The human side of a spiritual endeavor.
I have in detail described my spiritual path and my time with Andrew Cohen on my blog “Revelation and Natural Freedom”. There I describe my internal spiritual awakening under the guidance of my spiritual mentor and guru. It is a deeply mysterious and secret relationship that has less to do with the outer circumstances than with an inner spirit-to-spirit communion. I could never have imagined or understood this bond between teacher and student before it unfolded within my very own self. Unseen and unspoken, the process of surrender took me deeper and deeper into the mysterious workings of unlocking the ego’s strongholds, slowly awakening a greater understanding of the path; its meaning and purpose. Finally bearing fruit as coming to the end of ones search; returning home to a world filled with beauty, love, compassion, truth and reality.
Now I would like to tell a slightly different story, a story that many people, many former students of Andrew, will recognize. It’s the troublesome and difficult set of circumstances that many encountered in their personal and intimate relationship with their teacher. Andrew has been accused of many things and many are his detractors, yet there are some that will stand by him in his dealings with his students. Suffice to say is that all of us who have spent time as his student in his community will know of the culture and hierarchy within it, and will know of Andrew’s method of purgatory; individually and collectively.
I will only describe my own personal experience within a greater context of alleged abuse and mishandling of students. It may be in stark contrast to my “Revelation and Natural Freedom” blog, even contradict it, but I must stress that in my case as in many others cases, it was a dual experience; one outer and one inner.
When I first met Andrew I was challenged. Challenged to look deeply at myself. This is what started the process of self discrimination, leading over the years to deeper and deeper understanding of the ego’s workings and strongholds. This process of self-evaluation became the prime tool within Andrew’s community to challenge each other. It became the standard to which all of us had to measure up to under scrutiny, from each other. This opened the way for unquestioned obedience to group and peer pressure, directed and lead by Andrew. This could at times be hit and miss, sometimes spot on, and at worst, totally alienated superior-motivated put-downs. In an atmosphere of mistrust many opted to blame and point the finger instead of showing forgiveness, often in order to raise themselves within the structure of the community. Truth became more important than love. Finding common ground with others, nobody wanted to be left out, conforming to the standard set by Andrew and his senior students. Multiculturalism was hijacked by the majority, favoring and branding national traits as norms to be adhered to. Blinded by their own heritage it was easier than to trying to understand other nationals and their backgrounds.
My first memory of abuse within the community was of other students laying in to a new student without giving him the benefit of doubt. I stepped in and asked them to back off, since this man had already experienced a depth of self within himself and therefore knew himself, but was unable to stand up to the group pressure and cowed in. This was before I was a student and I was later to learn that this was the standard way of pushing each other forward, pressuring for results and break-troughs. Andrew’s aggressive stand filtered downward into his senior students who passed it on to all layers of the structure.
Andrew was pushing a rigorous vision and this pressure lead many to leave, personally not willing to stand for the onslaught of criticism and demands coming their way. Many are the stories covering these events and their peculiar and distressing details. I on my part, I kept thinking, if they’ve chosen to be in it, then they have to be willing to take the stress. Yet I myself kept my distance, opting to follow my own heart when it mattered. Which of course lead to me being shunned and ridiculed by others. This distrust in people, in our fellow brothers and sisters with whom we shared our lives, always became evident when anyone left the community. Many blamed and even cursed former students who decided they had enough and dared to leave. Much of which was instilled by Andrew’s own resentment toward any digression to his authority.
Fear and mistrust blended with the euphoria of moments of intimate oneness among us. Together with Andrew we got to taste what it could be to have our ego suspended and partake in a unitary vision of our true and genuine self. This is what made us come back for more and more, no matter what.
For your information:
THE GURU/SHISHYA RELATIONSHIP.
"Why don't you be a saint?"
said the elderly swami sitting on the little wooden chair in the audience room that was simply the corridor in the ashram hospital. He was speaking with Andrew Cohen, a controversial American spiritual teacher. Andrew had come to partake in the daily satsang Swami Krishnananda was giving in the afternoon in the Shivananda ashram in Rishikesh, northern India. For a few years now Andrew had been coming to Rishikesh with his students to hold his winter retreat across the river. It was a rare and appreciated occasion to see and hear these two spiritual teachers speak with each other. Both evidently and truly enjoyed these encounters as intellectual sharpness and keen perception was both their forte.
Andrew ignored the question, brushing it off as if he hadn't heard it. Andrew was on a mission. He had purpose and conviction. A conviction that was contagious. We, his students, loved this about him. We felt drawn along, finding meaning in our path. It was important, we were finding out was life was all about. Andrew was driven and he would not simply wait and let things unfold by themselves. He would make it happen. This had a freshness about it that many of us Westerners enjoyed, free from the stifling structures of convention and tradition. Yet this would also become a major downfall as unlike tradition, Andrew had no rules to follow or to uphold. He answered to no one. But that is a story in itself. The point being made is about our response to spiritual revelation and insight. How do we respond to, or answer a call from the Absolute? When God gives us the head up, what do we do?
History tells us of two distinctly different approaches. One that is very much an Eastern response and one that is more favored in the West. In India, letting things be and allowing fate to have its course is a traditional way of viewing it. Karma, action and reaction, will play itself out. Just be true to your self and all things will come right in the end, is the gist inherent in this attitude. Western Europe on the other hand has always favored a creative approach. Forge a path ahead. Set out and achieve what you want to accomplish. Seek and you shall find.
In Swami Krishnananda and Andrew Cohen this difference was evident. One sitting still, the other constantly on the move. As the word of caution was met with indifference, the conversation lasted a little longer just to have it repeated, "Andrew, why don't you be a saint?". With the sweetness of the elderly priest gently asking his younger compatriot this question, Andrew felt it was time to go and he swiftly rose, touched swamis feet and bowed deeply saying his thanks. It was a beautiful response that have stayed with me ever since. It made me think. What did he mean? Why did he ask this question?
-Why don't you be a Saint?
"An Apology" by Andrew Cohen
I’m fifty-seven years old and currently find myself facing the biggest challenge of my life. I’ve been a teacher of spiritual enlightenment for twenty-seven years. 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.
I’ve understood this simple truth—that we all have egos no matter how enlightened we may be—and even taught it to thousands of people all over the world throughout my career. But when I was being asked to face my own ego by those who were nearest and dearest to me, I resisted. And I often made their lives difficult as a result.
I’m aware that many of my students over the years have also been affected by my lack of awareness of this part of myself. And for those of you who are reading this, I apologize. As time passes I intend to reach out and engage in a process of dialogue with those of you who would like to.
In light of all this, for the sake of my own integrity as a spiritual teacher and as a human being, I’ve decided that I need to take some time off so I can make the effort to develop in many of the ways that I’ve asked other people to. Starting this fall, once I’ve fulfilled some prior commitments, I’m going to embark upon a sabbatical for an extended period of time. During this hiatus, I will be stepping down from the leadership of my organization, I won’t be publishing anything here on my blog, and will not be doing any public teaching. My intention is to become a better teacher, and more importantly, a better man.
One of the most beautiful fruits of my work over the years has been the international network of people who have studied, collaborated, and trained with me for so long. They are all examples of Evolutionary Enlightenment in their own right, and I couldn’t imagine a greater community of people to carry forward this movement. I’m looking forward to working with them in a very different way in the future.
Wow.. what can I say. I never thought you were unaware of being yourself, whether we call that conglomeration enlightened self or selfish ego. How can you pretend you were not cognizant of your own reflection? We were always keenly aware of it; your young New York brash American way with your tastes and preferences, your personality, your likes and dislikes. My own awakening with you opened my eyes to the immaculate mirror of self reflection that reveals all things. We all gave you the benefit of doubt since we all shared the same human predicament and after all, you were trailblazing a new and unprecedented spiritual revolution among us. Some people where attracted by your personality, others not so, but what made us come was your uncompromising stand in your own conviction, which made it so powerful. The power of the absolute standard of truth, always foremost in your mind and your ability to transmit your spirit, passion and vision has changed countless lives over the years. This can never be understated. Personally I have no need of apologies even though it's always nice to be approached. Yet by that I do not say not to question ones actions and be ready to make genuine amends. What you are telling above sounds heartfelt and genuine. It's time for a change now, but what came before can never be dismissed nor undone.
In the end, people started to leave. But there was a reason for it. The tension was gone, the spell had been broken. We had been released but not one understood it. For years we had been glued together, working for a common good, with a final answer resting in the future. Andrew Cohen's community was being absolved. We all had been in it together sharing the ups and downs of our individual lives, sharing a bond of brotherhood and sisterhood. Having left our old lives behind we had joined the worldwide growing community of Andrew's students. In our absolute personal Guru-student relationship we were committed, besides coming to end of delusions and Ego-driven motives in ourselves, to see the birth of a new world. Yet no one could foresee how the ending would look like.
I remember washing up after dinner, being in the kitchen of the London centre in 2003, after our normal communal evening meal had finished when something changed, something was released. Recently Andrew had made a breakthrough with his male students in America and it was reverberating across his centres worldwide affecting all of us. As I was standing speaking with my friends in that kitchen there was an effortlessness and an ease with which we communicated. All inner tension was gone and everything was perfectly normal. But it was so super-normal I knew something had just been let go of. I remember saying, "at last, finally, I'm glad I stuck it out this long". Putting up with all the bullshit that was going on, the inter-personal rivalry, the sucking up to authority, the toe-stepping of Andrew's party line. It all had been done with the best of intentions for sure. We all wanted to do the right thing. It's just that human affairs can be quite a messy ordeal and none of us knew the perfect way, Andrew included. He was shooting from the hip, not even asking questions afterwards. Yet Andrew knew something had to break and he wouldn't stop until it did. Now I stood there, doing the washing up, knowing it had finally come true. It was as if the binding glue had come loose. Our joint mission evaporated and it became the beginning of the end. Within a few years Andrew's communities where being broken up, students leaving in mass. A mass exodus followed by a witch hunt. Andrew had already been game for offenses done in excess over the years and now the breaking up of his organization became fuel for pent up frustration, anger and even hatred towards him and to those still loyal to him. Yet many are left wondering what happened to the big dreams, to the big declarations of a bright future, of an an evolved mankind and a changed culture. My own thoughts about it share a lot in common with many others. About a dysfunctional community driven by one man's dream. A social and spiritual experiment with a realized spiritual teacher. A traditional guru-disciple relationship gone bad. A love story with a bitter end? Yes, and no? Spiritually, I believe, something has taken place. Something that have altered many lives, even unbeknown to themselves. For me, it has taken many years to understand things I've seen in the past. One invaluable lesson I've learned is that spiritual experiences are here to teach us lessons of life, for us to grow free from them. Moments of insights share spiritual truths that are recognitions of realized states, of achieved levels of understanding. The gist being, if you have been given an answer to your question, you can move on to the next. No need to linger with that particular scene. Since it is not up to me or you to sustain or uphold a certain context but for us to live it and move on. Once seen and understood, old equations give way to new formulas, to new sets of circumstances, to new walks of lives. No need to look back in anger or in despair but instead with an appreciation of what came before, of our trials and tribulations that lead us forward in our journey to a more mature future.
To enter Heaven before it has appeared here on Earth can be done. To dwell in the house of the Lord for all eternity is possible. Your journey has already begun. Meet me there and we'll praise and worship together, or simply chat over a cup of coffee.
Bjorn SawAikido teacher and former student of Andrew Cohen.