By Simon Alev April 1998 The author, who spent a fortnight in January 1998 at Andrew Cohen’s retreat in Rishikesh, India, describes how it transformed the participants The author, who spent a fortnight in January 1998 at Andrew Cohen’s retreat in Rishikesh, India, describes how it transformed the participants I’m riding the Shatabdi Express back to New Delhi, the capital of India, reflecting on the two amazing weeks I’ve just spent on a retreat in Rishikesh exploring the miracle of liberation with the American spiritual teacher Andrew Cohen. As the green fields of the Indian countryside fly serenely by, it again occurs to me that from now on life will never be the same for me. The scope and transformative power of the experience I’ve just shared with 300 people from all over the world (including a dozen Indians) is impossible to exaggerate. Between those of us who are on this train together, many of whom never knew each other prior to the retreat, there persists a disarming receptivity and vulnerability that one hardly ever encounters in the world at large. It is clear to all of us that in Andrew’s company we have witnessed and participated in another dimension of existence. We have learned, and can never forget, what it is actually possible for human life. How is it possible, I wonder, for one individual to have such a profound impact on so many? Though ultimately mysterious, the answer lies in Andrew’s teachings, which have emerged whole and perfect from his own awakening barely 12 years ago. It is his conviction that deep experiential recognition of our own true nature can never be complete unless the revolutionary implications of such spiritual insight are fully embraced, fully lived, by us. The retreat with Andrew Cohen has been an opportunity to experience the radical transformation that awaits anyone willing to ease their grip on all that is kno wn and familiar. Just a glance at one of my radiant traveling companions brings instant confirmation of my own experience: that this explosion of life is now, that creation takes place constantly within and among us, that life is truly ever new. How many of us arriving in Rishikesh would have imagined that such perfect clarity was possible? Many of us had never met Andrew. Our minds struggled, seemingly as one, to know something, anything, in the face of his relentless insistence that the peace and joy of profound meditation could only be discovered through our perfect willingness to ‘let everything be as it is’, and that true attentiveness consisted in ‘having no relationship to the arising of thought or the presence of feeling’. For the first several days, the atmosphere in the teaching hall was electric as we confronted again and again, first in meditation and then in dialogue with Andrew, our own obstinate resistance to the possibility of allowing every aspect of our experience, internal or external, simply to be as it was. But slowly each of us learned, through close attention to the trials and breakthroughs of others, to distinguish the iron grip of the ego from the striking beauty of innocent surrender. Even more exciting was the dawning recognition that this simple shift alone was sufficient to catalyze, in the very instant it occurred, a profound and astonishing transformation. One American woman, who had been in tears almost constantly over the rough conditions of ashram life and her inability to understand Andrew’s instructions, surprised everyone when she took the microphone and confidently analyzed her own unwillingness to ‘let everything be as it is’. Having seen through her own resistance, she said, she had finally managed to do it, and she not only felt, but looked, sounded and acted like a completely different person. Her realization had literally transformed her from a lonely point of negativity into the overflowing conduit of a positive radiance. She was a living confirmation of Andrew’s assertion that the real purpose of our mutual investigation was the independent discovery, by and for ourselves, of the ‘mechanics’ of our own liberation. He was willing to inspire us, he said at the beginning, but what was more important to him was that we have the tools we needed to set ourselves free. By the time Andrew moved on from meditation to the practice of contemplation, I felt as though his meditation instructions formed the basis for a profound and miraculously subtle penetration into the realm of spiritual experience. Between ‘letting everything be as it is’ and ‘having no relationship to the arising of thought or the presence of feeling’ there had bloomed within and among us a condition of spacious concentration in which effortless relaxation and extraordinary alertness were perfectly fused. It was amazing! But Andrew refused to allow us to rest there. How, he now asked, does one bring this experience of primordial peace, of ‘no fundamental problem’, into the chaos and confusion of the world of time and space? Since spiritual experience by itself is sufficient to propel only the rarest of individuals into a permanently immaculate condition, spiritual practice is critically important for most people. A perfect teaching is like a jewel, he said—a jewel in which that timeless, impersonal and eternally trustworthy perspective can always be found in the midst of flux, chaos and confusion of the experience of being alive. Andrew’s presentation of the Five Tenets of his teaching of enlightenment immediately propelled us into exploring every aspect of our own experience. Now we began to discover how life could indeed make perfect sense. His unusual request—that we completely relinquish any preoccupation with the personal and confine our conversation to the impersonal perspective of these Five Tenets alone—set the stage for an explosive and indescribably intimate outpouring of truth. Discussions at meals, or during walks on the grounds or into town, betrayed barely a hint of the competition and self-importance that almost always keep human beings subtly or overtly apart. In these discussions we discovered for ourselves the overwhelming reality of our inherent oneness, and the presence in us of a universal conscience whose care extends far beyond the needs of any single individual. Now, as Delhi loomed ever closer, and as we were about to disperse once again to the four corners of the globe, it was sobering to remember that in fact the extraordinary and indestructible intimacy in which we had been swimming for the past two weeks was tragically rare, and that the human condition is what it is because so few are willing to bear the emotional insecurity of fully responding, from moment to moment, to the mysterious fact of our absolute interconnected-ness. It is for this reason, as Andrew explained during the retreat, that more and more of us must try to become clear about what is true and what is false—so that the inherent positivity of life is empowered to express itself unhindered through, and as, our lives. This is so important, though in the world we live in, it is often far from obvious. Imagine, then, what it must have been like this past January in Rishikesh, where several times in as many days I heard people spontaneously express their willingness to renounce anything and everything personal, not for themselves, but for the sake of the Whole.
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