I never had much interest in Andrew Cohen. I thumbed through some of his books, read about the controversy over his relationship with Poonjaji, and occasionally found a good read in his What Is Enlightenment? magazine. When I had the opportunity to see him at a Whole Life Expo, though, I knew I should take advantage of it.
Andrew Cohen did not seem too thrilled to be speaking at a Whole Life Expo. He knew it was not the audience to hear him criticize the self-acceptance and feel-good way to enlightenment of pop spirituality. Although he seemed a little cautious at first, by the end of his talk, he probably offended two-thirds of the people in the room
His bluntness in addressing the human condition was by far his most notable feature. As he said, "When you really get to know people, you realize they're all crazy." He said most people are afraid of enlightenment when they realize it is really about the death of the ego and not about self-acceptance. Cohen mockingly ridiculed those who would rather keep their pathetic, fear-ridden selves, then step into the unknown of ego-death. He even criticized that holy cow of modern spirituality: the romantic relationship. He said the longing for liberation was in opposition to the "promise of perfection in romance," and virtually everyone chooses the later.
Andrew Cohen obviously feels that he is talking about true enlightenment and seems to view himself as a preserver of truth in a time of spiritual mediocrity. I enjoyed his talk, since I too feel there is much to criticize in today's spiritual scene. Still, I wonder if there is anything to Cohen other than talk. Even after hearing him speak, I see little in his books other than talk about enlightenment. His one book on method seemed to say to meditate until you find the still point within you, then decide how you are going to live by that truth. That seems anti-climatic after hearing him speak of the heroic spirit it takes to achieve enlightenment. The jury is still out on Cohen and I am curious enough to want to know more about him.
2004 Update: It's been four years since I first saw Cohen and my opinion of him has slowly sunk. He has plunged into a doctine called evolutionary enlightenment and is "redefining spirituality for an evolving world." He stresses impersonal enlightenment and the critical need to raise the consciousness of the world. Our purpose, he says, is to "contribute wholeheartedly to this explosion of motion." "We have a responsibility for the evolution of the race." "The essence of life itself is good."
Yet his emphasis on our important role in enlightenment seems a classic ego trap. Now, rather than having the ego of being a spiritual seeker, we have a collective ego of world saviors. As one of his magazine readers pointed out, "evolution will take care of itself." His new message is surely more popular however, and reminds me of the socially conscious Buddhist movements.
Another sign of decay in Cohen is in teaming up with Ken Wilber. Wilber is an amazingly intelligent man who spins entrancing cosmological visions that hypnotize many an intellectual into believing their truth. He's not a dishonest man, just one deeply in love with his own mind -- "a Big Mind," as he says. In a series of interviews in What is Enlightenment magazine, Cohen and Wilber seem to endlessly enjoy chuckling over how brilliant and revolutionary they are.
Lastly, I see that Cohen's magazine and a school called The Graduate Institute are teaming up to offer a master's degree in Conscious Evolution. Could correspondence courses be far behind?
2005 Update: I've finally decided to downgrade Cohen's rating. Five years since meeting him, I've seen
nothing to enhance my impression and plenty to disillusion me. A reader sent the following two websites that contain
a wealth of opinion regarding Cohen; most of it from former and current students:
The short of it is that nobody in his organization is finding enlightenment and Andrew Cohen keeps ratcheting up the pressure to try and break students' egos. As one writer said, Cohen's approach is ham-handed. While seemingly still interested in helping his students, the organization (now known as EnlightenNext, Inc.) keeps enlarging, netting 2.1 million dollars of profit in 2003.
Oh, and check out this headline swiped from the official Andrew Cohen page:
Andrew Cohen’s international jazz fusion band, Unfulfilled Desires, recently rounded off a tour of the Northeastern US with an explosive performance of “The Path”..."
Makes one wonder who Cohen is trying to impress ....
2013 Update: Andrew Cohen issued a public apology in June. He says, "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." Apparently, he does not see the contradiction in his statement: he claims to be a teacher of enlightenment, yet he isn't enlightened because he still has an ego. Cohen goes on to say he is stepping down from leadership of his organization and taking a sabbatical to do some self-development. Alas, I have no doubt Andrew Cohen will arise again, this time proclaiming he is a shining example of "Evolutionary Enlightenment" in practice.
If you want to see how far Cohen and his organization have strayed from any true teaching, read this leaked email which describes the PR strategy for the "situation" with Andrew and points to a pathetic framing of the events as a "Post-Mythic-Guru" evolution.
The official Andrew Cohen webpage is:
For a glimpse of what Andrew's mom says about him (and it's not good), go to this link:
The latest criticism of Andrew Cohen appears as American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing by William Yenner. Yenner was on the board of directors for EnlightenNext and presents an insider's view of his thirteen years with Cohen as well as the experiences of other former students.