INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
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Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 150 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.

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Andrew Cohen's
Mis-Integration of
Spiritual Philosophy
into Life

Elliot Benjamin

When it comes to my investigation of Andrew Cohen, I believe that the situation is much more alarming.

Is it reasonable to expect a philosopher or spiritual teacher to be living out his/her spiritual philosophy in her/his life? Undoubtedly there are gradients of perspective here, but I do believe that when a philosopher or spiritual teacher forms a community and/or an organization of students who are living out the leader's spiritual philosophy, then at minimum this group or organization should be free from psychological and/or physical abuse of its students. In my investigations of Ken Wilber as the leader of Integral Institute, and Neale Donald Walsch as the leader of Conversations with God, I have attempted to be reasonably open-minded and understanding of the fact that we are all human with our distinctive personalities that may not live up to our high-level writings. From my experiences with these organizations and their respective leaders, I have conveyed in my respective articles and in my Modern Religions book that I do not believe there are serious cult dangers here, in spite of the egocentric personal qualities I found in both Ken Wilber and Neale Donald Walsch [1]. Of course other people may come to quite different conclusions, and in fact my introduction to Integral World in 2006 resulted in a heated debate with Geoffrey Falk in regard to my Integral World article on the possible cult dangers of Ken Wilber and Integral Institute [2]. However, when it comes to my investigation of Andrew Cohen, I believe that the situation is much more alarming, and I do believe there are serious cult dangers here.

Andrew Cohen
Andrew Cohen

Although I generally base my study of cult dangers of new religious groups upon my own experiences in these groups, this time I am going about my study somewhat differently. My personal experience with Andrew Cohen's organization has been quite limited, as I discussed in my previous Integral World essay on Andrew Cohen [3]. The impetus for me writing about Cohen is his being placed on the pedestal of highest-ranking spiritual evolutionaries by Barbara Marx Hubbard in her teaching the Agents of Conscious Evolution (ACE) course that I am currently enrolled in (cf. [3]). In a recent talk that Hubbard gave on my course, she singled out Cohen and read passages from his book Evolutionary Enlightenment [4], putting him in the esteemed company of Aurobindo, Teilhard de Chardin, and Ken Wilber. And the more I hear about how wonderful Andrew Cohen is, the more disturbed I feel when I hear about the many abusive practices he has instituted in the lives of his students.

I must thank William Yenner [5] for persistently educating me on the extremely disturbing narratives described by a number of Cohen's students on the WHATEnlightenment??! blog [6]. These accounts are readily available to anyone interested in researching them, and much useful and disturbing information can be found in William Yenner's American Guru book and Integral World essays (cf. [5]) as well as Be Scofield's related Integral World essay, all of which describe Andrew Cohen's abusive behavior toward his students in striking and alarming detail [7]. But to quickly give a glimpse of some of the anecdotes and episodes that have made the strongest adverse impression upon me and is motivating me to continue to try to raise public awareness about what I will refer to as Cohen's "mis-integration of spiritual philosophy into life," here are some of the most notable things that come to my mind.

  • Cohen ordering that a woman receive four buckets of paint spilled on her head for her lack of appropriate standards of conduct, resulting in the woman going through a traumatized state
  • Cohen ordering that "ego" destructive cartoons be continually shown to highlight and make fun of various students' weaknesses of character
  • Cohen orchestrating frequent hard face-slapping as a means of disciplining his students
  • Cohen requiring students (especially his women students) to spend hours in freezing lake water submerging themselves and reciting incantations to atone for misdeeds, which resulted in severe physical repercussions for at least one student
  • Cohen requiring that students give him lavish gifts and frequent large sums of money to "buy back" his good graces to get back into the community once they "falter"
  • Cohen requiring students to shave their heads for long periods of time - frequently for a few years - as a demonstration of working to control their problematic ego
  • Cohen deciding and ordering who a legitimate partner is for his students to enter into romantic relationships with and/or to marry and possibly have children with (if Cohen permits them to do so)
  • Cohen ordering a hoax of his medical doctor student bringing out her surgical kit to amputate one of his student's fingers as a punishment for this student having difficulty writing an introduction to one of Cohen's books, with this student subsequently entering into a traumatized state
  • Cohen finding much enjoyment in his ordering extreme physical labor inclusive of digging large ditches with a small shovel, for students who have had continued difficulties in overcoming their egos or have disobeyed his specific instructions
  • Cohen overseeing his wife physically beating up a student for disobeying Cohen's instructions for this student to not give advice to another student
  • Cohen's extreme condescending behavior toward women, inclusive of his belittling women for not being able to achieve a "universal" perspective on life, which resulted in his "women conditioning" program

These are just some of the highlights that have made it into my immediate consciousness (for the details that support these highlights, see [5], [6], ]7]), and I believe it gives an indication of why I am so concerned about Cohen being promoted in the way that Barbara Marx Hubbard has been promoting him in my course.

Just for the hell of it, I did my own Bonewits Cult Danger Scale analysis [8] based upon what I have learned about Cohen from the above sources. Although I do not want to give the details of the individual numerical scores I came up with—because I have not experienced Cohen's organization myself—I will say that my overall rating of 6.7 puts Cohen in a cult danger class behind only Scientology and The Unification Church for the 22 new religious groups that I have done my experiential Bonewits Cult Danger Scale analysis on [9]. In my Modern Religions book, I listed Scientology and The Unification Church in the category of High cult danger with respective scores of 8.7 and 9.0. My next two closest scores were that of Avatar and Divine Light Mission (currently known as Elan Vital) with respective cult danger scores of 5.4 and 5.1, and I listed both of these organizations in the category of Moderate cult danger.

Based upon what I have learned about Cohen's abusive practices toward his students, my Bonewits Cult Danger analysis is in agreement with where I was originally thinking Cohen belongs in my cult danger scheme? I would make a new category and list Cohen as Moderate/High cult danger. Thus to answer the question I began with, I think it is reasonable to expect a philosopher or spiritual teacher to at least stay aboveboard and refrain from instituting the kind of physical and psychological abuse that a number of Andrew Cohen's students have described they received from him. My perspective here is reinforced by some of these students, as described on the WHATEnlightenment??! blog (cf. [6]), as follows:

In the cold light of reality it becomes apparent that Cohen's alleged "realization" has never prevented him from manifesting profoundly unenlightened and at times childish behavior.
And how much self-delusion on the part of its members is required to sustain the belief that this noble mission is fueled by their blind faith and unquestioning participation....In the cold light of reality it becomes apparent that Cohen's alleged "realization" has never prevented him from manifesting profoundly unenlightened and at times childish behavior that entitles one to ask whether he could ever have been enlightened in the first place, and whether it isn't just as likely that his elevation to the status he occupies, and the devotion he inspires in his followers, are the over-determined result of a certain set of psychological conditions preexisting in all concerned. These days it sometimes seems to me that Cohen's entire teaching is a universalized code for the reification of a narcissistic personal worldview....This is a perspective that, among other things, locates Cohen and the fact of his existence at the "leading edge" of cosmic evolution. Meanwhile, anyone who has interacted with Andrew personally could certainly be forgiven for hearing his assertion that "Your feelings don't matter" as "Only mine do."
Andrew's "Teachings" I feel, cannot be separated from who he is—which is a mixed picture. Therefore, put mildly, my current view of Andrew's teaching is one that sees a fervor for universal, "impersonal" truths and ideals, mixed with a peculiar lack of humanity, compassion, and respect for individuals. Although it seems to be an easy one to lose sight of, the central question in all such recollections must be whether incidents like these are consistent with the endeavor to which Cohen professes to be devoted: that of manifesting and helping others to manifest an evolved, enlightened relationship to life in the cosmos and, closer to home, the global human community. To what extent can an organization like Cohen's, riddled with rather primitive in-group/out-group dynamics and uncritically beholden to the guidance of a leader blind to his own failings, effectively fulfill such an agenda?....Tami Simon of SoundsTrue, reneged on a promise to release her recorded interviews with Cohen—precisely because while conducting them she had reached the conclusion that this was an extremely inflated character.

I recently read Cohen's 2011 Evolutionary Enlightenment book (cf. [4]). Cohen's book was strongly promoted by Hubbard for us to read in my course, and many of the luminaries in the field of spiritual evolution, including Ken Wilber, Jean Houston, and Barbara Marx Hubbard, wrote lavish praise of the book, which included a spirited forward by Deepak Chopra who expressed how appreciative he is toward Cohen for making him realize that he is now living in a wonderful time to be enlightened. I admit that I did not want to like the book, but in truth I must say that I believe the book has its merits, and that its philosophy is very much in line with that of Barbara Marx Hubbard, Steve McIntosh, Carter Phipps, and that of conscious evolution, although there has also been some strong criticism on the Integral World site in regard to these conscious evolution ideas [10]. However, what is distinctive about Cohen's formulation is his continuous unrelenting (and what I would characterize as "excessively harsh") insistence on the necessity of overcoming the ego and putting the ego in its place, in order to allow the true spiritual essence of the person to emerge. And it is just this continuous harsh insistence of gaining control of the ego that is a portal into how Cohen could "mis-integrate" his spiritual philosophy into life. Cohen's insistence on not letting the ego gain control of the spiritual essence of the person is essentially quite similar to what one gets from reading the long text of A Course in Miracles [11] or from listening to Neale Donald Walsch describe his current perspective (and new online course) on his Conversations with God teachings [12]. But this is where the similarity ends.

From my experiences with both Conversations with God and A Course in Miracles, there are no psychological or physical abuses that students undergo to be part of these organizations [13]. I will also say personally that from viewing Cohen in his video appearance with evolutionary philosopher/ex-entertainment promoter extraordinaire Harold Bloom that I watched for one of my ACE course lessons [14], I found Cohen to be aloof, not "warm," and self-occupied in a way that was not at all appealing to me (and this image of Cohen is reinforced for me from viewing his photograph in his Evolutionary Enlightenment book (cf. [4])). This is such a drastic difference to the very personable way that Neale Donald Walsch comes off (to me, anyway) in his promotional audio tape for his new course. Walsch is full of engaging, personal, warm, and vulnerable communications and humor that made me feel like he was sincere and genuine, and would never engage in the kind of abusive practices that Cohen has engaged in, and this is consistent with my previous explorations of Walsch and Conversations with God (cf. [12]).

Thinking about my current ACE course, I will say that at this point I am encouraged that perhaps my efforts to promote on my ACE course a knowledge of Cohen's abusive practices to his students, may yet bear some fruit, though I have had to work diligently for this to happen. I felt quite sure that Barbara Marx Hubbard must know something in regard to the growing concerns about Cohen, as must all the evolutionary luminaries who have written such lavish praise about him, including Ken Wilber, who has referred to Cohen rather affectionately as "a rude boy" (cf. [7]). However, from what Barbara Marx Hubbard recently conveyed to me in her brief personal e-mail that I received as a result of my communication about my concerns to my ACE course program manager, she apparently thinks that "some" of my concerns may be true, but she has not heard any criticism from any of Cohen's students who she has met throughout the world, and she described Cohen's practices to his students as essentially a "guru who is exerting his authority."

I have been in continual dialogue with William Yenner in regard to my attempts to convey my Andrew Cohen concerns on my ACE course, and William has been very supportive of my struggles and has offered me some wise counsel. We are in agreement that of course Barbara Marx Hubbard would not hear criticisms of Cohen from his current students directly, and William was surprised that Hubbard would be so na´ve as to not realize this. I conveyed to Hubbard as nicely as I could that I would not expect that she would hear criticisms of Cohen from her direct contacts with his students, and I asked her to read Be Scofield's Integral World descriptive essay about Andrew Cohen's alleged abuses to his students (cf. [7]), along with conveying William's offer to send her his American Guru book (cf. [5]) free of charge by overnight mail. And I must agree with William Yenner that Cohen and Hubbard are likely in collaboration and alignment in a way that is not going to change—and this is even more evident to me after learning about their recent shared conscious evolution workshops in which they engaged in a good deal of mutual appreciation and promotion of each other [15].

I had initially received an open and constructive response from Hubbard's immediate assistant and program manager on my course, in which she thanked me for bringing my concerns about Andrew Cohen to her attention, and said that the ACE coordinators will look into it. She also said that she wasn't aware of the situation I presented, and did not think Barbara Marx Hubbard was aware of it either (which I am quite sure is not correct) but that she would apprise Hubbard of the matter. She concluded by saying that the ACE coordinators only want to promote people who are "ethically aligned" with the ACE network.

However, before I heard back from Hubbard I did not feel confident that my concerns would truly be addressed as this program manager promised, and I decided to post my concerns on the central ACE course blog as a new discussion topic: "Andrew Cohen Concerns." Well my posting was up for perhaps 30 minutes before it got taken down by the program manager, with an angry letter to me which accused me of violating the trust she had put in me and her promise that ACE would take my concerns seriously and promptly look into them, and of inappropriately making public what she wrote to me in her private e-mail. We had some back and forth communications about all this, by both e-mail and phone, and I understood how she felt violated by me posting what I did about her private communication to me, but it also made me feel like perhaps I should do my Bonewits Cult Danger Analysis on ACE itself. Essentially the ACE course manager did not want me to "stir up students" and embroil them in this controversy while they are working intensively on themselves in the course, and asked me to give ACE and Barbara Marx Hubbard more time to investigate my concerns before discussing them publicly on the course. I decided to make the assumption that this was not an unreasonable request, and as it turned out, the program manager and I reached an agreement that I would re-write my ACE site posting in a less "offensive" way, but one in which I was still conveying my concerns, along with links to Integral World articles by Scofield and Yenner, and the WHATEnlightment??! blog (cf. [5], [6], [7]). She also wanted me to include the "other side" of the story by giving links to descriptions from ex-students who portrayed positive sentiments toward Cohen, and luckily I was able to point out that I was including "the other side" via Andrew Cohen's "Declaration of Integrity" (which is his quite abstract defense of himself from the criticisms of his ex-students) and the "Guru Talks" (which consists of descriptions by ex-students who still feel positive feelings toward Cohen) links in Scofields's article (cf. [5]). I'm keeping my fingers crossed that this time my posting stays up on the site.

The program manager conveyed to me that I made her think about whether Andrew Cohen should be included in the bonus audiotapes for the next ACE course (he is one of seven bonus audiotapes in my present course, which also includes audiotapes by Deepak Chopra, Ken Wilber, Gary Zukav, and don Miguel Ruiz (author of The Four Agreements [16]), and that Barbara Marx Hubbard was open to receiving William Yenner's American Guru book. I had thought that the Andrew Cohen audiotape would essentially be a monologue by Cohen promoting his evolutionary spirituality ideas as expressed in his Evolutionary Enlightenment book (cf. [4]). However, I was quite shocked to hear Hubbard not only put Cohen on the evolutionary pedestal, but also promote his Lenox, Massachusetts "beautiful" community as an ideal spiritual learning environment for students, saying she had been there and that it was a "scenius for genius," which means a community that allows the genius in people to emerge.

However, all things considered, at this point things appear to have progressed to a comfortable place for me in my ACE course in regard to my communication of my concerns about Andrew Cohen's "mis-integration of his spiritual philosophy into life."

Notes

[1] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and ExposÚ; Natural Dimension Publications; available at www.lulu.com; Elliot Benjamin (2006), On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis; www.integralworld.net; Elliot Benjamin (2004), On Conversations with God; ICSA "Newsletter, Vol. 3, No. 2, www.icsahome.com

[2] See the series of back-and-forth essays between Elliot Benjamin and Geoffrey Falk on the Integral World site at www.integralworld.net: Falk, "Pandits and Prisoners"; Benjamin, "Prisoners and Cults"; Falk, "Ex-Integral Scholars and Expert Opinions"

[3] See Elliot Benjamin (2013), Andrew Cohen's Notable Supporter: Barbara Marx Hubbard and my Dilemma; www.integralworld.net; and Barbara Marx Hubbard (2001), Emergence: The Shift from Ego to Essence: 10 Steps to the Universal Human; Hampton Roads Publishing Company.

[4] See Andrew Cohen, Evolutionary Enlightenment: A Call for Evolution Beyond Ego; Moksha Press.

[5] See William Yenner (2009), American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal, and Healing: Former Students of Andrew Cohen Speak Out; Epigraph Books; see also William Yenner's articles on Andrew Cohen on the Integral World site, in particular his (2009) essay American Guru: Excerpts and an Update; www.integralworld.net

[6] See http://whatenlightenment.blogspot.com

[7] See Be Scofield (2010), Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightment; www.integralworld.net

[8] For more information on how I have used the Bonewits Cult Danger Scale, see my Modern Religions book and On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute essay (references in [1]).

[9] The highest cult danger ratings I gave for Cohen were in the categories of Internal Control, Wisdom Claimed, Wisdom Credited, Dogma, and Sexual Manipulation (in the context of having control over the lives of members).

[10] See Frank Visser's (2012) Integral World essays The Evolution Religion: Review of Carter Phipps' "Evolutionaries" and Platonic Evolution: Review of Steve McIntosh's "Evolution's Purpose"; www.integralworld.net

[11] See Foundation for Inner Peace (1996), A Course in Miracles; Penguin Books (original work published 1975).

[12] See http://evolvingwisdom.com/nealedonaldwalsch/livingfromyoursoul/enroll

[13] See my Conversations with God and A Course in Miracles essays in my Modern Religions book, and my Conversations with God ICSA article (references in [1]).

[14] See http://www.andrewcohen.com/2012/04/07/video-faith-progress-evolution/

[15] This mutual appreciation and promotion of Hubbard and Cohen for each other can be seen in striking fashion from the ACE course audiotape, which is from 2010, as well as from other conscious evolution workshops that they have done together. Although these documents are not publicly available, the promotion for one of their appearances together can be seen from http://www.enlightennext.net/retreats/virtual/

[16] See don Miguel Ruiz (1997), The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Wisdom (A Toltec Wisdom Book); Amber-Allen Publishing Co.




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