130. Andrew Cohen

Andrew CohenAndrew Cohen is an internationally respected spiritual teacher, cultural visionary, and founder of the global nonprofit EnlightenNext and its award-winning publication EnlightenNext magazine. Since 1986, Cohen has been traveling the world giving public lectures and leading intensive retreats. Through his writings, teachings, and ongoing dialogues with leading philosophers, scientists, and mystics, he has become known as one of the defining voices of the new evolutionary spirituality.

Born in New York City in 1955 and raised in a secular Jewish family, Cohen had his passion for spirit unexpectedly ignited at the age of sixteen, when a spontaneous revelation of  “cosmic consciousness” opened his eyes to a new dimension of life. Some years later, as a result of that experience, he gave up aspirations to become a musician and dedicated himself wholeheartedly to its rediscovery. After several years of intensive spiritual pursuit in the United States, including the study of martial arts, Kriya Yoga, and Buddhist meditation, Cohen followed the footsteps of a generation of Western seekers to India. It was there, in the land of the sages, that he met his last teacher H.W.L. Poonja, a disciple of the revered Ramana Maharshi, in 1986. In just a few short weeks, Cohen experienced a life-changing awakening, the story of which was told in his first book, My Master Is My Self. Shortly afterwards, with his teacher’s blessing, Cohen began to teach.

Always an independent thinker, Cohen soon diverged from the traditional Eastern approach that had catalyzed his own awakening, with its emphasis on transcendence and the illusory nature of the phenomenal world. Grappling with questions and challenges that arose as he sought to bring the revelation of enlightenment to a contemporary Western audience, he gradually forged his own original spiritual teaching, Evolutionary Enlightenment. A modern-day equivalent of the ancient wisdom teachings, Cohen’s work is no footnote to tradition, but a distinct and innovative synthesis. He has brought the timeless depth of enlightened wisdom into the twenty-first century and significantly redirected its purpose and promise—calling not for transcendence of worldly attachment, or even for compassionate care and service, but for a deep and heroic responsibility for theevolution of the world. In this, he finds more in common with the great evolutionary visionaries of the last century, such as Sri Aurobindo and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, than he does with the ancient Eastern enlightenment tradition in which his own awakening occurred. To both these streams of thought he adds a further element: a rich and nuanced understanding of the practical dynamics of individual and cultural transformation at our particular moment in history.

Cohen’s interest in cultural evolution is much more than theoretical. For more than two decades he has been intensively engaged with committed individuals and groups from around the world who are striving to put his teachings into practice. This engagement has, in turn, informed his thinking, creating a dynamic and fertile interplay between vision and practice, ideal and reality. Among the many fruits of this work, perhaps the most significant has been a series of breakthroughs into collective or intersubjective higher states of consciousness, and the active translation of these insights into new values, perspectives, and principles that are enabling individuals to lay the foundations for a new cultural paradigm. The results of this living inquiry are embraced and shared by a growing global movement of “Evolutionaries.”

In addition to his work as a teacher, Cohen is also dedicated to changing the cultural conversation about the purpose and significance of spiritual enlightenment in our time. This is best seen in the magazine he founded in 1991, EnlightenNext (formerly What Is Enlightenment?), which has become the premier forum for serious discussion at the intersection of spirituality and culture. In its pages, and the live forums that have grown out of them, Cohen and his team of collaborators have engaged spiritual, religious, cultural, and scientific thought leaders in a dynamic inquiry about the nature of inner and outer evolution. Cohen’s unusual perspective and commitment to dialogue have led to invitations to speak at numerous forums over the years, including the Parliament of the World’s Religions (2004, 2009), LOHAS International Conference, International Transpersonal Conference, Integral Leadership in Action, and the International Conference on the Frontiers of Yoga and Consciousness Research, as well as universities, spiritual centers, and business settings around the world.

EnlightenNext has centers worldwide, and members in more than twenty countries. Cohen lives at the organization’s world headquarters in Lenox, Massachusetts, and spends several months of the year traveling, teaching, and leading retreats around the world.

Cohen’s new book Evolutionary Enlightenment: A New Path for Spiritual Awakening was released by Select Books Fall 2011. For more information about Andrew Cohen’s work and his upcoming teachings and retreats, visit www.andrewcohen.org.

Books by Andrew Cohen:

Interview conducted 7/14/2012

Video and audio below. Audio also available as a Podcast.

128 thoughts on “130. Andrew Cohen

  1. Excerpts from Chapter 7 of A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle, in a section titled “Allowing the Diminishment of the Ego”
    The ego is always on guard against any kind of perceived diminishment. AUTOMATIC ego repair mechanisms come into effect to restore the mental form of “me.” When someone blames or criticizes me, that to the ego is a diminishment of self, and it will immediately attempt to repair its diminished sense of self through SELF JUSTIFICATION, DEFENSE, or BLAMING. Whether the other person is right or wrong is irrelevant to the ego. It is much more interested in self preservation than in the truth. This is the preservation of the psychological form of “me.” One of the most common ego repair mechanisms is ANGER, which causes a temporary but huge ego inflation.

    A powerful spiritual practice is consciously to ALLOW the DIMINISHMENT of ego when it happens without attempting to restore it. I recommend that you experiment with this from time to time. For example, when someone criticizes you, blames you, or calls you names, instead of immediately retaliating or defending yourself – do nothing. Allow the self-image to remain diminished and become alert to WHAT THAT FEELS LIKE deep inside you. For a few seconds, it may feel uncomfortable, as if you had shrunk in size. Then you may sense an inner spaciousness that feels intensely alive. You haven’t been diminished at all. In fact, you have expanded. … Through becoming less (in the ego’s perception), you in fact undergo an expansion and make room for Being to come forward.

    This DOES NOT mean, that you INVITE ABUSE or turn yourself into a VICTIM of unconscious people. Sometimes a situation may demand that you tell someone to “back off” in no uncertain terms. Without egoic defensiveness, there will be power behind your words, yet no reactive force. If necessary, you can also say no to someone firmly and clearly, and it will be what I call a “high-quality no” that is free of all negativity.

    ‘There is only acceptance’ doesn’t mean that you don’t get hurt or have negative emotions. If you are sensitive, open and vulnerable to life and others, when someone says something hurtful to you or to others… It hurts..

    Being open & vulnerable to your own & others’ pain is acceptance…. Sharing about it, is also within the realm of acceptance.. Accepting the hurt, would be feeling it, not trying to deny, avoid, distract or suppress it.. Acceptance also means NOT projecting the hurt pain into ANGER, and unconsciously attacking others (or even yourself), or defending yourself from what you end up blaming & projecting towards.

    Acceptance shouldn’t be a controlled behavior where you’re ACTING like it… I heard a story of a yoga student who while TRYING TO be spiritual and accepting, would allow physical sexual advances because she thought defending herself or getting angry wouldn’t be ‘spiritual’…

    ….. There’s tons of dissing going on in the comments section and within spiritual community… Many use spiritual teachings to attack others (but also themselves).. A lot of it is unconscious, some even well meaning…

    I have a long history of being on the receiving end of disses by both teachers and peers in spiritual communities… So I am more ‘sensitive’ to it, but I also recognize a pattern of similar attacks on here with many others… So, my intent was to point out the abusive behavior, not necessarily attack particular people (but sometimes you need specific examples for people to understand)..

    ……. as for hearts not healing… that was simply my opinion and observation… I think that Hearts don’t break… what really happens when they break or get hurt, is the heart gets opened up….. what breaks is part of the ego… and what heals is the ego.. The ego protects the heart from getting over-run by both pain and joy..
    (that’s just a relatively new insight and interpretation of mine, still in testing phase.. so if it doesn’t match your experience, trust your experience over mine)..

    Thanks for your sticking your neck out there to share….

    Trust your personal experience and insights you had with Pamela… Don’t let Steve’s dismissive comments get you down..

    post script..

    My comments are simply my opinions and my observations.. I’m trying to simply be honest and tell the truth, and my interpretation of what I currently see as real or true… if your version of the truth varies, trust your own experience & feelings over anything I or anyone else may say….

    I also reserve the right to take contrary positions.. I may be emphasizing a certain position to make a point, but I might easy go 180% in the future to make a different point…. or I might end up realizing I was totally deluded and change my mind…. because ultimately I don’t really know anything.. and just trying to do the best I can with that limited information..

  2. The conversation here has been both raw and insightful. So much heartfelt wisdom. Thank you! YOU are my gurus. You have shared your process, your experience, your suffering and struggles …. all of which seem to be the human experience.

    But Rick interviewed a man named Andrew Cohen. He is an individual who “took Papaji’s words to heart” … that he (Cohen) should not rely/depend on him. So Cohen created his own spiritual crowd, even setting up an ashram of sorts, … a spiritual community even while Papaji expressed his dismay at what Andrew was doing. Andrew didn’t listen. Instead, he self-appointed as a spiritual “authority” as if he knew how to enlighten others. While Cohen even refers to Krishnamurti who said “Truth is a pathless land”, (there can be no path, because one person’s path is not the others. We are unique and must forge our own paths), Cohen not only dismayed Papaji but also set himself up as a spiritual authority … telling people what they should do … shave their heads, give up their creative pursuits, donate their life savings, subject themselves to face-slapping, or having paint poured on them, etc., etc. …. because he was their new guru authorityy and knew what they must do in order to gain enlightenment!

    While neither Papaji nor Krishnamurti instructed people this way, Andrew did. How and why did he decide that he knew how others should reach enlightenment? We are all unique …. the universe serves up nothing but infinity which also means that there can never be a particular way of getting there. Truth really is a pathless land. It’s not there until you break the path yourself. The “path” is as unique as you are. Nobody can tread it except you and nobody could or should ever follow it. Which also means that Andrew cannot ever lead anyone. He may have found some truth under Papaji’s feet, but the truth he found can’t be repeated anyways. Does he not, in his so called enlightened state, know this? Must he set himself up as a guru and demand that people obey him?
    You know what is even more distressing than this individual named Andrew Cohen’s prescription for enlightenment? It is that people are so lost that they would actually follow him rather than following their own light. Krishnamurti described ashrams and spiritual communities as prisons. I wish Andrew would get off the guru-train and go back to jazz!

    There is a fine line between cult and teacher.

  3. @Heat Seeker
    I don’t think ‘diss’ is the best or most accurate term… it’s more like not-validating, invalidating, dismissing, condescending, name calling, avoiding, minimizing, demeaning, attacking, defensiveness, intentionally causing confusion, changing topics, etc.

    To generalize ‘Blaming the Victim’ is a very common practice that is extremely abusive, yet most don’t even know the damage done. Only those who have been on the receiving end really ‘get’ how damaging & hurtful it can be.

    In the past, I was more doubtful and unsure about my own experience and internal conclusions about ‘disses’ from others… Or my observations of other people getting dissed with non-dual teachings.. Sometimes I would mentally try to justify it by some variation of ‘The Ends justify the means’, kill the ego = freedom, so techniques that might be deemed mean or abusive are okay if intent or goal is freedom. BUT what I observed with my own experience and observation of hundreds of other non-dual type seekers, is that the primary regular practice of constant negation has a very POOR success rate (and there’s many unusual side effects). Adyashanti came to the similar conclusion in his early days about the failure rate of Zen, and he credits that insight as pivotal for him…

    Re: “people recognize the story and the hurt, and there is both compassion for that but also an invitation to sit with it and go beyond the story. Is that dissing?”

    I would generally say that most of the time, YES it is dissing… on rare occasions with someone who can really listen and connect, this technique can be truly compassionate and useful to break through barriers.

    But.. most of the time it’s premature recognition and it is avoidance masked by spiritual techniques. The focus of “go beyond the story” will automatically tend to lead people towards SEEKING escape, completion, freedom, and other positive emotions.

    Another downside for how this teaching is generally practiced by seekers, is that they do not spend enough time SITTING with the DISCOMFORT & hurt…. My greatest insights and lessons only came after sitting and enduring extreme discomfort.. I attained realizations and knowledge AFTER sitting with discomfort to the point of exhausting it, then I finally ‘GOT IT’, I finally understood and knew what the teachings really meant.. they made sense in my head, body, and spirit.. There was no more need to believe it, reinforce it. Actually thinking or trying anything different than that teaching would now make no sense at all….

    Re: “After all, what do you expect from a non-dual forum?”
    This is highly subjection question… But… if there is any expectation or desire… it would be to have a community that is more like a peer group inquiry forum.. Allowing participants to gain the benefit of other’s experience and and history.. The 2nd half of Sat-SANG stands for Sangha which refers to monastery communities in the earlier days of Buddhism, a monastery was an environment which allowed practitioners a safe and protected place to grow, learn and practice. I have seen actual modern western sangha quite lacking within non-dual and other spiritual communities, people end up isolating within themselves or forming cliques with others who are too liked minded.. The end result is a constant re-enforcing of teachings and beliefs, instead of a constant sincere honest search for the truth..

    Re: “I wonder if you really looked back on several posts, and try to see what it might be that people are reacting/responding/reaching out to.”
    I apologize if it seems like I may have commented prematurely or on limited information. That is my fault for failing to be able to communicate well. Unfortunately, communication and language is lacking. An additional challenge is the format of this comment section, there can be multiple topics addressed by several people all at the same time. So in order to get a point across, I try to be brief, but also am a bit loud and strong to emphasize and get enough attention to make certain points.

    What may get lost in the shuffle… Is that I have spent a lot of contemplation, time, energy, and thought before speaking. Often I will investigate and inquire with multiple contrary positions before I even get close to making a comment or stating a position. Also I really try to observe and understand the underlying assumptions, beliefs, motives, and emotions of others.. Then I have to manage my time schedule, how much time do I have to devote to this, are there other responsibilities, do I reply earlier and possibly miss things, or if I reply too late the topic has changed and the initial emotions and insights may have faded…


    btw… I recently revisited Timothy Conway’s webpage article/entry on ‘Neo-Advaita’, it is a wealth of information and research. And some very challenging opinions. My most recent visit, a lot of the observations, I really ‘GOT IT’, while in the past, I maybe mostly agreed. His post covers some of the same points I am trying to make, but with a slightly different view…. worth a visit, at a minimum just to challenge some of our assumptions…


  4. Some very insightful comments on this thread. A lot of strange, irrelevant stuff (and even song clips?) as well (which turned it into a 177 comment thread).
    I thought the interview in itself was great.. flowed well and covered all the points anyone could wish to know/hear about Andrew Cohen.
    On the actual AC teachings itself, things started looking a bit shakey after the description of the circle drawing with “traditional nondual enlightenment” in the bottom half 😉 Can’t say I’m a bit fan in philosophising about the origins and purpose of the universe or Big Bang either, but maybe it’s someone’s cup of tea.
    Great balanced interview though.

  5. Yes there is a lot to be wondered about in AC’s
    ” philosophy”. This interview covered his story somewhat but no so much his current teachings. I don’t know much more except from reading his mag some years back where he seemed to be in love with the word “postmodern”. If memory serves I think he used it 14 times in one article talking with Ken Wilber . I also question someones attainment that talks about “making it all the way” so much. Isn’t that ego identification ? If Papaji was dismayed by him it makes me doubly doubtful. I do think there is something good about exploring the relationship of the purpose of the little self in this world with the great transcendent Self.

  6. I echo your last sediment terryterrific and listened to the youtube.
    There is a very sincere and thoughtful website of people trying to deal with the excesses of Andrew’s control at.

    I came across Andrew mostly because of one of his disciples, Craig Hamilton so I found it interesting that Rick (whose option I respect) liked the guy.

    If you go to the above website you can read Craig viciously attacking members who have left the Cohen inner circle. NOW it turns out Craig also has left Cohen. He is very busy marketing Andrew’s knowledge online without giving him any credit.

    I see a profound lack of integrity in so many teachers and gurus. They are willing to accept the money and power and adoration without accepting the possible negative responsibilities. When Rich brings up the problems with the group, Andrew in this interview does not make a single apology or even a clear admission of mistakes. At the time of this interview the mistakes are becoming quite apparent but since then even more so. His only response to this situation is that he is able to teach differently now and it all worked out the best.

    If you accept Andrew’s theory of the creative impulse in all of us you could see the possibility that yes, many of his student got benefits during their time with him, but that they would have received the same benefits whatever they were doing as part of the evolving universe. They could have saved themselves a lot of suffering, time and money.

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