School of Economic Science
The School of Economic Science (SES), also operating under the names School of Philosophy and the School of Practical Philosophy, is a worldwide organisation based in London. Its main activity is to offer non-academic courses for adults, ranging from an introductory series called Practical Philosophy to more advanced classes. Its teachings are principally influenced by Advaita Vedanta, an orthodox philosophical system of Hinduism. It has a guru, Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati, who used the title Shankaracharya until 2017.
The SES advertises introductory courses in what it terms "Practical Philosophy", "Economics with Justice" and other courses including Sanskrit language. The Practical Philosophy course involves a meditative process known as "The Exercise" and discussion of universal themes drawing on the work of European and Indian philosophers such as Plato, Marsilio Ficino, Swami Vivekananda and Adi Shankara, as well as Advaita. Those who continue involvement beyond 4 years mainly study Advaita; they are encouraged to take up meditation and to undertake voluntary work to help with the running of the group, and to attend residential programmes.
SES members have founded schools for children's education in a number of countries. SES is registered as a charity in the UK; the worldwide operations register as non-profit organizations in the their own countries.
The SES says it has a total of around 4000 participants in the UK branch and (as of 2012) a total of around 20,000 in up to 80 branches worldwide. Operating under various names, there are branches in America, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Holland, Malta, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, Israel and Argentina. The head of all of these branches is what the SES calls its 'Senior Tutor', MacLaren's successor, Donald Lambie, who is also a lawyer.
- 1 History
- 1.1 Foundation
- 1.2 Philosophy courses
- 1.3 International schools
- 1.4 Children's education
- 1.5 Art in Action
- 1.6 1983 press coverage
- 1.7 New school leader
- 1.8 Waterperry frescos
- 1.9 Recent activities
- 2 Teachings, doctrine and practices
- 3 Administration (UK)
- 4 Worldwide operations
- 5 Reception
- 6 Notable members
- 7 Publications by the School of Economic Science
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 External links
The School of Economic Science was founded in 1938, in the UK, by Andrew MacLaren MP under the name Henry George School of Economics. It was an "economics study group" that expounded the economic theories of the American economist Henry George. Leon MacLaren inherited the organisation from his father, Andrew, and changed its focus to "the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society." He considered science to be a study of laws that already exist in nature; economics the study of human nature and its interaction with the natural universe. In 1942 he changed the name of the school to the School of Economic Science. Some references cite Andrew MacLaren as the founder of the School of Economic Science, who was barred from the organisation's meetings after his son Leon took it over a few years later.
The organisation's founders explored new possibilities for a system that would bring about economic justice against the background of the severe economic depression of the early 1930s. Leon MacLaren claimed to have had the idea as early as 1931, when he felt the solution to the economic problems of the day was a school, not "an ordinary school such as one goes to as an child or an adult for post school education" but "something in the manner of Socrates."
The Chairman from 1939 was Labour MP for Ipswich, Richard Stokes. In 1943 he mentioned SES in a House of Commons debate on post-war employment when he asked Minister without Portfolio, Sir William Jowitt, if he would consider attending a courses at SES if he did not understand the question.
In 1942 it ran a series of lectures in Conway Hall on "production" including "An Engineer's War", "The Skilled Man and the Management" and "Give Them the Tools"  In 1943 courses were running in Edinburgh, by 1944 Public meetings and courses were being held in Manchester and Liverpool. In 1945 the Bath Chronicle reported that "Wednesday night's dance at the Pump Room, run by the Fellowship of the School of Economic Science, was a very enjoyable affair" 
The method of teaching was inspired by a rabbi and academic professor at the Henry George School of Social Science in Philadelphia, Oscar H Gieger. It was similar to the Socratic method, he formulated questions, which could be read to a group of students, the principle being that the students would find the answers and the lesson would proceed.
The approach to the study of economics, and Leon Maclaren's realisation that economics alone was not enough to answer students questions, led to the study of philosophy - "the love of wisdom" – in order to gain deeper insights into what they saw as the natural laws governing humanity and the origin of those laws. Courses on Plato were introduced in response to this.
In the late 1940s Leon MacLaren became influenced by the ideas of Russian philosopher and esotericist P.D. Ouspensky, an important pupil of G.I.Gurdjieff. He then incorporated ideas from their philosophy, called the "Fourth Way", in his teaching at SES. George Gurdjieff, is both praised as a charismatic intellectual who brought greater insight to Western thought, and rebuked as an egomaniacal charlatan who worked followers to exhaustion to break down personality. In 1953 MacLaren met Dr Francis C. Roles, a pupil of Ouspensky who had established The Study Society in 1951 to continue the teaching of the Fourth Way. MacLaren brought what he learned into SES.
MacLaren studied the book The Realm of Art (1946), which first introduced him to the ideas of Ouspensky, he incorpoated its ideas to the SES and invited the author, Peter Goffin, to give lectures. MacLaren systematised the Gurdjieff system and incorporated these ideas into courses for the SES, however, initially, the philosophy material did not quote or acknowledged Gurdjieff, Ouspensky, Dr Roles, or Leon MacLaren directly due to a belief held by all four that the truth could not be personalised: it belonged to no one man, it belonged to all mankind. When Leon Maclaren, died in the mid-1990s the entire school gradually underwent a change in approach, choosing to be more open about its study programmes in order to prevent misunderstanding.
Nowadays the SES seems to have phased out most of their Gurdjieffian material (they no longer use MacLaren’s lectures) and does not acknowledge Gurdjieff or Ouspensky on official SES websites.
Music was one of the common threads running through the philosophy course, initially in the form of the "law of tree" and "law of seven" as expounded by Gurdjieff and Ouspensky, and later Ficino’s work on the essential qualities of the notes of the octave.  A music group was established within SES to explore these principles.
Advaita and meditation
Ouspensky believed Gurdgeff's teachings were incomplete, Roles and MacLaren were eager to discover the missing elements. In 1959, while searching for the source of the system, MacLaren discovered the teachings of Advaita Vedanta after meeting the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and began to practice Transcendental Meditation (TM). 1961 MacLaren organized a meeting, called "1961 World Congress", for the Maharishi in the Royal Albert Hall, attended by 3,000 people, nearly all SES members. Roles and MacLaren went to India and became followers of Swami Shantananda Saraswati, who had been a disciple, with the Maharishi, of the previous Shankaracharya of Jyotir math, Swami Brahmananda Saraswati. From this point on MacLarens teachings became predominately based on Advanta Vedanta. During the late 1950s philosophy became the central subject of teaching and practice SES.
The particular type of meditation used by SES was developed by Brahmananda Saraswati (Gurudeva), a modified practice of meditation, suitable to the householder engaged in the affairs of everyday life. It differs from methods intended for those who withdraw from society like monks or sanyasi. MacLaren was taken through the 'initiation' ritual of the practice, and speculated that he had found the source of Gurdjieff's ideas. His discussions with, Shantanand Saraswati, solidified the central principle of the SES's philosophy as "unity in diversity" by merging the "doctrine of Eastern philosophy and Western wisdom." Meditation became central to the SES philosophy program.
From 1965, every second year for the rest of his life MacLaren conversed with Shantananda Saraswati, and these conversations were taped and transcribed. School leaders brought back this wisdom to their groups where it was studied, practised, and actualised in the lives of many. These conversations are published in a 4 volume series. Teaching is disseminated by SES advanced students who are volunteer teachers, and is maintained by the successors of Leon MacLaren and Swami Shantanand Saraswati: Donald Lambie and SES guru Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati, respectively.
In his conversations with Leon MacLaren, Shantananda Saraswati stated the importance of Sanskrit language in the study of Advaita. The study of Sanskrit Language at SES followed in the late 1960s and became a formal part of what was called the "middle school" in 1977.
School of Meditation
SES was instrumental in promoting TM in the UK from the 1960s. In collaboration with The Study Society, in 1961, SES established The School of Meditation (SoM) in London, under the direction of Bill Whiting, to initiate people into the practice of meditation. The School of Meditation is an independent, self-governing organisation, by 2011 SoM had initiated 15,332 people into the practice of meditation.
The first intentional school was established in Wellington, New Zealand in 1957. During the next decade MacLaren’s students established Philosophy Schools and schools for educating children in Europe, the United States, Canada, the Caribbean, New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. The international schools are separately financed and separately governed by their own constitutions, but using teaching material from SES.
Each year MacLaren travelled the world visiting these schools with the message: ‘We come to discover the Truth, the Truth about our Self, The one Self, the one Consciousness that pervades and sustains everything. We speak the truth, we strive to live according to the truth.’ He would visit each school, annually, for several weeks at a time, and did so for twenty-one years.
In 1975 the SES founded the St James Independent Schools in London for girls and boys from 4–18 years of age. Today, only around 10 per cent of the children at St James have parents involved with SES, they are ranked in the Sunday Times‘s top UK schools guide. St Vedast's School for Boys, at Sarum Chase in Hampstead, London, was also founded in the mid 1970s and closed in 1985. Other schools included the Ficino School in Auckland, New Zealand; St James Preparatory Schools in Cape Town, Durban and Johannesburg, South Africa; John Colet School, Sydney, Australia; Erasmus School, Melbourne, Australia; the St James Independent Schools in London; Alcuin school in Leeds (closed in 2009); St James' primary school in Stockport (closed in 2015); and John Scottus School in Dublin. St James Junior Boys merged with the Junior Girls School to form St James Juniors in 2015. Meditation, mindfulness, Sanskrit language and Vedic maths are taught in some of these schools in addition to the regular curriculum.
Art in Action
In 1977, the Art Department at SES began an annual, four-day art festival called Art in Action; the first event attracted 14,000 visitors and recent events have attracted about 25,000 visitors. The purpose of the event was to demonstrate the principles of the School's work by allowing artists and craftspeople to be observed in the act of creating their art, the aim being to bring masters and beginners together in a bid to encourage creativity. Over the years the number of artists exhibiting increased from 51 to 400, specially selected for the quality of their work. The event also included lectures by experts from the National Association of Decorative and Fine Art Societies, and 3000 places on practical courses in 20 different subjects. Around 900 volunteers from SES staffed the event. The event was started by steward of Waterperry Estate, Bernard Saunders, and was organised by Jeremy Sinclair between 2005 - 2014, and later Simon Buchanan 
After 40 years the organisers announced event would "pause" and their vision is for Waterway Gardens to "develop as a centre for the arts in the years to come". Since then the organisation has hosted the Handmade in Britain festival, Celebrating Ceramics, the Oxford Storytelling Festival, and the Waterperry Opera Festival.
1983 press coverage
The day before the 1983 UK General Elections, right-wing London newspaper the Evening Standard reported that Liberal Party chairman Roger Pincham and several other Liberal Party members were involved with SES. The article called SES a cult and contained a lot of pejorative information about the organisation. The authors lost credibility when multiple errors were identified in their work and it emerged that Margaret Thatcher's Director of Press and Public Relations, David Boddy, was also a SES member. David Boddy commented "It blew their whole story".
New school leader
In 1992 Shantanand Saraswati advised Leon MacLaren to choose a successor. He chose Donald Lambie, a lawyer, who had joined SES aged 17 in 1973. Donald Lambie succeeded Leon Maclaren upon his death in 1994. His succession was approved by the 200-strong Fellowship of senior members of the school. Sri Shantanand Saraswati died in 1997. Donald Lambie established contact with his successor, Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati, who has taken on the role of guru to SES.
Following a project by the SES architects and artists groups, to plan and construct a new hall at Waterpery House, in 1999-2001, frescos spanning three floors, that illustrate its philosophies, were added to the property to create "a sacred space"  intended to last at least 500 years. The architects and artists let their designs arise from reflection on a passage from one of the great texts of advaita philosophy, the Brihadaranyaka Unpanishad: "In the beginning this self was indeed Brahman. It knew only itself as 'I am Brahman'. Therefore it became All."
In 2001 SES members investigated the findings and impact of the Layfield Committee and the Whistable Studies into local government sources of finance and impact and cost of introducing site value rating.
In 2006 SES hosted the Progress without Poverty conference. SES also host "Why Values Matter" a joint conference with the Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative  and are a main sponsor of the Just This Day event, promoting meditation, held annually at St Martin in the Fields.
In 2008 SES hosted a conference on "The Primacy of Consciousness", where the topic was debated from a variety of philosophical and scientific perspectives. One attendee commented "the proposition of ‘the primacy of consciousness’ in either context could scarcely be more relevant in the light of the systematic inability of neuroscience over the past twenty years to provide an adequate explanation of the human experience."
In 2008 & 2009 SES Economics Faculty presented new courses called "The Science of Political Economy", "Protection or Free Trade", "The Condition of Labour" , based on important works of Henry George. 
In 2013 SES received the Second Globalisation for the Common Good Initiative (GCGI) Award at the 11th Annual International GCGI Conference, held at Cite Universitaire International, Paris. "The Award is given in recognition of the School’s extraordinary and tireless work, offering a truly meaningful education for the common good and selfless service in helping to build a better world. The School has shown that an education based on ancient wisdom can raise the individual to a higher level of awareness, bringing deeper understanding and kinship with all living things." 
In 2016 SES was invited to participate in the United Nations Harmony with Nature initiate, an online platform of practitioners, academics and researchers dedicated to advancing a world-view based on recognition of the intrinsic value of Nature and of human-Earth relationships that are subject to the natural laws of the Universe.
In 2017 SES made written submissions to the House of Commons, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Land Value Capture.
It said in its financial report for the year 2014 that 55,000 people had attended its courses since 1937. Other sources reported SES to have had more than 100,000 students since its founding and currently has 20,000.
Teachings, doctrine and practices
Teaching at the School is done in small groups, in the form of a dialogue between tutor and students following the Socratic tradition, rather than establishing a set course with a curriculum, textbooks and examinations. All the SES tutors are advanced students; none is paid. Courses include Philosophy, Economics, Art, Vedic Mathematics, and Practical Philosophy in Business.
The school teaches a philosophy drawn from Eastern and Western traditions, and its courses are taken up by those who are interested in self-discovery and searching out a deeper meaning from life. "Unlike philosophy schools that offer a variety of philosophies to be considered, without any real commitment being expected from the pupils, SES is closer to the ancients’ conception in which pupils are taught one particular philosophy or ethical way of life, which they commit to in an effort to completely transform themselves". The underlying idea is that the great teachings of the world all point to the same central truths, and that wisdom is the key to a better life. Doctrine is based on the precepts of Advaita Vedanta as translated, taped and transcribed from interviews in India conducted by MacLaren with Swami Shantanand Saraswati (d.1997), a colleague of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, from 1961 - 1996.
Advaita means literally "not two"; vedanta refers to the knowledge underlying the creation. Together these are said to explain the essential unity of everything in creation and the source from which it arises. This teaching also speaks of 'pure consciousness' as the true essence of every being, and the human possibility of shedding the covers on this essence to allow it to be realised and expressed in its purity. SES consider Advaita to be "the clearest and most systematic expression we have found of the common philosophy that lies at the heart of many of the world’s great religions and philosophies". Non-dual philosophy arises from ancient vedic scriptures, expounded by Shankara, this teaching along with the expansion of it, in relation to the modern age, by Santanand Saraswati, is the foundation of the philosophy course. The course operates on the principle that the teaching achieves nothing unless put into practice in everyday living, through practice it eventually becomes understanding and part of ones own nature.
A phrase that summarises Advaita is "Brahman is the reality; the world is not in itself real; the individual self is not different from Brahman." The purpose of the teaching is to bring about this realisation. Unlike religions and most other spiritual systems, students are not asked to set aside reason and accept the unprovable as truth, students are encouraged to question everything until all doubts are satisfied. The only 'practices' provided promote self-control of mind and senses so that discrimination may operate. It is a matter of listening or reading, clarifying confusion and reflecting until there is 'enlightenment.'
According to the SES web site, the relationship between the organisation and Advaita Vedanta developed as follows:
The introductory philosophy course covers some basic principles, highlighting the main influences that govern human experience. After the introductory course, the various aspects of the subject are examined more deeply and philosophical texts are studied in detail. The material presented is drawn from a variety of sources within the philosophical writings and dialogues, scriptures and other literature of East and West, including the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads, the Bible, Plato, Marsilio Ficino, Hermes Trismegistus, Shakespeare and Emerson. As students progress through the school,they don't learn deeper truths, but gain a deeper understanding of the same truth, which they are presented on the first night.
Some of the ideas presented in the course have parallels in western philosophy: the idea that the empirical world is constantly changing (Heraclitus), there must be some underlying reality that is unitary and never changes (Parmenides), people’s lives seem to be ruled by ignorance and yet there also seems to be some innate understanding of the finer principles like truth and justice (Socrates and Plato), 'Know thyself' is fundamental for giving a life meaning, philosophical investigations should be guided by the findings and thoughts of those who have gone before but we must question and reflect upon those findings (Aristotle), possessions do not bring lasting happiness it must be sought 'within' (Cynics). 
Members are encouraged to do volunteer work with and for fellow students, and for the communities in which they live. Service to fellow human beings is considered important an important part of the organisation's philosophy.
SES host retreats for those students who have graduated from foundation courses, who spend longer periods of time there practising what they have learnt and furthering their study. It is a setting in which students can dedicate themselves more fully to the philosophy of the school.
Economics with Justice
A four term economics course is taught seeking to show that "Freedom and prosperity are possible for people everywhere, providing we follow economic laws and aim for a fair outcome from economic arrangements"  Courses and studies in economics have continued with the emphasis on "Economics with Justice". As well as being inspired by the studies in philosophy, links have been established with several organisations with common aims. Economics is treated as a distinctly human subject whose purpose is to release human creativity and potentiality. A discussion forum fosters open discussion on economics topics. The Economic Monitor is published by the economic faculty and several copies are available online.
Economic science is normally considered the mathematical approach to Economics, SES uses a different definition. The view adopted by the course is that justice is the ethical basis of economics and the real measure if economic understanding is whether the policies and practices that flow from that understanding produce justice for all participants. It is critical of the contemporary understand and practice of economics which it claims shows "great accumulations of wealth alongside great poverty", "consumption patterns based on exploitation", and our natural environment systematically undermined and destroyed for profit. The ideas of Henry George are viewed as as a means to allowing all humanity to live with justice and equity.
The first term sets out basic ideas of economics in the context of economic justice. The second term looks at the historical development of the subject focusing on the main contributors, considered to be: Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Henry George, Alfred Marshal, John Maynard Keynes and Milton Friedman, and the effect of their ideas on present circumstances.
SES has made written submissions to the Scottish Government Commission on Local Tax Reform, the London Assembly Inquiry into Land Value Taxation for London, and the House of Commons, Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee on Land Value Capture. It hosted a variety of events related to pluralism in economics. It has been described as "Georgist", but has widened its cope of enquiry beyond George to include financial reform and debt.. It has been described as one of three UK organisations working to bring about land tax reform.
Meditation is introduced as a personal practice to find stillness and unity in oneself. It has lifestyle benefits like reducing stress and improving concentration. However, it is intended as a means of coming to a deeper appreciation of spiritual unity, and from that appreciation deciding how do you deal with the world around you.
Students are introduced to meditation after a few terms' study, after which the regular practice of meditation is central to the teachings. They claim process of meditation takes you from an agitated mind to a state of stillness, and that which takes you there is the mantra. There is a simple initiation ceremony as described by one of the organisation's American websites:
In the School, a traditional system of mantra meditation is made available to all students who have taken Philosophy Works followed by the Foundation Courses. Seated comfortably in a balanced and upright position, the activities of the mind and body are brought under observation, and then allowed to fall away as the attention is directed to the sound of the mantra. This results in an experience of quiet stillness. Remaining still and listening to the sound of the mantra is all that is required. The rest unfolds naturally. The introduction to meditation is marked by a simple, dignified ceremony. Students are asked to present traditional offerings of fruit, flowers and a gift of money that is used solely for making meditation available throughout North America. Following the introduction, ongoing assistance is offered in the form of one-on-one tutorials and classroom discussions.
The meditation practice is described as leading to inner quiet, of equal value to those who follow a religion or have no particular belief, not a practice of contemplation or concentration, it aids the meditator in looking inwards and going about their worldly activities.
Renaissance studies by SES have led to the publication of several works, including translations from Latin of many of Marsilio Ficino's letters  No translators or editors are credited int the work, it was done as a service to the organisation, the copyright belongs to the school. The translators were led by Clement Salaman.
SES members have contributed to the BBC programs on renaissance topics, in 2005 providing incites into the historical meaning of the word heaven and its possible implications, and in 2009 on of the influence of Plato and Aristotle on the Renaissance.
Donald Lambie is supported by a nine-member Executive Committee elected by the 230-person governing body of the SES, known as the 'Fellowship'. It has 240 'Ordinary Members' and 41 'Associate Members' in its Fellowship. The principal of SES is Ian Mason, a barrister  and a global facilitator for the UN Harmony with Nature project.
The Fellowship rules include by 6 objects the first and principle one being:
- To promote the study of natural laws governing the relations between men in society and all studies related thereto and to promote the study of the laws customs and practices by which communities are governed and all studies there to.
Any person Enrolled on a Philosophy of Economics course can be invited by the Executive Committee to become an Ordinary Member of the Fellowship.
In the UK courses are held in nearly 50 towns and cities.
In 1972 the UK branch of SES purchased the Waterperry Estate in Oxfordshire, including its horticultural business, which it continues to run to generate revenue for the school, in 1986 Nanpantan Hall in Loughborough was bequeathed to them, they also own Brinscall Hall in Preston, as well as eleven further freehold properties and one long leasehold. These include Mandeville Place in London, Belmont House in Stockport, Park House in Glasgow. Other properties are in London, Leeds, Croydon, Edinburgh, Guildford and Colchester. In 2005, the SES sold one of its mansions, Sarum Chase in Hampstead, for £9.3 million.
In 2017 the UK charities commission shows the organisation had an income of £5.1m and spending of £4.0m. The organisation also has £15.5m of own use assets, £10.0m of long term investments, and £2.3m of other assets. The UK organisation has 9 trustees, 98 employees, 500 volunteers and lists its area of operation as the UK. Slightly more than half of tutors and half the students are female. SES has been described as an "exclusively a British organisation".
Apart from two office staff, all the School's work is done on a voluntary basis, including the teaching, this includes the Senior Tutor, Donald Lambie. In addition, nobody is allowed to profit commercially or financially from any association that they have in the School.
In addition to the campuses in the United Kingdom, most of which are called The School of Economic Science, there are several dozen associated branch organisations worldwide, most of which are called the School of Practical Philosophy or some variant of that name. The first such operation was established in Wellington, New Zealand in 1957. Another sources shows the in Canada SES was chartered under the companies act of Ontario as a non-profit body in 1939. One of the best known is the School of Practical Philosophy in New York City, founded in 1964. According to the spokesperson for the New York branch, Dr. Monica Vecchio, SES and the School of Practical Philosophy are "the same thing with different names. There are 70 or 80 [branches] around the world. Each share the same course curriculum, with the same content. The principles are the same, the practices are the same, the stream of discussion is the same." The international schools are separately financed and separately governed by their own constitutions, but using teaching material from SES. There are branches in USA, Canada, Venezuela, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Trinidad, Belgium, Cyprus, Greece, Holland, Malta, Spain, Ireland, Hungary, Germany, Israel, Fiji and Argentina.
A branch of the organisation called the School of Practical Philosophy opened in 1964 in New York City. The New York facility was launched in 1964 as a not-for-profit corporation chartered by the Board of Regents of the State of New York. It received tax-exempt status in 1982. It has branches in the Hudson Valley; Rochester, New York; Albany, Georgia; Scottsdale, Arizona; South Florida; San Francisco; Boston; and the state of New Jersey. The main branch is located at 12 East 79th Street in Manhattan. There is an additional property in Wallkill, New York, in a mansion once owned by Marion Borden. It bought an Upper East Side mansion from millionaire Charles Ogden in 1975, and put it on sale in 2014 for $51 million. Many New Yorkers are aware of the School of Practical Philosophy and its 10-week foundation course, Philosophy Works, due to extensive advertising in the subway. The Philosophy Works series is offered several times a year. The actor Hugh Jackman has been involved with the organisation since 1993.
The organisation has been described in a variety of different ways: a "human potential movement", as providing "mind discipline" for achieving mental quiescence, as cult, or new religious movement, as a non-religious organisation, or a platonic community, a "Gurdjieff fringe group", as "Georgist". Commentators have pointed out that SES members do not consider it to be a religion, rather a philosophy, and some members for example may well be committed to mainstream churches. SES state that "Advaita does not stand in the place of religion. Rather, as many students in the School of a religious disposition have found, it has the capacity to expand and deepen an understanding of their own religion, whatever it may be. It is equally valuable for, and applicable to, those who practise no religion." Shantanand Saraswati stated that people do not need to change their religious beliefs to follow the principles of Adviaita.
In 1983, the day before the UK General Election, reporters Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg, writing in the London Evening Standard, made allegations that was a cult infiltrating the corridors of power via the Liberal Party. They made several pejorative allegations including, "enforced a severe diet, persecuted women and kept its members closed off from the outside world". They also criticised the School of Economic Science's links to the St James Independent Schools for children in London and the discipline regime at the children's schools. The authors lost credibility when multiple errors were found in their story and it was discovered that David Boddy, Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, was also a member of SES. Boddy stated, "That really upset them, when they found that out". The articles were described as "largely politically motivated".SES leadership initially chose to ignore these allegations. 
In 1984, Houman and Hogg wrote a book, Secret Cult, which said that the organisation aimed to establish psychological control over its members and had caused personality change, mental breakdown and divorce. They did not consider every SES member to be a cult member; they excluded, for example, the thousands that attend only the introductory courses and potentially those in the senior echelons that live normal lives; of concern was a group they called the ‘lumpenproletariat’ who joined after the religious fervour of the 1960’s and are "dependant on SES to make decisions in their lives". They also claimed the SES was "penetrating the corridors of power" with particular links to the Liberal Party, whose then chairman, Roger Pincham, was an SES member. The book contained a reply from Pincham disputing the claims, and also included interviews with ex-students who said they had gained much from their attendance. The authors commented that, in hiding from publicity, the School might have made secrecy its worst enemy. Other commentators stated that "Secret Cult" was a sensationalist account containing many inaccuracies" and that it "lacked scholarly objectivity in places" and contained some controversial claims; some also state SES was secretive, which was part of the problem, but are now open about their activities following consultation with Shantanand Saraswati. Colin Slee, Provost of Southwark Cathedral, who had collaborated in the Secret Cult and was then happy to "see SES as a cult", in 1999 reported a shift in his attitude to SES later considering it to be a New Religious Movement instead.
University of Sydney professor, J Petsche, wrote on the Secret Cult: "by journalists Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg from the right-wing Evening Standard, Secret Cult had a blatant political agenda; it was discovered that several leading members of the Liberal Party were members of the SES, and the publication of Secret Cult was timed to coincide with the 1984 General Election. Hounam and Hogg lost credibility when a string of errors were identified in the book, and when it was discovered that the spokesman for the SES, David Boddy, had in fact been a press adviser to Margaret Thatcher. For many years, Secret Cult was the only major "outsider" source on the SES, leading to a consistently onesided and misinformed picture of the group. As a result, MacLaren’s birth year has been persistently quoted incorrectly as 1911; Andrew MacLaren, rather than his son Leon, has been attributed as founding the SES; and MacLaren is believed to have been designated "Master" by pupils (when in fact they called him "Sir"). Other strange allegations, such as MacLaren arranging marriages within the group and banning the use of refrigerators because they kill the life force, are also untrue." Another author stated Secret Cult to be "a particularly good example of how tabloid sensationalism can create considerable amounts of smoke from not very much fire".
Journalist William Shaw wrote a 1994 book Spying in Guru Land: Inside Britain's Cults, in which he attended SES along with several organisations that have been branded cults, in order to paint a truer picture of members. On cults he states "they become cults when we think of them as cults." He challenged the suggestion SES was a cult, saying "I witness nothing that could be called thought reform, or brainwashing. The yearning dedication of those who stay, turning up week after week in their quest for the big answer to life, is somehow ignored by those in the anti-cult movement who try to tell us that behind the fluty-voiced Miss Crammond lurks a malicious agent of mind control." Shaw was critical of Secret Cult by Hounham and Hogg, saying "This book is a perfect demonstration of how, if you start looking for a malignant cult, that is exactly what you will find." He said Houghman and Hogg assumed SES members had taken positions as lawyers, churchmen and politicians because they were in a cult, missing the obvious conclusion that they were SES members "simply because they shared the elitist upper-middle-class professional values that the school espoused." As he left the organisation, Shaw says he felt like a "posh schoolboy at an earnest, well-meaning, stolid, self-satisfied public school."
In 1994 Religious Studies Lecturer at the University of Wolverhampton, George Chryssides wrote: SES does not consider itself to be a religion, it runs classes in philosophy, "by which is meant Vedic philosophy", with some Christian and Esoteric elements, together with the practice of meditation. It is an exclusively British organisation.
Writing in the Independent in 1995, in an article titled Philosophy for grown-ups, Hester Lacey described how a diverse group of 50 people attended a philosophy class at SES in London. Lacey listed the motivations of some of the participants including: "I started coming because I felt there had to be more to life", "You need to take care of your mind and soul", "The class is like being at a big, brilliant dinner party and not being stuck beside one person all evening","As an actor, the more I understand others, the better I can do my job", "I work in a hospital, and these classes are very much like the group therapy sessions we run". Lacey points out "None of the teachers is paid, and there are no exams; the pupils study simply for the enjoyment of the lessons." 
Sociologist of Religion, David V. Barrett, in his 2001 book The New Believers, based partly on interviews with David Boddy he described SES a not a religion, but at the heart of its teaching having a very distinctive philosophy which draws on elements of Christianity and esoteric origins and beliefs but is largely Eastern. The path of the SES is "a case of personal development rather than attaining knowledge". He points out SES follow the teaching of the Shankaracharya because hey say "his wisdom, which we have followed, works"; SES do not claim to have a monopoly on the truth, there are some for which it is appropriate and some for whom another method is appropriate.
In 2010, Ariel Kiminer of The New York Times noted that passengers on the New York City Subway were familiar with an advertising placard from School of Practical Philosophy which stated: "This poster can make you happier than any other." She said she attended the introductory course, for which 400 people signed up, and that after the initial meetings attendance fell off considerably and she started to dread it. Responding to accusations that it is a cult, she said “If so, it must be an unsuccessful one: no one tried to sign me up for the next course, let alone get me to donate my earthly possessions."
In 2011, M. H. Miller of The New York Observer alleged, based on the testimonies of some former members, that the organisation had caused divorce and child abuse and that its leadership had ingrained sexism and homophobia. He said that its practices are "obscure bordering on impenetrable" and "follow a hierarchical structure in which students advance to new levels of study with money and time, but are not told the specifics of what awaits them when they do." Miller reported an allegation by a former member that the organisation seeks to "gain control over students by a slow process of conflating obedience to God with obedience to those who claim to know God–that is, S.E.S. and its "tutors."
In his 2013 book Philosophy for Life: And other dangerous situations Jules Evans, describes SES as a Platonic organisation, he said the SES relationship with an Indian guru was key to its development, because the members "like Plato himself, were trying to invent a religion." Describing the horror stories of some former SES children, he said that they often received no sympathy from their parents because of the parents’ allegiance to SES. He added that the day schools are today "apparently run a lot better" and that there has been a shift towards the mainstream of society. Evans also reported that sometimes 18-year-old St. James School girls were introduced to older SES members at specially arranged parties, and that Principal Ian Mason and SES Leader Donald Lambie have both married former St. James girls. He noted that it is common for religious groups to encourage in-group marriage, even though as Mason admitted "It's a bit weird." Evans concluded, "SES seems to me to be an interesting experiment, an interesting attempt to turn Eastern and Western ancient philosophy into a genuine community and way of life", adding "I personally don't think SES is a 'secret cult'. It has lost its charismatic and authoritarian Leader. Its membership is declining."
In 2019, a writer for The Outline enrolled in the School of Practical Philosophy introductory course. She reported that "There was something surreal about leaving work on Thursday evening and taking the subway to a mansion where I would be told a bunch of weird lies." She read Secret Cult midway through the course and commented that "it was hard to square its horror stories with the SPP, which, like a lot of Americanised British things, wasn’t quite as compelling as the original." The reviewer opined that it seemed strange the SPP had so much money, and attributed it to low overhead. She observed that "teachers are unpaid, students perform custodial work, and the SPP owns its own building."
Comments from members and ex-members
In 1963, writing in Land & Liberty, A J Carter describes coming "into contact with one of the most important influences on my development" at SES. The economics program introduced him to, land-value tax and Progress and Poverty, by which "a vital seed was sown, but it was not yet to flower". The philosophy course he describes as "directly and indirectly, altered my whole outlook on the deepest aspects of life."
On 26 May 1982, Roger Pincham, who had been a member since 1955, wrote a letter to The Evening Standard challenging criticisms made by Hounam and Hogg. He said that an account based on the views of a few disaffected former or current students, or on reporters’ attendance at programs on two or three occasions, could not present a balanced view. He said that thousands of students have attended the program over the preceding four decades and most have gathered great value from doing so. He added that the authors had mischaracterized the relationship between SES, the independent day schools founded by some if its members, and the Liberal Party, suggesting that the journalists had distrusted the organisation simply because it was "new and rather unusual".
Commenting on the book Secret Cult, school member and author Brian Hodgkinson responded to its claim that the program encourages "destroying the personality". He said that description conceals the actual focus of the teaching, which is to free the mind from the limitations imposed by the ego. He added that "of course, no actual force was used. The whole teaching of the school is word of mouth. Anyone can walk away from a School meeting or event at any time. Some do!"
Hodgkinson later wrote a history of the school called In Search of Truth: The Story of the School of Economic Science, published in 2010. It included details of the school’s economic and philosophical thought, and examination of positive and negative aspects of the organisation. In response to claims that some people had become emotionally disturbed while attending the program, he pointed out that such cases may have been caused by "outside circumstances, such as family relationships or careers" or pre-existing mental health problems. He added "When they sought help from help from School tutors, the advice given may sometimes have exacerbated the situation, but there have been a great deal more cases where tutors' help has been much appreciated."
In her 2002 book, Nothing Left Over: A Plain and Simple Life, Tionette Lippe, who attend SES in London and New York, describes how she remained in this organisation for a "considerable number of years, studying the philosophy of many of the world’s great traditions, and what I heard and put into practice there laid the groundwork for the rest of my life". Her own philosophy of wanting to be of service to other people and share with them whatever has comes her way, to live so that supply does not exceed demand or consumption; and to trust that the universe will respond to you in the same way that you respond to it, is of no surprise as she "began my training at a place called the School of Economic Science!".
In a 2006 interview with Oprah Winfrey, actor Hugh Jackman said he had been a member of the School of Practical Philosophy since 1991. He said, "now I meditate twice a day for half an hour. In meditation, I can let go of everything. I'm not Hugh Jackman. I'm not a dad. I'm not a husband. I'm just dipping into that powerful source that creates everything." In a 2010 interview with GQ Australia, Jackman said: "Really, the spiritual pillar for me has become the School of Practical Philosophy. I'm a regular attendee there and I suppose that has become my church." Jackman has stated he is a devout Christian, active in his local Anglican church, but in addition to following this religion he meditates every day and also follows the School of Economic Science, stating "I just find the evangelical church too, well, restrictive. But the School of Practical Philosophy is nonconfrontational", "We believe there are many forms of scripture", "What is true is true and will never change, whether it's in the Bible or in Shakespeare. It's about oneness. Its basic philosophy is that if the Buddha and Krishna and Jesus were all at a dinner table together, they wouldn't be arguing. There is an essential truth. And we are limitless."
In her 2009 book The Power Within, MacLarens secretary Doreen Tolly wrote: “The philosophy course he (MacLaren) had developed over the years had slowly become a life changing method with all its consequences. The advertisements were not explicit enough and did not indicate that one’s habitual patterns of life would come under scrutiny.”. “In spite of attempts to malign Leon MacLaren and his methods his critics were vastly outnumbered by his supporters and none of the sceptics have ever been able to explain why so many thousands of discerning people flocked to the school”.
In July 2012, political advertiser Jeremy Sinclair, chairman of M&C Saatchi, told The Drum that outside of work, his other passion is teaching at the SES. "The philosophy that I teach is to be useful, and not just about mind expanding," he said. He added that it has "heavily influenced" his book, Brutal Simplicity of Thought. His colleague Tim Bell thought SES gave Sinclair a sense of equilibrium, keeping him well enough balanced that he never got affected by blowups at the agency.
in 2013, Martha Dewing, raised Episcopalian, now an Interfaith Minister, said studying Advaita Vedanta at the School of Practical Philosophy in New York changed the way she saw her inherited faith. Stating "It opened me up and broadened my perspective" and "I see a bigger Jesus. I see what he meant rather than what they say he said.". Dewing's two primary spiritual practices are mantra meditation twice a day, and a heartfelt practice of gratitude.
Allegations regarding St. James Schools
In 2004, an internet message board was set up on which former St. James and St Vedast pupils shared recollections including many complaints of mistreatment, unreasonable punishment and assault. Many others shared positive testimonies. The schools were subject to a critical series of articles" focusing on the School's discipline regime and its links to the School of Economic Science in the London Evening Standard in the early 1980s. In 2005, following complaints from former St James Schools pupils, the Governors of the St James Schools initiated a private inquiry, chaired by British QC, James Townsend, into the allegations. The investigation found that during the 1975 to 1985 time period, children had been "criminally assaulted" while attending the schools. The teachers involved were given a formal warning and no longer work at St James. The chairman of the inquiry described cases where boys were punched in the face or stomach or "cuffed violently about the head", sometimes causing injury. This report was publicised by Channel 4 News on 15 March 2006 and in national and local newspapers. The Channel 4 social affairs correspondent, Victoria Macdonald, interviewed former St. James pupils and the then-headmaster, David Boddy, who said this was the first time the Governors had heard of the complaints. However, the program reported that there had been complaints about punishment regimes in 1983 and that meetings had been held with parents which Boddy himself attended.
In a 2014 interview in the Daily Telegraph, actress Emily Watson said she had experienced SES as a child. She described its central teaching of Advaita Vedanta as "a kind of spiritual communism where everyone is one and the same" At its day school, she said children were treated with "a sort of emotional cruelty that was utterly out of place in a place of education that purports to be based on love and understanding." In 2017, Watson added: "It was just very... ideologically different. I look back and I'm grateful to some parts of it and angry about others. Life is a complicated beast." In the Irish Independent, on 30 September 2000, Watson is quoted as saying on St James school in Notting Hill Gate. "I loved it" , "I had a good time there. It's very alternative and you do Sanskrit and meditation and philosophy. It was quite strict. It was very disciplined and it was also experimental in that it had only just started up. …". On SES she said: "The School of Economic Science has been labeled a cult, which is rather ludicrous I think. It's a community. I still go to meditation sessions."
Responses from SES
In 2011, invited by a reporter to reply to allegations that SES and its branches are a cult, spokeswoman Monica Vecchio said: "I've known Mr MacLaren for many years," referring to SES leader Leon MacLaren. "I met him when I was a very young woman in my 20s. For anybody to call anything Mr MacLaren started a cult is just ridiculous. I've never met a man who was more a man in the greatest sense of the word than Mr MacLaren was."
In 2012 David Boddy, former SES spokesman and Thatcher press secretary, describes MacLaren as "my first mentor" and "my first real teacher", "He knew things others didn’t appear to know, and he was totally fearless when it came to proclaiming them. He couldn’t abide ‘experts’ or religion but he did believe that humankind could be lifted out of its torpor and misery by the power of philosophy, or love of wisdom." . He said “the London Evening Standard sought to brand MacLaren a 'cult leader' because of his Indian connections.", the book lead to "severe misunderstanding, and in some cases libel and slander" . He points out that "the School of Economic Science, which has never had a political or religious agenda; it is, in fact, a rather interesting, if somewhat pedantic, philosophical school in the classical Platonic tradition."
According to the SES's 2013 website, its critics "greatly misrepresent the aims and activities of the School, but they have alerted it to the need to provide more information about the way its courses and associated activities progress."
SES representative Ian Mason responded to criticism in Jules Evans’ 2013 book. He said: "The idea is not to break down the ego for the sake of it, but rather to put you in touch with yourself, to help you distinguish what's real or not, and to nourish and strengthen the mind. But perhaps there was too unquestioning an attitude to the leader in those earlier years. People took things that MacLaren said and applied them without intelligence." About the parties reported by Evans, Mason said, "The balls were a response to requests from young women for opportunities to meet some eligible young men in the SES and were pretty innocent occasions. I should emphasise that there was no coercion involved." In a 2013 interview with Voice of America Mason stated that life is a voyage of discovery and deepening understanding and the courses are designed to support this. The participants are the judges as to the successes of the programs, no certifications are offered, the aim is to liberate people. It’s really about being the best kind of person you can be, knowing your potential.
Notable members include former Liberal Party chairman Roger Pincham, M&C Saatchi chairman Jeremy Sinclair actor Hugh Jackman, Margaret Thatchers press secretary David Boddy, MP Richard Stokes, actress Emily Watson.
Publications by the School of Economic Science
- Letters of Marsilio Ficino Vol 1  - Vol 10 
- Reminders, Extracts from Lectures by Leon Maclaren 
- Self Illumination, a translation of Sri Sankara Acarya's Svaatmaprakasikaa
- The Teaching of Reality: A Translation of Shankara's Tattvopadesha 
- The Eternal Way: An English translation of Sadacaranusandhanam, attributed to Sankara
- Reflections of Brahman: Brahmanucintanam, Sri Sankara Acarya, a new translation 
- The Teachings of Astavakra
- London Language Lectures 2009-2012
- Leon MacLaren: Reminders 
- Music: The Foundations of Harmony 
- Nature of Society 
- Justice - The transcript of a lecture delivered on 19 December 1951 by Leon MacLaren.
- One World One Wealth - Exploring the Possibilities of Economics with Justice 
- Dialectic - Five principles are presented using the Platonic Dialogues
- The Dhatupatha of Panini, Practical Aid for the Study of Sanskrit Dhatus 
- Sanskrit Dictionary Page-Finder
- Sanskrit for Philosophy Students Vol 1 -3
- The Laws of Manu, a new translation.
- Nine Vedic Prayers and the Alphabet (CD)
- Sounds of Sanskrit (CD)
- Isha Upanishad (CD), Music performed by School Choir and Orchestra
- His Holiness Sri Shantananda Saraswati on Love (CD)
- HIs Holiness Shantananda Saraswati & Mr. MacLaren (CD)
- Going Home (DVD)
- Philosophy for Life (DVD)
- Advaita Vedanta
- Leon MacLaren
- George Gurdjieff
- P. D. Ouspensky
- Transcendental Meditation movement
- New religious movement
- Spiritual bypass
- Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
- Andrew McLaren (Labour politician)
- Adi Shankara
- Henry George
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There are many mind disciplines (Silva Mind Control, Zen, The School of Practical Philosophy, etc) for helping one to achieve quiet (quiescent) mind
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