanding of me. I paid you $500. toward this at that time.)

I now find it all quite twisted and sickening. The benefit of leaving has afforded me the clarity I never had while in your world, and under the constant duress of enforced compliance to your wishes (being told this was for my liberation). So, now I am making a different and sane choice on my own behalf:

Without further elaboration of past events, I simply and directly ask you to return my money to me now in full -- $20,500. -- without conditions. This money can by no stretch of the imagination be considered a good faith donation to a nonprofit group, having been extracted from me under some of the most intense and extreme psychological stress imaginable.


Ernest Mavrides
Nearly a month later, this is the email response I received from Andrew’s assistant:

From: "Cathy Snow"
Date: Sun, 7 Nov 2004 19:41:03 -0500
To: "Ernest Mavrides"
Subject: from Cathy Snow

Dear Ernest,

We have reviewed your request and have decided to decline it. We wish you all the best.

Thank you,

Cathy Snow

Originally published February 7, 2005
Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Letter From A Senior Student

Two Commentaries: Fall From Grace & Shared Inquiry

Part 1
Andrew Cohen's Fall From Grace
by anonymous

To Everyone Who Reads This Blog:

It is sad to hear Craig Hamilton—a strong practitioner, fine writer and reporter—sounding like nothing more than a childish mouthpiece for Andrew Cohen. I find Susan Bridle and Hal Blacker’s letters to be simple, straightforward and heartfelt. My instincts tell me that they speak the truth in the service of greater clarity, while there is a noticeable insincerity and a cloud of confusion that hovers over the convoluted denials of Craig’s letters to this blog.

I was glad to see that someone else also noticed the glaring fact that Lee Lozowick’s endorsement of Andrew Cohen was written almost ten years ago. Craig, why are you using ancient history to defend Andrew? Do you notice the disparity between your statement that Susan Bridle is “living in the past” because she cites abusive events that occurred in her relationship with Andrew Cohen and his students and your use of an endorsement written by Lee Lozowick almost ten years ago to justify your position regarding Mr. Cohen’s innocence with regard to these accusations? When we don’t see ourselves clearly, we are blind to the deeper motivations that permeate our actions and speech, and while others can see our hypocrisy, we go about blithely justifying and rationalizing our position.

However, the most important point is that, in the most practical sense, people change over time, and not necessarily for the better. The shadow has a way of making its presence known—revealing itself—especially to those on the spiritual path. There is much that can be said about how the shadow gets activated and brought to the surface on any genuine path, and undoubtedly Mr. Cohen originally had “the goods”—that is, the potency and authenticity of realization—to create a genuine transformational vehicle for his students. However, in such a process the teacher is also transformed, further clarified into deeper dimensions of realization. Not only is this process of transformation on the genuine path reciprocal between student and teacher, but between the teacher and the raw forces of the Divine which are called into play. It is an undeniable shake down in which everything is stirred up, brought to the blinding arc lamp of truth, scrutinized and subjected to processes of dissolution and purification through fire.

Again, the teacher himself or herself is not immune to this process because they have “gone beyond” in some way but goes through it with the students, disciples, devotees. In describing the psychological development through the three yanas or vehicles, hinayana, mahayana and vajrayana, we find this comment in Mudra, by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche: “It should be clear to all who read [the description] that a competent guide is needed since the tendency towards self-deception becomes increasingly dangerous as one progresses on the path.” (page 67.)

This wisdom should be taken to heart as it applies to everyone, for the path is never-ending, and it is said by some that “enlightenment,” that indefinable mystery, is only the beginning of it. It is spiritual pride and spiritual immaturity that says, “I am the teacher; I am infallible, complete, done, finished … enlightened like no one before me,” or, “I have been practicing for thirty years, therefore I don’t need to meditate anymore, and because of my attainment, vision and seniority, I can cut corners on integrity here, here and here…”

When the teacher or student succumbs to spiritual pride and the pull of personal megalomania, it is usually because they do not have the help of a “competent guide,” a true spiritual authority who is has gone farther on the path than him or herself. Andrew Cohen rejected his own master, Poonjaji, the source of transmission in his own case, because of “spiritual crimes” far, far less damning than those currently being levied against Mr. Cohen.

Every authentic tradition world-wide states clearly—and this is especially true once one enters the domain of tantra, or the vajrayana path, where the dangers that are inherent in such accelerated transformation are very great—that one must have a guide. An essential flaw in Mr. Cohen’s work at this point in time lies in the fact that he has the hubris to believe that he can go it alone, without surrender, gratitude and obeisance to his master, Poonjaji. He is flaunting his personal sense of power in the face of the cosmic law that governs us all.

The processes of spiritual purification and dissolution always yield up the truth of the matter: the darkness or knot of illusion or deeply buried psychosis that too often lurks beneath the veneer of intellectual brilliance and a charismatic, overweening character formation. The tendency toward fascism and paranoia in such a strong, super-sized personality is a fearsome thing to witness. Andrew Cohen’s fall from grace as an individual of great insight and possibility—whose personal ambitions have blinded him to the autonomous workings of his own shadow—is a powerful teaching to everyone on the path. He has become the very thing that he has lashed out against for so many years: teachers who lack integrity.

But again, there is a tremendous value in seeing ourselves in the mirror as well. Andrew Cohen strikes me as someone who started out as a teacher with something very real to offer, but whose delusions have grown greater than his realizations. Does he really think he is beyond being taught a hard lesson by the Universe? Does he think he is beyond the fundamental nondual truth that one’s environment—people, events, circumstances—is one’s very self, and what it reflects to us should be used as a message from a universal Source? No teacher, guru, avatar or saint is greater than God, that is, the inexorable universal processes, laws and Intelligence that governs us all. It is said that there is a great deal of negative karma accrued by teachers who lose their way in leading others; it is also true that it is never too late to change our ways.

Originally published February 15, 2005
Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Fall From Grace

Part 2
In The Hope Of A Shared Inquiry Toward Deeper Truth
by anonymous

Although I have never been involved in Andrew Cohen's community, I have read with interest the dialogue currently appearing on this blog. The considerations raised are essential and challenging issues for anyone attempting to follow a spiritual path. What is the optimal relationship between student and teacher? How do we confront and penetrate the egoic resistance to obedience and surrender, while maintaining the very inner authority and responsibility that enable us to become truly useful, vibrant servants of the divine rather than thoughtless automatons? Without a guide in unknown territory, we almost inevitably become lost--so a teacher is necessary to real spiritual progress; yet in an age of epidemic distortion of ancient teachings, how do we discriminate between the false and the real, in professed teachers as well as in ourselves?

What I find particularly striking in reading the current dialogue, is the contrast it provides between examples of real self-observation with heartfelt inquiry, and examples of projection, diatribe, and attack. Unfortunately for those who are defending Andrew Cohen, it is the students who have left this teacher who provide examples of the penetrating practice of self-observation, which involves taking full responsibility for one's actions. Susan, Hal, and other former students engage in a respectful inquiry into the complexity of the human being, their teacher, and their own actions. Those who intend to defend Andrew ironically demonstrate precisely the weaknesses of which he and his community are accused. Craig's letters in particular are replete with simplistic, crude, and manipulative attacks and blame. They evidence emotional manipulation with a strong element of cruelty; disrespect and psychological invasiveness; personal attack and vindictiveness; refusal of responsibility; and cloying defensiveness of the teacher. From Craig's letters even more than from the measured considerations from former students, the relation to Andrew appears as that of abused child to adored yet abusive father, with both child and parent desperate to maintain the illusion of the parent's perfection, even godliness, that will make all the hurt alright.

Over many years as a spiritual practitioner, I have found that one of the ways to evaluate the effectiveness and integrity of a spiritual teacher is to observe his or her students. The students, however imperfectly they emulate their teacher, nevertheless reliably express the principles at the source of their school. A spiritual school in which the teacher lives as a servant of the divine, will produce students who also express this essential humility and selflessness. (Again, this expression is (in my view) inevitably imperfect, because this is the human condition, and both student and teacher have willingly made the sacrifice to enter this condition. I have come to think that the expectation and demand for perfection, in teacher or students, is one of the biggest doorways into self-deceit and hypocrisy. Human beings rarely if ever live up to this demand, and it is more healthy to see the flawed yet committed human being in all his or her faults and glories.) A teacher who, despite his inspiring rhetoric, actually lives from a basis of self-centeredness, manipulativeness, and competition for power, will eventually animate a community of students who express these same negations of true spiritual principles.

Susan, Hal, and Stas speak with heartbreak, respect, and even gratitude, toward their former teacher. At the same time they express with clarity the weaknesses, the fault lines, they discovered in Andrew and his community. Their heartfelt wish for the good of their former teacher and his students is palpable even in the midst of an anger that could be called righteously indignant.

The defenses of Andrew, on the other hand, are permeated with "cheap shots," while accusing others of such vulgarity. Craig attacks, belittles, and attempts to degrade those who have shared their observations of Andrew. His childishness is truly pitiful. To ask condescendingly of a former editor of the magazine, "Remember the magazine?" does not degrade the editor, as was the obvious intention, but it portrays Craig himself as totally out of relationship and even disconnected from reality. In what isolated, walled, impenetrable castle can he be living? The attempt to manipulate others by feeding self-doubt and to twist their emotions by auguring low self-esteem--this is an ugly tactic which corrupts and poisons his letters. It is not a savory invitation to his teacher and his community, for any outsider reading his communications. To dishonor others is not an effective way to honor his teacher.

I heard Andrew speak a number of times in the early years of his teaching. I was impressed by the pristine brilliance of his communication of the dharma, and I found his students at that time to be inspiring and challenging practitioners, deeply committed to inquiry and to living the principles they investigated. Yet even at that time, from my admittedly lowly position as a novice spiritual student, I felt uneasy hearing the vehemence with which he attacked a number of other spiritual teachers for their failure to live up to his rigidly pure standards. In my experience the people who attack with that kind of harshness, even viciousness, are those who have not honestly observed their own human failings and the endemic, painful imperfection of the human condition. Who was the far-right Christian television evangelist who lambasted others for their sins and sexual impurities, until he himself was caught with a prostitute in his hotel room (saving her from her sins, no doubt!)? Someone like Nelson Mandela, on the other hand, is too busy serving as a truly ennobling example to his people, to waste time with pillorying others.

The spiritual teachers I most respect are those who freely and intimately admit their own failings, as examples to their students of real self-observation and of confrontation with the forces that seek to subvert even the highest realizations. The tendency for Andrew to present himself as beyond reproach, and his community as advancing into realms never before touched by human beings, has over the years seemed to me a marked red flag. Yet I hoped that his obvious commitment to the spiritual path would bring its own natural self-correction and purification. Our troubled world desperately needs wise guidance, and it seemed that Andrew had the potential to provide guidance of a high calibre. The Ocmulgee Native Americans had a saying, "All things are connected." The interplay of real spiritual schools and committed practitioners provides a matrix of support for all of us that is unparalleled, unique, its flavor affected by each element even while the different schools remain distinct and in some ways vastly different.

Unfortunately based on the evidence of his own conversations reprinted in his magazine, as well as the energy in the letters of his apologists, it appears that Andrew's unexamined shadow has been progressively devouring that in himself and his teaching which was originally clear and bright. The tendency to megalomania has grown, and the openness to any corrective input from others has correspondingly shrunk. I see no evidence of real self-inquiry and deep dialogue between Andrew and any other teacher. I see only a kind of self-serving publication of those who offer him no real challenge, those whom he can control, manipulate, or use to his supposed advantage.

Watching the devolution of Andrew's teaching from pristine dharma to a psychologically and physically violent and abusive perversion of spiritual life, I see the central missing element as the lack of a lineage which holds and guides the individual teacher. Andrew is not the first or the last initially inspiring teacher to lead his students into this kind of cul-de-sac. Without the matrix of spiritual tradition, without the weight and wisdom of a lineage which guides and informs the individual teacher, it is perhaps almost too much to expect of the fallible human being, to hold steady against the immense forces of darkness which seek to distort and use the power of the light.

The poverty of spirit evidenced in Craig's letter, which undoubtedly was closely supervised and approved by his teacher, leaves little hope that Andrew will listen to the many voices which are trying to offer him help. There is still respect being offered to the man who was once visible; there is still obviously some faint hope among many people that Andrew might listen to these voices. It is Andrew himself who is choosing to act as less than he could be, notably in his total refusal even to recognize this respect and deep care that is still given to him. In a way his value now becomes that of a sacrificial example of one of the biggest traps on the spiritual path--an aspect of what Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche called spiritual materialism; what the ancients called hubris: the pride of the human who thinks himself God.

What I find most ironic, painful, and even heartbreaking, is the fact that in spite of the demeaning and hurtful tone that pervades Craig's representation of Andrew's community, it is clear that Craig, Andrew, and their community as a whole consciously wish only the best for all beings. The problem is not the conscious intention, but the unconscious motivations, elements of what Carl Jung called "the shadow," which powerfully drive us in directions that can cause great harm while we justify and disguise them with our conscious sincerity. G.I. Gurdjieff said that even those who commit the greatest evil are doing what they truly believe is for the good. To see one's teacher fall off the razor's edge of the spiritual path is one of the deepest heartbreaks a student can experience. To be that teacher, whenever remorse finally breaks through, must be a heartbreak almost beyond bearing. The defense against feeling such a depth of sorrow and responsibility is deeply ingrained in all of us.

in the hope that this letter may contribute to a shared inquiry toward a deeper truth…

Originally published February 17, 2005
Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Shared Inquiry

An Invitation To Truth And Reconciliation

By Hal Blacker

May all beings be happy!

As a contributor to this blog, I want to say that I am extremely happy with how this blog is unfolding. I feel that it is a place that may be unique, or at the very least, extremely rare on the Internet. I think that, together, all of us —from each contributor to every person who has given it the gift of their attention—have created a sacred place where a miracle of truth, healing and purification is occurring. Every one who enters here enters this sacred cyberspace, whose circumference is nowhere and whose center is everywhere. You are all welcome and all appreciated.

I want to especially extend my appreciation to the courageous people like Stas and Susan and some anonymous contributors who were willing to expose their own vulnerability, their insight and their pain. I want to equally thank those brave souls like Craig, Carter, Dave, Jeremy, Anne and others who have been willing to enter this forum and express their doubts and criticisms about what is occurring here, and their support for Andrew Cohen. And all those from outside the community of former and present students of Andrew Cohen, who have lent their own unique insights and perspectives here, must be greatly appreciated and thanked as well.

This work is not easy for any of us. It is very hard to engage in this kind of dialogue without regressing to a mode of “attack or defend.” I—the writer formerly known as Raging Bull—personally find this very challenging. That’s why I start out saying “May all beings be happy!” I’m no bodhisattva, believe you me; it’s just that I need to remind myself of my intention every single time. I pray for help from all the bodhisattvas and divine beings in this work.

It is also hard to hear the difficult truths of people’s experiences and let them stir and touch our hearts. They re-evoke our own memories and experiences. It would be easier to turn our eyes away. It would be simpler, it seems at times, to retrench and plow on. But opening to the rain of mercy that is always here means exposing one’s raw nerves and heart. I am certain that it is only through telling and hearing truth that a greater respect, understanding and empathy—for ourselves, for Andrew, for all concerned—will be possible.

I hope it isn’t too presumptuous for me to share my vision of what is occurring here with you. I see a pure lotus beginning to bloom from the muck and mire of this dark age. I hope you can find it in you to give it water and nourishment with your attention, your good intentions, and your courageous participation.

At this time I wish to issue a special invitation to Andrew Cohen to directly join this forum. We have heard his voice through his representatives Craig and Carter. But we have not yet heard Andrew directly. I believe that if Andrew were willing to speak the truth here about the events described by former students, it could be of enormous benefit. And to hear Andrew speak frankly about what has occurred—mistakes and all—would be much better for all concerned, including him, than to hear it come only from those who were affected by his acts.

I would like to suggest something about the kind of participation that is being invited, however. The point of this blog is not to bash Andrew, and the participation invited is not self-defense or aggression. Craig has received much criticism for the defensiveness and hostility in his posts. I think it is understandable to become angry when you perceive your teacher being criticized, so I empathize with his response. But I don’t think that kind of response is helpful for the truth-telling and finding that should occur here. If that is the best he can do, so be it. It may very well be better than nothing, and, as I said earlier, Craig’s participation here is appreciated. But I think that it is better to engage with a greater degree of respect and fidelity to the truth.

For example, Craig misleadingly minimized some of the events that were mentioned here, such as physical abuse. I mentioned in my post “Breaking The Code Of Silence” learning of incidents of a student being ordered to deliver messages consisting of delivering slaps “as hard as she can” to other students. Craig wrote, “I was the one mentioned in Hal Blacker’s letter who got slapped in the face and also had fake blood smeared on his wall—which, incidentally, we already wrote about in the magazine three years ago—so much for the ‘code of silence.’” Craig implies he was the only person to receive a slap, or receive messages written in fake blood, and that this had already been publicly disclosed. That is not true. It is true that the Fall/Winter 2001 edition of What Is Enlightenment? (the 10th anniversary issue) mentioned on page 24 that words were “scrawled in red graffiti” across his office walls, and that the editors had been going through a very difficult time. But, contrary to Craig’s misleading statement, he was far from the only person to receive slaps or messages written in fake blood. In the very incident mentioned in WIE (according to a participant), Craig, Carter and Amy Edelstein all were given messages from Andrew consisting of physical assaults in this period—and definitely more than once. The fake blood writing also occurred more than one time and with more than one person. And, as described by Stas (Ernest) Mavrides in his letter here, and to me by many others, slapping, other physical abuse and the liberal use of fake blood—styled for purposes of guilt inducement as “the guru’s blood”—occurred numerous time in Andrew’s community.

One other example of a misleading “admission” by Craig. In his response to Susan Bridle’s posting, he admits but mischaracterizes an incident involving prostitutes that I had mentioned in an earlier posting. There is more to be said about this, but, given its sensitive nature and the feelings of those involved, I don't feel it is my place to go into all the details, at this time.

These are only examples meant to show how real frankness is needed, not obfuscation. There are many events that should be revealed and discussed, in truth and openness. They should not be hidden, minimized or misstated. Saying and hearing the truth isn’t easy. I know some would like to forget what happened. But I think that the only way to even begin to understand what has occurred around Andrew Cohen is to lay the facts out bare. That is why I am now issuing this heartfelt invitation to Andrew to participate in this process. I am sending a copy of this post by e-mail to Craig, Carter and Andrew at his Foxhollow World Center.

Please come into this forum, Andrew. Please be willing to truthfully admit your mistakes, and begin to help the process of truth and reconciliation. It will be much better for everyone—you, your community, your former students, and your friends—if you participate with humility and honesty in this ceremony of healing and purification. Whether you participate or not, however, the truth will come out. It must.

With love and respect,
Hal Blacker

Originally published February 20, 2005
Original post on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: An Invitation To Truth And Reconciliation