Thursday, June 02, 2005

Cruelty, Vengeance And Crazy Wisdom

Breaking The Code Of Silence--Part II
by Hal Blacker

May all beings be happy!

It is now more than ten days since I wrote Andrew Cohen an “Invitation To Truth And Reconciliation.” So far, there has been no response.

This is a disappointment. Andrew’s utter silence now, after previous hostile posts made here by his representatives, seems to signify a complete unwillingness to face the harm he has caused. So now I am compelled to continue this journey into Andrew Cohen’s heart of darkness. Because this is bitter medicine, it will be served in small doses.

Let no one think that the few specific instances of slapping described previously here were the only ones. There were many others. The slapping of several What Is Enlightenment? staff members by another staff member, on Andrew’s orders, has been chronicled earlier on this blog. A former senior student reports slapping other students on Andrew’s orders, including former and present students such as Lysander, Steve Brett, Harry Dijkshorn, Bob Voss, and others. He saw Andrew personally strike Calvin Phipps, Arjan Kindermans, Mike Dutka and several other men. A former female student reports that women were slapped at Andrew’s direction even more often than the men.

In addition to slapping, groups of male students were ordered by Andrew to assault other students. In 1997, while the community was still in Marin County, California (shortly before I left it), a group of men roughed up former student Ingo. He had recently been “promoted” and was living in Andrew’s household along with other closer students. I did not find out about this until years later. I was incredulous at first, thinking it must have just been “rough-housing.” with obviously no harmful intent. Ingo stressed that this was not the case. He was very frightened by the incident. He was not seriously hurt, but while it was occurring he feared that he might be. He fled the community soon after, never to return. Around this time Stas (Ernest) Mavrides was also jumped and “beaten up” a number of times by a group of fellow students. He also was extremely frightened and panic-stricken by the attacks. Again, he was not seriously harmed physically, but felt emotionally traumatized from the events. These kinds of physical assaults were rationalized by Andrew, however, as a way to get certain men in touch with their inner rage.

Some forms of physical abuse did not involve direct assaults on the person. For instance, at the Foxhollow World Center, Andrew once ordered that a large plastic bag of garbage, containing food waste and other trash, be obtained from the center’s kitchen. He had a student empty its entire contents on the bed of a student living there named Mary Acton-Adams.

Andrew also appears to be capable of engaging in a sustained effort, lasting over years, to demoralize a student with whom he is particularly angry. This seems to have been the case with Donna, Stas (Ernest) Mavrides’ former wife.

Donna and Stas became students of Andrew’s in the late 1980’s. By the time the community moved from the East Coast to Marin County, California, they were among his closest. When I joined the community in Marin in 1990, I lived briefly with Donna, Stas and their young daughter, Sophia. Donna and Stas achieved the rank of “senior students” (the highest level in the student hierarchy, for a time) and were leaders of the community for years. For years, they were also one of the only—perhaps the only—married couple in the community that Andrew did not break apart. By the time the community moved back to the East Coast to its new home in Foxhollow, however, Donna had fallen from grace, been separated from Stas, and Andrew was very unhappy with her.

In approximately 1999, Donna was a lay student, living off the Foxhollow campus. Although she had fallen into disfavor with Andrew, she tried to keep some connection with him and the community. The community was involved with extensive re-modeling of the Foxhollow Center, and Donna volunteered to help. One day, she was working at the center with others, painting, and during a lunch break, close student Bob Voss approached her. He asked her if she could “come downstairs” into the basement. She was met there by four close female students, including Andrew’s wife, Alka. They guided her to a plastic sheet that was on the floor. Alka approached Donna and told her she had a message from Andrew. Saying “Thanks a lot” (or words to this effect) in a sarcastic voice, Alka poured a full bucket of paint over Donna’s head. The other students proceeded to do the same, pouring a total of 4 buckets of paint over Donna.

Donna recalls being completely devastated. She remembers standing covered with paint and crying. One student helped her to a shower, where she disrobed and stood under the water for 45 minutes, broken and sobbing. She was given coveralls to change into before she left. She tried as hard as she could to hold herself together emotionally long enough to leave the premises without breaking down and making a scene. She had trouble keeping control. Later, a fellow student telephoned Donna and called her a “coward.” After the incident, and perhaps because of its emotional trauma, Donna became very ill with a bad flu.

Donna never returned to Foxhollow. She drifted away from the community, although she maintained contact with Stas, in part because of their daughter Sophia. But this was not the end of Donna’s humiliation at Andrew’s hands. Andrew seemed to feel the need to cause Donna more pain. He would eventually accomplish this through emotional abuse and manipulation involving her daughter Sophia.

As Stas described in his letter posted on this blog, he often had little time for his daughter Sophia due to Andrew’s demands on him. Sophia, naturally, came to resent this. Several years after Donna was assaulted with paint in the basement of Foxhollow, Sophia, then 15 years old, and her mother were living together separately from Stas. Sophia was angry with Stas for his neglect, and wanted little to do with him. She was, however, very close to Donna and held her in high esteem. Andrew became aware of this, and felt that something should be done.

Some years earlier, Andrew had learned about infidelity by Donna that had occurred in the distant past, years before Sophia was born. Over time, Andrew had used this against Stas and Donna on a number of occasions. He revealed this embarrassing information to many people in the community. When Andrew heard that Sophia wanted little to do with Stas, while holding Donna in high regard, he decided Sophia’s love and respect for her mother should be undermined by telling Sophia of her mother’s past infidelity. Andrew was outraged that Sophia would dare to be disrespectful of her father because he had given his life, his time and his priorities to Andrew, rather than her. Through the years, Andrew had often told the parents that they should not hide from the children that their dedication to him comes first, even before them. He also said he felt that it would somehow be of personal benefit for Sophia to “know the truth” about her mother and that it would help Stas’s relationship with Sophia. Andrew discussed this idea with Stas and other close students numerous times.

Andrew kept pressing Stas to tell Sophia directly of her mother’s past infidelity. As a result, when Stas was visiting with Sophia, he told her how her mother had been unfaithful before she was born. Upon hearing this, Sophia cried. But Stas felt that telling her might have had the desired effect. He called Andrew and told him this. Andrew, pleased with himself, said jokingly, “OK. So, now you owe me another $20,000.”

After Stas left, however, Sophia became physically ill and threw up. She called her mother, upset by everything she had been told. When Donna heard what had happened, she became furious. She rightfully suspected Andrew’s involvement in the affair, knowing that Stas would do nothing without Andrew’s direct instruction. But before she had a chance to speak at length with Stas about it, Alka called him and told him, “Andrew says, to leave him out of this.” Andrew had not only Stas but others told to engage in a “cover-up” for him. Later, when Stas spoke to Donna and was questioned by her, he denied any involvement by Andrew. Shanti (Mary), another long-time student and close friend of Donna’s, vehemently denied Andrew’s involvement in the affair.

Donna, Stas and their daughter Sophia have all felt the brunt of Andrew’s wrath, in cruelly novel and unexpected ways. They are not the only ones. Donna recalls Andrew once comparing himself to the controversial and scandal-plagued guru Adi Da (Da Free John), saying, “In terms of crazy wisdom, I’m the craziest.” Crazy wisdom, something Andrew once vociferously condemned in his teaching, had become a matter of pride for Andrew. The thing about crazy wisdom is, it has no limits. Let us hope—against the evidence—that Andrew’s cruelty and vengeance does.

Originally published March 3, 2005
Original article on What Enlightenment??!, with comments: Cruelty, Vengeance And Crazy Wisdom