American Guru » Introduction


No one knowingly joins a cult. I spent more than thirteen years following the American guru Andrew Cohen. It was a time that began in love and beauty, a time during which I forged many of my closest friendships and found deep spiritual meaning. I became a leader in Andrew’s community and felt energized and fulfilled by the work I did on his behalf. For many years, my discipleship to Andrew gave my life purpose, satisfaction and hope. Eventually, however, darkness clouded the light that had illuminated the first years of my association with Andrew Cohen. What had been my choice at the outset—to abandon life as I knew it to follow a charismatic guru—gradually came to feel less like a life freely chosen than forced enlistment in the service of an individual bent on total control.

When I left Andrew’s community, and for many years after, anger and blame dominated my emotions. I was nearly consumed by a paralyzing resentment. The notion that I might ever be able to forgive Andrew was inconceivable to me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I first had to forgive myself. That realization came to me as silently as melting snow, and it startled me. Forgiveness is essential to healing, and forgiving myself—for the years that I devoted to Andrew and his organization, for the role I played in it, for my complicity in the abuses that occurred there—has gradually opened me to the possibility that I might one day forgive Andrew. I am not completely there—this is a process that may take a lifetime—but even my acceptance of it as a possibility I regard as progress.

Working toward forgiveness rather than stewing in indignation and resentment has allowed me to size up my experiences as Andrew’s disciple, and to present my memories fairly and in their proper context. The benefit of hindsight has served me in the writing and assembling of the essays presented here, tempering my resentment and informing my understanding of the process through which the community I left had become so different from the one I’d entered. I present this book in order to set the record straight, to withdraw my thirteen-year endorsement of my former guru, and to shed light on Andrew Cohen and his organization for the sake of anyone previously, currently or prospectively involved with him.

I am joined in these pages by several contributors, all of whom are Andrew’s former students. This is a testament to the spirit of communion that we have shared and continue to share in these, our “post-Andrew,” years. Our collective goal is transparency: to examine, to describe and to better understand our experiences as individuals and as members of a devoted group of Andrew Cohen’s followers. Ours is a story of the dark side of the quest for enlightenment, and of the disappointment we experienced when the person who had inspired us dashed our hopes and our spirits. Yet as a collection of individual reflections, observations and experiences, our story most emphatically does not represent a single point of view, nor is it told in a single voice; our perspectives and opinions differ, and this project is richer for it.

In the minds of many, such experiences are best left alone, and one would do better to “move on with one’s life.” But the unfortunate truth is that a fracture occurs in the heart and mind when one’s deepest love and trust in others is shattered—and “moving on,” in and of itself, does nothing to restore that trust. For a time it may be necessary to disregard painful memories while reestablishing some semblance of normalcy and balance, renew¬ing connections with work, other people and daily activities. My own view, though—and that of countless others I’ve consulted with—is that the silence must be broken. We each have our own way of doing this, and for me this book an important aspect of my own version of “breaking the silence.” Ultimately, I believe, to remain silent about abuse is to enable the abuser, which can lead in turn to further harm to others.