What is Avatar?
It is the brainchild of Harry Palmer, a former Scientologist who developed the course for people who desire a less expensive and shorter path to self-enlightenment than is offered by the Church of Scientology.
Scientology, founded by the late science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, seeks to help people improve their lives through a counseling process called "auditing" which seeks to free people from past negative experiences. It has thousands of adherents worldwide, and a spiritual headquarters in Clearwater. Critics call it a cult, but members insist it is a bona fide religion.
In an interview from his Orlando-area home that serves as Avatar's worldwide headquarters, Palmer said 55,000 people in 65 countries have gone through the program since 1988.
Its Web site describes Avatar as "a powerful and effective course based on the simple truth that your beliefs will cause you to create or attract situations and events that you experience as your life."
"Avatar helps you find answers to questions like: Who am I? What am I doing here? What is really true?"
Expected results of taking an advanced course are listed as: "An increased ability to perceive and operate deliberately in physical space and time; a freedom from the resistances of life; an increased personal sense of realness; the ability to discover the how-to's of success; a greater experience of integrity _ alignment of one's actions and intentions."
In the United States, the beginning program costs $2,000 and has three levels of achievement. Those who complete the first level are called Avatars. Second level graduates are Masters; and the highest level graduates become Avatar Wizards.
"We basically show people how their experiences are connected to their beliefs," Palmer said. "I'm sure there are a lot of Avatar graduates who believe the Bible, but also some who believe in Buddhism.
"Avatar doesn't get into what a person should believe. It just shows a person the connection between what they believe and what they are experiencing in life, and if they want to change that, how to go about doing it."
Palmer, 56, said the Avatar philosophy is gaining more popularity among teachers in public and private schools.
"We've had lots of teachers come through our program," he said. He said several public school teachers in Florida take the course, but could not provide names.
"Schoolteachers are just trying to make their talents as good as they can," Palmer said. "It's not that they are promoting any belief system. Maybe they are, but they are not promoting a belief system called Avatar."
Palmer said he spent 10 years in Scientology from 1972-82. He left the organization because "I think I just grew out of it," he said.
Between 1984-88, Palmer said he conceived Avatar, the culmination of his religious, educational and spiritual life experience which includes Sakya Buddhism, yoga, the Methodist church and degrees in Taoism and psychology from Ithaca College in Ithaca, N.Y.
"I would say the Scientology influence on Avatar is small," Palmer said. "The difference is one is a religion and the other is just a self-development program. There are no scriptures in Avatar."
_ TIM GRANT