Sunday, November 1, 1997
Book review by Joe Szimhart
account of her experience as a disciple of her son, a
well-known American guru, and of her struggle to free
herself from his control is the apt subtitle of
this intimate, revealing story by Luna Tarlo. Beyond the
story, it is the authors effort to make sense of
the spiritual seekers folly, her folly, of
absorption into the enigmatic manipulation of a
sociopathic guru. In her case it is easy to see why she
was attracted to Andrew Cohen in the first place--she
loves her son. When he transformed into an enlightened
guru in India around ten years ago, he no longer related
to her as her son. He became her god, an
embodiment of the Absolute Self that all persons must
know and experience to be truly free. She
struggled to make sense of this, and for some years
capitulated to whatever degree she could to the guru-chela
(disciple or slave) relationship that Andrew exacted.
Tarlo was somewhat overwhelmed at Andrews uncanny
ability to collect devotees who experienced
enlightenment from him, but she finally broke the spell
while living in one of the group homes (sanghas) in 1989.
Her recovery from that spell has not been an easy journey.
Her story is one that many disenchanted guru devotees
Others, who have never succumbed to the seduction of a godman, will wonder what was she thinking all those years. To those others who read the book, Andrew Cohen will appear as someone with spoiled brat syndrome. I am reminded of an incident between another mother and her adult son who was in the Ramtha group at the time. During the counseling session the tall, young man explained to his diminutive, Catholic mother that he was God. The little lady stood up with concern in her expression. In an instant she hit him with a roundhouse slap across the face, and in a measured, firm voice, she said, You are not God. Tarlo tells us that she had visions during her discipleship in which she told her son off and left him. The vision made her feel better, but she could not easily act on it or just walk away. She suffered from that condition cult experts call mind control.
Today, dozens to hundreds of devotees, some quite wealthy, support Cohen and his enlightened status. He has established FACE (Friends of Andrew Cohen Everywhere) centers in many cities around the world under the Moksha Foundation in Lenox, Massachussetts. By New Age guru standards, Cohen has not reached great numbers, but he is one of the more recent rising stars. His biannual magazine, What Is Enlightenment?, is a slick production that features articles by and about some of the fashionable spiritual teachers. For example, the Fall/Winter 1997 edition features Ken Wilbur, Georg Feuerstein, and Deepak Chopra. And, of course, Andrew Cohen.
In his article, Releasing the Unspeakable Glory of the Absolute, Cohen talks about his philosophy like a broken guru record: The true Self cares only about itSelf [sic]; ...that power reveals itself to be a hurricane of destruction leaving in its wake only perfect peace and unqualified harmony; ...permanent revolution of body, mind and soul... Cohens teaching includes skillful means, a euphemism for the guru-can-do-anything to trick, attract, coerce, embarrass or shock a devotee who wants enlightenment. To such gurus enlightenment means entitlement to money, power, sex and unquestioning submission. The illusion to be entertained is that the guru as Andrew Cohen, son of Luna (or name any enlightened one) is not who the devotee worships; it is the Absolute Self that has seized Andrews being that is being worshipped. Meanwhile, little Andrew enjoys the entitlements without taking responsibility--it is the big Absolute that makes the demands.
Cohens mother found all this
revolution to be too much to sustain, despite
her persistence to follow her godman sons
challenging commands. Tarlo experienced Cohens
ruthless verbal put-downs about her behavior, her
emotions and her thoughts to the extent that she did not
know who she was any longer. It all began in 1985 when
Cohen took his substantial inheritance from his
grandmother and became part of the western, leisure class
tradition of spiritual seekers in India. After
considerable guru-hopping with his Indian girlfriend and
fellow seeker, Alka, Cohen happened upon H.W.L. Poonja, a
then obscure teacher who claimed to be of the lineage of
Ramana Maharshi. Tarlo later discovered that Ramana
Maharshi (1879-1950) left no lineage. Poonjaji had little
to no success gathering devotees at the time, but he
nevertheless claimed enlightened status and gave it to
Cohen, as if it were a transferable condition. According
to Tarlo, Cohen had a strained relationship with Poonja
in the end. I heard that Poonja died in 1997. Cohen, then
in his early thirties, got whatever it was
from Poonja, and he has claimed enlightenment ever since.
His version of enlightenment means that his personal
history is gone, or, at least, his acknowledgment
of it. He identifies only with the other or
|Tarlo was with him off and on during
this period as she deigned to become one of his followers.
If she had a vulnerability other than being Gods
mother, it was her personal history of self-analysis and
seeking that gave her a sophisticated but naive awareness
of the spiritual milieu. In a subtly humorous passage
Tarlo recounts how she did not feel enlightened after
both Poonjaji and Andrew both said she was. Once she had
been set up with this knowledge, her struggle was to make
sense of it, and she had only her son as a guide. It was
a conundrum she could not easily dismiss. Her break came
after she and a few other Cohenites dared to meet the
irascible Indian teacher, U.G. Krishnamurti (no relation
to J. Krishnamurti). U.G. convinced them that they did
not need a teacher. It was the nudge Tarlo needed to
stall her ambivalence long enough to feel free of her sons
control. She later told her story to exit counselor Steve
Hassan, a former Moonie, who helped her put
her experience into perspective. She also benefited from The
Guru Papers by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstadt, a book
that clearly exposes the dangers inherent in guru
Luna Tarlos book is now the must-read publication for anyone wanting to understand Andrew Cohen beyond his group propaganda. Her book is also a plea to her son to come home to the real person she believes he is. I doubt Cohen has it in him. Studies show that narcissism and anti-social personality--Tarlo argues convincingly that Cohen exhibits these characteristics-- are incurable. They are not diseases, but character flaws that the bearer covers with a mask.
In this case, the mask could be one of pseudo-enlightenment. He would need a healthy conscience to pull that one off, but by Tarlos description, what conscience he has is inadequate. Nor will his cocoon of devotees permit him to be anything less than their enlightened godman who tinkers with their awareness. Cohens teachings remind me of exactly what Tarlo called it--fascism is the political counterpart. Because hes enlightened, Cohen the Absolute believes he has a right to ask total submission from devotees and then to dictate their reality. Fascist ideas have some roots in an early twentieth century, Italian art and political movement called Futurism. The Futurist poet and leader, F.T. Marinetti, directly influenced Benito Mussolini as well as many proto-Nazis in two ways: the elite among us know the pure spirit world, and to bring that pure world into mundane life, even war could serve as a purifying agent. Cohens skillful means is his technique to create wars within his devotees to purify them. Or, as Luna Tarlo tells us, to destroy them by destroying their personal history. Not that there is a connection, but Tarlo points out that Andrew Cohen likes to smoke cigarettes and drink Italian coffee.
1. The Futurist Manifesto
of 1909 declared ...a new beauty...a roaring
motorcar which runs like a machine-gun, is more beautiful
than the Winged Victory of Samothrace...We
wish to glorify war...
2. Enlightenment gurus who use skillful means to liberate their devotees from personal history, karma or psychological baggage will assert that they mean no harm, but the fast track to moksha (soul liberation) requires total submission and sacrifice to a living master if one is to succeed in one lifetime. As to the death of the self, even St. Paul of Christianity wrote: I live now, not I, but Christ lives in me (Galatians 2:20) . In much of guru submission, the Absolute is a parallel to the Christ of Paul, though the proponents of either view might dispute this assertion.