Graham is one of the students who had invited Andrew Cohen to teach in Boston. He was used to quite a materialistic lifestyle before meeting Andrew, and a last remnant of this is a beautiful Saab. He is notorious for his attachment to his Saab. In Boston Andrew had already pressed him to sell the car. Graham promised to do so, but kept postponing it. Now Andrew presses him to sell it a second and third time. But again Graham hesitates and tries to renegotiate. He desperately wants to keep the car.

It gradually turns into a battle of wills: Andrew is battling Graham’s ego, trying to wrestle his attachment away from him. We speak with Graham in the men’s meeting, trying to get him to give up his attachment to his car and everything that it stands for. But although Graham says he’s on our side, we feel he doesn’t really want to let go. As the drama continues, the pressure mounts. In the end Andrew radicalizes the situation, just as he did with Juliette. The standard of enlightenment is black or white, so if it isn’t white, it will be black. Andrew calls Graham and tells him he’s going to solve the dilemma for him once and for all. He will go with Graham to the junkyard and have the Saab crushed. After his initial responses of disbelief, panic, rage and desperation, Graham eventually agrees. We all hold our breath collectively. We can’t believe it. A $20,000 car is going to be destroyed for the sake of Graham’s spiritual evolution. It’s the ultimate act of renunciation, like in the classical stories of the scholar who threw his beloved books into the Ganges or the Buddha who left his wife and child behind.

In satsang the next evening Andrew tells the whole story to a disbelieving crowd. Graham and Andrew went to the junkyard with the Saab. The operator there initially refused to crush the car, thinking he was dealing with a pair of nutcases. But Andrew and Graham insisted. To maximize the effect Andrew had Graham push the button that turned the car into pulp. Andrew says it was a momentous cleansing ritual, a powerful boost for Graham.

He points to Graham, who indeed seems to have undergone some kind of transformation. He’s beaming with self-confidence because he has taken such a firm stance against his ego. We’re in awe. Andrew had the guts to take this to the extreme, and he was right—look at Graham sitting there beaming! So this is what it takes to do battle with the ego.

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ANDRE VAN DER BRAAK was born in 1963 in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. From 1981 to 1986 he studied at the University of Amsterdam, majoring in clinical psychology (comparing psychoanalysis and buddhist insight meditation using Ken Wilber’s model), as well as comparative philosophy (graduating with a thesis on Nietzsche and Buddhism).

His search for a synthesis between Eastern spirituality and Western psychology led him, via TM, yoga, J. Krishnamurti, advaita vedanta and Buddhism (he was a Buddhist for five years, practicing meditation intensively), finally in 1987 to American spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen. He lived in Andrew Cohen’s community in Marin County, CA for eleven years, was editing his books and was the first editor-in-chief of the now well-known magazine EnlightenNext. In 1998 he left the community disillusioned.

After writing Enlightenment Blues to document his experiences, he wrote a Ph.D. dissertation in Philosophy on Nietzsche’s skeptical ethics of self-realization. Today he lives in Amsterdam, teaches philosophy, works on a book on Nietzsche and Zen, and teaches Zen at the Zen Center Amsterdam. He can be reached at [email protected]

7 responses to “Excerpt from Enlightenment Blues

  1. […] After a few years of teaching, Andrew became frustrated that “no one was getting it,” and that people weren’t transformed even after going through multiple spiritual experiences — which he felt should have been transformative. At first Andrew taught that realizing the nondual Source would transform the personality, and would naturally lead to a transcending of the egoic self. A few years later, he claimed that the ego was too tenacious and would not let go voluntarily, and had to be forcefully overcome. That’s when you get all these stories about radical teaching techniques, such as the guy having to crush his Saab [See excerpt]. […]

  2. We have a friend, I’ll call her Sally, who we feel we have lost to Andrew’s cult, oops, I mean – enlightenment, er, group.

    She urged me to go hear him speak one night. He told his crowd of followers that if they start
    to lose their friends that it surely means that they’re onto something. I saw her silently nod out of the
    corner of my eye – daring me to not lose her as a friend.

    I thought he was a dorky vest wearing prick. I know more “things” but I will not share here.
    All I can say is good for you for leaving.
    And regarding the Saab – ridiculous. It’s easy to push a button – even if it’s going to destroy a car.
    Much harder to keep the car in spite of everyone’s urging and then be enlightened in one’s own
    non-egotistical way.

  3. Carl D'Agostino says:

    Re your bio. I am BA/MA hist/rel. Retired 34 years high school history teacher.Gotta gig two years ago, however, from a residential addiction treatment facility putting together school and curriculum to train therapists holistic approach. Did 200 page rough draft re treatment techniques for text book, student guides, chapter tests. Now regarding your study synthesis Eastern Spirituality and Western Psychology, I remember transpersonal psychology and mindfulness. I was able to examine and present these as treatment protocols. I read Ken Wilbur, Caroline Myss, Jane Roberts, Alex Burns. I see you’re in Boston. My hero is Harvey Cox at Harvard. Psych/treatment not in my field of course, but I did my paper on the New England Puritans 1630 – 1670 and doctrinal disputes dividing them into Congregationalists or Presbyterians. So , shit I can research anything, right? Except physics or multiplication or subtraction, of course. The picture of you there with the statue of George Washington is really neat. Smile.

  4. Simon Smithson says:

    But… wait. If he’s proud of renouncing the ego, doesn’t that mean…

  5. SJH says:

    Ug, these kinds of stories break my heart.

  6. Greg Boose says:

    Somebody please, please smash my car for me.

  7. Jim Dodds says:

    And our dear friend Andrew adds another layer to his massive ego by this triumph, of course. As someone says above, a Saab is not an ego. That was just a purge, with its attendant $20000 rush, and probably meaningless. Papaji would never have told Graham to do such craziness. Andrew is a black magician.

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