is the school of philosophy a cult?

Discussion of the SES, particularly in the UK.

is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Tue Jun 16, 2009 12:05 am

Hello, I am new to this board and eager to meet some past members of ses and sop nd try to understand what they are about.
I attended the school of philosophy in uk for a number of years and became increasingly frustrated at the philosophy being taught. The ad promised happiness and studying the words of popular philosophers but I am fully aware that it is "a particular eastern philosophy" that is on offer. I think I must have been asleep for a couple of years! I am concerned about some of the methods being used which I believe may be deceptive,confusing and coercive. Has there been talk or evidence of mind control/brain washing?. It certainly does not encourage free thinking or questioning of the material. Can anyone tell me if there has been any talk of the sop being a cult? If it is - what on earth is it hoping to achieve? Why the strange dress code?? Why are women treated as inferior to men? I just have so many questions.....
Last edited by carlynnm8 on Thu Jun 18, 2009 11:39 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby bonsai » Tue Jun 16, 2009 2:02 pm

Welcome carlynnm8,

I'm assuming that you have since left the organisation.

At best the SES is an organisation that means well which promotes an unconventional interpretation of the eastern tradition of advaita. At worst it is a cult.

I agree that it does not encourage free thinking despite trying to convince you that you are expected always to use your own abilities of discrimination. Is this brain washing? Yes probably. Certainly some of the techniques are deceptive and coercive. It is not clear to me whether they are intentionally so or not.

I believe that it is very difficult to fathom the organisations motives and intentions from the outside without joining it and I certainly wouldn't recommend anyone joining it to find out.

The ad's are very carefully crafted so as to specifically not promise answers but yet they indicate that firstly there are answers and secondly that you may find them by joining. I cannot begin to imagine the sense of disappointment that it felt for someone walking in off the street lured by these adverts when they discover how little the school really has to offer.

You say that you must have been asleep for a couple of years. What happened to make you question the nature of the organisation you had joined?

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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Tue Jun 16, 2009 4:58 pm

Hi Bonsai

Thanks for the answers. I think what is making me question it now is the way the lessons have changed from quite general and pleasant philosophy to a particular eastern philosophy. This is not what I joined for. I joined what I thought would be a general philosophy class with plenty of discussions and hopefully to learn a better way of living and coping - and for a while it seemed to be like this. Somehow along the way it changed until for the last year or two it was mosty about Indian philosophy. I went on a residential weekend in March or April and it was just a strange way to spend a weekend. Constant chores, lectures, more chores, lectures etc. It was as if we were not to have any time on our own to think or talk or rest. I just find it a bizarre way of working and was wondering if there was a reason for this bombarding of information and activities - my friends and family are all very suspicious - especially about the time they expected we spent there. I kept telling them they were being silly but now Im not so sure. I did get a lot from it and enjoyed being calmer and more focussed but at the end my mind felt dull and foggy than calm.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby bonsai » Tue Jun 16, 2009 9:30 pm

The roots of the SES are somewhat long. A rough history goes something like this:
After the depression Andrew MacLaren formed the SES as a group to explore economics. Leon Maclaren his son took the reigns of these and was quite inspired by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and the third way. It is certainly here where some of the ideas of measure and discipline that feature highly on residentials originate. In the 60s Leon MacLaren was introduced to the Maharishi Yogi and took up Transcendental Meditation. In the seventies he was introduced to His Holiness Shantanand Saraswati, the 'Shankaracharya of the North and the particular branch of Advaita that they have bastardised into their own philosophy.

There are certain elements of the residential weekends that can be considered very cultish and that if looked act objectively cast serious questions over the impact on an individual to reason and discriminate. These include, very early rising quite out of characteristic of normal behaviour, the hypnotic effects of meditation, and serious physical labour often showing little regard for the physical abilities of the individual.

I would say that the suspicions of your friends and family are well founded. If this is not what you thought you were signing up for then leave. You can always make a decision to rejoin but do this in your own space and time where you have the space to reason objectively.

Very few in the SES itself will acknowledge the cult like concerns. The cultwatching organisations, INFORM and FAIR, do highlight the SES as an organisation of concern.

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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby Free Thinker » Wed Jun 17, 2009 4:53 am

Hi Carlynn,

Your experience was of a pretty typical residential.

I was involved for many many years growing up, with about 6 years of regular residentials. Certainly I remember many things about them, good, and bad, but what stands out the most for me was how tired I always was. We were so busy during the day that I always stayed up at least until 11 listening to music on my Walkman and unwinding. But then we had to get up so early and do so much physical work during the day. I routinely fell asleep during lectures or small group meetings not because I was bored but because I was just so damn tired.

Then when you are so tired during the meetings, your mind isn't in good form to really think about what you are hearing, or to ask important questions.

The youth group residentials were very different but of course only the youth were attending those.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Wed Jun 17, 2009 10:44 pm

Bonsai, Hi, Yes I dont think many of the people on the residentials thought there was anything strange about the content of these weekends, no-one seemed to comment on how difficult it was or if they liked the set up - strange - as if they feel they have no opinion just blind acceptance. Im sure eventually on longer residentials this setup could prove quite dangerous to some - do they really know what they are dealing with. Another concerning thought - who are they taking their advice from re the psychological stuff? Do they take responsibility when someone suffers severe stress disorders or depression through these tactics?

Free Thinker, Hi, Yes I too found it very difficult to unwind at the end of the day, although extremely tired. Having meetings and working till quite late in the evening are not conducive to unwinding for sleeping. Sharing with people who snore/talk in their sleep/talk all night or whatever can also be a means of sleep deprivation. Im just amazed that people follow on without complaining - but I know what its like I did it for long enough. You mentioned it was different on the Youth group - in what way was it different? Was it as hard? Ive read some of the accounts on this site of the way people were treated at the schools when they were children and it is absolutely appalling. How could a seemingly wise, enlightened and spiritual group treat children like that?
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby Free Thinker » Thu Jun 18, 2009 5:09 am

I'm not sure they have an official person for advice regarding psychological issues. I can think of several members, including the former female head of the school who suffered "nervous breakdowns" and left abruptly with no contact. I think that any negative psychological issues that arise would be attributed to previous conditions rather than an effect of the Teaching or setup. There's such a focus on not "giving in to" negative emotions that I think most issues go unresolved and undiscussed until the person finds help elsewhere, gets used to living with depression, anxiety, or whatever, or just finally looses it.

The Youth Group residentials were really fun, actually. Everyone there was under 35, and we ordered in pizza, had a great time playing music at night, and I felt very comfortable. I wore ripped jeans and nobody cared. I grew up in the NY school, so the situation for children there was very different, thank god, from the UK schools. I never experienced or witnessed any physical abuse, or any outright mental/emotional abuse such as occurred at the UK children's school or in the philosophy school.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Thu Jun 18, 2009 11:19 am

Thanks for the post Free Thinker. I would agree with what you said about any issues coming up would be attributed to previous conditions rather than the psychological tactics used by them or the teachings. I witnessed a few people displaying severe stress/depression/nervous disorders and also being pushed past their physical abilities. The more I read of others posts the more alarming it becomes - a cross between "The Stepford Wives" (which is evident in their "50 Ladies" and the stupid long skirt nonsense) and "Invasion of the Bodysnatchers" and possibly other "cult" movies - hmmm... so that's how they got the name of Cult movies!?!. The trouble caused by little people with gigantic ego's who want to "create a perfect world" sounds like a few others throughout history ....
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Thu Jun 18, 2009 12:30 pm

Hi Bonsai

Yes I have left the school, I was re-readig your post and noticed I hadnt answered that - I couldnt think straight while I was still in the school - but a situation brought me to my senses - up till then I believe I was in a "foggy", complacent state of mind enjoying being more conscious and "awakened" than other mere mortals (what!?!). Its quite difficult because you see people around you in th group who appear to be normal and you are having less to do with people outside the group - so theres nothing to jolt you into reality - i was lucky, warning bells were going off for quite a while and i decided to listen. It was quite difficult giving up the idea of a "happy, peaceful and blissful" existence when I eventually became realised, it can seem like a nice, safe place to be..........eek! I have to admit I did like it all in the beginning - it was a pleasant way to spend an evening - and they take quite a while to uncover what its really about - that's the bit I find really underhand - they know they are not being truthful about who they are but they are peddling "the Truth". Are there any others that feel angry about being taken in so badly?
><strong>Joanna Eberhart</strong>: If I am wrong, I'm insane... but if I'm right, it's even worse than if I was wrong. >more famous quotes<Stepford Wives
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby bonsai » Thu Jun 18, 2009 4:29 pm

carlynnm8 wrote:…who are they taking their advice from re the psychological stuff? Do they take responsibility when someone suffers severe stress disorders or depression through these tactics?

The SES doesn’t hold much respect for the field of psychology. Looking at the philosophy itself would indicate that the SES believes the mind to be stronger than the physical body. I don’t think they have much respect for the fragility of human mental well being.

They believe their philosophy to be the ultimate truth and as such they believe that it cannot cause harm and therefore does not need to be scrutinised in this fashion.

Looking back at my school days, I think there were a lot of cases where my contemporaries getting into trouble. I think there was plenty of behaviour that was regarded as naughty, unruly or belligerent that was more likely to be symptoms of learning difficulties, dyslexia, depression, and perhaps even mild forms autism.

Interestingly they don’t have much respect for mainstream medicine either. The school doctors were homeopaths. It is quite common to watch the word of mouth recommendations work there way round groups of SES members for their latest alternative or naturopathic fad.


carlynnm8 wrote:How could a seemingly wise, enlightened and spiritual group treat children like that?

Two points here. Firstly I think the word is “can” not “could”. This is not necessarily a past tense issue. It also isn't just children, your experiences highlight that there is much cause for concern about the effect on adults too. Whilst much has changed in the SES, principally due to the change in leadership the philosophy itself has not changed and I do not believe things been significantly examined to mitigate the risks to children. There is plenty of room for things like this to happen again. The school remains entirely secretive. Secondly, any belief system allows a person to bypass their own critical thought processes and act a less than decent manner. It is a criticism that may be levelled at any organised religion or group where there is an overriding deference to the authority of that group. The deference to Lambie now and MacLaren and his guru in the past is significant. It is this that meant the governors of the St James and St Vedast schools and the staff bypassed their responsibilities and allowed the mistreatment to occur.


carlynnm8 wrote:I dont think many of the people on the residentials thought there was anything strange about the content of these weekends, no-one seemed to comment on how difficult it was or if they liked the set up - strange - as if they feel they have no opinion just blind acceptance.

Some are used to the residential, others believe that they are good. I suspect that most who are critical don’t survive long and choose to leave. A small minority do indeed voice their criticisms and choose to stay. Personally I don’t understand why.

For me, when I first went on a residential I was a 16 member of a Foundation group. It didn’t really occur that this wasn’t normal however hard it was; after all my parents would do it regularly and so would the majority friends and of course all my teachers at school. I always knew from the moment I joined the Foundation group that residentials were part of deal. I can’t really imagine what it must be like for a group of members of the public off the street going on their first weekend.


carlynnm8 wrote:…i was lucky, warning bells were going off for quite a while and i decided to listen. It was quite difficult giving up the idea of a "happy, peaceful and blissful" existence when I eventually became realised, it can seem like a nice, safe place to be..........eek! I have to admit I did like it all in the beginning

It’s easy to see why it’s attractive to people. It can be a big escape from normal life. The people are generally very nice people, well meaning and pleasant. It’s hypnotic. But it’s no more true than life outside.


carlynnm8 wrote:…Are there any others that feel angry about being taken in so badly?

Yes there are others, some of whom who contribute to this board. The majority of people here do tend to be talking about the children’s schools. I think us former pupils feel bad about it principally because we did not have the choice to leave. There are parents who contribute here too about being taken in and not understanding the true connections between their children’s school and the SES.

I was aware at school that I was having an unconventional education. I didn’t know how unconventional until I was well out of it. And to be honest there are still things that get raised here these days that take me by surprise and I realise that yet something else was not right or normal.


Free Thinker wrote: The Youth Group residentials were really fun, actually. Everyone there was under 35, and we ordered in pizza, had a great time playing music at night, and I felt very comfortable. I wore ripped jeans and nobody cared.

Ripped jeans, pizza and listening to music. That’d never be allowed in a foundation group.

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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby ET » Sat Jun 20, 2009 2:18 pm

A couple of points:

Mental health issues - I know that one of my SES relatives (over 40 years ago) had a nervous breakdown, which can be largely attributed to the SES but not entirely. My relative chose to run to the School when it happened, leaving a young family without a word, so they had no idea what had happened. The School appears to have decided to keep my relative hidden from the family and "look after" said relative without informing spouse or children of where my relative was for several weeks. (Sorry for the laboured use of non-personal pronouns, but my relative is still alive and doesn't need to be identified). This caused a great deal of distress within my family, and I can't think why they would have behaved this way unless they were somehow ashamed of the "weakness" my relative was showing.

A "normal" school - unlike Bonsai, I didn't realise how abnormal my schooling was, I thought this was what school was like for everyone. It caused a great deal of problems at my new school (where I started at age fourteen), which was normal (as far as private schools ever are!) and where I and my poor sister stuck out like sore thumbs! We were seriously wierd, jumping to attention every time a teacher said "Let's pause there for a minute..." and terrified of getting into trouble. I even went catatonic once when a teacher was telling me off for something very minor, and scared her half to death! I never fitted in at my new school or at Uni, and I believe this is entirely due to the skewed world view that I had as a teenager thanks to ten years of SES philosophy both at home and at school. It took over three years of therapy in my twenties to come to terms with it all and change my "holier than thou" attitude that was getting me into so much trouble. So, Freethinker, it wasn't just adult members of the School who were taught to believe they were more important than other "mere mortals". I'm over it now, thank God. Well...mostly anyway...still think I'm superior to some people!!! ;-) LOL

Homeopathic medicine - oh yes!! I remember this well!! Got a headache? Sniff some Olbas Oil! Broken leg? Have an arnica tablet, and if it's no better, we'll get you to hospital (I actually witnessed this one, as I was ill in the "sick room" at the time, and the poor child was left in agony for quite some time). And don't get me onto sick room facilities! I spent a large part of my 11th birthday with food poisoning (caught from a Cornish Pasty at home the night before), shut in a tiny windowless room with a photocopier. No ventilation, and teachers and other staff kept coming in to make photocopies. Miraculously, I stopped my continuous vomiting within an hour of being removed from "the sick room" to go home.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Sat Jun 20, 2009 8:52 pm

Hi ET
ET wrote:This caused a great deal of distress within my family, and I can't think why they would have behaved this way unless they were somehow ashamed of the "weakness" my relative was showing.
Maybe they werent ashamed of the "weakness" maybe its easier for them to get people to do what they want or give them what they want when they are in this state of mental health. What happened thereafter to this person? Did they make a full recovery and get on with their lives - or did they become a controlled member of the ses (seniors?) Im sure they would have seen this "breakdown" as a most positive step in getting rid of the "ego"? Its a very sad story and a healthy organisation would not have behaved in this way - her/his family must have been very upset.

Your experience of the ses school was awful and I can only guess how much more difficult it must be for people who went to the school as children and suffered these harsh, brutal experiences in the most impressionable years of their lives - I take my hat off to all of you for the strength and courage I have seen on these pages about how, although it has been extremely difficult, you are managing to come to terms with these experiences and realising that you were the innocent parties and that through talking up about your experiences you are preventing other kids from this abuse. Many parents too, must be bitterly disappointed that they trusted this organisation, and paid them a lot of money believing they were doing the best for their children, and must, deep down, feel devastated to find out their children were treated in this way. I do believe people get involved with this organisation because they are looking for a good, wholesome way of living - and on the surface it appears to offer this, but what we have all found out, to our detriment is - it offers no such thing.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby ET » Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:32 am

Hi carlynnm8,

Thanks for your kind words, I forgot to welcome you to the board, which I would normally do, so - a belated welcome! My relative did kind of recover from the nervous breakdown, but has never recovered completely and still fails to cope well with stress. I think you're right that the School liked the fact that my relative was vulnerable, but both my SES relatives are/were vulnerable and/or gullible, which was how they got involved in the first place I think. They were involved at the very beginning of the School, when McLaren was still alive, which meant that the whole thing was far more potent than it is now even, and you've already said yourself how easy it is to be sucked in, even now.

My parents certainly feel a lot of guilt for what all three of their children went through, and it has fractured the family, mostly in ways that would not be visible to anyone from outside, but can be seen clearly once you get below the surface. Seeing my family through the eyes of my partner of 8 years has made this all the more evident to me.

I don't think anyone can underestimate the appeal of the philosophy and way of life that the SES espouses, in common with most cults. The chance to have everything decided for you, and to believe that in some way you have been "chosen" is very attractive to certain types of people. I'm glad that you don't seem to be one of these, carlynnm8. Good luck to you!

By the way, if you really want to know if the SES is a cult, check out this video on YouTube. It's a bit of fun, but it rings some uncomfortable bells for me, as I'm sure it will for you! Somebody posted it on here a while ago, but I can't find the post, so I've found the link instead:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mnNSe5XYp6E
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby carlynnm8 » Tue Jun 23, 2009 10:53 pm

Oh boy!! That is an interesting (and funny!!) video - yes bells were ringing very loudly indeed. I wish I'd seen that a couple of months (years?) ago. As an ex sop student I can assure people that this stuff is still going on but its just a little more subtle and happens over a good number of years. Thank you for your lovely welcome and very interesting post. Hope we can discuss some more.
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Re: is the school of philosophy a cult?

Postby bonsai » Wed Jun 24, 2009 9:49 am

The you tube clip is very interesting. I don't know whether the SES at its core is intended to be a cult. In everything that I have explored about the SES and about cults I find it very difficult to believe that most of these organisations are set up with the intention of becoming cults with all the destructive qualities that go with them.

The thing is that much of these cultish quality could originate from natural human behaviour. All sorts of groups of people and organisations demonstrate destructive aspects of groupthink including groups of friends, gangs, religeous groups, and companies.

What is, however, very clear is that the SES structures its courses, content and programmes in a way that means the criticisms that it is a cult can be levelled at it. It does not do enough to ensure that its members are freely able to exercise their own rational discrimination whilst they are there. There are many aspects of group meetings, meditation, residentials, and its core philosophical idea of reducing the ego that are very concerning and cult-like.

I believe that many of these ideas are potentially seriously harmful when they are taught to kids during their formative years as well as to adults who may be vulnerable or not.

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