Enlightenment Blues: My Years With an American Guru

Book Reviews

Madhuri’s review of Andre van der Braak’s memoir; “The book is elegantly written, humble and erudite and friendly. I recommend it.”

Enlightenment Blues: My Years With an American GuruEnlightenment Blues: My Years With an American Guru
by Andre van der Braak – avdbraak.nl
Monkfish Book Publishing Company
Rhinebeck, New York, 2003
228 pages
ISBN : ‎ 0972635718

Sometime in the 90’s I came across Luna Tarlo’s book, Mother of God, about being a disciple of her own son, Andrew Cohen. It was a great book, juicy and well-written and intelligent, so later I read a slim book by Andrew himself, and found it plainly icksome: printed in purple ink (really!) with loads of upper-case proclamations, plus whining about the betrayals of both his mum and his master, Poonjaji. So I was interested to read about the experiences of another disciple of Andrew’s.

The author was a young Dutch intellectual and computer scientist when he met Andrew in Amsterdam in the late 80’s. He had mindblowing, melting, blissful, and mystical experiences during satsangs – and in fact the central mystery of this tale is how someone who could transmit the overwhelming love and joy of No-Mind Beyondness could also become a petty control-freak, micro-managing his disciples’ lives in punitive and irrational ways, all in the name of killing their egos. This was not jolly-guru button-pushing for the sake of awareness, but pernicious, vindictive meddling. Disciples were constantly being demoted, kicked out, rehabbed, reinstated, and then repeat, repeat. Andrew himself seemed to openly despair about the stubborn refusal of his disciples to simply drop their egos and be the One! He was sure that if their intentions were in the right place they could just Behave! Indeed, at one point he launched an offensive to hold people to very high standards of behaviour, and if they didn’t measure up, their housemates had to tell them about it, a’ la Chairman Mao.

The author was a very sincere seeker, and so he constantly gave Andrew the benefit of the doubt, and he suffered a lot: exiles, criticisms, women he loved being cut away from him, thousands of push-ups, mantra-chanting, and, at one point, 100 re-birthing sessions (which did him a lot of good, since he could finally vent).

And so I had a look at Andrew Cohen’s Human Design.

He’s a Generator.

Hmmm…. Gate 11, Peace: The Guru, whose most valued wisdom is intentionally limited to a few.

Gate 56: Wandering/Stimulation. Attracting attention – unusualness, innovation, and sometimes genius.

Both of these on his Channel of Curiosity – a relentless communicator about the human condition.

Okay – but why the control-freak stuff?

Incarnation Cross: Right Angle Cross of Laws, 3rd variation: People who create, adapt, or evaluate laws and values to accommodate our species’ evolution. Lawmaking as a creative inner process based in humanity’s instincts to survive mutation and change.

He’s a 3/5 profile, so everybody projects on him that he will save them.

Channel of Ambition: So he’s unstoppable in his efforts to rise, whether materially or spiritually or both.

Channel of Mutation: Always empowering change, everywhere he goes, whether people are comfortable with it or not.

Salesman Channel: Could sell ketchup popsicles to ladies in white gloves. People will trust him.

What I finally settled on was this: He has a very open G-center; so he has a great connection to the Vaster Self and the Higher Love, in an inconsistent, lost sort of way, and no doubt secretly adores being given a smaller Identity to hoard: Now I am a guru! I am somebody! even as he is exhorting disciples to kill their egos and “personalness” and “false sense of self.”

This is an aspect of spiritual teaching that has always bewildered me. I mean, cats are cats, and no doubt are plugged in to some vast cat-hood, but as we all know, each kitty is its very own particular person, pursuing its own survival and its own battles and its own comfort and play. I have never heard of anybody badgering a cat that it has to drop its separateness. Certainly the ‘self’ we might have gathered – layers of conflicting ‘shoulds’ and ‘shouldn’ts’ and fears and traumas and memories – can be profitably let go, but we do this best very lovingly, very tenderly, with great self-compassion. More violence helps nothing (except during Dynamic Meditation, when it helps a very great deal!)

I did find myself sort of entering Cohen’s space, as if I were he, a person with an open G center – and it was true, disconcertingly, I could see people acting as if from a small self when I could see beyond that into some empty vastness. I could not know if this is what it’s really like to have an open G – mine is nicely defined – but that’s how it seemed right then. It was kind of weird.

But Andrew’s approach was then to subject people to a military regime (his mother said he’d become a fascist). Except for the satsangs, his neighbourhood didn’t seem like a place where one could experience the delights of subtlety, and the subtlety of delight.

Anyway, what I also noticed is that Andrew Cohen is a split definition, and one of the two “missing” gates that would bridge his split is Control. So he would tend to feel, when alone, that Control was what was missing in his life, and then when he was with people (and as soon as he became a guru he was always with people) that split would be bridged, his ego center would become defined, he’d suddenly have the whole Money Line, and could become a full-on dictator, no doubt feeling full of power and flow.

I googled to see what happened to him later.

Many people had left him, including the author of this book – and he was finally ordered by his own organization to step down! He did so and spent two years in retreat, “looking into his own shadow.” I don’t know how his attempt at re-emergence has gone. Nor do I much care – I’ve become extremely alert to spiritual ‘shoulds’, and watch for them like mosquitoes hovering about my ears, and when I see one I cry inside myself, “Aha!” – and it freezes and then goes ‘poof!’ and is gone.

Luna Tarlo made a comment in her book: I can’t find the exact quote, but it was something to the effect that Maybe we were meant to be egotistical, vain, blind beings…. I had to laugh, because it was a very relaxing idea, after reading about her son’s harrassing style of guru-dom!

Andre van der BraakA quote from Enlightenment Blues, towards the end: “On an emotional level I find my split with Andrew still very difficult. I realize how my main experience for the past six months has been one of pain and loss. I still miss Andrew. But I can no longer believe in a perfection that is removed from human decency, from warm and loving personal attention, from kindness and encouragement, from vulnerability and self-deprecating ordinariness. The myth of perfection is too much like the myth of Narcissus. It is cold and heartless.

“I know I will never go back. I want a life for myself, the freedom to make my own decisions, my own mistakes. I don’t care whether my life is ‘evolutionary’, but I want it to be authentic, my own life.”

And: “The notion of enlightenment remains a hard nut to crack. I no longer think enlightenment is a state of consciousness to be attained. Nor do I think it refers to a mystical union with some kind of transcendent Reality out there, the vessel of which we can become by purifying ourselves. To me it only makes sense to speak of a mystery that is not different from our self, the stuff we’re made of. We can only realize this mystery by truly becoming who we already are and always have been, and this means embracing our individuality, not sacrificing it.

“If there is such a thing as enlightenment, I see it as an openness to all that exists, a willingness to let ourselves stand naked before life, allowing ourselves to be affected and overwhelmed. At the same time this openness to life must include our individuality, without needing to kill or suppress any part of it. The inherent paradox of striving for surrender, as well as the embodiment of self, means that we have to stretch in two opposite directions. Perhaps out of such a tension a beautiful human being can arise.”

Then he quotes Emmanuel Kant: “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-incurred immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance of another. This immaturity is self-incurred if its cause is not lack of understanding, but lack of resolution and courage to use it without the guidance of another. The motto of enlightenment is therefore Sapere aude! have courage to use your own understanding.”

Hmmm! I don’t feel qualified to comment on what enlightenment is or isn’t, but a few chords are struck: Osho saying, in answer to a question about how he became enlightened: “I just asked all the voices that were not mine to leave. And they left.” Osho saying, “Spirituality is the same thing as maturity.” My own current quest to notice when ‘shoulds’ or ‘shouldn’ts’ – especially spiritual ones – pop into my head, so that I can allow them to ‘pop out’ and go away by themselves.

Human Design speaking of the ‘not-self’ – the things that are not really ourselves but masquerade as ourselves: voices from our pasts, parents, societies. But Human Design does see us as having a certain unique discrete self – very important to become aware of – which, underneath, is connected to All. I enjoy mine very much! And it seems to me that most people are at the place where they need more and more awareness of what that unique bit is, and what the not-self is, so that they can live more happily as their real natures.

And, most importantly, that unique discrete self has an inner authority that tells us when we are on the right road or the wrong… and this authority is in the body, not the dualistic mind. Listening to that, we find the right guru, the right love, the right work – and this does not mean that we have no troubles; they would just be the right troubles.

I have had a memorable experience or two of something ‘beyond:’ during sleep, I would be pulled out of my body very rapidly by some unknown, impersonal force, and taken way up into the cosmos, where I then dissolved as a ‘me’ and became scattered into all that was around me; tiny particles, all glowing with consciousness. This was ineffably wondrous and blissful and strange, and when I re-assembled and came back into myself, I felt… different. Cleansed and reborn. But, looking back, this was really just incredibly romantic, because it was so beautiful! So – not like what Kant is describing – unless he describes beauty drily. And why not, if that is his way.

But back to Andre. It is lovely to see someone share his experience in the amorphous world of spiritual seeking, and share it so clearly and well. The book is elegantly written, humble and erudite and friendly. I recommend it.


Madhuri is a healer, artist, poet and author of several books, The Teenage Poems being her latest one. madhurijewel.com

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