Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Be Scofield - Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment

Yesterday I posted an article critical of Andrew Cohen, Marc Gafni, Craig Hamilton, Terry Patton and others in the Integral Community who allow those who are abusive in some way (Cohen and Gafni) to continue teaching, and worse, defend and support them. It had appeared at the Tikkun blog and I assumed that it had been removed from the Tikkun site due to editorial pressure. The author assured me that was not true.

Be will post an article with Tikkun, but he wants to get more information and be fully balanced in his article for that blog.

In the meantime, he has reworked the original article and posted it at his blog, God Bless the Whole World: Spiritual Activism for the 21st Century.

Integral Abuse: Andrew Cohen and the Culture of Evolutionary Enlightenment

Be Scofield - Founder of God Bless the Whole World and Writer for Tikkun Magazine, April 27th, 2010

Andrew_Cohen Andrew Cohen is a Rude Boy. He is not here to offer comfort; he is here to tear you into approximately a thousand pieces. - Ken Wilber

Luna Tarlo spent over three years living with her guru Andrew Cohen (founder of What is Enlightenment? magazine now called EnlightenNext) in India and the United States. After she experienced extreme forms of public condemnation and humiliation she broke from him and wrote a book depicting Cohen as an “arrogant, power-hungry, dangerous figure who practices mind control over adherents.” She is, however, different than the hundreds of other disciples who followed him. Luna Tarlo is Andrew Cohen’s mother. In an interview with the Boston Globe in 1998 she stated, Cohen “requires total surrender to him. You have to obey everything he says and trust him 100 percent, and anybody who disagrees is subject to derision and verbal abuse.” In tragic fashion she ended what had previously been a healthy and loving relationship, “I know my life with him is over, and it’s very sad. I love him a lot.”

Twelve years after Tarlo’s “Mother of God” (1997) was published, William Yenner a follower of Cohen’s for over 13 years and insider of his Foxhollow ashram has released a scathing book which chronicles the abuse that Cohen’s mother spoke of. “American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing – former students of Andrew Cohen speak out” (2009) is an insider’s look at how this self-proclaimed “rude boy” manipulated, abused, pressured and controlled his followers. The accounts given (an excerpt from the book is below) are very disturbing. After reading them I feel saddened, shocked and angry. And as I note below Cohen’s contemporaries have an ethical responsibility to speak out. Yenner was certainly in a position to know about these abuses as he was a central player in Cohen’s operation. He explains his role, “I was a member of the “inner circle” of Cohen’s students; in fact, I lived in his personal residence for several years, was a member of the EnlightenNext Board of Directors, and was the real estate scout who located and helped arrange the purchase of the 220 acre, nearly three-million-dollar, EnlightenNext “World Headquarters” at Foxhollow, as well as the EnlightenNext Centre in London.” And like many others in the group Yenner had “donated” a very large amount of money ($80,000) to Cohen. These large sums of money were part of Cohen’s plan. Yenner writes,

Andrew let it be understood that his good favor could also be had for a price, establishing a practice that was morally reprehensible, legally questionable and indicative of a degree of corruption that had warped his ideals and would eventually stain the fabric of his entire organization. It is a testament to the faith that so many of us had in Andrew that, despite the questionable nature of these new financial arrangements, we complied – some of us taking on enormous and ill-advised debt. Though it may be difficult for outsiders to comprehend, our desire to please our guru was so great that we were prepared to mortgage our futures in order to do so.

Survivors of Jonestown speak similarly about how once they gave their money, assets and signed over their homes to Jim Jones and the “church” it was the final step in the loss of their identities.

For years after his departure in 2001 Yenner remained silent. Like the others he was pressured under “extreme psychological distress and in an emotionally crushed state of mind” into giving his $80,000 and a few years after he finally broke with Cohen he wanted it back. Cohen agreed but made Yenner sign a five-year non-judicial but binding gag order to not speak about his experiences at Foxhollow or with Cohen. This enforced silence was Yenner states but yet another reminder to him that Cohen wasn’t ready to let him go. But the gag order expired in 2008 and now Yenner’s book is published.

Luna Tarlo and William Yenner’s books are not the only criticisms of Cohen to surface. Prior to the release of Yenner’s book some of Cohen’s former followers had set up a website What Enlightenment? in 2004 that chronicled his abusive and controlling methods with advice on cult recovery. Yenner’s book also contains the passages from other former Foxhollow members. In 2003 former What Is Enlightenment? editor Andre van der Braak published “Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru”. An eleven year disciple of Cohen’s, van der Braak chronicled the abuse and manipulation he witnessed and experienced as part of the Foxhollow community. He reports that one of the more mild but still disturbing elements of daily life in the community consisted of 600 daily prostrations while repeating the required mantra, “To know nothing, to have nothing, to be no one.” And Geoffry Falk in his “Stripping the Guru’s: Sex, Violence, Abuse and Enlightenment” dedicates an entire chapter ‘Sometimes I feel Like God’ to Cohen. It places Cohen in context of his guru Poonjaji and provides a short history of his life. (This is an excellent and important book with startling revelations about everyone from Krishnamurti and Osho to Trungpa, Sai Baba and Yogi Amrit Desai just to name a few. My endorsement of this book is not about its level of scholarship as I must humbly admit I am in no position to evaluate this. Rather I appreciate the book because it draws attention to the phenomenon of cults, gurus and spiritual abuse. The whole book is available free online. Here is a link to the chapter on Cohen).

What did Cohen do? This is an excerpt from American Guru.

Some years ago at Foxhollow, a student named Jeff, a very good writer, was having a great deal of trouble with a writing project he had been assigned to do. He was supposed to write an introduction to a book Andrew was publishing, but he was having no success. Feeling terrible guilt about this, he wrote in a desperate letter to Andrew, “If I don’t come through, I will cut my finger off.” Andrew seemed to like this idea. When Jeff still did not succeed at his writing, Andrew called for Mikaela, [who was a] physician, to come see him…. Andrew told Mikaela to go to see Jeff, and to bring her medical kit. She was instructed to tell Jeff that Andrew was taking him up on his offer to sacrifice a finger. She should take out her scalpel, her mask, her gloves, a sponge – everything she would need for such an operation – and lay them all out. She was told to carry through the charade up to the very last minute, and then stop. When Mikaela visited Jeff, he had barely slept in about a week. He was in a desperate state…. Mikaela [later] confirmed…that she had followed Andrew’s instructions precisely. Jeff was severely and obviously shaken by the incident. He left Andrew and Foxhollow a few weeks later.

****

Face slapping and name-calling, while they were uncalled for and may have been damaging, were mild in comparison to other questionable manifestations of “crazy wisdom” that occurred at Foxhollow. One such incident involved a student (Mikaela) who was responsible for the marketing of Andrew’s publications and who had fallen out of favor by reminding him that something he had criticized her for doing had been his idea in the first place. He decried her as evil and ordered that the walls, floor and ceiling of her office (which had been relocated to an unfinished basement room) be painted red to signify the spilled blood of her guru. She was ordered to spend hours there contemplating the implications of her transgression, with the additional aid of a large cartoon on the wall depicting her as a vampire and the word “traitor” written in large letters next to it.

Andrew often employed red paint in this fashion to create environments designed to induce shame and guilt in students that he felt had questioned his judgment or disobeyed him. Another female student who had displeased Andrew and, after leaving the community, had returned to help out on a weekend painting project, was summoned to another basement room. There she was met by four female students who, having guided her onto a plastic sheet on the floor, each poured a bucket of paint over her head as a “message of gratitude” from Andrew. She left the property traumatized and fell ill in subsequent days (during which she was harassed by phone calls from another student who, at Cohen’s instigation, repeatedly called her a “coward”) and never again returned to Foxhollow. “Crazy wisdom” is the most charitable possible explanation for these often traumatic and disturbing incidents, many of which have already been related on the whatenlightenment.net blog. Several of these student accounts of Andrew Cohen’s “acts of outrageous integrity,” employed to dubious or damaging effect, are reproduced below.

Read more disturbing details from American Guru.

In 2006 Cohen finally "responded" to his critics. While you can read for yourself, his 11-page response is more of a treatise on how he is an amazingly revolutionary and groundbreaking teacher than any refutation of charges. And the website Guru Talk was established by other followers who support him to respond to those students of Cohen's who set up WhatEnlightenment? in 2004 which contains more examples of his abusive behavior. But I must ask, if Cohen's tactics are so revolutionary and "crazy wisdom" is need to become enlightened, why haven't any of his students become enlightened? And why are these tactics so necessary when neither Cohen or Wilber attribute these sorts of experiences to their awakening?

He goes on to examine some of Cohen's supporters, including Craig Hamilton, Ken Wilber, and Terry Patten.

More importantly, however, he includes the serial sexual manipulator Marc Gafni in the post. I have a history with this person, so I am pleased to see more exposure given to a man who repeated has sexual relationships with his students - an offense that would land him in jail if her were a therapist, or get him sent to a small parish in Arizona if he were a Catholic priest.

Worse, the man "teaches" on sexuality, which just paves the way for further abuses, especially since he has been not only readmitted to the integral community, but embraced by its leading figures (often with the objections of other people involved). Diane Hamilton is also one of his supporters, which I also find troubling.

And then there is Marc Gafni, founder of iEvolve and (he is also featured in the above Global Awakening teleseminar) another controversial spiritual teacher who is part of the Integral inner circle, supported and defended by Wilber, Cohen, Patten and Craig Hamilton, Sally Kempton and Diane Musho Hamilton among many of the other figureheads of the movement. Gafni also works closely with Wilber at the Integral Institute. Gafni fled his position as head of the Bayit Chadash in Israel after several members of his community accused him of sexual misconduct. These were only the latest in a string of sexual accusations that has plagued Gafni. He was also stripped of his ordination as a Rabbi. While he apologized for his relationships with these women at Bayit Chadash he claims they were “loving and mutual,” (a claim which they strongly dispute). But if it gives any perspective he also says that his relationship with a 13 year old girl when he was 19 and 20 was “loving and mutual.” This is the testimony of the young girl who he claims he was in a mutual and loving relationship with.

The abuse went on through the year I was in 9th grade. The school year was almost over, I remember it was warm out. He called me on the phone one day to tell me that he would no longer be coming over. He realized that what he really needed was to get married soon, and he explained that this would give him a proper outlet for his sexuality. Its hard to describe how I felt at that moment, because it is complex. My molester finally decided to stop abusing me, to leave me alone, to move on. You would imagine I would feel great relief, but actually the full weight of the abuse I had endured in silence came crashing down on me. Here I was, left with this horrible experience, still with no one to talk to about it, and no language for it anyway. And he wasn't retreating because I had some how managed to make him stop, but because he decided it just wasn't worth the risk any more. He was terrified that he would do more and make me pregnant- then there would be no way to keep his secret. Until then, his abuse included exposing my body against my will, forcibly touching my breast, grabbing my hand and forcing me to touch his penis, and forced digital vaginal penetration. All were the most horrifying, degrading and painful experiences for me. All this only a year or so after my bat mitzvah...

Unfortunately, I knew Mordechai very well. He told me a lot about himself, and I knew him as a sexually compulsive, sexually violent man. After talking with counselors, lawyers, and professionals who advise and counsel sexual perpetrators, I learned that in 99% of cases, people who compulsively sexually abuse girls or women, especially those who were abused themselves as children, don't stop. These are dangerous people. The more we are silent about them, the more they have the freedom to act out their sexual compulsions. Further first hand accounts show that Mordechai continued to molest young women after he was married. Unfortunately, marriage did not solve his problems. There is no reason for me to assume he is not still victimizing girls and women. Back when I knew him, he was a refined manipulator, "groomer", "brain-washer", and he used those skills in order to victimize girls and young women. I have no doubt that, years later, he has honed his skills as a predator.

His defenders repeatedly claim that “he as done nothing illegal,” and ask us to believe that Ganfi is the victim of a widespread attack up on him. All of the women (over ten) exaggerated, distorted and lied about what really happened. Gafni also claims to have passed a polygraph test that proves that the relationships with the women were loving and mutual. You can read it for yourself but I would question the nature of the questions he was asked as well as the polygraph itself. You don't have to be an Einstein to know that they are not admissible in most courts of law and are widely thought to be based on junk science. In other words they aren't reliable or accurate. You can read more about them here. And here is a "WikiHow" on how to cheat a polygraph test. Here is a link to a Marc Gafni's website where he responds to the controversy.

There are many places to read about Gafni. "Rabbi Mordechai Gafni accused of sexually exploiting women" from the Haaretz, "Rabbi Gafni accused of sexual assault" from YNet News and The Re-Invented Rabbi from the Jewish Week. This is an article from the Jewish Daily Forward, Rabbi Fired Over Sex Claims Defenders Offer Mea Culpa,

At least five female students and staff members have come forward to accuse Rabbi Mordechai Gafni of luring them into sexual relationships through intimidation, psychological manipulation and deception. Late last week, Gafni, an Orthodox-trained rabbi who has become a star of the New Age-style Jewish Renewal movement, was dismissed from his position as the head of Bayit Chadash, a center on the Sea of Galilee that he co-founded six years ago.

Gafni subsequently issued a public apology for having “hurt people I love,” and said that he would seek in-patient treatment for what he called “a sickness.”

…He was originally ordained as an Orthodox rabbi and moved to Israel more than a decade ago, after leaving posts in New York and in Boca Raton, Fla., amid rumors of sexual misconduct. He assumed an Israeli name and transitioned into the world of Jewish Renewal….

Rosenblatt said he had interviewed about 50 supporters and critics, including two prominent Orthodox leaders – Rabbi Yosef Blau, spiritual mentor at Yeshiva University, and Shlomo Riskin, chief rabbi of the West Bank settlement of Efrat – who had known Gafni since the 1980s. Blau and Riskin, who both criticized Gafni, told Rosenblatt that over the years they had spoken with a number of women who had complaints about the rabbi.

Rosenblatt interviewed several alleged victims. One was a woman named Judy, who first accused Gafni of molesting her in 1986, when she was a 16-year-old member of a youth group he directed. Shortly thereafter, Gafni left New York for a pulpit job in Florida. Another woman, Susan, who was an adviser for the group at the time, said that Gafni had threatened her when she tried to intervene on the girl’s behalf.

When asked about the allegations, Gafni told Rosenblatt that Judy was a troubled, unstable teenager who fabricated the story after he rebuffed her advances.

But he admitted to having had a sexual relationship with another girl, when she was 13 and 14 and he was 19 and 20, studying to become a rabbi.

“I was a stupid kid and we were in love,” Gafni was quoted as saying in The Jewish Week. “She was 14 going on 35, and I never forced her.”

The woman told Rosenblatt that Gafni had “repeatedly sexually assaulted her” when he stayed at her house for the Sabbath. The rabbi also told her that she would be “shamed in the community” if she told anyone.

Conclusion

As Frank Visser says, “Integral confirms integral confirms integral.” I have heard people defend Marc Gafni by stating that Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilber support him. But it actually is a silly game they all play because they all defend and support each other. It goes something like this. Patten, Hamilton, Gafni and Wilber support Cohen. Cohen, Wilber, Hamilton and Patten support Gafni. Wilber, Gafni, Hamilton and Patten support Wilber. Wilber and Cohen support Patten and Hamilton. Wilber and Patten support Adi Da….etc. And they all appear on each others integral programs, websites, conferences, book chapters, magazines and platforms. Among the various offerings is Integral Life Practice, Integral Naked, Integral Institute, Integral Spiritual Center, Integral Enlightenment, EnlightenNext magazine…etc. And as Yenner notes above, they seem to employ the same tactic: surrounding themselves with other luminaries, celebrities, and public faces who agree with them and provide much needed support. If all of these amazing people support Cohen he must be ok, right? Now adays it seems all you have to do is add the word integral in front of something to boost its credibility. Add the word integral and you have a sexy and attractive product ready to be sold to eager spiritual seekers who are hungry for idealism and more purpose in life. The whole thing equates to a very large money making machine.

I want to be clear that this article is not an attack on integral theory or the nature of the teachings that many of the people here offer. I am a fan of integral theory in general - not of the Wilber sort, but the principle behind it. One can recognize that many of these teachers have said wise things while simultaneously being aware of their shortcomings.

* * *

Is it wrong to call out Cohen’s enablers? Is it wrong to expect them to break the silence on Cohen’s legacy of abuse, manipulation and cultish behaviors? In the face of the sadistic acts of Cohen isn’t it problematic when Wilber says “Cohen is here to tear you into a thousand pieces?” What about accountability? Responsibility? Ethics?

You can read the whole article at his blog.


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