Saturday, February 27, 2010

Andrew Cohen & Guru-Talk - Face Everything and Avoid Nothing

Two Andrew Cohen supporters from the Guru-Talk website replied via email to my previous article “Untangling the Guru-Disciple Relationship with Andrew Cohen”, which was an analysis of the articles on Guru-Talk. One person responded very well, but when I replied, they disappeared - I haven’t heard from them for 16 days. So below is my reply to that email (minus identifying material). This interaction moves the conversation forward very well, I think. Whether it goes any further or not depends on Andrew Cohen and/or his supporters. To help you understand this post, the first 5 points in my previous article are:

1. The writer begins by stating that they have done much spiritual seeking.

2. The writer goes on to explain how they came to attend an Andrew Cohen meeting.

3. Next, the writer has a big spiritual experience during the meeting.

4. Then, the writer suddenly KNOWS that Andrew is basically perfect and is their destined guru.

5. Next, Andrew, says something like, “It’s your ability to respond that counts.”

Now, let's go to the email interaction:

Guru-Talk Person: “I didn't have anything that I would call a spiritual experience with Andrew for at least six years. As a result… [regarding] point 4… and speaking only for myself… I never came to the conclusion that Andrew was perfect during my… journey in his community. Therefore, I don't think point 5 applies…”

If you were not attracted by a spiritual experience, then I presume you were attracted by Andrew’s idealism, right? If your ideals and ideas about good vs bad perfectly matched Andrew’s, then that would explain your satisfaction with Andrew. Indeed, point three could be stated as “3. The writer sees that there is a perfect match between their ideals and Andrew’s ideals.” The implications are still the same because point three leads to the more crucial point four, which is about conclusions regarding Andrew. If someone is articulating ideals that you have long cherished, which no one else seems to be articulating, then you will naturally conclude that person is pretty cool. In other words, point four would be “4. The writer concludes that Andrew is ‘for real’,” which is a common Andrew Cohen expression. Point five applies because when Andrew says things like “It’s your ability to respond that counts,” he means responding to your conclusions. Since he seems to be the embodiment of your ideals, responding to your ideals means responding to him. For example, here’s his first tenet (Clarity of Intention):

“The first tenet is the foundation of the spiritual life. In order to succeed in liberating yourself from ignorance and self-deception, you have to have no doubt whatsoever that you want to be free more than anything.” Then he goes on to say: “But when you attempt to bridge the gap between that higher perspective and the reality of your life in the relative world, the ultimate challenge of spiritual freedom reveals itself. You recognize that to become a living expression of that higher perspective demands nothing less than everything.”

Here he is saying that the goal is to bridge the gap between your current life and your higher conclusions, and the implication is that he is “a living expression of that higher perspective”, and so you must give him absolute rule over you i.e. you must give “nothing less than everything”. Isn’t this logic the cause of your response to him?

It’s just that in your case, your conclusions about him were based on matching ideals, rather than on a spiritual experience, but the principle is the same - coming to conclusions without deep questioning. Regardless, did you read the other Guru Talk articles? Most of them do say they had a spiritual experience then suddenly knew Andrew was the one. Here’s a quote from the current Guru-Talk post (by Kate Fleming):

“…as Andrew said these words, I saw, and even more importantly, knew something even more deeply. It was that this Love was my True Self it was also THE True Self, and so in that deepest place, the most (and only) real place, I was the same as Ramana, and that also, in this, Andrew and I were no different…and even more than that, we were One – that his truest heart and mine were the same. This lasted the merest sliver of a second, but seemed forever. In the next moment I saw the vast implications of that truth on every level…the total surrender, care and big-hearted abandonment of my personal history that I also knew in that moment would have to be given.” And later: “In that moment, the moment of showing me my True Self, Andrew became my Teacher, my Guru.”

This is a romantic mess. I mean it’s okay to enjoy all that, but to believe in those concepts means you are bowing to your emotions. It’s addiction to intensity.

Guru-Talk Person: “It seems many people have a problem with the idea of a strong and independent individual voluntarily accepting another human being's "absolute rule."”

By definition, a strong and independent individual would not accept another person’s absolute rule. It’s a straightforward contradiction. Also, a strong and independent person wouldn’t need another person’s absolute rule over them.

Guru-Talk Person: “What about a very common situation for ambitious workers struggling to succeed in a big corporation . . . do they not accept the absolute rules of hierarchy, reward, punishment, success, failure, pride and humiliation, mentors (gurus?) and enemies. What about doctors, nurses, policemen, soldiers etc etc. And then there are those in the spiritual realm. Pretty much every monastic tradition has a rigid hierarchy, a demand to surrender to a temporal, corporeal, human, master, some more accomplished than others but all demanding obedience.”

Except for the soldiers and the monastic tradition examples, your examples are contained situations, i.e. they are resticted to work, or bodily health, etc. It’s not absolute rule over your whole life. It’s 9-5 rule, for example. Regarding solidiers, they aren’t being very smart (but don’t tell them I said that) because they are letting corrupt politicians tell them to kill and be killed. Regarding the monastic tradition, I’d say they aren’t being very smart either because I don’t think many people make progress in monasteries - most just hide out from life and reality. Regarding your statement about accepting “absolute rules of hierarchy, reward, punishment, success, failure, pride and humiliation, mentors (gurus?) and enemies”, I’d say that is a very low, instinctual, unintelligent, rudimentary forms of functioning unworthy of higher spiritual endeavour. And the rules, etc., are not accepted absolutely in the situations you mention. Everyone fudges, takes breaks, etc., otherwise it would be unbearable. Another point is that I don’t understand why Andrew’s enlightenment consisted of Papaji whispering sweet nothings into Andrew’s ear for 5 minutes, but your enlightenment required 10+ years of control, obedience, slappings, etc., which still didn’t work! It just looks obvious that Andrew’s ego reared up and took control of the life process after his ideals were shattered when Papaji said bad things about Andrew behind his back. (By the way, I saw Andrew say bad things about someone in Bodhgaya, then flat out deny it, exactly like Papaji. That’s human nature.)

Guru-Talk Person: “My point is that we in the so-called free West have the illusion that even in spiritual matters, voluntarily devoting one's efforts to another's direction is somehow not right.”

I say, if it works, and everything is stated clearly upfront, then it’s great. But “works” means taking many more steps forward than backward, and there should be no big opportunity cost. I look at the supporters and I see they have many beliefs about ego, spiritual experiences, Andrew, human evolution, etc. that are wrong. While they have made some good progress, there are too many backward steps. For example, the reason people say Cohenites are brainwashed is that Cohenites seem to think only according to Cohen’s paramaters. Then there’s the opportunity cost. For example, I think many of the women, deep down, would be angry that they never had babies.

Regarding the detractors’ submission to Andrew, I’d say they didn’t see the agreement with Andrew the same way you saw it. I got out early because I naturally question everything, but someone who questions less than me will take longer to figure out what’s going on, and, by then, they are deeper into it so it’s a lot messier when they leave. Andrew and his supporters like to claim that the contract was clear at the start. I accept that the contract was clear to them, but it wasn’t to others. It took me six months to figure out what happened, and I’m not stupid. Do you see how that’s possible? Can you imagine what it’s like for someone who doesn’t believe in slapping to spend 10-15 years of their life submitted to a person who claims to be super-evolved, only to see ugly scenes of slapping? If I had have known it would end up in slapping, etc., I would never have gone anywhere near him. I’m annoyed that I wasted one year - imagine wasting 10-15 years! Although I felt him to be controlling, it wasn’t clear to me at the time that it was heading in the direction of slapping, etc. Slapping is so bizarre, but it fits his punitive personality type.

Guru-Talk Person: “You apparently do not accept the possibility that actions that the so-called detractors label as faults and flaws were in fact positively beneficial to at least some of those involved.”

I accept the slappings, cold lake dunkings, and humiliation rituals had some benefit for some people, but it’s a case of one step forward, two steps back. All that creates karma. And there are better options. By the way, were you ever slapped? Did you ever slap others?

Guru-Talk Person: “You only allow the detractors view to be correct and those whose experience and/or conclusions are different are condemned to being characterized as ignorant and deluded believers in Andrew's alleged absolute perfection and crazy world view.”

Yes, I do think they are deluded. But that’s no big deal because 99.999% of people in the world are deluded. And no one is to blame for that because we are suffering from the after-affects of war, poverty, disease, being born vulnerable with no instruction manual, etc. But when people make huge claims like they are evolving God and that those who are criticising slappings, etc. are evil losers, then I’m naturally going to put it right back in their face, especially since they say they are heroes willing to face everything and avoid nothing. They are begging for a strong response and they are saying they are heroic and therefore are able to handle it. Life always punishes hubris. Furthermore, they didn’t investigate. They arrived at Andrew’s feet with idealistic beliefs and gained dreamy beliefs about him from spiritual experiences or from resonating ideals, and Andrew reinforced those beliefs rather than questioning them. The “What is Enlightenment?” enquiry started from the premise that Andrew’s and his disciples’ ideals were true. But to enquire properly, you have to throw everything up for questioning - especially your most cherished ideals and hopes. Leave no stone unturned. My experience with Andrew was that he dismissed attempts at real enquiry. The result is that he has built up a whole system based on unquestioned assumptions. So the moment those assumptions are questioned, he and his supporters attack the questioner, sneer, shake their heads and say “wow”, say they are “shocked”, say the questioner is “disgusting”, panic, run, turn a blind eye, etc. They are incredibly touchy on this issue.

Guru-Talk Person: “I think the issues involved are much more multi-faceted than you allow.”

Well, that article was focussed on only two points because those are the foundations of the problem. The two points are 1) the disciples (and Andrew) jumping to conclusions (whether based on spiritual experiences or based on ideals), and 2) Andrew’s belief that ego is evil despite the fact that Andrew obviously has a whopper of an ego himself. If we focus on those two foundational issues, then the rest would take care of itself. All thought systems sprout from assumptions, so if we sort them out, then everything else will become easy to sort out.

Guru-Talk Person: “More interesting to me is to accept that both detractors and supports have something important to say. I completely accept the detractors point of view when they speak of their own experience and the conclusions they have come to regarding their own lives. I hesitate when they insist it applies to me and I am not at all sure about the absolute nature of many of their conclusions.”

This is very clear. Please say more! If Andrew’s supporters are evolved heroes, then why not prove it by deploying persistant and brilliant responses - especially responses that are your own rather than Andrew’s. People will feel the sincerity. Don’t hide your candle under a bushel. Consider others’ insistance to be a challenge from life, and then respond. It’s your ability to respond that counts.

Guru-Talk Person: “I very much regret the polarized nature of the discussion to date…”

I am also disappointed at the stuckness of the situation. Clearly both sides have different experiences and different interpretations of those experiences. So what’s the way forward? It seems to me, that there needs to be communication. My experience is that Andrew’s supporters always run when questioned. This is just a fact. Even the Guru-Talk website people refuse to talk, so it should be called Guru-Monologue. Nevertheless, maybe we can say that from this moment forward, no one who wants to participate in this discussion is allowed to say:

1. Andrew is completely wrong.

2. The supporters are completely deluded.

3. The detractors are completely evil losers.

By the way, I fully agree with Andrew regarding the problem - lame new age spirituality, etc. And I agree with the goal - communal spirituality and evolution. That’s why I was interested in his community. I only disagree with his methods. I also think his supporters are amazingly strong people because they endured so much for so long. I also think their spiritual experiences are great and that they have developed parts of their intellects very well. I’ve said these things before. I think the methods are the only issue.

Guru-Talk Person: “PS: Do you really think that spiritual experience of itself will result in profound human transformation? Regret to say that thus far I have found little evidence to support that view!”

I think it’s a numbers game. I think the problem is that the world still operates in lower instincts - hierarchy, etc. - because we have nothing outside of that to suggest an alternative. The context is the problem. We are largely born blank slates, and the world largely writes on us. However, if more people have spiritual experiences, then the alternative context will become stronger in our minds. My view is that since Andrew seems to have a strong talent for facilitating spiritual experiences, he should have pushed that to the max. Going back to the old societal paradigm of good vs evil, which is a product of the lowest level of dichotomous thought, just keeps everyone stuck. Such divisions are the problem. They cycle around, creating karma. No one is good or evil. The only problem is that some actions cause suffering. Such actions arise because there is no obvious readily-available alternative. Spiritual experiences suggest the alternative. Do you see my point? Andrew complained because people had spiritual experiences then fell back. But that’s to be expected in the beginning, especially in a distracting ignorant environment where everyone else is lacking in spiritual experience.

Your email was good. You should post it on my website, and I can post this reply there, and the conversation can move forward.


Martin Gifford.


  1. "Andrew Cohen & Guru-Talk - Face Everything and Avoid Nothing" ...(except Martin Gifford?)

  2. Anonymous said:
    "… Face Everything and Avoid Nothing" ...(except Martin Gifford?)

    Since I am not a Cohenite, I am not submitted to Andrew Cohen's "absolute rule", so I don't have to act on his order to Face Everything and Avoid Nothing. The onus is on Andrew and his disciples to “Face Everything and Avoid Nothing". If they decide to face everything, then that will be great. If they don’t, then that shows they don’t really believe in that method, and that it’s just dramatic and romantic sentence that makes Andrew and his followers feel heroic. So far, it looks suspiciously like, “Face everything that Andrew wants you to face, but avoid everything Andrew wants you to avoid.” And the threat backing it up is Andrew’s Red Right Hand.

    Of course, Andrew and his disciples do face some tough things, but they don't face the core stuff, i.e. their:

    1. beliefs about Andrew,
    2. attachment to unquestioned ideals,
    3. dubious interpretations of spiritual experiences.

    Generally, should we "Face Everything and Avoid Nothing"? I think in principle the answer is yes. However, is it really possible? We cannot perceive everything because our senses and minds are limited, so we cannot face everything. We can only face the small things that arise in our limited senses and minds. However, if we start by facing the fact that we are limited, then we can build from that solid factual foundation.

    Since we are limited yet have many options available to us in this world, I think we should face essential facts (like our limitations), and then choose the creative option that fits our talents and interests, which for some people might be something like Andrew’s verion of the spiritual quest. In my case, I have chosen my version of the so-called spiritual quest, songwriting, screenwriting, and non-fiction writing (philosophy).

    It seems to me that Andrew’s verion of “Face Everything and Avoid Nothing” is based on a negative view of humankind. He wants people to “get tough on themselves” because he believes they are naughty and need to be moral, i.e. they need to do what Andrew wants. So facing everything in Andrew Cohen’s sense feels like a waste of time to me. It’s much better to move forward into our greater potential than to judge and punish ourselves for our lower instincts, which are there to protect life, and they will never disappear.

  3. Sorry for the misunderstanding Martin. I meant that Andrew and his evolutionaries are obviously avoiding you and good sense, likely praying Ellen won't resurface. I applaud your efforts with "Untangling the Guru-Disciple Relationship with Andrew Cohen."
    The silence of the guru-talkers is very telling. I hope everyone is listening.

  4. To Anonymous,

    Oh, you meant Andrew and his disciples are facing everything except the issues that I and others are raising.

    Well, yes, they do appear to be avoiding real engagement with the issues.

    I wonder what their rationale is? It seems to be fear of making things worse for Andrew. Or it's a fear of thinking about these issues deeply because they are so attached to their beliefs and ideals that are so shaky.

    But if things were reversed - i.e. if I was being criticised - then I'd be happy to engage with the issues. I'm fearless in that regard. In fact, engagement helps to find the truth. So why are they afraid? The issues are quite clear and universal.

    Guru-Talk presents Andrew as a "radical Awakened trailblazer forging a profoundly significant spiritual teaching for our times". My impression is that he and his disciples are incredibly defensive and cowardly as far as engaging with the issues is concerned.

    They are brave in other ways, but being selective about what you'll face and what you'll avoid, is not "Face Everything and Avoid Nothing".

    It's amazing that they won't even post sensible critiques in the comments section of their website. That's extraordinary fear and distrust of the life process.

  5. Hi Martin
    Your view of “you were attracted by Andrew’s idealism” helps me understand why I kept faith to Andrew more than decade.
    Since I start questioning Andrew, I have been confused Andrew is Guru (God-realized) or Mind Control? Former students are victimized or victim?
    Because according former student testimony, Andrew & EnlightenNext seems really fit in the category of Cult, mind control behavior.
    May be Andrew manifest both God & Ego mixed bags?
    When he is in Ego- Mind Control: critical thinking, criticize Andrew is punished, he force submission or emotionally controlled by putting guilt to students who identify themselves totally loser.
    When he is Guru-To help students surrender to God, Enligthenment.
    Then come to the question why all students at EnlightenNext don’t question anything for Andrew’s intention, on the contrary all students have great critical thinking for other thing.
    Any way I follow my guts, at least I 'm able to find out if it is the mistake or right decision by the result .

  6. coward -noun
    the cowards were the first to give up WEAKLING, milksop, namby-pamby, mouse, informal chicken, scaredy-cat, yellow-belly, sissy, baby, candy-ass,milquetoast. ANTONYM hero.

    "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it" - George Bernard Shaw

    Andrew Cohen reminds me of the Emperor in the fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

    From Wikipedia:'s_New_Clothes

    “An Emperor who cares for nothing but his wardrobe hires two weavers who promise him the finest suit of clothes from a fabric invisible to anyone who is unfit for his position or "just hopelessly stupid". The Emperor cannot see the cloth himself, but pretends that he can for fear of appearing unfit for his position or stupid; his ministers do the same. When the swindlers report that the suit is finished, they dress him in mime and the Emperor then marches in procession before his subjects. A child in the crowd calls out that the Emperor is wearing nothing at all and the cry is taken up by others. The Emperor cringes, suspecting the assertion is true, but holds himself up proudly and continues the procession.”

    Instead of magic clothes, Cohen uses magic words meant to dazzle uncritical, unquestioning minds. The manipulative rhetoric he spews is as obvious to me as was the nakedness of the Emperor to the child.

    I highly recommend reading Martin Gifford’s blog “Untangling the Guru-Disciple Relationship with Andrew Cohen” where Ellen notes,

    “both Cohen and his disciples are equally invested in seeing his worldview as perfect and righteous, and equally loathe to learn any different. 
Cohen has been trading as 'the enlightened one' for a while now, more than 30 years.”

    “I think Cohen is very much a predator, he is preying on the spiritual aspirations of very ordinary and decent people and using those aspirations for his own glorification, lifestyle maintenance and to increase his profile as a special, god-annointed being.”

    “This is an emotional game, reason has no chance against it until the follower exhausts the emotional pull of the yearning after something so nebulous.”

    “Before discussing 'spiritual experiences' one would need to define what is meant by the word 'spiritual.'
Con-men of Cohen's ilk trade heavily on their followers never questioning what is meant by the word 'spiritual' and this dynamic holds true across all denominations of religious con-men.

I am not much interested in the ideals, perfectionism or spiritual beliefs of Cohen and his ilk, I am very concerned about the deleterous effects his brand of con has on his fellow man and on society as a whole when we make excuses for these malignant manipulators who wilfully distort the critical faculties and thinking processes of their naive followers for their own glorification.

The dynamic of the manipulative charismatic leader holds true across the spectrum of belief systems. A fundamentalist christian example:

Cohen's rhetoric might differ but the dynamic is the same.

Oddly, successful salesmen of any product use the same dynamic of manipulation.”

    Interesting…the very first blog at Guru-Talk is from a person who hopes to become a core student. She says, “For me, those insane blogs brought to light something that I needed to see in myself, and in culture at large. But, mostly, they must be stood against in an attempt to redeem what they undermine in all who read them, something that is already so fragile in most of us.” ...But not a single Guru-Talker has stood up here.

    Martin, I agree with your observations and impressions regarding the silence of the cohenites. I think you are right on.

    What is not clear is exactly what they face or where they would be considered brave beyond anybody else.

  7. To Globasian:

    Your view of “you were attracted by Andrew’s idealism” helps me understand why I kept faith to Andrew more than decade.

    Yes. The Guru-Talk people are quite explicit about the attraction of idealism. It’s clear that they projected their ideals onto Andrew, so that he became in their minds what he calls “a living expression of that higher perspective”. And Andrew himself is addicted to ideals and his self-image.

    But is there anything in idealism worth salvaging? My view is that if your ideals are true, they will survive deep enquiry. Deep enquiry removes illusion and leaves us in/as reality. Reality is a better basis for life than unexamined ideals, although reality includes what might be called ideals.

    Since I start questioning Andrew, I have been confused Andrew is Guru (God-realized) or Mind Control? Former students are victimized or victim?

    Cohen is deluded himself. While he seemed quite free and open immediately after meeting Papaji, you can see in his book My Master is Myself that he still had many neurotic kinks. For example, Andrew kept saying that Papaji was a great “father” but that Andrew was greater than Papaji. After Papaji offended him and lied to him, rather than questioning his own ideals and projections, Andrew freaked out and changed his whole teaching in a way that perfectly reflected his own neurotic kinks. But no one is a victim or bad. It’s just life’s potential unfolding. We were born vulnerable and without instruction manuals, so mistakes are inevitable.

    Yes, I do think it fits in the category of cult. Except I don’t think Cohen is deliberately misleading. He is just deluded. Indeed, he is passionate in his beliefs rather than being consciously manipulative.

    His disciples have great critical thinking regarding other people, but they are blinded by Andrew because they project their ideals onto him. Then they have spiritual experiences that reinforce their belief in Andrew. Then there’s the attachment to likeminded friends. So it’s hard for them to snap out of it. It is “us vs them” in their minds. It’s “our ideals vs evil egos/egoists”. Anyone who disagrees with them fall into the “evil egoists” category, so it’s a closed system of thinking.

  8. To Anonymous:

    “What is not clear is exactly what they face or where they would be considered brave beyond anybody else.”

    If you read their articles at Guru-Talk, it is clear that they face all kinds of difficulties. It’s absolutely true that Cohen puts a lot of pressure on his close disciples. They are strong people in the sense of being willing to take on burdens and face “faults”. Denying that, and seeing Cohen as all bad like Ellen does, just makes your argument look biased. That's valid if you just want to express your feelings, but not if you want to get through to Andrew and his disciples. It depends what your goal is. My goal is to get through to everyone.

    Yes, other people face burdens too, but I never said Cohenites were the greatest - I just said they strong people in many ways. Yes, they avoid engaging critics because they are intellectually weak and attached to illusions, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t strong in other ways. I couldn’t even do one prostration to Andrew Cohen’s photo let alone 500! And they went through many more hardships.

  9. Anonymous wrote:

    “Are we so superficial that we need someone outside of us to put us on back on the right track ???”

    I reckon we certainly need others to get us started. Otherwise, we are trained to work, drink Coca Cola, watch TV, and die ignorant.

    We are born vulnerable and lacking an instruction manual so we need help in the beginning. Even your message here constitutes help. But, yes, becoming the disciple of another is an error. While something can be gained from disciplehood, the results will always be limited by the guru’s prejudices and by the role of disciple itself.

    Furthermore, without investigation, results will be spoilt because they are built on top of our illusory beliefs, which is the basis of our choice of guru. In regard to beliefs, we do indeed need to face everything and avoid nothing.

  10. Hi Martin
    Re:US vs them
    When I question myself “To say No to Andrew is the end of spiritual life” is delusion or truth? It took much deeper. I see my own deep delusion, attachment to idealism and heroism and that prevent to see the reality.Thank you your deep perception.It helped to see myself.My experience of truth is not black & white.

  11. To Globasian,

    It seems to me that the way out of Cohen's world (or any other illusion) is to see how we entered.

    People enter Cohen's world by receiving affirmation that:

    - their ideals are true, or
    - their conclusions about their spiritual experiences are true, or
    - their conclusions about Andrew Cohen are true.

    So the way out is to question ideals and conclusions.

    Before, during, and after all that is naked reality.

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  14. To: Anonymous/A Very Old Friend,

    Question: Who writes personal letters without identifying themselves, and posts them in public places?

    Answer: Manipulators.

    I’m not censoring comments that are substantive and relevant to the topic. I am only deleting comments that are manipulative, add nothing to the discussion, suck energy, draw attention away from the issues, are self-centred, etc.

    I have made my email address readily available if you want a discussion on my personal life.

    But if you email me, I won’t reply unless you identify yourself. That’s just a universal communication ethical standard.

    Martin Gifford.