Outrage. Anger. Disgust. An overwhelming desire to cancel my subscription to the EnlightenNext magazine.
These were some of my reactions as I read through an expose of Andrew Cohen, a self-proclaimed "guru" who talks a good spirituality game but clearly plays by very different rules.
Earlier I shared some passages from Stephen Bachelor's excellent introduction to "American Guru," a book authored by William Yenner and other contributors who were long-time disciples of Cohen and experienced or saw his abuses first-hand.
As the events recounted in this book reveal, Cohen's demonization of his students' "egoic tendencies" -- tendencies which he himself has supposedly transcended -- extend far beyond instructive spiritual "lessons," providing him with a pretext for the administration of harsh discipline and punishment and the induction of soul-destroying intimidation and guilt.
Cohen coerced donations from disciples, in one case to the tune of $2 million. His students were slapped, ridiculed, made to do thousands of prostrations before his photo, forced to immerse themselves in a near-freezing lake for an hour, and other humiliations.
Regarding the lake immersion:
I had lost consciousness at about 50 or 55 minutes, just shy of the full hour... It took me two days to feel normal again. I do feel that this was one of the most dangerous things that Andrew had his students do.
...I find this one of Andrew's most ham-handed responses as a teacher, subjecting a large group of women to the same giant hammer without regard for what would be appropriate and useful for individuals. I also acknowledge how stupid and sheeplike it was for me to participate.
Yes, often I wondered "Why did these disciples put up with all of Cohen's crap?"
But it's unfair to judge people who are being abused by someone in a position of power for not asserting themselves strongly. My wife was a psychotherapist for quite a few years. She had many clients, mostly female, who found it very difficult to break away from someone who was severely mistreating them.
Andrew Cohen was (and is) a spiritual charmer. That's what unethical gurus do: use their charisma to lure disciples into their lair, then take advantage of them.
In the context of the world outside Andrew's community or cult, what he did was illegal, something called "undue influence." It is akin to a therapist seeking sexual company from a client or a priest who manipulates a parishioner into donating to the church. I imagine if it wasn’t me, there would be others like me who would have and I am sure continue to give away their money and soul to him as I did. If someone still within the community reads this and considers giving away their wealth, please reconsider. It was the greatest mistake of my life.
I'm sorry that I ever subscribed to EnlightenNext, a magazine that's devoted to singing the praises of Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber -- who act as a mutual admiration society in their regular "The Guru and the Pandit" articles.
For sure, I won't be renewing my subsciption. I've got no desire to support anything associated with an American Abusive Guru (Cohen was the founder of EnlightenNext).
Kudos to William Yenner for blowing the whistle on Cohen. Yenner had to wait five years to publish his book after escaping Cohen's clutches, because Cohen's lawyer had him sign a gag order in exchange for refunding $80,000 Yenner had given to Cohen.
Disturbingly, many people are still being sucked into Cohen's "Evolutionary Enlightenment" and "Integral Vision" bullshit. As Yenner says:
This is where twenty years of preaching truth and freedom have gotten EnlightenNext and Andrew Cohen: banal infomericals calculated to attract the most innocent and idealistic among us, while what happens behind closed doors -- how he treats his subordinates and even those closest to him, his dismissive attitudes toward women, the physical and mental abuses he engages in, and in which he encourages others to participate -- are to remain shrouded in mystery.
Well, hopefully not any more.