Posted: Sun Oct 17, 2004 2:42 am
Hello wrote:The SES is a horribly brutal organisation. So why would they not endorse the brutalism that went on at St James and St Vedast?
Brutal? Really? SES does not exist apart from its members, so you must be referring to them. Maybe I just haven?t met the right people, but I have, over getting on for fifty years, seen nothing I could describe as brutality ? ever. I have seen some people puffed up with self importance, rigid and conservative in their views, and short-sighted and insensitive in their dealings with others. In the past, there were definitely some who, as tutors given power that was not good for them, were manipulative and bullying. Today, I see very little indeed of any of that. We have come a very long way since the days of ?The Secret Cult? (of which more in a moment). Even the so-called ?hierarchy? has now been dissolved, and it has been made abundantly clear to everyone that we are all equals, brought together solely because we share a single aspiration. (Namely, what is variously referred to as self realisation, enlightenment, or awakening. ?A lot of old guff? to you perhaps, dear reader, but I wouldn?t expect anyone not interested in this kind of thing to understand or sympathise ? any more than I can share in or comprehend a taste for, say, potholing or stamp collecting. Each to his own.)
There are still aspects of the organisation which I disagree with (for example the idiotic and unnecessary ?dress code?) but I regard them as irrelevant and mild irritants.
Among the thousands of fellow students I have known, many have been brilliant, energetic, talented, original, funny, warm-hearted, intelligent, learned, saintly even ? and some have seemed, at least in my subjective judgement, fairly dull, plodding, conventional, unthinking, or just weak, or humourless, or timid and fearful, or conversely conceited or over-confident. (I have to say, though, that I?ve usually found myself having to revise my opinion of the latter once I?ve got to know them.) I?ve even come across the odd bastard. We are, like the rest of society, a mixed bunch. But I really don?t think it?s correct to say, just like that, that as a body of people we are ?horribly brutal?. That some, apparently, have indeed been brutal is most certainly horrible.
Maybe you are thinking of the allegations made in ?The Secret Cult?. I was around when that book came out, and I read it right through. In my opinion it was a very clever but outrageously biased, pernicious and sensationalist piece of journalism. The way the two journalists subtly manipulated language in order to twist facts and insinuate damning interpretation of them was amazingly skilful. You had to admire it. The pair of them went round the world diligently dishing up whatever dirt they could find, but absolutely refused to listen to anything whatsoever positive about the school. They seemed particularly disappointed, so I heard, to find that they couldn?t unearth any evidence of racism in the South African school, even though they tried very hard. (Of course they did find a lot that was wrong ? especially, I think, in Australia. Mavro does seem to have been a nutcase, by all accounts. And it must be admitted that the attitude to women prevailing in the school generally at that time was Neanderthal.) Some of the girls in St James sixth form at the time ? including my daughter - also tried to talk to them and tell them they had got many things completely wrong, but they flatly refused to listen. I met one of them once. I made a rather feeble attempt at a joke and was met with utterly implacable, ice-cold hatred such as I have never encountered before or since. We also very soon found there was no point in trying to defend ourselves. Anyone who tried to talk to the press found their words twisted out of all recognition so that it appeared that they were saying the opposite of what they intended. We tried to get people to come and see for themselves, but nobody was interested. Minds had been made up. I myself attempted to make contact with a bishop (I forget which one) who had, while knowing nothing about us, never having met any of us, taken it upon himself to denounce us on the back of what those two journalists had said. He refused to have anything to do with me. Perhaps he didn?t have a long spoon.
That said, in the end we were grateful to those journalists. The SES was advised by Shri Shantananda Saraswati (our spiritual guide) to treat the whole event as a warning, and to examine carefully the allegations made against us to see what truth there was in them. As a result, a whole lot of changes were made. A sort of general spring cleaning took place, and a large amount of stupid and/or pernicious stuff was simply ditched.
Since Mr MacLaren died ten years ago, a great deal more beneficial change has taken place. Donald Lambie, the man who has taken his place as leader of the SES is, in terms of his personality, almost the opposite of Mr MacLaren (to the relief of many). He is quietly spoken, modest, unassuming, friendly in a slightly awkward sort of way, careful almost to a fault in what he says, not particularly imaginative or creative and not in the least charismatic, but he more than makes up for that by his good-heartedness and his utter honesty and integrity. And one thing he most definitely isn?t is brutal!
Sometimes I wonder what people imagine goes on in the SES. We just meet once a week, in groups of about a dozen, where we meditate together, perhaps read and discuss together a passage from a philosophic or scriptural source, or consider together some idea or concept, talk about the practical implications of what we have read/discussed, practise simple exercises designed to still the mind and perhaps allow a deeper understanding of ?what is? to emerge in the silence. We take coffee, we chat. We discuss or practise some more. And then we go home again. In addition, almost all of us contribute in some way to the running of the school ? either as tutors, administrators, receptionists, or by helping with catering and maintaining the buildings etc. ? once a week, either on a weekday evening or for a morning or afternoon at the weekend. Once a term we go with fellow members of our philosophy group for a weekend retreat at Nanpantan Hall or Waterperry. Once a year we have a week-long retreat. And that?s it.
You can also, if you want, join various kinds of study groups, or do things like art, calligraphy, music, dance etc., depending on your tastes and interests. It is true that in the past pressure used to be put on people to stay in the school, but that is no longer the case. Anyone is entirely free to leave when they want to ? and they are equally welcome to come back if they want to. As things stand in the present, it is hard to see quite what people who object to the SES ? some it seems quite violently ? have got against it.
Brutal? Unequivocally, I say your charge is false.