The School of Economic Science (SES) was founded in London in 1937 by the Labour MP Andrew MacLaren (d. 1975), to teach economic and political theory. His son Leon MacLaren (1910-94), a barrister, gradually took over the running of the School. Leon MacLaren shifted the focus to a study of the laws governing human nature, and hence philosophy, and a search for spiritual wisdom. Sources included the Bible, Plato and his successors, the great poets such as Shakespeare, and the Hindu scriptures, the Upanishads.

In 1960, through another group called the Study Society to which he belonged, MacLaren heard the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi when he first came to London. The Study Society, originally the Society for the Study of Normal Psychology, had been founded by Dr Francis Roles on the basis of P.D.Ouspensky’s teachings (see Ouspensky, Piotr Demianovich); Ouspensky had studied with G.I.Gurdjieff (see Gurdjieff, George Ivanovitch). Roles travelled to India and met Sri Santanand Saraswati, the Shankaracharya of the North, who had studied alongside the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi under the previous Shankaracharya, Guru Dev (1869-1953). Shortly after Roles’s return, Leon MacLaren also journeyed to meet Saraswati.

The Shankaracharya of the North is one of four successors to Shankara (or Samkara), a Hindu philosopher who probably lived from 788 to 820 CE (or possibly a century earlier), who was the founder of Advaita Vedanta, a major Hindu philosophical school based on the Vedas.

MacLaren’s School and Roles’s Society jointly set up the School of Meditation to study and teach the principles and practical use of meditation. MacLaren began using the Shankaracharya’s teachings in the SES. Every two years for the rest of his life he would go to India and hold conversations with the Shankaracharya through an interpreter; these were taped and transcribed, and became the basis of the teaching material in the SES.

Leon MacLaren died in 1994 aged 84. He appointed 38-year-old Donald Lambie, also a barrister, to succeed him as senior tutor. Sri Shantanand Saraswati died in 1997. Lambie established contact with the new Shankaracharya of the North, Sri Vasudevananda Saraswati, who has taken on the role of guru to SES.

Teaching at the School is done in small groups, in the form of a dialogue between teacher and students. All the SES teachers are advanced students; none is paid. Courses include Philosophy, Economics, Art, Vedic Mathematics, and Practical Philosophy in Business.

In addition, the School runs four private schools in London, the St James schools for junior and senior girls and boys, and schools in Leeds and Manchester. As well as the standard curriculum, the pupils are taught Sanskrit and Philosophy.

The SES was hit by major controversy in 1984, with the publication of the book Secret Cult by two journalists from London’s right-wing newspaper, the Evening Standard, Peter Hounam and Andrew Hogg. Hounam and Hogg had smelt a potential political scandal in that several leading members of the Liberal Party were members of the SES, and their expose of this was timed to coincide with the 1984 General Election. They lost a certain amount of credibility when it was revealed that the spokesman for the SES had been, until the previous year, Director of Press and Public Relations at the Conservative Party’s Central Office, and a close adviser to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Secret Cult was a sensationalist account containing many inaccuracies, and was harmful to the SES. In one respect, however, it had been quite accurate: the SES had been secretive, to the extent that new students were not told that courses in Economics and Philosophy were based on the teachings of a Hindu guru, and parents of some children at the St James schools did not know that the schools were connected to the SES. The SES consulted the Shankaracharya for guidance, and were advised to be more open in all their operations. The School’s leaflets and website now clearly state the spiritual underpinnings of the SES.

Since its founding, over 100,000 students have taken courses at SES and its associated schools. In assessing current active membership, however, SES only counts students who continue after their first year’s course. The SES currently has around 5,000 members in the UK, 1,400 of them in London, and the remainder in twenty other branches around the UK. There are related schools, independent but using teaching material from the London HQ, in North and South America, Australasia, South Africa, the West Indies, and several European countries.

Next post:

Previous post: