An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Martin Erdmann is a German writer, poet, retired lecturer of Heidelberg University. He completed studies of English, French, and of legal science, both at the University of Heidelberg. He wrote several books in German focusing on the illusion of the I or Ego. As a cofounder of the German Spiritual Emergence Network (S. E. N) he provided counseling to people undergoing spiritual crises. For several years now he has conducted seminars on Advaita-Vedanta. (email: Homepage:

See also: The Real Cause of Cohen's Dilemma: Part I | Part II


Reply to Benjamin

Clarity and Compassion Can Go Together

Martin Erdmann

I have a question to ask: Is it possible for a dispassionate analysis to be born from a compassionate heart?

Benjamin writes [in "My Response to Erdmann: Compassionate Philosophy Is Needed"]:

I am glad to see that Martin Erdmann is in agreement with me that Andrew Cohen is responsible for himself, as this was the crux of the problem I had with his previous two Integral World articles.

In my response to "What Makes a Guru a Guru?, Cohen is Responsible for Himself" I wrote that “in our society every grown up person, not incapacitated, is responsible for himself, and so is Andrew Cohen”, and, so I would like to add, I do not see any reason for Cohen to be incapacitated. So I am glad that “the crux of the problem” Benjamin had with my previous two articles has been solved.

But the main point for me right now is that Wilber did not have one steadfast unchangeable philosophy of destroying the ego which resulted, in Erdmann's words, “seeing his own ego-theory realized in the spiritual practice undertaken by guru Cohen.

There is a different ego-theory embraced by Wilber, which I will focus on in Part III. In One Taste: The Journals of Ken Wilber we find an entry, dated October 31 (1999: 273-276), reprinted in The Simple Feeling of Being (2004: 21-24), which stands in stark contrast to Wilber's deliberations on the ego in Living Enlightenment.

Here Wilber truly sees that the ego's attempt to kill the ego leads to an enhancement of the ego. “People”, says Wilber, “want to get rid of the self-contraction (or get rid of the ego). Just that is the… mistake, because it actually locks the self-contraction firmly into place… The only thing that wants to get rid of the ego is the ego…”

The ego theory, which Wilber endorses in the spiritual practice of Andrew Cohen, is the ego theory of Living Enlightenment, also reprinted in The Simple Feeling of Being (2004: 129 – 131). It is not the ego-theory of One Taste. It's the ego-theory of Living Enlightenment with its roasting, slaughtering, blowing up of the ego, which Wilber wanted to see realized in the spiritual practice of Rude Boy.

So Wilber & Cohen were solely concerned with the ego-theory of Living Enlightenment, not with the one of One Taste or any of the other ego-theories of Wilber. There are quite a few actually, as will be stated in Part III.

To the best of my knowledge, Ken Wilber is not in his essence a violent or physically or emotionally abusive person.

As stated in my reply ["Reply to Benjamin's 'What Makes a Guru a Guru?'"], Wilber is a “partial ass-perv”, as seen by himself. That does not make him in his essence an abusive person.

But what I find most disturbing is Erdmann's easy and “dispassionate” way of describing how if Cohen's tactics were to lead to “blissful enlightenment” then all would be fine—in other words that the ends would have justified the means.

Let us take the example of a great Zen master, who always gave his student a tender, softhearted treatment. Then one day for no apparent reason the Zen master pours a bucket of paint over the head of his student. This completely blows the student's mind. Not only the preconceived concepts of how a master should treat his student are wiped out, all concepts of how one should behave in this world are obliterated. At this moment there is nothing the student can hold on to. Free from all attachments he has a real satori flashing forth into consciousness.

Now in Andrew's sangha the contrary is the case. The pouring of buckets of paint over students does not lead to the liberating shock the student had in the presence of the great Zen master. The reason is that the measure as applied by Cohen is part of a daily abusive routine. Thus it is expected, accepted by the student. It is not a spontaneous act of the Master. It is born from a preconceived idea of an inimical ego that must be destroyed. This, so I wrote, “does not lead to inner freedom. It leads to a state of utter slavery, in which the individuality of the disciple is crippled, annihilated. This is the reason why Cohen's undertaking must be condemned.”

It is not be condemned, because Cohen “does not comply with accepted ethical standards. This in itself is no reason to condemn Cohen's enterprise. The breaking of social standards would indeed be a highly praiseworthy enterprise, if it lead to the state of liberation as promised by Andrew Cohen."

What Erdmann is missing here is nothing less than the whole psychology of people who become indoctrinated in destructive cults.

This was not the subject of my 10 page article. For this I refer the reader of this piece to Benjamin's own essays.

Even if it is the case that “some” of Cohen's students actually requested to be physically and psychologically abused… these people are what I refer to as “mentally disturbed” and deserve our understanding and therapeutic assistance.

I can give no therapeutic assistance from where I live, here near the city of Heidelberg, in Germany. I also believe, that people, like van der Braak, who asked for this kind of treatment, were not mentally disturbed. Dr. André van der Braak writes: “His teaching is in my blood, in my very cells. Yes, now I feel humiliated, trampled, mistreated – but isn't that the voice of my whining ego (italics added by author again), feeling sorry for itself; the voice of the enemy that must be strangled?” (2003: 86)

He asked for the treatment he received to have the whining ego, the voice of the enemy, strangled. He asked for it, because he had internalized the ego-theory of Wilber & Cohen, so much that it was in his blood, in his very cells. In line with the internalized theory he humiliated himself, and humiliated his fellow-stundents, as is shown in the following account.

“I try desperately to push my doubts away”, André writes. “I try my best to be a leader, to put the squeeze on others even more fanatically. I see myself become cold and harsh, inhuman… To stay on Andrew's good side I'll have to violate myself and others more and more. (2003: 176)

The reason for André's behavior is to be found in the ego-theory of Wilber & Cohen. It is a theory which has not been looked into in Braak's Enlightenment Blues, in Yenner's American Guru, nor in Luna Tarlo's The Mother of God.

So, as I stated in my reply, “leaving Cohen and his Sangha leaves Wilber's ill-conceived theory untouched. Thus it may live on in a different disguise, in another guru-disciple relationship, in the manipulative, hierarchical structures of our society at large. An intelligent person can be shown in an hour or so that Wilber's theory, on which Cohen's practice has been built, does not lead to an enhancement, but to the destruction of human individuality. This one hour could save this person from the trouble of many years of a torturous discipleship. It pays off to quite dispassionately look into the matter.”

And the human appreciation of the suffering and pain inflicted on the lives of many of his students that Andrew Cohen has caused for over 25 years is primarily what I find missing in Martin Erdmann's essays about equating Cohen's responsibility with Wilber.

There is something else missing in my account. That is an assessment of the suffering and pain, which students inflicted on the lives of their fellow-students, by hitting, slapping them, pouring buckets of paint over them…. I do not think that they were in essence abusive people. They just had an ill-conceived ego-theory internalized. So I looked more closely into the matter.

To conclude my deliberations I have a question to ask: Is it possible for a dispassionate analysis to be born from a compassionate heart? Or does one exclude the other?

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