An Andrew Cohen Seminar - 28/9/1997

by Alan Mann

I attended the one day Andrew Cohen seminar which was held in the Home Building at Sydney University on the 29th of September. There were three sessions, all in Question-Answer format with breaks between during which we had refreshments and talked to one another.

I have summarised three issues in which I was involved and which I think will be of interest because they have been touched on in past issues of this newsletter or relate to our meetings. Andrew was aware of the recent controversy either because he had read one or more of the recent Nowletters and/or because some had spoken to him about it. He asked me to outline the background and during my summary I talked about the dialogue groups about which he later made some challenging observations.

The questions:

  1. Does a spiritual teacher have to practice what he/she preaches?
  2. Is it possible for a realised being to behave towards others in a cruel or hurtful way?
  3. What value is there in (David Bohm style) dialogue?

I found that Andrew was in agreement with me on one issue, in disagreement on the second and in partial agreement on the third. I think we have done enough on issue number one but I would welcome contributions on questions two and three for future issues.

Because of limited space I have had to paraphrase Andrew's comments, using a tape of the session, and I may have inadvertently distorted his answers. Anyone wishing to get the full story is welcome to borrow the tape. In all cases there were extensive comments and this attempt to summarise will fail to carry the full gist of the exchanges. There are also few loose ends I would like to follow up on sometime. It was not appropriate to chase every rabbit down its hole as there were about seventy others in the meeting many of whom had other pressing issues to raise.

After absorbing Andrew's explanation of negative and positive freedom I don't see how we end up disagreeing about question 2 and that is one of the loose ends I would like to follow up.

AM
Is it important for a spiritual teacher to practise what he or she teaches?
AC
Why should a teacher have to practise what they preach? Why would that be important?
AM
To me - it's vital.
AC
Why? What difference does it make what I do when I'm not in this room as long as I come in and put on a good show?
AM
Well, I think you are giving me a rough time here but...(laughter) From my point of view, you would be the one person to put into practice the teachings that you present.
AC
You said I'm the what?
AM
If you are teaching something that you cannot observe or fulfil in your life then, to me, that is empty.
AC
So, what you are saying is, some people feel that it is absolutely essential that a spiritual teacher be a living embodiment of what it is they teach and preach otherwise what they teach and preach, no matter how extraordinary profound and amazing it may be, is rendered meaningless because that individual is not capable of living it. Right?..it becomes empty?
AM
In that life.
AC
What?
AM
It is meaningless in that life (the life of the teacher concerned) ...the question is can you separate the teacher from the teachings?
AC
Right, so we've made that clear. Can you give me a short and simple outline of some of the reasons given by the people who strongly disagree with your point of view?
AM
Whatever Albert Einstein did or didn't do in his private life E=MC2.
AC
No matter what kind of life Einstein lived his most important discovery is still valid. But Einstein wasn't a spiritual teacher. He wasn't telling other people how to live.
AM
Then, possibly because we used the Parson's story from the Canterbury Tales to illustrate the point, there was a lot of flak about Christian conditioning, righteousness and so on. Also quotations from Krishnamurti which tell his listeners to disregard the speaker, Krishnamurti himself, and focus on the teachings.
AC
..he himself has said (Krishnamurti), and it's recorded, that when he was asked this question himself, that it doesn't matter what kind of life the teacher lives just listen to his message and, if his message is true and good, then make use of it and the way the teacher lives is irrelevant. Right?
AM
That's exactly right, and if I question that, it's something to do with my conditioning and my conditioning is at fault. Can I put one further point?
AC
Yes
AM
I don't believe that anyone who is clear about these matters as seems to be indicated by their words could knowingly do evil, hurtful things to other people. Is it possible for someone in this state to actually lie, cheat...?
AC
Oh, absolutely! Of course it is. Look, there's hardly any exceptions.. (laughter) if you do some serious research about the way most spiritual teachers actually live and what they've been up to there are very few exceptions. So we can say that it is very rare and unusual and almost a freak accident of nature if a teacher would actually follow their own teachings and ..(pause).......be true,.... of course.
AM
Well, I'm looking for freaks of nature in that case.
AC
OK! But this is something that I think is very interesting. I don't spend much time - obviously today we're speaking about it - I don't speak about it much these days, several years ago I was speaking about it all the time. I got a lot of criticism for it because people didn't like it. Who was I to point my finger at anybody else?

The reason people get upset and angry when people speak about these things is because very few of us actually want to come to the end of ambivalence in ourselves. We do not want to come to the end of compromise so if you would go spend time in the presence of someone who is no longer compromising you would begin to feel a certain amount of pressure being put on yourself by simply being in the company of a person like that. In the light of their reflection you begin to feel your own dividedness.

If you just spend time with ordinary people you don't feel that way because everybody is divided and everybody compromises. Right? Of course you still have a spiritual yearning and if you go to a spiritual teacher who makes a mockery out of coming to the end of compromise it makes you feel at ease because you don't feel under any pressure to come to the end of this division within yourself. You can still get the benefit of believing that you are a very spiritually minded, caring individual. The spiritual revelation is a revelation of non-duality, oneness, the end of division - so, that's the big healing - because the personality that is fundamentally divided experiences a revelation of oneness which heals the division, this experience of division is healed. in the spiritual experience. That's why it is the experience of bliss and fullness and love and completion........

The expression of the personality which has realised this non difference or non separation from that absolute reality which is undivided is the expression of that very same thing. The personality that is one, that is not divided, that is whole. It is very simple, very obvious. But it is one thing to experience a spiritual revelation, fullness, wholeness, completion but it is another thing to live that fullness, wholeness and completion as a personality in this miserable, so-divided human world. That is a great challenge for any human being I don't care who they think they are or who they claim to be. It's a challenge for the human personality to manifest that undivided condition in a fundamentally divided human world. It takes guts, courage and an unusual intensity of very pure motivation. I'm sure, in your mind, you were saying something perfectly obvious. The reason for the outrage is because we are terrified of the moral imperative, the spiritual imperative to become whole which is not something we want because of our commitment to what I call negative freedom.

Positive freedom is the freedom of liberation. Negative freedom is the freedom of the 'I' to do whatever it wants, whenever it wants to do it. Spiritual freedom means I have only one choice in any given moment and that choice has to be the right choice. I can only do that thing and that is what spiritual freedom is.

When the individual experiences profound surrender of which the ultimate declaration is 'not my will but thy will be done', thy will - the absolute will is only one and there is nothing self-serving about it. The ego gains no benefit from it in an absolute or relative sense.

This is something that is easy to talk about but difficult to understand. It is something one has to experience in oneself to get a clear understanding of what it means to have no choice and, in the discovery that we have no choice lies liberation.

The limitation imposed by positive freedom on ego activity incites rage. 'How dare you imply what I can or cannot do and who are you to judge anybody else?" 'You can't know and I can't know'. And so, we just leave one another alone. We can't play God and, in the meantime, we just get lost in our intellectual fantasies. This is madness and scores of highly intelligent people get lost in this kind of delusion and I'm sure that most of what goes on in your group has quite a lot to do with what I'm talking about and I don't know how you can bear it, it must be very frustrating. (Laughter)
AM
Inaudible response - presumably an objection to such a sweeping dismissal of dialogue.
AC
Yes, but the point is - even in these discussion groups you are talking about. unless the fundamental matter I am speaking about is straightened out the discussion is just going to end up being some kind of intellectual entertainment. These kinds of discussion are just entertainment as long as what is discussed has no consequence. If you have a very serious discussion with another human being who is seriously interested in the truth, you should walk away feeling enlightened, uplifted, exhilarated and in an expanded state of consciousness.

Intelligent people who just examine interesting information even if it is of a philosophical and spiritual nature can spend hours talking about it but it has no consequence. Whatever point you get to in the discussion it doesn't actually mean anything because you get up from the discussion and go back to what you already thought anyway. There is no cause and effect between what is being spoken about and the meaning of life so it is just an exercise in futility. That kind of discussion is literally a waste of time. The time is better spent watching a good movie or sleeping or, even better, meditating.
AM
But couldn't you be meditating during the discussion. I mean couldn't.....
AC
No. If any meditation is going to happen it is only going to happen if both individuals are very sincerely and earnestly concerned about what they are discussing and there is a mutual interest in the pursuit of the real. Which means I am very interested in what is true and I actually do want to know and I'm willing to sacrifice any and every idea I may have that is false, wrong or untrue in this very moment in pursuit of that goal and you would have to be prepared to do the same thing. That is going to be a useful discussion. It's going to be meaningful and potentially enlightening and imbued with a powerful depth of meditation. Otherwise it is just an intellectual exercise.

So, these discussion groups you are talking about, unless the individuals involved are interested in ego-death they have no use. Serious discussion means that we are putting ourselves on the line, it means that we really want to know the answers to fundamental questions - who am I and how shall I live?

If we begin to experience intimations of the first question then it becomes important to know what it means to live that. I have a feeling that a lot of what goes on in the (dialogue) groups is a waste of time. A discussion like that (of the above questions) can't be safe. You can't have a serious discussion unless the individuals involved want to die.

OK. In terms of the other thing you were saying - what difference does it make whether someone lives what they teach. As long as what they teach makes good sense, who cares how they live?

The power of the teaching depends on the degree to which the individual is able to live what it is they are teaching. The human example is, I think, even more important than the word; how we actually are is more important than what we say.

The world view adopted is merely a reflection of one's feelings of the moment. What is needed is a steadiness or centre which transcends knowledge and feelings.

This was apparently published in some newsletter. I have tried to contact the writer about it, but wasn't successful. Katinka Hesselink

See also the new book out in 2012: Evolutionary Enlightenment: a new path to spiritual awakening by Andrew Cohen