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 FreedomofMind.com, 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.
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 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.”
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.
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.”