A spiritual community that aimed for conscious evolution but was marred by controversy and claims of abuse.

Andrew Cohen, born on October 23, 1955, in New York City, is an American spiritual teacher, author, and the founder of the global spiritual community EnlightenNext, which dissolved in 2013. Cohen’s journey into spirituality began with a spontaneous experience of “cosmic consciousness” at the age of sixteen. His quest for spiritual enlightenment led him to H.W.L. Poonja in 1986, a pivotal meeting that inspired Cohen to start teaching as a neo-Advaita teacher and gather a community around him​​.

Despite claiming Poonja’s endorsement, Cohen’s relationship with his mentor soured over differences in their teachings on enlightenment and ego transcendence. Cohen’s approach evolved into demanding more commitment from his students, emphasizing complete ego-transcendence, which led to allegations of psychological and verbal abuse​​.

In 1991, Cohen founded EnlightenNext magazine, establishing him as a contemporary spiritual figure. The magazine, under Cohen’s guidance, sought to explore spirituality in the 21st century and ceased publication in 2011. Cohen’s teachings, known as “Evolutionary Enlightenment,” sought an impersonal enlightenment that transcends the personal, though this shift in teaching style led to physical force and intense psychological pressure against students​​.

The community and its practices have been the subject of various publications by former students and Cohen’s own mother, highlighting a history of abuses and the complex dynamics within the group. William Yenner, a former insider, and other colleagues have shared their experiences and insights into the controversial nature of EnlightenNext, documenting a history of abuses that Cohen and many of his current devotees have attempted to conceal. These accounts contribute to a broader understanding of authoritarian spiritual sects and the powerful effects they produce​​.

EnlightenNext’s legacy is complex, embodying the potential for spiritual evolution and the dangers of authoritarian leadership within new religious movements. The organization’s rise and fall offer valuable lessons on the dynamics of spiritual communities and the importance of ethical standards and accountability in spiritual leadership.

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