Thursday, June 02, 2005

Karma Will (Literally) Cost You And Leaving Isn't Easy

Breaking The Code Of Silence, Part IV
By Hal Blacker

May all beings be happy!

This is the fourth and last part of my "Breaking The Code Of Silence" series of articles about Andrew Cohen for the WHAT Enlightenment ??! blog. For those just arriving, the previous articles in the series are:
Karma Will (Literally) Cost You
Andrew Cohen's extraction of large contributions from community members in trouble has been touched on in this blog before. Stas (Ernest) recounted in his article "Letter From A Senior Student" how Andrew had expressly told students that when a "committed" or "senior" student "blows it," it will cost them $20,000 in karmic retribution. When Stas once offered Andrew a contribution of $3,000 at a time when he was desperate to regain Andrew's good graces, Andrew angrily threw the check on the floor, shouting, "Do you think you can buy me off for a lousy three grand?" As a result, Stas borrowed money so that he could make a $20,000 contribution to Andrew. Later, when he told Andrew the money was given under duress and asked for its return, Andrew coldly refused.

Stas was far from the only student who had large sums extracted from him by Andrew Cohen at a time of emotional confusion and vulnerability. These are only a few other examples.

Another long time close student, named Bill, told me in a private communication, at least one half year before this blog came into existence, about how he, like Stas, gave a large contribution, under pressure, at a time when he was psychologically devastated. Bill had been instrumental in the acquisition of Andrew Cohen's main center, Foxhollow, in Lenox, Massachusetts. In 1996, he found and handled the purchase of that $3 Million, 220 acre former Vanderbilt estate. After years of service to Andrew, Bill, like so may others, incurred his wrath. He endured being slapped, having to attend numerous meetings with fellow students where he was shouted at, being exiled to Australia, then soon after being called back to Foxhollow, where he was told he was not welcome and could not stay. After further similar twists and turns and "demotions," Bill finally received a message from Andrew that he should send in his inheritance of $80,000, an amount he had once offered Andrew at an earlier moment of desperation. Bill complied with the request. Later, after Bill left the community he demanded the money back, and threatened legal action if it was not returned. Andrew did return the money, but only on the condition that Bill sign an agreement drafted by Andrew's lawyer. The agreement contained a release of Cohen's organization (the Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship, or "IEF," formerly known as Moksha Foundation) from all claims forever, and a "gag order" prohibiting Bill from speaking to the press or making any public statements about Andrew Cohen or his organization, particularly any "disparaging" ones, without prior approval, for a period of five years.

Another former close student of Andrew Cohen told me how she gave her entire Individual Retirement Account, amounting to $60,000, and promised to give her future inheritance to Andrew's organization under psychological duress. She had run away from Foxhollow, but was located and persuaded to come back. This was the second time she had left the community. When she returned she was told how she had utterly betrayed Andrew. Her acts were described as being completely "off the map," in the scale of possible offenses. It was stressed to her repeatedly how she was guilty of a hellish crime, and how upset Andrew was with her. She offered to contribute approximately $10,000 as retribution. She was told this was insufficient, that she'd have to "dig deeper" and had to be willing to "give everything." Three days later she offered her IRA and her inheritance. This presented some problems, as her father had some control of the IRA account, and she would have to transfer the funds to an account from which the "contribution" could be made without her father finding out. During the several weeks it took to accomplish this, IEF's secretary, Cathy Snow, repeatedly called her, asking how long it would take, and making sure she was not backing out. She was in great anguish and turmoil, and recalls being essentially insane at this time. She told Cathy that this was all the money she had in the world. Cathy had given her a message from Andrew that "You have to be willing to give up any idea of having a back door." She ultimately gave IEF the $60,000, but left the community for good when her father died, and before she could give away her inheritance.

Such "contributions" were often given under conditions of great secrecy. One student told me that she had complied with pressure to give $10,000 contributions twice when she was in trouble after having left. The $10,000 figure was expressly specified by close students and IEF administrators Steve Brett and Cathy Snow. She was told that a $10,000 contribution was a condition of coming back into the community, and that she should do whatever she needed to get the money, including obtaining a bank loan. IEF director Jeff Carreira tolder her at least three times regarding contributions "Do not tell anyone about this." When she later left the community again she knew she would have to give even more to return. At one point she told Carreira she would give Andrew the proceeds for the rest of her life from a trust for her. He seemed satisfied with this, but, as she told me, "I came to my senses and backed out."

There is a close English student who was kicked out of the community for about two years, but who continued to live in Lenox, Massachusetts, hoping to regain Andrew's good graces. A witness recounted a conversation with Andrew regarding the student’s request to return to IEF. Andrew said he would get this student to give him all of his money, so that he would be dependent on Andrew and have no "back door." “Then he’d be mine,” Andrew said. The student is now, again, a leader in Andrew's organization.

Andrew became extremely outraged with another student who had taken a celibacy vow and admitted to Andrew he had masturbated. Wracked with guilt and remorse after being called a hypocrite by Andrew, the student wound up obtaining an advance on his inheritance and giving it to IEF.

In addition to direct financial contributions, students frequently purchased Andrew Cohen expensive clothing and other gifts. Most of these students have little of their own money. One student told me how she had purchased him an $800 pair of Armani pants and many $200-$300 sweaters. The giving of flowers to express sorrow or gratitude, common when I was a member of the community, stopped being sufficient years ago.

It is not unusual for nonprofits to ask members for contributions. But it is unusual to obtain such contributions through psychological manipulation and the use of shame and guilt, as occurs in Andrew's community. A glance at the finances of IEF do not appear to show the need for using extraordinary measures to obtain contributions. According to IEF's 2003 Federal Income Tax Form 990 (the latest one viewable at the web site, obtainable by doing a search for Moksha Foundation), IEF had total revenues of over $4 1/3rd Million Dollars in 2003, with a net over expenses of $2,184,927.00. Its total assets exceeded its liabilities by $7,653,439.00. In the last several years, Andrew Cohen had a large new office built for himself at Foxhollow, despite already having a luxurious office suite in the Foxhollow Manor House. That office suite included a private yoga room, private bath, private secretary's office, fireplace, porch, views and a main room of about 500 square feet. Andrew Cohen's lifestyle, while not as ostentatious as some famous gurus', could be fairly called lavish by most people's standards.

Leaving Isn't Easy
Given the pervasiveness of physical and emotional abuse and financial exploitation in Andrew Cohen's community, it would be reasonable to ask (as some on this blog have) why students don't just leave. In fact, most of Andrew's students do leave. He has far more students who have left him over the years than who have remained with him. Few of his early students remain. I have learned from an inside source that there are currently less than 400 students and "practicing members" combined, worldwide. This is far from the "revolution" that Andrew has always claimed he is spearheading.

For many students, however, leaving Andrew is traumatic. This is due to a combination of factors. Some of these factors are psychological and entrained by Andrew. Students are told repeatedly that leaving Andrew and his community is the greatest betrayal. They are taught that it is tantamount to admitting that they do not "want to be free" and to giving up any chance of spiritual enlightenment. Andrew's close students have witnessed numerous times the way Andrew denigrates and demonizes those who leave him. Andrew frequently complains about a conspiracy of former students who only want to undermine him. Students are repeatedly told that if they leave they should have no contact with other students who left the community. This means that it is likely they will be alone and without emotional support if they leave Andrew and IEF. Close students have generally devoted years of their lives to Andrew, have derived their whole sense of meaning from the community, and have lost touch with other friends, interests and support systems. The prospect of facing a huge void in their lives makes the idea of leaving Andrew very intimidating. But sometimes leaving Andrew is difficult for another reason-Andrew and his community sometimes make it almost impossible to do.

It is generally not possible to openly talk about leaving the IEF community if one has been a close student. If one does leave, one is often hounded by the community. There have been many instances of this. Marvin, a student who left on the pretext of visiting family, was called repeatedly by community members, and asked to come back. He finally agreed to return briefly to discuss the matter. When challenged for leaving without telling anyone, he made the memorable comment, "Leaving is not a formal student topic." Many other students were hounded after they left. Jeff, the student who left after Andrew had Michelle, a physician student, pretend she was going to surgically remove his finger for failing in a writing project (See "Shame, Guilt and The Guru's Blood") was sent a series of e-mails, each with symbolic pictures of the cover of the video "The Picture of Dorian Gray," with the images becoming progressively more distorted and ugly.

Many students have run from the community during the night. A couple of examples of this follow. The female student who made the $60,000 contribution and pledged her future inheritance, whose story was told above, did so after secretly escaping Foxhollow one night. Before she left, Andrew knew she was in a delicate condition and there was a danger she might leave. She had left once before. One night after receiving serious "feed-back", Andrew's wife Alka came to her room, and asked her for her driver's license, passport, and credit cards. She said she could not find her passport, but handed over what she claimed was her only credit card and her driver's license. She had previously hidden, however, another copy of her license and another credit card. She took them, along with her passport, "borrowed" the community car, and drove to a car rental office in Lenox. There she rented a car, left a voicemail message at Foxhollow about the community car's whereabouts, and drove off into the night. She didn't know where she wanted to go, just that she wanted to get far away. Eventually, she drove the thousands of miles from Massachusetts to New Orleans. She figured no one would find her there. A few days after she arrived and got a room, she went to return the rented car. There, to her shock, she found Debbie, an IEF community member, waiting for her. Debbie had waited at the car rental's Lenox office until she overheard a phone conversation from which she learned the student would be returning her rented car in New Orleans. She flew there and waited in the New Orleans rental office until the escaped student showed up. Debbie eventually persuaded her to return.

One Dutch student, who was close to Andrew and who had been a leader in his communities in Europe, fell into disfavor. He was put in a community home in London, where Steve Brett was told to keep an eye on him and prevent him from leaving. Steve slept just outside the Dutch student's room, so that he could not leave in the night without being noticed. But one night Steve failed to do this. The Dutch student packed a bag and threw it out his bedroom window to the ground below. Then he sneaked silently out of the house. He retrieved his bag, and found a pay telephone a block or two away, from which he called a cab. A couple of weeks before this, Rob, a close community member and an old friend of the Dutch student, had warned him against leaving. Rob was highly trained in martial arts, having been a member of a special division of the Dutch military, roughly equivalent to the U.S. Navy Seals or Special Forces. Rob had told his friend that if he ever left, he would find him and break every bone in his body. After the student escaped, he chose to go as far away as he could imagine, settling in Costa Rica. A few weeks after getting there, he got an e-mail from Rob. All it said was, "I'm coming." Andrew himself had instructed Rob to send this e-mail.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, this is the last in my "Breaking The Code Of Silence" series. It also marks the end, for now, of my contributions to this blog. The stories I have recounted in these articles are only examples. There are many more to tell in all the categories of weirdness and abuse I have discussed. There are some areas that I barely mentioned. One such area is Andrew's intense involvement with his students' sex lives, his betraying of sexual confidences of students, and his use of such information to humiliate students. These stories will have to wait for another day, or another author.

For now, the ice has been broken, and much of what was previously kept hidden by unwritten rules has been revealed here. People interested in studying with Andrew Cohen and becoming a part of his community now have essential and previously unavailable information about him, so they can make an informed decision. Students who have left him and are hurt or confused can now discuss these matters openly without feeling they are the first to betray some deep dark secret, because the secret has already been told.

It has been my privilege to have the opportunity to contribute to this blog, and I am grateful to all the readers, commenters and other contributors. I hope that the breaking of the code of silence that occurred here will benefit everyone, that we all continue to grow in openness, and that all of us have success on our path.

May all enjoy happiness and the root of happiness, be free from suffering and the root of suffering, and enjoy the great equanimity that is free from passion, aggression and prejudice

Hal Blacker

Originally published May 31, 2005
Original article on WHAT Enlightenment??!, with comments: Karma Will (Literally) Cost You