Page 1 of 4

Just for fun...really?

Posted: Mon May 02, 2011 10:53 am
by iwonder
Hello everyone,
Should I be concerned? A family member is currently involved in the Canberra version of the School for Self Knowledge in Australia. Does anyone know about this group? Can anyone shed some light? They seem very committed to this 'group' that they go to each and every week without fail. I am in my late 20's and although I am still growing into adulthood, I am concerned about this person because they seem to be so blindly involved, and are extremely defensive about any questions I ask about their visits. Over time they have acted more and more secretive and seem to find it acceptable to lie to us, even their closest friends who do not attend the 'group' have noticed more lies. They even justify their lying, and drop constant hints about how we all would be much better off if we gave it a try for ourselves! Meanwhile they seem more aloof and distant from anyone not involved in the 'school'. Apparently this place is not for profit, yet fees are charged on a regular basis, and I believe 'donations' are provided. I wonder what to do as I feel blind and helpless. I love them very much..

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Mon May 02, 2011 12:21 pm
by Tootsie
The School for Self Knowledge was started by Michael Mavro after he was kicked out of the Sydney School of Philosophy. He took their material with him and started his own school firstly in Canberra. I understand he passed away last year and no doubt one of his portages or his wife is now running the show. The problem you face is that only school people have the truth according to their leaders and the rest of the population is living in darkness. If one leaves the school then one is cast into outer darkness too.

When one looks at the state of the world just now they have a good point about all the darkness. However I know a lot of the people that were in the School of Philosophy and left to join Mavro's school and there is very little love or compassion in them. People must walk the talk, its not all about theory or cultivating the personality. However people in school can never see the 'wood for the trees' because they are completely caught up in all the details about running the school and truly believe they are the chosen ones.

To get an understanding of how school works I can recommend reading the book In Search of Truth by Brian Hodgkinson. You have to know where they are coming from and their aims. Its of no use labeling them just another cult because all the pupils in the school are programed to ignore all criticism coming from the outside. I can see you are concerned about a family member so finding out about why he attends the school and its aims, and not just screaming at him him to leave the stupid cult. It will not be easy and I wish you well.

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Mon May 02, 2011 12:29 pm
by actuallythere
Dear iwonder,

My personal opinion, for what its worth, is that you should firstly avoid using the c-word, because it will stimulate defensiveness and outright rejection of the genuine concerns you have for your loved one. Ban the word from your own lips. Try not to use any defining term, but if you have to try 'spiritual group'.

Secondly, try to enjoy time with your loved one in a way that is unique to them and to you - ie with mutual friends or family, hobbies or sport. Nurture their individuality. Take interest in who they are. You are competing with an organization that is wooing them like a professional Casanova or femme fatale, and no amount of panic on your part will help them see what they are getting drawn into.

Third, extremely gently encourage them to hold on to their psychological independence. Try to inform them of very little, but encourage them to retain the ability to establish their own answers without resorting to the guidance of a guru, teacher, parent or other authority.

Fourth, limit the voicing of your concerns to extremely rare occasions, say once every 3 months. On those occasions, hand the person testimonies of people who have left the group (ie ex-lovers of said Casanova or femme fatale). The evidence should speak for itself.

Fifth, read the reams of professional literature on New Religious Movements and how to deal with them. Contact the Family Survival Trust (their manifesto is at ... we_operate ) and other such institutions.

Sixth, a wild card: if you are close family, consider whether there may be long-term family issues that may have caused your loved one to be attracted to their new group. If there are, right now could be the right time for the two of you or all of you to go for family counselling to talk through these issues. Your loved one might find that this is what they really needed, and that a new family and new identity was not the best solution after all. In any case, you have the right to plead with your loved one to come with you to a counselling session because you need their support rather than because they need your support. This should make them feel less criticized and more open minded. As I say, this point is just a wild card that might be irrelevant to your circumstances.

Very best luck,


Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Wed May 04, 2011 9:50 am
by ET
Excellent advice, AT, I second it!

Unfortunately, there is nothing much you can do if your loved one is determined to follow this path. My grandmother is still very involved with the SES in London, and we have told her about everything that happened to us as children, and to our parents when they were members, most of which is pretty horrific. However, she continues to believe that the School can do no wrong. It's also the case that virtually all the friends she has left are members of the School too, so it would be a big wrench for her to leave.

I really think the best advice is not to give up on your loved one. As AT says, keep talking to them, don't harangue them, and keep including them in family events. That way, if they do decide to leave, they will know they have someone to go to in the "outer darkness" who won't reject them.

I really feel for you. Best of luck.

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Wed May 04, 2011 11:22 am
by actuallythere
Thanks ET - did they ever get back to you about Hugh Jackman?

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Thu May 05, 2011 9:45 am
by ET
Hi AT,

No, unfortunately! At least I tried, and someone else has been informed. You never know how much good that will do. I've always said that as long as I can stop one person from joining the School or, more importantly, sending their child to the schools, then I am happy. It's also important to raise awareness.

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Thu May 05, 2011 12:12 pm
by actuallythere
That's a pity for them they didn't reply. Your letter was very well crafted, moving and inspirational.

If you still have the patience, I dare say you could forward it to the Australian equivalent of the Press Complaints Committee, to any other organizations and internet forums you are a member of, and/or post it on that magazine's web site, if they have some kind of message board.

Best wishes


Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Fri May 06, 2011 11:06 am
by ET
Thanks, AT, for your kind words about my letter. I may well take your advice and make a bit more of a stink. I'll keep you posted!

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Mon May 23, 2011 12:00 am
Your position on this is extremely difficult.

Any group that we identify and belong to exerts a powerful attraction, and clearly your friend finds that link to this school. In addition, the reason this school exists and seeks members is similar, but probably more subtle than a typical religious group. All the arguments that work when someone follows a religion with equal abandon are unlikely to work here, simply because these schools use the lever of reason for something that is essentially religious. Mainstream religion is also milder for the most part that a school that operates like this. You can expect that there is a very good chance your friend will continue until something changes within himself (if it ever does).

If you do feel some responsibility to try and break its grip on him, note that we are all in the grip of various social groups that impose overt and subtle stamps upon us, and for the most part we conform to them blindly. I suggest that you use the argument that staying at this school will require the almost complete submergence of his individuality in order to be a successful member. Some people manage to voice counter opinions to the school and still stay for a while, but they eventually get iced out if they cannot be converted, and their departure is usually mutual. Those that decide to be obedient, and just accept and test the ideology will find themselves drawn in ever deeper.

Note that he could be involved with people who drink alcohol or smoke cigarette or wear fashion without thought, and in this sense the school offers some very healthy aspects to life (they are vegetarian which to my mind is not the most healthy diet but its better than the junk food cults), good moral standards, good work ethic – as I said earlier they offer some very compelling arguments for membership, but the subjugation of individuality to this sort of organisation is critically dangerous and is probably the only logical argument that might appeal to a member. The arguments they will offer against it are the same as the ones I have listed above. Good morals, health lifestyle, rational, cultured, meditation is good for the mind/peace etc. The main school did not offer yoga as it clashed with some principles of the practice, but it might offer similar things that do provide benefits. These schools are rather like the mythical sirens, the song they sing is very appealing, almost irresistible as it offer something against our existential anxieties (aka religion), at the same time offering flattering intellectual and moral pursuits. Its a great recipe for people who are looking for protection from moral oblivion, as well as seeing themselves as seeing themselves as ‘philosophers’ and pondering deeper things.

On the plus side, if he does stay, he will probably enjoy the company of likeminded people, get benefits from the meditation and diet, learn some DIY skills, will certainly pay some money and might draw his family into the web, and quite possibly stay happily in the fold, just not as an individual. Then again he might join a group that goes shopping, eats junk food, wears makeup, watches junky TV, drinks too much alcohol, does not do any exercise or perhaps works himself to death in business.

Like I said we are all mindless members to some group or other, and perhaps there is nothing inherently wrong in accepting the directives of a group without question, but this school will certainly work toward making him a Stepford wife.

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Mon May 30, 2011 12:10 am
by iwonder
Thank you all so very much for your replies, insights and answers.

Your advice has been such a help and I have had the sense of light bulbs going off in my mind during reading your answers, as a lot of their behaviour is what has been described, along with attitudes which are identical to the nature of what the school is attempting to achieve with it's members.

One of the main points, "neither accept nor reject" is quite concerning to me. It's a very cunning tactic I am sensing. It seems to be the 'go to answer' in cases where the school is challenged in any way by questions from members. It also implies a high degree of free will on the members part, yet if you don't accept their 'way' then you are eventually cast out into the big egotistical world.

I have noticed through your responses that the school seems to provide justifications to those who have behaved morally wrong and a lot of the members seem inherently insecure in certain ways..have you found this to be true?

I am also wondering if the school operates as it's own business - in that it is financially independent from other satellite schools, and does it declare the money it earns from its 'meditation' donations, workshops etc? From what I understand, they seem to avoid any regulations that normal people and organisation's profit or non-profit have to follow...

Apparently there is a guru overseas that they worship, somewhere in India - does anyone know any more about this?

I am growing more and more apart from this person involved. Our relationship is breaking down. I am told I don't understand them, and they are encouraging me to attend for just 'one term' continually, so that I can decide for myself. Should I do this to make an informed decision, or stay well away?

Your thoughts and feedback on these things would again be greatfully appreciated :)

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Mon May 30, 2011 1:00 am
by woodgreen
Hi, iwonder. You have a loved one in the SES which given the history of cults is hard to deal with and to know what to do seems fraught, because opinions differ about how to get people out of cults. I am in the UK but to explain how strongly I feel about this organisation, I have been quite frantic for many years in case any of my family may have got caught by them - and one of them lives in Australia. In fact the " catch" does go a bit wider than the SES - into the Indian gurus and cults etc. so I have been on hyper-ventilation since they caught me. All the info on the net is good, but in the end my view is tell them how it is and get her/him out of there. There is no legal way out, no easy way, but if you are concerned get him/her out then hold them close and love them. No other way in my view. The cults use all their armour ( legal, financial, spiritual,psychological,emotional, etc.etc.) to defeat people leaving.And to affect their families. xxx regards, woodgreen ( PS. my neice lives in Perth and if the SES ever go near her I will """"""""""""""""""""""""""""""them ( censored).

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Wed Jun 01, 2011 9:06 am
by chittani
Hello iwonder

I can't speak about the Australian organization, but had over 20 years experience till recently in the UK one, which is the centre to which it defers.

I think that it's necessary to discriminate between the various NRMs because there is a spectrum. It's wrong to imagine that they're all Jim Jones and David Koresh. This was illustrated to me in the following way. In my last years in the School I published a blog for a couple of years questioning a lot of things about it. When it came to light I had a conversation with the leader Mr Lambie about it and after I explained what it was for and he had read it, he was quite encouraging to me. He agreed that people needed to question things within the SES.

Shortly after that I met a man who had just recently left the Jehovah's Witnesses. His family had been instructed not to have contact with him, and he never spoke to his wife or children again. I told him about the blog and all that, and he told me that such a thing would never have been permitted in the JWs. I realised then that my complaints were of a different order to his; and indeed I think they were of a different order to some of the things reported on this forum, particularly those originating 30 years ago or more.

I am not trying to paper over the cracks here, but to answer your concerns about the School NOW as best I can.

I don't think you need to worry that your friend will be exploited financially. Beyond the modest termly fees, there should be no other payments. The School isn't about money. It likes rich people but doesn't exploit the poor.

You don't need to be concerned about sexual exploitation, which happens in some cults. The School is made up of people - ie sexual beings - but in my experience they behave a little better in this regard within its walls than they would otherwise do. The School isn't about sex.

The vice of the School is power - ie, controlling people. It used to do this very assiduously, into the 1970s and 1980s. Someone like Mavro in Sydney seems to have carried on old ways longer than others, but it has eased off a lot. Partly this is because there is a sense that it's not right to do so, but mainly I think there has been a loss of conviction. Also, it is ageing as an organization and has failed to bring in younger people who might maintain the zealotry.

The story I just told illustrates how loose the grip is becoming. I think it's good that it no longer exerts the same power as it used to, since as we know it did not always use the power it had wisely.

Things may be different in Canberra, but scary as it might seem, I think you would be best advised to go along for a few evenings. You are well warned about any dangers. It's the only way you'll gain an understanding of why your friend appears to be behaving oddly. Not all of the dark warnings people are voicing here are based on current reality. People that have no recent experience of the School sometimes extrapolate from what they have read, or experienced a long time ago, creating an unjustified climate of fear. Very probably what you will find at the local branch is a fairly inoffensive and well-meaning group of people with ideas and ideals that you may or may not agree with.

Again, I'm not denying the real suffering reported here at all - it mostly seems very believable to me, and I could give you many examples of things I saw and experienced that were troubling in various ways, though almost always to a lesser degree. All I am saying is that it's very easy to panic when words like "cult" are used. And that I don't think panic is a helpful response in your situation.

The only real way to allay your concerns is to see for yourself. I can understand it if you don't feel this is a risk you want to take.

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Thu Jun 02, 2011 7:04 pm
by bluemoon
Chittani wrote:

In my last years in the School I published a blog for a couple of years questioning a lot of things about it. When it came to light I had a conversation with the leader Mr Lambie about it and after I explained what it was for and he had read it, he was quite encouraging to me. He agreed that people needed to question things within the SES.

Chittani also wrote:

Things may be different in Canberra, but scary as it might seem, I think you would be best advised to go along for a few evenings.

I wonder if you could be specific about your involvement in the SES Chittani, I have not read all your posts and wonder if you would mind saying in what capacity you were involved in SES and therefore on what basis you make such a suggestion?

Interesting that DL was so supportive of your blog. My internal questions about gender issues were certainly not met with any such support and indeed by the end I felt threatened to keep 'silent' about my whole experience in SES. At my final meeting with DL (October 2009), after commenting on this site, I mentioned that although I had left and had issues with the SES I would always like to at least be able to come along to the annual economics lecture given by Ian Mason, and he responded in what I would describe as a supercilious manner, saying that 'Ian Mason may not want you to attend his lectures'. In other words I was not even welcome to come to a public meeting given once a year by a man that I had devoted at least a decade to, in service in economics in the SES!

My point is I would be careful about going along to a few weeks of philosophy in the SES. I spent 20 years in the London SES and it has taken me about 11,500 words to explain the issues just in broad-brush, which I so far have been too apprehensive to post here although I want to, because Donald Lambie brought up the issue of ‘libel’ when I sent some notes around to a few people that requested them a while ago. I don't want to spend money on a solicitor’s advice over this and so have so far not taken it any further, although I am sure what I have written could not be construed as 'libellous'.


Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Sat Jun 04, 2011 9:29 pm
by chittani
Hi Bluemoon

I'm sure we must know each other - perhaps you should PM me. I don't really care to justify myself by saying what my involvement was.

My only thought was to bring in some sense of perspective. If Iwonder is concerned about a family member, then he or she isn't going to go along and get slowly boiled alive, but they might actually get a sense of the scale of the risks or lack of them, and this would prevent the problem getting blown out of proportion.

I didn't say that I would recommend someone to go along to part 1 in the normal way of things - that's not something I would do these days, because I feel the organization has lost its way.

Your account of the conversation with DL is all too credible. I'm sure it must have been painful and disconcerting, and I don't think he would have understood that very well, or known how to handle it.

Re: Just for fun...really?

Posted: Sun Jun 05, 2011 8:35 am
by bluemoon