INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber



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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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See also: Reply to Benjamin's "What Makes a Guru a Guru?"

My Response
to Erdmann

Compassionate Philosophy is Needed

Elliot Benjamin

Therapeutic compassion is what is called for here—not dispassionate philosophical analysis—in my opinion.

I am glad to see that Martin Erdmann is in agreement with me that Andrew Cohen is responsible for himself, as this was the crux of the problem I had with his previous two Integral World articles [1]. I don't know the extent of exactly how much Ken Wilber was aware of all the sordid details and grotesque cruel sadistic actions that Andrew Cohen forcefully inflicted on his students, as has now been well documented by a number of sources, including Hal Blacker and William Yenner [2]. I don't think that Martin Erdmann knows this either, but perhaps I am mistaken. I do agree that Wilber has inexcusably endorsed and promoted Cohen as a guru and has done so by glorifying Cohen's “rude boy” image to impressionable others, and I most certainly fault Wilber for this. But when I had my 2 hour private meeting with Wilber in his Denver apartment in 2003, he at least did affirm to me that controversial guru Adi Da (formerly known as Free John) went too far in his antics [3], and my own guess here is that Wilber lent a deaf ear to what he did not want to hear about the “sick” (to me) and twisted destructive actions of Cohen on his students. Again, I am by no means excusing or minimizing this, but at the same time I think that Erdmann is equating Cohen's responsibility with Wilber in a way that is not warranted.

As Erdmann says in his Part 2 essay:

There are other ego-theories from Wilber's imagination, which point in a different direction. In Sex, Ecology, Spirituality, for example, Wilber speaks of a “divine egoism”...which means an ego to be enhanced, to be worshipped. So we see an ego here, which stands in stark contrast to the ego of Living Enlightenment, which is to be annihilated. In Wilber's writing we find quite a few ego-theories, which are incompatible with each other (cf. [1]).

Erdmann goes on to say that he will be discussing this more in his Part 3 essay, and I look forward to reading this. But the main point for me right now is that Wilber did not have one steadfast unchangeable philosophy of destroying the ego which resulted, in Erdmann's words, “seeing his own ego-theory realized in the spiritual practice undertaken by guru Cohen” (cf. [1]). And I have serious doubts that Wilber “wholeheartedly supported Cohen's actions” as much as he did essentially what I have described conscious evolutionaryBarbara Marx Hubbard as doing, which was to ignore what he did not want to deal with [4].

Once again, I see Wilber as philosophizing—and as Erdmann himself has clearly stated—as philosophizing all over the place, and yes I will say that his verbal way of philosophizing is at times very disturbing to me in his vulgar and violent language. But to translate this destructive choice of language into condoning Cohen's physical and psychological abuse to the extent that Cohen indulged in, I do not believe is warranted or fair to Wilber. To the best of my knowledge, Ken Wilber is not in his essence a violent or physically or emotionally abusive person. He has character flaws, like all of us, and he has a big ego—like many of us. But to equate Wilber with Cohen's “punching, hitting a student” to lead to “blissful enlightenment” because of Wilber's choice of wording to describe destroying the ego at the times when he chooses to focus on this part of his ego-philosophy, is way too simplistic an equivalence for me, and this sounds very much to me like making an assumption of guilt without bothering to look at all the details of the case.

I had originally intended to not respond to Erdmann's response to my "What Makes a Guru a Guru?" article [5] because I had thought that it would be best for one of Cohen's ex-students to respond rather than myself. However, I decided to respond both because Erdmann's essay is almost completely a response to my previous essay, and also because I feel a “responsibility” to once again call attention to the psychosocial interpersonal dynamics that are operating for people who get caught up in dangerous cults and controlling gurus [6]. I find Erdmann's philosophizing about how Cohen's ex-students may still be identifying with him—to be ideas that have little relation to the reality of the courageous statements and exposés that have been written by a number of his ex-students, especially on the now defunct “What Enlightenment?” blog [7]. But what I find most disturbing is Erdmann's easy and “dispassionate” way of describing how if Cohen's tactics were to lead to “blissful enlightenment” then all would be fine—in other words that the ends would have justified the means. Somehow in this case the means are so disgusting and inimical to me that I am just not able to take Erdmann's descriptions in stride:

If punching, hitting a student leads to blissful enlightenment, then this by all means is exactly the method to be applied. After all the student would be highly rewarded for the blows he received. And who would not be ready to have a bucket of paint poured over his head, if in recompense he could live in a state of perfect bliss afterwards. So the disciples who believed in the ego-theory of Wilber & Cohen had good reason to willingly undergo the pain and humiliation of Cohen's treatment [8].
What Erdmann is missing here is nothing less than the whole psychology of people who become indoctrinated in destructive cults...

What Erdmann is missing here is nothing less than the whole psychology of people who become indoctrinated in destructive cults and fall under the influence and control of manipulative and sadistic gurus (cf. [6]). I wish that one of Cohen's ex-students who actually experienced some of Cohen's physical and psychological abuse would enter into this discussion and portray what it was like to have buckets of paint poured over a student and to be physically assaulted and threatened by Cohen and his disciples. I find it hard to believe that Erdmann actually believes that these ex-students of Cohen “asked for it.”

But Erdmann writes the following (cf. [1]):

The blows delivered by Andrew represent an assault causing bodily harm. They do not represent a criminal offense though, as ex-followers and detractors insinuated. After all they are carried out with the consent of the victims concerned. Actually our Andrewites are asking for the slapping and punching delivered by Andrew and the higher ranks of Andrewites. Please hit me, hit me real hard, for the obstructing ego to be annihilated, for the way to be cleared that leads to perfect enlightenment....So the faithful Andrewite is grateful to Andrew for withholding his passport, for retaining his credit card and car keys so that he will not be tempted to leave the community premises....”

I think this is what disturbs me the most in Erdmann's writings. There are at least two main issues going on here: one is the role that Wilber has played in Cohen's destructive guru behaviors, and the other is Cohen's responsibility for himself without minimizing it by claiming that his followers “asked for it.” Even if it is the case that “some” of Cohen's students actually requested to be physically and psychologically abused, which I do not have any direct knowledge of, then from any kind of “compassionate” psychological and philosophical perspective, these people are what I refer to as “mentally disturbed” and deserve our understanding and therapeutic assistance to help them get back to their authentic selves (cf. [6]), and certainly not to be used as an argument to excuse Cohen's behaviors on the ground that his victims “asked for it.”

Well I think I have responded to Erdmann in the best way that I can, given that I myself am not an ex-student of Andrew Cohen. I am still hoping that someone who has actually experienced Cohen's documented physical and psychological abuses will decide to join this Integral World discussion. I do recall a description by one of Cohen's ex-students who wrote an Integral World article which included a description of his experiences of being taken to the gym every night to be “roughed up” by a group of muscular Cohen disciples, and I do not recall this student “asking for it” while it was happening [9]. This student was—and as far as I know still is—a staunch defender of Cohen, and I will say that I see this student as an unfortunate case of someone who has lost his own identity—and his own life—to the destructive manipulative behaviors of the guru who he has put his complete trust and faith in; unasked for, but unable to remove himself from the clutches of his guru.

Therapeutic compassion is what is called for here—not dispassionate philosophical analysis—in my opinion. And as anyone who has read some of my Integral World essays knows, I see myself as first and foremost a philosopher—but an experiential philosopher. And the human appreciation of the suffering and pain inflicted on the lives of many of his students that Andrew Cohen has caused for over 25 years is primarily what I find missing in Martin Erdmann's essays about equating Cohen's responsibility with Wilber.

Notes/References

[1] See Martin Erdmann (2013). The Real Cause of Andrew Cohen's Dilemma: Part 1: Andrew Cohen Following in Ken Wilber's Egosteps; Part 2: Ken Wilber's Ego-Theory Revealed as a True Breeding Ground of Self-destruction (www.integralworld.net).

[2] See Hal Blacker (2013). The “A” List of Andrew Cohen: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse (www.integralworld.net); and William Yenner (2009). American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal, and Healing—Former Students of Andrew Cohen Speak Out. Rhinebeck, New York: Epigraph Books.

[3] See Elliot Benjamin (2007). On Ken Wilber's Integral Institute: An Experiential Analysis (www.integralworld.net)

[4] See my previous 2013 Andrew Cohen essays: Andrew Cohen's Notable Supporter: Conscious Evolutionary Barbara Marx Hubbard and My Dilemma; and Andrew Cohen's Mis-integration of Spiritual Philosophy into Life (www.integralworld.net)

[5] See Elliot Benjamin (2013). What Makes a Guru a Guru? Cohen is Responsible for Himself (www.integralworld.net).

[6] See Elliot Benjamin (2011). Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Natural Dimension Publications (available at www.lulu.com); Margaret Singer & Janja Lalich (1996). Cults in Our Midst. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; Steve Hassan (1990). Combating Cult Mind Control. Rochester, VT: Park Street Press; Michael Langone (editor). Recovery from Cults. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

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

[8] See Martin Erdmann (2013). Reply to Benjamin's “What Makes a Guru a Guru?” (www.integralworld.net).

[9] See Pete Bampton (2010). American Guru Andrew Cohen & Allegations of Abuse (www.integralworld.net).




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