Erhard Seminars Training (est), an organization founded by Werner H. Erhard, offered a two-weekend (60-hour) course known officially as "The est Standard Training". The purpose of est was "to transform one's ability to experience living so that the situations one had been trying to change or had been putting up with, clear up just in the process of life itself." The est training was offered from late 1971 to late 1984.
The est Standard Training program consisted of two weekend-long workshops with evening sessions on the intervening weekdays, as well as each Wednesday night. Workshops generally involved about two hundred participants and were led by a trainer designated by Erhard and several assistants. Over the course of nine days, participants were cajoled, shouted at, and emotionally battered, until they agreed they had finally "got it" - a state akin to a religious conversion. Participants were instructed not to wear watches, not to talk unless permitted by the trainer, not to leave their seats, not to eat, and not to go to the bathroom except during breaks separated by many hours.
The seminar aimed to enable participants to shift their contextual state of mind around which their life was organized from the attempt to get satisfaction or to survive, to an experience of actually being satisfied and experiencing oneself as whole and complete in the present moment. The est training offered people the opportunity to free themselves from the past, rather than living a life enmeshed by their past. In her book, I, Rhoda, the Emmy-winning actress Valerie Harper reported, "Est was a wonderfully empowering experience for me. It took a lot of struggle and conflict out of my day-to-day decision-making and helped me imbue my life with more focus and intention. ... I was happier, more alive, and everything seemed lighter."
Beginning in July 1974 the est training was delivered at the U.S. Penitentiary at Lompoc, California, with the approval of Federal Bureau of Prisons. Initial est training in Lompoc involved participation of 12-15 federal prisoners and outside community members within the walls of the maximum security prison and was personally conducted by Werner Erhard. Among the participants were the mayor of the city of Lompoc and imprisoned political activist Matthew Steen, a Weatherman convicted of federal conspiracy.
By 1979 est had expanded to Europe and other parts of the world. In 1980 the first est training in Israel was offered in Tel Aviv.
The last est training was held in December 1984 in San Francisco; in its place came a newly developed course called "The Forum", which began in January 1985. The est training presented several concepts, most notably the concept of transformation and taking responsibility for one's life. The actual teaching, called "the technology of transformation", emphasizes the value of integrity. "est, Inc." evolved into "est, an Educational Corporation", and eventually into "Werner Erhard & Associates". In 1991 the business was sold to the employees who formed a new company called Landmark Education with Erhard's brother, Harry Rosenberg, becoming the CEO. Landmark Education was structured as a for-profit, employee-owned company; it operates with a consulting division called Vanto Group.
In William Bartley's biography of Werner Erhard, Werner Erhard: The Transformation of a Man, the Founding of est (1978), Erhard describes his explorations of Zen Buddhism. Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging Zen as the essential contribution that "created the space [for est]".
Bartley details Erhard's connections with Zen beginning with his extensive studies with Alan Watts in the mid 1960s. Bartley quotes Erhard as acknowledging:
Of all the disciplines that I studied, practiced, learned, Zen was the essential one. It was not so much an influence on me, rather it created space. It allowed those things that were there to be there. It gave some form to my experience. And it built up in me the critical mass from which was kindled the experience that produced est.
1971 - Erhard Seminars Training Inc, first est Training held in San Francisco, California
1973 - The Foundation for the Realization of Man - incorporated as a non-profit foundation in California (subsequently the name of the foundation was changed to the est Foundation in 1976, and in 1981 to the Werner Erhard Foundation)
1975 - est, an educational corporation.
1977 - The first est training outside of the United States, in London.
^"In the course of the e s t training, you build a 'center' for yourself. Following the specifications of the trainer, you not only imagine it but go through the motions of fashioning it, standing up, stepping in one direction then another, modeling the various parts with your hands according to the image formed behind your closed eyes." -- 20 Lines A Day, p. 37