A.Cohen - Traveling Light
by Ritu Khanna
It is Andrew Cohen's first visit to the Baha'i
House of Worship in New Delhi, India. The beautiful lotus-shaped white
edifice, framed by white clouds that lend it an almost mysterious aura,
has him exclaiming in wonder. However, he soon turns contemplative as
he enters the spacious hall devoted to meditation. Cohen
spends a few quiet moments there and comes out marveling at the serenity
The tourist turns teacher when he settles down comfortably, cross-legged on a bench facing the temple gardens, and begins to talk about enlightenment, its meaning and its relevance to today's world. Cohen speaks gently, his thoughts are lucid, there is a calm and unhurried air about him. He appears as a person who, more that anything else, wants to communicate, to reach out to others.
Enlightenment is not something you can do anything with. If enlightenment is real it will possess you. After that what will happen will happen but you won't know how it happened. A teenager in New York experiences, for no apparent reason, what he today describes as "cosmic consciousness", an explosive and overwhelming revelation of the inherent oneness of life.
Cohen was 16 years old when he had this moment of awakening, a moment that was to change his life forever. He realized that nothing is separate from anything else, that the whole universe is one being, and the awareness of that being is a screaming unity. This discovery led to a feeling of liberation from the tyranny of existence.
"I had no doubt about that absolute reality, it was a living reality," recollects Cohen. And when you've realized that, you've realized everything at that time, he adds.
You must seek until you find… It is imperative that you do not stop seeking until you reach the goal of perfect enlightenment. For Cohen the search had begun. Six years of deliberation and vacillation followed, and then, at the age of 22, he decided to devote his life to the rediscovery of his earlier experience.
A decision that he does not regret to this day. "I feel I am the luckiest man in this world," he observes. "I would not change anything."
His inner urge to be free was already finding expression: "I had no doubt about the absolute reality. It was a living reality…..There is nothing to gain, one loses everything," emphasizes Cohen. "But one finds liberation in liberation." We also find happiness as a result of seeing through all our faults.
Cohen then turned to different teachers. he studied kundalini yoga and Buddhist meditation techniques. His quest brought him toward India in 1984 : "I felt for many years I had to come here." He went to Kathmandu, Bodhgaya and Pondicherry. A chance meeting with Ramana Maharshi's follower, H.W.L. Poonja, a Lucknow-based and comparatively unknown teacher then, ended his search. Cohen had a reawakening of what he had felt earlier. he spent a few weeks with his teacher, and then it was time for him to share his experience with others.
In the beginning it's up to the teacher to prove him or herself to you absolutely. But once he or she has done so, then it's up to you to prove yourself to the teacher absolutely. "My purpose in life is to liberate as many people as I can," says Cohen. His endeavor is to create a literal revolution through his teachings, to get people to come together to express the oneness of many.
Realizing that he is the best spokesman for his teachings, Cohen travels for 10 months in a year, giving public talks and holding intensive retreats. Friends of Andrew Cohen Everywhere (FACE) has centers in San Francisco, Boston, Toronto, London, Amsterdam, Cologne, Tel Aviv and Sydney.
I have found and continue to find that there is so much confusion, misunderstanding and misinformation as to what enlightenment actually is and what it really means. To give light to what is indeed a complex subject, Cohen has written many books. He also edits a journal, What is Enlightenment? Says Cohen : "I find it very interesting to talk to different people and find out their views." The aim of the journal is "to provoke thought on the subject", to reach out to those people who know about the topic, but do not give it enough thought.
Cohen's books include Enlightenment is a Secret, teachings of liberation; Autobiography of an Awakening, on Cohen's search for liberation; and My Master is My Self, on the birth of a spiritual teacher. In one of his recent books, An Unconditional Relationship of Life, the odyssey of a young American spiritual teacher, Cohen narrates his encounters with prominent masters. Cohen's teachings are also available on audio and videotapes.
Enlightenment is relief. It is cessation. It is the end of becoming. It's the end of the struggle to become anyone or anything. It's coming finally to rest, here and now, in this life. If there were no word as enlightenment in the language today, Cohen would use "contentment, understanding, compassion and love."
To reach this state, an individual has to be willing to end his self-centered relationship with life, he explains. It is not an easy thing to do, and not many are willing to go all the way, to give up everything to gain everything, however, paradoxical that may sound. "But if we fail to see clearly," warns Cohen, "we will continue to act in ignorance and cause suffering to others… We will never be free."
People seek enlightenment for different reasonsthey want to escape from fear, they want to wake up, they are frustrated with material life, elaborates Cohen. They want to be honest, to be whole, to bring wholeness and love in this world. "It's like a thrill, you start shaking with excitement," feels Cohen, adding that it is like a religious impulse that gets activated.
A deluded individual looks outside himself, waiting for God to appear before him. He hasn't understood that God is not an object to be seen. Few people ever understand this. Cohen's is an endeavor to create a forum that is open to all faiths. "One is not separate from God," he explains. "God is simply a word for the Self." To be free, in the end, we have to give up all illusions. In the collective mind of Indians, gods and goddesses truly existwe have to learn to transcend the collective mind, he adds.
I call all approaches to enlightenment that stress the awakening of the individual alone, personal enlightenment and all approaches in which the awakening of the individual could never be separated from the awakening of the race as a whole, impersonal enlightenment. Perfect happiness, according to Cohen, is possible when our intention is concerned with the welfare of the whole. Hence impersonal enlightenment is on a much higher level.
For someone whose life is dedicated to demystifying enlightenment, in a way making it a household word, Cohen confesses his own life is "nonstop chaos". "I am always traveling, teaching, meeting students. I try to have a routine, but just don't manage it." He does, however, try to find time for yoga and jazzhis two favorite pastimes.
"I really can't imagine a future," claims Cohen, "I am fully immersed in the present. I haven't changed much in the last 10 years… The main change could be that I have realized how delicate it all is. It makes all this even more precious than I had realized in the beginning." His advice to those seeking enlightenment: "The essence of our life has to be spiritual. It is not enough to make it a hobby." He goes on to talk about those who view spirituality as something to add a little spice to lifelike saunf in a curry, he says in an aside.
"I do not feel any different than anybody else," continues Cohen. "Not inferior nor superior." It is only during his teachings that Cohen feels a transformation: "I get totally swept off my feet. It is like a mystery, I have no idea about it." A long pause, and then he adds, speaking almost to himself: "It's too big, it's frightening."
It is the air of mystery in India that appeals to Cohen. For him it is "an extraordinary place". "Everything is here," he observes. "Heaven, hell and everything inbetween." He enjoys Indian cuisine, especially Punjabi food. He is married to an IndianAlka Arora, from Mumbai, western India; they live in California. What he does not like about India is its poverty, the caste system, the treatment meted out to women, and "the fact that so many people have so little."
The guard at the Baha'i House of Worship, reluctant to interfere what he instinctively feels is an "enlightened" talk, reminds us that the place is now closed. Cohen asks for "five minute more". I'll lose my job, pleads the guard.
As we prepare to leave, Andrew Cohen turns for one last lingering look at the beautiful temple, enveloped by the vivid colors of twilight, illumination giving it a surreal and suffused look. "It's like a space ship," he says softly, almost wistfully.
Enlightenment is the end. Realize that. Find it for yourself. That is as far as you have to go. If you realize that and stay there, right action will be the result.
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