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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Reposted from www.whatenlightenment.com (July 18, 2013) at the request of the author.
Read also: "Andrew Cohen and the Fall of the Mythic Guru in an Age of PR-Spin" by Hal Blacker
is a former editor-in-chief of What Is Enlightenment?
magazine and a former student of Andrew Cohen. He is a founding editor of What Enlightenment??!,
a blog critical of Cohen and his organization. Hal is also an authorized lineage holder in a Nyingma lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and a teacher of Advaita Vedanta at Real Dharma
, a study and meditation group.
THE "A" LIST
OF ANDREW COHEN
A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse
This list is only a summary reference. It fairly represents the kind of abuses that frequently occurred in the EnlightenNext community.
The following is a list of categories of abuses committed by Andrew Cohen and the EnlightenNext community over the years against students, with selected representative examples. All of these acts have been reported, verified and corroborated by first-person witnesses. Most have been documented in three published books written by critical former students—Mother of God by Luna Tarlo (Andrew Cohen’s mother), American Guru by William Yenner and Enlightenment Blues by André van der Braak—and on a blog by former students, What Enlightenment??!
This list is by no means exhaustive. Many other reprehensible acts, both subtle and gross, have been documented and, as former students are finding their power and their voices, more are emerging every day. This list is only a summary reference. It fairly represents the kind of abuses that frequently occurred in the EnlightenNext community, often justified under the rubric of acts of “crazy wisdom” designed to destroy “ego.”
It is hoped that this list will aide former students in coming to terms with their history and trauma, and that it will serve as a warning and wake-up call to those who are currently engaged with Andrew Cohen, EnlightenNext, “Evolutionary Enlightenment” or its teachers, spin-offs and associates (e.g. Craig Hamilton, Jeff Carreira, Carter Phipps, Elizabeth Debold, Mary Adams, Chris Parish, Ken Wilber, the Integral community and others), and those who are considering engaging with them in the future. It is also hoped that it may provide food for contemplation for Andrew Cohen himself and inspiration for his reform and remediation.
In the title of this list, “A” is for Andrew Cohen, for Abuses committed by Cohen and his organization, and for long overdue meaningful Apologies and reparations.
1 Physical Abuse
- Hitting, slapping, punching of students by Andrew Cohen and other students at Cohen's command. At times a group of men were ordered by Andrew Cohen to corner and attack fellow students and at times men were ordered to restrain a man while Cohen hit him.
- Having women repeatedly do full-immersion prostrations in a freezing cold lake in New England in the autumn (on EnlightenNext’s Foxhollow premises) as penance for perceived faults and “women’s conditioning,” some to the point of hypothermia, delirium and unconsciousness. Some women had to be rescued or helped from the lake, and some developed illnesses afterwards. Some women were berated and ordered to repeat their attempts to complete a required number of prostrations despite having become delirious or suffering hypothermia. No medical care was provided for women who passed out, suffered hypothermia or became ill, even though there was a doctor in the community and on the Foxhollow premises.
- Having students pour buckets of paint over the head of a former student who was helping to work on the Foxhollow EnlightenNext premises, as a form of punishment and humiliation.
2 Financial Exploitation
- Using repeated group and individual pressure tactics on a student who Andrew Cohen knew to be psychologically vulnerable, in order to induce her to contribute approximately $2,000,000 for the purchase of the Foxhollow compound in Lenox, Massachusetts, the headquarters and residence of Cohen and the EnlightenNext community. Soon after meeting this student, Cohen had elicited from her that she had a trust fund and was in intensive psychotherapy four times per week, and persuaded her to cease her psychotherapeutic treatment.
- In preparation for the move to Foxhollow, Andrew Cohen required every Marin County, California student (where his major center of operations was at the time) to contribute $1,000 for every year they had been a student (up to $5,000), telling them that those who did not comply “would never set foot on the Foxhollow property.”
- In preparation for the move to the Foxhollow EnlightenNext Center, students were required to make a full disclosure of their finances to Cohen and the organization, and to undergo financial “counseling” as to how they would support themselves and the community after the move. In at least one reported case, a student was encouraged to lie to his parents in order to receive financial support so that he could pay rent to the organization after moving to Foxhollow.
- Frequently and repeatedly charging students "fines" of thousands of dollars for what Cohen considered to be various infractions, failures or slights. Ordering these students to pay these amounts or to leave their homes at his Foxhollow center or be banished from the spiritual community.
- Inducing a number of students to give Cohen or his organization their inheritances or obtain advances from their families of their expected inheritances in order to turn the funds over to Cohen or EnlightenNext.
- Using in excess of $500,000 in funds contributed to EnlightenNext to build and expand accommodations just for Cohen, including extra offices, a music studio and a yoga practice room.
- Requiring students to provide Cohen with elaborate and expensive gifts, flowers and engage in various other forms of penance in order to apologize for perceived failures, wrongs or slights.
- Imposing demands of long hours of work and labor for Cohen’s organization that made it impossible for students to earn a living and support themselves, often forcing students to incur thousands of dollars of debt.
- Requiring a student to sign a confidentiality agreement prohibiting him from publicly criticizing Cohen or the community for a period of five years after leaving, as a condition of returning an inheritance contributed under Cohen’s pressure.
3 Violation of Sexual and Reproductive Rights and Privacy, and Interference with Family and Personal Relationships
- Requiring a student to visit prostitutes repeatedly over a several week period and to provide detailed faxed reports on these visits to Cohen, despite the student strongly expressing his strong disgust and emotional trauma over having to do this and daily begging Cohen to be allowed to stop. Witnesses saw Cohen reading and listening to the reports of the prostitute visits with great interest, enjoying and laughing at them.
- Pressuring women to have tubal ligations (have their “tubes tied”) so that they could not conceive children. Encouraging men to have vasectomies. Actively discouraging the having of children by women and couples. Requiring some women to commit to having no children as a condition of being a student of Cohen. As a result of having made a commitment to having no children, as required by Cohen as a prerequisite for becoming a student, one woman had an abortion when she became pregnant. Many women refrained from having children, in some cases past the age to become pregnant, to their later regret.
- Requiring some parents to live separately from their young children, sometimes in other countries and for long periods of time; actively discouraging parents from giving their children ordinary love, time, attention and priority in their lives or spending holidays and free time with them; sometimes advising parents to slap their young children.
- Directly ordering the break up of numerous couples and families.
- Exercising direct and complete control over students’ decisions regarding sexuality and relationships, including whether the student would be celibate or in a relationship, with whom the student could have a relationship, if and when students should end a relationship or marriage, and whether married couples or students currently in a relationship could have sex with their partner.
- Ordering a student to tell his young daughter about her mother's (his wife's) long past infidelity, traumatizing the daughter and contributing to her alienation from her father and to alienation between her parents.
- Directly giving harsh and critical messages to children in the community, including, in one instance, telling a thirteen year old daughter of students that she was “a little bitch now and soon you're going to be a big bitch.”
- Telling a student she was a bad mother and threatening to have authorities take away her child.
- Questioning students’ sexual orientation, whether homosexual or heterosexual. In one instance, forcing a heterosexual male student to spend an entire retreat questioning his sexual orientation because Cohen was mistakenly convinced he was really homosexual.
4 Emotional and Psychological Abuse and Ostracizing
- Ordering a student who is a physician to simulate the amputation of the finger of another student who had sworn, under pressure, that he would cut off his finger if he failed to complete a writing project. This simulation included full preparation of the student for the amputation by the doctor and the doctor’s readying of surgical knives and only ceased just before actual amputation. As a result, the student was emotionally traumatized and soon thereafter fled Cohen's residential center, Foxhollow.
- Yelling at a student whose husband had just committed suicide, calling the husband a “loser” and telling her that she should be happy to be rid of him.
- Having a senior student telephone and loudly and harshly criticize at length an elderly and infirm former formal woman student (Caroline Franklyn) for a misperceived slight to Cohen, telling her that Cohen was furious at her for her failure to “admit her sin” and that she would “die a miserable old woman.” Her health deteriorated alarmingly soon after this event, and within approximately a week she was dying in the hospital. Cohen failed to offer any communication to the woman of sympathy, support or forgiveness after her concerned family requested this until it was too late, as the woman had by then become unconscious. She died eleven days after her verbal scourging by the senior student. Cohen’s acts in this regard are considered by her family and others to be a direct cause of her decline and death.
- On multiple occasions, criticizing, disparaging and finding fault in students who were suffering bereavement at the death of family and loved ones. For example, on one occasion, having the community harangue and yell at a student who was grieving her sister’s death for “betraying Andrew” when she was too grief-stricken to perform work for the community. When the student went abroad to look after her sister’s affairs, having students pile all of her belongings on the street, where most were stolen before the student could return to rescue them.
- Ordering students to spend hours and days in a former sauna, and in a basement area of the EnlightenNext Center. These areas had been decorated with students’ letters splotched with red paint, representing "the guru's blood," and with cartoons of students who had left Cohen depicted as demons falling off cliffs and causing destruction. Students with whom Cohen was unhappy were characterized as having injured him and “spilled his blood.”
- Frequently and repeatedly disparaging and criticizing women for their “conditioning” and resistance to him. Having female students repeatedly and at length contemplate disturbing cartoons depicting sexually predatory, violent and sado-masochistic acts, including one of a student eviscerating Cohen. This was supposed to be either a punishment or cure for "female conditioning."
- Requiring a student to move her office to a room in the Foxhollow basement that was painted red and decorated with a cartoon of her as a devil, and requiring her to spend many hours working there.
- Isolating students for long periods of time in their apartments at Foxhollow, allowing them to leave only to work.
- Ordering a student to have his newer luxury Saab crushed because he was too “attached” to it.
- The frequent use of abusive, profane, shaming, jeering and insulting language by Cohen toward students, and the subjecting of students to public humiliation and shunning.
- In small private groups of close students, Cohen frequently insulting attendees at public forums who he had behaved warmly toward in public, by calling them “fat,” “stupid,” “useless,” “disgusting” and other disparaging terms, and encouraging close students to do the same.
- Giving students insulting, demeaning and humiliating names (e.g. “Dizzy,” “Mad Dog,” “Vacance,” “Raging Bull,” “Q the Clown,” “Mephisto,” etc.) and requiring the exclusive use of these names in the community.
- Requiring students to shave their heads and take on celibacy vows as penance for perceived faults.
- Threatening and enforcing excommunication and ejection of students from the EnlightenNext Center and from their homes, often without warning and, at times, late at night.
- Revealing students’ confidences disclosed to Cohen to other students, including confidences of an intimate and sexual nature.
- Depriving students of sleep to the point of exhaustion, often for years.
- Depriving students of ordinary friendship and emotional support, frequently turning the entire community against individual students and prohibiting them from speaking, touching or having other contact with them.
- Creating such psychological pressure on students that numerous students secretly fled the community, some at night, and many hiding and having little or no contact with other students or former students for years.
5 Denying and Discouraging Students’ Freedom to Leave the Community
- Holding and withholding students’ passports, credit cards and car keys so that they could not leave community premises.
- Posting guards outside a students’ bedroom so that he could not leave, forcing him to secretly exit through a window at night and flee.
- 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.”
- Subjecting students who expressed their wish to leave the community, or to lessen their involvement with the community, to lengthy interrogation, haranguing, meetings and coercive discouragement from leaving or lessening their involvement.
- Having students track down other students who left the community, bringing or attempting to bring them back.
- Having students write disparaging and insulting letters to students who chose to leave the community.
- Andrew Cohen repeatedly telling students that if they left the community it would be the equivalent of “literally committing spiritual suicide” and that they “can never escape me” as “I am their direct connection to the Absolute.”
- Repeatedly telling students that there were no valid spiritual teachers other than Cohen or valid spiritual paths other than his, and that if they left him their lives would be meaningless and hellish.
- Cohen, when among close students, ridiculing, laughing at, insulting and dismissing other teachers, public associates and peers, such as Deepak Chopra, the Dalai Lama (“an idiot”), Don Beck (“a disgusting old man”), Craig Hamilton (“a big baby”), Ken Wilber (“a huge narcissist”), Michael Beckwith and Barbara Marx Hubbard (“they just don’t get it”) and various members of the Integral community, such as David Deida, Terry Patten and others, and encouraging close students to do the same.
- Disparaging and expressing extreme anger and hatred by Cohen toward students who left him; labeling such students as devils, traitors and “losers” and often “disappearing” them, denying their contributions and the years of labor they had given him and his community.
- Discouraging students who leave from having any contact with other students who had left, labeling those who left as “losers” and “the shadow sangha.”
As a result of abuse suffered in the community, many former students experienced trauma, depression, disorientation, loss of connection to spirituality in any form, and the need for psychotherapeutic treatment after leaving Cohen’s community. Numerous former students are still struggling to come to terms with their experience in Cohen’s community, sometimes a decade or more after leaving.