This was written eighteen months ago at a time when I was relatively free of cancer symptoms.
A recent article I came across denouncing Andrew Cohen took me back to one or two meetings I’ve had with dodgy gurus. There are plenty of them about and there seems to be a large mutually backslapping band of them in the USA, endorsing each other’s books and courses, praising each other to all those willing to listen. As always this kind of indiscriminate behaviour makes me scent a poorly buried rat.
That said, dodgy gurus are very helpful if one wants to develop one’s powers of discernment and discrimination. Unfailingly, they reveal the truth about their dodgy side by what they say and how they respond when challenged. Most of them seem to love talking a lot. They invariably have the gift of the gab. They really like to be asked questions that show deference to their greater wisdom. The more powerfully they defend their position and seek to dominate, the deeper and sadder the root cause of the problem.
I do relish the challenge they present, though. If I find areas that are dodgy and seek to explore them at meetings, it’s not only the guru that I take on, it’s the baying tribe of followers who can’t hear a word said against their idol. I love the challenge because it really tests my mettle. There’s no better way of finding out whether I’m full of shit than facing a barrage of abuse and attempts at humiliation.
The first thing I’ve noticed about dodgy gurus and their followers is that they are all fervently blind to the bleeding obvious. Those who see through the façade may well attempt to highlight it but soon get seen off by the sheer brute force of peer pressure. Dodgy gurus need adoration and draw to them those who long to adore. No need for them to worry or even think any more. Guru can do it for me.
Unfortunately guru dictates the agenda. His or her no-go areas are imposed upon the flock. Thus the unwritten rules slowly become agreed. The teaching becomes enshrined as the truth rather than one person’s slightly or sometimes highly warped version of it. The warp is always some deep-seated fear or need in the guru so the failure to address it makes it ever more outrageous in its attempts to be heard.
There is much truth in the old adage that the truth will out. Where gurus are concerned all denial seems to end up in excess. The greater the crowd is that panders to the illusion of perfection, the greater the debacle and recriminations when it unravels. Women in particular love to be made to feel sexually special by the daddy figure but hate it when he turns out to be making so many others special too.
I’m pretty sure most gurus are unconsciously longing for someone to come along who has the perception to rumble them and is strong enough to call their bluff, get to the root of the problem and put them out of their misery. That’s why their behaviour often becomes more and more outrageous a la Osho in Oregon.
This latest news about Andrew Cohen comes as no surprise. I’ve been to listen to him talk two or three times over the years with a view to seeing if he has learned anything. I’ve never noticed much change. The first time I went to see him there were people queuing up for ages to get into the venue. Then we had to sit there for nearly an hour past the starting time till he deigned to turn up. He came in like some kind of royalty and gave not one word of apology for being late. This alerted me immediately to his deep lack of respect for others and the deep lack of self-respect that pointed to. All his problems result from the self-hatred he has in him that he won’t face and come clean about. To protect that inner wound he has to puff himself up. He can’t come clean about it because he has had a major enlightenment experience, which I do not doubt, and come to the false conclusion that as a result he must be perfect.
I came upon a similar situation when I crossed swords with Barry Long some ten years ago. In his early years he had some massive and, no doubt, genuine shift of awareness in the foothills of the Himalayas and then came back convinced he was enlightened and knew all the answers. He produced one brilliant book but unfortunately failed to notice that he had a deeply buried resentment probably towards his mother. The result of that was that he ended up proclaiming to be the great guru of sexuality, proudly boasting of having seven sexual partners on the go at the same time and trying to get everyone to buy in to his way of doing sex. A lot of what he taught made great sense but not the dollops of authoritarian droppings along the way.
As it turned out, at the gathering I attended he proved to be quite nasty in replying to one or two women who questioned him and was obviously very angry and probably controlling of those in his life. There certainly wasn’t much evidence of the love he banged on about.
Like a gallant if naïve knight I leapt to the defence of one lady only to be hit with the full blast of his ire. When I asked for further clarification I got hit with another blast that drew forth baying from the devotees and cries that they hadn’t come there to listen to me. He told me if I wanted to spread my ideas on life I should get my own stool and start spouting like him and see if anyone would listen. At no stage was there any sign that he was interested in me as a person, whether I was talking sense or not. He made no effort to engage in discussion or find out what was motivating my efforts to communicate. His ideas were not up for discussion. You agreed or you shut up.
Despite the barrage, which, in my younger days, would have rattled me into aggressive posturing or into slinking away crushed, I remained calm and intrigued by the reaction in the room. I asked him whether he’d prefer it if I left and he immediately calmed down and said of course he wouldn’t. Since I’d paid my money and we were early in day two of a five day “retreat” I thought it would be interesting to get to the bottom of the man.
This initial clash made for an interesting few days. I found it both highly stimulating and very hard work. I appeared to be the only person there willing openly to question the absolute truth of what he was saying. There were others who silently supported me and sometimes chatted to me in breaks but no one dared speak up publicly. I found the information they gave me and their agreement with my thoughts helpful in my one-man attempt but didn’t want to set up a splinter group.
I continued to question him about things like his thoughts on enlightenment. Rather like Cohen he never baldly claimed to be enlightened but allowed it to be known that he was and spoke about himself in the same breath as the enlightened ones. I love that one because it’s the surest sign of a fool or a fraud. I wanted to know whether he thought enlightenment happened in a flash or slowly. On day two he seemed to favour the sudden approach. By the end of day five when I checked with him again this had changed to a more gradual journey.
As time went by I noticed he would seek me out in the packed lecture theatre when I chose to sit in a different place. Whether I spoke or not he was checking on where I was. I focused on him with greater and greater clarity and found myself engaging with him at all times whether I was physically with him or not. Oddly enough, it was never his face that I found myself contemplating but always his genital area. But more of that later.
His challenge was really serving me well and helping me to break through to a higher understanding of him. I needed all the help I could get because, though I can pay attention powerfully I don’t have the greatest powers of insight. I sought him out in a lunch break and told him a bit about myself. I never showed him any animosity and never felt any. He was just very defensive and prickly.
This approach encouraged one or two other people to come up to me with words of support that convinced me that the problem did not lie only with me. Others also gave me information about his earlier days that enabled me to understand him better. It appeared that in his early career as a guru he had often become angry when challenged and thrown dissenters out. So obviously he’d mellowed with time but the anger was still there. Getting to the root of it, though, proved to be a major effort. I am not naturally gifted with psychic abilities but those few I had were certainly needed here. It took a couple of sleepless nights deep in conversation with my inner version of him before I finally managed simply to contemplate him without being challenged or alarmed by his aggression.
What I finally saw in my mind’s eye on the last lunch break was a hazy picture of someone very young touching their genitals. Though not sure about it, I sensed it was Barry as a child. I wondered if he’d been shouted at or hit by his mum when caught touching himself or perhaps masturbating. I decided the only thing I could do to check out my intuition was to ask him if, in principle, he was against masturbation. I knew from reading his book on relationships that he felt the practice was not the right thing to do. In fact he regarded himself as the fount of all wisdom on matters sexual. He was the one who did it the right way.
By this stage he’d resigned himself to hearing me out and may even have developed a grudging respect as I failed to crumple under his assault and remained friendly. So I managed to ask my question. “Are you in principle against masturbation?” There was a most interesting pause before he replied. I could sense that every deepest fear in him was crying out for him to reject masturbation. You could feel the battle raging in him and the anticipation building in the auditorium. Somehow he overcame his revulsion and replied that in principle he was not against anything. Good answer. Anything else would have shown him to be ruled by fear.
In an extraordinary acknowledgement at last that I might have a valid point of view, he enquired as to why I’d asked the question. Encouraged by this I told the assembled gathering, not the deeper, rather bizarre reason but one that involved me describing how the previous Sunday morning I’d been sitting on the end of the bed with a hard on, as you do sometimes, when my friend Sarah had come back in having made us a cup of tea. I described how I’d felt the urge to masturbate for her to see. She had felt this was a blessing and had knelt in front of me and watched in awe as I masturbated and then held out her cupped hands to catch the sperm.
As I spoke I sensed that the whole room was enthralled either by the beauty or the horror of this revelation. You could have heard the proverbial pin dropping. I somehow knew it was going right to the heart of the problem of guilt and shame that lay at the root of Barry’s sexual capers. Was what I was saying crude or inspiring? Had my behaviour been disgusting or wonderful? What on earth would he make of this level of unashamed honesty?
I finished the tale by describing how the sperm when it finally shot out had gone everywhere but into Sarah’s hands. This had made us shake with laughter and it amused the assembled group as well. There was a burst of laughter that broke the spell and accentuated the sense of joy and fundamental innocence in the story.
Barry didn’t say much but said it was time to have a five-minute meditation, as he did from time to time. This gave me the perfect opportunity to scan him in my mind and look for the effects of my story. Immediately I saw him as a little baby crying alone in the sky and reached up to hold him. He was unwilling to be held but I persisted and drew him down into my arms. My left breast swelled up and I put him to it like a mother and felt a few drops of milk go into him. The lengths I have to go to before I can understand what is going on!
When the meditation ended Barry seemed a changed man in his approach to me. With some concern he asked whether I would do that kind of thing frequently. For the first time he seemed genuinely interested in hearing my answer. I said of course not. It had been as if the whole thing had lifted a deep fear in me, lifted a burden of shame and been a blessing to both Sarah and myself. He seemed very happy with this and we moved to other matters.
One of the other people in the auditorium managed to explain that what I had been saying all along had also been the message of Krishnamurti. He didn’t get shouted down or attacked by Barry. I have little idea what Krishnamurti advocated but it was reassuring to have a big name on my side as it were. So things ended very peacefully for me. I felt it had been worth the effort and that I’d got to somewhere near the bottom of Mr. Long.
Some of his supporters even came up to me at the end of the retreat to say that, though they couldn’t agree with what I was saying, they welcomed my input. I felt free of the challenge I’d faced and that I had acquitted myself not too badly given the inadequate tools at my disposal, not least of these being the fact that Barry never thought it necessary to give his questioners the benefit of a microphone similar to the one that amplified his voice. He just seemed to want people to ask questions so that he could pontificate. Discussion was not really to his liking. Thus, initially, I had had to speak up very clearly to make myself heard above the hubbub of abuse.
My main source of strength though, was that I too had had a major enlightenment experience some years before. I had experienced the peace that passeth all understanding that comes from knowing who one really is and seen the light face to face. So I knew where Barry was coming from but I also knew that where women were concerned I was still a rank amateur if not a total novice. My sexual wounding and vulnerability was obvious to me though I had little idea how to remedy it other than to try to relate honestly to women and ask for help. His response to similar ignorance seems to have been to set himself up as the one who knew it all and was therefore in charge.
Interestingly enough, I heard a few months later that Barry had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and I wondered whether his childhood parental denial of sexual expression had anything to do with that. This was brought back to me when I too succumbed to the disease a couple of years ago. I wondered if I had similar childhood programming to Barry.
It has been an interesting couple of years of close investigation of my inner world to try to find the root cause. I don’t think it was the sexual denial Barry appears to have been the victim of but I have discovered deep rooted wounding to the sexual area going back perhaps further that my lifetime. Having dealt with this and benefited from some excellent natural therapies I now seem to be back to health. Time will tell on that one. I am also continuing to explore the wounding that most probably remains.
My final observation is that it is no wonder people get taken in by dodgy gurus. The gurus them selves get taken in by the awakenings they experience. The deep issues that remain unresolved rarely get addressed because it requires careful and enduring personal investigation and self-questioning to address them. This is incompatible with being the image of the all-knowing guru these chaps feel obliged to project. Anyone who attempts to give them honest feedback and a clear reflection of who they really are has to run the gauntlet of anger and abuse that both the guru and his coterie use to keep the terrifying truth at bay.
It is my simple assumption that the whole of Barry Long’s teaching is underpinned by an unresolved and denied fear and shame around his own sexuality. He wanted so much to be free of it that he built a whole philosophy of correct sexual practice upon it in order to make it right. You do indeed teach what you need to learn. And all the time there was a little baby in there crying out for his mother’s unconditional love. On such little things do wars, empires and even whole religions hang.
It will be a few years yet before I get myself a stool and set up in business as a guru. Given that I’m nearly 63, it may not happen in this lifetime. In the meantime life goes on, the leaves fall and winter draws on. It’s wonderful to be alive.