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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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Elliot Benjamin is a philosopher, mathematician, musician, counselor, writer, with Ph.Ds in mathematics and psychology and the author of over 180 published articles in the fields of humanistic and transpersonal psychology, pure mathematics, mathematics education, spirituality & the awareness of cult dangers, art & mental disturbance, and progressive politics. He has also written a number of self-published books, such as: The Creative Artist, Mental Disturbance, and Mental Health. See also: www.benjamin-philosopher.com.
Andrew Cohen's “Apology”
Truly Sincere, Manipulative, or “Other”?
My perception of Cohen's apology is that it is essentially an “intellectual” apology.
I think both Frank Visser and David Lane have given stimulating, fair, and balanced perspectives on Andrew Cohen's recent “apology” . One can see from the comments to both Visser and Lane's essays the divided responses of Cohen's ex-students in regard to their feelings of whether Cohen was being truly sincere in his apology, or rather manipulative to rebrand himself as a more “user-friendly” guru who is now ready to embrace the agape side of guruship that he had mistakenly lost sight of (cf. ). As both Visser and Lane stated, it is certainly rare for a guru to admit to his or her wrongdoings, and at the very least I think Cohen deserves some credit for this admission, even if it was essentially “forced” upon him by his students ousting him from his role of guru.
However, as I read through Cohen's recent apology , I felt there was something lacking in this apologyalthough I could not quite put my finger on just what this was. But after reading Scott Lowe's article on Free John (alias Adi Da, etc.) from the 1990's and especially after re-reading William Yenner's 2011 Integral World article comparing Cohen's organization ElightenNext with Scientology (both articles are currently featured on the Integral World website ), my gut level feeling of something lacking in Cohen's apology became more clear to me.
My sense is that Cohen is being sincere “up to a point,” meaning that he is being as sincere as he is capable of beingbut if I had been the person with four buckets of paint dropped on my head, or watching his doctor/student take out her surgical kit to amputate my finger for having trouble writing for Cohen, or getting beaten up by Cohen's wife, or getting seriously sick from doing too many forced prostrations in freezing water, or being forced to spend long days in a crass graphic painted basement to atone for my “sins,” or giving thousands of dollars to Cohen as “gifts” to get back in his favor, etc., I don't think I would feel much better from this “apology” .
I don't know if Cohen is being particularly manipulative in terms of hoping to eventually regain his guruship and students, and at the moment I am willing to give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that this is not the case. I am willing to assume that he truly has come to the realization that he “went too far” with letting his ego get the best of him and that he now understands that he has caused damage in the lives of many of his students. Essentially I am willing to make the assumption that Cohen now realizes that he committed a “mis-integration of spiritual philosophy into life” as I wrote for the title of my previous essay on Cohen . But if someone were truly sincere and wanting to make amends for all the damage he or she had caused in the lives of others, how might this “apology” appear different?
If I had been the person responsible for the egregious acts that Yenner and others have graphically described in their books and accounts of Cohen in alarming detail (cf. ), I would seek the forgiveness very personally of those whom I had harmedand by very personally I mean “in person.” Now I don't know for a fact that Cohen has not done this, but I have trouble picturing Andrew Cohen being as truly human as his apology letter indicates, and seeking out these ex-students and having authentic face-to-face meetings with them to truly apologize to them and ask for their forgiveness. For this would involve a great deal of emotionfor me perhaps some crying or at least tears at the thought of what I had done to these people. My perception of Cohen's apology is that it is essentially an “intellectual” apology. Yes I do think Cohen realizes that he made some “mistakes,” and I agree with Lane that much credit should be given to his students for not letting Cohen continue with these “mistakes.”
But my sense is that Cohen is severely lacking in the “human” ability to truly feel the compassion for those he has harmed. Now these are just my thoughts, for what it is worth. I have never been a student of Cohen and have never met him. But from reading all the accounts of his students and a number of his books, I see someone who is very much in his own world who has essentially been “forced” to take stock of the fact that his guruship has expired (I hope permanently). My sense is that this taking stock is essentially an intellectual kind of taking stock, devoid of the kind of humanness I would want to “feel” if I were one of these ex-students who suffered under Cohen's “mistakes.”
In conclusion, let me say again that these are all just my own thoughts coming from a perspective of someone who was not involved with Cohen. If I am wrong and others have “felt” Cohen's humanness in his sincere apologies to them, I would certainly be interested in hearing this and changing my perceptions. But my current sense from Cohen's “apology” in regard to is he being truly sincere or manipulative or “other” is that I vote for “other.”
1) See the following 2015 Integral World essays at www.integralworld.net: Frank Visser: "Andrew Cohen's Disappearing Act: Seeing Through Cultic Tendencies in Our Most Favorite Movements"; and David Lane: "The Liberation of Andrew Cohen: How Devoted Disciples Can Enlighten Their Guru."
2) See Andrew Cohen: "An Open Letter to All My Students Upon Return From My Sabbatical," May 12, 2015, www.andrewcohen.org
3) See Scott Lowe's article "The Strange Case of Franklin Jones," and William Yenner's 2011 Integral World article "Cut From the Same Cloth: Scientology and ElightenNext," on the 2015 Integral World website at www.integralworld.net
4) See for example William Yenner's above article, or Yenner's 2009 book American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal, and Healing: Former Students of Andrew Cohen Speak Out. Rhinebeck NY: Epigraph Books.
5) See Elliot Benjamin (2013). "Andrew Cohen's Mis-Integration of Spiritual Philosophy into Life." Retrieved from www.integralworld.net