Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Response To Andrew Cohen’s “Declaration of Integrity” Part 1

By Former Student

[Note from the Editors: Apparently attempting to finally give a public statement defending himself against the many allegations of his abuse of students documented previously here (and perhaps also in response to the current heated discussions on the Zaadz+WIE online forum), Andrew Cohen recently meticulously crafted and posted a " Declaration of Integrity", which in effect avoids the whole thing. Instead of addressing the actual facts, he predictably overwhelms us with his assessment of how great things are in the spiritual boot camp he has created, and why his ego-challenging teachings have proven his ex-student critics to be mere “failures”, or losers whose “life mission is to create and spread a negative picture of who I am...” What Andrew does say about the facts is that the stories have been “misrepresented” and given “out of context”. He never denies the charges, but only provides us with eleven pages of his self-justifying “context”, which is just the standard fare we’ve gotten from him for years now. The article below is a response to Andrew’s “Declaration,” by a former student, a former long-time student of Andrew Cohen, and is his first contribution to What Enlightenment??!]

I have never until now, with the inaugural posting of Andrew Cohen’s “Declaration of Integrity” on his new blog, felt compelled to participate in discourse critical of his conduct as a “spiritual authority figure.” However, the misrepresentative nature of Andrew’s response to his critics does call for some comment.

Andrew describes certain former students now publicly critical of his methods as having “turned on him,” but the truth is that he had turned on them long before they ever responded in kind. During my years in his community it was common practice for Andrew to publicly ridicule and vilify students who left, and to encourage others to do the same. There was no possibility of this practice, or the remarks engendered by it, being misinterpreted or “taken out of context.” The message was clear, as well as the mean-spiritedness and vindictiveness behind it, which continues to manifest in Andrew’s present post and will likely animate his future “counteroffensives.” Whatever else Andrew Cohen may be, in this respect he is most definitely not a mensch. He has never personally addressed his own habit of vilification and ridicule, much less the many abuses of power catalogued by his critics, who experienced and/or witnessed them first-hand and either understood what they were seeing or figured it out soon enough—despite constant pressure from Andrew himself to give his motivations the benefit of the doubt.

The main problem with Andrew’s community is his investment in his perception of himself as a flawless exemplar of his teaching. This is a problem because Andrew is far from flawless, and his actions (ironically) will probably never reflect the genuine nobility of his realization due to his incapacity to see himself and his own baser motivations clearly. None of Andrew’s former followers would have hailed him as a “21st-century Buddha” etc. had they not been encouraged to do so by his own overly generous estimation of himself, and they cannot be faulted for changing their minds even after an extended period of devotion to someone who for a time seemed to them worthy of it. Andrew’s lack of gratitude toward these people, who labored long and selflessly for the advancement of “his” cause and “his” organization (“his” magazine and “his” jazz fusion band etc.), is egregiously autocratic and narcissistic. I know personally several of the people described by Andrew as having “failed miserably” as spiritual practitioners; in addition to being insulting, this characterization of them is both a myopic and self-serving misperception and a public misrepresentation designed to invalidate legitimate grievances. Their lack of “success” is not difficult to understand in a community where self-induced doubtlessness was often a survival strategy and success was so closely correlated with fear-driven conformity. (If this has since changed, I’m glad to hear it but have my doubts.)

I am concerned that Andrew’s public association with Ken Wilber, in tandem with Wilber’s recent responses to his own critics, has emboldened Andrew in the belief that he is entitled to a form of “score-settling” similar to Wilber’s vibrant and useful “ Wyatt Earpy ” postings. There are, however, several revealing contextual differences between Ken and Andrew’s respective statements. For example, rather than having to defend his ideas or scholarship, or to elucidate the effects of spiritual development (or lack thereof) on perception and worldview, Andrew has been called upon by his critics to justify acts of physical violence, the translation of students’ psychological vulnerability into large cash donations, and apparent mean-spiritedness in the service of the higher evolution of consciousness.

For both Ken and Andrew, it seems to me, the goal of such public dialogue (evolution, mental perspective, enlightened understanding and action) is ostensibly the same and to that extent equally laudable, feasible and urgent. In Andrew’s case, however, the grandiosity and presumption of infallibility that made his “alleged” abuses of students possible in the first place are similarly evident in his “declaration,” which as a result transmits little of the uplifting inclusiveness and vulnerability to be found even in Wilber’s most caustic and challenging remarks. It’s easy to accuse people of “rewriting history,” but what about that history, i.e., those incidents that witnesses have taken the time and trouble to document? And it’s easy to declare dismissively that such incidents have been “taken out of context,” but what of that context? The bottom line is not that Andrew has never lied to his students, but that his dishonesty with himself has never been offered a place at his table.

Originally published on October 20, 2006
Original article, with comments on WHAT Enlightenment??!:
A Response to Andrew Cohen's "Declaration of Integrity"