Andrew Cohen has been named as the 28th among the 100 most influential spiritual figures of the world and has come up with his own path called Evolutionary Enlightenment. Recently touring “Mother India”, the American spiritualist, author and musician shared his views on his early days in New York, his spiritual quest that brought him to India, his version of Advaita and the meaning of life.
Observing that India was in the midst of rapid economic development and transformation towards modernity, Cohen felt that the phase felt like a déjà vu of the Western world of his younger days “as young adults here were moving away from their traditions and culture and facing the same existential anxieties and insecurities” that his generation did in their youth.
“I have been meeting a lot of students here and feel they are too preoccupied with the questions related with their career choices and financial future.” These are the same questions which face every young adult. “About getting a job, making money, finding a wife and having children.”
But there are more fundamental questions that get missed, he felt. These related with the reason behind the creation of universe. “Why am I here? What am I here for?” he asked emphatically.
“These questions need courage and integrity to ask. You need to buck the system. In the last 200 years, mystics like Ramana Maharishi, Swami Vivekananda, Aurobindo and Ramakrishna Paramahansa had the courage to ask and answer these fundamental questions.”
Recalling his early days in New York growing up in an upper middle class secular Jewish family, Andrew Cohen relates an incident when he was just 16 years old and had a strong and vivid spiritual experience of expanding consciousness. By the age of 22, he wanted a concrete explanation to his experience years back. But in New York when people would throw the first poser of “what do you do?, to say that you were on a spiritual quest was an unacceptable response”.
“However, when I came to India and told people that I am aspiring to achieve consciousness, it was perfectly accepted. And therefore I am grateful to Mother India for giving me the opportunity to pursue the path that I wanted to.”
In India, Cohen met HWL Poonja ji, an Advaita guru and the direct disciple of Ramana Maharishi. “I will remain indebted to him all my life for helping me find answers. And though he was a great Master and transmitter of consciousness, my Guru felt only Brahama – ‘that is I’ is real and insisted that the world was an illusion and should not be taken seriously.”
“I did not agree. By saying that, I thought, we are insulting our existence. I began to feel that the world is not an illusion. It is real and should be taken very seriously,” he said explaining Evolutionary Enlightenment.
Cohen explains, “First there was nothingness. Zero. Everything that exists came from it. In the deep meditative state, we enter this state of timelessness when thought, memory, fear and desire disappear and we experience lightness and bliss, i.e. Ananda.”
“For many countless billions of years God existed as this nothingness. After which there arose in Him a curiosity and that led to explosion of the universe. Our world and the galaxies are Manifest Brahama.”
The third component of Evolutionary Enlightenment is the ‘journey’. “I feel Indians find it hardest to accept and digest. Because there has been a belief since ancient times that the goal of life is Nirvana or enlightenment, when we drop our bodies and transcend our current form to return to the primordial state – to the nothingness – never to return.”
“I feel this approach is anti-life. Why would we have to go through so much complexity only to say ‘I don’t want to be here’. I also differ with the thought that the Rishis in ancient India had already discovered all there is to know!”
“Evolution and discovery are constant processes. The universe is believed to be 5 billion years old, life 4 billion years. Human mind has been evolving for the last 10-15000 years. We have learnt of the several galaxies other than ours only in the past 200-300 years. The pace of change and evolution is faster today than ever before.”
“The idea thus is the ‘journey of evolution’. We are on a way to greater evolution and a new place. And this is important not just for us but also Brahama or God. This is a new place even for God and he depends on us and the choices we make as he is experiencing new energy and evolution through us.”
“That is the reason that it is important that I am here than being in the state of being unborn.”
“It is therefore our moral responsibility” to live by making the right choices and pursuing the path of spiritual consciousness, he concluded.