Religion Terry Patten On Outrageous Teaching And Charges Of Enabling Abuse Andrew Cohen

Religion Terry Patten On Outrageous Teaching And Charges Of Enabling Abuse Andrew Cohen Image
I have been a harsh critic of Andrew Cohen over the years, dating back to my "abusive guru" post back in 2006. I have given space to William Yenner's book on Cohen, and I reposted Be Scofield's article on "integral abuse," which is what Terry Patten is responding to in his recent post.

Scofield's post was critical of Cohen, collecting many of the allegations of abuse that have been made over the years by former students - but it was also critical of those who have supported Cohen in the integral community around Ken Wilber.

I actually have a bigger issue with those who support Marc Gafni and allow him to continue teaching, an issue that is also raised in Scofield's article.

Anyway, Patten wrote a long and detailed response (an apologetic?) to Scofield's criticisms of his support of Andrew Cohen (I wish he would respond the to Gafni issue as well).


Submitted by Terry on June 6, 2010

One of Andrew Cohen's critics recently attacked me in a blog post. Detailing a few of the most inflammatory stories about Cohen, a group of teachers (including me, Ken Wilber and others) were accused of "enabling abuse" because we have dialoged and cooperated with Andrew, his students and his publications. None of us responded publicly to the attack. I chose not to because in the echo chamber of the blogosphere there is no way to respond thoughtfully and at length to irresponsible negativity without raising it to an implicitly equal status, and thereby validating and empowering it.

But now, in the context of my response to the intelligent and responsible article by the Integrales Forum, I feel I have a legitimate context to address the issues raised there.


Firstly, what do I think of Andrew Cohen and his allegedly abusive treatment of students? I should admit here that, although I've investigated it with some seriousness, I don't know Andrew's work or history in enough depth and detail to vouch entirely for it or him. For the first fifteen or more years of his teaching career, I responded to him with distaste. I was turned off by what seemed to be arrogance, rudeness, and an unnecessary edge in his personality and teaching style.

But I have read his magazine for years (I think it's truly excellent, and has made a whole series of increasingly important and crucial contributions to the leading-edge of culture and consciousness), and I have watched him and his approach change and grow over time (in exciting and innovative ways with which I've in general resonated.) I have been especially positively impressed by the intelligence, sincerity, seriousness, and depth of many of Andrew's students and former students.

More recently, I've read some hair-raising stories of blaming and shaming and anathematizing the ego that seem like they would only create very deep hypermasculine splits in people's psyches. The worst stories sound pretty strange. I don't "condone" humiliating, pressuring, or emotionally traumatizing people.

But many of the folks who lived through it tell me that they all relate to a particular period of extreme transformational intensity that worked to create an intrapsychic crisis in the dualistic polarity between students' egos and their enlightened intentions, one that ultimately enabled them to break through into a new zone of self-transcending freedom and mutual trust. I've read and heard various passionate testimonies that support this interpretation. Many former and current students assure me that the kinds of incidents that are being called "abuse" ceased long ago. Do I know for a fact that this is true? I can't be certain. But I think so. And I'm 100% satisfied that there's no simplistic open-and-shut evil here. It's "at the very least "a paradoxical dynamic in which nuances count.

Andrew Cohen keeps growing and learning as a teacher. He articulates many of the most important ideas that invigorate integral evolutionary spirituality. He has entered into dialogs with many leading thinkers in the pages of his magazine that have advanced our worldview. His contributions are important and unique. We need more passionate evolutionaries who take the transformation of consciousness and culture as seriously as he does. I want to see many of those ideas extended and deepened, not delegitimized.

Because I cared in all these ways, and because I held some critical perspectives, I raised them with some of his former students, and then some current ones. They were able to discuss these issues in a way that "kool-aid drinkers" could not. They agreed with much of what I had to say, and a couple even suggested that I approach Andrew directly. So last year I did.

Over the last six months, I have confronted Andrew about these issues very directly on a number of occasions, privately and publicly. I was surprised and pleased to find that he has listened to me in a way that seemed authentically curious, open, and self-critical rather than defended. He has listened, debated me, listened again, and ultimately taken some of my comments very much to heart. In the process I told Andrew that the karmas left behind in the process of his past teaching work are his responsibility to clean up, even if (as he insists) he never did anything wrong, and he took that on the chin as entirely valid and very useful, and even thanked me.

I have urged him to say publicly what he has told me - that his work has turned a corner, that through some intense experiments he's established a core group of committed spiritual evolutionaries and that he's more interested now in engaging publicly with allies in cooperatively building evolutionary culture. I hope that is altogether true, and from my experience it appears to be. I've given all of this a "smell test" and so far, I find it entirely credible.

The outrageous stories pertain to extreme "spiritual theater" that arose in a context that is hard for most people to even conceive - an extraordinary experiment, an attempt to live a radically true and conscious existence, as a trustable member of an intensely-committed close-knit group. Andrew Cohen (like my teacher, Adi Da) warned that he is a fierce, fiery guru, trying to create a red-hot transformational cauldron, a "hard school" for the most committed aspirants, a pressure-cooker that people should not approach unless they were interested in the fiercest kind of self-transcending ordeal. And the ones involved in the outrageous stories about Andrew were, I'm told, only close students who had been involved for years. (There seems, at least, to have been truth in advertising.) I don't choose that kind of relationship with Andrew, and neither do most of the people reading this. But we can still appreciate the passionate and radical commitment he brings into our cultural world space, and we can benefit from it.

Read the whole defense of Cohen and is work.

I see what Patten is saying here, and I'd like to believe his is correct. However, I have been reading the Guru and Pandit series in EnlightenNext for many years (an ongoing conversation between Cohen, the guru, and Ken Wilber, the pandit). Based on what I have seen in those "conversations," which I am assuming have been edited to make Cohen look as good as is possible, he is still an authoritarian guru with a huge ego.

In my reading, there is a perceived gulf between some of the ideas he discusses and the language/perspective in which he presents those ideas. It feels like an intellectual double bind - what he says is contradicted by how he says it. There is simply too much emphasis on "I" and "me" in his discussions - too much emphasis on his supposed enlightenment.

Maybe he is no longer abusive to his followers, but I have never really seen anything enlightened in his teachings. When I compare his teachings to Pema Chodron, or Robert Augustus Masters, or Dr. John Welwood (all of whom are Buddhist, while Cohen comes from the Vedanta tradition in Hinduism), he simply does not measure up as a guru.

But then I have always had a physical reaction to his teachings - which I listen to and respect. So I am one of the critics Patten refers to in saying, "Speaking of "smell tests," I have also caught a whiff of some of Cohen's most vocal critics. Something stinks."

Apparently, criticism of gurus like Cohen or Gafni is simply an example of "'mean green' fundamentalism (often resonating with "mean orange" and "mean blue/amber" fundamentalisms)." I remember Wilber using the same language to dismiss his critics in the now infamous Wild Earp post(s). According to Patten, we are not "grasping or engaging sincerely with the complexity and nuance of this total situation."

Patten has the benefit of speaking with Cohen in person - I have not. So maybe he is better able to ascertain the quality of Cohen the person and Cohen the guru. I have read the claims of his former students who give examples of abuse, the claims of his current students and supporters, Cohen's own response to the accusations, and various other perspectives on the situation (see Alan Kazlev's excellent article) - and I have read Cohen's articles and teachings.

I remain unimpressed.

Tags: abuse, gurus, Integral, Psychology, Enlightenment, Andrew Cohen, Terry Patten, On Outrageous Teaching and Charges of Enabling Abuse, The Integral Heart, Be Scofield, William Yenner, apologetics

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