est: A PhilosoEhical Appraisal
Michael E. Zimmerman
est: A Assessreent
The purpose of this report is to provide a philosophical assessment
of est training. I first took the training in New Orleans in January,
1981, and reviewed it as an observer in Sacramento in February, 1982.
My analysi& of the training is guided by my understanding of philo-
sophy of Heidegger, existential psychotherapy, and Eastern
religions. The following arises not only fron my
training as a philosopher, however, but also from my own personal
experience. This report is by no means eXhaustive; much more could
have been said about the topics covered below. Moreover, many more
issues could have been dealt with. Because of my own philosophical
expertise and personal interest, however, I chose to focus my attention
on those aspects of the training that bear on the topic of authenticity.
I hope that this report will prove to be of some help in resolving
whatever problems remain in what is already an excellent training.
I would like to thank fernando flares for having given me the
opportunity to prepare this report. The experience has been important
My analysis of the training addresses itself, in part, to four
questions posed by Jack Mantas:
1) Can the l' authentici ty" of the training be establishec) more
directly and explicitly at the start of the training?
2) How can one speak more effectively of the Self as emptiness
3) How is one to understand the notion of i.e.,
the notion that the authentic Self takes a stand on itself as the
context of contexts?
4) Is there too much SUbjectivism in the idea that we "create"
our own experience?
Answers to these questions will be found in the body of the
text, a summary of which follows.
Summary of Findings:
1) The "authenticity" of the training may be more firT!lly
established initially if the trainer explicitly asserts that the
trainer and support team are prepared to enter into agreement with
the trainees. The agreement would be that everyone give 100% of
himself or herself to the training.
2) There is a tendency to speak as if the training will provide
more "satisfaction"!n life, but if satisfaction is made the goal by
trainees, they will never find it. Satisfaction ensues; it cannot
be pursued. At times, the training the impression that
the reason for keeping one's agreements is to gain satisfaction.
Such a utilitarian view of behavior is inimicable to the fundamentally
sound view, expressed elsewhere in the training, that the key is to
act impeccably: from this, everything else--including satisfaction
as well as unhappiness--follows.
3) More explicit treatment of death, and the attendant
of anxiety and guilt, are needed to provide a more complete account of
human existence. Anxiety is constriction of the self that occurs in
the face of the disclosure of mortality, but only such disclosure
enables us to make the leap from mechanicalness or inauthenticity
to aliveness or authenticity. Guilt is the ontological self-corrective
that reminds a person that he or she is failing to repay the loan of
life by experiencing everything there is to experience. Guilt and
anxiety call the individual to the resolution or decision to live.
4) Resoluteness refers to the decision of the individual to
experience whatever there is to experience. Resoluteness (Entschlossen-
heit) is authentic openness or disclosedness The
decision in favor of being openness is a free choice to be the
freedom that we already are. freedom is not a human
possession, but instead the openness or into which we
are thrown. existence or Dasein constitutes the clearing or
openness in which the Being of beings manifests itself.
5) While the training currently makes some reference to time and
temporality, a more thorough discussion is probably in order. Such a
discussion would show that the leap from inauthenticity to authenticity
involves a in temporality: from linear tiMe to the
circling temporality called eternity or "Now.
Linear time arises froJ!l
the constriction of human openness to that of the ego/mind, w::lich
reveals things merely as objects to be exp16ited for human ends.
Circular or eternal time arises when human existence opens up and lets
beings be just what they are.
G) The training needs to define more .carefully what it means by
the notion that I am responsible for all my' experience.' that :r am God
in my universe. Apparently derived in part of
Atman or the Transcendental Self, this conception of responsibility
is too easily confused with more ordinary notions. The notion that I
somehow create ?y experience is metaphysi speculation that cannot
be verified. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to redefine creating.
Inste of speakip.g of creating as a kind of producing Or making, we
could say that creatinf. is a letting-be. T!1e former notion of creat
is masculine and typically Western, while the latter is fenin and
more in line with Eastern views of reality. We could then say that
I am responsible for all of my experience in the sense that I aD called
on to experience whatever it is that manifests itself within the openness
that I call lime." The true "I," of course, is not ego/mine but the
temporal-historical clearing called Dasein.
7) While the training speaks of everything/nothing, Heidegger
speaks of Being/nothingness. Although what both parties mean by
nothingness or noth g is similar, they differ considerably on what
they mean Being and everything. For Heidegger, Being does not mean
the totality of but the presencing or self-manifesting of beings.
To identify Bei with every thing to make a category-mistcke.
B) Al thoubh the training currently emphasizes the importa.nce of
participating and sharing with other beings, the implicit idea
of the training is that we humans should share ourselves with all
beings. Hence, the Hunger Project should naturally lead into the
Planet Project designed to save the earth from environmental destruction.
9) Heidegger claimed that everything great happens from within
a heritage or tradition. Perhaps it is time for est to acknowledge
that it is part of the great traditions of East and West.
One goal of est would then be to people to revitalize their
own trad.i tions.
10) Miscellaneous Observations.
A) Michael E. Zimmerman, "Heideg-ger's 'Existentialism'
B) Michael E. Zim1'1erman, "Towards a Heideggerean Ethos
for Radical Environmentalism."
1. Establishing the of the Training.
Currently, the authenticity and integrity of the training are
guaranteed from the start by the of the trainer and his or
her support team. The trainees, however, are not explicitly informed
of this commitment, although they themselves are asked to make a
cOr:1"llitment.of their own. Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the
trainer to enter into the following agreement with the trainees: that
both parties give 100% of themselves to the training. This sort of
thing is said later on during the training, but might be introduced
much earlier. Apparently, one of the the trainer and support
team seem so authoritarian anc aloof at the start of the training- is'
to discourage trainees from I'running their acts" and to encourage
them to turn to themselves for support. Such authoritarianism also
has the advantage of eliciting anger and resentment from those trainees
who have problems with authority figures. Nevertheless, it might be
truer to the intention of the training if this authoritarianism were
tempered by the explicit willingness of the trainer and support team
to enter into partnership with the trainees. Such an agreement could
be made without giving into people's acts. An "authentic" relationship
involves reciprocity and respect. The current way of engaging the
trainees initially has sone advantages for sone but is
counter-productive for others.
2. On Aiming for "Satisfaction" in Life.
Recently, I read a chapter on est training in a book called
Gettin Saved frOD Sixties.
According to the author of this work,
est can be understood as a kind of utilitarianism based on taking care of
one's own needs: successful selfishness. The reason for keeping one's
agreements, for example, is that this produces greater s sfaction in
life. If one does not keep his or her agreements, he or she gets caught
in life's machinery. satisfaction is evidently understood as an
agreeable condition that results from behaving in a certain way. The
training sonetiDes supports this point of view by asking trainees if they
want more satisfaction in life. Normally, we think of satis ion as a
kind of gratification, but the radical insight of est is that !!getting it"
means being just where one is--whether satisfied or dissatisfied, happy or
sad, getting it or losing it. Yet there are people who come away from the
training thinking that "satisfaction" results if I take care of my emotions
and problems: I'm respon hIe for me over here, not for you over there.
Clearly, this approach is guided by the dualism between self and Other,
a dualism that est intends to In Sacramento, Jerry Joiner
pointed out that "getting it" is not a matter of improvement or getting
better, but instead involves a radical shift that transcends the distinction
between better and worse. !'Getting it" means reali ng that I and the
Other are one, not separate.
An enlightened being does h'hat the situation calls for
not in order
to get 11 satis faction," but simply because the deed is
My personal experience - ling good or bad, fulfilled or unfulfilled-
is not the criterion by which to judge the appropriateness of my actions.
Consider Kantts notion of morality. According to Kant, hunan beings are
moral agents because they are rational: they can understand that a moral
obligation is universally applicable to any rational being in the same
tuation. Crucial for Kant's notion of morality is the idea of self-
respect. Self-respect does not result from my obeying the law,
e.g., keeping agreements. Instead, I choose to follow the moral law
only insofar as I respect myself as a ratiorial being. Soneone lacking in
self-respect acts inappropriately; he or she goes nst the essential
nature of est makes much the same point when it says that
disloyalty to the self kills aliveness, or turns us into machin-es.
A machine acts automatically, while a human being chooses freely.
Disloyalty to the self means turning away from the possibility of
being responsively open to whatever we are called on to experience.
Someone disloyal to this intrinsic human openness is lacking in self-
respect. Kant emphasizes that self-respect and integrity lead one to
do one's duty, no matter how difficult or distasteful it may be.
Put in a way more in accord with est's insight: acting appropriately
out of integrity means choosing to experience whatever there is to
experience. For Kant, duty is primarily to. the noral law; for est,
duty is defined more extensively as openness for whatever there is to
experience. According to est, an f'enlightened" being chooses to let
everything that is be what it is.
Such letting-be, however, can only occur if the person transcends
the ego/mind that is dead-set.against against letting beings be. For
ego/mind, the task is to manipUlate reality in a way that guarantees
survival. Letting beings be is always risky. By transcending ego/mind,
a person recognizes that he or she is not separate from the other
or from anything else. Hence, just as a person naturallY takes
care of himself or herself if sick, wounded, or suffering, so an
enlightened person naturally takes care of sick or Others.
This is the "compassion doctrine
of Buddhism and of other great
religions. One acts compassionately and appropriately not for the
sake of consequences, e.g., so that one might feel more "satisfaction"
from life by doing good deeds. One acts appropriately siMply because
it is appropriate.
Buddhism speaks of the need for skillful means in approaching the
unenlightened. est, too, no doubt practices such skillful means in
first addressing trainees who are accustor:1ed to the "successful self-
ishness!! school of morality. est appeals to their self-interest by
asking them if they want to get more "satisfaction
from life. The
trainees naturally respond by saying yes, though they usually think
satisfaction must mean "happiness" as opposed to Hsadness.f! Gradually,
however, the trainees are taught that the pursuit of happiness and the
flight from sadness are the source of their suffering. Since ego/mind
initiates and sustains the chase-and-flight, only "blowing the mind"
enables one to end the quest for happiness. Victor Frankl has observed
that "Happiness ensues; it cannot be pursued.
Thus any attempt to
achieve happiness is doomed to failure. Releasement from suffering
comes only if ego/nind's craving for security transcended. Hhen
ego/mind surrenders, the separation between self and Other is overcome.
"Blowing the mindt! is the beginning of conpassion. The quest for
personal salvation is contradictory, for one is not separate from the
Others. This is the crucial insight of Mahayana Buddhism, is
reflected in est training, which stresses the of partici
and sharing. Yet it is necessary to remind the trainees more explicitly
that while they started out thinking that satisfaction meant personal
satisfaction and security, the fact is that satisfaction comes only when
one ceases to pursue personal happiness. Kore conceptual recapitulation
is needed to rernind the trainees where they started from and where they
are at the end of the training. Above all, they must be reminded that
ttgetting it" does not mean successful selfishness.
3. Death, and Guilt.
In my the training should say more about death and the role
it plays ih human existence. According to Heidegger, authenticity or
aliveness occurs only if one accepts one's own mortality and finitude.
Authenticity (Eigentlichkeit, "owned-ness'f) means owning up to who one
already is;,responsive and responsible openness for what is. Authentic
openness is only possible if inauthentic openness is transformed, i.e.,
if passes through nothingness. Passing through nothingness means
letting oneself undergo the anxiety (Angs!) that comes up whenever one
starts opening up or to life. What.is anxiety all about? Anxiety
is anxiousness about one's own Being-inpthe-wor1d, the .finite openness,
context, or clearing in which beings can manifest or present themselves.
Being-in-the-world refers not to a thing, but to the no-thingness in
which things can "be
. ing anxious about one's Being-in-the-world,
then, means being anxious about one's own nothingness. There is no
object for anxiety. During the training, the trainer points out that
people are always angry or sad or happy about some particular thing or
event. Such is not the case with anxiety. Any to assign an
object to anxiety turns anxiety into fear. Fear is always fear of some
thing or other. But while we can try to do something about the thing
we fear, there is nothing to be done about nothingness. The reason that
we resist the disclosure about our utter nothingness is that ego/mind'S
only motive is survival; hence, any acknowledgement of ego/mind's
insubstantiality and mortality sends it, into a self-protective frenzy.
Ego/mind orders the body to contracted and rigid iD a de nsive
posture. To avoid any awareness of mortality whatsoever, ego/mind
CUltivates a zombie-like existence. Authenticity or aliveness require
that we be willing to pass through this anxiety TO the other side.
Anxiety has the positive function of calling us back to aliveness and
openness. When in the grips of anxiety, a person is throttled, choked,
shut down. The word anxiety stems from the Latin anguista, which itself
comes from the Greek ancho meaning narrowness and strangling.
To overcome this self-constriction, a person must let go of all attempts
to save himself or herself. All world religions testify to the extreme
difficulty that such letting-go involves.
Ken Wilber claims that anxiety arises as a result of our blocking the
expression of our "cosmic energy," our primordial responsiveness and
aliveness. Often we block our energy by projecting it outward onto
Under these conditions, excitement is experienced as anxiety, and
conversely, whenever we feel anxiety we are simply refusing to let
ourselves. be excited, vibrant, alive. The only way out of this type
of situation is to get back in touch with our interest and excitement--
to let our body get excited, to breathe and even gasp deeply, instead
of tightening our chest and restricting our breathing; to shake and
vibrate with energy, instead of "playing cool" and trying to hold back
our excitement by stiffening and becoming "uptight"; to let our
Energy mobilize and flow of damning it up .•.• Get in touch
with this Energy that wants to be born, and feel it 9ut completely, .
for anxiety is birth denied to excitement. Give that Energy re-birth,
re-own it, let it flow, and anxiety will yield to vibrant excitement,
to energy freely mobilizing and directed outward, instead of blocked
and projected, boomeranging back on us as anxiety.4
Heidegger's talk about the liberating power of passing through anxiety
to authenticity or aliveness is more obscure than Wilber's, but certainly
When, by anticipation[of one's mortality] , one becomes free for
one's own death, one is liberated from one's lostness in those possi-
bilities that may accidentally thrust themselves upon one; and one is
liberated in such a way that for the first time one can authentically
understand and choose among the factical possibilities lying ahead
of that possibility [death) which is not to be outstripped. Antici-
pation discloses to existence that its uttermost possibility lies
in giving itself up, and thus it shatters all one's tenaciousness
to whatever existence one has reached.
... anticipation reveals to Dasein its lostness in the they-self
and to face with the possibflity of beIng itself,
__________ :...t. ________ ._ -..... ---____ __
E£imarily unsupported by cor.cernful sollcltude, but of belng
itself, rather, in an impassfOned FREEDOM-TOWARDS
which has been released troIT. the il:l\iSTonsof-tne "thei
In authenticity there lies "an unshakeable joy," the joy of accepting
one's own possibilities.
But for Heidegger, the moment-of-truth
(Augenblick) or the moment when we pass through to the other side of
anxiety, is not merely a personal or psychological event, but an
ontological event. Authentic existence is not for I'my" sake, but for
the sake of the Being of beings. As authentic, I let beings be what
they are. Although I did not create the openness into which I have been
thrown, I have the cosmic-ontological obligation of owning up'to
that openness. For Heidegger, freedom means taking responsibility for
who I already am. One Heidegger scholar has remarked that
Working from Kant's insistence that freedom is funcamental,
Heidegger has identified it with transcendence [openness;
no-thingness] itself. freedoLl is the "ground of grounds I'. It
opens up the "outlying scope of possibilities" before us. Its
responsible exercise is "a transcendental obligation for the
person in whose freedom it is rooted". Is this not to say that
the obligation to use freedom responsibility is rooted in the
nature of freedom itself, in the heart of man's nature?8
freedom means taking responsibility being responsively open
to all the possibilities of my experience. Medard the Swiss
psychiatrist with whom Heidegger worked closely for many years, tells
us that we Llust never forget that hunan existence or Dasein is in the
service of Being. "Da-sein" means to be the "here" (clearing, openness,
!lDa-") in which beings can be present or manifest (Il- sein!!). Hence,
man's existence is claimed to serve as the luminated realm into
which all that is to be may actually shine forth, emerge, and appear
as a phenomenon, i.e., as that which shows itself. These are the
conditions for the possibility that man can permit (to the best of
his ability) everything that clains him (by being encountered) to
unfold in the light of his existence. To understand man in this
fashion (namely, as servant and guardian of the truth inherent in
things as they are permitted to come into being) is to free him
fron the egocentric self-glorification, the autonomy and autarchy
of subjectivistic world views .•.. On the basis of this fundamental
feature of man's existence, all so-called ethical values become
Following Heidegger's lead, Boss claims that human Dasein is always
fundamentally guilty (schuldig) or indebted. Such ontological guilt
is to be distinguished from neurotic guilt that arises from failure to
do what one's parents or other authority figures demanc. But neurotic
guilt is only possible on the basis of our fundamental-ontological
indebtedness. are guilty ontologically because we 6re always
indebted for the of life. To repay the gift of life means to
life fully and completely, with nothing held back. Boss asserts that
man's basic nature reveals itself to our iwmediate perception as
that being that our world needs as the realm of lucidity - nece'ssary
for the coming the being-able-to-appear-and-to-be of its .
phenomena. However, it is just the allowing-oneself thus to-be-
claimed and needed, and nothing else, which in his innermost recesses
is what man owes to that Hhich is and has to be. Thus all human
feelings of guilt in general are rooted in this state of owing.
We feel guilty so often because we know we are not living up to our
obligation of letting beings be, or experiencing everything we are called
on to experience. As already noted, such betrayal of or disloyalty to
our calling stems largely froT:'l ego/mind's desire to avoid annihilation.
And to be fully open for what is requires that ego/mind be suspended,
put out of action. Hence, anxiety and guilt usually go hand in hand.
But both anxiety and guilt have the ontological function of calling us
back to our aliveness or authenticity.
Many psychologists, theologians, and philosophers have noted that
anxiety about mortality turns us away from choosing to be fully alive.
and thus elicits the sense of guilt for failing to live up to our
ontological Obligation to let beings be. Irvin D. Yalom summarizes
this viewpoint when he says
Many existential theorists have commented upon the high price
exacted in the struggle to cope with death anxiety, Kierkegaard
knew that man limited and diminished himself in order to avoid
perception of the perdition and annihilation that dwell
next door to any man." Otto Rank described the neurotic as one
"who refused the loan (life) in order to avoid the paYr.lent of the
debt (death)." Paul Tillich stated that "neurosis is the way of
avoiding non-being by avoiding being." Ernest Becker r.lade a similar
point when he wrote: liThe irony of man's condition is that the deepest
need is to be free of the anxietv of death and annihilation: but it is
life it-self Hhich awakens it and-so we must shrink fror.l being fully
alive. ,. Robert Jay Lifton used the term "psychic numbing" to
describe how the neurotic incividual shields himself from death
Medard Boss insists that human existence "consists solely in its
possibilities for relationships.n
2 As long as we resist our obligation
to be open for such relations, we experience life as burdensome, boring,
and threatening. Ego/mind resists taking on its obligations, for this
decision requires acceptance of ego/mind's mortality. For ego/mind,
freedom means license to pursue happiness and to avoid sadness., Such
a conception of life and freedom presupposes that they are our
possessions, when in fact just the opposite is true. We are in the
service of life and freedom. According to Heidegger, freedom means
the free- realm of openness or nothingness in which beings can be
manifest. This gift can be repaid only by letting ourselves be this
openness as fully as possible. Authenticity means resolving to be
the openness into which we have already been thrown.
Before turning to a discussion of resoluteness, I would like to
note that the training would do well to itself to the phenomena
of death, anxiety, and guilt more explicitly than is done.
Trainees could be reminded that the reason they feel anxious and
guilty is that they are not living fully. Hence, they should be made
aware that anxiety and guilt should be welcomed; these painful experiences
summon us back to aliveness. The mood of anxiety cannot be lIerasedtl by
getting in touch with some incident from the past or by doing anything
at all; anxiety disappears only when we let go of egol mind and pass
through nothingness. To elicit the mood of anxiety, it may be advisable
to let the trainees spend more time "just sitting," in silenCe, without
being addressed by the trainer or anyone else. Since the "Truth 11 cannot
be spoken, but only experienced in silence, it is perhaps fitting that the
training make a place for periods of silence.
4. Resoluteness and Freedom.
According to Heidegger, resoluteness has a two-fold meaning.
On the one hand, resoluteness (Entschlossenheit refers to the
decision or cho necessary to be opened up for what The
verb means to un-lock or un-fasten, so that
ness means an un-locking of the shut-down self. On the other hand,
resoluteness also means disclosedness (Erschlossenheit. Note that
the English word "resolution" means Dot only decision or choice,
but the clarity of an optical Resoluteness
resolving to be open for and responsive t9 one's own finite,
specific possibilities. Because ego/mind identifies.limitation-and
fini tude tv! th death) it flees from the disclosure of one's own
finite possibilities and loses itself in distractions, delusions,
and fantasies. This is called a "full life'!! Genuine resoluteness
means entering responsibly into relationships; letting those around
us be who they are. Resoluteness becomes fully itself when it
anticipates mortality and nothingness. We are familiar with the Zen
tale of the hanging from a root over a 1000 foot chasm, while
a hungry tiger snaps at him from the Ie above. As the root begins
to pull away, the frantic man suddenly notices a strawberry growing
on a plant that clings to the rocky cliff. How sweet it tastes to
Boss reminds us that when we choose to be just precisely who we
already are, existence loses its bUrdensome character:
The burden and oppression are overcome in the joyous readiness to
place hinself without reservation at the disposal of all phenomena
as the lir:;ht and clearing into which they can appear and unfold
and as their custodian.
Freedom, then, is not to get out of things or to avoid
responsibility, but the to get into life. Gettine into life
means experiencing completely everything that presents itself to us -
whether it be painful or joyous, boring or indifferent. We becone
tired, resentful, and disillusioned because we know that we are not
being responsively open to what offers itself to us. We are fully
open, alive, and ourselves when we participate in life. Such
participation requires that we remain loyal to what calls upon us.
Freedom means choosing or affirming necessity: letting be what already
What ego/mind seeks above all is some ground on which to stand,
some source ,of security and certainty that will guarantee its survival.
The quest for certainty, however, ends in the mechanical existence
that usually passes for lilife." Being free and resolved, then, means
taking the leap into the no-thingness or clearing that constitutes
existence. And this leap, curiously enough, brings one right
back to the place from which one started: one's own life-situation.
But now one has different eyes with which to see. The Testament
Claims that only God's saving grace forgives and frees us from the
burden of sin; yet we must make the decision to accept this grace.
We hesitate to let go because ego/mind resists annihilation. Rudolf
Bultmann, the great Protestant theologian who was associated closely
with Heidegger during the 1920s, remarks that
to cboose God means to let the world go and to let one's security
go wlth It. There is nothing enticing about that! On the J
contrary, that demands a "hard saying,1I a Ustumbling block"
which terrifies because it is the end of man •••. But just that
end is life: to win back one's self as a once again
to be in the potentiality of being and to have a future. 14
According to Bultmann, Heidegger, and many others, authentic existence
involves a radical transformation of our experience of time. Let us
consider this transformation in the next section.
5. Authenticity and Temporalitv.
According to Heidegger, human existence or Dasein constitutes the
temporal-historical clearing in which beings can be manifest or revealec.
To be human means to be temporal--opened up through past, present, and
future. When we are inauthentic or mechanical, we experience time as
a linear series of events stretching behind and ahead of us. The
"now" is reduced to a split-second that is of no importance. For the
inauthentic self, the past is either the burden of guilt or the store-
house for the memories that give "meaning" to an unhappy life. In
either cise, past produces death in the present. Ego/mind or
IIpersonality" is always of the past and therefore always already. dead.
I f one is not burdened by the dead past, one is often . 'anxiety-ridden
about the security-threatening future. Such inauthentic temporality
arises from the fact that ego/mind constricts the openness of humar.
existence so much that all that can appear to it are menories or
delusions, the stuff of guilt and anxiety. As inauthentic, we do
not dwell at all in the present; we never really are. We are spread
out into the now-dead past and the not-yet future. To be authentic
requires that we open up to what really is, and doing so requires a
radical of our temporality. Heidegger tells us that
such a transformation is called kairos, the New Testament term for the
"time of fulfillment. illS
In kairos or the (Augenblick), one no longer
experiences as the burdensome past or threatening future, but as
the ever-present moment of eternity, in which all that one has been
and all that one will ever be are always already right here and now.
Future reveals itself as the unfolding of my ever-present possibility
for world-openness, while past reveals itself as the fate that is
setting up my future possibilities. Opened up in this way, I no
longer experience people or other beings merely as objects to be
manipulated by and for the ego/mind or subject. Instead, beings
shine forth as they are in themselves. As authentic temporality, L
let beings be. Hence, the significance of the title of Heidegger's
most important work: Being and Time (Sein und Zeit). HTime" refers
to the nothingness or absence or context in which presencing or
"manifesting (Being) can occur.
In the training, some mention is made of t i m e ~ but more discussion
of this crucial phenomenon is in order. The ordinary experience of
time as a line can be contrasted with the authentic-ecstatic experience
of time as the self-circling spiral of eternity. Linear time belongs
to ego/mind; spiralling time belongs to authentic existence. When I
exist as spiralling time, I am truly creative. Let us now turn to an
examination of the way in which est training uses the concept of
6. On Creating and Being ResEonsible.
One of the more controversial aspects of the training is its
claim that HI am responsible for all of my experience." Usually, we
say t h ~ t III am responsible for all my decisions and actions," but est
makes a far more sweeping claim. Indeed, est training suggests that I
am responsible for all my expreience in the sense that I create or
produce it. Clearly, the 111" referred to in this context cannot be
the ego/mind, but instead something like God or Atman or the
Transcendental Self. Unfortunately, the pistinction between I as
ego/mind and I as Atman is not always made clear in the training.
Hence, trainees can become confused as to what they are capable of
doing. Clearly, they have no experience of producing the sights,
sounds, and feelings that they experience. So in what sense are they
responsible for their experience? Only in the sense of being
responsible for experiencing whatever it is that they are called on
to experience--whether it be painful or joyful. The individual
does not produce his or her experience, but is called on to receive
it. Whether what is is produced by Atman or God or whatever is a
matter of metaphysical speculation. From such speCUlation comes the
peculiar claim that I am responsible for everything that has ever
happened. The only HI" that can be responsible for creating the
totality of events is not the I of everyday life, but Atman or God
or the Transcendental Self. est training must be very careful about
how it uses the terms "In and t'responsibili ty. "
There is another problem with the notion that "I am responsible
for all of my 'experience." At times, it is suggested that as creator
of my experience, I am God in my universe, that I am alone in the world.
Once again, if !'I" is understood as God or Atman, this claim can be
understood as saying that each individual is a manifestation of the
One. God (I) am alone in the world because all is One. Unfortunately,
however, this idea is not always made clear. Some est trainees must
come away with the confusing and frightening notion that they are alone
in the world in the solipsistic way of the psychopath for whom there
are no others but himself. For ego/mind, If I am alone in the world!!
means that ego/mind's desires and plans are the only ones that count.
Coming from this point of certain est graduates might conclude
that whatever they want is fine because there is no one else out there
to object. There is danger in leaving people with this perception.
There are at least two ways to clear up the situation. One way is
to make sure that trainees understand the difference between the
empirical ego and the transcendental ego, between ego/mind and
self and God. Trainees would need reminding that I am alone in the
world in the sense that everyone out there is also me, insofar
as we are all manifestations of God. God views Itself through millions
of people. Instead of leaving trainees with the viewpoint of success
ful selfishness, a more precise discussion of self and God would lead
them in the direction of for others, since other people are
I and I am they- for all are God.
Another way to handle the situation be to craw back from the
metaphysical speculation arising from Indian philoso?hy and to replace
it with something along the lines of what Heidegger says. Heidegger
stresses the finitude of human existence and leaves it to metaphysicians
to speculate our relationship to Atman or God. According to
Heidegger, all we know is that we are the openness in which the Being
of beings can manifest itself. The authentic individual is responsively
open for what is. We do not produce our experience, but we do allow
what is to manifest itself as what it is. Such letting be does not
involve a passive sitting around, but can involve intense activity.
Letting be is a calling forth. This is what Michelangelo had in mind
when he said that his sculpting was an attempt to liberate the form
already hidden within the marble. Heidegger that the poet,
artist, and thinker give rise to language and art-works that enable
us to experience things in new, more profound ways. The artist and
poet are vessels or servants for the truth that works through them.
Because language beings and lets them be revealed to and through
us, we are obligated to be reverential in our use of-language. Indeed,
we need to see that we do not use language, but instead that language
uses us in order to disclose the Being of beings.
To say that I am responsible for my experience, then, might be re-
interpreted to mean that I--as authentic temporality--am responsible for
letting-be or accepting everything that presents itself to and through
me. I am authentically creative when I let things come forth as what
they are. Western people generally overemphasize the productive or
masculine aspect of creativity; hence, our conception of God is of a
great builder or maker. When we say that man is made in God's image,
we conceive of man as another kind of builder or constructor. The fact
is, however, that we have conceived God in terms of our own self-image.
Ego/mind always sets out to rearrange and reconstruct the world in
accordance with ego/mind's real or imagined needs.
God is a masculine, judgmental, productive deity.
H e ~ g e , the Western
The Eastern conception
of God as sunyata or Void provides an alternative conception of the
creative aspect of the cosmos. For Eastern peoples, God is so devoid
of ego/mind that It is able to let the whole universe c o ~ e into Being.
God refers to the cosmic absence that enables all that is to corr.e into
presence. Humans are like God when we are empty of ego/mind and open
for what is. Both God and humans create by letting beings corr.e forth
as they are. Humans, however, immediately impose categories and con-
cepts on t."hat is, thereby erecting a "veil of Maya" or concealing the
true character of reality. We then conceive of God as a separate entity
that we must placate by prayer. For Eastern peoples, ho'.."ever, God is
always already within us, since each of us is an instance of the Great
Void. Hence, enlightenment means becoming dis-burdened or lightened-up,
freed of ego/mind so that we become clear and open and receptive for
In certain respects, Heidegger's own philosophical development traces
the shift from the active to the more receptive conception of creativity
and authenticity, In his early writings, including Being and Time,
he sometimes talked as if hunan Dasein could will to produce a new
understanding of Being; he also spoke as if the individual could almost
will himself or herself into authenticity, In his later writings, how-
ever, he spoke much less of resoluteness (Entschlossenheit and mUCh
more of Gelassenheit or releasement from ego/mind and self-will.
Authenticity came to be depicted as an event that comes over but
cannot be demanded or produced by me. Hence, Heidegger returned to
certain themes important in his early religious training, including the
doctrine of grace. He abandoned the urgent quest for authenticity and
creatiyity; he learned to cooperate with the Tao or Logos in order to
let things emerge when the time was ripe.
My experience with est indicates that it remains under the sway
of the resoluteness that calls for decisive action to bring about
changes; est does not yet exhibit much releasement from the volun-
taristic approach that is characteristic of American consciousness.
There is a great intention to results, whether it be trans-
formation of people in the training or sufficient enrollments to
let the training go on. As I indicated earlier, activity is in no
way incompatible with letting beings be, but activity is most effective
when it comes from a profound inner peace that is detached fron all
"results." This is the nost important of all of the insights of
Zen as well as of Heidegger. The intrusiveness and authoritarianism
that some people find in est stems in part an overeagerness to
produce or create results, an overeagerness that suggests that many
people involved in est have not yet been granted releasement from the
desire to "savell. If this report helps promote reflection on how to
transform the masculine creativity of est with the infusion of feminine
creativity, on how to temper the will to production with the calling
forth of what is, I will consider what I have done to be very important.
Of est already shares this feminine conception of creation
as letting-be.··. est claims that true communication occurs when Creating
creates another Creator that re-creates the original Creator. Put in
Heidegger's language, in letting another Dasein be open, in calling
forth the Other to be who he or she already is, I am at the very
moment letting myself be who I am: receptive openness for the Being 6f
beings. Arid at the same moment that I cut off another person, I
shut myself down as well. In terms of Christian theology, the mystery
of the Holy Trinity expresses the est conception of communication; the
Father (Creator) creates a Son (Logos) who re-creates the Father. The
re-creating that flows between the two is the Holy Spirit: Love. So
the divine is always present when t ~ o or more human beings are in the
process of letting the!llsel ves receive or ffget
each other. ~ v h e n this
occurs, ·the individuals realize that they are not separate but are
embodiments. of the sa.'Tle Void or no-thingness. Perhaps est could benefit
by placing more emphasis on this feminine-receptive dimension of
IT creation. II
7. On Everything/Nothing vs. Being/Nothingness.
Sometimes est claims that human existence is everything/nothing.
Apparently, this means that human existence is the Void in which all
things are. Now while Heidegger agrees that human existence constitutes
the void or absence, he does not say that "Being" means "everything."
Instead, refers to the meaningful presencing or self-manifesting
of being that occurs in and through human existence. To identify
Being with the totality of things in the universe in Heidegger's
view, to Being like a thing--a super-thing, like a piece of chalk
that expands infinitely. This is the mistake made by theology when it
identifies Being with God, whon it conceives to be a person.
For Heidegger, Being cannot be spoken of in our language, which is
designed to speak of things. I can no more point to or describe Beinc,
than I can Indeed, Being refers to the flip-side of
nothingness. The advantage of Heidegger's notion. of Being as the
finite-historical presencing of beings is he does not have to
speak of the whole universe when discussing the relation between hunan
existence and Being. He only has to refer to what manifests itself
within our finite openness. Heicegger's thought has more in with
the simplicity of Zen Buddhism than with Eindu speculation about the
metaphysical structure of reality.
8. On Moving Beyond Anthropocentrism.
One of the basic doctrines of Buddhism is that all beings share in
Buddha-nature. Hence, the task of Mahayana Buddhism is to save all
beings--rocks, trees, humans, and everything that is. To save
a being means to let it be what it is. It seems to me that est,
especially in light of its debt to Zen, points in the same direction,
although the training is currently heavily weighted toward the salvation
(letting-he) of human beings. This is understandable, since most people
have a hard enough time imagining helping other out, much less
helping out rocks, plants, and animals! The anthropocentric focus of
est, however, is not consistent with its more notion of
letting beings be. Participation and sharing mean not only sharing our
lives and material goods with other humans, but also sharing the planet
with the other forms of life that are here with us. The natural step
beyond the Hunger Project, then, would be the Planet Project aiming at
saving the planet from environmental destruction, either from industrial-
ization or from nuclear warfare. vlliat est is involved with is promoting
the paradign shift that is required to bring about the radical trans-
formation of life on the planet. It is perhaps appropriate at this tine
to begin indicating explicitly just how radical this transformation will
have to be.
9. On Heritage and Tradition.
In 1966, Heidegger remarked:
According- to our human experience and history, at least as far
as I see it, I know that everything essential and everything
great originaterl from the fact that man had a home and was rooted
in a 'tradition.
Now that 'est has becone firmly established as an important factor
in transforming consciousness in the world, it is probably time for it
to acknowledge its indebtedness to the great wisdom traditions of West
and East. Many people are suspicious about the intentions of est because
they are told that it is something radically new and different, while in
fact est is an American version of the perennial wisdom. The real inten-
tion of in my view, is not to uproot people or to strip them of
their heritage. but instead to empO'll'ler them to revitalize their own
traditions. Someone who has taken est training is in a position to be
more open for the truth of scripture--Vedantic or Christian or Jewish
or Buddhist or Muslim--in a way that he or she may not have been before.
est could be said to be in the service of philosophy and religion; its
aim is to remind people of their obligation to be alive and to render
service to the beings of the world. In thus repaying the gift of life,
people give thanks in the most profound possible way. This is the
essence of all great religions.
A brief glance at Heidegger's thought can provide us with further
guidance on how to perceive est's contribution to the revitalization of
heritage and tradition. According to Heidegger, all human existence is
essentially historical. Our understanding and behavior is always already
guided in advance by language, customs, and the material conditions of
our historical situation. "'e are "thrown
into existence. We can never
overcome cut facticity, but are called on to live appropriately within
it. Living appropriately does not mean passive submission, but instead
an appropriate responsiveness to destiny. The factical situation of
humanity in the late twentieth century is one of terrible crisis: T:lass
starvation, and the threat of nuclear war.
Heidegger suggests that we have arrived at this situation because the
Being of beings has been reduced to "objectivity". For a thing to be
.now means for it to be an object, or raw material, for the human subject.
We have murdered God and set ourselves up as the sole measure for truth
and reality; what is good is what some human being or group of human
beings says. is good. A genuine re-appropriation of our wisdom traditions
would require a new revelation of humanity's place in the cosmos. Unless
we learn to dwell harmoniously with other humans and with all beings on
the planet, we are doomed. If we continue the way we are going at
present, we will destroy ourselves in spirit even if we somehow manage
to survive as a species. Modern humanity finds itself in the same situatio
as the sorcerer's apprentice: we now have access to the sorcerer's book
of magic (science and technology) but we lack the mature wisdom to know
how to use these magical powers appropriately. Just as the mechanical
or inauthentic individual does not let his or her experience be what it
is, so Western humanity does not let beings be what they are, but
subjugates them as commodities to enhance his domination of the earth.
The individual and collective hubris involved here invites nemesis.
est finds itself in a unique position to help create the context in which
modern humanity can begin making the critical paracigm shift necessary
for survival of humanity and the planet earth. 17
10. Miscellaneous Observations.
A. It would be interesting and helpful if the trainers would more
often point out that they are making wonderful puns when they say things
like "Nothing is without agreement" and "Transformation occurs by
passing through nothingness." Ordinarily, we understand the first
phrase to mean that all things require agreement in order to be. From
Heidegger's however, we would say that no-thingness or the
Void '!is" '(or "nothings" ) without agreemen:t. That is. prior to our
establishing agreements about what things are, no-thingness holds open
the hroizon or context in which beings can be manifest: When the
trainer says that transformation occurs by passing through nothingness,
the point seems to be that only by passing through the experience of
nothingness (anxiety) can one be transformed, i.e., become the nothing-
ness that one already is.
B. Is it necessary to rank the "levels of experience"? Can we
really say that catatonia, criminality, and so on are "higher" or
"less negative" than "reasonableness"? This is far-fetched, even though
the claim is evidently made for emphasis.
C. What is the purpose behind saying in the Phrases that I can
project myself into the mineral, anc animal realms? This
seems so bizarre that it tends to get in the way of the rest of the
content of the Phrases. I assune that the-idea of projecting ourselves
to all parts of the universe stems from some notion that we are the
All-in-AII, Atman or Transcendental Self, that constitutes the whole
of reality so that, in fact, we are always already everywhere. While
interesting, this doctrine is never adequately discussed in the training
and cannot be verified (except by direct experience of the observer).
so it would seem to be useless metaphysical speculation. Surely
Heidegger or a Zen master would never speak like this.
D. Trainers seem to make free and easy use of phrases like
"coming from the ground of Being of •• ," If such terminology is to
be used at all, it should be defined carefully and in terms that are
consistent with the rest of the est program. In there is a
tendency to be somewhat incomplete about philosophical ideas presented
the training. Often an idea 15 introduced, but is not discussed again
even though it would be helpful to show how idea either changes
during the training, or how it helps ground the training. Granted that
the training emphasizes experiential rather than cognitive insight,
I still believe that complete communication of crucial philosophical
ideas would be beneficial to the training.
E. Certain claims made about the "anatomy of the mind/' need to
be re-eval-uated, including the idea that t!1e mind contains "total"
records of everything. Here is another instance of metaphysical specu-
lation based on the notion that individual mind is aspect of
Atman or Cosmic Mind. Even if this idea is "true," is it necessary
for "getting" the. point of the training?
F. Continuing efforts should be made to discourage the formation
of a cultish consciousness about being an est graduate. Certain graduates
show that they failed to understand the training when they conclude that
they are somehow "better" than non-graduates. The arrival of hundreds
of friends and relatives at graduation has positive aspects, but also
contributes to the sense that one has now joined a "select!! group.
There is also a strong tendency to interpret "sharing" the training to
mean inviting other people to take it. This interpretation of sharing
is fine as far as it goes, but clearly it is linked to the organization's
need to market the training. Equal time needs to be given to the more
fundamental idea of sharing from out of which all genuine inviting comes:
sharing the training means loving oneself just as one is, and loving
others just as they are--whether or not they ever take the training.
This point was made very clearly during the Communications Workshop
I had the privilege of taking in January in Concord. It is para-
doxical, I think, but true that assuring people that they don't have to
., do" anything to share the training gives them more room to do somethine.
like inviting friends and relatives to take the training. No doubt
trainers are already aware of this fact, but it should be emphasized.
I believe that est training could benefit it it were to adopt some
of the suggestions that I have outlined above, although est would
continue to be successful and important even if it chose to ignore
these suggestions. In my estimation, the most important areas to
be considered are: making clear that II getting it" does not mean
successful selfishness or the pursuit of satisfaction; emphasizing
the role of death y anxiety, and guilt in human life; clarifying
what is mean by saying that "I am for all my experience!!;
giving more emphasis to the feminine form of creativity or letting-be;
and locating est within the context of the perennial wisdom that
calls on humanity to find its appropriate dwelling-place within the
It has been both instructive and informative for me to have had
the occasion to prepare this report. It was also of great value for
me to have had the opportunity to observe the training. As a
result of that experience, I gained a deeper understanding of the
importance of service, participation, and sharing. Life finds its
fullest expression within a healthy community.
17For a consideration of how Heideggerts thought points the way
to the radical paradigm-shift that we now require, cf. my essay-
"Toward a Heideggerean Ethos for Radical Environmentalism," included·
here as an Appendix. For a more detailed treatment of Heidegger
struggle to move from resoluteness to releasement, cf. my "Heidegger's
'Existentialism' Revisited," also included here as an Appendix.
lSteven M. Tipton, Getting Saved from the (Berkeley:
University of California Press, 1982).
2Quoted by Irvin D. Yalom in Existential Psychothera.2Y (New York:
Basic Books, Inc., 1980), p. 444. In this excellent book, Yalom
offers a somewhat misguided criticism of est.
3Cf . Medard Boss, "Anxiety, Guilt and Psychotherapeutic Liberation)"
Review of Existential Psychology and Psychiatry, 2 (1962), p. 185.
4Ken 'Ililber, The Spectrum of Consciousness n']heaton, Ill.: The
Theophilosophical Publishing House, 1977), pp. 204-205.
5Martin Heidegger, :§.eing and trans. by John :Hacquarrieand
Edward Robinson (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), p. 309.
7Ibid., p. 358.
BCharles H. Sherover, "Founding an Existential Ethics," Human
Studies, 4 (1981), pp. 229-230.
9Medard Boss, and Daseinanalysis, trans. by Ludwig
B. Lefebre (New York: Basic Books, Inc., 1963), p. 70.
lOBoss, I!Anxiety, Guilt and Psychotherapeutic Liberation,1I p. 188.
11Yalom, Existential Psychotherapy, p. Ill.
l2Medard Existential Foundations of and Psycho1o£y,
trans. by Stephen Conway and Anne Cleaves (New York: Jason Aronson,
1979), p. 112.
13Boss, "Anxiety, Guilt and Psychotherapeutic Liberation," p. 189.
14Rudolf Bultmann, Faith and trans. by Louise
Pettibone Smith (New York: Harper & Row, 1969), p. 170.
lSFor a fuller treatment of the idea of kairos and other topics
relating to Heidegger, cf. my EcliEse of the Self: The of
Heidegger's Concept of Authenticity (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1981).
16nOnly a God Can Save Us: Der Spiegel's interview with Martin
Heidegger," trans. by Maria P. Alter and John D. Caputo, Philosophy
Today, XX (Winter, 1976), p. 277.