I can't begin to describe how frightening I'm finding this book I'm reading -- Enlightenment Blues (see previous post).
As I said before, I don't have any personal experience with Andrew Cohen. I'm taking as true what is in this book, and I'm sure some out there will see it differently. But it doesn't really matter because I am not so interested in Andrew Cohen as in what caused so many to follow him for years, putting aside their own doubts while the demands on them became more and more absurd. There will always be megalomaniacs, and some of them will be gurus. The more important question is not what to do about them, but why so many follow them.
Author Van der Braak, with his penetrating analysis of his own process, puts his finger on so much of what happens psychologically when one joins the kind of spiritual community that demands absolute obedience and also, especially, on why it is so hard to separate from such a community. Anyone who reads this regularly knows that I have a special interest in cults because I lived in a cultish spiritual community for a short time when I was young. I completely relate to all of the rationalizations Van der Braak told himself.
First, you have an awakening experience with a certain person. Or maybe (as was my case in my youth) you just see the divine in the other, and you want that for yourself. The guru becomes the means to access the divine, or enlightenment, or whatever label works for you. You convince yourself that the guru is the only possible access to the divine for you. Maybe the guru believes this himself, as Cohen apparently did, or maybe, as in my case, the guru doesn't. But the follower believes it -- that's what matters. Once one believes that, it becomes almost impossible to leave. You imagine yourself damned forever if you do, and there will be plenty of people in the community who will try be only too anxious to convince you of that outcome. You probably have no friends who are not part of the community, so there is no alternative viewpoint to hear.
This book is scary because the amount of psychological abuse (and one example of physical abuse is also cited) is so profound, and yet everyone in the community buys into the argument that the reason Cohen derides them, punishes them repeatedly by banishing them to invisibility in his sangha, etc., is so that they will stop coddling their ego. Everyone in the community believes this. If only I were better: I just have to try harder and then I will live up to the standards of the Master. The amazing thing is that not one person noticed the contradiction in Cohen's teaching: if everything is impersonal, if "I" don't really exist, then who is it that is having to try harder to banish the ego?
As Adyashanti once said to me, "Only ego wants to get rid of ego."