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Dustin LindenSmith

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Andrew Cohen gets excited

I've long been a fan of selected teachings from Andrew Cohen.  I say "selected" because quite a bit of his stuff doesn't resonate with me. I used to subscribe to his magazine, but after awhile I found him tiresome. I dug certain aspects of the lengthy dialogues he'd have with Ken Wilber, but the rest of it started to leave me cold.

Some folks might not know that his first career choice was a jazz drummer, and he spent some time studying at Boston's Berklee College of Music. At some point in his studies, I believe he had a bit of a spiritual/existential crisis which eventually led to his self-professed awakening, and he abandoned music for spiritual teaching. He has picked up his drumsticks again though, and my mom recently sent me this link on Cohen's site describing a recent gig they had in Boston. From there, I checked out the band's website, Unfulfilled Desires, and listened to a few more clips. The genre is jazz-rock fusion, and while that kind of music can be good if done well, I don't really dig what his band does. Nor do I think that Cohen has any real groove on the drums.

The point of this entry, however, is to point out this November 2005 post in Cohen's blog about some breakthroughs that some of his students have recently experienced. I point it out here because I found it kind of conceited in tone. He appears to take full credit for the breakthroughs himself, and then when I read further, I just didn't find myself inspired by the accounts. From his blog entry:
A monumental shift has occurred in my teaching work over the last few weeks. Many of my students (after nearly twenty years of effort on my part) have finally, as crazy as it sounds, started to directly experience and express the very essence of what this teaching points to—a goal that until now I’ve seen only in the eye of my own mind and in rare, temporary bursts of collective enlightened consciousness.
[...]
This culminated last weekend in a large gathering of my students from around the world at the EnlightenNext Center, in which for the first time I publicly declared this victory. In a full day of talks and dialogues, I described the evolution and development of my own teaching and philosophy over the last twenty years—what it has taken to get to this point, the level of integrity and authenticity demanded in the individual soul to sustain it, the deep structures of the human ego that I’ve unearthed in my battle to bring this into being, and the thrilling implications for our individual and collective future. Above and beyond anything else, what I tried to make clear was that this is not the end—it is only the beginning . . .
Maybe I'm just being jaded. And I have to admit that Cohen himself has lost most benefit of the doubt from me since I read a tell-all account of how awful it is to work in Cohen's inner circle from a former Cohen insider named Andre van der Braak. (Van der Braak's book is  called Enlightenment Blues (amazon.com | amazon.ca), and it describes in detail what a megalomaniac Cohen is in his teaching and management approach.) Anyway, I hope everything is hunky-dory with that whole scene in Lenox, but I remained a bit unconvinced.

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hai_kah_uhk January 19th, 2006
Hmm, I can see where you're coming from.

It relates to my personal tendency to stay out of teacher/student situations on either end. I neither want a mentor for myself, nor do I want to be a mentor. When a person wants to be a mentor, I find, it adds a dynamic that isn't particularly helpful. That desires ties the mentor-person to ego with one extra bond, and it must be extremely difficult to demonstrate the process of release from ego when you have that extra bond to it.

It's certainly possible to fully live the teachings and manage to pass some of your wisdom to other people. But Cohen is running a business around it, and I expect that kind of tangible tie makes it many times harder. I have to admit, for myself, that a person loses credence once he/she asks me for money. No matter how wise or enlightened he/she is. A passive transferrence is preferable - you live in light, and I'll notice and emulate you in my own way.

Of course it's impossible to make a living this way. I guess this is why Eastern monks as gurus are so appealing - we know they're for real because of the sacrifices they make voluntarily, and because they don't expect us to support them in a comfortable Western lifestyle. I'm sure Cohen was genuinely inspired by real good intentions, but there's that one little detail he's overlooked.

He's a businessman, and we know a thing or two about businessmen.

Of course, this doesn't only apply to people who want to make a living off of mentorship. It includes anyone who sets mentorship as their goal.

wildgarden January 19th, 2006
I remember the buzz about Cohen when he was visiting and teaching in Boulder about 20 years ago. At the time I didn't resonate with my friends' enthusiasms. I tend to find mysef feeling jaded with most gurus.

Ammachi is the real deal for me, her presence is undeniable.
And Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, to whom I will always be devoted.

These days I turn to the Shambhala teachings of Sakyam Mipham (Trungpas'a son and dharma heir) when I'm needing spiritual balance. I find him to be very practical, and mercifully devoid of spiritual platitudes.

Have you read 'The Sun at Midnight' by Andrew Cohen? That was an eye-opener for me regarding the situation of being in the inner circle, and of the guru 'biz' in general.


iamom January 19th, 2006
Thanks for your comments. I really dig Sakyam Mipham's teachings, too. By my bedside, I still have an old Shambhala Sun article of his on meditation techniques which remains to this day my favourite no-nonsense guide to simple meditation. I also heard him speak once in Halifax, which you may know is where Chogyam Trungpa relocated his centre from Boulder to back in the 80s or 90s. The now-famous Pema Chodron, one of Chogyam Trungpa's disciples, also runs a monastery on Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island, but I've never had the pleasure of hearing her speak (although I've read and enjoyed several of her books).

baal_kriah January 20th, 2006
Yet Trungpa's abusive behavior is well-documented enough for me to read his books for whatever value they may have while maintaining no illusions about his suitability as a mentor (for me at least). It's all academic now that he's dead, but I adopted this attitude toward him years before that. Some people are great in theory, not so good in practice.

wildgarden January 21st, 2006
Trungpa certainly presents us with a conundrum, on the one hand transmitting some of the highest Buddhist teachings, on the other hand behaving as a crazy, capricious drunk. And then literally drinking himself to death.

A lot of people have opinions about that.

But if you ever get a chance, visit the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Colorado, to see what the students of the Eleventh Trungpa think of him.

The living legacies of his life's work, Naropa University, Shambhala training, Gampo Abbey, speak of something else going on other than 'not so good in practice'.

I woud have preferred that he live a moderate life and live long, for my own selfish reasons. But he is certainly not the first crazy drunken master in the history of Buddhism..

I wonder about the notion of spiritual mentor. Is this another way of saying 'guru' or are you speaking of a personal relationship, like a spiritual director in some traditions?

I think my spiritual mentor is probably the meditation cushion itself.


baal_kriah January 21st, 2006
What about Osel Tendzin, Trungpa's "dharma heir"? Was he personally chosen by Trungpa because of his great moral qualities (i.e., having sex with students, some of whom he infected, without informing them of his HIV-positive status)? I'll have to go by my own admittedly limited judgements, not by those of some possibly brainwashed disciples. To me, impressive monuments are just impressive monuments, not evidence of anything else. And yes, I used "mentor" because that was the term that was used in what I was commenting on; if guru had been used I would have used that term instead.

blorky January 19th, 2006
I think you'd enjoy the book "Shoes Outside the Door". It's a great story of how someone can be extraordinarily advanced along the spiritual path, yet still struggling with some basic ethical issues. The book is honestly and compassionately written, and covers some of the rise of American Zen.

chaizzilla January 20th, 2006
sounds like he's catching a nice buzz. happy landings, if.

(Anonymous) January 20th, 2006
Wow! That quote almost reads like Adi Da. Can you say "megalomania"? ;-)

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