Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby snowheight » Thu Apr 07, 2016 9:15 pm

Marlowe Sands (a pen name) writes of her 15 year association with Andrew Cohen and the "Community" that grew up around him during that time in "Paradise and Promises", and to my eye the heart and soul of the book is encapsulated at the end:

"Andrew Cohen's Community, taken in its entirety, was overwhelmingly destructive to hundreds of people. But to make sense of the controversy surrounding Andrew Cohen we also have to understand the threads of grace and healing that ran simultaneously through his work.

...

The weakness of some anti-cult writings is that they categorize all forms of spiritual experience as pathological and/or
dissociative. In order to do justice to the complexity of human experience we need a model that distinguishes between those experiences that bring about greater awareness and those that shatter us." Postscript para 11.

Her story is one of an intense commitment to rigorous spiritual practice and relates a series of sacrifices for the Community she makes as a part of that. Within and spanning the narrative is a progression of her world view, central to which are several intense point experiences. Two in particular are in the form of spiritual awakenings, one by Cohen's grace, and the other essentially in spite of him. While accounts of experiences of this nature can be categorized and generalized, the subjective nature of them leads necessarily to their relation inevitably taking the form of a poetic voice, and Marlowe's poetry in this regard is quite unique, genuine and profound. While she pulls no punches about the Community, and hints strongly at an overall orientation of regret as to lost opportunity and price paid by her and her family, she conveys a very deep understanding of the underlying existential issues that would draw one to make the sacrifices she describes in the story, and credits that understanding largely to her participation in the Community and goes to lengths to acknowledge Andrew as a factor.

It's easy to despise the image of Andrew Cohen, especially when his exploits are read through the looking glass of conventional cultural conditioning. But central to Marlowe's journey and commitment was a hard, in depth subjective examination of her own cultural conditioning, and she presents the reader an opportunity to explore three different perspectives: what it was like for her at the time, the Community from an objective viewpoint, and the upshot and downsides of the journey for her as a person looking backward. Marlowe's training and work experience in the fields of education and psychology offer us a unique opportunity for an examination of the process of exploitation of a committed spiritual seekers interest.

While surrender to a guru or spiritual awakening by the grace of a guru are foreign to me, ultimately devotion and insight are roads that lead to the same Rome. While the stories about prostrations, chanting and tithing certainly might sound shocking to us average joe's, I have been to a few Catholic funerals. Kneeling on the back of the pew during catechism as incense filled the air gives me a point of reference for spiritual sacrifice in a cultural context widely accepted as conventional.

Some of the more heinous acts described in the book will be familiar to many as the power politics between people that happen in all walks and situations of life. Anyone who's ever had a white collar corporate job can relate and understand this in terms of simple personal self-interest in the context of a social hierarchy. The closest I've ever come to communal living was time served in a college dorm room, but the U.S. military is a widely accepted form of it, and there is a long history of monastic traditions that span world culture. Navy seals would all be quite familiar with the offering in the autumn lake, and celibacy would never be my deal, but I can certainly suspend my judgment of the choice.

Where the line comes down with regard to suspending my judgment of the Community is in terms of the mechanisms of control, and the purposes that this control was put to use. This is illustrated most starkly by the disruptions to the marital and other family relationships experienced by some of it's members. The lever of control was spiritual devotion, with Andrew as the proxy for God, and the primary mechanism was a subversion of the process of subjective inquiry.

So how does all of this happen? How do educated and otherwise sophisticated people find themselves in a situation such as the Community? The spiritual seekers interest can, of course, take the form of a consuming obsession. This interest can be understood in terms of the first Christian commandment and thereby correlated into secular terms. One way to understand "Thou Shalt Have no God before Me" is to recognize that the default human condition is one that involves a sense of incompleteness that can range from totally unconscious, to a subtle gnawing sense that something isn't quite right, through on to an all-consuming angst and drive to set matters straight. If one doesn't look to God in this endeavor, then they'll fill that void with something else. It might be money and power -- lots of people throw themselves into their jobs, perhaps in sacrifice for their loved ones, perhaps not -- or it might be chasing the pleasure from sex, drugs and rock and roll. It might take the form of devotion to a social cause like global warming, social justice or changing the laws to make life difficult for the evil pedophiles, or it might just take the form of losing yourself in the impersonal love of your friendly smiling neighborhood guru.

To understand the Community one must face it's flaws, and in so doing, suspension of judgment might get us to a deeper understanding and exploration, but recognition of those flaws does ultimately require some sort of cultural lens. The one I'll offer here is the culture and vocabulary of the the discussion forums like this one that I've participated in.

As an outsider looking in, the biggest flaw at the core of the Community struck me as what Marlowe writes here:

"He claimed to teach love but was a bully. He taught surrender in an atmosphere of fear; vulnerability in the context of intense competition. He claimed to teach impersonality, yet cultivated favorites in an atmosphere of suspicion. Worst of all were his responses to budding spirituality among his students. In the name of rooting out ego, he crushed the spiritual impulse just as we began to trust our deepest selves". 2nd to last para chapter 17.

Central to this is something that Cohen obviously missed: what we really are doesn't evolve, and impersonal love, forgiveness, and acceptance certainly do apply -- and ever and always so -- to any and every individual and start with the recognition that every human being is always worthy of them, regardless of circumstance. It is, after all .. well, you know .. impersonal. Another way to state it is that impersonal love is unconditional. The Community, as Marlowe describes it, was an embodiment of a conceptualized negation of this notion.

Now that expression does entangle a bit of controversy on the forum about evolution, change, paths, effort and the notion of identity. But I think that one point that even my most determined of debating partners here would agree on, is that the subject of the spiritual search can never be forced. Coercion of any sort has no place in a genuine spiritual story. A controversial refinement of this point would be that while some forms of deep spiritual experience can be induced, even planned for and almost scripted, the end of the search is always by grace, which isn't to say either random or destined. The Community's approach was one of an extreme material effort to obtain what everyone already is, and thereby doomed by premise to begin with.

What seems another flaw to me in Andrews five tenants is this idea of the destruction of ego. In the way I think of either ego, or even the false self/person, it is only ever ego that would want to or think that it can succeed in destroying ego. Reading the tenants is rather spooky because of how they subvert ideas that are common with some sources that myself and others have found useful and helpful along the way. Even when they're lost in translation -- such as describing self-honesty and internal practice/inquiry in terms of volition -- the commonality is striking. The way to understand them in the context of the Community though -- and this is really rather horrifying -- is as instruments of control.

The Terrible Tenants, as I like to think of them, could be interesting fodder for discussion and analysis, but I'll spare that unless anyone has any specific interest. I'll also hold off on my speculation as to what Marlowe's pen name might express by way of anagram unless and until anyone gets curious.
Stop talking. Hear every sound as background. Look straight ahead and focus. Take one deep breath. This is you. This is Now.
snowheight
 
Posts: 1941
Joined: Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:56 pm

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby Onceler » Fri Apr 08, 2016 12:36 pm

Thanks snowheight, interesting topic and thorough. There was a time when I felt that kind of feverish, obsessive drive to find the big spiritual answer. I think it's an addiction, or was for me. Fortunately my introversion, and perhaps something else, kept me from joining a group like the one you describe during the feverish time, or I would have certainly done it. You articulate well the complexity to these situations and a twisting of the very concepts that provide freedom for some can prove hellish and fear provoking for others.

To me, now, it's all very simple and beyond conceptual language. I know who and what I am, and that knowledge has very simply taken away fear, but also the fever to constantly seek and go down the twisted roads of conceptual realization. I never thought this place would look like just engagement with and acceptance of life as it is. It wasn't easy getting here, and I'm by no means finished (just starting, really) but the idea of merging with a group and following a leader seems anathema to what I've found.....self reliance, and the fact that my life with all its crazy permeatations is nothing I need to be rescued from, but rather become more fully engaged with as it is......
Be present, be pleasant.
User avatar
Onceler
 
Posts: 2195
Joined: Sun Nov 11, 2007 1:35 am
Location: My house

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby snowheight » Fri Apr 08, 2016 3:55 pm

Thanks for the kind words onc', and as far as just starting is concerned, I hear ya' man. Every instant is both a beginning and and end in and of itself, and it's always ever in the now where things start to get interesting. :D
Stop talking. Hear every sound as background. Look straight ahead and focus. Take one deep breath. This is you. This is Now.
snowheight
 
Posts: 1941
Joined: Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:56 pm

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby runstrails » Sat Apr 09, 2016 2:30 am

Great piece, Snowy. You are a talented writer :D.

I was reminded about something that I read (either by Swami Paramarthanada or James Swartz) regarding traditional vedanta teachers: "Initially the scripture (vedanta) protects you and later you protect the scripture (vedanta)".

That is, initially the teaching of vedanta helps you out of freedom and suffering. However, once you become self-realized and/or a vedanta teacher, then you need to act ethically and responsibly since you are now associated with the teachings. Of course, if you have true self-knowledge then the tendency to follow dharma also comes naturally.

Onceler wrote: Fortunately my introversion, and perhaps something else, kept me from joining a group like the one you describe during the feverish time......but the idea of merging with a group and following a leader seems anathema to what I've found.....self reliance


Nicely said, Onceler. Me too (thankfully).
runstrails
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 2123
Joined: Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:33 am

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby snowheight » Sat Apr 09, 2016 3:41 am

:D thanks for the kind words 'trails!

runstrails wrote:Of course, if you have true self-knowledge then the tendency to follow dharma also comes naturally.


In the process of looking inward at our movements of mind concepts all fail us, one by one. Objections arise to this as our cultural selves chaff, rebel and misinterpret. There's this odd conclusion that comes about if we look deeply and clearly enough, as to the nature of any systematic means of living. One way to express it is that it's impossible to live a concept, no matter how noble that concept might seem. Rules are always ultimately brittle.

While not denying that conclusion, I'd say that it seems possible for life to express in such a way that an appearance of human virtue manifests naturally in the unfolding, and that this sort of expression correlates with absence of resistance to living. The subjective inquiry suggested by Tolle and Marharshi is salient for as long as we move in this world, even after the questioning of what we are is long gone, because in self-honesty, this resistance can be recognized. Marlowe might find this idea of self-honestly familiar, and it's really quite sad that it got misused the way it did.
Stop talking. Hear every sound as background. Look straight ahead and focus. Take one deep breath. This is you. This is Now.
snowheight
 
Posts: 1941
Joined: Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:56 pm

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby runstrails » Sat Apr 09, 2016 3:23 pm

Snowy wrote: Rules are always ultimately brittle.


Dharma is indeed a complex topic.

There is universal dharma (samanya dharma)--the universal ethical laws that are hard wired into humans (you'll know when you transgress this kind of dharma).

Then, there is situational dharma (visheshana dharma)--this can be more tricky because it refers to how one tackles a particular situation dharmically. For example, in some cases using a white lie may actually be the dharmic response to prevent anothers feelings from getting hurt. Or in the Gita--Krishna advises the warrior Arjuna to fight his own family members in the battle because it is the righteous thing to do in that situation (even while flouting the samanya dharma that killing is a universal wrong).

Then there is your personal dharma (svadharma)--your inherent nature, coloured by your personality, which allows you interprets everything in your life. For example, you may have the soul of an artist but you are stuck in a 9-5 IT job---this may interfere with your peace of mind or happiness as you are violating a personal dharma of sorts.

Anyway, getting back to the topic---sounds like Cohen sadly violated all possible dharmas.
runstrails
Moderator
Moderator
 
Posts: 2123
Joined: Wed Feb 10, 2010 12:33 am

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby snowheight » Sun Apr 10, 2016 8:54 am

Wow 'trails, interesting stuff, thanks for that. Can't pretend to be familiar or even able to completely lift out of context what you're conveying by samanya, visheshana and svadharma. That's definitely some deep water. Roughly speaking, it reminds me of our genetics, the anthropic principle, and how these relate to experiential conditioning and social norms.

So by my lens the Christian meme of rendering our ceaser salads is as good as any to apply to the situation. Accountability is always relative to those norms, which doesn't mean that it's unimportant, not at all. But the difference between self-honesty and responsibility to another is the vector of attention. The ultimate truth is that there is no inside, no outside, but for as long as there are peeps, there will be laws with laywers, cops with guns and courts with gavels.

While this expresses things overtly in terms of a duality, that's just a concession to context. Andrew Cohen the man offered himself to the world as a spiritual teacher and leader, and that man has, can and will be held accountable for his actions.

And despite my unfamiliarity with those terms, I do think I get the gist of your position and certainly respect it. What I'd add in counterpoint is about forgiveness and is in recognition of the nature of the Community. At it's core it was about subjective exploration.

As a complete outsider it's not my place to forgive Andrew Cohen and even speaking in terms of the premise that he's done something to forgive is a presumption on my part. But I do share a commonality of having led a life influenced by some of the same cultural movements. There seems to me to be an opportunity for everyone involved to recognize and refrain from reflecting back Andrew's mistakes. From that position outside but interested in the Community the most applicable of those seems obvious to me, but out of respect for all actually involved I'll stop there unless and until one of them expresses any interest to me about that. :)
Stop talking. Hear every sound as background. Look straight ahead and focus. Take one deep breath. This is you. This is Now.
snowheight
 
Posts: 1941
Joined: Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:56 pm

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby marlowe sand » Thu Apr 21, 2016 11:55 pm

Hi Everyone,

I very much appreciate this in depth discussion.

SnowHeight, you say, I do agree that accountability is always relative to cultural norms, which doesn't mean that it's unimportant, not at all.
Yes, I agree that accountability is always relative to cultural norms, which does not mean it is unimportant. But I am not sure that Andrew Cohen is being held accountable. I am not sure what it would look like for Andrew Cohen to be held accountable.
Could you tell me more about what you mean by not reflecting back Andrew’s mistakes?
marlowe sand
 
Posts: 1
Joined: Thu Apr 21, 2016 4:06 pm

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby snowheight » Fri Apr 22, 2016 8:53 pm

Hey Marlowe :)

I've got plenty of ideas about what accountability might mean in this instance. But the only one I feel I've got standing to write about is how Andrew's exploits relate to and reflect on the culture that I share with him based on Ramana Maharshi's life and teachings. You and other members of the community might have other ideas about that of course.

The way we establish that accountability to the culture in my eyes is by dialogs like this one. I think the mistake that Andrew made was in concentrating on the personal imperfections of his students. From yours and other accounts, it seems to me as if he was frustrated by what he saw as a "failure to come through". Whatever Andrew was -- prefect Bhudda, enlightened man, someone who had awakened and was catalyst to others awakening, a teacher, a leader etc .. he was, just like any other spiritual figure before him, just another flawed human being. Seems to me he projected his own sense of frustration at not having been the spark for a major turn in the evolution of human consciousness onto the members of the Community.

To be honest with you, I can only imagine how you must feel about Andrew now, but from the outside looking in, it seems to me you'd be in the most advantageous position possible to hold Andrew accountable by and through understanding and completely forgiving him his actions. But of course, forgiveness doesn't preclude accountability, as each process has the potential to be integral to the other.

Thanks again for sharing your story, and I really and truly feel for what you and the others went through. As a fellow traveler who's benefited from looking within with a steady unblinking gaze, it saddens me to see nonduality having been put to such misuse. The upshot of the effort you put into your work is an opportunity for us all to learn from the mistakes of the past.
Stop talking. Hear every sound as background. Look straight ahead and focus. Take one deep breath. This is you. This is Now.
snowheight
 
Posts: 1941
Joined: Sat Mar 06, 2010 11:56 pm

Re: Marlowe Sands on Andrew Cohen

Postby Albert Haust » Thu Jul 07, 2016 5:41 pm

Hello:

I haven't read Marlowe Sand's book about Andrew Cohen, but I have read three other books people wrote about him including the book by his mother Luna Tarlo, and the impression I got is that Andrew treated his followers in an abusive and manipulative way because he got off by doing so.

I don't believe that any of us need to be abused by another in order to make contact with our spirit self.

For anybody who is interested, below is what I wrote about the guru topic.

http://nondualityisdualistic.com/an-int ... hapter-23/
Albert Haust
 
Posts: 17
Joined: Tue Aug 24, 2010 8:48 pm


Return to Recommended Books

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest