In 2008, est’s Influence Lives On

Article from The Herald Sun

by Ray Beatty

March 01, 2008

TWENTY-FOUR years ago this month a new phenomenon arrived in Melbourne that revolutionized the manner of business teaching. It was a personal development training from California called “est”.Although it worked on the individual, its effects were so startling that businesses quickly picked it up as a method for motivating their staff. Started in 1971 in the US, by the time it reached Australia it had gained millions of adherents world-wide – and some notoriety. Its confrontational and soul-stripping methods were often hard to take and turned its founder, Werner Erhard, into a media target. Its first Melbourne seminar was watched with suspicion by the Australian press, and reporters and photographers waited outside the venue to catch the participants as they left. Unfortunately for them this was not until two on a freezing morning, so the reporters wrote their notes with very chilly fingers. Erhard sold out in 1984 to his staff and what became Landmark Education is now one of the biggest training companies in the world with programs in 125 cities. But what is fascinating is the way that the philosophy has traveled so much further. Phrases and words devised by Erhard to distinguish ideas have become part of the educational language: when you stand and speak you are “sharing”; your actions can be “at the effect of” or “rackets” or “winning formulas”. The actual teaching is called “the technology of transformation”, stressing the value of integrity. You’ll hear this language at every business school from Harvard and Yale to London and Melbourne. The genius of Erhard was not that he invented a new philosophy, rather it was the way that he took the gung-ho American business methods from the likes of Dale Carnegie (“How to make friends and influence people”), Napoleon Hill (“Think and grow rich”) and Norman Vincent Peale (“The power of positive thinking”) and mixed them with Zen Buddhism, Platonic debate and even some hypnotism. Out the other end came a whole new way of thinking that combines meditation, goal-setting, desire for success or wealth, and driving energy. All this produced from several hundred — even thousands — of people sitting in a big arena reacting with gospel-thumping fervor. It happened in Melbourne last weekend, when a modern guru, Christopher Howard, strutted his stuff at the Olympic Park function centre. Two thousand Melbournians shed their conservative reserve to jump and cheer, dance to soul music and then delve deep into their souls. This weekend another great disciple of Erhard, Anthony Robbins, will take the same stage. Except that it will not be Tony himself. It will be presented by a “team of world-class success coaches” working under the Robbins franchise. So much mud was flung at Erhard that in the end, like so many philosophers, he had to take the draught of hemlock: he sold up and became a consultant. But the training he started has reached into the world’s corporations from Apple to BHP to the US Navy and thousands more. Wait till he’s been dead a hundred years and he may be made a saint.  

3 comments so far

  1. phroedrick on

    First, there is no such thing as Zen Buddhism. There is Zen and there is Buddhism. The two are not collective in any respect.

    I took the ‘training’ in 1975 and essentially ‘got it’ whatever that means. For me it concluded in a moment of total silence of mind. I do not know how long this silence lasted. I do know that silence of mind is a life altering experience. The usual dialog of the mind, which is on-going for all of us just stopped for me and there was complete silence.

    When the dialog started up again I knew things, had insights, and understood things I did not have access to before that moment. I inquired of other est ‘graduates’ as we were called if they had had any similar experience and none had. Consequently,
    ‘getting it’ seems to have been completely personal.

    One thing that seems common among all graduates is the knowledge that the present moment of ‘now’ is the only moment there is. Essentially, Rumi, a well known Sufi and poet wrote, “Now is the only moment there is.” This corresponds to the est saying, “what in this moment is out of place?” The answer is always, ‘nothing’.

    Subsequent to my est experience I had the incredible fortune to study under two Sufi masters. I was looking for more ‘it’. There is no more ‘it’ yet there is in Sufism something beyond ‘it’ that makes things even more interesting.

    Prior to est I knew no Sufi’s. Following my est training, I could find no place where I was not meeting Sufi’s. Essentially, I was taught virtually the same thing as getting ‘it’ and I must also say there is a world well beyond ‘getting it’ that is within the power of a Sufi Master to allow one to experience. The effect of the intervention and insights given through Sufi practices (different for each Sufi) is beyond explanation.

    Suffice it to say that what a Sufi Master can induce through giving certain meditations and practices, and following them precisely is beyond ‘getting it’ and in many ways very similar.

    The world we think we see vs. the reality that exists is quite different, even paradoxical. ‘Getting it’ was like awakening from hypnotic slumber and seeing things as they actually are. Yes, there is a difference. It is like watching a movie as compared to being in it. This, too, is a Sufi experience which I will not try to explain as words convey no meaning relative to the experience. In the absence of personal experience communication about the experience is impossible.

    Had it not been for est I would not have discovered Sufism (which est spoke at some length about).

    I do know the est training changed my life; I took more risks such as going into my own business, I altered the way my companies operated, and generally made life work according to what was important in the present moment than in some imagined future. My relationships became more substantive as the barriers to the truth fell and my satisfaction was as great with successes as with what could be called failures. There is essentially no difference between the two.

    I also know it was the est training that gave me that one moment of complete mind silence that changed my perception of reality and allowed me to discover Sufism and meet two masters who are both most incredible beings.

    Say and read what you will about Werner Erhart. You can focus on his past before est, or on him when est was at its prime, or now. A person is not their past, and not their future. One is who they are in the present moment of now. Change from one way of being to another is only the blink of an eye and when it happens, there is no relevant past or predictable future.

    All est experiences seem to have been as different as the people who experienced them. I only know that for me the reality of life and the importance of the present moment, as the only moment, was what I got. It has served me well, thanks be to God.

    I conclude this comment with the following two sayings from the poetry of Rumi:

    “Now is the only moment there is.”

    “What you love is what you are.”

  2. Jacqueline LaCroix on

    The Forum…like EST…was another step on yet another

    Rung of an Empowering ladder to personal Growth and

    Achievement…Taking a Stand…And shedding one’s “Stuff”

    In order to Blossom into one’s Greatest Potential is how

    I personally experienced “It”…

    In all the incredible personal Discomforts of the Forum,

    A Path was finally Borne…and breakthrough was then

    Possible…To borrow a much worn out saying…The peeling

    Of an onion, shall reveal it’s true inner Sweetness!

  3. Jann Uber on

    I took the training twice, in Denver and found nothing–and very powerfully so: nothing to expect and nothing to embrace, just now–as I am sitting, sit; as I am standing, stand.

    What more could I or anyone possibily want? We drive ourselves crazy with mental candy and coolness popcorn from “another place, time, person” when we got it all, here and most definitely now. What joy, what fun, what a joke.

    Be well, do good tricks, and play!

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