Spiritual Slavery and the Prostitution of the Soul
Andrew Cohen interview 

Question: I'm very confused about this matter of ethical conduct and its relationship to the enlightened understanding that you speak so much about. Why is it that so many gurus seem to be prey to the very same weaknesses as ordinary people? I would have thought that an ego that had died would not be able to act in the same selfish way as people who did not claim to be enlightened.

Andrew Cohen: Maybe in the cases that you are speaking about, the ego didn't die. Maybe in these cases, there is a fully intact ego coexisting with a profound realization. Most people don't realize that ego and profound realization can coexist. It is for that reason that so many people have gotten into trouble.

Q: But I don't understand how, even after the failings of the guru have become obvious, people will still allow themselves to be taken advantage of. They often will continue to be followers in the face of unethical behavior, and in some cases even gross abuse.

A: Often when a person meets a teacher in whom the Absolute is manifesting to a powerful degree, their heart will open up unexpectedly. They may experience unusual insight and understanding just through mere association with this kind of extraordinary individual. After this kind of experience it is easy to understand how one may get very attached to that individual. The bond that is formed through experiences like these runs very deep. Slowly without even realizing it, in order to protect the love and beauty of that precious event, the person starts to be willing to overlook things. The minute that begins, they become corrupt themselves.

Q: Is that when they start to rationalize?

A: Yes, then they become corrupt, in the same way the guru is. When you try to talk to the disciples of these gurus about simple virtues, they often are unable to make any sense. Also, they will frequently say things like, 'Ethical conduct and enlightenment have nothing to do with each other,' in an attempt to justify the confusing behavior of their guru. The minute anybody allows themselves to tolerate corruption they become a part of it. These people desperately don't want to see the depth of the corruption that they themselves are immersed in. The security of their spiritual well-being depends on the fact that no matter what, the actions of the guru are never questioned. Because their hearts are so invested in the guru, they will make almost any rationalization or justification for the guru's actions. They will do almost anything in order to protect that love that the guru has revealed to them. This is spiritual slavery and prostitution of the soul. In weak-minded people the seal of enlightenment becomes a license for abuse.

Q: How is it then with the matter of trust? Does one ultimately only surrender to one's own knowing of the truth?

A: Yes.

Q: Then not to the guru?

A: Ultimately the guru and your knowing of truth should be one and the same. There shouldn't be any difference. If there is, there's something wrong. That means there is either something wrong in your idea of what the truth is and your experience of what the truth is or there's some defect in the guru. Ideally they should be perfectly synonymous.

Q: But shouldn't surrender be to truth alone?

A: But in a sense that's all people surrender to anyway. They surrender to their own experience. If you go to a teacher and you have a powerful experience, it's that experience that you surrender to. What usually happens next though, is that you get involved with the personality of the teacher. Powerful experience makes you hungry for more. That's why people get more involved. They want to get to know who this guru is. They fall in love and then want to be more intimate. Then they get involved with the personality of the teacher. At that point it's no longer just a spiritual experience; they begin to get involved with a human personality. That's when the trouble starts. If there's any trouble that could start, that's when it's going to begin.

When the personality of the guru and the love and beauty that the guru revealed begin to conflict with each other, that means something is wrong.

As I said before, people are weak, weak-minded, and if someone is truly enlightened, they will have a very powerful mind and be very charismatic. People are easily overwhelmed by that. Because their heart has been awakened, because they have been deeply touched by something, they often don't care about anything else. And in order to protect that experience, they will often tolerate just about anything. This is dangerous. This is a corrupt condition that a great deal of the spiritual world is in these days. If the guru is corrupt and you're intimately involved with the guru, you can't help but be corrupt yourself. It's unavoidable. By association it's an automatic result. It's a very delicate business.

Q: So how does one discern? To what degree do I question my own perception and trust?

A: Just go by the basics. There are some very basic, ethical laws that anybody who's not insane knows. They are not esoteric.

Q: So where do you draw the line?

A: The line is drawn where suffering is caused to other people due to selfish actions that stem from ignorance. That's where you draw the line.

from What is Enlightenment, Andrew Cohen's online mag. More on ethics at Sex, Lies and the Dharma

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