Tuesday, June 7, 2011

My Close Encounter with the Andrew Cohen Cult

Here’s my Andrew Cohen story, for what it's worth (slightly edited re-post from Rick Ross cult forum):

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. 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 answers, 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 Andrew's entourage would transmit messages from Andrew to us and then they would 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 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 student, formal student, committed student, and senior student. 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. One of Cohen's disciples was an international model, and she 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 seekers were saying the same thing. 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 (Friends of Andrew Cohen Everywhere) 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 back in Australia 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 Sydney 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, so 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 literally 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.


  1. I bought Cohen's 8 CD audiobook and found him to be narcissistic and insane too. I did not hear any truths from him. His whole "integral" gang are great infomercial hosts bilking the spiritual community. Their "lie" is to get you to believe in an "intelligent designer". Anyone seeking outside themselves for truth is already doomed. For pure teachings limit your reading to Eckhart Tolle, Byron Katie, and Peter Ralston.

  2. Well, I would not say he's insane. I'd say he is narcissistic and a bit megalomaniacal. Basically he has issues - but we all do in this crazy world.

    I only make a fuss about his case because it could be the start of a new religion. His followers believe he is Jesus or Buddha and they are all very determined to create a revolution. Scary. And he is flat-out wrong about important things. He thinks:

    1. ego is evil,
    2. morality is crucial.

    That taps into a very cold, dark, rightwing place in the human psyche that can lead to violence and totalitarianism.

  3. For the next step in Evolution® buy my book, suckers!


  4. Andrew E Neuman,

    Points for creativity! But do you really think he's in it for the money?

    I think he's honestly idealistic and even makes some good points. The problem is that he is also very deluded. So he harms others physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, and spiritually - all in the name of idealism and enlightenment.

  5. Martin, thanks for the response to this half-joking post. I think Cohen has become a parody of himself. Being in it for the "money" is just a metaphor for the striving for fame, recognition, respect, etc. on the worldwide mess of the "spiritual" stage. And yes, I do think this has become important to him - he has gone from being on his high horse, a virulent critic of other teachers to everybody's pal and colleague, apparently to establish a larger name for himself. Underneath, he's still the same snarling (yet insecure) alpha dog to his students. Sometimes all you can do is laugh at all his posturing.

  6. Andrew E. Neuman,

    Well, yes, I think Cohen is rather fascinated with the drama of his life. In his first book "My Master is Myself", he kept going on about how great he was and how he was surpassing his own guru.

    Somewhere he said that gurus fall for money, sex, and power, but I think you are right that fame is another trap.

    But being a "guru" is already dodgy, isn't it? Who would want such a label and such a role? It's all spiritual drama. Sure it's good to want to help others, but labels like "spirituality" and "guru" and "disciple" just create further illusions. Whole naked reality is better than spirituality, I reckon.

  7. I'm in total agreement, Martin. Wanting to be and be called a "guru", already gives off the stench of self-serving BS. Heaven forbid that one's realness and human kindness would speak for itself. :)

  8. oh and I thought this might be apropos:

    "The words guru, swami, super swami, master,
    teacher, yogi, murshid, priest -- most of those
    sporting such a title are just peacocks.

    The litmus test is to hold them upside down
    over a cliff for a few hours. If they don't wet
    their pants ... maybe you found a real one."
    (from below)


  9. Yep. Imagine how it would feel to call yourself a guru and to have others calling you their guru and to call them your disciples. Such nonsense! We are all human beings in the same boat together.

    Thanks for the Daniel Ladinsky quote and link.

  10. I stumbled onto your blog entry quite by chance, because someone had mentioned Andrew Cohen in an Amazon review. Never heard of him before, glad about that.

    I also had a very brief brush with a cult. I think the false teacher lesson is a valuable lesson, so you can consider yourself lucky. Some take much more than a year to learn that particular lesson.

    You may want to look into the works of Joel S. Goldsmith or Ernest Holmes. The truth is within you.

  11. Hi Anonymous,

    I agree that it was a good lesson. But it would be so much better if we could learn these simple lessons much faster!

    I like Joel S Goldsmith. However, I think it's only part of the deal. In addition to being and realising perfection now, think we are also here to consciously manifest our potential.

  12. I too just stumbled onto your blog. My wife has been involved for a couple of years in an on-line offshoot of Cohen's led by a Craig Hamilton. She has become distant from me, our kids, and isolated from friends. She's now wanting a divorce as she says she can't share her spiritual path with me. Looks like Hamilton has perfected Cohen's techniques of breaking up families and is now doing it on-line. People need to be warned of this - they are preying on vulnerable people. Very sick.

  13. hello folks,
    How sad to hear all these stories of manipulation and greed ( for fame, money power etc...).
    The " spiritual" game is great business these days... Since most of us humans have a deep seated belief that somehow we are not OK and need to improve ourselves, we can easily fall prey to anyone with enough " balls " to tell us they know exactly what we need to do....To obtain the ideal....Non disturbance...( a plain english word for Freedom from pain discomfort disaproval , being ignored or being belittled )
    That's The holy grail out there...
    They will even talk about being in the present moment ( the latest twist ) while making this something to strive for ( which of course takes one out of the present moment ).
    All the while , it's very possible to experience " higher states " without much mumbo jumbo. ( the complicated vague and obscure language is used to take folks on a long and tortuous journey...)
    In simple english , if One is in a lower state ( anxiety , fear, confusion ,anger etc... ), one can simply decide to get out of it. Then look around oneself and answer the question : is everything good enough right now (apart from the answers provided by the mind , it will be, 99.99% of the time. _)
    The fact is that if one is breathing...all is well.
    Once this has been established ( by answering the question truly, not just mentally ) one will then be in. a state of " contentment "( a state of not needing to change anything ).
    Once one is in that state, one has already shifted and can get into a state of enthusiasm , or interest or joy, by simply " acting " enthusiastic , interested ( in just about anything ) or joyful.
    Notice that this can only be done in the present moment...no need to " try " to be in the moment.....
    Try it.....It's fun...
    It also takes care of most of our questions about life...spirituality...by rendering them irrelevant...
    If I indeed have a choice of which sate of being I live in at any time....I don't know about you, but it good enough for me.....Unless of course I get greedy and want to experience even higher states....bliss...grace....inspiration....
    funny thing is those seem to come and go when I do the simple work described above...wanting them seems to keep them away...
    Just my experience...do with it what you will...
    all this offered in a spirit of gratitude for being able to do so .
    No fee !!!!
    Best wishes.
    Jacques Bessin

  14. Hi Jacques,

    Thanks for your comment.

    Andrew Cohen basically agreed with your view until Papaji started offending him. Then Andrew thought the theory needed changing, i.e. that the experience of peace, belonging, freedom, etc., isn't enough because it doesn't necessarily make you a moral person.

    I think Andrew has a point that an enlightened person should be above hurting others or at least they should be able to admit when they are wrong. But that's a pretty simple point. Andrew's reaction of creating a whole new philosophy of enforced morality seems to be an over-reaction. And it ironically led him to hurting many others in a much worse way than Papaji hurt him.

    I think we also need to consider that the current world does not support good behaviour because it places unnecessary pressures on us, and we are surrounded by ignorance. Therefore, we should change the world too.

    1. Martin, What is " moral "? Definitely a construct of the collective ego....Isn't it a collection of shoulds and should'nts which vary according to culture and circumstance ?
      A perfectly " moral " person in our generally accepted sense would say that is is not right to hurt another human being. Yet thousands of perfectly " moral " persons routinely march off to war, totally justified in their minds and hearts that it is now " morally " right to go and kill others....
      In the end isn't it up to me to decide what is " moral " ? that's what we do anyway , let's be honest.
      Strangely those who have been truly enlightened have also been harmless .... ( of course we would have to agree on the meaning of enlightened and harmless....I'm happy to provide the definitions I use ) )
      As far as changing the world, I for one am too lazy and since I don't know " how " reality really works and also don't know the remote consequences of my " do gooding " I'll refrain from such lofty goals and be content with contributing to a good mood in the moment and place where I am...
      In my humble opinion, seeing the illusions I am working under is a full time job.
      I'll leave the world to its creator..
      I wouldn't want to futz with this computer as I know nothing of how it works...Same thing with the world.
      Offered in a spirit of gratitude.
      Jacques bessin

    2. Jacques wrote: "I wouldn't want to futz with this computer as I know nothing of how it works...Same thing with the world."

      Good point.

      I guess where I differed to Andrew Cohen was that he thought that morality had to be added to enlightenment, whereas I think lack of morality indicates lack of enlightenment or the presence of excessive pressure from the ignorant world. Even lack of enlightenment is probably caused by an ignorant world. Hence, the bottom line seems to be to improve the world.

      Overall, I think the world is improving. I mean 200 years ago, you could go down to the town square and see a prisoner executed or tortured. The progress since then seems to be about improved education and improved living standards. So fixing the world might simply mean contributing to those causes.

      But, yes, it's hard to know. Any kind of investment suggests attachment and that attachment can spoil the improvement. At that point, I reckon, you can only shrug your shoulders and do the best you can. Or find out how the computer works.

  15. Yes, it's a more hospitable world in many ways...
    Not to mention the huge increase in people's reaching for teachings on growth etc....as well as the simultaneous availibility ot such Teachings...Of course it's not a safe pursuit...Perhaps we care more about the teachers that we do the Teachings....and therefore we get disapointed.....They are people too
    Oh no!!!!
    Jacques bessin

  16. Dear Martin

    Are you related to Joseph Gifford, American dancer? Just asking because I heard he also follows Cohen.

  17. No. I wish I was a good dancer, though.

  18. Hi, I recommend the teachings of J Krishnamurti for those disillusioned with the contemporary spiritual scene. He advocates doubt, and stipulates, like Buddha, 'Be a light to yourself.' Always welcome advice.

  19. The problem with J Krishnamurti is that he cuts at the leaves rather than at the root of illusion. I think his private life also demonstrates that he was a hypocrite. But no one is perfect.

  20. SO glad to see you call the Andrew Cohen cult exactly what it is -- a cult. A few years ago I took a course in chinese medicine from a cohen cult-member who used the course as a cover to proseletize the cult. It was very offensive, and several people left disgusted. This person is close to the inner circle, and used humiliation and demeaning remarks on anyone in the course who refused to come to a cohen meeting. That included me. His fundamentalist approach to spirituality, obvious lack of original thought and pressured speech were enough to tell me this was a cult he was involved in, and to stay away. Also had a HUGE ego, while telling us the ego was evil and had to be destroyed.

  21. Yep, they are judgemental, yet blind to their own faults. Indeed, I heard that AC takes photos of people when he sees them demonstrating what he calls "the devil's smile". But that devilish smile is caused by pretending to be good and moral the rest of the time - it's just an energetic balance to the false pretense.

    Nevertheless, I think AC and his followers are innocent in the sense that they don't know any better. They think they are doing the right thing. They are just deluded.