A Darker Side to EnlightenNext
Recently it has been announced that Andrew Cohen and his organization, EnlightenNext, are selling their ashram in Lenox MA and moving. This has brought about news articles and discussion, which include some recent and very heated comments to local newspapers and online forums. I wanted to respond since as author of a recently published book about Andrew Cohen I have often been the focus of much of the ire expressed. Some of these comments also infer that I am completely discounting any value at all to any aspects of this organization. I am making no such claim, and to my knowledge none of Andrew Cohen’s critics are either. To suggest this only appears as an attempt to deflect from the main issue.
My point in speaking out against EnlightenNext has been only to call attention to the numerous abusive practices that have been used on EnlightenNext students at Mr. Cohen’s direction. I feel it is important for the local community and potential students to have this exposed and addressed, so that they can make more informed decisions. And, for the many past students who have left under emotional duress and trauma, the hope is that this will help us to begin healing from Andrew’s harmful and unhealthy approach to spiritual growth.
During my 13 years with Andrew Cohen, as a member of his inner circle of students, manager of Foxhollow, and a member of the Board of Directors, I was witness to countless instances of abusive behavior toward students on a regular basis. The strategy at EnlightenNext has always been to “destroy the ego”, believing it to be the main obstacle to spiritual “evolution”. Andrew’s tactics are largely based on ever increasing levels of demands and psychological pressure on the “ego”, which is often how the abuse results. I have witnessed such treatment escalate in some cases to emotional, financial and even physical abuse. In far too many cases students were coerced to behave in ways that violated their own dignity, privacy and good sense, all in the belief that only a self-limiting ego would resist their guru’s instruction.
For many of Andrew’s closer students, the only way to prove one’s spiritual worth and commitment to him and the EnlightenNext community has been to demonstrate a willingness and ability to happily accept increasingly abusive and humiliating ordeals. A detailed accounting of these practices can be found in my book American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing as well as in the Whatenlightenment.net blog, which has contributions by over 25 former students, including 3 past editors of EnlightenNext magazine and 2 past personal assistants to Mr. Cohen. To date, no one from the EnlightenNext community, including Andrew Cohen himself, has ever publicly and specifically addressed these first-hand accounts, nor made any substantive claims explaining or denying them.
Finally, being unable or unwilling to face the ridicule and coercion within the EnlightenNext community, in the end many students have severed their association with Andrew Cohen by secretly running away. While some may claim to find Andrew’s harsh and extreme approach helpful, for many others the over-all effect is corrosive and damaging to the point where this process becomes internalized and reinforced by their former teacher as a belief in one’s personal “spiritual failings”. (See Andrew Cohen’s “A Declaration of Integrity”, and a response at www.whatenlightenment.net)
No one I know of is saying that there is absolutely nothing of value in any of the EnlightenNext programs. At one time many of us have felt that there was a very positive benefit to our participation with EnlightenNext, or we wouldn’t have stayed for the many years that we did. Rather what I and quite a few others have felt the need to bring to light is the culture of abusive behavior, secrecy and dishonesty that runs hidden, behind the scenes and throughout EnlightenNext. As someone who has given many years of his life in support of EnlightenNext and Andrew Cohen, I have felt obliged to speak out publicly about it.