Many years ago a very old and dear friend from the UK came to stay with us for a while. During his stay we shared many excellent experiences and discussions, including one about ‘The School of Philosophy’ which he had attended back home.
The principles of the school sounded fantastic. My friend told me about an organisation run by volunteers, where teachers are also students, and where all are encouraged to seek greater stillness and self-knowledge by applying techniques learned from various philosophies. I was very interested.
I was also amazed to find the school had a branch here in Perth. I found it odd that anything so cool could be sitting on my own doorstep without me knowing.
I even made some initial attempts to contact the school locally, but nothing came of it and the whole conversation sat dormant…
…many years passed…
…until, last week, I saw an ad for the School’s ‘Introductory Course in Sustainable Happiness’. So I went along. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m going again this week. I’ve been telling people how great it was.
And then I noticed something odd. On the web there are a number of sites, blogs, and discussion boards denouncing the School of Philosophy as a ‘cult’. The School is also hotly debated on Wikipedia. Much as I love Wikipedia, I’ve noticed from direct personal experience it is not a brilliant medium for handling and resolving contested or controversial subjects, and the debate is easily hijacked by a few passionate, misinformed people.
After reading quite a few of these pages, many of the complaints are vague and unsatisfying. They fall into a few main categories.
I found lots of posts claiming the School is a cult, from people who have never attended any classes at the School, and who’s opinions are based entirely on comments made by other people on other websites.
Nearly all these comments draw their evidence from a very small number of sources. It’s hard to check these original sources, as most are no longer active on the web, and one is a book, written as an ‘expose’ by a pair of journalists. I could search out a copy of the book, but I’m not sure how reliable it would be.
I found lots of posts (often anonymous) from people stating they attended some classes and ‘something just didn’t feel quite right’.
This kind of comment is so downright unhelpful, it says more about the person making the comment than about the thing being commented on.
There are a number of what appear to be credible comments from people who identify themselves as former students of the school, saying sometime around the second or third year of study they were asked to perform an ‘initiation’ ceremony, kneeling before a picture of ‘the Shankaracharya’.
However, these may also be circular references, or memes, relating back to a particular quote attributed to someone called Wendy Diekstra. It’s just so easy to ‘copy and paste’ on the internet…
So, while my suspicions have been alerted, I’m not completely convinced. Are these a bunch of nice, well-intentioned people, being treated with suspicion because they’re misunderstood? Or are they loony brain-washers coming for me, my money, and my family?
In the true spirit of philosophy, I will go and find out for myself, and post updates here. I hope to have a definitive, first-hand account soon…