Many cults flatter persons with money.
Some utilize sophisticated strategies of abuse to pressure wealthy disciples to part with their money. One student reported how she was
targeted by Andrew Cohen and his senior students.
This entire article needs to be read in full. Here are a few choice selections.
Andrew Cohen and Donations Under Duress - 2006
Andrew always tried to maintain a cloak of secrecy around his securing of donations from students. Andrew’s desire for secrecy regarding his strategies to secure donations from students is related to the most critical issue surrounding them: whether the student, under immediate duress or otherwise, has the awareness and the objectivity to say no. In my case, there were tremendous secretive machinations behind Andrew’s solicitation of the largest of my donations (the $2 million for Foxhollow). The worst aspect of the situation was the fact that my communication about this decision was severely restricted in terms of the number of people I was in a position to discuss it with.
When I met Andrew in 1993, I had been seeing a psychotherapist four times a week for eight years. Andrew and many others in his community knew this. It’s clear to me in retrospect that in making my $2 Million and other donations to Andrew I was acting out some of the self-destructive issues that I had long been in therapy in to deal with. When I told my therapist about meeting Andrew, she warned me I that was vulnerable to potential brainwashing. In contrast, when I revealed to Andrew the insecurity and anxiety I felt about the prospect of joining his community, he told me how intelligent and bright I was, and how fully capable I was of making a mature decision on my own. Who was I going to listen to—someone who told me I was weak (my therapist), or someone who told me I was strong (Andrew)? At the time, the choice seemed clear, however misguided, and I left my therapist and fell deeply into the vortex of Andrew’s community—the amazing people, the happiness, the feeling of belonging.
Early on in my life as his student, Andrew benefited from my endless and ridiculous need to prove my love for him through gifts, both personal and to his Moksha Foundation. Before the end of my first four months as his student, I had ‘donated’ my house in Mill Valley, California, then worth over $300,000, to his community (after which I felt so sick that I promptly threw up at the Marin County Civic Center). I feared I would not be able to sustain the feelings of happiness I had discovered and remain in my ordinary life. I believed I had to give it all up for his world
The sad truth is that Andrew didn’t care one iota for my wellbeing, my ambivalence, or the general state of my mental health at the time. He cared for one thing and one thing only: to take advantage of an obvious weakness of mine and a clearly twisted situation. Why address these issues if it might ultimately mean gaining less than every possible advantage from the loyalty of a wealthy and gullible student? Thus the stage was set for the reeling in of the big bucks.
After learning from his close student Michelle Hemingway, in whom I had confided, of the imminent potential of a large family trust being dissolved and distributed to me five years earlier than scheduled, Andrew quickly communicated through her that he wanted these assets. Michelle, who at that time I regarded as a trusted friend and colleague, knew me well—my doubts, my aspirations, my plentiful neuroses and weaknesses, including my profound fear of being valued, by friends who knew of my wealth, for my money alone. Michelle was well aware of my fear that Andrew, too, valued me more for my money than for anything else. Acting on his orders, she sat me down in an office at the community’s headquarters and, vacillating between a nervous giggle and a serious tone, told me that Andrew needed this money for the purchase of a property in Massachusetts to establish a worldwide center for his teachings. I remember feeling sick again. She told me that she knew this pricked my deepest fears about Andrew ‘wanting me’ only for my money, but that I must ‘trust his vision,’ because it was for ‘the greatest good.’
By this time I had been a student of Andrew’s for three years and was now a formal student, a status in the community characterized by unconditional commitment and devotion. My life was completely consumed by Andrew and his teaching. His community represented my work, my friendships, my living situation, my inner life and my sense of self-worth. Without the real freedom to deny his request, I was suddenly and profoundly at risk of losing everything that, at that point in my life, I really cared about. Even I knew that Andrew had now gone too far. It was perfectly clear that there was no chance I could stay with him if I were to refuse. I was tormented; I didn’t believe for a second that I could say no and remain his student
I couldn’t sleep. I was a mess. The formal students went on a retreat for a weekend in Marin County and I sat in my bed in the middle of the day, crying hysterically. I ran from meetings, unable to complete a thought or find my way. I was desperate. I didn’t know what to do or how I would survive the loss of this life that I’d found, which had brought me my first experience of real happiness, but suddenly none of my community friends seemed even to care enough to ask me how I was doing or why I was so obviously upset. I felt abandoned by them. I learned only this week—ten years later—that everyone had been told to steer clear of me, to refrain from speaking with me about this mysterious ‘personal problem’ I was having. God forbid that someone might actually reinforce my doubts and insecurities, or strengthen my inclination to say no.
Obviously, I did, in the end, say yes. By the conclusion of the retreat, no longer able to bear the separation and isolation to which I’d been subjected, and feeling so alienated from everyone that I simply wanted to be welcomed back into the arms of the community, I finally consented to the ‘donation’ of my inheritance—which, in case I haven’t made it clear already, had never been my idea in the first place. The condition I made with Andrew, communicated through Michelle and Steve Brett was that it remained anonymous (Andrew, the board of directors and the few responsible for securing the property were the only ones to know). I did not want my peers treating me differently. Andrew personally apologized for having told two editors of his magazine by the time he learned this and promised no one else would know.
After I consented I was welcomed back with an overwhelming sense of acceptance. And now Andrew himself and a few others carefully coached me in my dealings with my uncle. As the Foxhollow purchase documents were to be signed within weeks, the daily pressure to get the funds released was immense. They were pushing so hard for the liquidation of the trust that my uncle and sister became suspicious and there appeared at one point to be a ‘risk’ that he might change his mind. Once the trust’s assets were released to me, under continuing pressure, I was subsequently forced to sell the underlying assets at a considerable loss, incurring a huge tax liability that fell on my shoulders. Once the Foxhollow purchase had been finalized, Andrew then decided that it would be best for me to move to the London community! Why? So as not to raise suspicion among my family members that the timing of the community’s relocation to a new $3 million property in Massachusetts was in any way connected with the release of my inheritance.
Despite an overwhelming sense of approval from Andrew and all the thrill that comes with proximity to him, I felt utterly traumatized. I left the community the day after the purchase was complete, until I was manipulated into returning for what turned out to be another two years of community life. A great deal more transpired subsequently in my life with Andrew, much of it no less outrageous, which I intend to document in some other forum. During this time, Andrew continued his careful orchestration of appearances, doing everything he could to prevent my family from discovering his despicable conduct and taking legal action. Details of these efforts will also be fully documented elsewhere. But more to the point of this discussion is the fact that during the remainder of my time in the community I was to witness countless additional demands for money, no longer from me personally (my well having pretty much dried up, providing only what I needed to pay my Foxhollow room and board, student dues and the like) but from groups of students collectively after each alleged ‘screw-up’ that Andrew accused them of.
Andrew’s words, ‘put your money where your mouth is,’ accurately characterize the venal pattern of manipulation that permeates the culture of his community. Whether to prove one’s love and devotion, or to make up for some individual or collective infraction of the code of guru worship, the injunction is always to ‘pay up’—pay whatever you can, as much and as often as you can—and it has taken me years to see through this. If you are currently in Andrew’s community, then I entreat you to watch out, because it really can take years for the fog to clear.
And in the meantime Andrew has his arsenal waiting. Whether it is a gag order or multiple copies of devotional letters stored in several places as ‘proof’ of consent, Andrew has covered his bases. Further, he will ensure that his legal counsel (one of whom advocated on behalf of Japanese cult criminal Aum Shinrikyo) also have such letters on file to ‘prove’ in the event of litigation that your donations were given rather than extorted. Because of the devotion expressed in my ambivalent parting letter, written before I fled Foxhollow for the last time, Andrew is known to have had it photocopied and secured at several secret locations as insurance against a lawsuit.
Andrew Cohen and the Corruption of Power
In the comments section Jane wrote this:
FRIDAY, 08 DECEMBER, 2006
Anonymous Jane said...
Martin, your comments are accurate, certainly for me. I am doubtless that I was a profoundly needy individual who was seeking some "dad" figure to guide and direct me. His seduction, in my case, was to call upon my desire for "true independence and true integrity." I knew I was a needy insecure person and I wanted relief from it and he seemed to promise real spiritual depth and INDEPENDENCE. Which was an utter lie, obviously. For him it is ultimately about submission and dependence.
I did actually try to pursue the legal front, which is when I discovered the law regarding undue influence. At the time I think I was in a pretty confused, perhaps traumatized, state and couldn't bear fighting Andrew publicly. I feared he would use all he knew of my life to make me suffer more emotionally. I feared he would bring out all the endless love letters I wrote to him as proof that it was all voluntary. (he saves them) I feared facing all this. Again about two years ago I sought legal counsel and discovered there is a statute of limitations on this kind of case and a judge may have interpreted it as 5 years from "the gift", 5 years from the last "donation", or 5 years from the time I left. It would be difficult to know. What would be hard to prove, which I believe to be true, is that it should be 5 years from the time you get out from under the spell and confusion of the situation, which for me has taken years! When I did begin legal proceedings, even threatening a class action lawsuit, where my attorney would gather a group of people in the same situation and bring the case up to date, thereby, circumventing the statue of limitations. Andrews lawyer challenged us and are waiting to hear from us. We'll see what develops.
The interesting piece is that after the cult leader, Aum Shinrikyo, had his disciples poison the subway with sarin gas killing and harming innocent people.[www.holysmoke.org
] Andrew's lawyer was one of the American attorneys who went to Tokyo to defend the cult's religious freedom and challenge the authorities That is the type of lawyer Andrew chooses. INTEGRITY?????? Who on this earth would use a lawyer such as this
Further down, another person described what they'd seen:
I was a close student of Andrew Cohen's for around 11 years. So...there has not been much posted on this blog that I wasn't either aware of first or second hand. I didn't know the full and painful story of Caroline's death. But I knew enough to know it was strange that a very sudden curtain of silence was drawn around it. I didn't know about Vimala Thakar's letter to Andrew expressing her great concerns about his treatment of us, his female students. But again, it was strange that she was very suddenly not being held up as an example of purity and integrity to us. I had no idea that Andrew had ordered one of his closest students to go to a prostitute-repeatedly. But I knew that that student had been put under guarded house arrest at the time and enormous pressure.
Also, I knew a bit about Jane's story. Enough to know that she was manupulated behind the scenes on Andrew's instruction by some of his closest students at the time. That this was done in great secrecy. I remember being in a 'discussion group' on one of our retreats and Jane leaving suddenly in tears and great distress. We - her friends - were told not to bother her as she was working out some personal issues (strange, as we were not supposed to have anything personal going on). I found out later that this was the time that people were meeting with her to try to pursuade her to give her money to Andrew. But even though I knew all of this I still find that I'm totally shocked that Andrew would hire the same lawyer to defend him as defended Aum Shinrikyo and his disciples.
I just want to thank Jane for her courage in posting this. It not only helps to fill in the picture on what was happening in the community in the years we were there but also shows that behind the public face which is so compelling and positive there are still some deeply disturbing undercurrents. Personally I find it really tragic as I still have good friends who are very involved who are bright, intelligent, funny and caring souls and I wonder at this stage what it could possibly take for them to open their experience up to question. One question, sincerly asked, might be all it would take to crack open the bubble and let some real oxygen in. Maybe then something could be salvaged and some of the great energy and dynamism that does exist around Andrew could really do some good.
MONDAY, 11 DECEMBER, 2006
Anonymous Anonymous said...
Thanks for coming forward and disclosing this distressing abuse of power. Though Jane's experience was by far the most extreme, there was a general expectation that all formal students in Andrew's community at that time would willfully disclose their financial situation (we ALL had to actually fill out forms) and give generously when asked, without complaining about it or asking questions.
FRIDAY, 15 DECEMBER, 2006
Anonymous Anonymous said...
If Jane can find the stamina, and once her lawyer gives the 'all clear' she might consider sharing her story with persons who are financial planners, who create and manage trust funds, who advise persons inherit or acquire large sums of money--or are thinking of bequeating money to good cause organizations or to young relatives who are idealistic and potentially vulnerable to exploitation.
Trust fund managers need to know the signs that someone is being subjected to undue influence/extortion. Jane's information would combine very well with presentations on elder abuse--a very important concern.
Janes story is unique. Many who are defrauded of huge sums of money keep silent because so often they encounter vile and shaming ridicule when they report what has been done to them. If they have been traumatized by an extortionist who was an expert at instilling shame, this will make it all the harder to speak up.
Persons with wealth often may not suspect how they can be identified and then groomed for selective recruitment--and then have an attack launched right when they are vulnerable, and after the pepetrator has studied that
person's trigger points.
Many victims never imagine that their perp was studying them and perhaps keeping a dossier.
(A form of anti-therapy?)
It is worth speculating whether some abusive new age entrepreneurs select and cultivate people the way finance specialists select and manage investment portfolios--certain disciples may be tapped as short term investments, others more carefully groomed for long term investment purposes and so on, still others others utilized because they look good in PR adverts--the ones in the latter group probably dont get their faces slapped--they'd not photograph well. Yet others (eg yoga teachers, alternative healers in the neighborhood) may be targeted because they are a potential source of referrals to the leader. These sweet persons will not be shown any evidence of a dark side.
So, if Jane is up for it, she could at some point become a valuable consultant who could offer
in house trainings to financial institutions and investment firms.
Some random reflections on legal avenues and remedies:
I am not a lawyer or a Cohen survivor--just amazed that this pattern of human rights has been perpetrated for an astonishing 20 years. It calls into question the ability of the 'spiritual world' to self correct in relation to abusive leadership--and its inability to care for its own when they report being wounded.
Next, it is puzzling that a grand jury has not been called in.
It is just as strange that there appears to have been no recent coverage by a major US print media source since Luna Tarlo's book was published nearly 10 years ago.
1) It would be good if Cohen could be made legally accountable for his use of intimate letters students have written to him and that are reportedly kept on file at Foxhollow after they leave. Ditto if audiotapes, videotapes of students have been recorded while students are browbeaten/humiliated.
As part of any settlement, Cohen should agree to surrender any files he has kept on students and promise never to refer to them by name in public.
It may be that one reason why survivors feel such fear and shame after leaving is that their former leader has retained this kind of humiliating material. This may be so painful to contemplate that some may find so difficult to
remember clearly that they may be unable to stabilize that memory long enough to be able to tell a lawyer or mental health professional that their guru has embarrassing letters or captured them on film while breaking them down.
Persons tormented by lingering shame or depression may be haunted by these fears. This payload of shame may be so dreadful that they can't fully comprehend the role that apprehension about thier letters and other records might be
contributing to their depression.
Their lingering anguish may be seen as personal weakness when in fact, it is a valid response by healthy people to serious boundary violations.
2) Cohen's court physician/s may have legal liability if they have concealed injuries caused by
abuse. Even if a devotee of a guru, a physician remains accountable to the rules that govern his or her profession. Ditto for lawyers or accountants who conceal assets or assist in immigration fraud.
3) Persons in Cohen's inner circle may be at grave risk of being pressured to do things that are illegal.
At some point, if Cohen gets into trouble he could do what dope dealers do, cut a deal with the authorities and throw his loyal lieutenants to the wolves. .....