About the Book
“For anyone familiar with Andrew Cohen’s public presentation of himself, accepting what is revealed here requires a willingness to experience extreme feelings and responses, if only because the two pictures are so different that one could be forgiven for wondering whoâ€”if anyoneâ€”is really telling the truth. And it turns out that in situations like this, the raw emotion of anger sometimes serves as a useful and necessary conduit for recollection, incredulity and, ultimately, discernment.”
– from American Guru
American Guru is the story of EnlightenNext, an experiment in spiritual community under the direction of self-proclaimed spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, as seen through the eyes of several of his former followers. For thirteen years, William Yenner was the ultimate insider in Andrew Cohen’s world, helping to build Cohen’s organization and playing key roles on its business development team. In American Guru, Yenner and his colleagues share their insights into the origins and trajectory of this controversial group and its leader, documenting a history of abuses that Cohen and many of his current devotees have gone to great lengths to conceal.
The phenomenon of the guru is one response to the human longing for authentic spiritual experience, but gurus are not all the same. Some help their followers, and others exploit them, a distinction that became apparent only gradually to many of those who renounced their former lives to follow Andrew Cohen when he first began teaching some twenty years ago. Far from being a sensationalized expose, however, American Guru is a case study on authoritarian systems and the powerful effects they produce in contemporary new religious movements.
It includes essays on the guru/disciple relationship, spiritual longing and disillusionment, departure from the abusive guru, and the subsequent processes of healing and fulfillment.
The authoritarian structure, whether it arises in a church, a political party, a family or a cult is a closed system in which information is strictly controlled, there is little room for dissent, and prevailing ideas about the leader are rarely questioned or examined, serving to solidify his position of dominance and to maintain the subordinate roles of his followers. Yet the events revealed in American Guru are not recounted in a spirit of vengeance or recrimination. Rather, the author’s intentions are threefold: to honor the necessity for a fair and accurate record of their experiences in Cohen’s community; to acknowledge and take responsibility for their complicity in the abuses that took place there; and to assist others in understanding, recovering from, or avoiding involvements with problematic authoritarian spiritual figures.
In the largest sense, American Guru is about authoritarian power and its effects and manifestations throughout our culture. The issues it deals with: relinquishment and recovery of autonomy, spiritual naivete and the abuse of authority pertain to many environments and situations in the world today. The need for spiritual community and mentorship is a genuine and unavoidable human expression that must be fully understood in order to ensure its wholesome and positive fulfillment for seekers everywhere.
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