Landmark Forum – Part III

Please read my previous posts about Landmark Forum (Part I and Part II) before reading this one.

In the past few weeks, I have been getting multiple comments for my posts about Landmark forum. Here is the summary of those comments:

  1. The landmark forum provides spiritual dimension to an individual. It helps the attendees to lead a peaceful life with full of self-expression. Why are you commenting on it?
  2. Today’s world is filled with misery, where people are selling anything and everything. If we can tolerate a phone-call from a credit card salesperson, why not a spiritual/self development course like Landmark forum, Art-of-living etc?

I think the commentors didn’t completely understand the point I was trying to convey. It is not my intention to criticize these organizations or courses and say they are of no use. My take is to learn, understand and internalize them and practice in real life. Also understand that ‘transformation’ is a journey, rather than an instant capsule to fix every other problem in life. Many problems in life are caused when individuals are not equipped with proper thought process to handle them. No doubt! These courses provide excellent tools but what is the use if an individual it not using them, but end up preaching it by becoming a salesperson? Here are the two classic examples I have recently come across.

Case 1: An ISKCON devotee

Recently I met a fresher, who just got into the IT industry after finishing his post graduation. Upon talking with him I learned that he is a devotee of ISKCON. We discussed many things about purpose of life, origin of birth and death, religion, philosophy, spirituality, spiritual practices, yoga and Indian way of living. We exchanged wonderful thoughts for close to two hours before the discussion took a different turn. This 23 year old all of a sudden started saying ‘Krishna is the ultimate god and nothing is more superior to him’. He went on criticizing other Yogic methods and spiritual gurus by saying they have not come in a proper generation (in his words — ‘guru parampara’) and don’t have rights to teach spiritual practices to anyone. Followed by that, he started pitching about ISKCON and compelling me to come for weekly meetings etc.

Case 2: An Art of living devotee

In another occasion, I met colleague of mine in one of the company meetings. Some time back I got introduced to him in one of the art-of-living classes. He immediately started of saying ‘so-and-so’ new course is happening, which can transform my life completely. In spite of me not showing interest, he went on saying the glory of the course, how good the teacher is, how quickly one can bring change in his life etc.

This is exactly what I mean by salesman mentality. First of all I don’t see how an individual organization is the superior than others. As mentioned in my previous post, I respect them for the reasons they are created. That doesn’t mean that every other thing in the world is shit. Second, I am not sure how the so called ‘transformation’ can happen in few days or hours of attending a course, satsang or a bhajans. Every other spiritual method, ideology, socio-political movement has taken years to bring in changes.

Gandhi might have got his ‘call’ when he was thrown out of the train in Pietermaritzburg, but it took 22 years of belief, hard work, commitment, visionary leadership to make the civil rights movement in South Africa as a success. He never told his ideology is the best and started selling/forcing on others. Paramahamsa Yogananda, one of the great spiritual gurus took 17 years to attain transformation in his spiritual journey by meeting his guru Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri. It took 35 years for Varghese Kurien to envision, think and build ‘Amul — the taste of India’. It took years for these great people to transform themselves and people around them.

According to me transformation is a journey when an individual embarks with a great vision. It is neither one-minute-magic nor selling an ideology. It is about understanding self, becoming a magnet and making others becoming followers. It is always good to take up a self-development course (like Landmark) or getting associated with an organization (Art-of-living, ISKCON etc…) but don’t make is as a sales pitch or think only their ideology/organization is the best in the world.

Landmark Forum – Part II

I understood quite a lot of things by observing people who attend landmark forum. Primarily the educated, upper-middle class, urban population attend this and they don’t have any clue of what life is all about. The materialistic life style has taken toll totally, which makes them live a miserable life with wrong perceptions, notions and beliefs. Suddenly they realize that the situation it out of control and start thinking about ‘one-stop’ solution for all their problems.

They look for one ‘thread’ on which they can hang on for rest of their life and forget their worries. The start identifying the thread by attending course like: Landmark forum, Art of living, Ramdev yoga and then getting associated with them. Other examples include: Kanchi ashram,ISKCON, Saibaba ashram, Aurobindo ahsram, Amritanandamayi etc. In a way all these organizations and courses teach almost the same universal values like: humility, responsibility, community service, treating everybody equal, selflessness, service etc.

In my point of view, its absolutely fine to learn any of these courses. But the problems starts when people go overboard and start indulging themselves. This indulgence turns into addiction after some time and they become mobile sales person for the organization they are associated with. They start forcing their friends, families and relatives to sign up and promise that all their problems will be solved in a jiffy. When such communities becomes bigger in size it results in scandals, murders and controversies.I don’t want to take up any specific examples here as everyone of us has come across some or the other experiences.

Here are my conclusions:

  1. No course, religion or ashram is bad. Everything is created with a good purpose of making things better for humans.
  2. It is also OK to get associated with any of these ‘threads’ and learn their courses. But becoming sales person is really dangerous
  3. No course can bring in ‘transformation’ overnight. It takes years of focus, commitment, dedication and perceverence to even get a feel of real self transformation. For normal human beings it is better to learn a course and start implementing the techniques in real lives.
  4. Forcing others to take up any course or join a group is not correct.

Landmark forum – Part I

It’s been 6 months since I attended Landmark Forum in Bangalore. For people who don’t know what this is all about please check out this link. I have mixed opinions about the course. Let me share my first set of thoughts about this course.

Let me explain the course structure first. It’s basically a three day plus one evening course primarily focused on personal transformation. Each day starts about 9 AM in the morning (sharp) and goes on till 11 PM in the night, with grueling sessions. Each day has only very few break in between, that too at odd timings (11 AM, 3 PM and 7 PM). A well trained ‘forum leader’ will be leading the course for about 400 participants. He has a pre-defined courseware and speaks non-stop for all the three days. These leaders are extremely smart people and ruthless in expressing their viewpoints. The landmark education forum has internal methods of identifying, coaching and grooming these leaders.

Coming to the course contents, it’s completely a westernized therapy session. They give a different perspective of life, more from the psychological point of view. The forum leader will encourage participants to come and share problems they face in relationships, career and life. He will listen to those problems and provides different perspective about solving those problems. In between these conversations the leader keeps on giving certain gyan about: parenting, purpose of life, holistic living, relationships, human behaviors etc. I found these sessions totally boring and couldn’t get anything at all from them. I felt more annoyed when people cry in public about their personal problems and their inability to solve them. This is what happens on the first two days.

On the third day of the forum, I found pretty interesting things. The leader started discussion certain topics (question like ‘Who am I?’), which slowly dwells into a philosophy. When I questioned the leader about its interference with philosophy (especially Indian way of thinking), he totally diverted the discussion and forced me to sit down. He went on expressing some of the points in a very forceful manner in loud voice. Finally he ended up with some of the concepts from Zen Buddhism.

When such philosophical thoughts are conveyed in forceful manner (this is what I call western therapy), people feel all they have discovered something great. They feel they are free and get whatever they want. This is what defined as ‘transformation’ by the Landmark education people. Apart from that they give a whole new terminologies like ‘racket’, ‘break-through’, ‘possibility’, ‘break-down’, ‘interpretation’ etc. Thus the third day of the course comes to an end.

The evening session resumes after two days, where each participants are asked to bring at least three guests. These guests can be friends, family members or relatives. When the evening session stats, the nasty sales pitch of the Landmark forum takes the centre stage. The forum leader literally forces all the participants to take up the ‘advanced’ course. There are many so called ‘volunteers’ who do excellent job in brainwashing the guests to sign up for the ‘basic’ course. I took my wife and some close friends on the evening session but felt totally humiliated when they started the sales pitch. I didn’t expect this at all!

After the course (sales pitch session) gets over, the participants are asked to take up ‘Landmark forum in action’ lecture series. I was so pissed off with their evening session that I just stopped going in that direction. Also it’s quite interesting to see the way the course is marketed. People who are weak minded, immature or lived a miserable life in the past become ‘volunteers’ of this forum after achieving ‘transformation’. These volunteers become mobile marketing/sales people for the organization and they go ahead and force all of their friends and family members to take up the course. I do see some value of courses like this but can’t even think of becoming a sales person for them.

Let me write more about Landmark Forum in the next blog post!