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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

Elliot BenjaminElliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 230 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:


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


Cohen is Responsible for Himself

Elliot Benjamin

Andrew Cohen is responsible for his own actions, and how we perceive and evaluate the choice of wording for his philosophy by Ken Wilber is a separate matter.

Martin Erdmann's first Integral World article in his 3-part series entitled The Real Cause of Andrew Cohen's Dilemma begins with a descriptive Abstract that includes the following [1]:

The real cause of the dilemma is not to be found with Andrew Cohen as a spiritual teacher, who truly believed in the dubious enterprise he engaged in. The dilemma lies inherent in Ken Wilber's ego-theory, which has been faithfully followed by Andre Cohen in his spiritual practice. So it is primarily Wilber who has to be taken to task for his ill-conceived ego-theory.

In the course of Erdmann's first two articles in the series (at this time his third part has not yet appeared on the Integral World site) he proceeds to explain how Cohen was merely putting into practice Wilber's philosophy of needing to destroy the ego in order to reach the higher levels of authentic Self, as in Zen Buddhism. In his second article ["Ken Wilber's Ego-Theory revealed as a true breeding ground of self-destruction"], Erdmann focuses upon one of Cohen's prominent ex-followers, Dr. André van der Braak, who wrote a book [Enlightenment Blues] in 2003 that described his disillusionment with Cohen [2]. I cannot argue with Erdmann in his description of Wilber's philosophy pertaining to his endorsement of Cohen, and I have expressed my own concerns and disappointment about Wilber's strong endorsement of another controversial guru: Adi Da (formerly known as Free John), as well as his lack of understanding and appreciation of the cult dangers of Scientology [3]. However, although these misguided statements of support by Wilber—both for Cohen and Adi Da—are certainly disappointing to me, I find the conclusions that Erdmann has come to in his articles to be equally disturbing.

Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen in Dialogue
Ken Wilber and Andrew Cohen in Dialogue

Erdmann describes the incident of a student of Cohen who was having trouble with a writing project for one of Cohen's books and in desperation made the statement “If I don't come through, I will cut my finger off.” The horribly sadistic response of Cohen by sending his surgeon follower to this student's apartment to pretend to follow through on his statement is described in vivid gruesome detail by ex-Cohen follower William Yenner in his illustrative book [American Guru] about Cohen, from which many of Hal Blacker's A-list depictions were taken [4]. From my understanding of this incident as described by Yenner, this student who made the statement about cutting off his finger certainly did not mean this literally, but was merely displaying how upset he was that he was not able to come through with the writing project he had agreed to do for Cohen. This example, along with the example of van der Braak supposedly rather willing to be burned alive than to betray Cohen, is used for Erdmann's belief that “The more advanced disciples are no longer in need of Andrew's humiliating support. They mortify themselves on their own account.” [5]

What I find disturbing in Erdmann's conclusions is his apparent lack of appreciation of, and compassion for, the severe indoctrinations, manipulations, and unwarranted and unasked for destructiveness that many people have experienced in what I have described as modern religious groups with high cult danger characteristics [6]. I can attest to this personally from my own experiences in the 1970s in Scientology [7], as I certainly did not voluntarily subject myself to the kind of psychological and financial abuse that I experienced in Scientology. What I believe Erdmann is missing here is that there is a world of difference between Wilber voicing philosophical views about egoism and spirituality and using evocative language to describe how the ego needs to be destroyed, and Cohen actually subjugating his loyal followers to the kind of sick abusive treatment that a number of his ex-followers, including William Yenner and Hal Blacker, have vividly described (cf. [4]). There is a vast literature available on the ways that destructive gurus and religious groups with high cult dangers influence people to transform themselves into virtual automatons who lose their own sense of selfhood (cf. for example [6]), and I believe that these destructive gurus are completely responsible for themselves for their actions. I include Andrew Cohen in this list, and I do not think that his brief “apology” after all his sadistic and destructive actions on the lives of many of his followers for 25 years is sufficient cause to excuse any of his abuses, and certainly not to lighten them by attributing the crux of the blame to Wilber.

Let me be clear that I do not condone Wilber's “rude boy” statements of support for Cohen, in the same way that I do not condone Wilber's lavish praise of Adi Da, nor his lack of understanding of the cult dangers of Scientology. Similarly, I do not condone Barbara Marx Hubbard's support of Cohen, as I have described in my own Integral World articles about Andrew Cohen [8]. But I believe there is a world of difference between Wilber saying “if it rumbles toward a God realization and not egoic fortification then it demands a brutal shocking death: a literal death of your separate self, a painful, frightening, horrifying dissolution” and Cohen's “hitting, slapping, punching of students....having students pour buckets of paint over the head of a former a form of punishment and humiliation....holding and withholding students' passports, credit cards and car keys to that they could not leave community premises....women were a freezing cold penance for perceived faults and 'women's conditioning,' some to the point of hypothermia, delirium and unconciousness....having a student who was trained in the Dutch equivalent of the military special or commando forces threaten another student with serious physical injury should he ever leave Andrew Cohen, telling the student that if he ever left Cohen, 'no matter where you are on the planet, I will find you and break every bone in your body.' “ (cf. [1], [4]).

Just as I do not think that Hitler and the Nazis should be excused for their unspeakable atrocities by blaming it on Nietzsche's philosophy of the “superman,” I do not think that Andrew Cohen's 25 years of destructive guru practices should be excused by blaming it on some of the forceful and destructive choice of words that Ken Wilber has at times chosen to describe his philosophy of transcending the ego. In my opinion Andrew Cohen is responsible for his own actions, and how we perceive and evaluate the choice of wording for his philosophy by Ken Wilber is a separate matter. For I believe that actions speak louder than words, and although Wilber certainly has demonstrated that he has a big ego and can be quite verbally condescending and insulting to his critics [9], I have heard no mention of Wilber engaging in psychological and/or physical abuse to any of his followers. And since I base much of my philosophy upon my own experiences, I will add that in my own experiences with Wilber I have certainly not encountered anything remotely resembling the kind of abusive and sadistic practices that is now well documented that Andrew Cohen has engaged in to his followers for many years. So what makes a guru a guru? Undoubtedly there are many factors at play here (cf. [6]), and it is not my intent in this article to delve into this topic in any kind of scholarly way. My intent is simply to answer the question succinctly and briefly by saying that in the case of Andrew Cohen: this guru is responsible for himself.


[1] See Martin Erdmann (2013). The Real Cause of Andrew Cohen's Dilemma: Part 1: Andrew Cohen Following Fatefully in Ken Wilber's Egosteps (

[2] See André van der Braak (2002). Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru. Rhinebeck New York.

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

[4] See Hal Blacker (2013). The “A” List of Andrew Cohen: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse (; 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.

[5] See Martin Erdmann (2013). The Real Cause of Andrew Cohen's Dilemma: Part 11: Ken Wilber's Ego-Theory Revealed as a True Breeding Ground of Self-destruction (

[6] See Elliot Benjamin (2011). Modern Religions: An Experiential Analysis and Exposé. Natural Dimension Publications (available at; 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) (1993). Recovery form Cults. New York: W. W. Norton & Co.

[7] See the Scientology material in my Modern Religions book in [6], and also Elliot Benjamin (2008). Scientology in the 1970s from Various Perspectives in Time (

[8] See Elliot Benjamin (2013). Andrew Cohen's Notable Supporter: Conscious Evolutionary Barbara Marx Hubbard and My Dilemma; Elliot Benjamin (2013). Andrew Cohen's Mis-integration of Spiritual Philosophy Into Life (

[9] See for example Frank Visser (2006). The Wild West Wilber Report: Looking Back on the Wyatt Earp Episode (

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