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Fri Dec 21, 2012, 08:09 AM

Landmark forum – cult, scam, or path to enlightenment?

Is anyone here familiar with Landmark Education Forums? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Landmark_Education
Have you been to any of their weekend seminars? If so, what was your experience like? Would you recommend it to others?

My 28 year old daughter has been quite involved with this self-help/self-empowerment group for well over a year now. I can honestly say that it certainly seems to have had a positive and profound effect on her.. Not that she has ever had any major problems prior to Landmark. I may be a wee bit biased here, but let me just say that she has always been a child that would make any parent proud.

Nonetheless, like so many of us, she felt a sense of emptiness at times, that led her to believe that something was missing, and even perhaps a bit 'off' in how she perceived the world around her. Ever since attending these Landmark forums however, she tells me that she has become re-energized, and better focused on the things that truly matter. From an observer's POV (me) I can plainly see that she is much happier these days.

So what, you may be wondering, is the problem? Doesn't every parent want fulfillment and happiness for their child? Well, for me, it's just a vague sense of uneasiness. Landmark is a for-profit entity for one thing. I appreciate that they are totally upfront about this, but it still gives me pause. Another concern is how obsessed my daughter is w/this stuff. I worry and wonder if it has taken on cult-like status among it's devotees. Including her?

Because of these questions/concerns, I've been doing a little research on Landmark w/mixed results. In so doing, I made a point to stay away from their website itself, focusing instead on what other people have been saying about the organization. A majority of the reviews seem to be quite positive, though admittedly, I have much more info to slog through.

A review I found at this blog: http://thirtytwothousanddays.com/blog/2011/02/landmark-forum-cult-scam-or-path-to-enlightenment/ has been particularly helpful. The blogger is a 'life coach' who took the time to attend one of their seminars and write about it. It was a bit of a 'neither for nor against' type of review, yet if one is to read his whole piece, including some of the comments (over 400 of them!) there is a lot of good info to be gleamed from it. Here is some of what he concluded:

The experience itself was epic and fun, even as it was emotionally draining. Jerry Baden, the leader of the Forum I attended, was an exuberant and entertaining guy. He had a faint physical resemblance to the actor Gilbert Gottfried, but with a much nicer voice (something for which I was very grateful, given that he was speaking to us the whole time). His performance was rich with humor and personal anecdotes. As he put it:

You’ll go back to your families on Sunday night and they’ll ask you what happened, and you’ll say “I spent the whole weekend getting yelled at by some Jew with no eyes and all teeth”.


So what does this all mean? Should you do the Forum yourself? Well, of course, I can’t answer that question for anyone else.

Think about it this way, though. As with so many experiences, a person’s expectations will guide what results he receives. (Put another way, in the words of Robert A. Wilson, “what the thinker thinks, the prover proves”.) If a person expects to encounter a bunch of scam artists and salesmen looking for his money, that’s what he will see. If a person expects to encounter some unusual and interesting experiences that can help with goals, communication, and interpersonal relationships, that’s what he will get.

Speaking for myself, I went in cautiously optimistic, and I found it valuable, entertaining, and worth my $485. And I expect to put the experiences and learnings into practice in my life in the days, weeks, and months ahead.

And you? If you choose to go to the Forum, you’ll receive whatever meaning you create out of it.

*As a completely unrelated aside: I found that blog very interesting. Some of you may want to check it out. I really loved this piece he wrote about 'Fight Club' (of all things)

So getting back to Landmark... I will be attending one of their weekend seminars in April at my daughter's prompting. That will probably give me the best insight possible into what Landmark is all about.

In the meantime, I'd appreciate any info or opinions you good folks in this forum may have to offer, whether you have attended the Landmark Forum or not. Should I be concerned about this group? Would you be, if it was your (adult) child? Btw- Here is their website: http://www.landmarkeducation.com/

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Reply Landmark forum – cult, scam, or path to enlightenment? (Original post)
PotatoChip Dec 2012 OP
Melissa G Dec 2012 #1
CanSocDem Dec 2012 #3
PotatoChip Dec 2012 #5
CanSocDem Dec 2012 #7
PotatoChip Dec 2012 #4
tama Dec 2012 #2
PotatoChip Dec 2012 #6
tama Dec 2012 #8
GliderGuider Dec 2012 #9
CanSocDem Dec 2012 #10
PotatoChip Jan 2013 #11
PotatoChip Jan 2013 #12
GliderGuider Jan 2013 #13
PotatoChip Jan 2013 #14
GliderGuider Jan 2013 #15
Dash87 Jan 2013 #16

Response to PotatoChip (Original post)

Fri Dec 21, 2012, 12:12 PM

1. I have lost friends to this group.

Last edited Sun Dec 23, 2012, 02:56 PM - Edit history (1)

Your mileage may very. IMHO, they are like the Borg and will try to assimilate you and your resources.
A friend of mine, who I am quite a bit less close to now, is fine with that. You and your daughter may be also.

It is significant to me that they have had many names. I was tricked into wasting part of an evening, during the EST/ Forum days. I extricated myself through the bathroom trick.

Try googling Landmark (The Forum and EST were previous names) plus scams and see what info you come up with before you send your time and money that way. Many folks will give you an in depth opinion. PM me if you want to discuss. Good luck.

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Response to Melissa G (Reply #1)

Sun Dec 23, 2012, 12:46 PM

3. I thought this sounded like EST.

I remember when EST came out in the 70's and was struck by how much of their program resembled my own life-long pursuit of psycho-spiritual salvation. I had doubts about their ability to teach it all in a few days, but I had no problem with their emphasis on self-discipline.
Of course, back then I had a lot more faith in human nature. 'Self discipline' would be used to further the public interest, and not as it used today as a tool to achieve private wealth.

Self Discipline is all powerful. And it is FREE!


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Response to CanSocDem (Reply #3)

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 06:48 AM

5. Thank you CSD.

Here is some more random info about Werner Erhard and his EST seminars, which eventually became what is now known as Landmark.

The last est Training was held in December 1984 in San Francisco; in its place came a newly developed course called "The Forum", which began in January 1985. The est Training presented several concepts, most notably the concept of transformation and taking responsibility for one's life. The actual teaching, called "the technology of transformation", emphasizes the value of integrity. "est, Inc." evolved into "est, an Educational Corporation", and eventually into "Werner Erhard & Associates". In 1991 the business was sold to the employees who formed a new company called Landmark Education with Erhard's brother Harry Rosenberg becoming the CEO. Landmark Education was structured as a for-profit, employee-owned company; it operates with a consulting division called Vanto Group.

Early influences

In William Bartley's biography of Werner Erhard, Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est (1978), Erhard describes his explorations of Zen Buddhism. Bartley quotes Werner Erhard as acknowledging Zen as the essential contribution that "created the space ". Bartley details Erhard's connections with Zen beginning with his extensive studies with Alan Watts in the mid 1960s. Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging:

Of all the disciplines that I studied, practiced, learned, Zen was the essential one. It was not so much an influence on me, rather it created space. It allowed those things that were there to be there. It gave some form to my experience. And it built up in me the critical mass from which was kindled the experience that produced est.

Probably more than you ever wanted to know, but I thought it a good idea to include, since I intend to show this thread to my daughter when I visit her in April. If not before then.

Again, thank you for your input.

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Response to PotatoChip (Reply #5)

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 11:02 AM

7. Good info.....

I didn't realize they were that close. I stopped paying attention when Erhard got into some kind of 'pickle' and had to give up control of EST. There were many pop culture heroes in those days and though their stars burned brightly, they were often short-lived.

Erhards background is what got him a pass from me in the first place. The Zen Consciousness around at the time, was the most all encompassing ideology for a time of rapid change. I had a personal friend who truly freed my mind through ZEN and writers like Hesse, Watts, and illuminated my world with things like this:


Alone with yourself
Never weary.

On the edge of the forest
Live joyfully
Without desire.

The Buddha

My friend went on to Sufism and I lost touch with him. Teachers come and go at the right time.


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Response to Melissa G (Reply #1)

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 06:33 AM

4. Yes, I've looked into that angle of it.

Which is another one of those things that made me uneasy.

Werner Erhard was the original founder of what is now known as Landmark. One of the things that bothered me about him was that he didn't seem to practice what he preached. For example, long before he formed EST training seminars in the early 70's, he had abandoned his first wife and children back in the 50's. He even changed his name right after that, which leads me to believe that he might have done it in order to 'hide' from his responsibilities to them.

EST heavily emphasized personal integrity and personal responsibility, yet the man himself had that in his background? Seems more than a little hypocritical to me. Granted, he may have changed his ways in the 15+ intervening years, but it is certainly something to consider.

Also, during one of his rare interviews, he was reported to have said that he thought that L. Ron Hubbard was a "genius." Yikes! This bothers me just as much, if not more than his personal life choices. Wtf?... In that interview, he was careful to point out that he disagreed w/Hubbard on a lot of things, -(paraphrasing here)- especially 'all of that woo woo' that Mr. Scientology espoused. Nonetheless, calling L. Ron Hubbard a 'genius' kind of creeps me out.

Thank you Melissa G, for sharing your experience and advice concerning the early days of Landmark. This is exactly what I'm worried about... whether it is a farce, scam, cult, or some combination of all 3.

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Response to PotatoChip (Original post)

Sat Dec 22, 2012, 08:09 AM

2. Young people


tend to feel strongly about such stuff - at the beginning and for a while. Then they usually move to next thing on their Seeker path. No worries. Just don't turn it into matter of her personal declaration independence. Good thing you are also participating, feel free to be the embarrassing parent if that's your thing and you think it helps...

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Response to tama (Reply #2)

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 08:12 AM

6. Good advice.

Thank you tama.

And yes, I'm fully prepared to be the 'embarrassing parent' if it comes to that.

When I attend this seminar in April, I plan to be as open-minded as possible (despite all that I know about it already). But I'm not afraid to say what needs to be said, if I must.

She's 28, therefore has been on her own for a decade. (Holy cow, how time flies!) But the point is, that I've always respected her autonomy as an adult. That said, until now, I've never had cause for concern.

Hopefully, I'm worrying needlessly... Perhaps this Landmark thing is either A) just a harmless pastime and/or B) a passing phase, as you pointed out. It could even be a good thing for her, for all I know... After all, she does seem to be very happy these days.

Nonetheless, no matter how old they get, and how successful they become, our children will always be, well... our children. Even as adults, there may be times when they need our guidance. If this is one of those times, I will definitely intervene, if I feel she might be in over her head.

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Response to PotatoChip (Reply #6)

Wed Dec 26, 2012, 08:06 PM

8. Our children


I've been bit depressed lately - winter and dark I guess mostly. Now my two sons are visiting me for holidays, feel happy again. We need our children as they need us, and when we become parents we don't cease to be children.

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Response to PotatoChip (Original post)

Sat Dec 29, 2012, 07:43 PM

9. My take on Landmark - pros and cons

I've never done Landmark, but I was a part of a spiritual organization that attracted a number of their graduates. There was an underlying similarity to them that made Landmark grads immediately recognizable. They tended to be self-confident, at ease in their own skins, happy and above all quite outward-directed. In contrast, the organization I was part of, called The Inner Journey, tended to foster attitudes of contemplation and self-discovery, with less emphasis on being in control of the persona we project to the outside world.

I think Landmark fosters those qualities in their attendees, and so it tends to appeal to those who are looking for those skills - predisposed to look at the world through Landmark-tinted glasses you might say. Its training can be extremely valuable for many, but the risk is that any large organization concerned with being a (growing) organization tries to hold onto its recruits. More inner-directed spiritual teachings tend to expect (and even encourage) devotees to eventually grow beyond the framework - this doesn't seem to be the case so much with landmark.

I think one useful way of understanding Landmark is in the context of the "Victim, Victor, Vehicle" progression developed by Carol Ruth Knox in her book "The Incredible Journey". Landmark is intended to move people out of "Victim" state and into "Victor". Classical spiritual training in oriented towards moving people past the Victim and Victor states to eventually (perhaps) becoming Vehicles.

I've taken the liberty of creating the following chart and synopsis based on these ideas.

This table has been adapted from the work of Rev. Carol Ruth Knox, who first published it in her book “The Incredible Journey”. It represents the idea that each of us at any given moment is operating out of one of these three life states. It also demonstrates how personal spiritual development involves successive shifts from being a Victim, through being a Victor to becoming a Vehicle.

A Victim is someone who has a generally weak sense of self, sees themselves as being victimized by life, and responds to that feeling of powerlessness through complaint rather than action. In this state the individual mostly waits for things to happen to them, and is reactive rather than proactive. They tend to be stuck in very traditional spiritual states, whether religious or not. In the language of Transactional Analysis, you might think of this as the “Child” state.

As we mature, we may eventually choose to leave our victimhood behind and operate instead as a Victor. In this state we no longer blame others for our misfortunes, but act on our own behalf to overcome life’s challenges and obstacles. People in this state have a strong sense of self, and have internalized the belief that they are autonomous actors who can influence the world around them. They feel in control, and entitled to act. Victors tend to have a looser, more philosophical or metaphysical spirituality. In Transactional Analysis terms Victors are acting in the role of “Parent”.

When a person has done a lot of conscious self-development work and has opened themselves to grace, they may begin to operate as a Vehicle. Many of the “normal” rules change in this state. Our sense of self may no longer be the driving force behind our actions. We may see winning and losing as unimportant, irrelevant or even illusions. When we act creatively it is always together with others, whether the "others" are people or elements of the Universe. This state requires us to surrender to What Is, to fully accept our place as dancers in the great unfolding known in Hinduism as Lila. People in this state are prone to mystical perceptions of their relationship with the Universe, Reality, Creation or God. They experience direct communion with those larger forces, seeing themselves as complete representatives of the Infinite. At the same time they may become even more deeply aware of their role as individual creative elements in the Dance. Being in this state is also known as being an “Adult”.

Landmark is focused directly on helping people move out of Victim state and into Victor state. As a result it is very attractive to people who want to be more successful in their dealings with the outer world. The Landmark "technologies" give trainees the tools they need to make that step, but there are a couple of risks. The first is that it may interrupt one's natural progression, trapping one in Victor state because it feels so good and is so useful. The second is the risk inherent to large organizations - the program reinforces in graduates the value of the organization and its goals, and may suck up time, energy, attention and money that could go towards their further personal exploration.

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #9)

Sun Dec 30, 2012, 10:58 AM

10. Good analysis...

...and I think this sums up my own concerns for the OP:

"...the program reinforces in graduates the value of the organization and its goals, and may suck up time, energy, attention and money that could go to wards their further personal exploration."

Seems to be a common legacy for large social organizations. An individual loses sight of personal goals in pursuing membership in the group.


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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #9)

Tue Jan 1, 2013, 10:21 PM

11. Wonderful information.

Thank you so very much!

Please know that I have not been purposely avoiding everyone here, or this this thread... Between the holidays and (particularly) computer problems (aargh!!!), I'm being stretched a little thin.

I really want to explore a bit more into what you posted GG. Amazing stuff!

I'll be back hopefully soon... just here letting you all know that this is not a drive-by.

But in the meantime, Thanks!!!

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #9)

Fri Jan 4, 2013, 12:46 PM

12. Very fascinating.

With this info in mind, I can see why my daughter wants me to do the program. Until recently, I've lived a majority of my life within the miserable confines of 'Victim'. Interestingly, I had a bit of a hiatus into a 'Victor/Vehicle' period during my daughter's early to mid teen years, only to take a huge tumble (due to my self destructive ways) back into Victim. It always used to be a sort of 'default' state for me, probably due to a very traumatic childhood.

In the past 5 or 6 years however, I've been doing a ton of work on myself through therapy (both conventional and unconventional) which has aligned me much more into the 'Vehicle' state you describe. My daughter seems to not be aware of this, however. Or if she is, those Landmark tinted glasses you mentioned prevents her from seeing that there are other ways of being healthy and well adjusted beyond Victor status.

I'm summarizing my background only because it's important to my daughter's story. She grew up as a responsible, perfectionistic, extroverted, over-achiever. In short a 'Victor'. I think somehow she realized very early on that my 'Victim' way of being was not for her, thus taking on the positive qualities I lacked.

Which brings me back to Landmark. I think she chose it for herself because she was terrified of ever becoming a 'Victim'. There was a period for her, prior to Landmark, when I think she was feeling vulnerable. She had always been a big fish in a small (rural) pond, therefore found her move to Manhattan far more challenging then she had expected. In order to make a living in The City, she 'settled' for a well paying, but un-fulfilling job, and has been at odds w/that decision ever since. I think that to her, 'settling' for something practical, yet un-fulfilling, feels uncomfortably close to being a Victim. Especially after all of this Landmark stuff.

This I think, is partially why I feel uneasy about Landmark. Especially after your observation of it's discouragement of progression beyond Victor. It is one thing to move out of the unhealthy role of Victim into Victor, but quite another to make being a Victor in every aspect of one's life the be all and end all... the only healthy way of being. This, I think is what you meant when you said:

As a result it is very attractive to people who want to be more successful in their dealings with the outer world. The Landmark "technologies" give trainees the tools they need to make that step, but there are a couple of risks. The first is that it may interrupt one's natural progression, trapping one in Victor state because it feels so good and is so useful.

I'm worried that she is somehow 'trapped' in the Victor state, or worse, regressing a bit. For example, she is now talking about quitting her job, and temporarily going on her boyfriend's payroll, while she works her way up through the Landmark ranks and/or starts her own 'Life Coach' business... This is so unlike her! She has always been very responsible, and I worry that a leap like this could be the result of the Landmark/Victor positive (magical?) thinking, and the desire to 'create her own reality', instead of the Vehicle trait of 'Surrendering to What is'.

Sometimes you've just got to do what you've got to do, and look for the positives within that framework. I'm not saying that a person should always be risk averse. But in her case, I'm not sure that she's fully thought this thing through in a rational way.

Does any of this make sense?

Thanks again GG for this information. I'm thinking of looking into The Inner Journey thing for not only myself, but my daughter too, as a type of yin to the Landmark yang (so to speak). I don't know if you are still involved w/that group, but if it is still around, would you recommend it?

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Response to PotatoChip (Reply #12)

Fri Jan 4, 2013, 02:11 PM

13. Yes, you understood what I was getting at about being trapped there.

I get the impression that in some ways Landmark is similar to many other motivational/positive thinking/self-help groups. But that's just an outsider's impression. In my opinion, such programs appeal to two broad categories of people: those who are stuck in Victim state and have figured out that it's a pathological place to be; and those who feel they have a tenuous hold on the Victor state and are worried about stalling or sliding back to Victim. It sounds like your daughter fits the second description pretty well.

I was all set to go to a Landmark weekend with a previous partner a few years ago, but we backed out at the last minute. The reason at the time was that the Landmark dynamic wasn't what we were was looking for, since we had both done a number of different Inner Journey programs. In retrospect my underlying reason was that I knew I'd be expected to buy in to the program at least for the weekend, and it would have felt like a charade. As well, I'm allergic to motivationalism and extroversion in general.

Were I in your shoes I'd worry that a Landmark workshop would be a difficult setting to communicate your own growth path to your daughter. What she might see is that it's not the one that "works" (for her...) and she could be doubly emphatic about trying to bring you "on board". Pure speculation on my part, of course.

The Inner Journey that I was involved with is a very small organization. Last I heard they have a presence in Washington, Chicago, San Francisco and Ottawa Canada. It's the brain child of one man named Michael Schiesser. The program blends a lot of East/West influences - depth psychology, Vipassana meditation, some of Osho's tantric work, transactional analysis, holotropic breathwork from Stan Grof, Enneagram work from A.H. Almaas etc. They also have ties with the Oneness movement out of India as well as Henninger's Constellation work. The program is quite experiential, and is aimed at tapping one's blocked or disowned emotions and bringing the emotional, intellectual and spiritual aspects into better balance. For a small organization it's tremendously ambitious, and quite successful.

I'm just barely on the periphery of it now, but I was fairly involved for about 4 years. I had a massive transformational breakthrough during a breathwork session on my first weekend intensive in early 2007 - not quite an enlightenment experience, but definitely an awakening. I also learned how to meditate properly and started "peeling the onion" of my true self, a process that hasn't stopped since then. Given that I was borderline suicidal from eco-despair when I went in, I think they're definitely worth a recommendation.

One other reason I recommend them is because the participants all come out of the weekend more different from each other than when they went in. One of the marks of cultishness in my opinion is that the participants all end up seemingly more homogeneous - they've been given a groupthink recipe. I didn't find IJ to be like that at all. Because it's so personal, there is no single recipe for authenticity, let alone for "success".

I moved on because the follow-on programs were a little too "bhakti" for my comfort - too much kirtan etc. I'm more comfortable in the pure-consciousness realm of Advaita, which is where I've been happily for the last 3 years. But it was all built on a foundation of IJ. It may not have helped me completely figure out who I am, but it gave me a pretty good handle on who I wasn't.

They have a web presence that should be able to tell you more:


Good luck!

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Response to GliderGuider (Reply #13)

Fri Jan 4, 2013, 04:36 PM

14. Just checked out that site.

Looks and sounds (based on what you've described) much more like my cup of tea than Landmark. Definitely something I want to know more about.

But as far as attending Landmark, I feel confident enough in my own growth to not let it set me back. Plus it will only be 3 days out of the 10 that I will be visiting my daughter in Manhattan. This will be the most amount of time we've had together in quite awhile. By going forward with it, I know at the very least it will make her happy that I 'gave it a chance'. And hopefully the discussion(s) that come from it will help me to assess where she is at this point.

So I pretty much feel as if I have nothing to lose, even though I believe you are on to something about the group think-type aspect of these self help groups and gurus.

Thank you so much for the advice and IJ recommendation. You definitely seem to have been down a long interesting path. A good one. I also think it's great that you got what you needed from the group, and then moved on at a time and pace that was right for you.

Thanks again and continued good luck to you!

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Response to PotatoChip (Reply #14)

Fri Jan 4, 2013, 05:05 PM

15. You're welcome. Let me know how it goes! nt

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