Saturday, December 02, 2006

School of Economic Science (SES / SoES)

In my teens I went to St Peters Catholic School and was agnostic or downright irreligious. I studied Biochemistry at Bristol University between 1975-77.

Between 1980 and 1985 whilst in my mid twenties I joined the School of Economic Science (SES) Philosophy course in Kensington, London.

The SES is a religious Hindu cult. Religious because it has faith in the belief that there exists a unifying supernatural being.

A key principle or motto in the early 1980s was "Neither accept nor reject". And this edict has not changed because today "Students are encouraged neither to accept nor reject any of the ideas presented and discussed but to test them in the light of experience." (Spring 2007).

SES was founded by Labour MP Leonardo Da Vinci MacLaren in the 1930s. It is overtly syncretistic drawing upon philosophies of East and West. It uses the writings of self-realisation, Marsilio Ficino, the Bible and the Vedas, Sanskrit, Baghavad Gita and the Upanishads and the philosophies of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Plato, Advaita Vedanta (not mentioned by name), Sankara and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (Transcendental Meditation). And let's not forget Mozart!

Debate at the SES was almost always stifled. It was not a discussion but indoctrination into SES thinking. Testing of ideas by relating to practical experience were mostly trivial ideas, like observing that one has 'circling thoughts'. The religious nature of SES was never made clear in their advertising. At its heart, SES is Hindu religion, believing in an Absolute / Atman / Creator / God - which of course has not got the slightest bit of evidence.

I've now rejected practically all of the teachings of the SES - I never ever agreed with the religious aspects!

The 'neither accept nor reject' mantra means that discussions are never heated and debate is actually discouraged. I found the course very interesting but ultimately, little by little, over months and years we were expected to agree with the core ideas of SES - namely that their is a supernatural Atman present in all beings.

Sharon, my wife, almost left me back in 1984, as a result of my 'weird' behavior. SES came back into my attention when Nicholas Kaplan (a relative of my maternal grandmother) visited us last year with my mother. Both his parents attended SES and his father was my boss & introduced me to SES when I was 24. Nicholas had attended St James, the SES school during the 1980s - he had been both emotionally & physically abused.

Several critical appraisals of the SES & their associated schools St James / St Vedas & Alcuin School (Leeds) have been posted:-

The posts that follow are edited from

Jul 21, 2006 10:29 am Post subject:

Goblinboy wrote:

It's interesting that you drew an immediate implicit comparison between the SES and "most religeous institutions". The websites make no connection between the "philosophy" and faith.

This has always been and remains the SES's biggest difficulty. It chooses to use words and descriptions that have different meanings in current conventional usage. Whilst the word philosophy used informally may refer to a belief, the formal and academic subject of philosophy is one that has no place for faith.

I know that the SES has done a lot to try and clarify things on the part 1 course. The thing though is that there is a basic dishonesty that the use of these description implies and this is just the tip of the iceberg. I think that the SES should attempt to resolve this issue properly. This involves perhaps changing it's name, and changing the information publicly available to describe what it is in language that the public at large can understand. These descriptions should include the fact that the organisation is a faith based organisation. As such the organisation should publicly declare what its core beliefs are. For example I'm not sure where Advaita actually stands on creationism but certainly the SES (or at least St James) believes that it is people's goal to find their way back to the Creator (God).

The core beliefs, creed and ethos should just be made available to allow people to properly judge. If it turns out in doing this that this doesn't attract new members then the SES must ask itself some serious questions or resign itself to the fact that it will not survive very long.

The most important thing for the SES both in terms of it's longevity and ability to deal with criticism is that it is Open, Honest and Truthful.

Posted: Thu Jul 20, 2006 1:24 pm Post subject: Re: Cult-like similarities

Goblinboy wrote:
Saw the Channel 4 documentary by Mark Dowd on Opus Dei last night, and was struck by numerous similarities in the apparent behaviour of the Catholic sect and the SES/SEOS/SOP (tick where applicable).

In general, religious based schools are obviously designed to promote their religion, hopefully in a more benign way than less.

This appears pretty much true whether it is a Catholic school, or one based on Hindu Advaita. I think learning to chant hymns in Sanskrit is no more or less relevant than learning to sing Ave Maria in Latin.

I see little difference between a Catholic girls school being keen to encourage their students to become nuns and encouragement to join the SES/SOP.

The stereotypical Christian "priest abusing the alter boys" seems not far off from the terrible treatment that has been reported by ex-students of St James. At least it appears to me as if St James / SES is trying to address the situation (as do other churches).

I suppose one of the biggest issues is cultural -- to a western society the Christian church (Catholic, Anglican, whatever) is simply so much a part of life that most people simply accept it.

I guess that in India, having a Hindu Advaita based school would be normal, as would having children chant Sanskrit portions of the Bhagavad Gita (not to mention that Devanagari -- a common script to write Sanscript -- is also used for several North Indian languages.

Unfortunately, I don't have enough information to address your topic as to whether the SES is a "cult".

Certainly all religions, almost by definition, share "cult-like similarities" (pretty much by definition any religion involves mystical knowledge and promotes theirs as the one true way). An appropriate quote could be "the difference between a cult and a religion is several hundred years".

BTW. I very much like the Peguin/Bob icon you have for the site; an appropriate image (although I tend in a slightly different direction).

Advanced Member

Joined: 11 Dec 2004
Posts: 17

PostPosted: Sun Dec 12, 2004 10:19 am Post subject: TIME FOR A FULL S.E.S. INQUIRY

Dear All,

The root of SES injustice is the lie that they tell: to themselves, to newcomers. SES does not teach philosophy at all. Philosophy is about questions. But SES have all the answers. There is therefore a huge insulting lie on every "Philosophy" poster one sees on the London Underground.

That first big lie, that first big delusion, opens up all the rest of the lies and malpractices. It is precisely how Hitler caught peoples' minds: with an enourmous lie. So if you're a good person or a bad person and you're in SES it doesnt really make any difference: you are playing with your own head and everybody else's.

SES is a group of people often including the power-hungry who before membership felt weak and powerless. It warps peoples minds, lives off the weak, the damaged and the friendless, and seems to object to the strong minds that stand up to them. There are well-meaning individuals in the group. But many sinister organisations began with good intentions. I learnt that at school, and it wasn?t at St James.

If anyone has any bright ideas how we go about extending the Inquiry to the entire SES, please reply to me here.


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.

Links -


Velveeta Splatchclock said...

This is odd. Most of the above entries are lifted from posts at

without attribution or editing.

crabsallover said...

thanks Velveeta. I've updated the post with the

Anonymous said...


I've been a member of different SES groups since 1982, and continue in one today. In the light of the above posts, I will simply give something of my own experiences "from the inside" so to speak.

The branch I joined in 1982 was then called the Birmingham School of Practical Philosophy (now the Midlands School of Philosophy). At the time it was run by Mr Tom Gerry, a no-nonsense Yorkshireman who had a successful career in business. The "ethos" of the BSPP was two-fold : one, it presented the teaching of Advaita (which was not overtly declared early on, being somewhat covered over by a melange of Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Plato, all presented in Leon McLaren's "barrister / Socratic" Q&A self-written material.)

Much emphasis was placed on the practical application of this teaching, and indeed, on the very first evening an "exercise" was introduced, a sort of 2 minute 'mini-meditation' designed to bring the student into the present and engage with his / her senses, instead of the usual 'daydream mode'. I did find this very helpful personally, and when meditation was introduced after two years (my plea at the time: "why do we have to wait 2 years?", never got a satisfactory answer!) I fell into it with relief and enthusiasm - it seemed to be something I had waited all my life for (I was 30 at the time). I still practice it today and wouldn't be without it. I do realise though, from spells when I was not in the School, that the practice of meditation is not dependent on being in the School, and is an ancient tradition that is common to most religions and philosophies.

The other "ethos" I remember from the BSPP, was its informality. Tom Gerry was very much his own man, an independent thinker, and liked nothing better than to go to the pub after an evening's philosophy with his students : here we would discuss all kinds of things, from politics and philosophy, culture, relationships etc. He never interfered in students' personal lives, but would give advice - very practical, very homespun, very Yorkshire! - if he was asked for it. He was greatly loved by all his students and indeed by most people who knew him.

Everything changed in 1991 on his death. The branch was run by Tom's appointee, Mr Jonathan Richardson, cut from a very different cloth : he had grown up in the London School, a member of its notorious Youth Group, and very much imbued with the much more formal "London School" way of doing things. At first there were great difficulties because of this difference, and many students left, but some of us loved what Tom Gerry had built up and wanted to see it continue, so we stayed.

In the years that followed, the students were introduced to residentials (which had not happened during Mr Gerry's tenure), but something of the former 'mellowness' returned too - Mr Richardson started a family, and the effect of this had a 'softening effect' on the way the Midlands School was run. It is also a tribute to his wife Bridget, who had grown up in the South African School - she, like Tom, was very much her "own person", encouraged students to think for themselves, and was the first to jump on them from a great height if they trotted out "School clichés" or said "what they thought they wanted the tutor to hear". Under her guidance, we acquired great clarity of thought, but thanks to her sense of fun, this was never a laborious or onerous task, and we all had many laughs together on the way.

I left the School for a few years after I moved to the South West where there was no branch. I continued to attend Quaker Meetings, which had always been the "other prong" of my spiritual life, but I did miss the camaraderie of SES groups.

Now there is a new branch of the School, in Exeter. To my great good fortune, this is also run by tutors who belong to the "no London nonsense here!" mentality. As it is a new branch, I have started the philosophy again from scratch, right back from Part One - but as the material is quite regularly re-written, there is always something new to hear.

I have encountered much of the "nonsense" in my time in School : the formalities, the pedantic insistence on residential dress-codes, the absurd raising of Mozart to a pedestal of self-realisation!, the artificial 'group semi-circle' discussion format (very Ouspensky), the sometimes laboured material presented for group discussion. It is not "the only game in town" and any student who doesn't realise that should think carefully about this, and at the very least, join another group or church or organisation as well.

But on the whole, the plusses have far outweighed the minuses for me - School has been a needed antidote to the ills of modern society (which hardly need spelling out), and I feel a calmer, more mentally balanced person with a rich perspective on life, than I did many years ago. I owe that in part to the teachings and practices of the School, and so they will always have SOME place in my affections.

But to any prospective or existing student reading this I would say "remember : never give up your freedom of thought, or your freedom of expression", and nor will a good tutor EVER ask you to. And if - in the end - you find you cannot accept the Advaita philosophy (it IS a philosophy, not a religion - despite reference to The Absolute, there is never any question that "God" is anything other than our own consciousness, the main point being that "consciousness is One") - as I say if you find that you cannot accept this, then do as many many others have done - simply leave. No-one will EVER chase after you and try to get you to come back!

crabsallover said...

Dear Anonymous, thanks for your thoughts on SES.

Anonymous said...

I believe that I may have attended SES when I was a law student in the early 1970's.

It was then located at an exquisite little Georgian town house in Suffolk Place, near Trafalgar Square. The lectures were given in a room that had an interesting ornate ceiling with as I recall, a hand symbol rather like the hand of Ulster.

The tutors were somewhat impressive, personable, wholesome looking individuals (although I suppose the same might be said of Mormons or Scientologists, though there was no sign of fanatacism or intolerance as one usually finds in members of a cult). I remember that they all had beautiful, caligraphic handwriting. One of the tutors was the Liberal Party candidate for Leominster.

The course fee was very affordable and the refreshments served were especially delicious.

I bought a number of books by Henry George, of whom I had never previously heard. The Henry George Foundation seems to have a long standing link with these people. I also ordered a copy of Hayek's "Constitution of Liberty" through them.

One of the things I seem to recall was that the lectures for the week, were identical in content irrespective of the person delivering the lecture, which would explain the criticism I have seen that interventions and class discussions were somewhat discouraged.

It was some years before I wondered whether SES was some sort of cult but then I only went to about three or four of the lectures - I met this beautiful young woman with whom I had a very brief relationship over which I then grieved for the next 21 years.

crabsallover said...

Thanks Law Student in 1970s for your experience

Alastair said...

Having been involved in the North West school for a long time, and then in London while I was at university. I find the reminder useful, as I've now been in China for over a year, where there is of course no Philosophy School. I think much depends on the tutor one gets, or indeed sticking with someone can bring mutual understanding and change in both parties as happened in the Yorkshire school.

Thanks for the blog post.


Mark Hassed said...

I too am a disillusioned former member of the School in Melbourne Australia. It is now one of the biggest regrets of my life - especially the endless hours wasted on the mumbo jumbo.
I think it would be great if there were some discussion group for former members so we can come to terms with how stupid we were.

Anonymous said...

I went along to the first evening of the Introduction Course (Practical Philosophy) just this week in Cork,Ireland and found it ok.I intend to go along to the next session as well, but I must admit that I am a little concerned by what I've read about SES online over the past few days..

crabsallover said...

Hi Anonymous in Cork,

You might find alternative meetings in Philosophy in Cork at a Meetup group (but few exist near Cork):

But for a classic grounding in Philosophy I'd suggest studying introductory philosophy by Distance Learning at The Open University:

London student said...

I have recently completed the first 'philosophy' course at the London school.

It was interesting at first and nice to mix with a new group of people who wanted to explore ideas. However, it soon became clear that this exploration was only allowed within a tight framework controlled - every so politely - by the tutor. I found this worrying. In my opinion the only way to expand your mind is to test theories, analyse them, criticise them, then - if they still hold water - they might be worth adopting. This approach was always gently quashed. Very frustrating to anyone with a penchant for critical thinking!

It is a religion. They believe in a higher power. I don't and felt a bit disappointed/cheated as this undercurrent gradually exposed itself.

Remember, there's no such thing as a free lunch! Ten classes for a £10 admin fee (never mind the cost of all those ads on the tube) is way too cheap to not be providing the school some other benefits.

I was perplexed by how vehement they were about ensuring we all wore name badges - I've since read former students accounts of how the school takes notes on the students to use later on in your time with them, which might explain why the badges were so important...

I'm glad I tried it, but I won't be going back. I am a strong-willed person. Don't go if you're feeling lost or vulnerable unless you want to get drawn into a religion. If that's what you're after, you could do worse I suppose.

It's interesting that they soon acknowledged just how many people drop out over the ten week course - over 50%. I wonder why...?

Chris Street said...

Thanks, belatedly, London Student for your comments on SES.