Eliezer Sobel at The Daily Beast has written a piece, “What Happens When Your Guru Disappears?” covering the 2-year sabbatical of Andrew Cohen, founder of EnlightenNext magazine (formerly WIE, or What is Enlightenment?) and former leader of a global spiritual organization. Two years ago – despite multiple allegations of psychological abuse and cultish behavior – Andrew seemed to be at the peak of his success. He’d just published a new spiritual book crystallizing two decades of teachings, Evolutionary Enlightenment, with a forward written by Deepak Chopra and endorsed by the likes of author Howard Bloom, Jean Houston, Michael Murphy and Barbara Marx Hubbard. Andrew was also old chums with the midwestern integral philosopher Ken Wilber (see: Sex, Ecology, Spirituality), interviewing him each issue for the “Guru and Pandit” dialogues. Core teachings in Andrew’s evolutionary spirituality owe much to Wilber’s intellectual synthesis of Eastern spirituality and Western psychology, a meta map of human consciousness evolution.
In spite of all that momentum, after a public apology and announcement that he was stepping down from a leadership role in his organization for an indefinite sabbatical, Andrew Cohen has all but vanished.
In June 2013, amid increasing allegations of abuse and cultish behavior, Cohen formally apologized in an open letter to his worldwide community of followers and voluntarily relinquished his 27-year reign as their “Perfectly Liberated Spiritual Master.” Perhaps this is not earth-shaking news to observers accustomed to tales of cult leaders gone bad, but within the spiritual subculture, Andrew Cohen quitting his job and vanishing was a very big deal.
Although Cohen was able to fend off all the allegations for quite some time, and had many loyal, staunch defenders counterattacking his attackers, eventually his reputation moved beyond “damage control,” and his global empire crumbled in a single day, just as he had originally become an Enlightened Master overnight.
That was two years ago. Since then, his disappearance has turned into a spiritual version of Where’s Waldo. All Google hits terminate abruptly in 2013, and there hasn’t been a peep out of him since.
Initially it was unclear whether his seeming contrition was for real or merely a political necessity. Many to whom he apologized said that he seemed robotic, as if begrudgingly doing what was required of him to salvage his reputation. Even more telling, an email from his P.R. team was leaked at the time of his demise, letting his inner circle know how they intended to “spin” his humble retreat from public life and possibly pave the way for his return in the spring of 2014.
But that never happened, and I’ve since learned that the P.R. team itself abandoned ship soon after that first email circulated.
What is known is that Cohen embarked on a soul-searching pilgrimage to India. Several former devotees (who requested anonymity) have confirmed spotting him there, and some have said he appeared to be suffering a great deal, and growing more authentic in his brokenness and more sincere in expressing his regrets. He was even engaged for a time in voluntary service work with the poor, the sick, and the homeless.
It remains to be seen if this sabbatical will precipitate Andrew’s return as a re-made guru.
At the time of his apology, I was relieved to know that even a good marketing campaign couldn’t keep the ethical issues of Andrew’s past – and various grievances I had with his slicked-over repackaging of the writings of Teilhard de Chardin, Sri Aurobindo and Jean Gebser – buried and written out of history.
The guru’s image couldn’t be rebranded. To the contrary, it would appear that all the new attention on behalf of Chopra and others served as a karmic crucible, consuming the golden assumptions of marketing alchemists to reveal an uglier prima materia Cohen could not simply avoid by way of spiritual bypassing.
I did appreciate EnlightenNext as a media publication, and furthermore, was grateful that there was a magazine stocking the shelves that openly discussed esoteric matters like human consciousness expansion and featured historical scholars in this regard like Teilhard de Chardin, Fr. Thomas Berry, the evolutionary yogi Sri Aurobindo and his spiritual partner Mirra Alfalsa, and Jean Gebser (not to mention Disinfo’s own Gary Lachman).
Yet I am also glad that the air is cleared for new writers, authors, and “post-guru” forms of consciousness-culture experimentation. Occultists and esotericists have already had a knack for this kind of playful, postmodern, chaos-magic interactivity with consciousness expansion – and a new wave of writers, like myself and many others here, interested in the occult-evolutionary forces of human nature and writing in places like Disinfo, publishing in esoteric and psychedelic journals like Abraxas or PsyPress UK, have paved the way for a very different world; one where guruship* – at least in the way that Andrew Cohen seemed to profess – is itself an evolutionary cul-de-sac.
*Notes: Guruship, in itself, is a complex aspect of religious experience that I don’t wish to outright reject. As David Metcalfe notes when it comes to this topic, it all depends on what you call a guru. Andrew’s organization and subsequent fallout is a powerful lesson in the history of American counter-cultures (from Esalen to Foxhollow and beyond). It’s certainly one that we shouldn’t simply ignore, but instead more deeply come to understand what exactly went on. Especially if there are folks out there, like myself, interested in studying and participating in spiritual counter-cultures.
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