How is the course run?
A tutor presents material, and leads a discussion based on what arises. Being practical rather than academic, the emphasis is on personal knowledge. Students are encouraged neither to accept nor reject the ideas put forward, but to test them in practice for themselves, in the light of their own experience. In this way, for those who wish, the whole week between classes can become a learning opportunity. As the course continues, the most vivid and valuable part of the evening meetings is often sharing what has been seen in daily life between individual sessions.
Do I need any previous qualifications?
No. The course is intended for everyone, regardless of education, occupation, race, political or religious belief.
What does ‘practical philosophy’ mean?
The course is practical in the sense that it is designed to be of direct use in our everyday lives. The intention is to stimulate enquiry and through this expand the way we look at the world and ourselves, and this can bring more happiness and freedom.
What do I need to bring with me?
Just an open and enquiring mind, and an interest in the subject matter. At the end of each evening a handout with key points and any quotations used is provided for practice during the week.
Does the course include the concept of mindfulness?
Since our course was started in 1937 it has included a mindful awareness exercise which is given in session one. Throughout the course, great emphasis is placed on the importance of being in the present moment. Exercises and practices are provided to encourage this connection. These increase the value of each weekly session. More generally, they deepen and enrich awareness of the vibrancy of the world around us in our daily lives.
Does the course include meditation?
There is much focus on the direct experience of stillness as the underlying basis for clear observation and connection with oneself. However, the practice of mantra meditation as such does not form part of the introductory course. Meditation is introduced a few terms later for those who would like to practise it. From Part 6 onwards it becomes an increasingly central practice. Further information is available on the School's main website. (See later questions)
Who are the course tutors?
Our philosophy tutors have all been studying in the School for some time. All have considerable experience of applying the lessons of philosophy to their everyday lives. They come from all walks of life and many different occupations, but all share the same love of passing on knowledge in order that people can get the most out of their lives. None are paid for being a tutor.
Will I get a certificate or qualification?
This is an experiential not an academic course. There are no exams and no certificates.
Are there any trial sessions?
You will need to enrol for the full ten week course. However, you can cancel your enrolment, for any reason, up to the end of the second week of term (irrespective of whether you have attended a class). The enrolment fee will be refunded to you, less a £5 administration charge. If for personal reasons you are unable to complete the course after a few sessions, you are entitled to a free retake of the whole course in the following term.
I’m receiving treatment for my mental health. Can the philosophy course also help me?
The philosophy course is open to all but it does not provide an alternative to mental health treatment – this should be discussed in private with your medical professionals.
Is the course ‘religious’?
The course is not religious, but it does address the spirit in Mankind. It is designed to be suitable for people of all faiths – and those who follow no particular faith.
Does the School offer further studies in practical philosophy after the introductory course?
Yes, for those who wish to continue. Some people find that the introductory practical philosophy course, which is intended to be of real value in its own right, satisfies their interest. Others want to continue their studies. The School caters for this, offering additional courses and the chance to penetrate further the great questions of life. This can last for another term, another year, or longer. However long or short a time people may wish to study in the School, the hope is that everyone will find something of true and lasting value.
What form do these further studies take?
The basic format of a group discussion with practical exercises remains unchanged.
The first five terms examine the subjects broadly covered in the introductory course in more detail, exploring further ways to make the study practical.
In Part 5 students are offered a traditional method of Mantra-based meditation from the Advaita philosophical tradition. Then the study increasingly turns to a deeper understanding of the philosophy of Advaita. Those who take up mantra-based meditation would move into our New Meditators Group where they would study our Parts 6 - 9 and then on to the Harmony Group studying Parts 10 - 13. Both these groups work on the same carousel method. Those who dont wish to meditate could continue studying in the Foundation Group for as long as they wish. Each term has the capacity to add something of real value to those whose interest persists.
What is ‘Advaita’?
Advaita is the clearest and most systematic expression we have found of the common philosophy that lies at the heart of many of the world's great religions and philosophies. Literally meaning ‘one without a second’, it is a universal philosophy of great breadth. Its most central tenet is everyone and everything are in essence the expression of one consciousness.
A true appreciation of Advaita allows life to be led more fully and richly, conferring greater freedom on the individual and those around him or her. It is designed to bring out the best in everyone, whatever the part they play in life.
A more detailed description of advaita is given on the School's main website.
Are there any opportunities to socialise with the group?
We offer a variety of other events across the year including public lectures, concerts and a Christmas party. Students are welcome to attend these events and naturally there can be social interaction in meeting new, interesting people.
Can I have everyone’s email address?
You are naturally free to share contact details with other members of your philosophy group if you wish. We are required to follow data protection law in respecting our students’ privacy by not sharing their names or contact details even with anyone else including other students unless they provide express permission for us to do so.
Do you have a reading list?
You don't need to do extra reading for our course but here’s an optional suggested list if you’re interested in doing further reading. Please be selective – it’s a long list! And remember that, while good reading undoubtedly supports our growth, wisdom in the end comes from applying it in practice.
There are of course many good books apart from these. Your tutor will be happy to advise further if you so wish.
The Essential Rumi Coleman Barks
The Geeta Shri Purohit Swami
Good Company H.H. Shantananda Saraswati
Inspired Talks Swami Vivekananda
The Man Who Wanted to Meet God H.H. Shantananda Saraswati
Meditations Marcus Aurelius
The Letters of Marsilio Ficino Vol. 1 Marsilio Ficino
The Portable Emerson Carl Bode (ed.)
The Prophet Khalil Gibran
The Ten Principal Upanishads W. B. Yeats/Shri Purohit Swami
World Within the Mind H.P. Shastri
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones Paul Reps
Zen in the Art of Archery Eugen Herrigel
The Dialogues of Plato: Gorgias, Benjamin Jowett (translation)
Crito, Phaedo, Symposium, Euthyphro
The Complete Works of Shakespeare William Shakespeare]
Does the School teach meditation?
Yes. Students who continue to study with us beyond the first few terms are offered the opportunity to take up meditation. This practice, which uses a mantra, helps gradually to bring about inner peace, harmony and clarity of mind and to release fine energy for practical use in daily life. The simple awareness exercise introduced in the course, as well as being effective and helpful in its own right, is also a useful preparation for anyone wishing to meditate.
What type of Meditation is practised in the School? The meditation practised in the School is mantra-based. It originates in a centuries-old tradition that arose in India and was adapted to be given to people in the West at the end of the 1950s. It is suitable for people of any age, disposition or background.
In the early 1960s, contact was made with one of the great teachers in the tradition of meditation, the Shankaracharya of northern India, Maharaja Shri Shantananda Saraswati.
Is meditation a religion? Meditation is not a religion and involves no set of beliefs or creeds – although meditation techniques are used by many religions. Many who practise meditation often find that with time it leads to a greater appreciation of the true, undifferentiated essence which is expressed in the world’s great teachings, including the religious teachings.
What are the benefits of meditation? The effect of the proper practice of meditation may be seen in an increase of enthusiasm; greater efficiency in work; steadiness in thought and action; strength of character; increased happiness, regardless of success or failure; greater wisdom in all aspects of life.
How is meditation taught? Meditation as it is practised in the School is passed on individually, one to one. The individual is given a technique in a single session in a simple traditional ceremony. Then, to start the practice properly it is necessary to meet with a meditation tutor at agreed times for tutorial appointments in the weeks that immediately follow. These meetings are important to the proper establishment of the practice. They also provide an opportunity to meditate together, discuss your experience and clear any queries or problems with the technique. The meetings last about half an hour and people are asked to book the first three appointments prior to attending the ceremony.
Students often find that the need for such frequent tutorials gradually reduces as experience is gained in the practice.
Where are students introduced to meditation? Students are introduced to the practice by the School of Meditation, with whom the School of Economic Science has a close relationship. The School of Meditation is a registered charity funded by donations and its purpose is to make meditation readily available to anyone who wants it. Students wishing to take up the practice are asked to make a generous, one-off donation so that meditation will be available for others in future.
What more is available to deepen my practice of meditation? The method of meditation is very powerful and effective. It is most effective when it becomes a regular part of life. As the practice deepens you gain greater insight into your self — not just your own individual personality, but the nature of being. At the School, study days, residential weekends and weeks are available to help take the practice further and deeper in the company of like-minded people. There is a wealth of experience in the practice of meditation in the School and senior members are able to offer mentoring to assist those with less experience.
Do I have to practise meditation in order to continue studying with the School? Meditation is offered to students wishing to continue their studies longer than 1-2 years. This is about the time when the practice starts to become increasingly helpful in the further penetration of the philosophical principles discussed and realising their meaning. Part 6 and beyond is only available to those who practice the method of mantra-based meditation.
I already meditate using a different technique. Can I continue to use this instead of using the method practised in the School? Meditation is a fundamental part of the School’s approach from the third year onwards and is practised whenever the Group meets. It is supported by mentoring in tutorials, and group discussion. Because this support relates specifically to the School’s mantra-based meditation, it would be impractical for people to be using a variety of methods. Of course our students are free to practise at home whatever they find useful. However, in the interests of the group overall, use of the method of meditation practised in the School is a requirement for progress beyond the second year.
I don’t wish to practise meditation. Can I continue to attend classes?
Students are welcome to repeat terms 2 – 5, and attend other courses and occasional open events, but cannot progress beyond term 5 without taking up our offer of mantra-based meditation.
The School has come in for some criticism over the years. Why’s that?
The School has been around for over 80 years and, yes, like many organisations, it has been the subject of criticism in different places and at different times. Practices such as meditation haven’t always been as ‘mainstream’ as they are today and have in the past been viewed with some suspicion. In 1983, a book by two journalists alleged, among other things, that the School was a secretive, cult-like organization. Other allegations have been made from time to time.
Understandably, criticisms like this can be quite upsetting for our students. We would say first that they greatly misrepresent the aims and activities of the School, secondly that the School today has developed and adapted itself to modern times and is a reformed organisation from it was in the different era of the 1970s and 1980s. We acknowledged too that the criticisms served a useful purpose in alerting us to the need for openness and transparency, the need to provide more information about our courses and associated activities and to talk about and learn from any difficulties people have found. We make every effort to do this through discussion, through our website and in forums which bring together other organisations which share our interest in building a better, more harmonious world, with justice for all. Thirdly, we are a registered charity; we fully respect and comply with all the legal requirements of a charity including producing an annual report and accounts to the Charity Commission, and we provide public liability and employers’ liability insurance and comply with all the health and safety and data protection requirements expected of all organisations like ours.
We ask only that our students judge for themselves whether what they learn here is of use to them and indirectly benefits those around them (family, community, friends etc.) too. Experience has taught us is how easily things can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, so do please raise this with your tutor if you have any concerns or questions. We would really appreciate any opportunity to provide clarification.