I have posted a few things elsewhere on this site about Andrew Cohen. His mother wrote a book exposing him. He has been famous for a few decades as an abusive, grandiose, self-proclaimed god-man, master. He was originally a vipasanna student and then briefly became a follower of the Indian advaita teacher Poonja-ji, had one "experience" in India and soon decided he was one of the most enlightened people of the age. Not a unique story. He suffered from extreme narcissism and was well known for demanding absolute obedience and humiliating his students. (not so different than Kennett). His big schtick was "evolutionary enlightenment" and he was close with Ken Wilber who is famous for anointing various questionable gurus who are ethically-challenged.
So Andrew Cohen is "stepping down" - but as ex-members and those that have followed his guru career note, this could be more re-branding, PR spin, now that many people have left and the criticism about him has grown. Genpo Merzel comes to mind and his recent scandal, where he made a public apology, resigned, then didn't fully resign, then the public apology disappeared from the internet, he officially disrobes so he is no longer even slightly accountable to any sangha, and he is still a "roshi" promoting his Big Mind. I guess we get the gurus / teachers we want and deserve.
One point about this PR plan - Andrew is really not that famous - some of this breathless communications discussion is grandiose. He only has a few thousand followers at this point, his magazine I think ended publication, he blogs and has retreats, but it is not like he is some grand leader. He would like to be, but clearly his scene has been deteriorating, and perhaps major financial issues is also driving this decision. If the guru game is bringing in the bucks, then create a new milder model? Maybe i am being cynical, but not so sure. We shall see, not that i watch what this guy does. I don't, but i have a friend or two that are connected to Ken Wilber and sometimes to Cohen, so i have heard things over the grapevine now and then.
Friday, June 21, 2013
ANDREW COHEN AND THE FALL OF THE MYTHIC GURU IN AN AGE OF PR-SPIN
Controversial spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen will be stepping down from his role as guru and leader of the organization he founded, EnlightenNext. In a startling turn of events, Cohen has also begun apologizing to some former and current students for misdeeds and abuses of the past. Core students in the leadership of EnlightenNext have left the organization and apparently struck out on their own. But a recent “PR and Communications Plan” message, widely circulated to EnlightenNext students, leaves both the scope of future change in the organization and the depth of Andrew Cohen’s remorse over his abuse of students in the past unclear.
We at What Enlightenment??! first got wind that significant changes for Cohen and EnlightenNext were happening several weeks ago. We heard rumors that core members of Andrew Cohen's EnlightenNext organization had been calling Cohen to task for some time, attempting to get him to change an autocratic and authoritarian style of leadership. We also heard that some members of the EnlightenNext leadership—Carter Phipps, Jeff Careirra and others—had recently left the organization. There were rumors that large numbers of students had followed suit. But all of this was difficult to confirm as no one concerned had made any public statement of schism or disaffection.
So, in awe and wonder, we began to investigate. Sources close to EnlightenNext have since told us that criticism of Cohen began in the upper echelons over four years ago. Sometime over a year ago, some of these senior students were ordered by Cohen to meet together in London, apparently to attempt to purge themselves of their rebelliousness. Instead, at their meetings their questioning of Cohen’s authoritarian style of leadership deepened. They eventually stopped sending Cohen notes of their meetings, as expected and required. Soon they were joined in their dissent by other EnlightenNext leadership. A united front formed. As if this were not shocking enough, we heard that things had recently come to a head in a meeting between senior students and Cohen in Europe. A line was drawn in the sand, it was said. Not being satisfied with Cohen's response, a number of leaders left the community. Many other members followed suit.
Yet nothing was publicly disclosed of this rift. We waited to see how things would develop and if any public statement would be forthcoming. Recently, we noticed a public web announcement that the Netherlands EnlightenNext Center would no longer be associated with Cohen’s organization as of this summer. But the bombshell fell when we received from an anonymous source the “PR and Communications Plan” sent out to EnlightenNext members on June 15, 2013. This fascinating yet puzzling document is reproduced here, below.
It remains to be seen what this all means, or how it will play itself out. We have heard from several former close students of Andrew Cohen that he has contacted them personally to apologize for past misdeeds. Yet these students have also reported that Cohen seemed “cut off,” even “robotic” in his communication. Cohen has also personally contacted some current EnlightenNext students, presumably to apologize for past misdeeds to them. The news of apologies was unexpected and somewhat encouraging. Yet the “PR and Communications Plan” reproduced below makes one wonder whether all of this is part of a well-orchestrated public relations campaign, rather than the sign of a genuine turn to humility by enlightenment’s infamous “Rude Boy,” as Cohen’s friend Ken Wilber called him.
EnlightenNext appears to be attempting to explain the changes as part of a natural evolution away from the authoritarian-mythic “blue meme” guru model, using terminology originated by Don Beck and Chris Cowan in their Spiral Dynamics model of human development, a model which has been widely adopted by Integral Theory teachers and thinkers, such as Ken Wilber. The PR Plan also identifies the need to address “Founder’s Syndrome,” a situation where the founder of an organization impedes its development. These theoretical explanations, with no mention of the harm Cohen and his organization have done to students and with no inkling of empathy for the suffering those students endured, make one wonder whether EnlightenNext’s culture of authoritarianism and abuse will really change.
And what to make of the silence of those in the leadership who reportedly parted from Cohen? Although supposedly disaffected with Cohen, Jeff Careirra taught an on-line EnlightenNext program as recently as last weekend. Carter Phipps, who has been living in the Bay Area of California for almost a year, promoting his book “Evolutionaries” and participating in Integral community-related activities, has not publicly disclosed his split from Cohen or his future plans. Other students and EnlightenNext leaders have publicly remained similarly silent.
We wonder whether the senior students who left Cohen will attempt to follow the course of former student, What Is Enlightenment? magazine editor and Integral Enlightenment founder Craig Hamilton. Readers of What Enlightenment??! will remember Hamilton from years past as a vitriolic and insulting defender of Cohen on this blog. Later, Hamilton secretly fled Cohen’s Lenox, Massachusetts Foxhollow compound like so many other abused and damaged students, and was severely disparaged and ridiculed by Cohen, again like so many others who fled Cohen’s abuse. Yet little more than a year later, Hamilton re-created himself as a successful “graduate” of Cohen’s community, and the founder of his own “enlightenment” school, Integral Enlightenment, offering webinars and on-line courses on his philosophy, a close cousin (some might say almost a carbon copy) of the integral-oriented “evolutionary enlightenment” teaching created by Cohen. Hamilton has been financially successful at this enterprise, far more successful than Cohen’s EnlightenNext, which has been plagued by financial difficulties. Indeed, when once asked by a former Cohen student what value he had added to Cohen’s “evolutionary enlightenment” teaching, Hamilton is reported to have answered, “I figured out how to monetize it.” This seems to be the case. We cannot help but wonder if the silence of senior students who have left Cohen indicates their possible plans to re-create themselves and start lucrative “evolutionary” oriented “enlightenment” businesses like Hamilton’s.
Finally, what will become of Andrew Cohen? Can we really believe that his role as the “Mythic Guru” is over, as stated in the “PR & Communications plan for Andrew” reproduced below? Can Cohen’s purported self-examination and newfound remorse for the harm he has caused scores of past and present students be believed? Or is this just all part of a public relations stunt?
Only time will tell. But judging from the June 15 “PR & Communications plan for Andrew” and reports from those close to the organization, big changes for EnlightenNext and Andrew Cohen seem to be afoot. And these changes will almost certainly profoundly affect both current students and the scores of former students who saw through the “Mythic Guru” and left him.
----by Hal Blacker
From: Rosalind Bennett
Date: June 15, 2013, 7:09:43 PM EDT
To: Rosalind Bennett
Subject: PR & Communications plan for Andrew
I just sent out the email below to the current Core students (Defining, Resolute and Committed Core) and also wanted you all to hear about our PR communications plan for Andrew. I'm sending this to everyone who I know is involved in the current programs and who I've personally spoken to, please feel free to forward this email on to others involved who would like to hear the messaging going forward.
Thanks so much,
I wanted to let you know the PR communications plan for Andrew that will roll out in the next few weeks.
As most of you know Joel Pitney and I are responsible for Andrew's PR and media platform and we have been working on a message to the broader public regarding the situation we are in the midst of with Andrew, and all the subsequent changes.
Many of you have contacted us sharing your urgency around making a public statement, and we thank you all for your input! We have taken everything you have said into consideration and come up with a plan that we are very happy with.
Before I go any further I want to point out that while we're working very closely with Mary, Aterah, Morgan and the Education Department in our communications, what Joel and I are specifically responsible for (and what we've outlined in this email) has to do with communications from the Andrew Stream (to the broader public, Andrew's personal relationships, etc), and not the communications for the education programs and long retreats.
We felt it was imperative to get an "outside perspective" on our PR communications as, being close students of Andrew in this emotionally charged situation, it's very difficult to envision the right message for the public at large. Our primary consultant has been our PR advisor Nate Winstanley. Nate is not only an excellent PR consultant, but he also trained in crisis management. He has been working with us for the last several years, and is fully appraised of Andrew's history, the history of EnlightenNext, and the current situation. Given his experience and his friendship with Andrew, we feel that he is the perfect person to help us with this messaging now, and his input has been invaluable.
Nate has helped us to see that the most important point to consider in relationship to our PR strategy is that there is a tremendous difference between communicating to our "internal" audience of past and present students, and our "external" audience of people who follow Andrew's work, but are not part of any formal structures or communities (see a breakdown/description of our audiences at the end of this email). Nate also stressed how important it is that our public messaging be appropriate to our external audience, and that this should not be expected to address the issues that pertain to our "internal" audience of past and present students.
He made it very clear that from an outside perspective, what is currently happening represents an evolution of both our organization/movement and Andrew's work. The fact that Andrew is acknowledging his mistakes, has stepped down from his role as Guru, and will be stepping down as head of the organization, is a reflection of the fact that our movement is changing and growing, and that Andrew is taking the necessary time off to reflect, respond, and take the next step in his own development.
For the internal group of past and present students, Andrew must find a different and appropriate way to make peace; and, as most of you know, this internal process has already begun. He has already stepped down from his Guru role, which is on hiatus until spring 2014, and he is in the midst of responding appropriately to many past and present students.
STEPPING DOWN FROM LEADERSHIP:
Another very important distinction in our messaging that Nate helped us to understand has to do with how to announce Andrew's "sabbatical." He clarified that to frame the time that Andrew will be taking to reflect and respond as a sabbatical is not accurate. Given that Andrew will be doing a minimum of teaching work during this period, (the retreats and French forum) and that our many programs and content streams will continue in some form, from an outside perspective calling this time period a "sabbatical" would be confusing. Instead he suggested we emphasize in our public messaging that Andrew is stepping down from leadership, both within the organization and the spiritual community, and will be taking time to reflect and respond.
So in our public statements, which will launch on Andrew's blog on June 28th(see Blog Themes below for more detail), we will announce that Andrew is "stepping down from leadership" rather than "taking a sabbatical." We feel that this is also more authentic as to what is actually happening, so please consider this in your own communications.
Our public messaging will center around a series of blog posts which will be published on all of the sites where Andrew writes (BigThink, HuffPo, etc) in addition to AC.org. They will be on two themes outlined below. The first blog will also be accompanied by an email to our list announcing Andrew's decision to step down from leadership and offer some description of how the EnlightenNext programs will be continuing forward:
Confronting Founder's Syndrome: In this initial post, Andrew lays out what is happening for him right now in the context of "Founder's Syndrome," which is a common phase that organizations go through when due to a lack of willingness to give up control its visionary Founder gets in the way of the further evolution of the organization. He'll announce in this post that to address this situation, he's stepping down from leadership of both the organization and the spiritual community, and will radically reduce his teaching engagements to take time to reflect and respond.
The Death of A Mythic Guru: In this second post (which may end up in multiple parts), Andrew will speak about his own development as a Guru and how he created a "mythic" Guru model within the postmodern world, outlining the negative and positive consequences of that. He'll talk about how difficult it has been for him to recognize the mythic structures within himself, and how he's going to now take the time necessary to develop both himself and the teachings.
Below is a list of the various communications that will go out to our different audiences over the next month:
Today: Overview of communications strategy/plan to the Defining, Resolute, Committed, and Past students (this email!)
Next few weeks: Series of calls/emails to various donors.
6/28: Blog #1 on Founder's Syndrome will go up on BigThink
6/28: Accompanying the blog will be an email to our email list announcing that Andrew is stepping down from leadership and giving a brief overview of what kinds of offerings they will continue to get from both Andrew and EnlightenNext.
7/6: Guru & Pandit Virtual Broadcast on the theme of The Death of A Mythic Guru
7/12: Blog #2 on The Death of A Mythic Guru goes up on BigThink
Thank you all for taking the time to read this. I apologize for the length of this email, but we felt it was important that we keep everyone informed as much as we can during this challenging period of our lives.
Also, when we have an approved plan of how Andrew's business line will be going forward, I'll send out another email.
Best wishes all,
Ros & Joel
Below is a description of the various audiences that we're reaching out to and an overview of the basic messaging strategy for each:
Past and Present Students:
Includes all Defining, Resolute, and Committed Core students and people who have been close students in the past. We are the people who are the most affected by what is happening and have the most investment in the whole situation and subsequent changes. These communications have several dimensions: First and foremost, Andrew is following up personally with people, both current and past students. Second, we as his communications team want to keep everyone abreast of our overall communications, so that everyone knows why we're saying what we're saying.
This audience has a significant overlap with past and present students. Since they have all committed financial support to Andrew and EnlightenNext, it is important for us to communicate how the current situation will affect Andrew's and the organization's short and long-term future, and the financial implications of this. We will be reaching out to communicate directly with our current donors within the next few weeks.
This is our broadest audience and consists of people who engage with Andrew's content on a wide variety of external platforms (BigThink, Speaking Tree, HuffPost, etc). This audience is least familiar with Andrew and sees him more as a spiritual thought leader and less as a Guru with a community of students. This audience is the least interested in hearing about the details of our current situation, and our plan to communicate with them is through a series of blogs in which Andrew will speak about the current situation in more of a philosophical/cultural context (outlined in the Blog Themes section).
This is a group of about 35K people (~12K of which are very active) who receive consistent communications from us about new content, events, and products. This audience is a mix of people, but generally has more familiarity with Andrew's role as a teacher and also leader of our organization. Our primary communications to them will draw upon themes in Andrew's blog, but speak specifically about how we as an organization plan to respond to this situation and how that will affect the content and programs that they are used to hearing about.
This is the segment of our public audience that is most familiar with the deeper dimensions of Andrew's work as a Guru and spiritual innovator. This audience has been following Andrew's work through the magazine, through the Guru & Pandit dialogues, and through other platforms like Craig Hamilton's, and is more familiar with the spiritual and philosophical stands that Andrew has taken in the post-traditional spiritual world. Our plan for this audience is for Andrew to use some of the remaining Guru & Pandit Virtual dialogues with Ken this year to explore some of the "Mythic-to-Post-Mythic-Guru" themes that are at the heart of the current situation.
Labels: Andrew Cohen, Carter Phipps, Craig Hamilton, cult, EnlightenNext, evolutionary enlightenment, Foxhollow, guru, integral enlightenment, integral theory, Jeff Careirra, Ken Wilber, mythic guru, spiral dynamics
posted by the Editors at 12:21 PM 1 Comments Links to this post
Tuesday, January 24, 2012
From Rude Boy to Nice Guy?
There appears to be a curious online trend occurring with Andrew Cohen and his cohorts at EnlightenNext. Here at WhatEnlightenment??! we have observed with interest the following events:
First, Andrew’s infamous "Declaration of Integrity" (reposted here), his bombastic and scathing blog rant from 2006 against his critical ex-students has quietly disappeared from his own blog. Simultaneously, the gushing student-run Cohen-apologists’ blog, Guru-Talk.com has likewise been taken down in its entirety without so much as a peep*. (See a reposted entry here) And even more, around the same time, someone going by the user name “Kosmocentric” attempted to remove the entire “Criticisms” section from Andrew Cohen’s Wikipedia page. (It has since been restored by someone else).
So what is going on here, folks? Dare we infer that there is a slippery and concerted effort on the part of Cohen and his students to remake the "rude boy" guru’s online image?
Stas Mavrides’ recent article, I Love Him, I Hate Him, I Love Him Again suggested that Andrew did a pubic about-face on his critical, angry stance toward his former teacher, in part per his PR consultant’s advice that he needed to make some specific image changes in order to help his fundraising efforts. (There are indications that Cohen’s group is in difficult financial straits – In 2011 it officially ended publication of its magazine “EnlightenNext”, and listed its Foxhollow property for sale, selling off a portion of the estate to a development company.) We believe that Andrew’s disingenuous re-creation of himself as a "kinder, gentler" guru described in that article is continuing with the above-mentioned "disappearing" of his angry and arrogant "Declaration", the silent takedown of his students’ apologetics website "Guru Talk", as well as the attempted removal of the "Criticism" section of his Wikipedia bio.
We also believe these numerous actions have a common theme, which is to defang his “rude boy” guru image, as well as to hide cultic public displays of student adoration in an attempt to appear more compassionate, less pompous and even humble to potential new students and donors. These days Andrew speaks to large Integral audiences like the “Integral Spiritual Experience” convocation held in California earlier in January. His “abusive-guru” baggage, if discovered, would most likely be a liability in trying to reach these new, discriminating Integral students.
There are many in the Integral world who are disturbed by the endorsements given to Cohen by various Integral teachers, especially Ken Wilber. Given that, it would seem by removing earlier internet testaments from himself and fawning students it might help him forge his new image as a likable ‘Integral-friendly’ leader; an image that belies the character of an abrasive, even abusively autocratic guru, a man to whom his inner circle of students have surrendered control of their lives, yet secretly fear displeasing.
And so we say, “Beware the wolf in sheep’s clothing!”
The WhatEnlightenment??! Editors
*Editor’s Update: Will wonders never cease?
Well, imagine our surprise when after our post noting the recent removal of Andrew Cohen’s “Declaration of Integrity” from his blog, the attempted takedown of the “Criticsms” section on his Wikipedia page, and the concurrent disappearance of the Cohen apologetics blog, “Guru-Talk.com”, we got an email from “Guru-Talk” founder, Pete Bampton, claiming that his site was not intentionally taken down, but had according to him been “hacked into”. So what’s next? Will Cohen’s “Declaration” make a sudden reappearance? Who knows? Nevertheless, we welcome back online our WhatEnlightenment??! ‘counterpart’, “Guru-Talk”, or as we affectionately call it, “Kool-Aid Talk”.
Labels: abusive guru, American Guru, Andrew Cohen guru, cult, Declaration of Integrity, EnlightenNext, Guru-Talk, Integral Institute, Integral Spiritual Experience, Ken Wilber, Marc Gafni, Terry Patten
posted by the Editors at 4:44 PM 8 Comments Links to this post
Friday, January 28, 2011
Welcome to What Enlightenment??!
A Guide to the Facts and First-hand Experiences of Former Students of
American Guru, Andrew Cohen.
An active blog from 2004 - 2007, What Enlightenment?!! is now closed for commenting, but remains as a resource for factual information. It is periodically re-opened and updated whenever new, relevant information is brought to light.
If this is your first visit to this site, it would be useful begin here with
Breaking The Code Of Silence by Hal Blacker
"I Love Him, I Hate Him, I Love Him Again"
Devotion, Deception and Opportunism
in Andrew Cohen’s Re-found Love
for His Guru, H.W.L. Poonja
by Stas Mavrides
Those of you who tuned-in to the latest online offering from Andrew Cohen/EnlightenNext on March 26, 2011 — Awakening to Your Highest Self — a lengthy guru love-fest billed as his “Gift to the Cosmos,” may have been surprised to hear Andrew effusively celebrating his formerly reviled teacher H. W. L. Poonja and their relationship. As a close senior student of Andrew’s for 15 years, I know I was. For over a decade while I was in Andrew Cohen’s inner circle, the only comments I heard from Andrew about his former Lucknow, India Advaita teacher “Poonja-ji” (also known as “Papaji”), were disparaging, disrespectful and vituperative.
Read the full article at INTEGRAL WORLD, and comments to the article HERE.
posted by the Editors at 8:36 AM 0 Comments Links to this post
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
The Truth Will Set You Free
In June of last year, the editors of this blog were contacted by Yonatan Levy, a contributor to the Israeli online journal NRG-Ma’ariv, for an article he intended to produce on Andrew Cohen and Cohen’s organization, EnlightenNext. Levy had sought an interview with Cohen himself, specifically in order to seek a balanced perspective on the allegations against Cohen previously published on this blog. While the interview he’d requested was never granted, Levy did receive from EnlightenNext’s “Communications Director,” Amy Edelstein, a series of official written responses to questions he had submitted in advance of the proposed interview. He also received an intimidating letter from Cohen’s lawyer, dated the same day, advising him of NRG-Ma’ariv’s potential legal liability in the event of the article’s publication. These documents are available here:
EnlightenNext's responses to Mr. Levy Letter from EN's attorney
Under the circumstances, NRG-Ma’ariv’s legal department encouraged Levy to seek firsthand confirmation of any allegations against Cohen or EnlightenNext that he intended to outline in his article. It was for this reason that Levy contacted us with the answers he’d received from Edelstein—in which she declared that most of the information published by former students of Cohen on this site is simply false.
Almost a year later, Levy’s article has still not seen the light of day, and it now appears that it may never be published. However, EnlightenNext’s responses to Levy’s questions represent an historic event of sorts, as they constitute its first official denial of the events described on this blog. Although previously Cohen and his defenders had publicly taken refuge in the notion that the incidents reported here have been taken “out of context” by “a few disgruntled former students,” they have never—until now—gone on the record with official declarations that the reported incidents never actually took place.
Although it seems clear from the correspondence reproduced above that EnlightenNext’s representatives believed coordinated legal intimidation would be sufficient to keep their denials below the public radar, What Enlightenment??! has decided—in the interests of a free, transparent and open exchange—to publish them here. Doing so will accomplish two objectives. First, it will give EnlightenNext a platform from which to “go public” with its reportedly common response to the queries it receives from current and potential students about the contents of this blog, i.e., that they are mere fabrications. Secondly, it will give former students who have direct experience of the reported incidents an opportunity to respond specifically to EnlightenNext’s denials.
It is worth reiterating that the publication of these documents represents an historic moment in the public dialog that this blog was created to facilitate but could never fully accomplish without the full participation of both sides. This is why we have decided, at least for a limited period, to re-open it. It is our sincere hope that potential responses, from current and former students alike, can now begin to focus specifically on the truth and accuracy of our recollections, as it is only by these means that we can arrive at any meaningful reconciliation—or, in Andrew Cohen’s well-chosen words, “come together in the truth.”
Searching for the truth about Andrew Cohen:
A journalist's odyssey
My name is Yonatan Levy. For the last few years I’ve been a writer and editor for the spirituality section of NRG-Ma’ariv, a major Israeli media site. Nine years ago I attended a weekend intensive led by Andrew Cohen in Israel. It was my first encounter with a living spiritual teacher and my impression was positive. I was impressed by Cohen’s simple and clear meditation instructions and by his powerful personality. Soon afterward, I attended a meeting of a group of his followers, but found the atmosphere awkward and unnatural. Yet I still found the rhetoric of Cohen’s writings moving and inspiring. I was thus surprised and bewildered to discover dozens of accounts in the What Enlightenment??! blog depicting Cohen as a capricious, dishonest tyrant—especially in light of his emphasis on ethics and integrity as a crucial aspect of true spiritual evolution.
Before Cohen’s next visit to Israel, I asked to interview him, with the intention of asking about the allegations. In response, I was told that the interview would be granted on the condition that I would not ask about anything in the WE??! blog, because Cohen had not yet responded publicly to the issue as a whole, and was planning to do so on his own blog; after this, I was assured, I could ask about anything I wanted to. I was willing to wait, but all of my interview requests following Cohen’s post (“A Declaration of Integrity”) were declined. Finally, I decided to write the article without an interview. Yet I did send Cohen a list of questions concerning the issues and accounts that had been presented by the What Enlightenment??! blog, adding that if the allegations proved untrue I would call the article off.
The answers to my questions, formulated by Amy Edelstein, perhaps with the aid of Attorney Barry Fischer, are the first detailed public response by Andrew Cohen’s organization, EnlightenNext, to the accounts of Cohen’s ex-followers. Some of the answers use juridical language, taking advantage of inaccuracies in the phrasing of the questions to evade the matter. Others seem to be blatantly counterfactual, or are so easily refuted that there is little doubt they were primarily given in order to convince me not to write the article—which ultimately did not appear on NRG-Ma’ariv for fear of a long and costly lawsuit.
As part of my research, I sought reactions and statements of verification from former contributors to the WE??! blog, whose accounts of abuse on Cohen’s part had raised the issue in the first place. Some of these appear below. In several cases, I was able to speak with individuals directly involved in incidents described on the blog, who also confirmed the accuracy of accounts that have been denied or disputed by EnlightenNext.
Here then (above), for the benefit and judgment of those who are interested in Andrew Cohen’s standards of integrity, openness, honesty and “soul strength,” are the questions I asked and the answers I received from his organization, EnlightenNext.
Yonatan Levy ~ Tel Aviv, Israel
Selected responses to EnlightenNext's statements
from former students of Andrew Cohen:
Student #1 Student #2 Student #3 Student #4
To view readers' comments or to post one, click on the "comments" link below:
Labels: abuse, American Guru, Amy Edelstein, Andrew Cohen, Andrew Cohen guru, Craig Hamilton, EnlightenNext, evolutionary enlightenment, gag order, integral enlightenment, Ken Wilber
posted by the Editors at 11:29 PM 60 Comments Links to this post
Monday, April 16, 2007
A Farewell With Deep Gratitude
by Hal Blacker
More than two years ago I decided to write publicly about what I felt had gone seriously wrong with Andrew Z. Cohen's teaching methods and his community. I had received disturbing reports from other former students that eventually compelled me to speak out. I wrote then:
…A few years ago I began to learn of things that caused me great concern. An old friend who I worked with on What Is Enlightenment? magazine called and told me she had left the community. I told her a little about my thoughts about it—how I had come to see how oppressive life in the community was, how wrong it was that there was no personal freedom or autonomy permitted, how abusive the confrontational methods used to enforce conformity now seemed, how frequently we lived in fear, and how criticism was always forcibly squelched. She interrupted me and said, “Hal, things have gotten a whole lot weirder since you left.” I asked her what she meant, and she told me stories involving the use of physical force and abuse against students. She spoke of being ordered by Andrew to deliver “messages” to fellow students consisting of slapping the student in the face as hard as she could. She told me she had been ordered by Andrew to paint messages in blood-red paint on the walls of a student’s room at Foxhollow. She described to me the conversion of the spa at Foxhollow into a kind of psychological torture chamber.
As the years passed I spoke to many other former students who confirmed these stories, elaborated upon them, and told me many more. I learned of students having large “contributions” psychologically extorted from them. I heard how a student was required to sign a “gag order” agreement prohibiting him from publicly criticizing Andrew as a condition of having his “contribution” returned. I was told the story of community women prostrating in a freezing cold lake in the winter, some suffering dangerous exposure, as a symbol of their devotion and repentance for “women’s conditioning.” I learned of a student being forced—against his will and his moral compunction—to engage in daily visits to prostitutes in Amsterdam for weeks on end as a kind of penance for past sexual indiscretions. I was told by a student how he was ordered to reveal to his estranged teenage daughter her mother’s infidelity that occurred many years in the past, in order to teach the daughter not to hold her mother, now a critical former student, in such high esteem. I heard these stories and many, many more. As the weight of the awful truth about what Andrew and his community had become accumulated, I began to feel that something must finally be said. People must be warned. At the very least, any prospective student should know what they are signing themselves up for when they join Andrew Cohen’s community.
In the more than two years since I personally "broke the code of silence," all of these disturbing events, and many more, were documented and corroborated on this blog, over and over again. Three former editors of What Is Enlightenment? magazine, including myself, spoke out strongly here about the abuses in Andrew Cohen's community. Other close students have also put their names on the line to attest to what went wrong with the community's beautiful dream of creating heaven on earth. The woman who financed Cohen's Foxhollow EnlightenNext world center wrote about how he unfairly took advantage of her vulnerability and largesse. Numerous other students have also contributed here, both named and anonymous, shedding light on the authoritarian abuses around Cohen, their causes and their harmful effects. In contrast, not one specific or credible factual denial has emerged from Andrew or anyone associated with him about what has been reported here in great detail and depth. Instead, we have only heard the refrain that we have failed to include the "context," as if any overarching purpose could justify the abuses described here and the pain they caused. No cry of "context" could obscure the devastating truth that the participants in this blog have had the courage to reveal.
I hope it will not be regarded as overly dramatic if I say that I look back over what has occurred on this blog with awe, gratitude and humility. This blog's truly collaborative, interactive and collective nature makes it, perhaps, unique in the blogosphere, on the Internet, and, perhaps beyond. I haven't seen anything really parallel. I believe that, beyond the collaborative nature of the editorial work here, the collective intelligence, truthfulness and vulnerability of the contributions, responses, arguments and discussions have made this effort at healing and truth-telling unprecedented. I don't think that so many have spoken out before with such rawness and honesty in an attempt to warn the unwary, comfort the injured and understand humbly how something they believed in so totally could go so wrong. For this effort and honesty, on behalf of all of the editors of this blog, I bow to everyone who has participated here, whether anonymously or named, and whether former student, interested observer or friend.
While what has happened here will always remain, this seems like a good juncture at which to conclude this particular project of honesty and love. So, on behalf of the editors and administrators of this blog, I have been asked to write a kind of farewell. The discussion here could go on endlessly, or as long as authoritarianism hides behind masks of evolution, enlightenment or other ideals. This is not cynicism. I am not saying that evolution or enlightenment do not exist, or are unworthy of a life's dedication. But the capacity for deception is endless, and opportunists and the self-deluded who use and abuse high ideals, whether consciously or unconsciously, will probably always be with us. For this reason, I hope the discussion engaged in here will persist in one form or another.
But I think that this particular forum has run its natural course. The essence of what needed to be expressed has been said. Most of the former students I know have moved on, or are in the process of doing so—they have regrouped or are regrouping, they value what they learned, both good and bad, and they have ventured into productive new lives. Those lives now may be less filled with drama, buzz and high romanticism, perhaps, than their lives with Andrew Cohen. But they seem, to me, to be lives that are far more genuine, lives that are making, or have the potential to make, greater contributions to this world. The former students I know are, by and large wiser, softer, humbler and happier than they were when in the thrall of the community discussed here. They are professionals, artists, parents, workers in the non-profit sector, and many are actively engaged in working for their own and others' spiritual liberation. I think the healing that was, in part, the purpose of this blog has occurred to a great extent and will continue. And what has been written here will stand as a warning, a cautionary tale for the benefit of those who may consider taking a similar path to the one that went astray, as described here.
I feel confident that everyone whose life has been touched by this discussion has benefited in some fashion. Even those readers who chose to become involved with Cohen or to continue their involvement with him cannot help but be a bit smarter about it—or at least have an awareness of this resource for helping them pick up the pieces when reality shatters their dream. And we have heard that some of the more extreme abuses of community members have been stopped or moderated in the wake of their being revealed on this blog.
There is only one person for whom I still have great concern. I fear that he is perhaps the only one who has not been able to learn something of value here and who may be irretrievably committed to a painful and destructive path. That person is Andrew Cohen. I sincerely hope—and I think most ex-students will join me here—that some day our former teacher will find the humility to revise his own idea of himself; that he will demonstrate the vulnerability and lack of pride that he taught us but failed to live; and that he can find a way to recover his balance if and when his bubble implodes. We were mistaken in our assessment of him, but we did recognize his potential, and I think we all would like nothing more than to see that potential fulfilled in truth and humility. But that would require a difficult self-reckoning for him, one for which it is hard to find genuine reason for hope.
Still, against all reason perhaps, I believe in basic goodness. I have faith in the happy ending. No ending would make Andrew's former students happier than to see him change. And nothing is completely beyond possibility in a world where the courage and honesty demonstrated by all who participated here can manifest.
For now, WHAT Enlightenment??! is signing off. We may create a web site in the future, for the sake of posterity, with some of the articles on this blog. This blog will remain as a resource, but in a few days comment posting will be turned off.
On behalf of the blog editors, I want to express deep gratitude to everyone who has participated in and contributed to this journey of healing and truth. Best wishes to you all on your path.
May all beings be happy!