Tuesday, July 11, 2006

The Abusive Guru: Andrew Cohen

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I found this at the P2P Foundation blog this morning, which was copied from a series on Frank Visser's site. But of course, as Ken Wilber warns, do not assume this has anything to do with what Wilber thinks.

My friend Alan Kazlev has a really excellent four-part critique of Ken Wilber. One part specifically deals with Wilber’s inability to deal with spiritual abuse, and focuses on Andrew Cohen:

“But the most common – indeed, the standard, excuse abusive gurus use to justify their behaviour is that it is necessary that the disciple be abused and humiliated in order for them to overcome ego and attain enlightenment (although at the same time, no abusive guru ever acknowledges that any of their students have ever attained enlightenment) It is this, more subtle argument, that one finds associated with the Wilberian Integral movement as a whole. According to Andrew Cohen, teachers need to break down one’s ego, and this can be a psychologically and emotionally excruciating process. Wilber fully supports this approach. In the Foreword to one of Cohen’s books, says

"When it comes to spiritual teachers, there are those who are safe, gentle, consoling, soothing, caring; and there are the outlaws, the living terrors, the Rude Boys and Nasty Girls of God realization, the men and women who are in your face, disturbing you, terrifying you, until you radically awaken to who and what you really are….

If you want encouragement, soft smiles, ego stroking, gentle caresses of your self-contracting ways, pats on the back and sweet words of solace, find yourself a Nice Guy or Good Girl, and hold their hand on the sweet path of stress reduction and egoic comfort. But if you want Enlightenment, 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 a Nasty Girl, the ones who make you uncomfortable in their presence, who scare you witless, who will turn on you in a second and hold you up for ridicule, who will make you wish you were never born, who will offer you not sweet comfort but 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”.[
Wilber applauds Cohen as a “rude boy”, and offers him (and abusive gurus in general) as the alternative to a ridiculous caricature that does not match the description of any spiritual teacher. He says that the “rude boy” will “hold you up for ridicule” and “will make you wish you were never born”. Yes, all out of his boundless love and compassion that you may yourself attain Enlightenment! But let us look at the reality, the mind games and psychological conditioning and abuse; things that Wilber, who has never been a disciple at Cohen’s Foxhollow community, has not had to experience.
Read the rest here.

I personally think Andrew Cohen is a very sick man based on all that I have read, but then it is all by people who don't like him (including his mother). With that many people saying such bad things, there must be a lot of truth to it -- that's what my gut tells me.

It really hurts Wilber's image to be associated with such a person as Cohen. It makes anyone who thinks about it skeptical of Wilber's ability to distinguish good teachers from bad. And failing that, it makes one wonder -- assuming KW knows Cohen is awful -- if he is only associated with Cohen for the exposure he gets for himself and I-I in WIE?

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Anonymous said...

It's damn hard to give Cohen any benefit of the doubt. As the quote above mentions, he doesn't claim he's actually enlightened anyone. While some of his critics seem over the top and shrill, his defenders (who have shown up at sites like What Enlightenment?! and EnlightenNIXT) come off as childish garbage-tossers.

There may be truth in the "break you down" approach to enlightenment. But there's also great, grave danger if it's used unskillfully. Such techniques are usually nothing more than a holier-than-thou excuse by the guru and his clingers-on to act out their own sad neuroses, using other people as their dumping grounds.

Compassionate? Hardly.

ebuddha said...

What is "true" about the "break you down", is that the ego is comfortable, and is looking to stay the same.

The way that Buddhism handles this is by "cooking". All the ego strategies are frustrated by simply SITTING with them, for hours upon hours on end. I call this a "passive burning", as opposed to the active person to person "challenging" that Cohen espouses.

But a lot of people cannot sit, it doesn't work for them. Or as Ramana Maharshi has said (a paraphrase) "those who do not realize, submit").
I think the quote is actually a little softer than the meaning appears here - but the need for the active egocentric and ethnocentric selves to be "frustrated", in a positive way oriented towards the transcendent, is a real need.

Also think of the military. There is a sense that you are "broken down to be built up". And the will SERVES others, and not one's own survival and ego forwarding strategies.

Another example - Men's groups. When they are positive, it is deeply rewarding - though it can be hard to hear - to have a group of attentive strong compassionate brothers, compassionately calling you on your shit.

Now of course, how does this work when there is such a potential for abuse? And all of the above valid statements about frustrating the ego, then become rationalizations for the abusive guru?

What is the INTEGRAL, interpersonal, manner to frustrate the ego's strategies?

What processes work, and stay safe, in this day and age, without turning into a cult, and without losing their authenticity?

This is something we have to discover.

Anonymous said...

The guru element does seem to be the penny in the fuse-box, doesn't it? A group of peers compassionately calling you on your shit is far different than submitting to a man who demands you treat him as Deity.

ebuddha said...


And then the question becomes - can peers "see" what you need for "spiritual growth"? Or is this "the blind leading the blind?"

Or at least, what you are "holding on to", in terms of executing egoic strategies, as opposed to opening to greater realizations?

To a degree, yes - I just don't know to what degree.

william harryman said...

Personally, I think there are other -- and better -- ways to unseat the ego from its throne than to abuse the person who is trying to transcend the ego. I don't support the "break em down" approach, and I have serious issues with gurus all around.

The problem to me, assuming nothing but compassionate intent on the part of the guru, is what to replace the ego with when it is destroyed. The military abolishes ego to abolish conscience and free will and replaces them with blind obedience.

If the goal is to crush the ego, there must be something to sit in its place and do its job. Otherwise we are left with "idiot buddhas" who are easily manipulated.

I like the cooking idea of Buddhism and the group dynamic of some (certainly only a few) men's/women's groups. I think peers can see our crap better than we can, and peer pressure is a powerful motivator.

In the end, only we can transcend our own egos. Even if we are abused into transcendence, the ego will backlash at some point. But if we slowly, compassionately break down the ego through a variety of methods, there is less chance of a backlash.

Bottom line is that ego never goes away. So do we transcend it with compassion so that we can have befriended it as we move beyond it -- or do we send it to its room without dinner, and maybe with a harsh beating, so that it can sulk and plan our demise?


Anonymous said...

It really hurts Wilber's image to be associated with such a person as Cohen. It makes anyone who thinks about it skeptical of Wilber's ability to distinguish good teachers from bad.

Wilber's lack of discrimination in this area is well established -- his earlier support of Adi Da (never fully repudiated) and his current affiliations with Andrew Cohen and Saniel Bonder (who hasn't yet melted down publically, but with whom I have some personal experience) make that pretty clear.

This is sufficiently problematic that when I recommend Wilber's books to people I always qualify those recommendations by warning them away from any specific recommendations he might make about actual living spiritual teachers.

Warning new readers about this up front also spares them much inevitable confusion and dissappointment when, having they finished the book, they excitedly search for more Wilber info online and are quickly confronted with all this abusive guru material.

Unknown said...

Whoa. I was about to post something pretty similar [but not as well composed] as what anonymous just put up, moments ago.

When you add Gafni to the mix and Wilber's unconsionable full-throated support for Gafni, I think one certainly has to be on-guard dealing with Wilber.

But I very much agree with Bill's words in his post -- Wilber's associations reflect something fundamentally wrong with Wilber himself and, I would add, must certainly corrupt his teachings.

Colmar has an idea about all of this in a post yesterday, "Mind the Gap," where he postulated that Ken is channelling his insights, not living them. He is a savant, of sorts, not a Master or enlightened fellow, himself.

It might be the case that I extend things further, holding up the notion that Wilber is sociopathic -- which would explain the oft-noted charminess of the guy, his extreme interest in how others work/function and his being fully incapacitated for simulating the behaviour and thinking of enlighted people. It may be the case that Wilber's only models are, tragically Avi Da, Cohen and Gafni -- so he is a faux enlightened fellow of that ilk.

ebuddha said...

"If the goal is to crush the ego, there must be something to sit in its place and do its job."

I don't have any issue with what you say both in the sentence above, and in this whole comment.

to add to this, I don't see the "ego" as a static thing. Again, I think of processes, various strategies that are employed by various levels of one's self-identification, to maintain that sense of self-identification.

And WHAT is identified with, varies from person to person.

Also, recognition of non-duality tends to also loosen the imprisonment of "lower" self-identifications - at least to a degree, similar to sitting as frustrating ego strategies.

"In the end, only we can transcend our own egos"

I'm not sure - who is the "we?" Only YOU can transcend YOUR own ego?

Can you see the flaw in that?

In sitting, or in a realization, the whole concept of who "you" are changes. And it isn't the you that you take yourself to be.

Also, from a more practical perspective, in highly motivated groups - work groups, teams, etc - I have found that I end up resonating with qualities that the group is ampliyfying. YES, these qualities are "in me", but the group acts as a catalyst for the emergence of the qualities emphasized, BY the group, as well. So there isn't a strict separation between the social and the individual.

At any rate, the above is simply food for thought.

And of course - regarding the main point of this posting, and as I've posted myself - I really think KW should disentangle even loose associations with Andrew Cohen.

Anonymous said...

There is a good blog article on this topic and some interesting discussion in the 7 comments following it.


There is an article, published May 17th concerning KW's ties with another troubled teacher, Rabbi Gafni, published on the Jewschool blog.


Interested readers should take care to study the many thoughtful comments appended to that article.

jewschool.com/?comments_popup=10612 - 27k

william harryman said...

"In the end, only we can transcend our own egos"

Well, I meant . . . uh, okay, that only partially makes sense.

My point was that it is through my own efforts to embody Buddhanature that I can transcend ego. It is through the time I spend on the cushion, in Dharma study, and in doing the psychological work to lesson the power of ego. No one else can do that work for me, especially an abusive guru.

Granted, I might spend many more lifetimes working at this then I might if I allowed Cohen to have his senior teachers slap me around a bit, but I'll take that chance.


Anonymous said...

First of all, he has no right to teach anyone to deal with the ego unless he himself learn to deal with his one. I don't understand why nobody points on it. Honestly, this man has a bigger ego than my friends, who have never even practiced spirituality or meditation, do. I personally, had an opportunity to meet his students. They are egocentric & self centered people who are extremely obsessed with Andrew's teaching (still have no idea what it is). They were being very rude to me once I started asking questions or questioning his teaching. I felt so awkward that I started blaming myself for not clicking with them. But when I did more search on him, I realized that I had to learn to rely on my gut feelings. I had an impression from the beginning, once I read articles on his website, that this guy has tons of issues. Anyway, I'm so glad I got out of there.


Anonymous said...

I like Cohen, I have known him for a long time and I think he is a great teacher. I also think he is a responsible individual who takes care of his ego and does not pretend he does not have one, yet does not bother other people with it. I am aware a lot of people carry a grudge against him, I can understand why, I have witnessed some of those events that people describe and have seen how much distortion takes place when things are looked at from the egos perspective. I liked Cohen's response to all these allegations.

Anonymous said...

I have always been very impressed with Andrew Cohen. As a spiritual seeker I have spent much time in the spiritual market place and have yet to come across anyone who walks his talk in the way that Cohen does. My direct experience is of a man with much integrity who makes a great deal effort to help this world and those in it to move forward.

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