non-duality magazine an investigation of self realization, awakening and consciousness
Home Contents About Poetry Music Art Film Science Philosophy Articles Contribute Subscribe Contact
Andre van de Braak
Interview with John LeKay

NDM: Can you please tell me about your motives and intentions for writing this book entitled "Enlightenment Blues"?

Andre van de Braak: I never intended to write a book. I took a creative writing course in the fall of 1998, six months after I’d left Andrew, (Cohen) and was asked to write an essay on a topic of my own choosing. Naturally, my eleven years with Andrew were foremost on my mind. Once I got going, I noticed that more and more stories and memories popped up, and the essay got longer and longer. At one point, the creative writing teacher suggested I keep on going after the course was finished, and expand it into a book. So I did, but I still had no intention to look for a professional publisher. I thought to maybe put it out on the web. The first versions of the manuscript were very bitter, angry and resentful, but gradually, with each new version the tone got milder and, I felt, more objective. That’s when I started to think that this story might be helpful to publish as a book.

NDM: Did you take any poetic license while writing; especially when describing some of the so called "crazy wisdom" teaching incidences?  For example, the one man doing thousands of pushups?

Andre van de Braak: No, there was no poetic license, and certainly no exaggeration. As a matter of fact, after I’d finished the book, my publisher was worried that Andrew would sue, so the manuscript was vetted by a lawyer. All the incidents that are described in the book really did occur.

As far as the pushups were concerned, we had a pushup marathon every Sunday, and these muscles really develop quite fast when you get used to this type of exercise. We would do series of thirty, then rest on our arms, then do more series of thirty. Since quitting was not an option, you had to keep going at it.


NDM:  His early teachings appear to stem from various traditions such as Advaita and Buddhism which are all about transcending the egoic self. As well as compassion, wisdom and so on.  However, from the accounts in your book, "Enlightenment Blues" and in another book, “American Guru” by William Yenner, it seems that he radically deviated from these traditional teachings and began experimenting with a form of Tibetan teaching known as yeshe chölwa or “crazy wisdom”.

Such as:  

A.  Having students destroy their expensive cars to let go of attachment.

B. Having students pour buckets of paint over another student’s head in basement rooms painted blood red. As well as a large cartoon on the wall depicting a woman as a vampire and the word “traitor” written in large letters next to it to induce fear, shame and guilt. 

D. Slapping others as hard as possible across the face, in response to a student’s performance and not measuring up to his expectations.

E. Instructing the female students to shave their heads and to become celibate, then instructing them to be in "impersonal sexual relationships" with other students, then breaking them up for breaking the rules such as having emotional ties to the person they had sexual relations with or for falling in love.  

F. The endorsement of female students standing in ice cold lakes up to their waists for up to an hour until some of them passed out from exposure, to express their atonement for committing sins against him.

At what point did his teaching methods digress from the traditional methods of transcending the ego to waging an all out war on it and using “acts of outrageous integrity"?  In hindsight, do you believe that these teaching methods had any kind of authentic or successful enlightening results on his students?  

Andre van de Braak: In 1990, Andrew taught in Boulder, Colorado, and there he picked up several students that had been long-term students of Trungpa. This is how he got interested in the crazy wisdom teaching. Andrew was frustrated that “no one was getting it”, and that people weren’t transformed even after going through multiple spiritual experiences - which should have been transformative according to his own advaita teachings. At first Andrew taught that realizing the nondual Source would transform the personality, and would naturally lead to a transcending of the egoic self. A few years later, he claimed that the ego was too tenacious and would not let go voluntarily, and had to be forcefully overcome.

In terms of the specific experiences, B, D and F I did not experience in person – but William Yenner did. You’d have to ask him about those experiences.

I do not believe that the crazy wisdom teaching methods had a lasting transformative effect on his students. There often would be a short term effect; people would be shaken up, and shocked out of their usual mode of relating to themselves and others, but I would not call such an effect ‘enlightening’.

NDM: Do you know of any one person that is "enlightened" as a result of his crazy wisdom teachings?

Andre van de Braak: I wouldn’t know of any person that has become ‘enlightened’ as a result of these teachings. But then again, I haven’t been around in his community since 1998, so who knows …




Andre Van de Braak


NDM: In the very beginning of your book, you mention that to gain realization of the truth "enlightenment", one thing that all traditions have is a need to submit to a guide or a teacher.
Do you still feel this to be the case?

Andre van de Braak: I think that it differs from person to person but yes, in many cases, submission to a guide or a teacher is beneficial or even necessary. Left to one’s own devices, it’s much too tempting to cut corners and avoid looking squarely at oneself. But it is very important that the teacher is trustworthy, which is very difficult to determine only from personal contact. This is why I think that it is helpful when a teacher is part of a lineage, has peers and a teacher that can correct him. In the end, what you submit to is the truth and the dharma, also when that happens in the form of an actual person who serves as a teacher.

Also, I think that the teacher should always serve the student, and not the other way around.

NDM: As far as you can remember, what did Andrew Cohen tell you about what is is like to be  "enlightened" on a day to day level?

Andre van de Braak: To live in an “enlightened” way meant to live not out of the impulses of the ego, but to be aware of the needs of the situation that one is in. Furthermore, it meant to be able to fully and passionately respond to this recognition, and act in a wholehearted and undivided way for the benefit of others.  


NDM: Did he exude a sense of peace, ease, unconditional love, truth, compassion, joy and non attachment to outcome?  Did you see any desire in him or ambition, aspirations, craving for recognition or money, attention,  validation, approval, fear, hope, anxiety, or emotions like anger?

Andre van de Braak: Yes, he did exude peace and ease, especially in the first few years, when he was amazed at everything that was spontaneously happening around him. Later on, however, he started to feel that he was on a mission, that we were all on a mission, a mission to bring Heaven to Earth. This is when he started craving attention and validation from other spiritual teachers. In terms of fear, hope, anxiety and anger, yes he experienced all those emotions from the beginning, but he didn’t seen caught up in it. Later, I felt that his anger sometimes got the better of him, and that he could fly off the handle and get into temper tantrums. He also became more and more unhappy and dissatisfied with us, his students, for not living up to his teachings.

NDM: Do you still feel that confidence and charisma have anything to do with enlightenment?

Andre van de Braak: I’m not sure. I feel that charisma is neutral; it’s a psychological mechanism that does not necessarily reflect any deep inner realization. Also, people that have attained realization are not necessarily charismatic. Yet, on the other hand, when someone has realized something beyond any doubt, it gives him a kind of confidence that you can’t fake, and people feel that.



Andrew Cohen





NDM: On page 12 of your book, you experienced a non dual glimpse when having an epileptic seizure while reading Nisargadatta.  Has this ever occurred since then and how do you know this was an epileptic seizure?  

Andre van de Braak:: I have had similar non dual experiences since then, and they have been after drinking ayahuasca tea. As far as how I know that it was an epileptic seizure: the nondual glimpse was followed by a seizure when I went back into the house and started walking up the stairs. There was a psychotherapist there who told me later that I started having jerky, involuntary movements, and that my mouth started to foam. This is why he called an ambulance. In the hospital, they did EEG tests, but didn’t find anything abnormal.

NDM: Andrew Cohen's teaching appears to be about "letting go" of the ego. Did he ever explain to you who or what was it exactly that was going to be letting go of this ego?

According to his teaching, the ego was nothing but impurities and conditionings that were staining the mirror of consciousness. When the light of realization would break through, all these impurities would be burned away, and the mirror would be completely spotless and able to reflect the light of the Source. He also told us, that this is how it happened for him. It had required no conscious effort. After a few years, he said he realized that for almost all of his students, it would require effort, because we were too entrenched in our ego’s, and too invested in it.


NDM: On page 16 of your book, you mention Andrew Cohen's enlightenment glimpse after spending 3 days in India with poonja ji.  Then 3 weeks later, he is teaching in the west. Poonja ji was known to have told many of his western students who were bothering him, that they were enlightened. He would give them "lollipops" as he put it to get rid of them. Poonja would use the "you’re the one I’ve been waiting for all my life” line several years later on a female disciple, "Gangaji" whom he reportedly sent to America to effectively “clean up Andrew’s mess”. See here
However, with most of his students, they did not take it to heart as Andrew Cohen did. What do you think it was about Andrew Cohen that made him so ambitious and a go getter? 

Andre van de Braak: I think it’s a mixed bag. I do suspect that Poonjaji was hoping for a “son” who would help to make him famous in the West. He had tried several times before to set something up in the West, but that had not been a big success. And psychologically, Andrew was looking for a father figure who would provide the ultimate validation and affirmation. So in that sense, it was a match made in Heaven. You could also call it a “folie a deux” of course – a mutual illusion that both do not really want to disturb.

For more information about Andrew’s youth and psychological make-up, his mother’s book, Luna Tarlo’s “Mother of God”, gives a lot of information.


Poonja ji


NDM: Poonjas teacher Ramana Marashi spent 20 years in a cave doing self enquiry after his enlightenment glimpse and before he taught anyone anything. He even said he had no students or left any lineage .

Andre van de Braak: Punjabi was not really a student of Ramana (as you say, Ramana didn’t leave any lineage behind). I think Poonjaji would say the same thing, that he had no students and was not interested in establishing any lineage.

Also Andrew, by the way, is not really establishing any lineage. He has not appointed any successors and I doubt that he will. I feel that being able to establish a lineage is a sign of maturity in a teacher.

NDM: What do you think it is about the western culture that has a tendency to appropriate other peoples' culture, art, religions, spirituality and turn them into money making ventures? 

Andre van de Braak: First of all it’s romanticism. We tend to idealize Eastern spirituality, and then uncritically import teacher-student relationships that are not appropriate for our Western circumstances. Secondly, religion has become privatized, and has become a marketable product, called “spirituality”. The book “Selling spirituality” describes this whole process very eloquently. 

NDM: I came across this letter of an ex student writing to Poonja ji about  Andrew Cohen. 
He says: " I understand that Andrew, who did accept the teaching role with both hands, has become such a demigod that he can no longer love his good Father the way he used to. When I see that, I feel glad that I judged myself as not yet fit for that work, as I would never want to fall short in such a critical role. I am not in a position to judge, so I wish love and wisdom for all, and hope Peace and Understanding ultimately prevail.”

Poonja Ji replied on 7-18-96. 99

“..the student who abuses his teacher goes to the 7th
Hell, where one is thrown into fire, and again revives, and again is thrown into the fire, this will continue for a million years in this Hell. Later he will be born into the pigs family….” And on and on! “…you are a most lucky person to have saved from living with such rascals. If you don’t have enough money, stay where
you are
 Divine will Bless you.”



Did Andrew Cohen ever speak to you about his fallout with Poonja?  Why exactly this occurred?

Andre van de Braak: Andrew wrote a whole book about his fallout with Poonja in which he described in detail why exactly it occurred – from his perspective of course. It’s called “Autobiography of an Awakening”.

NDM: What are your thoughts on the philosopher Ken Wilber, the man you did your PhD thesis on and his association and support of Andrew Cohen, as well as his association with Adi da? 

Andre van de Braak: I did not do my Ph.D. thesis on Ken Wilber, but my Masters Thesis. Back in the eighties he was my idol, but recently, with his founding of the Integral Institute, I find that he has become more intolerant and impatient with his critics, and not really all that interested in a dialogue. Although he is associated with Andrew Cohen through their dialogues in "EnlightenNext Magazine", I do not believe that he supports Andrew Cohen. I don't think he would recommend to anyone to live in Andrew Cohen's spiritual community, for example. I think he learned from his premature and naive endorsement of Adi da 


American guru Adi da 



Ken Wilber 


NDM: After Luna Tarlos (Andrew Cohen mother) book 'Mother of God" came out,  Wilber wrote a foreword for Cohen’s book In Living Enlightenment (2002) in which he defended and extolled Cohen as a “Rude Boy”, meaning he is an enlightened teacher who confronts deficient attitudes. Wilber has also stated that “every deeply enlightened teacher I have known has been a Rude Boy or Nasty Girl”. 
Why do you believe Ken Wilber would associate with and defend someone like Andrew Cohen?    

Andre van de Braak: I think  that Ken Wilber likes it that Andrew is so uncompromising and "tells it like it is". I don't think Ken Wilber necessarily thinks that Andrew Cohen is a good or skilful teacher. He doesn't want to get involved in such judgment. So I think he associates with Andrew Cohen as a thinker, because the EnlightenNext magazine serves as a good vehicle for his Integral thought, but I don't think he associates with Andrew Cohen as a practitioner.


NDM: Why do you believe the American Zen Buddhist monk Genpo Roshi also associates with someone like Andrew Cohen? 

Andre van de Braak: I am currently teaching Zen at the Zen Center Amsterdam, and Genpo Roshi is the teacher of my teacher. I have spoken with him about Andrew Cohen and about Enlightenment Blues. He has told me that he thinks Andrew Cohen is "stuck in the Absolute", and that what he needs is a "fall from grace". I believe that he sees Andrew Cohen as a kind of younger brother that he can guide and educate. Also, I think that he simply likes Andrew Cohen as a person, he likes to hang out with him. They have a similar Jewish American background, a similar sense of humor.

NDM: Did Andrew Cohen give you any indication of being a competitive or an ambitious person?  Did you see signs of invalidating or criticizing of others' teachings, claming his teachings were superior or better then the rest?

Andre van de Braak: Yes, Andrew was very competitive. He was always dissing other spiritual teachers, claiming they were compromising or not living up to their teachings. He said several times that he was the only one who was "willing to go all the way". In his book "Autobiography of an Awakening", he is very critical of the Advaita Teachings, feeling that they are only half of the truth, and that "living up to one's realization" is not covered in Advaita Vedanta. In this way, he set himself above his own teacher - something that is, in my view, definitely a sign that something is wrong.

For more info visit


Genpo Roshi


Back to Top

--> 'use strict';