“What would it be like if the San Francisco center was your center of being, and reflected in this, you were being your center?…What if your way of being in the center gives the center its being and you are given your being from the space created in the center?”
The above excerpt is from a Landmark Forum flyer. Don’t laugh, because Landmark has its steely fingers in the brains of professionals, corporate types, housewives, students, and people from all areas. This article has two Parts. Part 1 is on Landmark Forum formerly known as est, and Part 2 is on its founder, Werner Erhard (b. Sept. 5, 1935). The original est was a main outgrowth of the human potential movement.
PART 1: LANDMARK FORUM, LANDMARK EDUCATION
What Is Landmark?
Landmark, originally known as est (Latin for “is” and also stands for Erhard Seminar Training), was founded in the 1970s by Werner Erhard. Later, the name changed to the Forum, then to Landmark/Landmark Forum, and also Landmark Education and Landmark Worldwide. Landmark Forum is a self-help mind reprogramming enterprise courtesy of Erhard (real name, John Paul Rosenberg) and shaped by Erhard’s mixture of cultic (Scientology) and Eastern thinking.
Erhard and est were sued due to damage done to participants at the est weekend seminars. So they softened the program a bit, but the philosophy and mind manipulation are the same. Erhard’s brother now runs the company since Werner at one time fled to Europe years ago to escape charges of tax evasion, though he is back now. Participants must sign agreements and disclaimers. You cannot take notes during the meetings and you must agree to not disclose the teachings.
Many companies and employers ask their employees to attend Landmark seminars. If you are asked to do so, do anything you can to avoid going.
Landmark has become very slick and they are diabolically clever in marketing , which is not surprising given that they are good at mind conditioning.
The Landmark Forum, our flagship program, is designed to bring about positive, permanent shifts in the quality of your life—in just three days. These shifts are the direct cause for a new and unique kind of freedom and power—the freedom to be at ease and the power to be effective in the areas that matter most to you: the quality of your relationships, the confidence with which you live your life, your personal productivity, your experience of the difference you make, your enjoyment of life.
The website has photos of healthy entrepreneurial types and rosy cheeked families. If there is anything evil posing as good, Landmark is a prime example.
Manipulation Disguised as Motivational Training
Est was very cultic and those traits are carried over in Landmark.
Landmark Education, a for-profit “employee-owned” private company, took in $89 million last year offering leadership and development seminars (and cruises, and dating services, and courses for kids and teens). It claims that more than 1 million seekers have sat through its basic training, which is offered in seven languages in 20 countries. Its consulting firm, the Vanto Group, has coached employees from Apple, ExxonMobil, JPMorgan Chase, and the Pentagon.
Though it’s hardly a secret, Landmark does not advertise that it is the buttoned-down reincarnation of the ultimate ’70s self-actualization philosophy, est. Erhard Seminars Training was founded by Werner Erhard, a former used car salesman who’d changed his name from Jack Rosenberg, moved to Northern California, and dabbled in Dale Carnegie, Zen, and Scientology before seizing upon the idea that you, and only you, are responsible for your own happiness or unhappiness, success or failure. From Mother Jones article, “The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns” by Laura McClure
There is a 6 page disclaimer:
“I vowed to go in with an open mind and to follow the rules, no matter how restrictive. That meant taking just one meal break per 13-hour session, no Advil or other over-the-counter drugs, no speaking out unless called to the microphone by the Leader, and wearing my name tag at all times. I signed a six-page disclaimer in which I declared that I understood that after attending the Forum, people with no history of mental or emotional problems had experienced “brief, temporary episodes of emotional upset ranging from heightened activity…to mild psychotic-like behavior.”
Be sure and read the quote at the beginning of the article. It is an example of how groups like Landmark try to get into your head and change your thinking. Like Scientology, Landmark has a language all its own, with its own meanings:
The vocabulary used at the Forum is very specific, and there are a number of terms that take on a very specific meaning, different from ordinary usage. This is expressly acknowledged on the Forum website itself. Some of these specific terms include words and phrases such as “possibility,” “inauthenticity,” “transformation,” and even the word “distinction.” Landmark uses very existential philosophical concepts, some grounded in Zen Buddhism, that at times appear to be completely inscrutable. This is a direct inheritance from Werner Erhard and the “est” training, which established this philosophical foundation. Some of this does have the flavor of double-speak, which become clearer when you purchase a CD and have more time to listen to it. Be aware that if you attend the Forum, there will be times where you will have no idea what the Forum leader is talking about. The article this quote is from is no longer online but this article gives examples of some of the language used and ways that the leaders talk at the forum.
Even if someone goes in as a skeptic, unless prepared to resist the manipulation (which is actually difficult to do), he or she often ends up going along with what is said and done because of the enormous pressure from the group. This is a known psychological factor with large group awareness training programs like Landmark. People want to go along with what others are doing, and will capitulate, later rationalizing it so that the Landmark leader is right. People also get emotionally bonded when together in intense situations. So do not assume you can be immune; avoid it instead.
Deconstructing Reality and Identity
What Landmark is good at is getting you to deconstruct reality and your identity. This is a description from the Landmark Forum site about what happens on the second day of their seminar:
In this section, we explore the nature of what we think of as reality, which includes an objective world that exists independent of us, where cause and effect are key operative factors; where I, as an identity, is a collection of characteristics, attributes, and experiences from the past. In exploring the nature of reality and taking apart these myths, something else becomes possible.
Here, we observe not so much the particulars of the realities we construct, but that it is human to construct such realities, and then forget that we are the ones who constructed them. As a result, we see that we no longer need to be confined to living within this limited range, and we gain the freedom to express ourselves fully.
The above shows the influence of Zen Buddhism on Erhard regarding the idea of false realities. It is a manipulative teaching that you can make your own reality. While to a certain extent it is true that we live with the consequences of our actions, this is teaching something else. It plants seeds of doubt about what reality is. When combined with the deconstruction of your identity, it paves the way for the replacement of reality with the Landmark false reality. On the second day is this teaching:
In this session, we inquire into how our identity – who we consider ourselves to be – got created. The process began in childhood, as we gradually adopted ways of being and acting to deal successfully with things that didn’t quite go the way we thought they should. By the time we reach adulthood, we have assembled a set of practices and approaches, attributes and characteristics, that seem to give us a certain measure of success – that make up our personality, our style, who we consider ourselves to be.
When we begin to see that our identity was put together in response to something that we had determined shouldn’t be, the result is a new freedom in saying who we are – a fundamental shift in what we see and know as possible.
The idea is that who you think you are is not actually who you are, but is a construct. This supposedly opens the way for one to be free and construct a “new you.” But this is a classic cult technique also found in New Age and other esoteric teachings.
Keep in mind that Erhard, the founder of Landmark (originally est), had been involved in Scientology, one of the most quintessential cults in existence and masters at mind manipulation. Erhard learned it well:
“The real point to the est training was to go down through layer after layer after layer after layer till you got to the last layer and peeled it off where the recognition was that it’s really all meaningless and empty. That’s existentialism’s endpoint. est went a step further in that people began to recognize that it was not only empty and meaningless, but it was empty and meaningless that its empty and meaningless. And in that there is an enormous freedom. All the constrictions, all of the rules you place on yourself are gone. And what you are left with is nothing. And nothing is an extraordinarily powerful place to stand because it is only from nothing that you can create.” – Werner Erhard
The above quote reveals the influence of Buddhism and Existentialism on Erhard as well as Scientology (L. Ron Hubbard, founder of Scientology, was also influenced by Buddhism). Emptiness is from Buddhism — all is empty means that reality as you perceive it actually does not exist. Meaninglessness is from Existentialism — there is no inherent meaning in anything; meaning comes from the value you place on it (I first learned about the Existentialism when reading the existentialist writers Camus and Sartre in French classes in high school and college).
A comment made on a 2023 Facebook post I did warning about Landmark was from a woman who took a Landmark Forum seminar two years ago (in 2021). She wrote this:
I did their seminar two years ago and the concept of everything is empty and meaningless [was] repeated over again, was very hard idea to grasp. Like it didn’t make any sense. A lot of people convinced themselves to understand it like it was the truth.
Some people hearing ideas that at first do not make sense will believe there must be truth in it because they are invested due to the money they have paid and the fact that so many attend these seminars. They will then accept it even if they have not understood it. This is how mind conditioning (brainwashing) works. People are emotionally and mentally invested and will adjust their thinking to what is being taught.
Some people do think they have been freed from damage from their past or from wrong identities. But this is an illusion because it is based on a belief system that does not view this reality as actually real. Erhard was influenced by Buddhism as well, and Buddhism does not believe in the reality of individual existence at all.
The most serious consequence is that those who adopt these ideas cannot submit to God because they think they create their own possibilities and reality, and they reject the reality created by God and revealed in the Bible. There is no need for God at all when one follows the Landmark philosophy.
PART 2, WERNER EHRARD: THE PENETRATION OF A PREDATOR
“….there is hardly a self-help book or a management training programme that does not borrow some of his [Ehrard] principles.” – Lucy Kellaway in the London Financial Times,
Werner Ehrard is now influencing and teaching the spiritually hungry denizens of academia and corporations, his latest incarnation amazingly engineered by a Harvard economist, Michael Jensen, with whom he is writing a book.
A glimpse of Erhard’s past and how he got his name:
Much was made of Mr. Erhard’s tangled Don Draperish past: his days as a car salesman in Philadelphia, his dabbling in Mind Dynamics and Scientology, his desertion of his first wife and their four children to reinvent himself on the West Coast.
Even his name was fake, lifted from an Esquire article he read on the plane to California. (“The Men Who Made the New Germany” included references to Ludwig Erhard, the minister of economics, and Werner Heisenberg, the atomic scientist.) Mr. Erhard was born Jack Rosenberg.
In 1985, he repackaged EST as the Forum, a kinder, gentler iteration of the training that was also more success-oriented, from “The Return of Werner Erhard, Father of Self- Help,” by Peter Haldeman in the NY Times.
While it is true that Erhard fled the U.S. due to tax evasion charges and charges of molestation from a daughter, it appeared later that the Church of Scientology may have concocted these accusations to get back at Erhard for stealing some of their material. This is plausible (the daughter later recanted her accusations), so I do not think these disputed charges should be used against Erhard. Rather, one should focus on his troublesome philosophy and teachings which he drew from Buddhism, Scientology, existentialism, Martin Heidegger, Norman Vincent Peale, and other problematic sources.
What needs attention now is his access to academic institutions and the fact that someone like Harvard economist Michael Jensen astonishingly calls this New Age guru “one of the great intellectuals of the century.” The same New York Times article states:
Enter the Harvard economist Michael Jensen. Dr. Jensen, who is famous in financial circles for championing the concepts of shareholder value and executive stock options, had taken a Landmark course in Boston at the suggestion of his daughter, who mended a rocky relationship with Dr. Jensen after taking the course herself.
“I became convinced we should work to get this kind of transformational material into the academies,” he said, adding that he considers Mr. Erhard “one of the great intellectuals of the century.“
The web of Landmark seminars stretches from the Air Force Academy and NASA to Microsoft and other companies.
In 2004, with the help of a Landmark official, Dr. Jensen developed an experiential course on integrity in leadership at the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester. The class was offered there for five years, with Mr. Erhard signing on as an instructor during its third year. It has since been taught at several universities around the world as well as at the United States Air Force Academy….. 130,000 people a year participate in its offerings, which are available on every continent except Antarctica. It has a stronger corporate presence than EST or the Forum; in addition to Reebok, clients include Microsoft, NASA and Lululemon. From NY Times article
One critic, quoted in the New York Times article, said:
“Erhard made palatable the notion that the end justifies the means,” said Steve Salerno, the author of “Sham: How the Self-Help Movement Made America Helpless.” “Which is partly responsible for the climate of what I call happyism. If your happiness is all that matters, anybody who stands in the way becomes detritus in the ruthless pursuit of individual perfection.”
People now may have forgotten about est or they may have never known about it, but we are living in the days when the long reach of men like Erhard is being warmly grasped by those in high places of academia and the corporate world.
The same has happened with Jose Silva and his popular occult Silva Mind Control of the 1980s. Although Silva is dead, Silva Mind Control now lives on as the Silva Method, and is taught worldwide.
People do not recognize Landmark or Silva for what they are since they are deviously disguised as self-help (Landmark/est) and relaxation (Silva). Landmark has bred countless spin-offs that now criss-cross the country via motivational books, programs, and courses.
*The New York Times article used EST in all caps but est was always, always lower case.
CANA Article on the Human Potential Movement and Motivational Training
Video on Landmark
Excellent short (10 min.) video with someone from the Cult Education Institute talking about Landmark
Book that traces Erhard’s rise to power: I read this book and recommend it. The amazing thing is that this book is by an admirer, so the facts speak starkly for themselves:
Werner Erhard The Transformation of a Man: The Founding of EST by William Warren Bartley III, on Amazon