Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Martin Erdmann is a German writer, poet, retired lecturer of Heidelberg University. He completed studies of English, French, and of legal science, both at the University of Heidelberg. He wrote several books in German focusing on the illusion of the I or Ego. As a cofounder of the German Spiritual Emergence Network (S. E. N) he provided counseling to people undergoing spiritual crises. For several years now he has conducted seminars on Advaita-Vedanta. (email: [email protected] Homepage:

See also: The Real Cause of Cohen's Dilemma: Part II

The Real Cause of
Andrew Cohen's Dilemma

Part I: Andrew Cohen following
Fatefully in Ken Wilber's Egosteps

Martin Erdmann

Abstract: There has been a lot of discussion recently about Neo-Advaita teacher Andrew Cohen, who has been severely reproached with abusive treatment of his disciples. The article tries to show that 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 Andrew Cohen in his spiritual practice. So it is primarily Wilber who has to be taken to task for his ill-conceived ego-theory

Andrew Cohen recovered from being crazy in his own view

This means that Cohen turned from being crazy to being confused. Better confused than crazy, I daresay.

The most comprehensive record of misdeeds committed by Andrew Cohen was given on July 18, 2013 by Hal Blacker in THE "A" LIST OF ANDREW COHEN: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse. The accusations made include tyrannical conduct, financial and mental, but not sexual abuse of his followers, with a long list of minor and major offenses to follow. As a matter of fact it is fifty allegations altogether, which Hal Blacker in his article brings up against Andrew Cohen.

The charges, which Cohen had to face, finally lead to his decision to resign from his illustrious position as a guru. He also "apologized to his students for the wrongs he had done them in the past. In short: he admitted that... he does have an ego after all."

"I'm aware that many of my students over the years have also been affected by my lack of awareness of this part of myself", states Cohen, "and for those of you who are reading this, I apologize... ."

This looks like a turnabout in Cohen's own mind, for in the past he presented things in a different vein. "Either I'm crazy", stated Cohen back in 2006, "or there's something so pure, so absolutely good about me that brings out the devil [italics in this article added] in people who get close to me. And I can't help it, but my function is to purify everyone around me from ego." (WHAT enlightenment??!

Cohen stated that he was either crazy or absolutely good, his function being to purify everyone around him from an ego, which is the devil. There was no doubt in his mind that he himself was beyond all ego. So he truly believed that he could bring out the devil in all people who got close to him. Now he asserts that he had an ego after all. So he was himself haunted by the devil. Thus he was not absolutely good, which means that - being either absolutely good or crazy - he was crazy.

After all the public pressure exerted on him, Cohen discovered that he does have an ego after all, which he did not realize in the past. Thus his discovery implies a recovery from his past illusion of being absolutely good. This means that - in his own version of being either absolutely good or crazy - Cohen has recovered from being crazy.

From a no longer Crazy Cohen to a Confused Cohen

Andrew Cohen teaching in Paris, Spring 2012
Andrew Cohen teaching in Paris, Spring 2012

While confessing that he himself is burdened with the devilish ego, Cohen leaves his status as an enlightened being untouched. "I've been a teacher of spiritual enlightenment for twenty-seven years", states Cohen. "Enlightenment has always been and always will be about transcending the ego. Over the last several years, some of my closest students have tried to make it apparent to me that in spite of the depth of my awakening, my ego is still alive and well. I've understood this simple truth--that we all have egos no matter how enlightened we may be--and even taught it to thousands of people all over the world throughout my career." (Apology Andrew

This is not what Cohen declared in the past. Before he had recovered from being crazy he presented himself as an enlightened being without ego. No longer crazy he sees himself as an enlightened being, who still has an ego, in an "Enlightenment" now, which "has always been and always will be about transcending the ego", which will never be transcended, because "we all have egos no matter how enlightened we may be".

This means for Cohen March 25th, 2013, continues to be the 27th anniversary of the day, on which his enlightenment occurred, as the gracious gift bestowed upon him by his guru H. W. L. Poonjaji. So his spiritual anniversary is the day now, on which he became enlightened, with an "ego" that "is still alive and well" in an enlightenment, which is about transcending the ego, which cannot be transcended. This means that Cohen turned from being crazy to being confused. Better confused than crazy, I daresay. So it seems that Cohen has evolved, in terms of his own evolutionary enlightenment I mean.

In spiritual circles there is a lack of agreement on what is positively meant by enlightenment on the one hand and ego on the other hand. There exists, however, a consensus on what enlightenment and ego mean in a negative sense. Enlightenment, so goes the general agreement, is what the ego is not and vice versa. Someone who is enlightened has transcended the ego. Someone who is still immersed in his ego, is not enlightened. It is as easy as that, not so for Andrew Cohen though. He continues to hold on to the status of an enlightened being while at the same time confessing to have an ego. Now the very title of Cohen's book Living Enlightenment, A Call for Evolution beyond Ego (2002: XIII - XVIII) indicates that you have to go beyond ego for enlightenment to occur. This means that in the past also for Cohen enlightenment and ego were mutually exclusive.

This is in accord with Ken Wilber's view, which has been clearly portrayed by Wilber in his forword to Cohen's "living enlightenment", from which the following quotes are taken.

Wilber writes:

"Most of us prefer our spiritual teachers to be of the Nice-Guy variety... But if the flavor tends toward Enlightenment instead of consolation... 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... For only on the other side of death lies Spirit, only on the other side of egoic slaughter lies the Good and the True and The Beautiful."

So for Wilber enlightenment amounts to God realization, waking up to Spirit, which is the realm of the Good and the True and The Beautiful. As long as man holds on to his egoic fortification God cannot be realized. Thus the ego, which is the separate self, has to be slaughtered. So we see that enlightenment does not go with an ego you hold on to. So also for Wilber enlightenment and ego are mutually exclusive.

Now Andrew Cohen revealed that he has an ego after all. This is an assertion, which Ken Wilber must acknowledge. You can believe to be without an ego while you still have one. You cannot believe to have an ego while you have none. So there is no way to dis-affirm Cohen's affirmation. In the past Wilber took it for granted that Cohen was an enlightened being beyond ego. Now he must acknowledge that Cohen, who got stuck with this ego, is not enlightened after all.

Wilber's idea of enlightenment, however, is not Cohen's newly found enlightenment, which is about transcending the ego, which we will always have. This is a Confused Enlightened Cohen Ego now. Let us call it a CECE in brief, which is in conflict with an ego and an enlightenment, which are mutually exclusive.

"Despite years of allegations... numerous followers who have broken from him to tell their stories, Andrew Cohen", stated Scofield in April 2010, "still has his supporters. These people, many of them well known psychologists, therapists and spiritual teachers have an ethical responsibility to speak out against the abuse that Cohen was responsible for. His longtime friends, supporters and anyone who shares a stage with him or interviews him has a duty to confront him on these abuses if they know about them."

"Instead of ignoring and dismissing the experiences of former followers, wouldn't it be wonderful", continues Scofield, "if people like Ken Wilber, Genpo Roshi, Rupert Sheldrake, Deepak Chopra, Bernie Glassman, etc., could have the courage and the integrity to pay attention, to take up the cause of Cohen's former members, and confront Cohen publicly?" ("INTEGRAL ABUSE: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment")

Here we have a list of luminaries called upon to challenge the spiritual practice engaged in by former guru Cohen. Let us confine ourselves to Ken Wilber, who in the past has been Cohen's most renowned and decided supporter. I do not see on what grounds Wilber should have spoken out against Cohen. I see no reason why he should challenge Cohen for his past misdeeds. Wilber would have an ethical responsibility to oppose the spiritual practice Cohen engaged in, if it were in opposition to his own understanding of how a guru should conduct himself in the presence of his disciples. Cohen's spiritual practice, however, is perfectly in tune with Ken Wilber's spiritual theory as delineated in his introduction to Living Enlightenment.

If you want enlightenment, writes Wilber, if you want to wake up, if you want to get fried in the fire of passionate infinity, then, I promise you: find yourself a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl... who scare you witless... who will offer... abject terror, not saccharin solace but scorching angst, for then, just then, you might very well be on the path to your own Original Face.

Here enlightenment amounts to waking up, to seeing your own Original Face, and for this enlightenment to occur you have to be ready, so we hear, for the abject terror Andrew Cohen spread among his followers.

So Wilber was aware of the trembling, the trepidation and the fright Cohen spread among his students.

Wilber did not ignore Cohen's rude behavior. "Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy", he deliberately declared. "He is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces." So Wilber was aware of the trembling, the trepidation and the fright Cohen spread among his students. He wholeheartedly supported Cohen's actions, with the intent of seeing his own ego-theory realized in the spiritual practice undertaken by guru Cohen. While applauding Cohen Wilber applauded himself, with his idea of an ego that must be slaughtered.

Most of us, says Wilber, prefer our spiritual teachers to be of the Nice-Guy variety. Soft, comforting, non-threatening... It will not be okey if you want Enlightenment. It will, in fact, be hell, and only Rude Boys" like Andrew Cohen "are rude enough to tell you that, and to show you that - if you can stand the rudeness, stay in the fire, burn clean as infinity and radiate as the stars."

To radiate as the stars, you have to be sent to hell first, says Wilber. Thus Andrew Cohen, who sent his students to hell, did exactly what Ken Wilber wanted him to do. So Wilber, who firmly believes in his own spiritual theory, had no reason to confront Andrew Cohen publicly. When you go through the fifty points of allegations, as specified by Hal Blacker in his article THE "A" LIST OF ANDREW COHEN: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse, you will see that they all reflect a strategy neatly designed by Cohen to send his students through the torments of hell as envisaged by Ken Wilber.

We hear of...

"hitting, slapping, punching of students by Andrew Cohen and other students at Cohen's command". (1)

We are told that women were sent...

"in a freezing cold lake... as penance for perceived faults and 'women's conditioning', some to the point of hypothermia, delirium and unconsciousness." (2)

We hear of Cohen...

"having students pour buckets of paint over the head of a former student... as a form of punishment and humiliation. " (3)

These are only the first three in a list of another 47 humiliations devised by Cohen to have his disciples roasted in the fire of hell kindled by Wilber's vivid imagination.

For the sake of brevity let us call Andrew Cohen's disciples Andrewites. In my native German tongue it would be Cohenieten. In Germany we have a habit of calling each other by our family names, unless we are really well acquainted with each other. In the US you have a preference for first names. Thus, with due respect to the cultural connotations of the languages concerned, Cohenieten would be Andrewites in a proper American translation. So in this article it shall be Andrewites standing for the devoted disciples of Rude Boy Andrew.

Visiting the Wilberian hell, together with Messiah Cohen and the great Zen Master

The most important things that each man must learn is that no one else can really teach him.

Let us look more closely now at the fate of our Andrewites roasting in this Wilberian hell. Wilber is firmly convinced that it is a graceful, a compassionate fire of hell, with the obstructing ego going up in flames, with the flames leaping up into heavenly enlightenment. So Wilber in his own profuse imagination can happily see our Andrewites now "burn clean as infinity and radiate as the stars", as he solemnly declared.

"Your true glory lies on the other side of your death, and who will show you that?" asks Wilber. "Not the Nice Guys and not the Good Girls", replies Wilber. "They don't want to hurt your feelings... Rude boys know better. They are not here to console, but to shatter, not to comfort, but to demolish."

"At times men were ordered to restrain a man while Cohen hit him". (1)

Now all this "hitting, slapping, punching of students by Andrew Cohen" (1) was designed to set them free from their ego, like "the great Zen masters, who, when faced with yet another ego claiming to want Enlightenment, would get a huge stick and whack the aspirant right between the eyes", says Wilber.

Ken Wilber
Ken Wilber lecturing to his students

So Wilber leans on the practice engaged in by the great Zen masters to back up the way Rude Boy deals with his disciples. Let us first look at the Zen master's approach to then have it compared with the methods applied by Rude Boy Andrew.

Looking closely at the teaching of the great Zen master one can see that it is straightforward, blunt, and rough. He does not hesitate to use the stick on his disciples, if he thinks they needed to be knocked out of conventional reasoning and logic, out of their attachments, which in the case mentioned by Wilber is the attachment to an enlightenment they want to have for themselves.

"If You Meet The Buddha On The Road, Kill Him", says the Zen teaching. Whatever your conception is of the Buddha, it's wrong. So kill that image. If you have an image of what it means to be Enlightened or a Buddha, then you need to throw out, erase that image. For only in the liberation from all ideas and concepts can true enlightenment occur.

Zen Buddhists believe any attachment is negative. Labeling things distorts them. They believe in making silence within the mind, not in attaching to a concept and a doctrine, like the concept of an enlightenment or a Buddha. So if you encounter the Buddha on the road, discard the idea of Buddha. Empty yourself of all concepts for Emptiness to light up.

The most important things that each man must learn is that no one else can really teach him. Once he accepts this state of affairs, he will be able to stop depending on some idealized image of perfection that equates his concept of a guru or enlightenment.

The ego always wants to have something for its own gratification, like the state of enlightenment it holds on to. For the liberated state to light up the very desire for enlightenment must be abandoned. The Zen master's blow with a stick between the eyes, to which Wilber refers, is designed to deliver a shock. It is devised to convey a sudden and disturbing effect on the emotions of the student, to shake him out of an enlightenment, which he tries to grasp, which he wants to indulge in for his own gratification. The Zen Master loosens the egoic chains while Wilber & Cohen in their misguided approach fasten the shackles ever more closely. In Hal Blacker's "Catalog of Trauma and Abuse" we find Andrew Cohen

"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." (47)

"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.'" (46)

Jesus declared: "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6) Now Andrew states that none can come to the Absolute except through him. So leaving Andrew Cohen amounts to spiritual death, to a life, which is meaningless and hellish.

Thus the student breaking from a hell as envisaged by Wilber ends up in a hell as predicted by Messiah Cohen. The Wilberian hell, however, will lead to spiritual rebirth. The hellish life without the newly proclaimed Messiah will lead to spiritual suicide. Thus, as seen by Wilber & Cohen, when you enter the doors of Foxhollow Sangha you enter the heavenly kingdom. You will have to walk through hell first, but it is the doors of hell opening into the promised land. When you step out of the Sangha, you go directly into a hell, which will always be hell.

Andrew in hell and in divine love with Poonjaji

Andrew is certain that through Poonjaji he had attained to perfect enlightenment, with an ego now that continued to assert itself as part of the enlightened consciousness he had realized. Later he had an ugly falling out with his guru, to which Poonjaji a few years later replied: "The student who abuses his teacher goes to the 7th Hell, where one is thrown into fire, and again revives, and again is thrown into the fire, this will continue for a million years in this Hell. Later he will be born into the pig's family."

Poonjajis letter, puiblished in Enlightenment and Personality, is from 1996. He died in 1997. On March 27, 2007, Cohen writes:

"Sunday, March 25, was the twenty-first anniversary of my meeting with my guru, H.W.L. Poonja. That was the last day of my life as a seeker. This extraordinary man gave me the gift of enlightenment for free, and for that I will forever be in his debt... Last night, as I was walking home, thinking about what this day represented, I suddenly saw my guru sitting before me, engulfed in the living radiance of enlightenment. But it was not just a mental image or memory, it was a direct experience of that miracle that has consumed my life since the day I met him -- felt, known, and seen as the very real relationship that is an eternal bond beyond time and space... " ("I Love Him, I Hate Him, I Love Him Again")

The appearance, so we hear, created an eternal bond between guru and disciple. Now Andrew did not speak to the celestial apparition. Thus in the vision he had there was no room for a new falling out with his guru. So Andrew who had confronted Poonjaji has become eternally reconciled with his guru now. Thus in Poonja's view he will not be born into the pig's family. He has also been saved from being cast into Hell, again and again, for a million years to come.

Andrew Cohen's enslavement and the Zen master's liberation

Now there are these students of Andrew who confronted him, who wanted to leave the Sangha in order to escape from his control. For Andrew Cohen in his compassion they are the ones now to be saved from the hellish life awaiting them outside the Sangha. For this Cohen was "Denying and Discouraging Students' Freedom to Leave the Community", as stated by Hal Blacker in his article THE "A" LIST OF ANDREW COHEN: A Catalog of Trauma and Abuse (under heading 5)

For his lofty goal to be accomplished the Messiah was

"Holding and withholding students' passports, credit cards and car keys so that they could not leave community premises." (40)

"Posting guards outside a students' bedroom so that he could not leave, forcing him to secretly exit through a window at night and flee". (41)

"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.'" (41)

Zen is designed to free the student from all concepts, from all notions of enlightenment, of a Buddha or a guru. Cohen's practice had been devised to firmly impress on the student's mind the idea of an enlightenment, which can only be had through guru Cohen and his Sangha.

Wilber refers to the Zen master's practice to back up the methods employed by Cohen. Both the Zen master and Andrew Cohen whack their students, deliver their blows. A rose is a rose, says Zen. A blow is a blow, as seen with the outer eye. Perceived with the inner eye a Zen blow is opposed to an Andrew blow. Human individuality, which flourishes in a healthy Zen practice, is destroyed in Andrew's misguided practice, which was built on Wilber's ego-theory, into which we will look more closely in Part II of this article.


Cohen Andrew, Living enlightenment, a call for evolution beyond ego, Moksha Press, 2002

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