Erhard Seminars Training

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Erhard Seminars Training, Inc.
Privately held company Corporation (defunct)
Founded October 1971 (dissolved 1984)
Headquarters San Francisco, California, USA
Key people
Werner Erhard, founder[1]

Erhard Seminars Training (est), an organization founded by Werner H. Erhard, offered a two-weekend (60-hour) course known officially as "The est Standard Training". The purpose of est was "to transform one's ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself."[2][3] The est training was offered from late 1971 to late 1984.


The est Standard Training program consisted of two weekend-long workshops with evening sessions on the intervening weekdays, as well as each Wednesday night. Workshops generally involved about two hundred participants and were led by a trainer designated by Erhard and several assistants. Ronald Heifetz, Founder of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard, called est “an important experience in which two hundred people go through a powerful curriculum over two weekends and have a learning experience that seemed to change many of their lives.”[4] Trainers confronted participants one-on-one and challenged them to be themselves rather than to play a role that had been imposed on them by the past.[5] Jonathan D. Moreno observed that “participants might have been surprised how both physically and emotionally challenging and how philosophical the training was.”[5] He writes that the critical part of the training was freeing oneself from the past, which was accomplished by 'experiencing' one's recurrent patterns and problems rather than repeating them. The word ‘experience' was used to mean a process of fully experiencing the pointless repetition of old, burdensome behaviors so as to not be run by them.[5] The seminar aimed to enable participants to shift their contextual state of mind around which their life was organized from the attempt to get satisfaction or to survive, to an experience of actually being satisfied and experiencing oneself as whole and complete in the present moment. The est training offered people the opportunity to free themselves from the past, rather than living a life enmeshed by their past.[6]

Participants agreed to follow the ground rules which included not wearing watches, not talking until called upon, not eating at or leaving their seats to go to the bathroom except during breaks separated by many hours.[7] These classroom agreements provided a rigorous setting whereby people’s ordinary ways to escape confronting their experience of themselves were eliminated.[8] Moreno describes the est training as a form of "Socratic interrogation...relying on the power of the shared cathartic experience that Aristotle observed.”[5] Erhard challenged participants to be themselves instead of playing a role that had been imposed on them[5] and aimed to press people beyond their point of view, into a perspective from which they could observe their own positionality.[1] As Robert Kiyosaki writes, "During the training, it became glaringly clear that most of our personal problems begin with our not keeping our agreements, not being true to our words, saying one thing and doing another. That first full day on the simple class agreements was painfully enlightening. It became obvious that much of human misery is a function of broken agreements – not keeping your word, or someone else not keeping theirs."[9]

Sessions lasted from 9:00 a.m. to midnight or the early hours of the morning, with one meal break.[10] Participants had to hand over wristwatches and were not allowed to take notes, or to speak unless called upon, in which case they waited for a microphone to be brought to them.[11] The second day of the workshop featured the "danger process".[11]:384 As a way of observing and confronting their own perspective and point of view,[1] groups of participants were brought onto the stage and confronted. They were asked to "imagine that they were afraid of everyone else and then that everyone else was afraid of them"[11]:384 and to re-examine their reflex patterns of living that kept their lives from working.[12] This was followed by interactions on the third and fourth days, covering topics such as reality and the nature of the mind, looking at the possibility that "what is, is and what ain't, ain't," and that "true enlightenment is knowing you are a machine"[11]:384 and culminating in a realization that people do not need to be stuck with their automatic ways of being but can instead be free to choose their ways of being in how they live their lives.[1] Participants were told they were perfect the way they were and were asked to indicate by a show of hands if they "had gotten it".[11]

Many participants experienced powerful results through their participation in the est training, including dramatic transformations in their relationships with families, their work and personal vision as well as recognizing who they were in the core of their beings.[5][13] One study of a large sample of est alumni who had completed the training revealed that “the large majority felt the experience had been positive (88%), and considered themselves better off for having taken the training (80%).[7] In her book, I, Rhoda, Valerie Harper reported, "Est was a wonderfully empowering experience for me. It took a lot of struggle and conflict out of my day-to-day decision-making and helped me imbue my life with more focus and intention. … I was happier, more alive, and everything seemed lighter."[14] Robert Kiyosaki, entrepreneur and author of Rich Dad, Poor Dad wrote, "In March of 1974, I walked into the est training, and two weeks later, as [my sister] had promised, my life changed. And my 'changed life' went well beyond the two weekends I spent in the est seminar. I realized I had the power to create the best destiny for my life, or the worst. It was my choice."[9] John Curry, Gold Medal winning ice skater said, "Quite honestly, I can say that from the day I signed up for est and from the first time I did it, my skating just changed. I suddenly realized that it was me who is doing the skating. I was the one in control. I was doing it, and it wasn't other things that could make me fall over, or make things go wrong." Activist Lynne Twist said, "Everybody has milestones and epiphanies. Mine came in the est training which I took in 1974 with Werner Erhard. It just revolutionized my life. I really came to understand that I could turn my life over to making a difference… I became fearless about living authentically."[15] Another est graduate, comedian, Harvey Korman credited the training as a turning point for him. "Before est I had a lot of analysis and a lot of therapy and got nowhere… All through the years that you say I was a success I looked at myself as a victim. I wasn't getting enough of anything. 'They' had it. Whoever 'they' are! One of the liberating things about est for me is that I realized I was doing precisely what I wanted to do. I wasn't a victim. I chose my career, created it, and wanted it… It's very liberating to take responsibility for what you're doing and what you've done."[16]


Werner Erhard says he discovered est one day while crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, down on his luck and smoking his last Lucky Strike.[17] The first est course was held at the Jack Tar Hotel in San Francisco, California, in October 1971.[18] Within a year, trainings were being held in New York City and other major cities in the United States followed soon after. They were carried out by Werner Erhard; recently resigned from Mind Dynamics.

Beginning in July 1974 the est training was delivered at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc, California, with the approval of Federal Bureau of Prisons.[19][20][21] Initial est training in Lompoc involved participation of 12–15 federal prisoners and outside community members within the walls of the maximum security prison and was personally conducted by Werner Erhard.

By 1979 est had expanded to Europe and other parts of the world. In 1980 the first est training in Israel was offered in Tel Aviv.[22] In 1983 in the United States, a participant collapsed during a portion of the seminar known as "the danger process" and died at the hospital to which he had been transported.[23] A court subsequently found that the est training was not the cause of death[23]

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.[24]

"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.[25] Landmark Education was structured as a for-profit, employee-owned company; it operates with a consulting division called Vanto Group.[26]

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 Erhard as acknowledging Zen as the essential contribution that "created the space [for est]".[27]

Bartley details Erhard's connections with Zen beginning with his extensive studies with Alan Watts in the mid 1960s.[28] 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.[29]

Other influences included Dale Carnegie, Subud, Scientology and Mind Dynamics.[30]


  • 1971 – Erhard Seminars Training Inc, first est Training held in San Francisco, California
  • 1973 – The Foundation for the Realization of Man – incorporated as a non-profit foundation in California (subsequently the name of the foundation was changed to the est Foundation in 1976, and in 1981 to the Werner Erhard Foundation)
  • 1975 – est, an educational corporation.
  • 1977 – The first est training outside of the United States, in London.
  • 1977 – The Hunger Project was established
  • 1979 – The first est training in Europe
  • 1979 – The first est training in India
  • 1980 – The first est training in Israel[31]
  • 1980 – The Breakthrough Foundation was established (Youth at Risk)
  • 1981 – First of ten annual physicist conferences sponsored by the est Foundation
  • 1981 – est became Werner Erhard and Associates
  • 1984 – The last training was held under the name of est[32]

Notable participants

Books about est

  • Bartley, III, William Warren: Werner Erhard The Transformation of a Man: The Founding of est, New York, New York, USA: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc (1978) ISBN 0-517-53502-5.
  • Bry, Adelaide: est: 60 Hours That Transform Your life, Harper Collins (1976) ISBN 978-0-06-010562-4
  • Fenwick, Sheridan: Getting It: The psychology of est, J. B. Lippincott Company. (1976) ISBN 0-397-01170-9
  • Hargrove, Robert: est: Making Life Work, Delacorte (1976) ISBN 978-0-440-19556-6
  • Kettle, James: The est Experience, Zebra Books (1976) ISBN 978-0-89083-168-7
  • Marks, Pat R.: est: The Movement and the Man, Playboy Press (1976) ASIN B004BI5A3E
  • Moreno, M.D., Ph.D., Jonathan D."Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network." Bellevue Literary Press (2014) ISBN 1-934137-84-7
  • Rhinehart, Luke: The Book of est, Holt, Rinehart and Winston (1976) ISBN 978-0-557-30615-2

Related organizations

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the Transformation of a Man: the Founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p.164.
  2. Getting it – the psychology of est, by Dr. Sheridan Fenwick, p.44
  3. Life inc: how the world became a corporation and how to take it back, by Douglas Rushkoff
  4. Leadership Can Be Taught: A Bold Approach for a Complex World, by Sharon Daloz Parks, published 2005 by Harvard Business School Press, copyright 2005 Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, pages 157- 158
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Jonathan D, Moreno (October 2014). Impromptu Man: J.L. Moreno and the Origins of Psychodrama, Encounter Culture, and the Social Network. Bellevue Literary Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> ISBN 978-1-934137-84-0.
  6. Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est, by William Warren Bartley, III; New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 199
  7. 7.0 7.1 Cults: Faith, Healing, and Coercion, by Marc Galanter; New York: Oxford University Press, second edition, 1999, p. 75
  8. Bartley, William Warren III (December 12, 1988). Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, The Founding of est,. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 0-517-53502-5.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Kiyosaki, Robert; Kiyosaki, Emi (January 2009). Rich Brother Rich Sister. Vanguard Press. ISBN 1-59315-493-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Ruys, Chris. "Can you unchain your mind through est or TM?" (January 23, 1977). Sun Times (Chicago).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 11.3 11.4 Kay Holzinger. "Erhard Seminars Training (est) and The Forum". In James R. Lewis (ed.). Odd gods: new religions & the cult controversy. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-842-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. McGurk, William S. (1977). "Was ist est?". Contemporary Psychology. 22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Ashgar, Rob (October 29, 2014). "The 'Mindfulness' Craze". Forbes.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. 14.0 14.1 Harper, Valerie (2013). I, Rhoda. Gallery Books. ISBN 1-4516-9946-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Atwood, Janet. "Lynne Twist – Taking a Stand vs. Taking a Position – An Interview with Lynne Twist". Retrieved 11 January 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Chicago Tribune 8/22 1976
  17. "A Magical Mystery Tour Of The Psyche With Werner Erhard And est" by Robert Farr. Argus Magazine, December 1980.
  18. "hotel to hospital – farewell to S.F. era". San Francisco Chronicle. Oct 31, 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. Woodward, Mark (1982). "The est Training in Prisons: A Basis for the Transformation of Corrections?". Baltimore Law Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. "est in Prison" by Earl Babbie, published in American Journal of Correction, Dec 1977
  21. "Getting "it" in prison – The first est Training at the Federal Correctional Institution at Lompoc, California in 1974 : Neal Rogin : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Internet Archive.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  22. Despair and deliverance: privat salvation in contemporary Israel by Benjamin Beit-Hallahmi page 121
  23. 23.0 23.1 Ragland, Jr., Gerald F. (1984). "Complaint in Trespass for Wrongful Death – Demand for Jury Trial". Civil Action No. N 84 497 JAC (United States District Court for the District of Connecticut).
  24. The Herald Sun, March 1, 2008 |,21985,23298425-664,00.html
  25. McClure, Laura (July–August 2009). "The Landmark Forum: 42 Hours, $500, 65 Breakdowns". Mother Jones. Mother Jones. Retrieved 2010-10-13.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Bass, Alison (March 3, 1999). "Soul Training, A Retooled version of the controversial est movement, Seekers of many stripes set out on a path of self-examination". The Boston Globe. The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2010-10-11.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  27. Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the Transformation of a Man: the Founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 121, 146-7.
  28. Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the transformation of a man: the founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 118.
  29. Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the transformation of a man: the founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, p. 121.
  30. Bartley, William Warren, Werner Erhard: the transformation of a man: the founding of est. New York: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 1978. ISBN 0-517-53502-5, pp. 144–148.
  31. Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (July 1, 1992). Despair and Deliverance: Private Salvation in Contemporary Israel. State University of New York Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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External links