School Of Philosophy And Economic Science
The public face of this movement are its courses in Practical Philosophy advertised in national newspapers. The ads do not state that the philosophy in question is Vedanta, and that what one is being invited to embrace is in reality not academic learning but initiation into a tightly-knit spiritual group and a form of meditation which uses the name of the Hindu god Ram as its mantra.
SCHOOL OF PHILOSOPHY
The School of Economic Science, also known as the School of Philosophy, runs courses in philosophy and economics. The ads do not state that the philosophy in question is vedanta, and that what one is being invited to embrace is in reality not academic learning but initiation into a tightly-knit religious group and a form of meditation which uses the name of the Hindu god Ram as its mantra.
The School was founded in the 1930s by Andrew McLaren (1883 - 1975), a British left-wing politician. It was only when his son Leon (b. 1911) took control of the School in 1947 that its focus shifted from economics to philosophy and religion. Here, the earlier and still potent influences are the esoteric teachings of George Gurdjieff (1877 - 1949) and Pyotr Ouspensky (1878 - 1948). Equally significant however, are Leon McLaren's regular meetings in India since the early 1960s with the Shankaracharya of Jyotirmath in the Himalayas, one of four official inheritors of the Vedantic teaching of Shankara. The School has followed the teaching of this guru's successor ever since. This Indian connection has an interesting background.
McLaren had worked closely with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi in the early 1960s and in fact at one time encouraged members of the School to be initiated into TM. It was the Maharishi who introduced McLaren' to the Shankaracharya - Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, who was the Maharishi's own guru. Although McLaren and the Maharishi fell out later in the 60s, an initiation ritual and meditation as practised by the School today remain remarkably similar to TM, the main subject of this chapter.
Information about the School of Economic Science
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What is the School of Economic Science (the SES)?
Members of the SES do not regard their movement as a religion. They call it a School in the ancient tradition of ‘Schools of Philosophy’, which exists ‘to promote the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society ... and the study of the laws, customs and practices by which communities are governed’. They offer courses in Philosophy, ‘Economics’ and ‘Art’, Architecture, Education, Ethics, Government and Law, Renaissance, Reason and Music are offered occasionally. Although the courses are available to the general public, admittance to the SES community is dependent on accepting initiation into Transcendental Meditation. The SES is sometimes called the School of Philosophy, the School of Practical Philosophy or the School of Economics and Philosophy.
Where are they found?
The ‘Philosophy’ courses are offered in over 30 British towns, including London, Birmingham, Brighton, Canterbury, Edinburgh, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Oxford and York. They are also to be found in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Belgium, Holland, Trinidad, South Africa, Spain and Ireland. In 1975 parents and teachers from the SES founded the four St James’ Independent Schools for children. The tutors are all students of the School of Economic Science. Every year the School organises Art in Action at Waterperry in Oxfordshire.
Where do their ideas come from?
The School was founded in the mid-1930’s by Andrew McLaren, a Labour MP interested in the economic question of whether land tax would be fairer than a tax on income. His barrister son, Leon MacLaren, who succeeded him as leader, took the view that economic problems could only be solved by transforming the nature of mankind. Leon joined the Society for the Study of Normal Psychology – looking into the Teachings of Gurdjieff and Ouspensky and some of the ideas he found there were fed into the SES. After 1960, when the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi came to London to introduce Transcendental Meditation to the West, Leon MacLaren and other senior members went to India to study with the Shankaracharya – of the same Hindu tradition as the Maharishi. The SES now stresses the method of Transcendental Meditiation as the way to achieve the goal of ‘surrendering to the Absolute’ advocated by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky.
What do they believe?
Central to SES beliefs is the notion of serving the Absolute – the Hindu notion of Brahman, the world-soul, which permeates creation. One’s innermost highest self is coterminous with the Absolute and meditation surrenders the self to the Absolute. If members do not attend to their inner elf they may remain trapped in the world of matter. The SES follow Gurdjieff’s philosophy that mankind exists to produce the vibrations necessary to transmit the higher forces by becoming enlightened enough to join them. They believe everyone could do this by listening to their inner self, but most people fail to achieve their potential because they are too busy fulfilling ego and desires. Members follow Gurdjieff’s view thta everyone is fast asleep and people have to wake up to ‘remember themselves’. Listening to the inner self is achieved by meditation (using the mantra given to the SES by the Shankaracharya), and by Pausing, a way of punctuating one’s day with periods of mindfulness, a battle against habit. Members are meant to pause before and after any activity – as a way of self-remembering, allowing excess energy to drop away. Members believe in pausing to still the mind and in meditation to allow concsiousness of the Absolute to enter their world and thence the inner self.
After initiation students are introduced to the notion of Measure: the Absolute permeates the Universe in a series of natural laws and by observing thse laws members are serving the Absolute. The particular way of life led by SES members reflects Measure, the natural laws and by observing these laws members are serving the Absolute. The particular way of life led by SES members reflects Measure, the natural laws.
Plato is also an important influence on the SES in the sense that he emphasised tradition and saw proof of the existence of God in the fundamental laws of mathematics. The SES accept members of all creeds for they believe in a united God, a God within. The moral base of the group is said to be truth, humility and giving service to the community.
How do they live?
The SES courses introduce students very gradually to the ideas of the School. For the first few terms the Eastern connection is not over-emphasised but scepticism for Western philosophers such as Kant and Hume is encouraged. Slowly, Sanskrit is introduced as well as the Vedas and the Bhagavat Gita. The School emphasises the importance of testing ideas in the light of personal experiences – part of the Gurdjieff and Ouspensky Teaching. The courses in Philosophy are to ‘help the individual better realise his own potential and understand his own nature’. Those who are initiated begin to live according to the natural laws of Measure, rising early, regularly meditating, doing hard manual work for a portion of the day and eating a strict vegetarian diet. When engaged on some manual task members are asked to focus on the task at hand, whether it be scrubbing floors, making sandwiches or painting houses. The roles of men and women are defined separately and said to compliment each other.
Members are encouraged to strive towards objective truth and not to become one with the subjective. Members should avoid over-identification with jobs, family, fashion or unnecessary negative emotion. To acquire energy, they must know what is fine and what is coarse. Mozart, Shakespeare and Newton are ‘fine’; Beethoven, popular literature, modern poets and musicians, and friend not on a similar search are ‘coarse’, and to give them attention may be described as wasting energy on wrong work. Posture is important for SES members and, when meditating or listening to lectures, they should hold the body straight with their hands on their knees and their legs together. Members see themselves as following the Fourth Way, the Way of the Householder in Hindu terms.
Who joins? How is authority exercised?
The SES is predominantly middle-class – the courses attracting mainly teachers, business men and young people looking for a challenge in something other than their work. There are quite a few members who are well-off and upper middle class. Members are all ages, with a second generation now growing up in the group. Membership figures vary depending on whether one defines member as anyone taking a course or only the ‘committed’ who have been initiated. It is estimated that there are two thousand initiated members in London, another two thousand in the rest of the UK and several thousand in other countries.
After the death of Leon McLaren in 1994 the spiritual direction and guidance of the SES passed, as McLaren wished, to Donald Lambie. He is supported by the Fellowship of the SES, the governing body consisting of some 140 members. Of these, seven or eight are members of the executive committee which is chaired by Peter Green, the legal principle of the SES Fellowship.
Leaving the Movement
Many people leave the group because they find the SES taking up an increasing amount of their time. Many leave during the first two years while simply attending the philosophy courses, which some find very different from what they had expected.
Complaints have been made about the totalitarian structure of the group. It was claimed that those who displeased McLaren were often dealt with severely. McLaren had total authority, and, to many, came across as an awesome power to be obeyed – someone who had some indefinable access to the correct ‘answers’. For those born into the SES, inaccessibility to ideas other than those of the group has sometimes led to problems in leaving the group. Some who have joined as adults have found it hard not to let the demands of the SES take over their whole life to the neglect of their families and friends, which has caused the break-up of some families. Some members have found it difficult to accept the degree to which ‘personality’ is attacked, the emphasis on not identifying with negative emotions like anger and grief, and the attitude that sickness and disabilities are the result of wrong-doing. The SES has been accused of fanaticism, bullying and lack of compassion. Rather than answer accusations the group had tended to shroud itself in secrecy. Recently, in response to these charges, members have agreed that in the past the structure of the group was authoritarian and the rules more strict than is now the case. Misunderstandings occurred and some members became increasingly cagey in response to adverse publicity. Members say they are now entering a more open stage and the new leader of the SES, Donald Lambie, may bring about changes that could not have happened under MacLaren. Some of the SES advertisements (notably those on the London Underground for the introductory courses have been changed to make it clearer that later courses lead into a way of life which for most members includes meditation, and the content of each week’s lectures make it clear that a course in traditional Western philosophy is not be expected. The experience of people outside London is that the initial advertising does not make this clear.
The Movement publishes a two-monthly Journal called Economic Monitor.
More InformationThe Pinstripe Guru
Gifts as fees scheme in a Dublin school (Word document)
School reports (PDF)
School reports (2)
External linksSchool reports (3)
Channel 4's news item on the abuse at SES schools in London.