It's always a pleasure to get an email message from someone who is thoughtful, churchless, a good writer, skeptical of gurus, and honestly blunt. In short, someone who reminds me of me!
Here's what Scott Little had to say about his conversion to reality from religion. It's nicely said. HIs observations about the tyranny of Andrew Cohen apply to other supposed "gurus" who manipulate devotees through emotional charisma.
Thanks for letting me share your thoughts on this blog, Scott.
I found your Church of the Churchless blog today. Thank you for your work there.
I am a former Christian fundamentalist, though I broke that spell by actually doing what Jesus prescribed almost three decades ago. I like to say I followed Jesus out of Christianity, and I admit to a perverse pleasure in the creased brow that this comment often precipitates atop the faces of the less faithful believers.
The most profound realization that followed my escape from Christianity was, and is still, shocking: I am no better than anyone else!
It was shocking when I was 19, because I had not previously been aware of my self-righteousness, and it was a bad case. It is still shocking today, simply because of the huge blind spot my religion had created in me -- instead of "good", I had been a rather disgusting example of what can go wrong with religion. I'm not sure I'm over it yet, the depth of that self-deception.
I found your site because of your love/hate interactions with the work of Ken Wilber. I once had a copy of "The Spectrum of Consciousness,and still have "A Brief History of Everything" on my shelf -- but he never really got my attention until I came across Andrew Cohen.
I have never found what I consider to be a true guru. I am deeply attracted to the stories and scriptures that present images of pure teachers, selfless gurus. I have to laugh. From a religious point of view, I don't have the 'karma' to have met my teacher. From a philosophical point of view, I am increasingly grateful that I don't have that kind of 'karma.'
It's been years on the path for me, the one that Lao Tse said goes to and fro, up and down, despite being a truly straight road.
So these days when I come across a teacher, I swallow my lump of salt and look into it. In the case of Andrew Cohen, I found his short book "In Defense of the Guru Principle." My first reading left me uneasy -- in terms of the "dharma" that I am familiar with, he hit the high notes perfectly. After so many disappointing episodes relating to gurus and sex, it was impressive to me that he places a great deal of emphasis on his own integrity, at least in this regard.
And then I came across the WHAT enlightenment??! blog created by a former student of his, and started counting the worms in the can. That is hard to do! They keep squirming. But I didn't stop there; I went on to read the accounts of his current students at the Guru Talk blog, and I believe I finally have a handle on what is going on with him.
In addition to having a mastery of teachings about the ego, Cohen also claims to have had a transmission of enlightenment from his teacher (whom he later disavowed, saying he had surpassed his teachers). He also seems to have a perfectly HUGE ego himself. sigh Isn't it always the same story? Well sort of.
In this case, what has held my attention past this point of discovery is the peculiar "logic" which Cohen's students use to explain their connection to their teacher. There is in fact nothing logical about it -- it is purely emotional.
Meeting Andrew Cohen is supposed to be an experience of deep and profound love and joy -- an experience of bliss. That initial experience and ongoing doses of it in the "Master's" presence is the self-evident proof which those people use to stay with him, while he attempts to utterly and completely dismantle the student's ego. Which is, he says, his "job". But it is clear that he produced this same emotional state in Poonja, his teacher!
Considering what his students have gone through with him, and his teacher's reaction to him upon meeting him -- declaring him to be nothing less than a fully enlightened Buddha -- I do not doubt for a moment that Andrew Cohen is capable of producing an emotional immersion in the experience of "bliss" in his presence. And I believe that he uses this skill, pure psychological skill, to his own advantage. Big surprise! Well, no.
But what is to Andrew Cohen's own advantage? He does seem to believe his own press. I think he believes he is truly doing something spiritual and important. But here is what he says about it in his "Declaration of Integrity":
"But what I’m teaching is, dare I say it, a new kind of enlightenment, in which the goal is not only an individual attainment, but more importantly, a collective emergence that has tremendous evolutionary significance for us all. And therefore, I say the ego’s a problem for a much bigger reason: because the degree to which we are identified with it is the degree to which we inhibit our own potential to consciously participate in the evolutionary process. When the goal is to create a new stage of development in time and through the mind, ego is no longer just a personal psychological problem. It’s the one and only obstacle to the emergence of a new and glorious future. The creation of that future is what this teaching is dedicated to."
Oh, well then! He is clearly so enlightened that he sees, where other "Buddhas" have never seen, that "collective emergence" is more important that individual attainment. Clever man. When it is collective, it is an "emergence", but individually only "attainment." His path is therefore MORE enlightened than ever before. He is not piddling around with our little attainments, but trying to usher in a new and glorious future. May God help us.
Fascists --I do not use the word lightly-- love to use emotional glory to light the path to a collective future where the individual ego is subsumed in the larger ego of an enlightened, more-than-human whole. In earthly terms, this Whole is the State. The fact that Cohen is, by his own words, trying to consciously participate in the evolutionary process shows his goal is to produce an enlightened being here in this earthly sphere. This makes him, in my view, not a guru but an aspirational tyrant.
One need only glance at history to see that the ability to create blissful emotional states is a hallmark of dictators. The worst kind of dictator would be one who believes in his own "enlightenment" and uses that belief to hide from himself the true effects and end point of his innovations. Are you familiar with Asimov's Foundation Trilogy? I have begun to think of Andrew Cohen as a kind of Mule from that story.
I am writing all of this because I admire your point of view, and I am glad to have found your work on Plotinus. Weirdly enough, one of the few mystical experiences in my life had to do with Plotinus! Given the track record of living teachers, however, I have to say that I am glad he is dead.
Sincerely, Scott Little