David Christopher Lane
Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College Lecturer in Religious Studies, California State University, Long Beach Author of Exposing Cults: When the Skeptical Mind Confronts the Mystical
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1994) and The Radhasoami Tradition: A Critical History of Guru Succession
(New York and London: Garland Publishers, 1992). For the reviewed book and its author see: www.americanguru.net
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY DAVID LANE
A Review of "American Guru"
I personally think Andrew Cohen is in deep need of long term therapy. The first step in his recovery process should be for him to sit down and read American Guru closely line by line.
After reading William Yenner's edited volume, AMERICAN GURU: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing—Former Students of Andrew Cohen Speak Out, I felt a number of emotions, ranging from depression, to anger, to frustration, to disbelief, to finally gratitude.
My first encounter with an Andrew Cohen devotee occurred several years ago when one of the editors of their slick magazine, What is Enlightenment? (now called, EnlightenNext), wrote me a personal letter asking for my appraisement of her guru. She had read a book I had co-authored with Professor Scott Lowe (University of Wisconsin) entitled "DA: The Strange Case of Franklin Jones" (Walnut, MSAC: 1995), which harshly criticized the late American guru. She clearly saw problems with Da Free John and I got the impression that she felt that Andrew Cohen was different and perhaps a genuine spiritual master.
I hesitated in writing back because I had read enough about Andrew Cohen to almost immediately realize that he, like Da Free John, suffered from an acute case of adolescent narcissism. In other words, both of these so-called spiritual teachers had yet to grow-up and act like mature adults. When they don't get their way and cannot control the behavior of their fawning devotees (which happens a bit more frequently than one might at first suspect), they have hissy fits. Da Free John would invariably go into one of his spiritual sulks or lash out in an indignant rage if he felt that his disciples didn't "get" his teachings.
In Yenner's explosively revealing book, American Guru, we learn that Andrew Cohen displays all sorts of loutish behavior when his disciples don't kowtow to his every neurotic whim. Women devotees especially receive harsh treatment from Andrew Cohen, including his own mother who eventually left him and exposed her son in her ironically titled book, The Mother of God.
What an outsider might find both unbelievable and astounding is how so many very bright and men and women can be so hoodwinked by a guru like Andrew Cohen who has never impressed me (unlike Da Free John, for instance) as being particularly intelligent or insightful. He reminds me of someone I knew in high school who got picked on and perhaps roughed up a bit by other students (for maybe not being athletic enough in gym or sharp enough in algebra class), and who vowed early on to someday get his revenge.
Andrew Cohen doesn't at all act like an enlightened guru passing on valuable gems of wisdom. Rather, he acts like a spoiled brat who suffers from a chronic case of high school insecurity and has finally discovered a way to get even.
And who does he get even with? Those spiritual seekers who are naïve enough to transfer over to Andrew Cohen their deep-seated yearnings, their love, and, finally, their wallets and purses. Even Andrew Cohen's obvious infatuation with Ken Wilber is indicative of Cohen's chronic intellectual insecurity. Cohen's and Wilber's tete-a-tete is grounded in their own self-interests, but the fact that Ken Wilber has aligned himself once again with an abusive self-proclaimed guru, such as Andrew Cohen, speaks volumes about Wilber's so-called "integrity".
Ken Wilber has never fully admitted how mistaken he was about Da Free John and his nefarious actions (lamely back-peddling, albeit slightly, only after the New York born guru was exposed in the national media). It is all too clear that Wilber hasn't a clue about the gurus he associates with or endorses. Or, to put it in a darker light, it seems as if Ken Wilber will chummy up with any guru provided he or she will give him a featured section in their monthly journal.
I have read a large number of books that have exposed modern spiritual leaders and their organizations, including The Bare-Face Messiah (L. Ron Hubbard), Monkey on a Stick (the Hare Krishna movement, Life 102: What To Do When Your Guru Sues You (John-Roger Hinkins), etc. I think that American Guru is a valuable addition to the growing literature devoted to exposing fraudulent gurus.
American Guru is not a mean-spirited book. It is, rather, a refreshingly honest one. I think American Guru should be required reading for all of Andrew Cohen's past and present students. Hopefully, it will be read by every spiritual seeker before they make a choice of becoming a student of this so-called master who cannot even reconcile with his own mother.
I personally think Andrew Cohen is in deep need of long term therapy. The first step in his recovery process should be for him to sit down and read American Guru closely line by line. After doing such, he should apologize first to his mother and then to every student he has ever taken under his wing. Hopefully, he will then refund whatever money he has manipulatively gathered in his name.
I don't think any of this is likely, but I do have confidence that anyone who reads American Guru will be properly forewarned not to buy into any of Andrew Cohen's childish antics.
If you are on the fence about Andrew Cohen and his methods, American Guru will help you get off it and provide you with enough telling detail (and, hopefully, some confidence) to walk away from this spiritual poser. His mother did and so should we all.
William Yenner, American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing-former students of Andrew Cohen speak out, Epigraph Publishing, 2009.