Detractors: 2nd Snider target runs cult retreat

The Daily Item, Pennsylvania/July 18, 2010

Lewisburg - As police await the extradition of the man they accuse of murdering yoga master Sudharman, text has surfaced describing the suspect's experiences with his would-be second victim - "enlightenment" guru Andrew Cohen.

It's a tale of domination and intimidation.

Lewisburg psychologist Dominic Herbst looked at the situation Friday and said:

"When a yoga master becomes bigger than life, we are at risk."

In a 2003 posting to the anti-cult website, the accused, Joel R. Snider, detailed his perception of insults, humiliation and cult-like manipulation from Cohen and his followers at the 1,300-acre EnlightenNext retreat in Lenox, Mass.

Sudharman, also known as Joe Fenton, was shot to death July 5 at his Integral Yoga Center in New Berlin. To all who attended his memorial service July 10, Sudharman was exclusively a practitioner of peace and love and healing.

Explicit e-mails

But when Snider wrote of his intention to kill Sudharman and Cohen, he said it was to set all free from "the clutches of evil."

Police say Snider had revealed his explicit plans in e-mails to yoga teacher Swami Karunananda at Yogaville in Buckingham, Va. beginning in May. She did not report the e-mails to authorities. Only after Sudharman's bullet-riddled body was found and she heard of the incident did she contact police.

Snider was captured in Maryland before he could further act on his plan.

In an e-mail of condolence to the memorial service for Sudharman, Cohen said he never met the New Berlin yoga master, but presumed he was a "truly great soul."

Web postings

In his posting of seven years ago, Snider told of how Cohen's staff would refer to Cohen as "our God" and "our angel."

Hearing that, Herbst said, is deeply troubling.

"These are imperfect men and women given the devotion of a god. When that happens, it puts us in a position where we are vulnerable. We go where they go. Where they take us.

"If that's how they're regarded, these people (followers) are going to do what they're told to do. No human being should ever have a devotion to a leader to that extent.

"It doesn't mean men or women of influence aren't people who have changed history for the better, but we are not to regard their every word as binding."

Forgiven or blinded?

Herbst said the Hindu practice of meditation may be a very good thing, very relaxing and beneficial.

"But meditation," he said, "may not take us to a place of forgiveness."

Forgiveness should be the cornerstone of any belief system, he said. Secular research, he said, shows it is the key to forestalling or healing psychological trauma.

"One can be blinded in the meditation process ... to the fact that people involved can not walk themselves through a problem," Herbst said. "The Swami who didn't sound the alarm might have felt the man would never do that. ... She should have sounded the alarm.

"I'm concerned ... that something in the meditation philosophy doesn't let us see the potential - blinds us to the potential that a threat made with specificity and detail would be carried out.

"This incident puts us on alert."

Dignity violated

Matthew Cheng, of West New York, N.J., told The Daily Item his sister disappeared into Yogaville 10 years ago, when she was 23, on the eve of leaving for law school. She married a 51-year-old yoga master and would never visit her family outside the complex. Except once.

She was sent, he said, to plead with the family to release the domain name

It's the site where Cheng and others post their criticisms about Yogaville. Many people stumble upon it while searching for Yogaville-owned site, which is

Several books have been written about Cohen by his disillusioned followers. William Yenner, author of "American Guru," along with other contributors, told The Daily Item that he saw countless instances of questionable behavior in his 13 years with Cohen.

"The strategy at EnlightenNext has always been to 'destroy the ego,' believing it to be the main obstacle to spiritual 'evolution," he said. "Andrew's tactics are largely based on ever increasing levels of demands and psychological pressure on the 'ego,' which is often how the abuse results. I have witnessed such treatment escalate in some cases to emotional, financial and even physical abuse.

"In far too many cases students were coerced to behave in ways that violated their own dignity, privacy and good sense, all in the belief that only a self-limiting ego would resist their guru's instruction."

Yenner said, for many of Cohen's closer students, the only way to prove one's spiritual worth and commitment to him and the EnlightenNext community has been to "demonstrate a willingness and ability to happily accept increasingly abusive and humiliating ordeals."

In his book "Stripping the Gurus," author Geoffrey D. Falk says Cohen's own Jewish mother compared him to Hitler.

But here are Cohen's own words introducing his book, "Living Enlightenment":

"When it comes to spiritual teachers, there are those who are safe, gentle, consoling, soothing, caring; and there are the outlaws, the living terrors, the Rude Boys and Nasty Girls of God realization, the men and women who are in your face, disturbing you, terrifying you, until you radically awaken to who and what you really are ...

"If you want encouragement, soft smiles, ego stroking, gentle caresses of your self-contracting ways, pats on the back and sweet words of solace, find yourself a Nice Guy or Good Girl, and hold their hand on the sweet path of stress reduction and egoic comfort. But if you want Enlightenment, if you want to wake up, if you want to get fried in the fire of passionate Infinity, then, I promise you: find yourself a Rude Boy or a Nasty Girl, the ones who make you uncomfortable in their presence, who scare you witless, who will turn on you in a second and hold you up for ridicule, who will make you wish you were never born, who will offer you not sweet comfort but abject terror, not saccharin solace but scorching angst, for then, just then, you might very well be on the path to your own Original Face."

Repeated attempt to contact Cohen were unsuccessful.

Detractors speak out

A website by Cohen's detractors - What Enlightenment?.com - commented on the Sudharman-Snider-Cohen triangle, re-posting Snider's words and saying:

"While some of the events reported may be attributed to the distortions of a disturbed mind, others - the pattern of group pressure, confrontation, insults, and public and private humiliation - ring true for those, like us, who have known Cohen personally and attended retreats with him, and they are echoed in a multitude of testimonials of former students on this site."

Here is one telling paragraph from Snider's own posting:

"The strangest thing of all happened when I actually tried to leave the retreat. I came to a firm decision that I was leaving and that I didn't want anything more to do with him. I went to tell one of his higher level students in order to be polite, and before I knew it I was up in his room sitting before him on the floor. He insulted me telling me that I was a big problem and that I had a very destructive nature. He told me that if I wanted a relationship with him that it was going to be on his terms and that I wasn't leaving the retreat.

"All of a sudden I felt something hit me right between the eyes, as if struck by some invisible blast. I shook my head and remember being sort of stunned. He then said I was not to say anything to anyone about this and that I should concentrate only on studying his teachings and keep my mouth shut.

"I stood up wobbling as if I was stunned or intoxicated and had incredible trouble simply opening the door to leave his room. They laughed as I stumbled out of the room. I sat down on a log outside of the building for about an hour, confused and extremely dazed."

Splitting or copying?

The big question locally, in New Berlin and Lewisburg and the surrounding areas from which Sudharman drew yoga students and philosophical followers, is, was Sudharman diverging from the apparent cult-like path of Yogaville or intending to follow its established modus operandi?

If the genesis of Snider's plan to murder Cohen stemmed from his experiences at Yogaville, as well as EnlightenNext, Sudharman knew Yogaville intimately. He was a participant there for several years. His children spent part of their childhoods there.

Sudharman was clearly worshipped by those who rose at his memorial service to give testimonials on what he had done for them, but there was no one who said he was trying to set himself up as a god, although he clearly exhibited some of the requisite ego.

He wrote in 2008 that he planned to rename the Integral Yoga Center The Sudharman Institute. And he had plans to market himself to New York, Washington and the world.

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