identify the ways you learned about Cohen, or were told about him.
I think this is a great exercise for all of us to analyse our spiritual changes of direction throughout our lives. So here’s my Andrew Cohen story, for what it's worth:
In 1995, I met a guy at Bondi Beach who said he knew me in India, but I didn’t recognise him. Anyway we started to hang out a bit, then he invited me to see Andrew Cohen. He said, “I think you’ll like him.” So I went along even though I said I’m sick of guru types and needed to get on with the practical side of my life. (I actually had no money and needed to establish a career.)
At the lecture, I had mixed feelings about Cohen. On one hand, I literally thought he was mentally ill. He had a weird cackling laugh that burst out at inappropriate moments, his sentences trailed off unfinished, he gazed into space, and he stammered with excitement as a new point came to mind. “Cracked” is the word that came to mind. On the other hand, I was excited that he was talking about changing the world and shaking up the dull spiritual scene. That matched my interests perfectly. Indeed, I was so excited that someone was boldly pushing for this and that it was gaining support that I ended up sending audios of Andrew to friends. (They became involved too, unfortunately.) Then I started going to meetings, and I liked the people and I was inspired by the fact that we seemed to all be on the same page regarding improving the world and the spiritual scene.
Six months later, Andrew came back to Australia to hold a retreat. When I asked him questions, I was dissatisfied with his answers. But instead of admitting he didn’t know the answer, he just got annoyed with me. I also told him a dream: Muslims are all agreeing to kill me, and I blurt out “I’ll die when God wants me to die.” Andrew said, “Don’t worry. It was just a dream.” It seems to me now that it was a clear warning dream that Andrew was pushing for something unnatural and untimely - I don’t remember if he was talking about ego death at the time, but I suspect the dream was picking up on that vibe.
Then I started noticing a pattern where people from his entourage would transmit messages from Andrew to us and transmit info about us back to Andrew. Also, one of his main people, Debbie, said to me, “In Tibet, they have a tradition - if a new guru defeats your guru in debate, the new guru wins all the old guru’s disciples.” That seemed odd to me, but I didn’t think too much about it. I was too focused on maintaining connection with the community. Actually, Debbie seemed to be playing the role of seducer and emissary. She would say things like, “Andrew really liked your question.” Or she would explain why Andrew was irritated with a question. Andrew also seduced by praising people, but then he criticised them when they got out of line.
Soon it was time for what would turn out to be the last Bodhgaya retreat. I didn’t want to go because I had been to India only two years earlier and I had a $5,000 debt, but I kept feeling Andrew’s indirect pressure , “It’s your ability to respond that counts.” Somehow, my ideals got mixed up with Andrew’s demands - that’s a key point. Anyway, I really wanted to stay connected to the community and stay involved in spreading the idea of a better world, so I borrowed money to go. Just before we left, one of the community members returned from America and told us that there are 3 or 4 levels of students - something like, casual, formal, committed, and senior. This seemed ludicrous to me. By this point, I wasn’t so impressed with Andrew, so the idea of a hierarchy below him amazed me. What could these “students” be learning? I actually laughed with derision at this idea of a hierarchy, and started openly making jokes about it until the person who told us about it groaned, “I’m sorry I mentioned it.”
During the retreat in India, my joints ached from sitting on the ground and I had a bad cold or flu. Nevertheless, I did the surrender technique he recommended as best I could and I showed up for every session. I told him that I was doing everything he asked but nothing special was happening (others were gasping about experiencing spiritual fireworks). He was irritated and said, “Is that it?”, then he just moved on to the next question. The international model who was part of the organisation at the time gave me some tissues. I thought she was being considerate, but now I wonder if it was an indirect insult from Andrew - I’ve heard that’s how he operates when confronted with weakness.
By this time, I had started to notice that after every session, the senior students sitting at the table would invariably say, “Wasn’t Andrew great!” or “Wasn’t that a fantastic session!” or “Andrew’s amazing!” This was even after the most boring session or after Andrew had said or done something really dubious. And the others were doing likewise. So now I started feeling like an outsider. I wondered if I was missing something, since I was the only unhappy one there. I wanted to think and argue and get to the truth on various topics, not just praise Andrew. But I was already a bit too far committed to the process to pull out.
Anyway, our group had decided that we wanted to start a FACE centre in Sydney. So we met with the senior students who sat us all in a circle and asked about why we wanted to start a centre. I saw people strangely lying and exaggerating, as if they were really keen to impress these senior students. For example, one guy said he was committed to the teachings when I heard him mocking the teachings earlier and I reckoned he really wanted to go for a holiday. Like me, he wasn’t committed to “the teachings”, he just wanted to be part of the community. Anyway, I flatly said to the senior students something like “I’ve been interested in spirituality and changing the world all my life. That’s it.” They seemed to think they were doing us a big favour by letting us serve Andrew or something. Bizarre.
Afterwards, Andrew kept us waiting for over an hour standing in the field. When he finally arrived with his entourage, he said he would let us start a FACE centre. Then he said he was surprised to see me there. Naturally, I was offended. I had gone to every meeting in Sydney, went to the retreat in Sydney, shared his audio tapes and books with other people, gone into more debt, sat through his dubious meetings while sick, and basically did the best I could, but he wasn’t satisfied. I guess he could see that I would be the one to rock the boat.
Then he said some really weird things. He said, “I don’t love any of you.” How bizarre is that? Then he said, “I’ve proven myself to you all so now you’ve got to prove yourselves to me.” Well, words failed me. When had he proven himself to me? And what did proving ourselves to him mean? More significantly, why did he think he was so important? In fact, the whole scenario seemed to be based on the premise that Andrew Cohen was a VIP, and that it was some kind of honour to be in his glorious presence. As far as I could tell, we were interested in pursuing spiritual community and improving the world, but he seemed to think we were interested in him. Then he criticised someone else who wasn’t at the meeting. When I told that person, he went to confront Andrew and Andrew denied it. Liar!
I contemplated the situation over the next week and kept a diary. It seemed to me like things weren’t leading to freedom, truth, improving the world, or experimenting with spiritual communities. Rather it was leading into a spider-web of illusion and control. It felt like it was becoming more and more about Andrew. Also, it seemed that it would only get worse over time. But I wasn’t sufficiently sure of myself at the time. After all, I was the only one not conforming. And I had just been insulted, so was I just reacting to that? And this is about improving the world, isn’t it? How could I have any doubts? But then I saw him strutting around with his rapt entourage like he owned the world. It really felt like he was in his own bubble of narcissism. And it seemed like his senior students were propping up his illusions because they wanted to believe those illusions too.
So I wrote a smoke-and-mirrors letter to excuse myself from the group, and I faxed it to the main Sydney guy. Strangely, I felt I had entered a ghostlike limbo, like I had just denied the only thing that really mattered. It took me years to realise that somehow Andrew gets people to link their highest ideals to him, so that going against him means going against yourself. I don’t know how he does it, but it’s very sneaky. (Indeed, after the big exposes, Andrew and his supporters said that those who left him went against their own souls.)
Then, about five years ago, I did some web searches and saw all this stuff about Andrew advocating the guru-disciple relationship, slapping students, and saying no one should ever leave him, and it all clicked. Back in 1996, it was all indeed heading towards illusion and control - an outright cult! And Andrew had become even more of a Special Person according to the “disciples”. They seemed to be making him out to be a Buddha or a Jesus. Luckily, I knew about the enneagram, which makes it easy to see that Andrew is a type 1 with a 2 wing, which means he controls people with idealism, seduction, and punishment. That helped me get psychic distance.
So that’s my story. I take responsibility to the degree that I was susceptible (although only for one year). Yes, I noticed that rich people in the community were given special treatment by everyone. We all knew that money would help the cause. That’s obvious. Money oils everything in this world. However, I wasn’t rich. I was just trapped by my own idealism and by my attachment to the group. Others were trapped the same way or by having big spiritual experiences and interpreting them as signs of Andrew’s wonderfulness.
Now I’ve written a profound book titled “Worldwide Happiness”, so I’m glad I got out when I did. If I hadn’t, I’d probably be some mindless Andrew Cohen acolyte somewhere, spouting Cohenism like the other brainwashed zombies. And boy oh boy I would have gotten hundreds of face-slaps! (Actually, I wouldn’t have accepted one.) It’s really embarrassing to think I almost fell into a cult. I’m a pretty smart guy and I never follow crowds. Maybe it was like my last temptation. In fact, idealism is often the last temptation before naked reality.