School of Economic Science

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Coordinates: 51°31′00″N 0°09′05″W / 51.516775°N 0.151407°W / 51.516775; -0.151407

School of Economic Science
Logo of the School of Economic Science
School of Economic Science, London 24 April 2015.JPG
The School of Economic Science entrance, Mandeville Place, London.
Address



Information
Other namesSchool of Philosophy, School of Practical Philosophy, School voor Filosofie, Escuela de Filosofia Practica, The Foundation for Philosophic Studies
Former namesHenry George School of Economics
Established1938
FounderLeon MacLaren
TrustFellowship of the School of Economic Science
Classes offeredPractical Philosophy, Economics with Justice, Sanskrit Language
School LeaderDonald Lambie
PrincipalIan Mason
Registered charity numbers313115 & SC039950
Global locationsArgentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Fiji, Germany, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Malta, New Zealand,Spain, South Africa, Trinidad, UK, USA, Venezuela
Website

The School of Economic Science (SES), also operating under the names School of Philosophy and the School of Practical Philosophy, is a worldwide organisation based in London.[1][2][3][4][5] Its main activity is to offer non-academic courses for adults, ranging from an introductory series called Practical Philosophy to more advanced classes.[6] Its teachings are principally influenced by Advaita Vedanta,[7][8] an orthodox philosophical system of Hinduism.[9] It has a guru, Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati,[10] who used the title Shankaracharya until 2017.[11]

The SES advertises introductory courses in "Practical Philosophy", "Economics with Justice" and other courses including Sanskrit language.[12] The Practical Philosophy course involves a meditative process known as "The Exercise"[13][14] and discussion of universal themes drawing on the work of European and Indian philosophers such as Plato, Marsilio Ficino, Swami Vivekananda and Adi Shankara, as well as Advaita.[15] Those who continue involvement beyond 4 years mainly study Advaita;[16] they are encouraged to take up meditation and to undertake voluntary work to help with the running of SES, and to attend residential programmes.[17]

SES members have founded schools for the education of children in a number of countries.[18] SES is registered as a charity in the UK; worldwide operations register as non-profit organisations in their own countries.[19]

SES was founded in London[5] by Labour MP Andrew MacLaren.[20] His successor and son, SES leader Leon MacLaren (1910-1994), a barrister[21][22] introduced programs on Advaita Vedanta.[20]

SES says it has a total of around 4000[23] participants in the UK branch and (as of 2012) a total of around 20,000 in up to 80 branches worldwide.[17][3][4] 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.[5][24] The head of all of these branches is the SES 'Senior Tutor', MacLaren's successor, Donald Lambie, who is also a barrister.[23][22][25]

History[edit]

Foundation[edit]

The School of Economic Science was founded in 1938, in the UK, by Andrew MacLaren MP[26] and his son Leon MacLaren, under the name Henry George School of Economics.[4] It was an economics study group that expounded the economic theories of the American economist Henry George.[4][27][28][29] The group initially met in a Parliamentary committee room of the Houses of Parliament.[30]Leon MacLaren inherited the organisation from his father, Andrew, and changed its focus to "the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society."[4] He considered science to be a study of laws that already exist in nature; economics the study of human nature and its interaction with the natural universe.[31]

The organisation'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.[32][18] Leon MacLaren claimed to have had the idea as early as 1931, when he felt the solution to the economic problems of the day was a school, not "an ordinary school such as one goes to as an child or an adult for post school education" but "something in the manner of Socrates."[21]

The Chairman from 1939 was Labour MP for Ipswich, Richard Stokes. In 1943 he mentioned SES in a House of Commons debate on post-war employment when he asked Minister without Portfolio, Sir William Jowitt, if he would consider attending a courses at SES if he did not understand a question about economics.[33][20]

By 1939 more than three hundred people were studying the economics course written by Leon MacLaren. SES was chartered under the companies act of Ontario, Canada as a non-profit body.[34][30]

In 1940 The Blitz prevented the school from opening, but soon afterwards evenings classes booked in a restaurant, the classes widely advertised. MacLaren described how students bravely walked to and from the meetings along streets lit only by the flames of burning buildings.[30] During the Second World War the school offered a correspondence course.[30]

In 1942 it ran a series of lectures in Conway Hall on "production" including "An Engineer's War", "The Skilled Man and the Management" and "Give Them the Tools"[35] In 1943 courses were running in Edinburgh,[36] by 1944 Public meetings and courses were being held in Manchester and Liverpool.[37][38] In 1945 the Bath Chronicle reported that "Wednesday night's dance at the Pump Room, run by the Fellowship of the School of Economic Science, was a very enjoyable affair"[39] The Spectator magazine, in 1949, reported that the "complex and fascinating riddles" of economic science were not insoluble, if you can "stump up" the course fee of one Guinea.[40]

In 1942 the name of the school was changed to the School of Economic Science, the word "science" signalled the belief in the existence of natural laws of Economics and a method of direct observation free from personal opinion and vested interest.[30][41] The method of teaching was inspired by a rabbi and academic professor at the Henry George School of Social Science in Philadelphia, Oscar H Gieger. First observed by Leon MacLaren at an international conference of Georgists in 1936, it was similar to the Socratic method; he formulated questions, which could be read to a group of students, the principle being that the students would find the answers and the lesson would proceed.[42][21][43][44]

During the final years of World War II student numbers fell, MacLaren took the opportunity to write a textbook, Nature of Society, presenting the distinctive principles of Economics developed by the School to date. The book describes the purpose of the community as to enable to develop the inherent qualities of every person.[30][20][45]

Some references cite Andrew MacLaren as the founder of the School of Economic Science, there is no extant record listing the school's founders so the precise detail is not known.[44][46][47] SES was founded with the purpose of teaching fundamental principles about economics and political thought without political bias, Andrew MacLaren was heavily involved in this phase, as late as 1963 Andrew Maclaren gave the end-of-term economics lecture at the Institute of Electrical Engineers on behalf of SES. The institution later included philosophy, first with special regard to Oupensky and Gurdjeff and later to Plato and Advaita. Andrew MacLaren was not involved in the development of philosophy programs, which were led by his son Leon MacLaren.[48][44]

Philosophy courses[edit]

The approach to the study of economics, and Leon Maclaren's realisation that economics alone was not enough to answer students' questions, 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. Courses on Plato were introduced in response to this.[18][20] SES's predominant interest is philosophy; it defines the subject somewhat differently from conventional Western universities: philosophy is studied for practical living.[49]

Fourth Way[edit]

MacLaren studied the book The Realm of Art (1946), a wide-ranging survey of ideas about the nature of humanity, society, art, science, religion, evolution, creativity, free will, mind and matter, knowledge, and consciousness.[50] It was this book which first introduced him to the ideas of Ouspensky;[43] he incorporated its ideas to the SES and invited the author, Peter Goffin, to give lectures.[51][52] The Realm of Art concluded that life is a continual choice between expediency and truth, between fixity and growth, "the promise of a new and richer social harmonies in human life, which is given with the capacity for art and the sense of beauty, cannot be fulfilled until man has learned how to control the activities of his conscious mind in accordance with the 'laws' of his own instinctual being - so that beauty becomes connatural to him and his work proceeds from his heart and his bowels as from his lucid mind".[50] The Realm of Art also influenced Nature of Society, an Economic textbook by MacLaren. The success of lectures on Philosophy given by Peter Goffin made it clear that the School must now move to investigate human nature itself, asking questions about mind, spirit and existence: the study of Man itself.[31][18]

In the late 1940s, Leon MacLaren became influenced by the ideas of Russian philosopher and esotericist P.D. Ouspensky, an important pupil of G.I.Gurdjieff. He then incorporated ideas from their philosophy, called the "Fourth Way", in his teaching at SES.[53] George Gurdjieff, is both 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.[54] In 1953, MacLaren met Dr Francis C. Roles, a pupil of Ouspensky who had established The Study Society in 1951 to continue the teaching of the Fourth Way.[53] MacLaren systematised the Gurdjieff system and incorporated these ideas into courses for SES;[47][55] the ideas were blended with sociology, and man's inner nature was considered in the context of the forces that govern society.[56][18][54]

Initially, the philosophy material did not quote or acknowledge Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Dr Roles or Leon MacLaren directly, this due to a belief held by all four that the truth could not be personalised: it belonged to no one man, it belonged to all mankind.[18] When Leon Maclaren died in the mid-1990s, the entire school gradually underwent a change in approach, choosing to be more open about its study programmes in order to prevent misunderstanding.[57] Nowadays, SES seems to have phased out most of its Gurdjieffian material (it no longer uses Leon MacLaren’s lectures) and does not acknowledge Gurdjieff or Ouspensky on official SES websites.[43]

Music[edit]

Music was one of the common threads running through the philosophy course, initially in the form of the "Law of Three" and the "Law of Seven", as expounded by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky,[58] and later by Ficino in his work on the essential qualities of the notes of the octave.[59] SES established a music group to explore these principles.[59]

Meditation[edit]

Ouspensky believed Gurdjieff's teachings were incomplete; Roles and MacLaren were eager to discover the missing elements.[60] In 1959, while searching for the source of the system, MacLaren discovered the teachings of Advaita Vedanta after meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and began to practice Transcendental Meditation (TM).[43][60] Both Roles and MacLaren became pupils of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.[61] On 13 March 1961, MacLaren organised a meeting called, "1961 World Congress" for the Maharishi in the Royal Albert Hall, two days prior to the event smaller meetings were held at Caxton Hall.[62] The Royal Albert Hall meeting was attended by 5,000 people, nearly all SES members.[62][47][63][64] One attendee described the effect of the talk as "tremendous", causing him to feel like a prisoner that had just been released. He speculated that meditation was the missing link of the incomplete Gurdgeff-Ouspensky system.[65]

The particular type of meditation used by SES was developed by Brahmananda Saraswati (Gurudeva) . It is a modified practice of meditation, suitable for the householder engaged in the affairs of everyday life.[18] It differs from methods intended for those who withdraw from society like monks or sanyasi.[66] MacLaren was taken through its initiation ritual, and speculated that he had found the source of Gurdjieff's ideas.[54] Shantananda Saraswati taught that the practice of meditation in a regular and disciplined manner is of the very highest importance. Meditation became central to SES' philosophy program and is taken up by all senior students of the school.[67][68][43]

School of Meditation[edit]

SES was instrumental in promoting TM in the UK from the 1960s.[69] In collaboration with The Study Society and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, SES established The School of Meditation (SoM) in London in 1961,[46][65] under the direction of Bill Whiting. SoM's purpose was, and remains, to study and teach the principles and practical application of meditation.[63][18][66] Many of the subsequent leaders of SoM were students of the Maharishi.[65] The School of Meditation is now an independent, self-governing organisation. By 2011, SoM had initiated 15,332 people into the practice of meditation, it has branches in several parts of the UK as well as in Greece and Holland.[70][71][66] Both SES and SoM teach the Transcendental Meditation introduced by the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, an ancient technique whose revival is credited to Brahmananda Saraswati.[72][73]

Advaita[edit]

On a trip to India to study meditation with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Dr Roles met the Shankarcharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Shantanda Saraswati, Roles believed Shantanad was the spiritual advisor both the Study society and SES were seeking and introduced MacLaren to Shantandand of whom they both became students.[64] Swami Shantananda Saraswati, had been a disciple, with the Maharishi, of the previous Shankaracharya of Jyotir Math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati.[74][54] From this point on, MacLaren's teachings became predominately based on Advanta Vedanta, which he disseminated within SES.[49][43] During the mind 1950s, Practical Philosophy became the central subject of teaching and practice at SES and remains so today.[67][68][75] MacLaren's discussions with Shantanand Saraswati[54] solidified the central principle of SES' philosophy as "unity in diversity", a merger of Eastern philosophy and Western wisdom.[4][76]

From 1965, every second year for the rest of his life, MacLaren conversed with Shantananda Saraswati, and these conversations were taped and transcribed.[43] School leaders brought back this wisdom to their groups where it was studied, practised and actualised in the lives of many.[18] These conversations are published in a 4 volume series. Teaching is disseminated by SES advanced students who are volunteer teachers, and is maintained by the successors of Leon MacLaren and Swami Shantanand Saraswati, these being Donald Lambie and SES guru Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati respectively.[22]

Leon MacLaran also met another Indian sage, Daṇḍī Svāmī Nārāyaṇānanda Sarasvatī, who was a student of both Shantananda Saraswathi and Brahmananda Saraswati. Daṇḍī Svāmī Nārāyaṇānanda Sarasvatī was also linked with the leader of the SES branch in Holland.[64]

Sanskrit language[edit]

In his conversations with Leon MacLaren, Shantananda Saraswati stated the importance of Sanskrit language in the study of Advaita.[77] The study of Sanskrit Language at SES began in the late 1960s and became a formal part of what was called the "middle school" in 1977.[78] SES is considered a world-class centre for the study of Sanskrit.[70]

International schools[edit]

The first international school was established in Wellington, New Zealand in 1957.[79] During the next decade, MacLaren’s students established Philosophy Schools and schools for educating children in Europe, the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa.[18] The international schools are separately financed and separately governed by their own constitutions, but using teaching material from SES.[80][63]

Each year, MacLaren travelled the world visiting these schools with the message: "We come to discover the Truth, the Truth about our Self, the one Self, the one Consciousness that pervades and sustains everything. We speak the Truth, we strive to live according to the Truth." He would visit each school, annually, for several weeks at a time, and did so for twenty-one years.[43][18]

Childrens' education[edit]

In 1975, SES founded the St James Independent Schools in London, comprising one school for girls and one for boys, both catering to children from 4–18 years of age.[81][82] Today, only around 10 per cent of the children at St James have parents involved with SES.[3] They're ranked in the Sunday Times' top UK schools guide.[83] St Vedast's School for Boys, at Sarum Chase in Hampstead, London, was also founded in the mid-1970s and closed in 1985.[7] Other schools included the Ficino School in Auckland, New Zealand; St James Preparatory Schools in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa; John Colet School, Sydney, Australia; Erasmus School, Melbourne, Australia; the St James Independent Schools in London; Alcuin school in Leeds (closed in 2009); St James' primary school in Stockport (closed in 2015); and John Scottus School in Dublin.[84][85] St James Junior Boys merged with the Junior Girls School to form St James Juniors in 2015.[86]

Greek philosophy, Eastern philosophy, Vedic dancing, Shakespeare, Renaissance art, meditation, mindfulness, Latin, Greek, Sanskrit language, calligraphy, and Vedic maths are taught in some of these schools from a very early age, in addition to the regular curriculum.[87][88][89][90][91][3] There is also a strong emphasis on sport through team games, music and arts. Children are taught the virtues of politeness, courtesy, truthfulness and honesty.[91]

Art in Action[edit]

In 1977, the Art Department at SES began an annual, four-day art festival called Art in Action at Waterperry Gardens;[92][93] the first event attracted 14,000 visitors and recent events have each attracted about 25,000 visitors.[17][94] The purpose of the event was to demonstrate the principles of the School's work by allowing artists and craftspeople to be observed in the act of creating their art, the aim being to bring masters and beginners together in a bid to encourage creativity.[95][20] Over the years the number of artists exhibiting increased from 51 to 400, specially selected for the quality of their work.[95][20][96] The event also included lectures by experts from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies, and 3,000 places on practical courses in 20 different subjects.[95] Around 900 volunteers from SES staffed the event.[95][97] The event was started by steward of Waterperry Estate, Bernard Saunders,[98] and was organised by Jeremy Sinclair CBE between 2005 - 2014, and later Simon Buchanan[99][100]

After 40 years, the organisers announced that Art in Action would "pause", and that their vision is for Waterperry Gardens to "develop as a centre for the arts in the years to come".[101] Since then the organisation has hosted the Handmade in Britain festival,[102] Celebrating Ceramics,[103] the Oxford Storytelling Festival[104] and the Waterperry Opera Festival.[105]

1983 press coverage[edit]

The day before the 1983 UK general election, right-wing London newspaper the Evening Standard reported that Liberal Party chairman Roger Pincham and several other Liberal Party members were involved with SES. The article called SES a cult and contained a lot of pejorative claims about the organisation. The authors lost credibility when multiple errors were identified in their work and it emerged that Margaret Thatcher's Director of Press and Public Relations, David Boddy, was also an SES member. David Boddy commented "It blew their whole story".[63][43]

New school leader[edit]

In 1992 Shantanand Saraswati advised Leon MacLaren to choose a successor.[106] He chose Donald Lambie, a lawyer, who had joined SES aged 17 in 1973.[107] Donald Lambie succeeded Leon Maclaren upon his death in 1994.[25][22][108] His succession was approved by the 200-strong Fellowship of senior members of the school.[63] Sri Shantanand Saraswati died in 1997. Donald Lambie established contact with his successor, Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati, who took on the role of guru to SES.[80] Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati continues to act in that role.

Waterperry frescos[edit]

Frescos at Waterperry House

Following a project by SES architects and artists' groups to plan and construct a new hall at Waterpery House which began in 1971,[67][20] in 1999-2001, frescos spanning three floors, illustrating SES' philosophies, were added to the property to create a sacred space intended to last at least 500 years.[109][110][111][112] The architects and artists let their designs arise from reflection on a passage from one of the great texts of Advaita philosophy, the Brihadaranyaka Unpanishad: "In the beginning this self was indeed Brahman. It knew only itself as 'I am Brahman'. Therefore it became All."[113][20] Maclaren's intention was to create a place fit for King Janaka, accordingly the bridge and staircase was planned in glass.[67][20]

Recent activities[edit]

In 2001, SES members investigated the findings and impact of the Layfield Committee and the Whitstable Studies into local government sources of finance and the impact and cost of introducing site value rating.[114][115][116]

In 2006, SES hosted the Progress without Poverty conference;[117] also the conference, "Why Values Matter", a joint conference with the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative.[118] SES is also a main sponsor of the "Just This Day" event. The event promotes meditation and is held annually at St Martin in the Fields.[119]

In 2008, SES hosted a conference titled, "The Primacy of Consciousness". The topic was debated from a variety of philosophical and scientific perspectives. One attendee commented, "the proposition of ‘the primacy of consciousness’ in either context could scarcely be more relevant in the light of the systematic inability of neuroscience over the past twenty years to provide an adequate explanation of the human experience."[120]

In 2008 & 2009, SES Economics Faculty presented new courses called "The Science of Political Economy", "Protection or Free Trade" and "The Condition of Labour", based on important works of Henry George.[121]

In 2013, SES hosted the conference, "Economics for Conscious Evolution: International Land Taxation".[122][123]

In 2013, SES received the Second Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) Award at the 11th Annual International GCGI Conference, held at Cite Universitaire International, Paris. "The Award is given in recognition of the School’s extraordinary and tireless work, offering a truly meaningful education for the common good and selfless service in helping to build a better world. The School has shown that an education based on ancient wisdom can raise the individual to a higher level of awareness, bringing deeper understanding and kinship with all living things."[124]

In 2015, SES made written submissions to the Scottish Government Commission on Local Tax Reform.[125]

In 2016, the SES branch in the London Borough of Croydon was named one of the 5 best places to find your soulmate.[126]

In 2016, SES made written submissions to the London Assembly Inquiry into Land Value Taxation for London.[127]

In 2016, SES was invited to participate in the United Nations Harmony with Nature initiate, an online platform of practitioners, academics and researchers dedicated to advancing a world-view based on recognition of the intrinsic value of Nature and of human-Earth relationships that are subject to the natural laws of the Universe.[128]

In 2017, SES made written submissions to the House of Commons, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Land Value Capture.[129][130]

In 2019, SES hosted a variety of events related to pluralism in economics.[131][132]

SES said in its financial report for the year 2014 that 55,000 people had attended its courses since 1937.[23] Other sources reported SES to have had more than 100,000 students since its founding and currently has 20,000.[80][3][63] According to Hodgkinson, "Hundreds of thousands have attended the schools courses in the UK and in affiliated schools around the world. Some have stayed for a term or two, others have devoted their adult lives to the school."[20]

Teachings and practices[edit]

Teaching at SES is done in small groups, in the form of a dialogue between tutor and students following the Socratic tradition, rather than establishing a set course with a curriculum, textbooks and examinations.[63] All of the SES tutors are advanced students; none is paid. Courses include Philosophy, Economics, Art, Vedic Mathematics and Practical Philosophy in Business.[80] SES teaches a variety of 10 week courses, beginning each January, May and September.[63]

Practical philosophy[edit]

SES teaches a philosophy drawn from Eastern and Western traditions. Its courses are taken up by those who are interested in self-discovery and searching out a deeper meaning from life.[57] Differing from philosophy schools that offer a variety of philosophies to be considered, without any real commitment being expected from the students, SES is closer to the ancients’ conception of a philosophy school in which students are taught one particular philosophy or ethical way of life, which they commit to in an effort to completely transform themselves.[133] SES encourages students to discover the first principles, the fundamental laws governing a subject and then to apply them, for example, the understanding and application of the first principles of business could result in one becoming a wise businessperson.[134]

An underlying idea is that the great teachings of the world all point to the same central truths, and that wisdom is the key to a better life.[14] Teaching is based on the precepts of Advaita Vedanta as translated, taped and transcribed from interviews in India conducted by MacLaren with Swami Shantanand Saraswati (d.1997), a colleague of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,[22] from 1961 - 1996.

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 realised and expressed in its purity. SES considers Advaita to be "the clearest and most systematic expression we have found of the common philosophy that lies at the heart of many of the world’s great religions and philosophies".[135] Non-dual philosophy arises from ancient vedic scriptures expounded by Shankara. This teaching, along with the expansion of it in relation to the modern age by Santanand Saraswati, is the foundation of the philosophy course.[136] The course operates on the principle that the teaching achieves nothing unless put into practice in everyday living. Through practice, it eventually becomes understanding and a part of one's own nature.[136]

A phrase that summarises Advaita is "Brahman is the reality; the world is not in itself real; the individual self is not different from Brahman" - in Christian terms, "I and my Father are one". The purpose of the teaching is to bring about this realisation. Unlike religions and most other spiritual systems, students are not asked to set aside reason and accept the unprovable as truth, students are encouraged to question everything until all doubts are satisfied. The only 'practices' provided promote self-control of mind and senses so that discrimination may operate. It is a matter of listening or reading, clarifying confusion and reflecting until there is 'enlightenment.'[137][91]

According to SES' web site, the relationship between the organisation and Advaita Vedanta developed as follows:

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.[109]

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. 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, Hermes Trismegistus, Shakespeare and Emerson.[138][139] As students progress through SES they don't learn deeper truths, but gain a deeper understanding of the same truth with which they're presented on the first night.[63]

Some of the ideas presented in the course have parallels in western philosophy: the idea that the empirical world is constantly changing (Heraclitus), there must be some underlying reality that is unitary and never changes (Parmenides), peoples' lives seem to be ruled by ignorance and yet there also seems to be some innate understanding of the finer principles like truth and justice (Socrates and Plato), 'Know thyself' is fundamental for giving a life meaning, philosophical investigations should be guided by the findings and thoughts of those who have gone before, but we must question and reflect upon those findings (Aristotle), possessions do not bring lasting happiness; it must be sought 'within' (Cynics).[140] Students are asked to not accept or reject the ideas, but to test them against their own experience.[49]

The objectives of the practical philosophy course can be summarised by a teaching of Adi Shankarar: "You participate completely in your life in the world, with your family and your job, but you come to an inner stillness which lets you meet your true happiness, and at the same time will allow you to be more efficient and more effective in what it is you do. To play this full role in the world, you need to have your intellect fed, your emotions fed, and engage in service."[141]

Students are organised in groups of like-minded and supportive seekers, meditation is introduced after the first year and regular support with the practice is provided.[68]

The Exercise is a central element of teaching at SES; instructions have been published by the New York Times.[13]

Voluntary work[edit]

Members are encouraged to do volunteer work with and for fellow students, and for the communities in which they live. Service to fellow human beings, without personal reward or gain, is considered an important part of the organisation's philosophy of seeking the truth.[91][63]

Retreats[edit]

SES hosts retreats for those students who've graduated from foundation courses. On the retreats, such students spend longer periods of time practising what they've learnt and furthering their study. The retreats provide a setting in which students can dedicate themselves more fully to the philosophy.[57] These can be between 2 and 10 days in length.[142]

Economics with Justice[edit]

The scope of the SES Economics department is the "study of the natural laws governing the relations between people in society".[143] A four-term economics course is taught seeking to show that "Freedom and prosperity are possible for people everywhere, providing we follow economic laws and aim for a fair outcome from economic arrangements". SES considers that discovering the conditions which allow every individual to find a fulfilling life is the true goal of Economics. The current economic situation where "Some men work to maintain others who labour not" is considered unjust.[31][144] Observation of the effects of economic principles on the world around us is considered central to the course, from observation comes experience, from experience comes understanding. [31]

Courses and studies in economics have continued with the emphasis on "Economics with Justice". Rather than seeing Economics as an isolated field of enquiry, the course has become a study of human beings and their economic customs and practices. It includes a view of the whole of society, justice, ethics, politics and history, as well as the production and distribution of wealth, expanding students’ viewpoints and revealing the underlying law and harmony in human affairs.[31][145] Economics is treated as a distinctly human subject with the purpose of releasing human creativity and potentiality.[146] Trade, money, taxes, interest, rating and so on are seen as the servants of society and not its masters.[67]

Economic science is normally considered the mathematical approach to Economics. However, SES uses a different definition.[147] The view adopted by the course is that justice is the ethical basis of economics and the real measure of economic understanding is whether the policies and practices that flow from that understanding produce justice for all participants. It is critical of the contemporary understanding and practice of economics, which it claims shows "great accumulations of wealth alongside great poverty", "consumption patterns based on exploitation" and "our natural environment systematically undermined and destroyed for profit".[148] The ideas of Henry George are viewed as a means to allowing all humanity to live with justice and equity.[149]

The first term of the course sets out basic ideas of economics in the context of economic justice. The second term looks at the historical development of the subject, focusing on the main contributors (considered to be Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Henry George, Alfred Marshal, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman) and the effect of their ideas on present circumstances.[150]

SES has published its economic theories and principles in a 2013 book "The Science of Economics".[151][152]

SES has made written submissions to the Scottish Government Commission on Local Tax Reform,[125] the London Assembly Inquiry into Land Value Taxation for London[127] and the House of Commons, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Land Value Capture.[129] It hosted a variety of events related to pluralism in economics.[131][132] It has been described as "Georgist",[153][154] but has widened its scope of enquiry beyond George to include financial reform and debt.[155] It has been described as one of three UK organisations working to bring about land tax reform.[156]

A discussion forum fosters open discussion on economics topics.[157] The Economic Monitor[158] is published by the economic faculty. The text of several discussions are available online.

Meditation[edit]

Meditation is introduced as a personal practice to find stillness and unity in oneself. It has lifestyle benefits such as reducing stress and improving concentration. However, it is intended as a means of coming to a deeper appreciation of spiritual unity and, from that appreciation, as a means of deciding how to deal with the world around oneself.[147] The meditation practice is described as leading to inner quiet, which is of equal value to those who follow a religion and those who have no particular belief. It is not a practice of contemplation or concentration; rather, it helps the meditator to look inwards, including when going about his or her worldly activities.[66] Students are given a specific mantra by SES or SoM; those who have been initiated into the Transcendental Meditation technique are allowed to keep their own mantra. To gain access to this technique requires tuition and initiation to ensure the practice starts in the most beneficial manner. Students are supported with ongoing tuition in meditation throughout their time at SES.[68] SES encourages students to meditate for 30 minutes, twice a day. However, it is accepted that not everyone can live up to this ideal; shorter daily periods are considered better than none at all. Two periods per day of just 10–15 minutes are recommended for beginners.[68][91] The need to practice meditation in a regular and disciplined manner is said by teachers such as Shantananda Saraswati to be of the very highest importance.[68]

The mantra-based meditation technique is described as one that does not use the thought process in any way. It is not one of contemplation or concentration. Rather, it involves "dropping down through subtler levels of mental processes to a deeper level of being, beyond the movements of the mind". The benefits of this are said to include allowing people to find their own inner peace and happiness, letting go of inner pursuits and possibly helping to bring a deeper understanding of their own cultures, teachings and traditions. It is acknowledged that while practising meditation a person's habitual tendencies still remain and they still have to face the circumstances of life; however, difficulties and differences will be seen a new perspective and they can be addressed with greater ease and effectiveness.[66][18][159] The process of meditation takes you from an agitated mind to a state of stillness, and that which takes you there is the mantra.[63]

Mantra is a Sanskrit word composed of two elements: the dhātu mantr (मन्त्र्) and the krit pratyaya ghañ. The dhātu mantr is defined by Pānini as 'gupta paribhāshana' - 'protected or secret speech'; the krit pratyaya ghañ expresses either karma (object) or bhāva (the state or act of the activity itself). Therefore, a mantra is the speaking of a protected or secret sound. The technique involves sounding the mantra inwardly with full attention, but without excessive effort. When it is moving along, repeating evenly and you have given it momentum, you just let it go into the space of the mind. The special sound, which is given by a teacher or guru, occupies the attention, allowing the meditator to leave everything else. The sound of the mantra, believed to carry a special energy or vibration, is said to lead the meditator back to a place of deep stillness and inner rest, an oasis in the midst of a turbulent world, a depth of experience that is well beyond the day-to-day norm.[160][161][162]

Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, describing the benefits of this method of meditation said: "Meditation is like watering the root and supplying nourishment to all aspects of the tree. Watering the root can be defined in terms of the growth of the leaf; also of the growth of the branches; also of the growth of the flower; also of the growth of the fruit. So watering the root can be defined in numberless ways with respect to the effects it produces in all parts of the tree. In the same way, Transcendental Meditation can have innumerable definitions because it produces effects in all the phases of life.[62] Shantanand Saraswathi described method of meditation as "The master key to the knowledge of Vedanta. There are other keys, but a master key is enough to open all the locks", and also "In meditation one is just One. One becomes the Self. The method of meditation is only a process by which this is made possible."[62][163]

Students are introduced to meditation in the second year of the course, after which the regular practice of meditation is central to the teachings.[23][49] There is a simple initiation ceremony as described by one of the organisation's American websites:

In the School, a traditional system of mantra meditation is made available to all students who have taken Philosophy Works followed by the Foundation Courses. Seated comfortably in a balanced and upright position, the activities of the mind and body are brought under observation, and then allowed to fall away as the attention is directed to the sound of the mantra. This results in an experience of quiet stillness. Remaining still and listening to the sound of the mantra is all that is required. The rest unfolds naturally. The introduction to meditation is marked by a simple, dignified ceremony. Students are asked to present traditional offerings of fruit, flowers and a gift of money that is used solely for making meditation available throughout North America. Following the introduction, ongoing assistance is offered in the form of one-on-one tutorials and classroom discussions.[164]

The meditation initiation involves a trained initiator and an initiate who wishes to take up the practice of meditation. The initiator recites verses in Sanskrit and symbolic offerings of fruits and flowers are made. The initiate is asked only to witness the ceremony and is not asked to get involved. This is done to attune the initiate's mind to 'pick up' the sound of the mantra. At the end of the ceremony the initiator becomes silent and begins to intonate the mantra. The initiate is then given the mantra and instruction on how to use it.[62]

SES spokesman David Boddy described the mantra as like a model sailing boat, attention is the power of momentum. So, with full attention, gently push the mantra out into the ocean of the mind, listen, and remain aware of what is happening.[160]

The benefits of setting aside twenty minutes twice a day for this type of meditation are said to be that it enables the brain to be quiet and tranquil. It helps people think more clearly and positively, to have creative ideas and to cope with the stress of busy life. People sleep more soundly. It also elevates the good-mood neurotransmitters in the brain and, because it acts on the brain directly, it is much more than just another relaxation technique.[165]

Shantananda Saraswati outlined ten benefits or symptoms of regular meditation using the mantra system: Improvements to physical health and quicker recovery from sickness, a sense of renunciation of useless things, a proper sense of proportion in life, strengthening of our faculties of experience, increase in kindness and compassion, loss of the sense of separation, freedom from greed, envy, and malice, freedom from fear, increase in self-confidence, increase in positiveness.[68][163]

Renaissance studies[edit]

Renaissance studies by SES have led to the publication of several works, including translations from Latin of many of Marsilio Ficino's letters[166] No translators or editors are credited int the work, it was done as a service to the organisation, the copyright belongs to the school.[47] The translators were led by Clement Salaman.[167] SES members have also translated the works of Hermes Trismegistus, after whom Hermetic Philosophy is named.[91][168]

SES members have contributed to the BBC programs on renaissance topics, in 2005 providing incites into the historical meaning of the word heaven and its possible implications,[169] and in 2009 on of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on the Renaissance.[170]

Sanskrit language[edit]

SES represents the largest body of Sanskrit students in the UK.[171] SES currently teaches Sanskrit from beginner level to IGCSE[172]

Ayurveda[edit]

SES has been an informal networking centre for individuals interested in Ayurveda, however, it has never taken any formal initiatives related to ayurvedic medicine. Since the 1970s some well-known ayurvedic practitioners have had loose associations with the SES.[75]

Administration (UK)[edit]

Donald Lambie is supported by a nine-member Executive Committee elected by the 230-person governing body of the SES, known as the 'Fellowship'.[17] It has 240 'Ordinary Members' and 41 'Associate Members' in its Fellowship.[23] The principal of SES is Ian Mason, a barrister[173][174] and a global facilitator for the UN Harmony with Nature project.[175]

The Fellowship rules include by 6 objects[176] the first and principle one being:

  1. To promote the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society and all studies related thereto and to promote the study of the laws customs and practices by which communities are governed and all studies there to.

Any person Enrolled on a Philosophy of Economics course can be invited by the Executive Committee to become an Ordinary Member of the Fellowship.[176]

In the UK courses are held in nearly 50 towns and cities.[63]

Waterperry House, Oxfordshire, UK

In 1972 the UK branch of SES purchased the Waterperry Estate in Oxfordshire, including its horticultural business, which it continues to run to generate revenue for the school,[21][177][98] in 1986 Nanpantan Hall in Loughborough was bequeathed to them,[57][178] they also own Brinscall Hall in Preston,[179] as well as eleven further freehold properties and one long leasehold.[23] These include Mandeville Place in London,[180] Belmont House in Stockport, Park House in Glasgow. Other properties are in London, Leeds, Croydon, Edinburgh, Guildford and Colchester. In 2005, the SES sold one of its mansions, Sarum Chase in Hampstead, for £9.3 million.[181]

In 2017 the UK charities commission shows the organisation had an income of £5.1m and spending of £4.0m. The organisation also has £15.5m of own use assets, £10.0m of long term investments, and £2.3m of other assets. The UK organisation has 9 trustees, 98 employees, 500 volunteers and lists its area of operation as the UK.[19] Slightly more than half of the tutors and half the students are female.[63] SES has been described as an "exclusively a British organisation".[182]

Apart from two office staff, all the School's work is done on a voluntary basis, including the teaching, this includes the Senior Tutor, Donald Lambie. In addition, nobody is allowed to profit commercially or financially from any association that they have in the School.[63] One of the schools principles is "learn and teach", senior students teach more junior ones, this system is believed to help both parties improve their understanding of the material.[31]

Worldwide operations[edit]

The School of Practical Philosophy, Wellington, New Zealand

SES is one of the most widespread organisations related to Advaita, in addition to the campuses in the United Kingdom, most of which are called The School of Economic Science, there are several dozen associated branch organisations worldwide, most of which are called the School of Practical Philosophy or some variant of that name.[5][70] The first such operation was established in Wellington, New Zealand in 1957.[79] Another sources shows the in Canada SES was chartered under the companies act of Ontario as a non-profit body in 1939.[34] One of the best known is the School of Practical Philosophy in New York City, founded in 1964.[183][184] here are branches in USA, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Holland, Malta, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, Israel, Fiji and Argentina.[5][24][185][18][69]

The international schools are separately financed and separately governed by their own constitutions, but using teaching material from SES.[80][63][91] According to the spokesperson for the New York branch, Dr Monica Vecchio, SES and the School of Practical Philosophy are "the same thing with different names. There are 70 or 80 [branches] around the world. Each share the same course curriculum, with the same content. The principles are the same, the practices are the same, the stream of discussion is the same."[4]

A branch of the organisation called the School of Practical Philosophy opened in 1964 in New York City.[186] The New York facility was launched in 1964 as a not-for-profit corporation chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. It received tax-exempt status in 1982.[187][188][189] It has branches in the Hudson Valley; Rochester, New York; Albany, Georgia; Scottsdale, Arizona; South Florida; San Francisco; Boston; and the state of New Jersey. The main branch is located at 12 East 79th Street in Manhattan. There is an additional property in Wallkill, New York, in a mansion once owned by Marion Borden.[190] It bought an Upper East Side mansion from millionaire Charles Ogden in 1975, and put it on sale in 2014 for $51 million.[191] Many New Yorkers are aware of the School of Practical Philosophy and its 10-week foundation course, Philosophy Works, due to extensive advertising in the subway, featuring the taglines "this poster can make you happier than any other on the subway" and "sustainable happiness".[192][14][193] The Philosophy Works series is offered several times a year.[194] The actor Hugh Jackman has been involved with the organisation since 1993.[195][196]

Reception[edit]

The organisation has been described in a variety of different ways: a "human potential movement",[182] as providing "mind discipline" for achieving mental quiescence,[197] as cult, or new religious movement,[14][198][199] as a non-religious organisation,[200] or a platonic community,[3] a "Gurdjieff fringe group" or neo-Gurdjieffian movement,[43][201] as "Georgist".[153][154] Commentators have pointed out that SES members do not consider it to be a religion, rather a philosophy, and some members for example may well be committed to mainstream churches.[202][46] SES state that "Advaita does not stand in the place of religion. Rather, as many students in the School of a religious disposition have found, it has the capacity to expand and deepen an understanding of their own religion, whatever it may be. It is equally valuable for, and applicable to, those who practise no religion."[135] Shantanand Saraswati stated that people do not need to change their religious beliefs to follow the principles of Adviaita.[163]

Comments from journalists and authors[edit]

In the early 1960s, British Buddhist teacher and writer Sangharakshita (Dennis Lingwood), returned to England after 20 years in India. His book Moving Against The Stream includes descriptions of SES member Terry Delamare's experience at the organisation during this period. SES is described as "the organisation whose meetings Terry attended most regularly, and whose teachings he took most seriously" during difficult times. The philosophy taught was described as "a curious amalgam of Western Esoterism and brahminical Advaita Vedanta.","The School’s teachings were therefore sufficiently broad, not to say eclectic. Students moreover were encouraged to read the philosophical and religious classics of both East and West. In particular, it seems, they were encouraged to read Plato". The author also states SES regarded the music of Mozart, in particular, as having a positive, spiritualising effect on the mind. Lingwood concludes "Contact with the School of Economic Science had, in fact, widened his (Delemare) intellectual horizons, and he had much to be thankful to it for".[73]

In 1983, the day before the UK General Election, reporters Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, writing in the London Evening Standard, made allegations that it was a cult infiltrating the corridors of power via the Liberal Party.[63][203] They made several pejorative allegations including, "enforced a severe diet, persecuted women and kept its members closed off from the outside world".[4] They also criticised the School of Economic Science's links to the St James Independent Schools for children in London and the discipline regime at the children's schools.[204][205] The authors lost credibility when multiple errors were found in their story and it was discovered that David Boddy, Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, was also a member of SES. Boddy stated, "That really upset them when they found that out". The articles were described as "largely politically motivated".[43][203] SES leadership initially chose to ignore these allegations.[69]

In 1984, Houman and Hogg wrote a book, Secret Cult, which said that the organisation aimed to establish psychological control over its members and had caused personality change, mental breakdown and divorce. They did not consider every SES member to be a cult member; they excluded, for example, the thousands that attend only the introductory courses and potentially those in the senior echelons that live normal lives; of concern was a group they called the 'lumpenproletariat' who joined after the religious fervour of the 1960’s and are "dependant on SES to make decisions in their lives".[206] They also claimed the SES was "penetrating the corridors of power" with particular links to the Liberal Party, whose then chairman, Roger Pincham, was an SES member.[206] The book contained a reply from Pincham disputing the claims, and also included interviews with ex-students who said they had gained much from their attendance. The authors commented that, in hiding from publicity, the School might have made secrecy its worst enemy.[206] Other commentators stated that "Secret Cult" was a sensationalist account containing many inaccuracies"[80] and that it "lacked scholarly objectivity in places" and contained some controversial claims;[10] some also state SES was secretive, which was part of the problem, but are now open about their activities following consultation with Shantanand Saraswati.[80] Colin Slee, Provost of Southwark Cathedral, who had collaborated in the Secret Cult and was then happy to "see SES as a cult", in 1999 reported a shift in his attitude to SES later considering it to be a New Religious Movement instead.[207] Another author stated Secret Cult to be "a particularly good example of how tabloid sensationalism can create considerable amounts of smoke from not very much fire".[63]

University of Sydney professor, J Petsche, wrote on the Secret Cult: "by journalists Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg from the right-wing Evening Standard, Secret Cult had a blatant political agenda; it was discovered that several leading members of the Liberal Party were members of the SES, and the publication of Secret Cult was timed to coincide with the 1984 General Election. Hounam and Hogg lost credibility when a string of errors was identified in the book, and when it was discovered that the spokesman for the SES, David Boddy, had in fact been a press adviser to Margaret Thatcher. For many years, Secret Cult was the only major "outsider" source on the SES, leading to a consistently one-sided and misinformed picture of the group. As a result, MacLaren’s birth year has been persistently quoted incorrectly as 1911; Andrew MacLaren, rather than his son Leon, has been attributed as founding the SES; and MacLaren is believed to have been designated "Master" by pupils (when in fact they called him "Sir"). Other strange allegations, such as MacLaren arranging marriages within the group and banning the use of refrigerators because they kill the life force, are also untrue."[43]

Journalist William Shaw wrote a 1994 book Spying in Guru Land: Inside Britain's Cults, in which he attended SES along with several organisations that have been branded cults, in order to paint a truer picture of members. On cults, he states "they become cults when we think of them as cults." He challenged the suggestion SES was a cult, saying "I witness nothing that could be called thought reform, or brainwashing. The yearning dedication of those who stay, turning up week after week in their quest for the big answer to life, is somehow ignored by those in the anti-cult movement who try to tell us that behind the fluty-voiced Miss Crammond lurks a malicious agent of mind control." Shaw was critical of Secret Cult by Houmam and Hogg, saying "This book is a perfect demonstration of how, if you start looking for a malignant cult, that is exactly what you will find." He said Houghman and Hogg assumed SES members had taken positions as lawyers, churchmen and politicians because they were in a cult, missing the obvious conclusion that they were SES members "simply because they shared the elitist upper-middle-class professional values that the school espoused." As he left the organisation, Shaw says he felt like a "posh schoolboy at an earnest, well-meaning, stolid, self-satisfied public school."[208]

In 1994 Religious Studies Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, George Chryssides wrote: SES does not consider itself to be a religion, it runs classes in philosophy, "by which is meant Vedic philosophy", with some Christian and Esoteric elements, together with the practice of meditation. It is an exclusively British organisation.[182]

Writing in the Independent in 1995, in an article titled Philosophy for grown-ups, Hester Lacey described how a diverse group of 50 people attended a philosophy class at SES in London. Lacey listed the motivations of some of the participants including: "I started coming because I felt there had to be more to life", "You need to take care of your mind and soul", "The class is like being at a big, brilliant dinner party and not being stuck beside one person all evening","As an actor, the more I understand others, the better I can do my job", "I work in a hospital, and these classes are very much like the group therapy sessions we run". Lacey points out "None of the teachers is paid, and there are no exams; the pupils study simply for the enjoyment of the lessons."[209]

Sociologist of Religion, David V. Barrett, in his 2001 book The New Believers, based partly on interviews with David Boddy he described SES a not a religion, but at the heart of its teaching having a very distinctive philosophy which draws on elements of Christianity and esoteric origins and beliefs but is largely Eastern. The path of the SES is "a case of personal development rather than attaining knowledge". He points out SES follow the teaching of the Shankaracharya because they say "his wisdom, which we have followed, works"; SES do not claim to have a monopoly on the truth, there are some for which it is appropriate and some for whom another method is appropriate.[63]

Writing in the Times in In 2008, journalist Richard Morrison, observes that SES was behind Oxfordshire arts festival, Art in Action. He states "I know people who have found the SES to be a helpful and entirely benign influence on their lives; and others who have encountered it and found it weird. Not for a moment do I expect Art in Action to be anything other than a showcase for high-quality craft skills."[210]

In 2010, Ariel Kiminer of The New York Times noted that passengers on the New York City Subway were familiar with an advertising placard from School of Practical Philosophy which stated: "This poster can make you happier than any other. She was impressed by the size and the diversity of the organisation describing attendees as "young immigrants and wizened retirees, pretty actresses and tired parents". She states "It was touching to see so many people from so many backgrounds join in the pursuit of wisdom". As fellow students recounted the effect of the classes on their lives, she was struck by their candour and eloquence. She considered the teaching "not esoteric but practically conventional wisdom", this made her ponder why hearing them in a philosophy seminar would suddenly have such a powerful effect. She attended the introductory course, for which 400 people signed up, and that after the initial meetings, attendance fell off considerably and she started to dread it, however whenever she would lose patience with the instruction, one of the students would talk about incorporating these lessons into life, their honesty and eloquence would win her over again. Responding to accusations that it is a cult, she said "If so, it must be an unsuccessful one: no one tried to sign me up for the next course, let alone get me to donate my earthly possessions. Kiminer stopped attending the course and doing The Exercise, but describes how it had a lasting effect on her: "I do still think about what I give my attention to, though. And I do still feel touched by the enthusiasm of the other students."[14]

In 2011, M. H. Miller of The New York Observer considered the organisation's practices to be "obscure bordering on impenetrable", but also describes the central tenants as "through meditation, achievement of happiness and higher self-awareness–the school warns against the pollution of a scattered mind and cautions students to rid themselves of 'unnecessary thoughts'–and the belief in a universal connectedness that can be tapped into". Quoting people claiming to be former members on internet forums the article recounts claims that the organisation had caused divorce and child abuse and that its leadership had ingrained sexism and homophobia also that the organisation seeks to "gain control over students by a slow process of conflating obedience to God with obedience to those who claim to know God–that is, S.E.S. and its "tutors.". The author claims SES "follow a hierarchical structure in which students advance to new levels of study with money and time, but are not told the specifics of what awaits them when they do." On investigating the attendees to their programs the author notes room was a mix of races and fairly evenly split between men and women, most in their 40s. The author attended a philosophy class and found it to be sold out, the students motivation for attending included finding "Purpose in life. A higher level of understanding in my existence" and to "To learn how to live again"[4]

In his 2012 book Confusion No More, Vedanta teacher and disciple of Nisargadatta, Ramesh S Baleskar, includes the accounts of a student of the School of Philosophy, the SES branch in Holland. The student had been at the school for 12 years and describes it as inviting and stimulating resulting in a "complete change in the way I looked at things".The philosophy course is described as involving a "lot of practising, exercises, meditation - a lot of volition", "there were some very clear experiences of peace of mind". His experiences led him to further explore Advaita.[211]

In his 2013 book Philosophy for Life: And other dangerous situations Jules Evans, describes SES as a Platonic organisation, he said the SES relationship with an Indian guru was key to its development, because the members "like Plato himself, were trying to invent a religion." Describing the complaints of some former SES children, he said that they often received no sympathy from their parents because of the parents’ allegiance to SES. He added that the day schools are today "apparently run a lot better now by professional teachers, attracting the children of well-to-do parents" and that there has been a shift towards the mainstream of society. Evans also reported that 18-year-old St. James School girls were introduced to older SES members at two specially arranged parties and that Principal Ian Mason and SES Leader Donald Lambie have both married former St. James girls, Evans understood that the school wanted to encourage in-group marriage to preserve its counter-cultural values, Mason pointed out the women in question were adults in their 20's when married, nevertheless Mason admitted "It's a bit weird." Evans concluded, "I personally don't think SES is a 'secret cult'. It has lost its charismatic and authoritarian Leader. Its membership is declining", "SES seems to me to be an interesting experiment, an interesting attempt to turn Eastern and Western ancient philosophy into a genuine community and way of life".[3]

In 2019, a writer for The Outline enrolled in the School of Practical Philosophy introductory course. She reported that "There was something surreal about leaving work on Thursday evening and taking the subway to a mansion where I would be told a bunch of weird lies." She read Secret Cult midway through the course and commented that "it was hard to square its horror stories with the SPP, which, like a lot of Americanised British things, wasn’t quite as compelling as the original." The reviewer opined that it seemed strange the SPP had so much money and attributed it to low overhead. She observed that "teachers are unpaid, students perform custodial work, and the SPP owns its own building."[212]

Comments from members and ex-members[edit]

In 1963, writing in Land & Liberty, A J Carter describes coming "into contact with one of the most important influences on my development" at SES. The economics program introduced him to, land-value tax and Progress and Poverty, by which "a vital seed was sown, but it was not yet to flower". The philosophy course he describes as "directly and indirectly, altered my whole outlook on the deepest aspects of life."[213]

On 26 May 1982, Roger Pincham, who had been a member since 1955,[136] wrote a letter to The Evening Standard challenging criticisms made by Hounam and Hogg. He said that an account based on the views of a few disaffected former or current students, or on reporters’ attendance at programs on two or three occasions, could not present a balanced view. He said that thousands of students have attended the program over the preceding four decades and most have gathered great value from doing so. He added that the authors had mischaracterised the relationship between SES, the independent day schools founded by some of its members, and the Liberal Party, suggesting that the journalists had distrusted the organisation simply because it was "new and rather unusual".[214]

Commenting on the book Secret Cult, school member and author Brian Hodgkinson responded to its claim that the program encourages "destroying the personality". He said that description conceals the actual focus of the teaching, which is to free the mind from the limitations imposed by the ego. He added that "of course, no actual force was used. The whole teaching of the school is word of mouth. Anyone can walk away from a School meeting or event at any time. Some do!"[215]

Hodgkinson later wrote a history of the school called In Search of Truth: The Story of the School of Economic Science, published in 2010. It included details of the school’s economic and philosophical thought, and examination of positive and negative aspects of the organisation. In response to claims that some people had become emotionally disturbed while attending the program, he pointed out that such cases may have been caused by "outside circumstances, such as family relationships or careers" or pre-existing mental health problems. He added, "When they sought help from help from School tutors, the advice given may sometimes have exacerbated the situation, but there have been a great deal more cases where tutors' help has been much appreciated."[32]

In his 2000 book, Insight is better than Ice Cream, Frank Crocitto described the effect of attending the School of Practical Philosophy for 13 years, while a rising star in theatrical circles, as something that turned his life around. When he discovered the School of Practical Philosophy, he found a teaching that recognised and combated the suffocating mechanicalness of everyday life, and provided an extremely practical approach to life's great questions. It gave him the focus, knowledge and practice he had hungered for since his earliest days. He talks of how it ignited his life, "there's no running off to monasteries or weaving hear shirts. Your ordinary, problem-plagued life is the perfect place for you to start working on yourself", it provided a focus and knowledge and practice he had hungered for. He states "The best way to test an assertion is to put away your prejudices and taste what happens. Neither believe nor disbelieve. Don’t take anything on faith, just take it and see what comes.". The teaching is described as a practical method of self-discovery, the development of attention and the development of potential.[216]

In her 2002 book, Nothing Left Over: A Plain and Simple Life, Tionette Lippe, who attend SES in London and New York, describes how she remained in this organisation for a "considerable number of years, studying the philosophy of many of the world’s great traditions, and what I heard and put into practice there laid the groundwork for the rest of my life". Her own philosophy of wanting to be of service to other people and share with them whatever has comes her way, to live so that supply does not exceed demand or consumption; and to trust that the universe will respond to you in the same way that you respond to it, is of no surprise as she "began my training at a place called the School of Economic Science!".[217]

In a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey, actor Hugh Jackman said he had been a member of the School of Practical Philosophy since 1991. He said, "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."[218] In a 2010 interview with GQ Australia, Jackman said: "Really, the spiritual pillar for me has become the School of Practical Philosophy. I'm a regular attendee there and I suppose that has become my church."[219] Jackman has stated he is a devout Christian, active in his local Anglican church, but in addition to following this religion he meditates every day and also follows the School of Economic Science,[220] stating "I just find the evangelical church too, well, restrictive. But the School of Practical Philosophy is nonconfrontational", "We believe there are many forms of scripture", "What is true is true and will never change, whether it's in the Bible or in Shakespeare. It's about oneness. Its basic philosophy is that if the Buddha and Krishna and Jesus were all at a dinner table together, they wouldn't be arguing. There is an essential truth. And we are limitless." Jackman has attended SES branches in the USA and Australia[221][222][223][224][225]

Author of the 2007 book, There’s No More Dying Then, Stephanie Wilson a consultant Histopathologist at St Mary’s Hospital London, was confirmed into the Church of England at an early age and saw Christianity as a good thing. However, during her career as a junior doctor, doubts started to arise and she found her faith did not answer fundamental questions such as "who am I?" or "why am I here?". The exploration of eastern philosophy shed new light on what faith is, and illuminated what she already knew about Christianity. Wilson says "the effect on me of further exploration of the words of the wise opened the heart and brought light to my mind".[226]

In her 2009 book The Power Within, MacLaren's secretary Doreen Tolly wrote: "The philosophy course he (MacLaren) had developed over the years had slowly become a life-changing method with all its consequences. The advertisements were not explicit enough and did not indicate that one’s habitual patterns of life would come under scrutiny.". "In spite of attempts to malign Leon MacLaren and his methods his critics were vastly outnumbered by his supporters and none of the sceptics have ever been able to explain why so many thousands of discerning people flocked to the school".[21]

Author Dennis Waite, studied Advaita for over fifteen years and was a tutor at SES for five years says he joined the school when he was pretty dissatisfied with life "and ripe for beginning my own search for meaning". He described SES as "the only source I had found which gave some slight promise of providing answers to my angst". Waite States "the school provides a valuable introduction to Advaita and can be highly recommended."[227][228]

In July 2012, political advertiser Jeremy Sinclair CBE, chairman of M&C Saatchi, told The Drum that outside of work, his other passion is teaching at the SES. "The philosophy that I teach is to be useful, and not just about mind expanding," he said. He added that it has "heavily influenced" his book, Brutal Simplicity of Thought.[229] His colleague Tim Bell thought SES gave Sinclair a sense of equilibrium, keeping him well enough balanced that he never got affected by blowups at the agency.[230]

in 2013, Martha Dewing, raised Episcopalian, now an Interfaith Minister, said studying Advaita Vedanta at the School of Practical Philosophy in New York changed the way she saw her inherited faith. Stating "It opened me up and broadened my perspective" and "I see a bigger Jesus. I see what he meant rather than what they say he said.". Dewing's two primary spiritual practices are mantra meditation twice a day, and a heartfelt practice of gratitude.[231][232]

In his 2018 book Mindful Philosophy, author Michael Snow, who has been a student at SES for over 30 years and a tutor for 20, concluded from his studies that underpinning all religions lies a unitive or non-dual essence that can be realised by anyone so moved, irrespective of religion or culture. This realisation can be undertaken in a non-religious or secular manner.[159]

Allegations regarding St. James Schools[edit]

In 2004, an internet message board was set up on which former St. James and St Vedast pupils shared recollections including many complaints of mistreatment, unreasonable punishment and assault.[7] Many others shared positive testimonies.[citation needed] The schools were subject to a critical series of articles"[204][233] focusing on the School's discipline regime and its links to the School of Economic Science in the London Evening Standard in the early 1980s. In 2005, following complaints from former St James Schools pupils, the Governors of the St James Schools initiated a private inquiry, chaired by British QC, James Townsend, into the allegations. The investigation found that during the 1975 to 1985 time period, children had been "criminally assaulted" while attending the schools.[7][4] The teachers involved were given a formal warning and no longer work at St James.[133] The chairman of the inquiry described cases where boys were punched in the face or stomach or "cuffed violently about the head", sometimes causing injury. This report was publicised by Channel 4 News on 15 March 2006 and in national and local newspapers.[234][235] The Channel 4 social affairs correspondent, Victoria Macdonald, interviewed former St. James pupils and the then-headmaster, David Boddy, who said this was the first time the Governors had heard of the complaints. However, the program reported that there had been complaints about punishment regimes in 1983 and that meetings had been held with parents which Boddy himself attended.[236] The report also reported that "That there has been a real change in the ethos and conduct of the schools is established by the evidence of those witnesses, not naturally well disposed towards the SES, who speak of them as happy places where there appears to be a relaxed atmosphere between pupils and teachers"[7]

In a 2014 interview in the Daily Telegraph, actress Emily Watson, whose mother was a respected teacher at the girls' school, said she had experienced SES as a child.[3] She described its central teaching of Advaita Vedanta as "a kind of spiritual communism where everyone is one and the same" At its day school, she said 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."[237] In 2017, Watson added: "It was just very... ideologically different. I look back and I'm grateful to some parts of it and angry about others. Life is a complicated beast."[238] In the Irish Independent, on 30 September 2000, Watson is quoted as saying on St James school in Notting Hill Gate. "I loved it" , "I had a good time there. It's very alternative and you do Sanskrit and meditation and philosophy. It was quite strict. It was very disciplined and it was also experimental in that it had only just started up. …". On SES she said: "The School of Economic Science has been labelled a cult, which is rather ludicrous I think. It's a community. I still go to meditation sessions."[239]

David Boddy, former press secretary to Margaret Thatcher, who would later become Headmaster of St James' Senior Boys School from 2003 to 2012 , describes the founding headmaster as "an ex-businessman, extremely charismatic in his own idiosyncratic way and the kind of man you would totally trust. The fact that he was a strict disciplinarian – a quality that later landed him in hot water with former students who objected to the caning in his regime – was of tremendous appeal. We knew he was as generous with his love and guidance to our sons as he was firm". Boddy's three sons attended the school from ages four to eighteen, he says "Their generosity and mental acuity became a frequent talking point amongst my political friends, many of whom later visited the school or attended its events."[203][240]

Comments from SES[edit]

In 2011, invited by a reporter to reply to allegations that SES and its branches are a cult, spokeswoman Monica Vecchio said: "I've known Mr MacLaren for many years," referring to SES leader Leon MacLaren. "I met him when I was a very young woman in my 20s. For anybody to call anything Mr MacLaren started a cult is just ridiculous. I've never met a man who was more a man in the greatest sense of the word than Mr MacLaren was."[4]

In 2012 David Boddy, former SES spokesman and Thatcher press secretary, describes MacLaren as "my first mentor" and "my first real teacher", "He knew things others didn’t appear to know, and he was totally fearless when it came to proclaiming them. He couldn’t abide ‘experts’ or religion but he did believe that humankind could be lifted out of its torpor and misery by the power of philosophy, or love of wisdom.". He said "the London Evening Standard sought to brand MacLaren a 'cult leader' because of his Indian connections.", the book led to "severe misunderstanding, and in some cases libel and slander". He points out that "the School of Economic Science, which has never had a political or religious agenda; it is, in fact, a rather interesting, if somewhat pedantic, philosophical school in the classical Platonic tradition."[203][63]

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."[241]

SES representative Ian Mason responded to criticism in Jules Evans’ 2013 book. He said: "The idea is not to break down the ego for the sake of it, but rather to put you in touch with yourself, to help you distinguish what's real or not, and to nourish and strengthen the mind. But perhaps there was too unquestioning an attitude to the leader in those earlier years. People took things that MacLaren said and applied them without intelligence." About the parties reported by Evans, Mason said, "The balls were a response to requests from young women for opportunities to meet some eligible young men in the SES and were pretty innocent occasions. I should emphasise that there was no coercion involved."[3] In a 2013 interview with Voice of America Mason stated that life is a voyage of discovery and deepening understanding and the courses are designed to support this. The participants are the judges as to the successes of the programs, no certifications are offered, the aim is to liberate people. It’s really about being the best kind of person you can be, knowing your potential.[147]

Notable members[edit]

Notable members include former Liberal Party chairman Roger Pincham,[54] M&C Saatchi chairman Jeremy Sinclair CBE[242] actor Hugh Jackman,[219] Margaret Thatcher's press secretary David Boddy,[41] MP Richard Stokes,[20] actress Emily Watson,[239] Canadian entrepreneur Douglas Freeman.[243]

Publications by the School of Economic Science[edit]

  • Letters of Marsilio Ficino Vol 1[244] - Vol 10[245]
  • Reminders, Extracts from Lectures by Leon Maclaren[246]
  • Self Illumination, a translation of Sri Sankara Acarya's Svaatmaprakasikaa[247]
  • The Teaching of Reality: A Translation of Shankara's Tattvopadesha[248]
  • The Eternal Way: An English translation of Sadacaranusandhanam, attributed to Sankara[249]
  • Reflections of Brahman: Brahmanucintanam, Sri Sankara Acarya, a new translation[250]
  • The Teachings of Astavakra[251]
  • London Language Lectures 2009-2012[252]
  • Leon MacLaren: Reminders[246]
  • Music: The Foundations of Harmony[253]
  • Nature of Society[254]
  • Justice - The transcript of a lecture delivered on 19 December 1951 by Leon MacLaren.[255]
  • One World One Wealth - Exploring the Possibilities of Economics with Justice[256]
  • Dialectic - Five principles are presented using the Platonic Dialogues
  • The Dhatupatha of Panini, Practical Aid for the Study of Sanskrit Dhatus[257]
  • Sanskrit Dictionary Page-Finder
  • Sanskrit for Philosophy Students Vol 1 -3
  • The Laws of Manu, a new translation.[258]
  • Nine Vedic Prayers and the Alphabet (CD)
  • Sounds of Sanskrit (CD)
  • Isha Upanishad (CD), Music performed by School Choir and Orchestra
  • His Holiness Sri Shantananda Saraswati on Love (CD)
  • HIs Holiness Shantananda Saraswati & Mr. MacLaren (CD)
  • Going Home (DVD)
  • Philosophy for Life (DVD)

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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