American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing by William Yenner

“For anyone familiar with Andrew Cohen’s public presentation of himself, accepting what is revealed here requires a willingness to experience extreme feelings and responses, if only because the two pictures are so different that one could be forgiven for wondering who—if anyone—is really telling the truth. And it turns out that in situations like this, the raw emotion of anger sometimes serves as a useful and necessary conduit for recollection, incredulity and, ultimately, discernment.”
– from American Guru

American Guru is the story of EnlightenNext, an experiment in spiritual community under the direction of self-proclaimed spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen, as seen through the eyes of several of his former followers. For thirteen years, William Yenner was the ultimate insider in Andrew Cohen’s world, helping to build Cohen’s organization and playing key roles on its business development team. In American Guru, Yenner and his colleagues share their insights into the origins and trajectory of this controversial group and its leader, documenting a history of abuses that Cohen and many of his current devotees have gone to great lengths to conceal.

The phenomenon of the guru is one response to the human longing for authentic spiritual experience, but gurus are not all the same. Some help their followers, and others exploit them—a distinction that became apparent only gradually to many of those who renounced their former lives to follow Andrew Cohen when he first began teaching some twenty years ago. Far from being a sensationalized expose, however, American Guru is a case study on authoritarian systems and the powerful effects they produce in contemporary new religious movements.

It includes essays on the guru/disciple relationship, spiritual longing and disillusionment, departure from the abusive guru, and the subsequent processes of healing and fulfillment.

The authoritarian structure—whether it arises in a church, a political party, a family or a cult—is a closed system in which information is strictly controlled, there is little room for dissent, and prevailing ideas about the leader are rarely questioned or examined, serving to solidify his position of dominance and to maintain the subordinate roles of his followers. Yet the events revealed in American Guru are not recounted in a spirit of vengeance or recrimination. Rather, the authors’ intentions are threefold: to honor the necessity for a fair and accurate record of their experiences in Cohen’s community; to acknowledge and take responsibility for their complicity in the abuses that took place there; and to assist others in understanding, recovering from, or avoiding involvements with problematic authoritarian spiritual figures.

In the largest sense, American Guru is about authoritarian power and its effects and manifestations throughout our culture. The issues it deals with–relinquishment and recovery of autonomy, spiritual naiveté and the abuse of authority—pertain to many environments and situations in the world today. The need for spiritual community and mentorship is a genuine and unavoidable human expression that must be fully understood in order to ensure its wholesome and positive fulfillment for seekers everywhere.

William Yenner was first introduced to meditation in Rishikesh, India in the 1970s, and was later a committed practitioner of Buddhist Vipassana meditation. His involvement with Andrew Cohen and Cohen’s EnlightenNext community spanned thirteen years.

His story is typical of that of many long time students of Cohen’s. At the outset, it was characterized by idealism and inspiration. In the middle, devotion and hard work prevailed as he helped build the organization. And in the end, he was left disillusioned and disappointed after a series of debilitating, abusive experiences.

Following his departure, and in order to secure the return of a large monetary donation that he had been pressured to give to Cohen, a gag order prevented his writing or speaking publicly about his experiences in Cohen’s community. That gag order expired in the summer of 2008, and following that he began the work of writing and editing this volume.

Yenner currently lives in Western Massachusetts, owns a property management business, and travels often.

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Part 1 American Guru Author William Yenner Interview

William Yenner, author of the book, American Guru: A Story of Love, Betrayal and Healing (and former Andrew Cohen EnlightenNext student) is interviewed by local Berkshire County (MA) cable access show host, Diedre Consolati (CTSB Television, Lee, Massachusetts) concerning his years in EnlightenNext as a close student of spiritual teacher, Andrew Cohen.

Part 2 American Guru Author William Yenner Interview

William Yenner – Post Cult Trauma Conference NYC

William Yenner, author of the book American Guru speaks at a conference on post-cult trauma about his experience during his time as a student of spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen in the EnlightenNext community.

For the latest statement from Andrew Cohen’s Blog on public apology click HERE

Blue Jean Buddha: Voices of Young Buddhists ~ Sumi Loundon

In an age when the Dalai Lama’s image has been used to sell computers, rock stars have used tantra to enhance their image, and for many, Nirvana calls to mind a favorite band, what can Buddhism mean to twenty-somethings? Blue Jean Buddha offers real stories about young Buddhists in their own words that affirm and inform the young adult Buddhist experience. This one-of-a-kind book was named a finalist in the 2002 Independent Publisher Book Awards (Multicultural Non-Fiction—Young Adult) as well in NAPRA’s Nautilus Awards. It is about the experiences of young people in America — from their late teens to early thirties — who have embraced Buddhism. Thirty-three first-person narratives reflect on a broad range of life-stories, lessons, and livelihood issues, such as growing up in a Zen center, struggling with relationships, caring for the dying, and using marathon running as meditation. Throughout, up-and-coming author Sumi Loundon provides an illuminating context for the tremendous variety of experiences shared in the book. Blue Jean Buddha sheds light on the practices and experiences of young people striving to bring Buddhism into their lives.
SUMI LOUNDON is a Buddhist writer and graduate of Harvard Divinity School, where she chaired the Harvard Buddhist Community. Her writing has appeared in Tricycle, Buddhadharma, and Shambhala Sun. She currently works as the Assistant Director of the Barre Center of Buddhist Studies, in Barre, Massachusetts, where she lives with her husband and baby daughter.

Click here to browse inside.

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