Werner Erhard : The man behind The Forum

Werner Erhard is the creator of transformational models and applications for individual, organizational and social transformation. His innovative ideas have stimulated academic conversations at many Universities, most recently in the areas of integrity, leadership, and performance.

A brief history: Content derived from Wikipedia entries on ‘Werner Erhard’ and ‘Erhard Seminars Training’

Werner Erhard was known more for EST (or Erhard Seminars Training) in the past. EST was a unique training program that delivered the promise of lasting transformation to its participants. Listen to the man himself in this video

Courtesy: Werner Erhard Seminars Training, Personal Transformation & Leadership Development, Est Training Programs

The purpose of est was to allow participants to achieve, in a very brief time, a sense of personal transformation and enhanced power. The est course was offered from late 1971 to late 1984. The last est Training was held in December 1984 in San Francisco; and in its place a newly developed course called ‘The Forum’ came into existence (since Jan 1985). Below is a brief video that comprises of Werner Erhard Interviews shot in different parts of USA.

‘est, Inc.’ evolved into ‘est, an Educational Corporation’, and eventually into ‘Werner Erhard & Associates’. WE&A purchased the assets of est in 1981. Later, WE&A’s name was changed to Landmark Education, and est was changed to The Landmark Forum. The business was then sold to former employees, with Erhard’s brother Harry Rosenberg becoming the CEO.

Present: The Landmark Education, incorporated in 1991, has taken on the game of taking transformation to millions of people all over the world. Its curriculum for living has been truly giving new life to people.

Since his retirement in 1991, Werner Erhard has been working away from the public eye and devoted time to to academic investigation, and presentations in writing and lectures of his ideas. After reading all the material about Werner Erhard and est on Wikipedia, you can help but wonder – how was it like? Well, I finish off with this video here:

[Quick Update: Visit http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=433651 to download Werner Erhard’s Scholarly Papers.]

[Another Update: A batchmate of mine from the Landmark Advanced Course and SELP expressed her concern that I am violating copyrights by posting the above link and/or videos.

Firstly, the PDF files downloadable from the above links clearly state in their opening page – “FAIR USE: You may redistribute this document freely, but please do not post the electronic file on the web. We welcome web links to the document(s). We revise our papers regularly, and providing a link to the original at the above URL ensures that readers will receive the most recent version. Thank you, Werner Erhard, Michael Jensen, S. Zaffron, K. Granger.

Secondly, the videos are linked to their original source (which is allowed legally by Youtube, unless the owner of the video explicitly disables video embedding). I have also explicitly stated in this post that I have derived most of the material from Wikipedia (which is also an open and free source).

So, there is no copyright violation of any sort.]

Integrity. Without it nothing works!

For most of us Integrity is about being sincere and honest. And “honesty is the best policy”. And sincerity is about being good and true to oneself. We keep going down that road and eventually land up discussing about morality and ethics in the name of Integrity.

Following are relavent excerpts from an Interview with Michael Jensen. Download the complete interview: here.

  • Integrity: A state or condition of being whole, complete, unbroken, unimpaired, sound, in perfect condition.
  • Morality: In a given society, in a given era of that society, morality is the generally-accepted standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct, and what is considered by that society as good or bad behaviour of a person, group or entity.
  • Ethics: In a given group, ethics is the agreed upon standards of what is desirable and undesirable; of right and wrong conduct; of what is considered by that group as good and bad behaviour of a person, group or entity that is a member of the group, and may include defined bases for discipline, including exclusion

Integrity is a purely positive proposition. It has nothing to do with good vs. bad. Think for a moment about the Law of Gravity: there is no such thing as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ gravity; like integrity, it just ‘is’. Morality and ethics, on the other hand, are normative concepts in that they deal with matters of good or bad, right vs. wrong. Morality refers to a society’s standards of right and wrong behaviour for individuals and groups within that society, while ethics refers to the normative set of values that apply to all members of a group or organization. Thus, both morality and ethics relate to desirable vs. undesirable behavior.

Integrity is important to individuals, groups, organizations and society because it creates workability. Without integrity, the workability of any object, system, person, group or organization declines; and as workability declines, the opportunity for performance declines. Therefore, integrity is a necessary condition for maximum performance.

An individual is whole and complete when their word is whole and complete, and their word is whole and complete when they honour their word. We can honour our word in one of two ways: first, by keeping our word, and on time as promised; or second, as soon as we know that we won’t keep our word, we inform all parties involved and clean up any mess that we’ve caused in their lives – by making a new promise or by creating with them the necessary structures for dealing with one not having kept the word. When we do this, we are honouring our word despite having not kept it, and we have maintained our integrity.

A group/organization/system is whole and complete only if the the people involved are in complete Integrity, along with the design of the system, its implementation and use.

The origin of negation

When we go about the world, we have expectations which are often not fulfilled. For example, I go to meet an old friend. I imagine that he will be happy to see me after all these years and that we chat for hours sharing about our lives. I go there and I find that he doesn’t recognize me at all. At that moment my friend begins to appear to me as ‘not-him’. All of a sudden the ‘being’ of my friend has become the ‘non-being of the friend from my expectation’. Everything about him will be reflecting that non-being.

So as Sartre claims in his book on ‘Being and Nothingness‘ – “It is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation.”

Non-being is an illusion because it occurs only in the consciousness of an individual. The world always consists of beings. Our conversations about the world creates non-beings and bring them about as realities in our lives. Non-beings create a weak relationship with reality for us – by that I mean reality consists of beings, but my expectations create non-beings. Hence I land up dealing with the unreal non-beings in addition to the beings. Overtime I would have created sufficient non-beings to occupy my time and energy; that I would be disconnected from the beings in the world. I am living inside of an illusion, so to speak!

I am thinking of all the conversations I have in my mind about – ‘this should not have happened’, ‘he/she should not have said this/that’, ‘I should not have done that’, ‘I should have waited a bit more before committing to this/that project’, etc… All of these conversations (though valid) create non-beings. And I can notice how much energy and time I am spending on those. “It is evident that non-being always appears within the limits of a human expectation.” – this is giving me yet another view of life.

Equated Monthly Installments

About two weeks ago we bought a 40×60 site in Shimoga, right next to my father in law’s plot. The site is in a good location. We hope to construct our house in there in about 10 years time and move there in about 15 years time. One of the top thoughts in my wife’s and my head for the last 1.5 months has been “EMI!!!”. We go out for taking a loan and land up computing what would be the EMI we would be paying on a monthly basis. It is about that time I really figured out the math behind EMI computations. For my benefit and for the benefit of those looking to take loans, here is a calculator that helps you with EMI computations.

Please enter the following three fields marked in *

Principal (*) :
Yearly Rate of Interest (*) :
Number of Months (*) :
Click calculate to view EMI
Extra amount paid:

Click calculate to view

One final word of advise: Take a look at the Extra amount paid field before finalizing on your decision to take loan.

“It is about the current step…”

Yesterday, my wife and I joined Murali, Meera and two other friends (Charan and Krishnakumar) on a bike-trip to Skandagiri. We started from Murali’s house at 5:00 AM. By 7:15 we had reached Nandigrama – a village near Nandi hills. We had breakfast there and from there we continued our journey to Skandagiri. By 8 we had reached the base point of the hill and started our trek – up the hill. We went trekking up the hill, which was about 1.3 kms in altitude; but climbing up and hill and down is about 10 kms – I guess. The trip and the trek thereafter was lots of fun, although very exhausting.

Skandagiri Trekking
Left to Right: Meera, Nandini, Me, Krishnakumar

As I was climbing the hill, I was getting very very tired. We were not even 25% into the trek and I was almost down from total exhaustion. Murali looked at me from a distance and after sometime he came to me and said – “it is just about the current step…”. I was making up so many stories about the path ahead and how steep it was that I was making my current step difficult. An integration of current steps would become my trekking experience – which would have appeared hell. Anyways, after Murali told me – “it is about the current step”; I began to enjoy the current step. I got present to an old saying – “Life is NOW!”. I started getting present to the sounds around – sound of the air, sound of birds chirping nearby, sound of frogs, sound of my heart beating, sound of the next step…. Every once in a while, I stopped when I got tired. Enjoyed the break. Took a look at the peak and the path ahead just to make sure that I am heading in the right direction – but then I would get back to enjoying the current step. one step after another, I did reach the peak of the hill. The journey and the destination was highly enjoyable!

Many times in our life we get so stressed – perhaps because of the stories we make up about the “perceived” future. After a while the place where we are in life seems hellish and so would the journey. Life is about the current step. Take a glance at the required destination once in a while, but dont forget to enjoy and ‘be’ in the current step.

Detachment.. what it means?

Almost every book on philosophy and enlightenment seem to suggest that the most important stage in the path to enlightenment is “detachment”. I was reading the Bhagavad Gita a couple of months back. In Chapter 3, Verse 9, Sri Krishna tells Arjuna – all actions, other than the ones done in detachment and as sacrifice to the Lord, cause bondage and hence suffering. I am not a Sanskrit pandit, but this is how I understood the words. If you want to rant then I suggest you read this post of mine first. Anyways, I think the point Sri Krishna wanted to make is just this – if you perform actions without attachment, then you will be free from bondage. But then what is the meaning of ‘attachment’ and ‘bondage’ in this context? I have understood, or rather made it mean, as explained below.

Eckhart Tolle in his book – A New Earth, talks about Ego in every human being. In his book he says that the Ego creates the identity of its host by means of identification with things, people, status etc. Identification is derived from the Latin word ‘idem’ which means “the same”. So when one identifies with something – he/she is basically saying I am same as that. For example – if I call myself as Software Developer then I am saying is – ‘who I am is same as software developer’. If I say – ‘this is my BMW’ then what I am truly saying is – ‘who I am is same as the other people that own a BMW. So I belong to a elite club.’ According to Eckhart Tolle, the ego creates identity of its host in terms of things, people and status that it identifies itself with. And if we look at it closely those things, people and status is external to the host. And once that identification is created – the human being becomes same as the identity and nothing else. For example – suppose I successfully execute a project. My ego creates that success as my identity. If I succeed again the next time, the ego inflates – if I don’t, then I get deeply disappointed. When we look at it from a third person’s point of view – the success or failure doesn’t mean anything. The point I want to make is – our ego creates identity, which becomes who we are and hence we are bound by it. That’s the bondage, I think Sri Krishna is talking about.

But who creates that bondage – the Ego of-course! The ego has an affinity to turn everything personal. Success is personal, failure is personal, happiness is personal, pain is personal, pleasure is personal and so on. In other words the ego loves to attach significance to everything that happens around its host. It is this attachment that creates our identity and hence the bondage.

That brings us to detachment. Detachment, I think, is about being the consciousness that notices Ego as it attaches significance to the result or outcome of any action. The Ego will attach significance, there is nothing I can probably do about it. But if I can notice it; then that’s detachment. When the outcome of any action doesn’t define who I am – then I can function from the space of pure possibility and not from the past or from the self-created identity. This means that I can take on executing actions irrespective of whether similar attempts in the past have been successful or not. That brings about a lightness in life.

We are all so concerned about something called – reputation. What is reputation? Nothing but an attachment to an identity created by the Ego. Put in other words – it is a description of who we are based on the past successes (and sometimes failures). If we are so attached to reputation – then every time we take on some new action, we will be concerned as to whether the outcome of the action will remain consistent with the reputation or not. Detachment frees us from this. Every action taken is new. Every result is new. We can truly get to a space where we can say – I did this and this action in the past and this was the outcome. I did the same action in the present and this was the outcome. Either way the outcomes are not labeled success or failure – and more importantly they wont feed our self-created identity.

One of the top takeaways of my SELP program was the distinction – Attachment vs Commitment. When I am attached to something then the outcome determines my identity and hence becomes breeding ground for strong-suits and rackets – and then I begin to function from the past. But when I am committed – then I will function from the space of pure possibility. I will keep taking action to generate the desired result. Every outcome will occur only as something that is consistent or inconsistent with the possibility.

Messenger and the Message…

The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. What’s the meaning of this statement?

Suppose a kid comes and tells to you – “I have never seen the moon, can you show it to me.” You take the kid to the terrace of your house and point your index finger to the moon and say – “That is the moon.” So saying you bring your hand down. The kid, instead of looking at the moon you pointed to, is looking at your index finger – assuming that the index-finger is the moon. After staring at your finger for sometime the kid says – “the moon is not so interesting!”

The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. What’s the philosophical relevance of this statement in our lives?

Suppose that you and I are driving our car from Bangalore to Hampi to visit the Jaina Temple. Enroute to the temple we see a signpost like the one below.


The moment we see the signpost we stop the car by the side and catch hold of the signpost and say “ah.. Temple! Temple!.. we got our temple!” How absurd is that?

Commonsense says that the signpost pointing towards the direction of the temple, is not the temple. That’s exactly what – the finger pointing at the moon is not moon means.

As a race, we have a dysfunction in all of us. We don’t know the difference between the finger and the thing that it is pointing to. We don’t make a distinction between, say, a book and the knowledge it is imparting to us. We read the book from cover to cover and then become fans of the book. We protect the book and advertise about the book – all the while not paying attention to its content. I am not saying that once we read the book we should rip it apart or that we should not tell other people about it. I am saying that we should consider that the book is a signpost, leading us to some knowledge. We should perhaps first make an effort to get that!

We don’t make a difference between the messenger and the message. A “messenger” is someone who is delivering a “message”. But we are all so dysfunctional that the moment we hear the message, we get attached to the messenger. This is exactly what is happening with “spiritual gurus”. The guru is communicating a message to us – but we get attached to the guru. We sing praises about the guru, we get more people to follow the guru, we create a cult following for the guru and we also get to the point of playing politics in the name of the guru (my guru is better and more than yours! OR my guru is the only guru in the whole world, your guru is useless).

In my opinion – that’s exactly what’s wrong with the Landmark Education followers. Granted that the Landmark Forum, Forum in Action Series and the Advanced Course and SELP (in parts) are good. But at the end of the day – the whole curriculum teaches us to create a new view for life, so that we can experience the transformation in ourselves and be at the source of it. But the common thing among graduates is that they get attached to the Landmark Education. They become sales persons for the company and trick people into doing their courses. All the time – not really being the source of transformation; which was of-course the intent of the curriculum for living! Even the people working for the Landmark Education (either as employees or as volunteers) have a feeling that the only way to be is to continuously trick more and more people into doing sales or unpaid voluntary jobs for the Landmark Education. Apparently, not doing some work for Landmark Education – makes you a stupid and dull person, and you will no longer be transformed! Can you see – they are hugging and kissing the signpost and not even bothering about the destination that it is pointing too!


Many times we do not ask – why we do what we do

Eight monkeys are put in a room. In the middle of the room is a ladder, leading to a bunch of bananas hanging from a hook on the ceiling. Each time a monkey tries to climb the ladder; all the monkeys are sprayed with ice water, which makes them miserable.

Sooner enough, whenever a monkey attempts to climb the ladder, all of the other monkeys, not wanting to be sprayed, set upon him and beat him up. Soon, none of the eight monkeys ever attempts to climb the ladder.

One of the original monkeys is then removed, and a new monkey is put in the room. Seeing the bananas and the ladder, he wonders why none of the other monkeys are doing the obvious, but, undaunted, he immediately begins to climb the ladder. All the other monkeys fall upon him and beat him silly. He has no idea why. However, he no longer attempts to climb the ladder.

A second original monkey is removed and replaced. The newcomer again attempts to climb the ladder, but all the other monkeys hammer the crap out of him. This includes the previous new monkey, who, grateful that he’s not on the receiving end this time, participates in the beating because all the other monkeys are doing it. However, he has no idea why he’s attacking the new monkey.

One by one, all the original monkeys are replaced.

Eight new monkeys are now in the room. None of them have ever been sprayed by ice water.

None of them attempt to climb the ladder. All of them will enthusiastically beat up any new monkey who tries, without having any idea why.

Many times we do not ask – why we do what we do!

Who am I ?

I spent the most of last week @ IIT Mumbai campus. After dinner, I used to go out on walks along the lake side, foot-ball field etc… During such walks I was thinking…

  • I have a right hand. Using it I can lift objects, place them back, write on paper with a pen, type on the keyboard etc… But I am not the right hand.
  • I have a left hand, but I am not the left hand.
  • I have eyes through which I see the world. This is interesting, because I see the world through my eyes. But I am not eyes.
  • I hear through my ears, but I am not ears.
  • I have a brain, and think using it; but I am not the brain.

So far it was easy. But getting to the next two was a bit tough. I usually think of myself as someone who can write good software programs, someone who can take on risky ventures and see it through, someone who dares to do off-normal things, someone who is a little impatient and gets angry for little things, someone who lacks maturity at times. But since I was thinking along the lines (in bullet points) above, I came up with the following…

  • I have some strengths, but I am not the strengths.
  • I have some weaknesses, but I am not the weaknesses.

Who am I then?

I am not my strengths and weaknesses; I am the one that makes the strengths and weaknesses possible!

This ‘realization’ made me feel light. And then I remembered, that this exactly was what the “Identity” distinction in the Landmark Forum was all about.

We get so caught up in defining who we are as function of our strengths and weaknesses that we forget one undeniable truth: we made those strengths and weaknesses possible, but we are not those strengths and weaknesses.

That also goes to say: If I could make strength abc possible, I can also make def possible as well. The only thing stopping me is; well my self-made identity of who I am that exists right now as a function of my existing strengths and weaknesses.