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When Shadow Meets the Bodhisattva

The Challenging Transformation of a Modern Guru

Foreword by Allan Combs / With Hans Plasqui
Published by Inner Traditions
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

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About The Book

• Explores the rise and fall of the author’s organization EnlightenNext, including his own responsibility for its failure, and the lessons he learned, such as the need to deal thoroughly with one’s shadow for continued spiritual growth

• Presents wisdom from the author’s discussions with spiritual leaders, including Ken Wilber, Diane Musho Hamilton Roshi, Steve McIntosh, Terry Patten, Doshin Roshi, Sally Kempton, Philip Goldberg, Jeffrey Kripal, and Patricia Albere

• Shares a new vision for the spirituality of tomorrow

After his very public fall from grace in 2013, renowned spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen vanished from view and underwent a dark night of the soul. After years of intense introspection and soul-searching, Cohen shares his insights into the failure of his organization EnlightenNext, including his own responsibility for its downfall, as well as a new vision for modern spirituality based on the wisdom of the lessons he learned.

The author details his spiritual initiation, his rapid rise to guruhood, the explosive growth of his spiritual community worldwide, and then--right at the height of its spiritual and creative emergence--its dramatic collapse, which left his students lost, bitter, angry, and confused. He shares his gripping spiritual odyssey from the heights of illumination, down into the existential ashes of failed aspirations, to the underworld of inner darkness, and back again into the light.

Building upon the lessons he learned, including the need to deal thoroughly with one’s own shadow, Cohen explains the necessity of the guru in spiritual practice, while also exposing the dysfunctions of the traditional guru-disciple model. He shares insights from his discussions with spiritual leaders, including Ken Wilber, Diane Musho Hamilton, Doshin Roshi, Jeffrey Kripal, and Patricia Albere, revealing how the issues he faced are profoundly relevant to the spiritual community as a whole. He also shares how his teachings have evolved and sheds light on the art of communicating beyond ego and unleashing the co-creative power of our shared collective intelligence--the key to initiating enlightened change in this world in crisis.

Excerpt

From Chapter 1, Overnight Guru

I was only thirty-one and was thrust into the role of a guru overnight. For some inexplicable reason, I was able to serve that time-honored function effortlessly, and people responded in the most profound way by becoming my disciples. Soon, word got out, and more people began to gather around me. That was the beginning of our remarkable spiritual community, or sangha, as Buddhism would call it. The love we were feeling for one another was spellbinding, and there was a sense of innocence and sweetness in the air. It was like being on a honeymoon together in a magical wonderland. Whenever we came together, enlightened awareness would fill up the room, creating an intersubjective field of bliss and ecstasy between us that felt so beautifully pure and deeply intimate such that we were all enthralled by it. Some of us began to wonder what it would mean to live together in this powerful field we all shared. In it, we could sense the bright promise of Heaven on Earth, and that nascent intuition was the beginning of our utopian vision.

After a few of these grace-filled weeks, I went back to Lucknow to be with Master Poonjaji once again and express my immense gratitude for the infinite grace he had bestowed on me. The moment we met, I fell at his feet and burst into tears. Again he laughed out loud and teasingly alluded to what he had told me before on the day I had left him in Lucknow.

The next day, while sitting with him on his bed, he told me that our work together was over. Then he looked into my eyes with a seriousness that was unusually intense, and with gravitas in his voice, he said, “I want you to accept responsibility for the work. I have taught you everything I have to teach. From now on I want you to stand on your own two feet. Don’t rely on me for anything.” I didn’t fully understand what he meant. But I remained silent, willing to accept whatever would be my destiny.

Soon after that meeting with my master, I began to teach in England, and the same phenomenon would happen there as well. The moment I sat down, the atmosphere in the room became spiritually charged; wisdom started flowing through me, and people experienced powerful breakthroughs into nonduality. It was as if a force of nature had been unleashed, one that couldn’t be stopped. Month by month, our sangha expanded. We all felt inspired by the thrilling sense that something new, meaningful, and noble was emerging, and we were all part of it. We felt like spiritual revolutionaries shaking up the fossilized spiritual world, and we were all energized by the vision of creating Heaven on Earth—the mythic land of Shambhala—together.

* * *

Unbeknownst to me back then, amid the vibrancy of this extraordinary new territory that was emerging between us, the contours of some of my future problems as a teacher began to take shape—hardly visible at first, but present nevertheless.

Thereafter, my reputation as a powerfully enlightened new teacher continued to spread. More people joined our sangha, and many of them responded to me in deeply appreciative ways. The generous amount of positive feedback I was receiving was as encouraging as it was overwhelming.

Seasoned spiritual practitioners came to attend my satsangs, as such spiritual gatherings oriented to developing a relationship with truth are called in India. Many attendees had given their lives to the practice of meditation, yet sitting in my presence, they suddenly experienced a breakthrough into enlightened awareness that couldn’t compare to anything they had ever experienced before. The consequences were often life-changing, and some of them were so deeply moved that they left their teachers and came to sit at my feet. Even disciples of gurus far more famous than I, such as the American spiritual teacher Adi Da and the Tibetan Buddhist master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, were leaving their teachers to become my students.

Established spiritual leaders came to meet with me and acknowledged my status as a powerful teacher, often in the most outrageous terms, saying things like, “Now I know what it’s like to sit with the Buddha.”

These wild affirmations and all the positive feedback that kept coming my way seemed perfectly congruent with the extraordinary predictions my guru, in his generous love for me, had made. He had said that I was God’s gift to humanity, that I had the same look in my eyes as Ramana Maharshi, and that he had seen this look only three times in his life—in his guru’s eyes, in his own, and in mine. And he had said that what had happened to me occurs only once every several hundred years. Coming from such a powerfully enlightened sage, it was hard for me to resist a sense of specialness.

He had also prophesied that I would start a revolution among the young. His prediction supported my own strong sense that we were really breaking new ground together. And sure enough, little by little, I began to be known as a spiritual reformer, a radical revolutionary. The message I received from life was that I had been blessed with unusually powerful gifts, and that what was happening around me was of a different order. That message was repeatedly confirmed because powerful breakthroughs kept occurring, and more and more people continued to gather around me. And thus day by day, my confidence as a spiritual teacher grew.

All of this was happening during a time when the wider spiritual world was being shaken up again and again by countless scandals about Indian gurus, Zen masters, Tibetan rinpoches, and spiritual teachers of all varieties sleeping with their students. I watched all these developments closely and could never understand why spiritual authorities who had achieved an extraordinary depth of spiritual liberation couldn’t control their sexual impulses and would risk their mission and break people’s hearts because of their sexual escapades. Because of my own success with abstinence several years earlier, I had known without any doubt from the minute I started teaching that I would never cross that line. This knowing was a source of great strength for me as a teacher. Yet at the same time I slowly came to believe that I possessed a level of purity and moral development that many didn’t seem to have, and I developed ego around it. I was the pure one, the one without stain. I even began to assume the impossible: that I was entirely free from shadow. My mastery over my sexual impulses inflated my sense of moral superiority, a flaw that would unfavorably influence me as a guru, as I would later come to learn.

And thus, without being aware of it at the time, the success I had achieved so quickly began to inflate my ego and bolster my arrogance and pride. Because of my unresolved childhood issues of unworthiness, I needed to overcompensate, to be the best. It felt psychologically healing to me to take refuge in my image of greatness, and I began to believe that I was somewhat of a Second Coming. My early history had created a receptivity in me for an unwholesome measure of narcissism to gradually take hold. Had I been more mature, more experienced, or had I had deeper self-knowledge, my ego’s investment in what I saw emerging around me would have been different, and all the positive feedback I received probably wouldn’t have affected me as much as it did. But I was young, inexperienced, and thrust into guruship literally overnight.

That my presence kept generating profound transformational results in so many people made it extremely challenging for me to notice the subtle and covert impact my unresolved psychological issues were beginning to exert on our sangha. I was convinced that as long as I remained aligned with the brightness of enlightened awareness, none of my petty psychological nonsense would matter, not in the slightest.

About The Author

Andrew Cohen is a spiritual teacher, cultural visionary, and founder of the global non-profit EnlightenNext and its award-winning publication EnlightenNext magazine. After the collapse of EnlightenNext in 2013, Cohen took several years off from public teaching. In 2020, he and a group of collaborators launched Manifest Nirvana, a sanctuary for deep transformation, where 21st century spiritual explorers and integral pioneers will find their home. The author of several books, including Evolutionary Enlightenment, he lives in India.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Inner Traditions (January 24, 2023)
  • Length: 292 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781644115909

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