Boston Globe, Saturday, September 12, 1998


An Angry Mother Warns


Against a Powerful Guru: Her Son



  At first Luna Tarlo felt like she had "hit the lottery." Her son had become a guru, a spiritual teacher who was attracting more and more followers.

"Of course, as a mother, I just felt a tremendous amount of pride and happiness," says Tarlo, a writer in New York.

But nearly a decade later, Tarlo's joy has turned to outrage. In a blistering book, she portrays her son, Andrew Cohen, who lives at a center in Lenox operated by his movement, as an arrogant, power-hungry, dangerous figure who practices mind control over adherents.

Tarlo's book, "The Mother of God," touches on a wider subject: the concern within the religious community about the danger of any self-appointed guru who demands unquestioning obedience in return for spiritual healing.

According to Tarlo, her son claims he found enlightenment while working with a spiritual teacher in India. Now he is one of an increasing number of gurus in the United States. They have flourished, sociologists say, at a time when many Americans are yearning for deeper spiritual meaning and in a society that looks to experts for advice on everything from picking stocks to losing weight.

Problems can occur when religious teachers try to take advantage of people's vulnerability for their own purpose, whether financial gain or ego gratification. Typically, these gurus enjoy enormous influence over their followers.

The number of members living in one of the centers operated by Cohen's movement worldwide is believed to be in the hundreds, although the number who follow his teachings is easily in the thousands.

Cohen, Tarlo claims, "requires total surrender to him. You have to obey everything he says and trust him 100 percent, and anybody who disagrees is subject to derision and verbal abuse

Cohen, whose Moksha Foundation operates his centers worldwide, could not be reached for comment this week. But one of his followers who has read Tarlo's book disputes her characterization of Cohen.

"The impression Luna gives in this book of Andrew as a two-dimensional autocrat and everyone quaking in fear couldn't be farther from the positive experience of him that I have had," said Elizabeth Debold, a developmental psychologist in New York. "Andrew has completely transformed my relationship to my life. What is so remarkable is that Andrew is pure positivity. Andrew is an expression of the highest human potential."

According to "What is Enlightenment," a journal published by the Moksha Foundation, since Cohen's "awakening" in 1986 he has focused on "the potential of total liberation from the bondage of ignorance, superstition, and selfishness."

But that's not the picture Tarlo paints of her son, with whom she spent time with in India and the United States for several years before breaking off their relationship eight years ago. They have had little contact since then.

Tarlo said she became frightened by the "power that Andrew began to have over people. And if he thought that I disagreed with him in any way he would say things Eke that I was sick, that I would never get it, and that I didn't love him. "
Tarlo's critics question her motivations and charge that her angry tone is the result of her inability or unwillingness to understand Andrew's message.

"What I read in the book is a mother who wants her son back," Debold said. "There was never, it seems to me, a very deep interest in spiritual growth or change. Andrew never said, 'I want people to follow me,' but people said they wanted to be near him and to find out how he lives like he does."

But Tarlo says it was painful as a mother to write such a withering assessment of her son. Part of her purpose was to highlight the perils behind the absolutism and authoritarianism she believes spiritual leaders like Cohen represent.

"I know my life with him is over, and it's very sad," she says. "I loved him a lot."