Erhard Seminars Training

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Erhard Seminars Training, Inc.
Privately held corporation (defunct)
Founded October 1971
Defunct 1984 (dissolution)
Headquarters San Francisco, California, United States
Key people
Werner Erhard, founder[1]

Erhard Seminars Training (marketed as est, though often encountered as EST or Est) was an organization founded by Werner Erhard in 1971, offered a two-weekend (60-hour) course known officially as The est Standard Training. The seminar aimed "to transform one's ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself".[2][3] It "brought to the forefront the ideas of transformation, personal responsibility, accountability, and possibility".[4] Est seminars took place from late 1971 to late 1984, and spawned a number of books from 1976 to 2011. Est has been featured in a number of films and television shows, most recently in the critically acclaimed spy-series The Americans. Est is an outgrowth of the Human Potential Movement of the 1960s through to the 1970s.

As est grew, so did criticism. It was accused of mind control and labeled a cult. The last est training was held in December 1984 in San Francisco. It was replaced by a gentler course called The Forum, which began in January 1985.


The est Standard Training program consisted of two weekend-long workshops with evening sessions on the intervening weekdays. Workshops generally involved about 200 participants and were initially led by Erhard and later by people trained by him. Ronald Heifetz, founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University, called est "an important experience in which two hundred people go through a powerful curriculum over two weekends and have a learning experience that seemed to change many of their lives."[5] Trainers confronted participants one-on-one and challenged them to be themselves rather than to play a role that had been imposed on them by the past.[6] Jonathan D. Moreno observed that "participants might have been surprised how both physically and emotionally challenging and how philosophical the training was."[6] He writes that the critical part of the training was freeing oneself from the past, which was accomplished by "experiencing" one's recurrent patterns and problems rather than repeating them. The word experience was used to mean a process of fully experiencing the pointless repetition of old, burdensome behaviors so as to not be run by them.[6] The seminar aimed to enable participants to shift their contextual state of mind around which their life was organized from the attempt to get satisfaction or to survive, to an experience of actually being satisfied and experiencing oneself as whole and complete in the present moment. The est training offered people the opportunity to free themselves from the past, rather than living a life enmeshed by their past.[7]

Participants agreed to follow the ground rules which included not wearing watches, not talking until called upon, not talking to one's neighbors, not eating at or leaving their seats to go to the bathroom except during breaks separated by many hours. Participants who were on medication were exempt from these rules, and had to sit in the back row, so that they would not interfere with the other participants[8] These classroom agreements provided a rigorous setting whereby people's ordinary ways to escape confronting their experience of themselves were eliminated.[9] Moreno describes the est training as a form of "Socratic interrogation...relying on the power of the shared cathartic experience that Aristotle observed."[6] Erhard challenged participants to be themselves instead of playing a role that had been imposed on them[6] and aimed to press people beyond their point of view, into a perspective from which they could observe their own positionality.[1] As Robert Kiyosaki writes, "During the training, it became glaringly clear that most of our personal problems begin with our not keeping our agreements, not being true to our words, saying one thing and doing another. That first full day on the simple class agreements was painfully enlightening. It became obvious that much of human misery is a function of broken agreements – not keeping your word, or someone else not keeping theirs."[10]

Sessions lasted from 9:00 a.m. to midnight or the early hours of the morning, with one meal break.[11] Participants had to hand over wristwatches and were not allowed to take notes, or to speak unless called upon, in which case they waited for a microphone to be brought to them.[12] The second day of the workshop featured the "danger process".[12]:384 As a way of observing and confronting their own perspective and point of view,[1] groups of participants were brought onto the stage and confronted. They were asked to "imagine that they were afraid of everyone else and then that everyone else was afraid of them"[12]:384 and to re-examine their reflex patterns of living that kept their lives from working.[13] This was followed by interactions on the third and fourth days, covering topics such as reality and the nature of the mind, looking at the possibility that "what is, is and what ain't, ain't," and that "true enlightenment is knowing you are a machine"[12]:384 and culminating in a realization that people do not need to be stuck with their automatic ways of being but can instead be free to choose their ways of being in how they live their lives.[1] Participants were told they were perfect the way they were and were asked to indicate by a show of hands if they "had gotten it".[12]

Eliezer Sobel said in his article, "This is It: est, 20 Years Later":[14]

I considered the training to be a brilliantly conceived Zen koan, effectively tricking the mind into seeing itself, and in thus seeing, to be simultaneously aware of who was doing the seeing, a transcendent level of consciousness, a place spacious and undefined, distinct from the tired old story that our minds continuously tell us about who we are, and with which we ordinarily identify.

Participants' results[edit]

Many participants experienced powerful results through their participation in the est training, including dramatic transformations in their relationships with families, their work and personal vision as well as recognizing who they were in the core of their beings.[6][15] One study of a large sample of est alumni who had completed the training revealed that "the large majority felt the experience had been positive (88%), and considered themselves better off for having taken the training (80%).[8]

In her book, I, Rhoda, Valerie Harper reported, "Est was a wonderfully empowering experience for me. It took a lot of struggle and conflict out of my day-to-day decision-making and helped me imbue my life with more focus and intention. … I was happier, more alive, and everything seemed lighter."[16]

Robert Kiyosaki, author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad wrote, "In March of 1974, I walked into the est training, and two weeks later, as [my sister] had promised, my life changed. And my 'changed life' went well beyond the two weekends I spent in the est seminar. I realized I had the power to create the best destiny for my life, or the worst. It was my choice."[10]

John Curry, Olympic gold medal winning ice skater said that he found “a central core of strength” from doing the est Training. He said, "Quite honestly, I can say that from the day I signed up for est and from the first time I did it, my skating just changed. I suddenly realized that it was me who is doing the skating. I was the one in control. I was doing it, and it wasn't other things that could make me fall over, or make things go wrong."[17]

Comedian Harvey Korman credited the training as a turning point for him. "Before est, I had a lot of analysis and a lot of therapy and got nowhere...All through the years that you say I was a success I looked at myself as a victim. I wasn't getting enough of anything. 'They' had it. Whoever 'they' are! One of the liberating things about est for me is that I realized I was doing precisely what I wanted to do. I wasn't a victim. I chose my career, created it, and wanted it... It's very liberating to take responsibility for what you're doing and what you've done."[18]

Dr. Bernard Roth, director of the Hasso Plattner Institute of Design at Stanford, wrote, "In the 1970s I participated in a two-weekend workshop known as Erhard Seminar Training (usually abbreviated in lowercase as est). On the second day the group was led through an exercise called the Truth Process. I found, to my surprise, that the exercise completely eliminated an annoying habit of speech that I had picked up years earlier. I was naturally impressed, and I incorporated the exercise into my teaching. The results have been very favorable. It is a good tool for getting rid of aspects of your self-image that stand in the way of developing your achievement habit."[19]


Werner Erhard reported having a personal transformation, and created the est training to allow others to have the same experience.[20] The first est course was held at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, California, in October 1971.[21] Within a year, trainings were being held in New York City and other major cities in the United States followed soon after. They were carried out by Werner Erhard, who had recently resigned from Mind Dynamics.

Beginning in July 1974 the est training was delivered at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc, California, with the approval of Federal Bureau of Prisons.[22][23][24] Initial est training in Lompoc involved participation of 12–15 federal prisoners and outside community members within the walls of the maximum security prison and was personally conducted by Werner Erhard.

By 1979, est had expanded to Europe and other parts of the world. In 1980 the first est training in Israel was offered in Tel Aviv.[25] In 1983 in the United States, a participant collapsed during a portion of the seminar known as "the danger process" and died at the hospital to which he had been transported.[26] A court subsequently found that the est training was not the cause of death[26]

The est training presented several concepts, most notably the concept of transformation and taking responsibility for one's life. The actual teaching, called "the technology of transformation", emphasizes the value of integrity.[27] As est grew, so did criticism. It was accused of mind control and labeled a cult by some critics who said that it exploited its followers by recruiting and offering numerous "graduate seminars”.[28] The last est training was held in December 1984 in San Francisco.

It was replaced by a gentler course called "The Forum", which began in January 1985. "est, Inc." evolved into "est, an Educational Corporation", and eventually into "Werner Erhard & Associates". In 1991 the business was sold to the employees who formed a new company called Landmark Education with Erhard's brother, Harry Rosenberg, becoming the CEO.[29] Landmark Education was structured as a for-profit, employee-owned company; it operates with a consulting division called Vanto Group.[30]

Early influences[edit]

In William Bartley's biography of Werner Erhard, Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est (1978), Erhard describes his explorations of Zen Buddhism. Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging Zen as the essential contribution that "created the space [for est]".[31]

Bartley details Erhard's connections with Zen beginning with his extensive studies with Alan Watts in the mid 1960s.[32] Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging:

Of all the disciplines that I studied, practiced, learned, Zen was the essential one. It was not so much an influence on me, rather it created space. It allowed those things that were there to be there. It gave some form to my experience. And it built up in me the critical mass from which was kindled the experience that produced est.[33]

Other influences included Dale Carnegie, Subud, Scientology and Mind Dynamics.[34]


  • 1971 – Erhard Seminars Training Inc, first est Training held in San Francisco, California
  • 1973 – The Foundation for the Realization of Man – incorporated as a non-profit foundation in California (subsequently the name of the foundation was changed to the est Foundation in 1976, and in 1981 to the Werner Erhard Foundation)
  • 1975 – est, an educational corporation.
  • 1977 – The first est training outside of the United States, in London.
  • 1977 – The Hunger Project was established
  • 1979 – The first est training in India
  • 1980 – The first est training in Israel[35]
  • 1980 – The Breakthrough Foundation was established (Youth at Risk)
  • 1981 – First of ten annual physicist conferences sponsored by the est Foundation
  • 1981 – est became Werner Erhard and Associates
  • 1984 – The last training was held under the name of est[36]

Notable participants[edit]

Books about est[edit]

Related organizations[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the Transformation of a Man: the Founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p.164.
  2. ^ Getting It: The Psychology of est, by Dr. Sheridan Fenwick, p.44
  3. ^ Compare: Rushkoff, Douglas (2011). Life Inc: How the World Became a Corporation and How to Take it Back. Random House. p. 140. ISBN 9781446467787. Retrieved 2017-02-05. 'The purpose of the EST training,' we were told when I took it as a college student in the early '80s, 'is to transform your ability to experience living so that the situations you have been trying to change or have been putting up with clear up just in the process of life itself.' 
  4. ^ Hirsch, Deborah (January 20, 2015). "David Wayne Reed gives his characters and his audience a hand in Help Yourself". Pitch Magazine. 
  5. ^ Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World, by Sharon Daloz Parks, published 2005 by Harvard Business School Press; pp. 157– 158
  6. ^ a b c d e f Jonathan D, Moreno (October 2014). Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network. Bellevue Literary Press.  ISBN 978-1-934137-84-0.
  7. ^ Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est, by William Warren Bartley, III; New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 199
  8. ^ a b Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion, by Marc Galanter; New York: Oxford University Press, 2nd ed., 1999, p. 75
  9. ^ Bartley, William Warren III (December 12, 1988). Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est,. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 0-517-53502-5. 
  10. ^ a b c Kiyosaki, Robert; Kiyosaki, Emi (January 2009). Rich Brother Rich Sister. Vanguard Press. ISBN 1-59315-493-3. 
  11. ^ Ruys, Chris. "Can you unchain your mind through est or TM?" (January 23, 1977). Sun Times (Chicago). 
  12. ^ a b c d e Kay Holzinger. "Erhard Seminars Training (est) and The Forum". In James R. Lewis. Odd gods: new religions & the cult controversy. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-842-7. 
  13. ^ McGurk, William S. (1977). "Was ist est?". Contemporary Psychology. 22. 
  14. ^ Sobel, Eliezer (1998). "This is It: est, 20 Years Later". Quest Magazine (Summer). 
  15. ^ Ashgar, Rob (October 29, 2014). "The 'Mindfulness' Craze". Forbes. 
  16. ^ a b Harper, Valerie (2013). I, Rhoda. Gallery Books. ISBN 1-4516-9946-8. 
  17. ^ Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry. Jones, Bill. 2015. London: Bloomsbury
  18. ^ Chicago Tribune, August 22, 1976,
  19. ^ Roth, Bernard (July 7, 2015). The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life. Harper Business. p. 206. 
  20. ^ Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the transformation of a man: the founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 165.
  21. ^ "Hotel to hospital: Farewell to S.F. era". San Francisco Chronicle. Oct 31, 2009. 
  22. ^ Woodward, Mark (1982). "The est Training in Prisons: A Basis for the Transformation of Corrections?". Baltimore Law Journal. Archived from the original on November 13, 2013. 
  23. ^ "est in Prison" by Earl Babbie, published in American Journal of Correction, Dec 1977
  24. ^ Rogin, Neal. "Getting 'It' in Prison – The First est Training at the Federal Correctional Institution at Lompoc, California in 1974". Internet Archive. 
  25. ^ Despair and deliverance: privat salvation in contemporary Israel by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi page 121
  26. ^ a b Ragland, Jr., Gerald F. (1984). "Complaint in Trespass for Wrongful Death – Demand for Jury Trial". Civil Action No. N 84 497 JAC (United States District Court for the District of Connecticut).
  27. ^ The Herald Sun; March 1, 2008;,21985,23298425-664,00.html
  28. ^ Haldeman, Peter (2015-11-28). "The Return of Werner Erhard, Father of Self-help". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved November 6, 2017. 
  29. ^ McClure, Laura (July–August 2009). "The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns". Mother Jones. Archived from the original on October 18, 2010. Retrieved October 13, 2010. 
  30. ^ Bass, Alison (March 3, 1999). "Soul Training: A Retooled Version of the Controversial est Movement – Seekers of Many Stripes Set Out on a Path of Self-examination". The Boston Globe. Retrieved October 11, 2010. 
  31. ^ Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the Transformation of a Man: the Founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 121, 146-7.
  32. ^ Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the transformation of a man: the founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 118.
  33. ^ Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the transformation of a man: the founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 121.
  34. ^ Bartley, William Warren; Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, pp. 144–148.
  35. ^ Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (July 1, 1992). Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel. State University of New York Press. 
  36. ^ "» History of the est Training". 
  37. ^ The Grove Book of Hollywood:
  38. ^ "Warren Bennis on The est Training". Retrieved 2014-11-20. 
  39. ^ Bertisch Meir, Rivka. Re-creating Your Life: Self-Transformation Step-by-Step:. ISBN 9781413453850. 
  40. ^
  41. ^ [1] "The Most Significant Thing He's Ever Done", Eleanor Clift, Newsweek, November 12, 2010
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  44. ^ Curtis, Adam (2002), The Century of the Self: There is a Policeman Inside All Our Heads: He Must Be Destroyed 
  45. ^ Take Me Home: An Autobiography, by John Denver and Arthur Tobier
  46. ^ Leonard, Andrew (May 7, 2005). "California Dreaming: a True Story of Computers, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll". The New York Times. 
  47. ^ Peter Gabriel, from Genesis to Growing Up, edited by Michael Drewett, Sarah Hill, Kimi Kärki
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  49. ^ Frum, David (2008). How We Got Here: The 70s The Decade That Brought You Modern Life. Basic Books. 
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  52. ^ Kaufmann, Walter (January 1, 1992). Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Buber: Discovering the Mind. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 0-88738-394-7. 
  53. ^ Weismann, Ginny (August 22, 1976). "Harvey Korman". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 26 April 2015. 
  54. ^ Light, Judith. "Transparent's Judith Light on Epsom Salts and Self-Awareness". New York Magazine. 
  55. ^ "In the course of the e s t training, you build a 'center' for yourself. Following the specifications of the trainer, you not only imagine it but go through the motions of fashioning it, standing up, stepping in one direction then another, modeling the various parts with your hands according to the image formed behind your closed eyes." -- 20 Lines A Day, p. 37
  56. ^ Cincinnati Magazine. Emmis Communications. p. 14. ISSN 0746-8210. Retrieved 2014-11-15. 
  57. ^ Bryan Bishop. "Author Chuck Palahniuk tells us why it's time to re-open Fight Club". The Verge. Vox Media. 
  58. ^ The Washington Post, "Lance Reddick, working his way up to 'White House Down'", June 18, 2013
  59. ^ a b Silvester, Christopher; Steven Bach (2002). The Grove Book of Hollywood. Grove Press. pp. 555–560. ISBN 0-8021-3878-0. 
  60. ^ Jerry Rubin (February 1976). Growing Up at Thirty-seven. 
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External links[edit]