“The More I Hear, The More Disturbed I Feel”
Andrew Cohen’s Mis-Integration of Spiritual Philosophy into Life
by Elliot Benjamin
About the Book —
“Unfortunately, though the “teaching” Andrew Cohen
has cobbled together contains elements of perennial wisdom,
time has revealed that it rests on a foundation of dishonesty,
corruption and pernicious abuse of power that undermines whatever
positive effects it might otherwise have produced.”
American Guru is a multifaceted account of life in the contemporary spiritual community known as EnlightenNext, and the controversial “teaching methods” of its New York-born founder, self-proclaimed “guru” Andrew Cohen. With contributions from several of Cohen’s former students, William Yenner recalls the thirteen-year trajectory of his career as a leader and manager in Cohen’s community–his early days as an idealistic “seeker,” his years of service on EnlightenNext’s Board of Directors, his ultimate disillusionment and departure, and his efforts to make sense of his experiences as a once-devoted follower of a “Teacher of Evolutionary Enlightenment.” With wit and insight, Yenner and his colleagues have produced a riveting cautionary tale on the dangers of authoritarian spirituality, and an insider’s case study on the promises and pitfalls of postmodern discipleship.
Yenner’s book is a depiction of abuse of power as it continues to play out in the lives of real people, the students of spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, at Cohen’s 220-acre Foxhollow ashram in western Massachusetts. A look behind the scenes at “EnlightenNext,” a global nonprofit devoted to “the evolution of consciousness and culture,” American Guru reveals what happens when hundreds of contemporary idealists devote their lives to the teachings of a charismatic leader who demands the unconditional surrender of their “egos.”
William Yenner and his fellow contributors, all former members of Cohen’s “EnlightenNext” community, describe their initial meetings with Andrew Cohen and their varied responses, over the twenty years that followed, to his promise to lead them to enlightenment. It was a journey that began in love and beauty, during which deep friendships were forged and profound spiritual meaning was discovered by many. Energized and fulfilled by their participation in Cohen’s projects, they derived purpose, satisfaction and hope from their years of discipleship, until darkness clouded the light that had illuminated the early years of their association with this powerful teacher. Gradually, their abandonment of the familiar for the guidance of a charismatic guru came to feel less like a life freely chosen than forced enlistment in the service of an individual bent on total control.
How did it all go wrong? What are the lessons to be learned? What comes next for the many seekers, on a wide variety of contemporary spiritual paths, who become disillusioned with iconoclastic authority figures who have opened their minds and hearts to previously unimagined possibilities? And how can an understanding of the authoritarian dynamic inoculate others against abuse at the hands of such powerfully charismatic individuals?
Read more About the Book.