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#1595 - Thursday, October 23, 2003 - Editor: Jerry  

This issue of the Highlights features an excerpt from a new book, Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru, by Andre van der Braak. It is exclusive to the Highlights and reprinted with permission of the publisher.  

Enlightenment Blues is a chronicle of eleven years with Andrew Cohen. The author came to a place in his spiritual search where he was disillusioned with his Buddhist meditation practice. He met Andrew, fell into deep love and surrendered.

Life afterward played-out in an atmosphere rich in ideals. The qualities of higher level consciousness -- love - truth - transformation -- were constantly impressed upon the followers. Cohen was an ideal representative of the message of transformation. He was lovable, charismatic, driven, smart, enlightened, and hugely capable of speaking about enlightenment and his vision.

Yet control of devotees was managed via lower level consciousness: humiliation, contempt, blame, rigidity, punishment, and paranoia. This is the dichotomous Ashram. It is experienced by the reader through van der Braak in a work that is fully engaging.

Below is an excerpt. If you find yourself drawn into this remarkable book, ordering information is given at the end.


The satsangs start up again. I speak with Andrew about my experience in Dayton, the hotels and restaurants that were meaningless to me, the loneliness. He seems to understand it all.  

"When you have a longing for liberation," he says, "you won't feel at home in the world of materialism. When everyone only thinks about chasing their own advantage, and is trying to become someone in the world, it's understandable that you don't feel at home there. Maybe it's a good idea to spend more time with like-minded people."  

He asks me whether I've ever just "hung out" in my life. No, I haven't. He encourages me to consider that idea.  

There's so much I have to ask Andrew about: enlightenment, Buddhism, spiritual practice. And what about having to make an effort to become enlightened? In answering this last question, Andrew looks at me directly with his penetrating brown eyes. After a few seconds of silence, he repeats to me what his own teacher told him, slowly stressing every word and the space between, "You -- do -- not -- have -- to -- make -- any -- effort -- to -- be -- free." He almost whispers. We continue to look into each other's eyes. My mind is racing. Can this be true? Suddenly all movement stops, and the moment seems to expand into eternity. In this vast space that has suddenly opened up a thought presents itself: enlightenment is not an object. You can't strive after it or attain it. It is the very source of being itself, the source of my own existence. It's actually impossible not to be enlightened. It's only the stubborn arrogance of my mind that prevents me from seeing this simple truth. Andrew smiles at me then moves on to the next questioner. I sit as if in a daze. My mind stays empty for what seems like an eternity.  

When the evening ends I ride home quietly on my bicycle. I feel a very new emotion arising within me. I am falling in love with Andrew. I have always respected my teachers, even to the point of veneration, but it was never love. When I look into Andrew's eyes I feel myself melt. My resistances are fading away, and I feel the way people usually feel about lovers -- I want to be with him all the time.  

When I'm with Andrew in satsang, I feel myself melt into a pool of absolute bliss, a place beyond good and evil, beyond conception itself. I feel he is in direct contact with the source of all being, the source prior to thought and feeling. It is the source in which I recognize myself, my own true face. Andrew takes me to this place where I no longer experience any separation or boundary between myself and others, between past, present or future, between pain and ecstasy. Andrew seems to radiate something that can counter all that is evil; that can put the mind to rest. To sit still together with Andrew brings a spontaneous meditation, no fight with thoughts and feelings; just a slow, irreversible absorption into the depths of consciousness. It all seems so spontaneous, so easy, and yet there is something powerful emanating from Andrew. I feel that higher forces are at work here.  

Is this enlightenment that I'm experiencing? I hardly dare think so. Me, enlightened? But I can't deny that my whole being is shouting, "This is it." I feel completely at home with myself and my life. I feel an unbearable intimacy with the people around me in this room, an intimacy that I can only call love. I am not worried, deep inside in my guts I know that life is good, that there is no problem, that there is peace. What more could I want? What else could there be to strive after? I only see perfection wherever I look. All questions that I had in Dayton have been answered.  

I tell Andrew that I'm considering following him to Devon. Does he think that's a good idea? "If that's what you want to do, that's fine," he says. "I'm not stopping you." I tell him about the fear that I'm also experiencing, the fear of leaving behind my house and my job, the fear of losing my life basically. "Don't expect the fear to go away," he says, laughing, "It will get a lot worse."  

The next few days are agonizing. I keep asking, "Why would I give up my whole life in Amsterdam? What do I have to gain?" But the answer wells up in my heart with increasing clarity: "Happiness, peace, deep contentment; the answer to all my questions. Everything I've always looked for in my search for enlightenment."  

I write Andrew a note:  

"After all my years of spiritual practice I feel that enlightenment was never the number one priority in my life. Thank you for helping me to finally get my priorities straight. I have resolved my clarity of intention. I am looking forward to seeing you in Devon in September."  

With the note I put a hundred guilders as a gift to help cover Andrew's expenses in Amsterdam. The next evening in satsang, on his way out, Andrew stops next to me, and shakes my hand, without saying anything. Then he walks on. We see eye to eye now. A few days later I invite Andrew to have dinner together, and he accepts. We go to an Indian restaurant and talk freely together. I tell him about my background in psychology and philosophy, he tells me about how he never got good grades in school and had always envied people that had those intellectual capacities. We have a lot of fun; there is a tangible intimacy, no trace of pretense or any hierarchical difference between us. It is like a date between two lovers. I am over the moon. If Andrew is truly the Buddha of our time, then I am now having a bowl of rice with the Buddha! What good fortune that I've met Andrew. What good fortune that he and I can be such good friends. What good fortune that the secret of enlightenment has finally been revealed to me.  

(pp. 22-25)  

If you wish to continue the journey over the next eleven years with the author and Andrew Cohen, order Enlightenment Blues: My Years with an American Guru. It reads like a breeze. Please use the following link:

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Jerry Katz
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