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Integral World: Exploring Theories of Everything
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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).
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of Andrew Cohen
How Devoted Disciples Can Enlighten Their Guru
Imagine the following:
- Tibetan monks dedicated to the life and work of His Holiness the Dalai Lama convince him to give up his title and spiritual leadership. He is then encouraged to resign.
- Roman Catholics worldwide explain to Pope Francis that the hierarchy of the Church and the Papacy is outdated and should be done away with. They force him to retire, give up the garb, and go back to gardening.
- Prem Rawat (“Guru Maharaji”) is hammered by his inner circle to admit that he is not a Perfect Master, and, after confessing to his many transgressions, gives up being a guru and finds a job running an ice cream parlor in Malibu, California.
Andrew Cohen wasn’t the enlightened guru he pretended to be. His students were.
Admittedly, these are all improbable scenarios and unlikely to ever happen in the near future. However, something quite similar happened two years to Andrew Cohen, a relatively well known spiritual guru in New Age circles, who by his own admission “was asked to step down” from his leadership position. As Cohen reluctantly confesses, “Not only did my arrow miss the target but it caused unnecessary pain and suffering to too many people. For this I am deeply and terribly sorry. Too much suffering has resulted from my at times misguided efforts to create breakthroughs. I should have known better.”
Andrew Cohen: “I realize that much harm
has occurred, and that I am to blame.”
Andrew Cohen didn’t resign on his own terms, nor did he come to the realization that he was a lousy master who created more harm than good. More remarkably, it was Cohen’s devoted inner circle that forced him to quit. Andrew Cohen had caused so much damage in his spiritual community that his own following realized that it was time for him to give up the game. As Cohen explains, “My closest and most devoted senior students were beginning to see through my façade, could see that I was out of control, and see that I didn’t even know it. What made matters much worse is that I ignored the evidence; I ignored their respectful pleas for me to slow down and listen to them.”
During the past two years Andrew Cohen has taken what he described as a “sabbatical” from his teaching duties. He has now issued two apologies, with the latest (and most detailed) one being posted on May 12, 2015:
It is quite a revealing document, which has the Andrew Cohen community divided over whether their former teacher is really sincere or is (to quote one commentator) an “attempt to rebrand” himself for a refashioned Cohen 2.0.
A close reading of Andrew’s apology provides fodder for multiple interpretations, particularly when he repeatedly highlights his own credentials with a series of self-congratulatory statements such as:
“I have dedicated the last 28 years of my life to the Spiritual upliftment of humanity, to the evolution of consciousness and culture. For so many years I thought of little else.”
“During those years just the notion of higher development, the extraordinary possibility of emergence, would make my heart beat a little faster. It really WAS possible… and I could always feel the immanence of the miraculous always just around the corner.”
“Over the years I took many risks so that great leaps forward could actually happen. I also whole-heartedly encouraged others, my students, to do the same. It was all so amazing because it was so tangible. My gift was my capacity to inspire others to believe that it was possible… and to be willing to take great risks so that miracles could really happen.”
“These perceived and intuited potentials did reveal themselves again and again and so many of my students saw and felt the power and potential of what we had all given so much for. It was so exciting and such a grand spiritual adventure the likes of which most people never experience or even imagine.”
“Over the previous 15 years I had become an evolutionary through and through. I had experienced a profound awakening to a process perspective….”
“Most often when I would teach, I would experience the grace of my Guru, the gift of enlightened awareness, which would engulf my being in the most glorious way. The amazing part of it all is that in the midst of the growing problems I have been describing, I was simultaneously continuing to evolve and develop as a teacher and as a thinker. I was moving and was still often creative in finding ever-new ways to express the inexpressible. And I was still curious. Even after 28 years of being a guide and a guru and a public thinker, I was still reaching and stretching to understand more and more about Life, Reality and the meaning/purpose of it all.”
Andrew interweaves his egocentric, congratulatory back patting with some brutal admissions of his own imbalances and lack of maturity that caused tremendous pain and unnecessary suffering on the part of his naïve disciples.
“I realize that much harm has occurred, and that I am to blame.”
“Slowly over time I have come to see the parts of myself that were broken, that I have been in such ferocious denial of. In that denial I became at times untrustworthy. I see that now. So many of you trusted me with your souls and I proved myself at certain pivotal moments unworthy of that trust. Again I am sorry.”
“What I feel dreadful about is that the very idealism that I inspired and released in so many of you, I have wounded in the worst way possible. It’s difficult to bear that this is the case, but it just is. I would do literally anything to turn back the clock…but I can’t.”
Yet even as Andrew Cohen is frankly opening up about his many flaws, he still cannot resist promoting himself throughout his apology. This is, of course, quite revealing in itself.
As one commentator pointed out to Andrew Cohen,
“It’s riddled with basic assumptions about your own goodness and motives. There is no willingness being shown to genuinely question everythingthe perfection of your teachings, your ‘enlightenment, your ‘achievements’, your ‘love’ for us even. The whole tone of your message exudes the paradigm that you created and lived. Nothing fundamentally good could ever result from the use of force in the absence of love. You are clinging to the idea that somehow it didthe old ’end justifies the means’ line beloved of too many ‘leaders’.”
It appears that Andrew Cohen wants to have his cake and eat it too. Or, in this case, he still wants to believe he is an enlightened teacher who can be redeemed in the process, since near the end of his missive he writes, “I still love you all very much and hope from the bottom of my heart that you will find it in yourselves to believe that even Gurus with big egos can find the courage and humility to change.”
Ironically, what Andrew apparently doesn’t realize is that it was his students who were liberating him by defrocking him from his self-appointed guru role. In other words, by seeing through their teacher’s enormous ego and his sophomoric tirades, Andrew Cohen’s students were achieving part of the very enlightenment they desired.
Sadly, Cohen seems oblivious to the real lesson that he was being taught by his students which is that he (despite all his protestations to the contrary) isn’t enlightened nor should he ever have been a guru of his own making.
His students have released him and all he can think about is how he could have done things differently, not understanding that it was claiming to be a realized Master in the first place that was the real problem all along.
Andrew Cohen’s students gave him the boot and called him out of his silly charade and in so doing provided him with a most wonderful gift: his freedom. Andrew Cohen wasn’t the enlightened guru he pretended to be. His students were. Like the dog Toto in that most metaphorical of movies, the Wizard of Oz, Andrew Cohen’s students pulled the curtain on their guru and gave him the unique opportunity of going back to his real home, where he could work on himself and his adolescent narcissism.
Andrew Cohen’s inner circle has achieved something almost unique in the guru world. While liberating themselves from their teacher, they in return “enlightened” their guru Andrew Cohen by releasing him from his delusions.
The key now for Andrew is to fully appreciate this most wonderful gift and not return to the guru world. Andrew’s own students have been the real masters in this process and he needs to fully realize this and not repackage himself as some sort of Integrally reformed guru.
Andrew Cohen needs to stay retired and work on himself, not indulge in his delusional fantasy that he can awaken the world.
I want to commend Andrew Cohen’s disciples for showing the courage to show their guru the exit door. It is a genuinely enlightening lesson that they have given us.
 Andrew Cohen, "AN OPEN LETTER TO ALL MY FORMER STUDENTS UPON RETURN FROM MY SABBATICAL", May 12, 2015, www.andrewcohen.org