School of Economic Science
The School of Economic Science (SES), also known as the School of Philosophy and the School of Practical Philosophy, is a worldwide organisation based in London. Its teachings are principally influenced by Advaita Vedanta, an orthodox philosophical system of Hinduism, as interpreted by SES leader Leon MacLaren (1910-1994).
The SES advertises introductory courses in what it terms "Practical Philosophy", involving a mental process known as 'The Exercise' and discussion of European philosophers such as Plato and Marsilio Ficino as well as Advaita. Those who continue involvement beyond 2–3 years mainly study Advaita; they are required to take up meditation and to undertake voluntary work to help with the running of the group, and to attend residential programmes. It has a controversial reputation and is seen by some commentators as a cult or new religious movement.
The SES has around 2500 members in the UK branch and several thousand more in the up to 80 branches worldwide. Operating under various names, there are branches in America, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Holland, Malta, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, Israel and Argentina. The head of all of these branches is MacLaren's successor, Donald Lambie.
It has also founded fee-paying, general education private schools for children that incorporate SES doctrine. These include the Ficino School in Auckland, New Zealand; St James Preparatory School, Johannesburg, South Africa; John Colet School, Sydney, Australia; Erasmus School, Melbourne, Australia; the St James Independent Schools in London; Alcuin school in Leeds; St James' primary school in Stockport; and the John Scottus School in Dublin.
The School of Economic Science was founded in 1938 by Andrew MacLaren MP under the name Henry George School of Economics. The school was an "economics study group" that expounded the economic theories of the American economist Henry George. Leon MacLaren "inherited" the school from his father, Andrew, and changed the school's focus to "the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society." Some references cite Andrew MacLaren as the founder of the School of Economic Science, who was barred from the organisation's meetings after his son Leon took it over a few years later.
A branch school called the School of Practical Philosophy, opened in 1964 as an offshoot of the School of Economic Science in New York City, USA. The school became a not-for-profit corporation chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York and later opened branches in the Hudson Valley, Rochester, NY, Albany, GA, Scottsdale, AZ, South Florida, San Francisco, CA, Boston, MA and the state of New Jersey.
The SES began a tradition of an annual event called Art in Action beginning in the 1970s which has attracted about 25,000 visitors in recent years. In 1975, as a response to requests from SES parents, MacLaren opened three experimental schools, called St James Independent Schools, for children ages 5 through 7 and the St. Verdast school for ages 10 through 18. These SES schools were also reported to be the "among the last private schools in England to ban caning" after they discontinued the practice in 1996. One of the three schools, the St. Vedast boys school for ages 10 through 18, was still functioning as of 2011.
Leon MacLaren chose to be succeeded upon his death in 1994 by Donald Lambie. In 1999-2001, frescos were added to the SES's Waterperry property to create "a sacred space"  "depicting the teachings of Advaita Vedanta" intended "to last at least 500 years".
Founder Leon MacLaren was influenced by the early 20th-Century esotericist George Gurdjieff, praised as a charismatic intellectual who brought greater insight to Western thought, and rebuked as an egomaniacal charlatan who worked followers to exhaustion to break down personality. MacLaren joined a group formed by followers of P.D. Ouspensky, an acolyte of Gurdjieff, and brought what he learned into SES. MacLaren also studied the book The Realm of Art (1946), introduced its ideas to the SES and invited the author, Peter Goffin, to give lectures.
MacLaren incorporated these ideas into courses for the SES. In 1959, MacLaren met the guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi who was in London promoting Transcendental Meditation. MacLaren was taken through the 'initiation' ritual of the practice, and speculated that he had found the source of Gurdjieff's ideas. He went to India to meet the Maharishi's own guru, Shantananda Saraswati, and solidified the central principle of the SES's philosophy as "unity in diversity" by merging the "doctrine of Eastern philosophy and Western wisdom."
According to the SES web site:
The initial founder of the school of Economic Science Mr. Leon MacLaren first met with the then Shankaracharya of the North, Shantananda Saraswati, in 1964 and under his direction developed the school in London. Since then there has been a regular dialogue between the school and Shantananda Saraswati. These conversations have become an essential part of the study of the School and it became obvious that some of the subject matter that conveyed the essence of this philosophy, should be the basis of the works for the hall. The Advaita Vedanta philosophy is a teaching that is traditionally conveyed orally from teacher to student, containing many stories, analogies, examples, principles, etc. It is not possible to show everything, but a selection has been made for the Waterperry project that would illustrate the main tenets of this philosophy.
Courses and studies in economics have continued with the emphasis on "Economics with Justice". As well as being inspired by the studies in philosophy, links have been established with several organisations with common aims. A discussion forum fosters open discussion on economics topics. The Economic Monitor is published by the economic faculty and several copies are available on-line.
The school’s founders explored new possibilities for a system that would bring about economic justice against the background of the severe economic depression of the early 1930s. This approach to the study of economics led to the study of philosophy - "the love of wisdom" – in order to gain deeper insights into what they saw as the natural laws governing humanity and the origin of those laws.
During the late 1950s philosophy became the central subject of teaching and practice within the school. It is approached as an essentially practical study, to be applied in daily life. The material presented is drawn from a variety of sources within the philosophical writings and dialogues, scriptures and other literature of East and West, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Bible, Plato, Marsilio Ficino and Hermes Trismegistus. The introductory philosophy course covers some basic principles, highlighting the main influences that govern human experience. After the introductory course, the various aspects of the subject are examined more deeply and philosophical texts are studied in detail.
Since the 1960s there has been a connection with a tradition in India that propounds teaching known as advaita vedanta. Advaita means literally "not two"; vedanta refers to the knowledge underlying the creation. Together these are said to explain the essential unity of everything in creation and the source from which it arises. This teaching also speaks of a concept of ‘pure consciousness’ as the true essence of every being, and the human possibility of shedding the covers on this essence to allow it to be expressed in its purity.
Donald Lambie is supported by a nine-member Executive Committee elected by the 230-person governing body of the SES, known as the 'Fellowship'. In the four years to March 2011, the SES reported income of £4.1m to £4.3m, making a profit in the first two years and a loss in the last two.
As of 2013 the SES owned real estate on Mandeville Place in London, Waterperry House in Oxfordshire, Nanpantan Hall in Loughborough, Brinscall Hall in Preston, Belmont House in Stockport, Park House in Glasgow. Other properties are in London, Leeds, Croydon, Edinburgh, Guildford and Colchester.
School of Practical Philosophy
The "School of Practical Philosophy" is the American branch of the School of Economic Science. Doctrine is based on the precepts of Advaita Vedanta. Advaita means literally "not two"; vedanta refers to the knowledge underlying the creation. Together these are said to explain the essential unity of everything in creation and the source from which it arises. This teaching also speaks of ‘pure consciousness’ as the true essence of every being, and the human possibility of shedding the covers on this essence to allow it to be realized and expressed in its purity. The organisation has been described as providing "mind discipline" for achieving mental quiescence and as cult or new religious movement.
Formally, the organisation began in New York City in 1964 as a not-for-profit corporation chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. The New York City School of Practical Philosophy has branches in the Hudson Valley and New Jersey. Additional locations in the U.S. include Rochester, New York; Albany, Georgia; Scottsdale, Arizona; South Florida; San Francisco, California; and Boston, Massachusetts. The main branch is located at 12 East 79 Street in Manhattan. There is an additional property in Wallkill, New York in a mansion once owned by Marion Borden.
Philosophy Works is the 10-week foundation course at the School of Practical Philosophy. The course is designed for those who seek an understanding of the nature of humanity and of the world. It aims to demonstrate how to put great philosophic ideas of the past and present to effective practical use in daily life. The series is offered three times a year: in January, April, and September.
Following the foundation course, students can take ongoing classes to continue their study of the subjects presented. Material comes from a variety of sources representing both Eastern and Western traditions, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Bible, Plato, Marsilio Ficino, Hermes Trismegistus, Shakespeare and Emerson. Those who continue their studies following the introductory course are also invited to take up meditation.
For students not living near one of the U.S. locations, the School of Practical Philosophy offers a distance learning program online.
Secret Cult, a 1984 book by London Evening Standard reporters Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, stated the organization was a secretive cult which aimed to establish psychological control over its members and had caused personality change, mental breakdown and divorce. They described the network of property owned by the SES and its branches around the world, and identified various senior figures. They also said the SES was "penetrating the corridors of power" with particular links to the Liberal Party, whose then chairman, Roger Pincham, was an SES member. That allegation was replied to by Pincham in a section of the book, and challenged by journalist William Shaw in his 1994 book Spying in Guru Land: Inside Britain's Cults for which his research included attending its course for several terms and interviewing former members. He suggested "the more obvious conclusion" that members might be "in the cult simply because they shared the elitist upper-middle-class professional values that the school espoused". Characterising Leon MacLaren as authoritarian, he described a "regime of holy servitude - part Gurdjieffian discipline, part oriental mysticism, part Christian mysticism, part social snobbery".
In 2004, an internet message board was set up to discuss the SES, where former members gave testimonials of "terrible" experiences; many former St. James pupils shared reminiscences about how as children they were mistreated, unreasonably punished and assaulted. In 2005, following complaints from former St James Schools pupils, the Governors of the St James Schools initiated an inquiry into the allegations, the investigation found that during the 1975 to 1985 time period children had been criminally assaulted while attending the schools.   This was publicized by Channel 4 News on 15 March 2006, when the program's social affairs correspondent, Victoria Macdonald, interviewed former St. James pupils and the then headmaster, David Boddy. "Although the headmaster said this was the first time the Governors had heard of the complaints, the schools were actually at the centre of allegations about their punishment regimes in 1983... meetings were held with parents - which David Boddy himself attended," the program said.
In a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey, actor Hugh Jackman said he had been a member of the School of Practical Philosophy since 1991. "Now I meditate twice a day for half an hour. In meditation, I can let go of everything. I'm not Hugh Jackman. I'm not a dad. I'm not a husband. I'm just dipping into that powerful source that creates everything," he said.
In 2009, the actress Clara Salaman, published a novel, Shame On You, "based on her own experiences growing up at the secretive St James School of The School Of Economic Science."Speaking on Radio New Zealand in 2013, Salaman said 75% of the book is an account of real events. These included teachers marrying former pupils, and mental and physical abuse that lead her to contemplate suicide, a fellow girl attempting suicide and a third successfully carrying out suicide. "Now it's a very different place, I'm always told," she said in the interview.
In Search of Truth : The Story of the School of Economic Science, a history of the School written by a member was published in 2010. It included details of the economic and philosophical thought, and examination of positive and negative aspects of the organisation.
A 2011 article in The New York Observer cited an earlier article from the London Evening Standard which reported allegations that the SES had persecuted women and imposed severe dietary restrictions on their students.
In May 2012, the author Laura Wilson said her SES childhood had left "terrible emotional scars" and that in her experience of the organisation "there was zero tolerance of homosexuality, and an underlying feeling that disabled or disadvantaged people had done something to deserve their plight." The article said Wilson's "escape route" from SES was going to university in 1982.
According to the SES's 2013 website its critics "greatly misrepresent the aims and activities of the School, but they have alerted it to the need to provide more information about the way its courses and associated activities progress."
In a 2014 interview in the Daily Telegraph, actress Emily Watson said she had experienced SES as a child. She described its central teaching of Advaita Vedanta as “a kind of spiritual communism." At its day school, children were treated with "a sort of emotional cruelty that was utterly out of place in a place of education that purports to be based on love and understanding.” 
Some scholars have characterised the organization as a new religious movement. Notable members include former Liberal Party chairman Roger Pincham, M&C Saatchi chairman Jeremy Sinclair and actor Hugh Jackman.
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- SES homepage
- Art In Action
- St James Schools
- School of Practical Philosophy (United States affiliate)
- History of the founding of SES (Henry George Foundation)