Quest, Autumn, 1998


The Mother of God



  In one of my first dialogues with Andrew Cohen, I brought up my belief that the ability to work things out with one's parents was an indicator of one's enlightenment. Andrew quickly disabused me of this notion: "That's just nuts!" was how he put it, "Give it up." Little did I know just how loaded the subject was for him, for here is a man who claims to speak as the voice of "the Absolute," guiding hundreds of adoring and devoted people on their quest for "absolute liberation in this lifetime" but who has utterly failed to sustain even the amenities of a relationship with his own mother.

This is an astounding book. A mother joins her son on his spiritual journey; the son becomes a guru; the mother becomes his devotee. And then all hell breaks loose, mostly for her, as she tries to sort through the jarring conflicts between her feelings of unconditional love for her son and horror at her ever increasing awareness of his cruelty, power-tripping, and ruthlessness. He tells her plainly, "Your son is dead." After several failed attempts at reconciliation, they part permanently, and the mother writes a book denouncing her own child as dangerous and controlling, mentioning him in the same breath as Jim Jones, David Koresh, and even Hitler.

Although it is easy to identify with the author and see Andrew only through her eyes, one does have to wonder about the credibility of a mother who would surrender to her own son and address him as "Master" in the first place. Clearly, it takes two imbalanced parties to create a relationship as dysfunctional as this one. As the title of the book indicates, until she came to her senses, Luna Tarlo believed she was the mother of God, as awestruck as all the other devotees when Andrew would make statements like "Very few people like me exist in the world. I can destroy a person's karma if you trust me, I have the power to completely destroy your past." Or, "Anyone who loves me is guaranteed enlightenment."

Any hint of resistance or questioning on Luna's part is harshly declared by Andrew to be her inability to let go of fear and negativity and truly surrender to him, despite the fact that he himself had declared Luna to be enlightened early on. Fortunately, her "enlightenment" doesn't ultimately take, but initially Luna is swept up by her son's charisma: "He seemed totally at ease with himself, fully present at all times. He didn't worry about anything. He didn't want anything, he was the flow of life itself, at the heart of creation, not outside it, not separated from it, as all of us felt we were. I was convinced that he was that impossible phenomenon ... a completely happy human being."

She goes to bed one night, her heart pounding as she ponders, "Was Andrew the incarnation of the Buddha, as some had suggested? Of Jesus Christ? Of Mohammed?... how small-minded it had been for me to mourn the loss of a son when a master of freedom was to be gained!"

Yet she is continuously confused and erratic in her feelings, for she also speaks plainly of Andrew's character flaws: "His cruelty, his insensitivity to another's pain, his arrogance, his anger," and is frequently subjected to humiliating reprimands in front of others. "Andrew had honed to a fine point this ability to inflict what I can only call insult as transforming- stripping you down in public. I'd seen him do it countless times, not only to myself, but to everyone." Despite her increasing "sense of suffocation," she writes her son a note, which says simply, "Master: I belong to you body and soul forever, Luna."
  A particularly telling exchange occurs when Andrew asks Luna if he can borrow her apartment in New York-alone-and she responds by assuring him that she will stay out of his way. They speak again later that day:

"You made a big mistake this afternoon," he says. "When I asked if I could Use VOW apartment without you there, you didn't say yes right away.
That's because you still don't know who I am. If you did, you would have said yes without malting excuses!"

She begins to apologize, but he interrupts. "I won't be burdened by your excuses ... one pays for one's acts, you know."

Luna returns to her room in a state: "I hadn't the slightest idea ... that when the guru requested something - no matter what - you said yes posthaste, that the slightest hesitation was, regarded as a betrayal of trust in him.... I had committed a crime without knowing it." Her emotions continue to swing wildly between extremes of terror and adulation: "Fear, fear, fear.
Not only had I never experienced such incessant fear before in my life, but up to the time of his enlightenment I'd never feared Andrew ... and now it wasn't clear whether I was petrified of being cast aside by Andrew or by God!" Yet several days later she writes, "For the first time in weeks I felt optimistic again. I had the unclouded perception that Andrew's hardness and harsh demands were attributes of his purity, purity outraged by the vulgar doubts of people like me. His righteous anger was God's anger... I was ecstatic."

Her ecstasy is predictably short-lived, and she soon endures another of her sores unprovoked tirades: "Look Luna, let's face it, you don't belong here. You are a selfish and self-centered woman. ... Why is it you are the only one who doesn't listen to me? Why? Who doesn't show respect? You walk a thin red line with me Luna. I'm really pissed this time." He advises her to bum all of her writings-her life's work. She does. Later she writes, "Whatever he said now, I heard it. It was the word of God. It was the truth. A great flowering love for him had engulfed me like a tidal wave. I felt finally capable of giving him everything I possessed."

Ironically, it was a seemingly trivial remark that finally allowed Luna to break free of the clutches of her son and master: in hearing that a certain male student would share a house with Luna and several other, women, Andrew had asked "Why would he want to live with a bunch of old ladies?" This one comment, Luna writes, was "the catalyst that would alter the chemistry to Andrew forever. I felt clobbered by something I hadn't wanted to acknowledge before - the fact that my once sensitive understanding, woman-loving (I'd thought), tender-hearted, son had so changed ... Andrew was putting me down as a Woman, as a person, and as his mother. Slowly, unalterably, some pivotal organ inside my body began to recoil into a state of uncontrollable rebellion."

Shortly thereafter she meets another teacher, U. G. Krishnamurti, and after only a few brief and matter-of-fact 'conversations with him, she finally lets go of Andrew and is free and exhilarated, and eventually tells her son off on the phone: "I realize, now that I've always been uncomfortable in the sangha and the reason is that it's fascist. It has a fascist mind-set. It's run by fear... Everyone lives in terror of you. The people nearest you are all spies.... They're also sycophants, telling you only what you want to hear, because they're afraid to tell you the truth. ... There is nothing at all to modify your behavior." When she hangs up, "the monstrous dream is over."

The mother of God and God exchange a few more letters and calls, and try meeting one more time several years later, but reconciliation is impossible. Luna winds down her account with a reference to The Guru Papers by Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad: "The most significant conclusion a guru seems to draw from his experience is the belief that he or she has arrived at a place where self-delusion is no longer possible ... but this is, in fact, the most treacherous form of self-delusion of all, and the foundation for all the others." Luna concludes: "One thing appears plain to me: once you think someone is going to save you, you become his or her property. You belong to them. Your autonomy is gone. You are a slave." And finally, "I hope that someday Andrew may have the strength to cast off his emperor's clothes and come home."