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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
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is a musician
, music producer and educator in the San Francisco Bay Area. He has scored music for numerous broadcast commercials and is the creator of an award-winning CD collection for children, entitled, The Classical Child®. Stas is a also former longtime student of Andrew Cohen. He has a B.A. in Philosophy and has done post-graduate studies in the "linguistics of consciousness". Since 2007, Stas has also been one of the contributing editors of the online blog, WhatEnlightenment.net
“I Love Him,
I Hate Him,
I Love Him Again”
Devotion, Deception and Opportunism
in Andrew Cohen’s Re-found Love
for His Guru, H.W.L. Poonja
Andrew’s response to his guru’s criticism of him was to turn around and disparage him.
Those of you who tuned-in to the latest online offering from Andrew Cohen/EnlightenNext on March 26, 2011—Awakening to Your Highest Self—a lengthy guru love-fest billed as his “Gift to the Cosmos,” may have been surprised to hear Andrew effusively celebrating his formerly reviled teacher H. W. L. Poonja and their relationship. As a close senior student of Andrew’s for 15 years, I know I was. For over a decade while I was in Andrew Cohen’s inner circle, the only comments I heard from Andrew about his former Lucknow, India Advaita teacher “Poonja-ji” (also known as “Papaji”), were disparaging, disrespectful and vituperative.
In particular, I and others who were privy to Andrew’s thoughts and feelings at the time of Poonja’s death in 1997 remember being shocked by Andrew’s cold indifference to his teacher’s passing. For example, when I conveyed my condolences to Andrew regarding Poonjaji, he replied to me, “It’s no skin off my nose.” Mimi Katz, Andrew’s personal secretary during this period, told me that on learning of Poonja’s death she offered her sympathies to Andrew only to have him snap back, “That man means nothing to me now!” Another former close senior student, Harry Dijkshoorn, speaks about Andrew’s general attitude toward his guru:
“I was closely present at the times of the demise of his relationship with Poonja. There was enormous anger, pain and deep disgust in Andrew towards Poonja for his perceived lies and duplicity. As a close student, I have been witness to Andrew berating Poonja in private countless times, which amounted to Andrew having lost all respect for his Guru. For Andrew to be praising Poonja now without at least mentioning how unbelievably angry he has been with him for so many years, seems to be profoundly hypocritical, to say the least. But in light of Andrew's behavior of the last several years, the blatant denial and lies he has told about events that have clearly taken place, I would be surprised if we suddenly would see a sign of integrity and self-honesty from the man who likes to write declarations of integrity about himself.”
Andrew’s expressions of extreme disdain for his former guru were not confined to the time of his guru’s death or private remarks to close students. He repeatedly expressed in community meetings to his students-at-large his negative assessment of what he perceived as his guru’s dishonesty and betrayal of him, and in 1992 published his indictment of Poonja in his book Autobiography of an Awakening (Moksha Foundation), which chronicles in detail his split from his guru.
In that book, Andrew claims the split was caused by his own surpassing of his guru’s limited realization. In fact, the book and other circumstances show that Andrew’s anger toward and criticism of his teacher were a reaction to Poonja’s open criticism of him. In that book, Andrew recounts how he obtained a letter revealing Poonja’s opinion of him:
H. W. L. Poonja
“…my students received a letter from Poonjaji’s intimate circle saying, [Andrew’s] mere footprint will make Mother Earth weep, and it would be sinful to see the face of the one who behaves this way. The letter also said that my students were like erring ghosts neither alive nor dead…” Autobiography of an Awakening, p.117
“…I was deeply pained to find out my Guru was speaking against me to others while at the same time actively deceiving me as to how he honestly felt.” Autobiography of an Awakening, p.108
Andrew resented Poonja’s assessment of him. He claimed that Poonja was duplicitous and had defilements that were only revealed in his own (much purer) light. In Andrew’s mind, the split had occurred because, in essence, his realization was greater than that of his teacher:
“…My absolute insistence for the Truth alone was, it seemed, the very essence of the schism. It seemed that in this I was going too far even for him, for in my reflection, his own hypocrisy and duplicity were brought into the light. No wonder he had objection to my teaching!” Autobiography of an Awakening, p.116.
However Andrew interpreted the split, it is clear that Poonja felt that his “son”, Andrew, had fallen from his “enlightenment”, and had become an abuser of power and of the trust of his own students. It was the stream of ex-Andrew students coming to see him with their spiritual confidence destroyed and with many horror stories of mistreatment by Andrew that eventually caused Poonjaji to understand that Andrew had over-stepped his own realization, taken an enormous position as an “enlightened one” and had gone off the rails.
So concerned was Poonja that it became a personal mission of his to help heal the damage that Andrew was causing students. He sent another of his disciples, Gangaji, to follow Andrew around the world and give satsangs wherever Andrew was teaching to try to counter Andrew’s twisting of the dharma. Gangaji repeatedly expressed that, in her opinion, Andrew had “landed,” i.e. lost his original realization.
But this was more than a philosophical issue. Poonja saw the results of Andrew’s positioning himself as a “living Buddha” as being spiritually harmful to his students by demanding uncritical conformity to his wishes and demands, making them followers, or as he put it, “sheep”.
Andrew’s response to his guru’s criticism of him was to turn around and disparage him—a stance clearly opposite to the attitude of absolute guru surrender and devotion that Andrew’s March 26th webcast strongly promoted. So, what changed for Andrew to allow him to suddenly find love and appreciation for his former guru, despised and ignored by him both before and for almost ten years after his death?
So, what changed for Andrew to allow him to suddenly find love and appreciation for his former guru?
In his "Awakening to Your Highest Self" webcast honoring the guru-disciple relationship, Andrew tells of experiencing a surprising and almost miraculous visitation by his master about four years ago, coincidentally on the very anniversary day of Andrew’s awakening.* On this day, he apparently experienced a glorious vision of Poonjaji coming to him from another dimension, beaming love and light, and communicating the message that somehow despite their unresolved “philosophical and personal” differences they were always connected at the heart. Here’s how Andrew describes it in an earlier blog post:
“Sunday, March 25,  was the twenty-first anniversary of my meeting with my guru, H.W.L. Poonja. That was the last day of my life as a seeker. This extraordinary man gave me the gift of enlightenment for free, and for that I will forever be in his debt…Last night, as I was walking home, thinking about what this day represented, I suddenly saw my guru sitting before me, engulfed in the living radiance of enlightenment. But it was not just a mental image or memory. It was a direct experience of that miracle that has consumed my life since the day I met him—felt, known, and seen as the very real relationship that is an eternal bond beyond time and space...” Andrew Cohen's Blog Entry: "Overwhelming Gratitude" March 27, 2007
Even though this experience may have enabled Andrew to posthumously fantasize a resolution to the bitter falling out between himself and his dead guru, the circumstances surrounding this “change of heart” makes his professed re-conversion suspect in many of his former students’ eyes.
Apparently, not long before the time of Andrew’s reported vision of his guru, EnlightenNext had hired a professional publicist to do damage control on the widespread reports of Cohen’s abuse of students, his critical attitude toward other teachers and in an effort to deal with the financial difficulties of the organization, in part consequent on the publicity about his abusiveness. A former student and EnlightenNext employee at the time gave the following information concerning the proposed image change that was suggested for Andrew:
“Around the beginning of 2007 EnlightenNext hired a woman named Nadine Hack, a consultant out of New York City to create the ‘development’ program (i.e. fundraising). One of the main things she pushed Andrew on was his relationship with his ex-students, and also his public image in relationship to other teachers, including Poonja, etc. She was very clear with him that his entire fundraising base was dependent upon him having the support of his ex-students, (especially given that more people were ex's than currents), as well as people who were exposed to him, and liked his message, but were never going to ‘join’ his movement. She was instrumental in developing the ‘evolutionaries’ program—even changing the name from the ‘revolutionaries’ to ‘evolutionaries’. So she was very much front and center for most of the organizations ‘philosophical’ changes.”
Andrew Cohen’s consistent agenda in his Awakening To Your Highest Self webcast was to validate and be a leading representative for the “guru-principle” and the “transformative power of the teacher-student relationship” in the post-modern world. This agenda, supported by Ken Wilber and others, may well have led him to gloss over the significant (as he put it) “personal and philosophical” differences between he and Poonja, conveniently deflecting the facts, and giving a nice appearance of a heart-connection to the teacher he had disrespected, disparaged and disobeyed.
Perhaps this was also a way to cover up the fact of his guru's disowning of him. Only Andrew truly knows what has motivated him to portray his relationship to his deceased teacher this way. I am normally not a cynical person, yet I cannot help but believe that Andrew Cohen’s current public about-turn in relation to his former teacher is in reality very calculated and disingenuous. That is why I felt that something needed to be said about it, if for no other reason than out of respect for the truth of what really happened with Andrew and Poonjaji as we, his students, experienced it.
* In the EnlightenNext community, Andrew’s yearly anniversary of his awakening is called “Freedom Has No History Day”, which prior to 2007 typically did not include any honoring of his teacher, Poonjaj