Friday, September 18, 2009

American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing-former students of Andrew Cohen speak out

American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing-former students of Andrew Cohen speak out

More revelations about the unenlightened guru behind EnlightenNext. For those of us who have been doubting Cohen's conduct as a teacher for years (not to mention his status as a guru), this is nothing new, but it sounds like a good book anyway - hopefully it will get attention outside of the EnlightenNext community and it's former members.

Book description from Amazon.
American Guru is a multifaceted account of life in the contemporary spiritual community known as EnlightenNext, and the controversial "teaching methods" of its New York-born founder, self-proclaimed "guru" Andrew Cohen. With contributions from several of Cohen's former students, William Yenner recalls the thirteen-year trajectory of his career as a leader and manager in Cohen's community--his early days as an idealistic "seeker," his years of service on EnlightenNext's Board of Directors, his ultimate disillusionment and departure,and his efforts to make sense of his experiences as a once-devoted follower of a "Teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment." With wit and insight, Yenner and his colleagues have produced a riveting cautionary tale on the dangers of authoritarian spirituality, and an insider'scase study on the promises and pitfalls of postmodern discipleship. "William Yenner's courageous exposé, American Guru, is a powerful reminder that all of our tendencies toward idealization of dharma teachers must be carefully examined." -William Morgan, Psy.D., member of the Institute for Meditation and Psychotherapy,co-author of Mindfulness and Psychotherapy "William Yenner's true, uncensored-and finally ungagged-moving personal story, in combination with the powerful reflections, recollections and contributions of other former community members, makes American Guru an essential source document for the study and understanding of authoritarian spiritual sects." -Hal Blacker, former editor of EnlightenNext magazine "American Guru is not a mean-spirited book. It is, rather, a refreshingly honest one." -David Christopher Lane, Ph.D., Professor of Philosophy, Mt. San Antonio College
Here is one of the two reviews (both are very positive):
By Craig A. Jewell (Southern Vermont) - See all my reviews
A marketing whiz kid might try to sell you on Guru as the "Oops, I joined a cult, "tell all" book of 2009." More accurately Guru is an intensely personal, purposeful look into William Yenner's lifelong journey towards enlightenment, and the thirteen years that Cohen and Yenner were bonded by a guru/disciple relationship. Intense and painful at times, this is a story deserving to be told.

Yenner's writing is powerfully purposeful. Guru simultaneously bears witness to difficult but necessary truths, while sensitively and evenhandedly acknowledging the complexity of the EnlightenNext Community. Yenner is five years out from his last contact with Cohen, and time, distance, effort, and strength have clearly increased his perspective on his event. Yet the emotional core of Yenner's experience remains raw and strikingly real. While observation of such honest and formative emotional events is at times difficult, the rawness of Yenner's emotions adds greatly to the reader connection to the text. Guru is unique in this balance. Yenner leads a life of action and great personal and impersonal work, and during the period of a five year gag order, he has personally reflected and spent great time in meditation on this experience. Yet owing to his silence during this period, elements of this story read like memoires written during periods of imprisonment.

To those who have shared the unique experiences of living within Cohen's sphere of influence, I imagine the mere act of reading Guru's will have incredible personal emotional resonance. It is itself a journey.

Yet, also contained within Guru is a message of affirmation to all those seeking enlightenment yet scorned by the inherent struggle within the guru/disciple relationship. Significant scholarly works on the topic of intentional communities outline the potential damage inherent to this power dynamic. Yet equally understood within many communities is the value of subjugating ego, of the pursuit of selflessness as a vehicle for growth. Yenner's reflections and the reflections of other students on personal experiences of this relationship offer a deeply personal approach to understanding this dynamic.

For those readers less familiar with the practice of subjugating self to an enlightened one, to a higher power, or to a higher principal, the relationship of guru/disciple can still resonate in terms of family dynamic. Yenner's story is a non-traditional love story of sorts. Yenner and the other students of Cohen are at times sons, daughters, partners, and scorned lovers. Within these relational archetypes are ways for any reader to connect deeply to Yenner's experiences.

Lastly, Guru is a compelling read. I consumed the text in one sitting. It starts a bit slow, but rewards the reader who continues by really finds its paces in the telling of Yenner's personal story. The remainder of the read is thought provoking consideration of the inherent risks to power imbalances in any relationship.

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