Author: Andrew Fisher
F. A. C. E. ‘Friends of Andrew Cohen Everywhere’ is a group set up to follow the teachings of Andrew Cohen. The group is also referred to as either the Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship or Moksha Foundation.
Ian Howarth from the Cult Information Centre says worried family members have contacted him concerning Andrew Cohen and F. A. C. E.
‘This is a group we are very much aware of and we have received many complaints.’ (1)
Further, Inform, an independent research group based at the London School of Economics, also has a file on Andrew Cohen, his teachings and the growth in the membership of F. A. C. E.
F.A.C.E. includes in its ranks a number of famous people, for this reason F. A. C. E. has been compared to Scientology. (2)
Perhaps though, the strangest and most worrying thing is the fact that F.A.C.E. is a registered charity set up to advance religion. Consequently, Andrew Cohen and F.A.C.E. have influence in a number of places, and the group and man are deemed to be significant enough to warrant scrutiny from groups monitoring the growth and sway of cults. This brief article will outline the beliefs of this group and briefly consider what an evangelical Christian response to their teachings ought to be.
‘Friends of Andrew Cohen’: But who is he?
Born in 1955 in New York, Andrew Cohen experienced ‘cosmic consciousness’ in his teenage years, which drove him to the spiritual side of martial arts, Kriya yoga, Buddhist meditation and eventually to India to search for further spiritual enlightenment. This is where his spiritual journey experienced a turning point via the teachings of H. W. L. Poonja. In 1986, Andrew started teaching and established the magazine ‘What is Enlightenment?’ (3)
Andrew uses this magazine as a vehicle to tell the world about his spiritual message. He travels extensively giving talks, and he has written twelve books concerning the spiritual life. His teaching spawned F.A.C.E., which has representation around the world. (4)
F.A.C.E. was established essentially to learn and practice Andrew’s teachings. He now lives in western Massachusetts. This is how a follower of his teaching describes him:
In some rare cases, the fullest illumination occurs spontaneously to some fortunate being. Such a being blesses the generation in which he or she happens to live and act. Andrew Cohen is one such being. He is a modern Western mystic who shines like a light in darkness. (5)
What does F.A.C.E. believe?
The simple answer to this is, what Andrew Cohen teaches. Obviously then the question ought to be ‘what does Andrew Cohen teach?’ I was not able to ascertain in great depth an answer to this question, specifically because the information that was available from Cohen’s own web site was quite opaque. That is, I found it hard to see past the quasi-philosophical terminology in order to be sure I had arrived at some definite beliefs. (6)
Having said this, it is clear that there are two main themes that occupy his teachings – unity and liberation. Andrew Cohen claims that there is unity in all things, that everything in itself is always perfect (including disease, warfare and earthquakes) and is an expression of perfection. He claims that our main aim as humans is to become nothing, where ‘thing’ is thought of as individuation. Andrew claims that only when this happens will humans live in liberation and peace and have perfectly evolved spiritual minds. That is, only when we are nothing will ‘we’ become truly liberated. Cohen expresses this unity of all things via the prescription to annihilate the dual-nature, by which he basically means the rejection of dichotomies such as, heaven – hell, good – evil, you – me and them – us.
The basis of Cohen’s teachings is, as far as I can tell, loosely based on Buddhism, Hinduism and the teachings of Guru Ramana Maharshi. That is, Andrew Cohen has founded his teachings around the ideas of Karma, the absence of heaven hell and the evolution of our spiritual nature (i.e. a version of spiritual reincarnation). Cohen claims that all his teachings will become clearer once we mediate more on his teachings, and other great teachings from Buddha, Ramana Mahashi and Swami Krishnananda. However, if one does not, then one will become“part of the world’s problems, and not part of the solution to the world’s problems.”
These are the general ideas and following are some of the specifics, which appear to be founded on self-help, positive thinking, a bit of existentialism and a bit of eastern spirituality.
Andrew Cohen suggests one should meditate morning and evening for about twenty minutes to an hour. In addition, one should read and contemplate some of Cohen’s teachings, in his books and tapes, or through ‘Student Membership’ retailing at $216 a year. This price is for those living away from North London, where people cannot pop into his British International Fellowship for the Realiszation of Impersonal Enlightenment (IFE) centre. Here then are Cohen’s Five Fundamental Tenets of Enlightenment which are central to his teaching.
(1) Clarity of Intention: This tenet states that humans ought to intend to be free in such a way that this intention supersedes and silences all other desires and intentions. Including, that is, love for our family, children and spouse. This takes courage yet it is the only way to be free. Cohen claims that if one intends to be free in all things, above all things, for all things, then one will be truly free.
(2) The Law of Volitionality: This tenet states the need for all humans to reject unconditionally every temptation to be victims. This essentially involves recognising that there is only one doer and that that doer is the individual. It is only then that we, as humans, will be unconditionally free.
(3) Face Everything and Avoid Nothing: This tenet states that to face everything and avoid nothing is the ultimate spiritual practice. If we as humans are to be free, we have to do it. If we fail to do this, others will suffer through ‘our unwillingness to be awake.’ (7)
(4) The Truth of Impersonality: This tenet claims that if humans study their experience, they will recognise there is nothing personal about it. That, in fact, all experience is a universal experience. Once humans recognise this fact they will have a direct perception of the universal nature of all human experience. This is how we as humans come to know the truth, through the door to the universal human experience.
(5) For the Sake of the Whole: This tenet is the most demanding of all. It is to lead a completely self-less (literally) life. Recognising this tenet means that the human consciousness evolves. It gives one the answer to ‘why are we here,’ namely, for the sake of the whole. Once we reject selfish ways, including the want for the self to experience spirituality, then our consciousness will evolve, there will be no self and everything one does will be for the sake of the whole, for that is what ‘we’ will be. (8)
It is hard to establish the exact nature of the beliefs of Andrew Cohen. Consider, for example, his third tenet: ‘What does it really mean to ‘face everything and avoid nothing?’ Or consider this quote and ask yourself what it actually means:
Enlightenment… is the direct realization of the dual nature of the glory of God as the inherent perfection of all things and a ceaseless imperative to evolve. In that realization, there is not only the release form the hypnotic grip of ego consciousness but also the ecstatic movement of energy that occurs only through submission to the creative principle. What is so precious about human life is our sacred potential to experience this glory in our own hearts and minds and, by so become a conscious instrument of it. (9)
Cohen urges that he wants everyone to ‘come together as one’ physically in working towards fulfilling humanities responsibility and spiritually. (10) This I argue would be hard in light of the last quote and his five tenets. For what could guarantee that one will come together as one, for the material as it stands is so hard to understand. It would at least be hard to come together as one without further guidance and teaching concerning what the tenets and teachings mean. Without, that is, some reliance on the person who holds the key to unlocking the meanings of these tenets and writings. Herein lies a worry, it seems that enlightenment will ultimately not be based on a personal realisation of these tenets, but via, and essentially, what Cohen says. For humanity to be ‘one’ then will require everyone in some way depending on Cohen. This in turn would require of course humanity accessing the teachings of Cohen. There is then a definite spiritual pyramid structure within F.A.C.E. with Andrew at the apex.
Perhaps this partly explains why Andrew Cohen’s mother has been quoted as saying:
‘He [Cohen] behaves like an emperor. He makes people feel so guilty about themselves they hand over all their money…He thinks he is God.’ (11)
For the non-Christian the vital point is then whether the teachings can be separated from the teacher. However, Andrew Cohen as the ‘leader’ of Friends of Andrew Cohen Everywhere, is a reputedly charismatic teacher. This fact, in conjunction with the last points concerning how one will access Cohen’s teachings does not make it easy to see how this will be possible.
As an evangelical Christian, however, Cohen’s teachings are plainly wrong. He claims that there is no God (see the Bible) that there is no heaven or hell (1 Corinthians 2:9, Matthew 25: 46) and that there is the possibility of the self-attaining freedom. Andrew claims that truth is essentially in us (John 14:6), and that we can discover the truth through him helping us see it. Essential then, Andrew claims that it is our deeds that liberate us (Titus 3:5).
As Christians we must undoubtedly approach these people and issues with Christ’s love, separating the man and his followers from the reputation and the group ideology and beliefs of F.A.C.E. (1 Corinthians 5:12). Noting also that Andrew Cohen’s focus on a collective responsibility for the environment and the community, future generations and his broad teaching of open mindedness are commendable. Just as his teaching that selfishness is the route of what is wrong with the world is basically correct. (12) However, it appears that F.A.C.E. is blind and needs to see the truth of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Ephesians 1: 7). This and only this will take the focus from the ‘self’; help F.A.C.E. see the oneness of God (1 Corinthians 8: 6) and realise true freedom. Surely only then will F.A.C.E. reflect the glory of God.
Will sent us the following updated information about Andrew Cohen, as of January 2010.
ENLIGHTENNEXT SELLING ITS ASHRAM
EnlightenNext (aka F.A.C.E., Impersonal Enlightenment Fellowship, and Moksha Foundation), the non-profit which owns the 220 acre Foxhollow estate located in Lenox, MA, has decided to put the property up for sale. According to the broker, Stone House Properties, EnlightenNext is trying to relocate to smaller facilities and into the Connecticut River Valley town of Northampton. Foxhollow, described by EnlightenNext as its “World Center”, was purchased in 1996 for $2.8 million; it’s now being marketed for nearly $7 million.
During its tenure in Lenox, EnlightenNext has been subject of considerable controversy about its founder and spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen. Over the years multiple allegations of abuse of students have come to light including three books, one of which, The Mother of God, was written by Cohen’s mother, Luna Tarlo.
In the fall of 2009 another book by another former student was published: American Guru, by William Yenner and contributors. In December American Guru was selected as one of 10 Best Non-fiction Books, by P2P Foundation, a media think tank.
The controversies about Cohen and EnlightenNext include many well documented allegations from many witnesses of physical, emotional, and financial abuse.
Recently some of the public figures whose contributions Cohen has solicited for publication in EnlightenNext magazine have come forward to express their own concerns about the situation at Foxhollow; their statements can be seen on the American Guru website.
Further information on, and experiences about, this subject can be found at the following websites:
(2) Famous people such as Roache and fellow actor Jerome Flynn. This information comes from The Evening Standard December 21 2001. The Buddha of Belsize Park. … return
(3) This is still being published twice a year, and includes amongst other things, the teachings of Andrew Cohen, and other teachers the Cohen respects. … return
(4) Including, North London, Paris, Boston, New York, Amsterdam, Copenhagen and Rishikesh. … return
(6) I am qualified to talk about ‘quasi-philosophical’ as I have studied philosophy at university for seven years. … return
(7) The un-clarity here comes from the source. … return
(8) This is how I read and understand the material, but I find it opaque and in parts incomprehensible. If any find my interpretation itself opaque, then they may want to check the source: http://www.andrewcohen.org/teachings/fiveTenets.asp … return
(9) http://www.andrewcohen.org/teachings/gloryofGod.asp – no longer an active link … return
(10) For justification see http://www.andrewcohen.org/teachings/comeTogether.asp – no longer an active link … return
(11) Quoted in The Evening Standard December 21 2001. The Buddha of Belsize Park … return
(12) After all, the rough translation of the Hebrew for sin, is ‘selfishness.’ … return