Est (Erhard Seminar Training)

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est (Erhard Seminar Training)

Erhard Seminar Training (est) is a quasi-religious therapy developed by Werner Erhard that blends a variety of religious, philosophical, and therapeutic traditions. Norman Vincent Peale's positive thinking, hypnosis, Sigmund Freud's theory of personality, Alan Watts's philosophy, Gestalt psychology, Zen Buddhism, Scientology, Mind Dynamics, Silva Mind Control, Swami Muktananda's Yoga system, and Subud are frequently cited as important influences. Beginning in the early 1970s, est became an enormously popular self-help movement and has graduated more than one million trainees to date. Although est and its successors have undergone several restructurings since 1970 that have reoriented its operation and mission, the "technology" developed by Werner Erhard remains the core of the training. The vast majority of participants are young, middle-class adults employed in managerial occupations.

Werner Erhard was born John Paul Rosenberg in Philadelphia in 1935. After completing high school, Erhard married and worked in sales for several years before abandoning his family, moving West, changing his name, and remarrying in 1960. Over the next decade he worked as a manager in a firm selling Encyclopaedia Britannica editions while he explored the various traditions that he synthesized as est. He founded est in 1971 and led the organization for two decades before selling his technology to a consortium of employees and withdrawing from public view. He is most often reported to be residing in the Caribbean.

The organization has undergone several restructurings through its history. In 1984 est was transformed into The Forum, and in 1991 it became Landmark Education Corporation. The training in successor organizations to est is shorter, not as highly structured, and less confrontational. Landmark Education currently claims forty-two offices, primarily in eleven Western nations. Erhard also founded Transformational Technologies, Inc., which franchises management training programs based on Erhard's technology. The core insight that informs est and all its successors derives from a transformative moment in Erhard's life when he had what he describes as a direct experience of himself and discovered that "what is, is, and what isn't, isn't." This revelation led him to develop est, which has as its transformative insight "getting it."

According to est, beings begin as pure space or context and manifest themselves through content. Every being is coextensive with all existence and therefore has created everything else. This means that individuals are the creators of their own universes and that everything that exists arises from the self. Est also asserts that individuals ultimately choose the conditions of their existence and therefore are responsible for them. However, individuals have lost touch with true reality, which is experiential, and mistakenly accept ordinary reality, which is illusory and involves concepts (e.g., beliefs, values, attitudes, and rules). This occurs because the ego (the mind identified with the being) operates through concepts and develops an investment in them, treating concepts as true reality. As a result, individuals routinely fail to assume responsibility for their own choices, and life does not work because they fail to keep their agreements.

Since individuals are pure beings and have chosen their own existence, the appropriate course of action is to accept one's responsibility for the world as it is and for one's self. Replacing concepts with experience also supplants traditional moral assessment of good or bad, right or wrong with a new standard for assessing the appropriateness of specific acts. This criterion is aliveness, which is defined in terms of such individual qualities as spontaneity, naturalness, centeredness, wholeness, awareness, and fulfillment.

The seminar training in its original form is an intensive two-weekend, sixty-hour marathon experience. In the first portion of the seminar, trainers harshly confront trainees. Trainers seek to undermine trainees' connection to ordinary reality, which is based on concepts, and put trainees in touch with their own direct experience. The processes that constitute this part of the training make trainees aware of their own space and of their ability to eliminate troublesome conditions by completely experiencing them. In later portions of the seminar, trainees confront more profoundly troubling conditions and experience them out. The trainer then describes in great detail how the mind works as a mechanism of survival and links with the being to create ego, which treats concepts as actual reality and defends them at all costs. The recognition that they are programmed into a reality of concepts by the mind but that they also possess the capacity to experience directly is a breakthrough moment for trainees. This transformative moment in which trainees recognize that they are ensnared in their own beliefs, that this self-constructed trap is the source of their demoralization, and that they are free to create their own experience is referred to in est as "getting it."

See alsoPsychology of Religion; Psychotherapy; Scientology, Church of; Silva Mind Control; Yoga; Zen.


Bry, Adelaide. est—60 HoursThat Will TransformYourLife. 1976.

Rhinehart, Luke. The Book ofest. 1976.

Tipton, Steven. Getting Savedfrom the Sixties. 1982.

David G. Bromley

Theresa Eddins

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Est (Erhard Seminar Training)

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