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Andrew Cohen

Andrew Cohen is an American spiritual teacher, bestselling author, and founder of the global nonprofit EnlightenNext and its award-winning publication, EnlightenNext magazine. His original teaching of Evolutionary Enlightenment redefines spiritual[…]

One conversation suddenly gave meaning to the word “God.”

Question: How did you become a spiritual teacher?

Andrew Cohen: Well, the way I became a spiritual teacher is I first had a spontaneous spiritual revelation when I was 16 years old and why this was- it was interesting is because I was brought up in a secular Jewish household in New York so the word “God” didn’t mean anything to me but I was- when I was 16 I was sitting up late one night having a conversation with my mother. We were living in Rome, Italy, at the time and for some reason that I can’t describe--I don’t know why it happened because what happened had nothing to do with what we were speaking about--the doors of perception suddenly opened and it’s difficult to describe this in words but what happened was I suddenly became aware of the whole universe and I realized that the whole universe was one living being that was aware of itself, the nature of this being was a kind of impersonal absolute love that was physically unbearable to experience; it was absolutely overwhelming. I knew in that moment that there was no such thing as death. It became apparent that no matter which point in space I would ever be at I would always be in the same place and I also knew then that if I pursued what was revealing itself to me, if I pursued this event, that I would have nothing to fear. So that was the beginning the night I was 16 and I didn’t know what to make of it and when I was 22 after wanting to- spending some years wanting to be a musician I- this original experience was haunting me because there was something that happened that needed to be pursued. So when I was 22 I made up my mind to do anything and everything I could to rediscover what had visited me unexpectedly and I became a seeker when I was 22 and I did all the things that seekers do, and when I was 27-1/2 I met a teacher in India that- to whom I described what originally happened to me and he affirmed the original experience. And that- because he was so- such a powerfully awakened individual that catalyzed a reawakening and I became overwhelmed by a powerful surge of consciousness and energy and that was really when the teaching started I- at that- almost overnight. When I would start describing to people what was happening to me they mysteriously and miraculously would become absorbed in the same state of consciousness I was so that’s- and that was 22 years ago.

Question: What philosophies and religions have influenced you?

Andrew Cohen: Well, originally I think I was very influenced by the Eastern notion of enlightenment. That had a very big effect on the way that I thought about spiritual evolution but over the last ten years or so I have become very interested in the whole concept of evolution as it relates to the whole notion of development in time and through time. So while I had been very influenced by Eastern ideas, the teaching of evolutionary enlightenment, which is part of a whole new- the whole new school of thought of evolutionary spirituality, which is very influenced by Western thinking which is based upon the discovery of deep time, that the recognition that we are all part and parcel of a deep time developmental process that started 14 billion years ago with the big bang it’s when we begin to see our own present experience, our own present- not only present experience of embodied existence but also our own present experience of interiority, our own capacity for consciousness and cognition, as the product and the result of 14 billion years of very hard work on- that’s been happening in the universe. In other words, the universe has made it- has worked very hard to make it possible for you and I to have the experience of interiority, subjectivity, consciousness and cognition that we’re having at this very moment. So what I’m speaking about here is once again the dawning recognition and realization that what is happening to us now, that the experience that we’re having, has been produced by time and this time process has been active for an inconceivable amount of time. And so our notion of history as it relates to our present identity begins to transcend the personal sphere, our ethic notions of self, our mythic notions of self, and we literally begin to see our own capacity for consciousness in nothing less than a cosmic context.

Question: What is Enlightenment?

Andrew Cohen: Well, the definition of enlightenment is the experience of consciousness beyond the individual ego so in evolutionary enlightenment what I am really emphasizing is the whole notion of eros. Eros relates to the evolutionary impulse, the original creative principle behind the big bang, so when I refer to the evolutionary impulse I’m speaking about the original intention that caused something to come from nothing because prior to the big bang nothing existed. There was an empty, formless, timeless, spaceless void and for some reason at a certain point there was a leap from formlessness to form, from nothing to something, from being to becoming. So in evolutionary spirituality we begin to put our attention on this eros or this fundamental creative drive or urge to become that initiated the creative process 14 billion years ago that’s driving the creative process right now, and because the- most of the great traditions including most of the great mystical schools tend to emphasize transcendence, the- they encourage us to pursue an experience of freedom from the creative process, freedom from the body, freedom from the mind, being free from the world and ultimately free from the entire process. And so it’s become apparent to me and I think it’s becoming apparent to more and more people that especially for those of us who are at the leading edge, who have been brought up in this- in a postmodern context, what we really need to do is not strive for ways to free ourselves from the process that made it possible for us to have the experience that we’re having right now, but we need to find a way to get much more deeply in to the experience that we’re already having because what we begin to discover is that the process that created us needs us more than ever because, to put this in theological terms, God fell out of the sky with the Western enlightenment and then our rational faculties were liberated in a very profound way and that was the birth of modernity. What I-- The way— The metaphor I use to describe the predicament that we’re in is I ask people to imagine that you’re sitting in the back of a moving car and you’re asleep and then you’re just beginning to wake up so your eyes are beginning to flutter open. Well, as our eyes are beginning to flutter open we notice that there’s nobody in the driver’s seat. And so I think metaphorically this is a situation that many of us find ourselves in and what it means that no one’s in the driver’s seat is a couple of things. Number one, it means that there is no divine being or creator god or a mythic figure out there, up there any way- up- out there or up there anywhere who is looking after us, who is taking care of us and who is going to make sure that everything’s going to work out all right in the end. This does not mean that God doesn’t exist because I- the way I define that word is I say God is the energy and intelligence that initiated the creative process and is driving the creative process. So when we as individuals awaken to eros or this creative impulse or evolutionary impulse within ourselves we discover an egoless drive or an egoless creative passion that is very- that is experiences of sensitive ecstatic urgency about the future. And so evolutionary spirituality is really about awakening to this inherent creative impulse and creative drive behind the entire evolutionary process and beginning to identify with it as self.

Question: What are the implications of accepting this view of creation and history?

Andrew Cohen: Well, I think that in a certain sense we are at the end of history in the sense that the speed of development is happening at such an exponential rate that if either of us were to have a small child we wouldn’t be able to imagine or predict the kind of world that that child is living in. And in this postmodern context the very structures that hold culture and society together our shared values are crumbling. Our-- We’re living in a very confusing time. Our most very intelligent, sophisticated, well-informed adults if I speak to them very honestly will admit that they really don’t know what they’re doing and they don’t really know what the right way to live in this very confusing, very complex time is. So as we- as each day passes I think more and more of us-- And I’m- when I say those of us I’m speaking to those of us- I’m speaking about the most privileged people that have ever been born, that ever existed, and I’m speaking about those of us who are very highly educated, who are- relatively speaking are quite wealthy, who experience unprecedented human freedoms of thought and movement. So I’m speaking about the millions of us who are the luckiest people that have ever been born in the history of our species, honestly don’t really know who we really are or how we’re supposed to engage with this process. A lot of the- this- the values that drive or determine the important choices we make generally speaking relate to a previous time in history. And so when I was speaking about this kind of- this evolutionary spirituality it enables us to begin to find a source of absolute meaning and purpose as to- and validation for the human experience in this particular time in history because as I was saying it’s such a very confusing time. And another thing to point out here is that we all know that we are facing a global crisis, a crisis of collective survival because of, as everyone already knows, global warming and overpopulation and degradation of our natural resources. And so everybody is aware that we are in a crisis and that we all need to find a way to come together so- for our- for the sake of our collective survival, but I just want to make the simple point that there is- that human beings are- we have- we are biologically and psychologically conditioned to respond to the need to survive. We have been making an effort to survive all kinds of crises for millions of years but the whole notion of what it means to take responsibility for evolution especially at the level of consciousness is a very new idea, the whole notion, and- because when we think about evolution as it relates to the notion of consciousness we want to begin to see our own capacity for interiority, for consciousness and cognition, in a vertical context, in a context of verticality, from going from a lower level of development of consciousness and cognition to a higher one. And so when we begin to consider the whole notion of the evolution of consciousness it’s a very- it’s a different order of consideration and a very different way to think about the human experience. When the individual begins to see that his or her own development in taking a responsible for the evolution of consciousness very much relates to the evolution of culture because as the individual evolves to higher levels of development his or her values begin to change, and what makes up culture are our shared values. So when our values begin to evolve and develop this canon will begin to have a small but significant effect on the evolution of culture itself. And so in evolutionary spirituality the individual begins to experience an enormous sense of responsibility about what it means to be alive right now, what it means to live this particular life, because we begin to see that the life we’re living is not merely my personal experience but it is an expression of the entire process and the entire process, shall we say, is trying to awaken to itself or become aware of itself through us as individuals. And so what happens then is we begin to see our own personal experience more from the perspective of it being part of a cosmic process merely than just my personal experience. And that definitely enlightens the human experience in a very dramatic way and we aspire to be responsible for creating the future, for creating new grooves for creating new possibilities that don’t yet exist, that have not yet emerged, because somebody has to do it. And then we cease to live simply to have, to get, and to become for ourselves but then we really are living our lives for a higher purpose.

Recorded on: 04/28/2008