Scientology's Bridge To Total Freedom, Explained

Scientology — as the name suggests — claims to be a science-based religion. As such, it's built on the foundations of something called the Total Bridge to Freedom, which is a series of specific levels, instructions, and steps that believers say guides practitioners through equally specific, tried-and-true results. Ex-Scientology spokesman Mike Rinder explained it this way (via The Hollywood Reporter): "It is a delineated path that every Scientologist must follow, and when you progress on these exact steps, you're supposed to achieve exact results."

Official Scientology doctrine teaches that founder L. Ron Hubbard laid out the directions for walking the bridge in order to allow followers to reach "higher states of existence," and it's advertised as essentially a way to achieve any goal imaginable.

In all fairness, it's easy to see how that would be an attractive idea. The world is, after all, unpredictable and often cruel, and the idea of having a blueprint to success is understandably exciting. According to ex-Scientologist and whistleblower Leah Remini, though, it's not all it's cracked up to be. "You sacrifice everything — money, time, your family, your careers — for this Bridge," she explained. "And I hope that we have explained to people: Don't waste your time." The Bridge to Total Freedom clearly means vastly different things to different people, so let's take a look at just what's at the heart of Scientology's teachings.

The first steps of the Bridge are Objectives and ARC Straightwire

Margery Wakefield was an early member of Scientology and in the 1970s and early '80s, she was a part of the Guardian's office, which The Underground Bunker notes was the church's intelligence branch before the current incarnation, the Office of Special Affairs. She's since written several books about what goes on behind closed doors, including "Understanding Scientology." There, she highlights what goes on during the steps along the Bridge to Total Freedom, writing that the first steps are called "Objectives" and "ARC Straightwire."

"Objectives" comes after an introductory course, and Wakefield writes that the goal is to get a person — now labeled as a "preclear" — "more in touch with his environment (reality)." This is done by a series of repetitive drills that a person might be instructed to continue for hours at a time and usually involves two objects on opposite sides of the room. The person picks up the object, makes a series of observations about it — color, weight, etc. — and then goes to the other object. The series is repeated over and over again.

Next is ARC (Affinity, Reality, Communication) Straightwire, which is focused on encouraging a person's ability to recall past events. Most of the drills that are run involve doing exactly that: remembering certain things.

Grades 0 to 4

Scientology promises a lot and knowing exactly what it claims to teach and enable a person to do goes a long way in explaining why it's been so successful. In "Understanding Scientology," Margery Wakefield summarized Grades 0 through 4, a series of levels in which Scientologists are reportedly taught to do some incredible things during processes that involve receiving and following a series of hundreds and hundreds of commands and ending in a revelation that breaks down whatever barriers are in the person's way.

Grade 0 focuses on communication, and finishing the grade is said to give a person the ability to successfully and easily communicate with any other person on any topic possible. From there, it's on to Grade 1, where the preclear is reportedly taught to recognize the source of problems and obstacles and make them disappear.

Grade 2 is meant to pinpoint the source of the sort of suffering we all experience on a daily basis, and remove it. Grade 3 is meant to free a person from guilt or distress stemming from past experiences and actions, and it's also meant to convince a person that there is no need to keep anything a secret — because it's all absolutely fine. Grade 4 is where things get super interesting, and according to Wakefield, this is the level that releases a person from constraints, opens them up to new experiences, and is also when the preclear is taught how to make any person agree with them.

Dianetics and the route to Clear

The Bridge to Total Freedom hasn't been unchanged throughout the history of Scientology. According to ex-Scientologist Margery Wakefield (via "Understanding Scientology"), the Dianetics level of the bridge has been offered both before and after Grades 0 to 4. According to What is Scientology, the current order offers two Dianetics levels — New Era Dianetics and Expanded Dianetics — immediately after Grade 4.

Dianetics is defined as a spiritual healing technology, and the belief is — in a nutshell — that passing through these levels will free a person from the burden of unwanted thoughts and emotions. The idea is that a person's troubled, immortal soul subjects the body to all kinds of burdens, and following the instructions laid out in Dianetics is the way to free oneself.

Scientology doctrine says that there are a few things that happen to a person that's going through the Dianetics levels. Some simply become "a well and happy preclear," while others achieve the state of Clear during this level. And here's where things become even more confusing: While some advance to the Clear levels, others — who don't achieve Clear during Dianetics — take another branch of the chart that involves levels like Grade 5 and 5A, which purportedly deal with teaching a person how to handle power. It's kind of a fork in the road on the way to Clear, which is the most important stepping stone to gaining access to the upper "Operating Thetan" levels in Scientology.

Going Clear

Clear is perhaps the most famous piece of Scientology teachings, and according to their official definition, it's undefinable. Specifically, Scientologists say, "The full glory of the state of Clear has no comparable description in any writings existing in our culture." Lofty stuff, but what the heck does it mean? Clear, they explain, is a state where a person loses what they call the "reactive mind." Teachings say that the mind is made of two parts: The reactive mind, as the name suggests, is a primal part of the mind that reacts to stimuli, while the analytical mind is the "rational, conscious, aware mind." Go Clear, and the reactive mind disappears.

So, how does that all work? Journalist Tony Ortega explains (via The Underground Bunker) that L. Ron Hubbard initially said the reactive mind recorded memories from every life lived by the spirit, and those memories — called engrams — were the source of most of our problems. The process of auditing erased those engrams, and an engram-free mind was Clear. 

Ortega also says that it's changed a bit from the initial version Hubbard published in "Dianetics." Originally, engram-clearing could be done in between 20 and 100 hours of running drills with another interested party, and Clear could be obtained. Today, Scientology requires years of study, hundreds of pages of materials, and tens of thousands of dollars to achieve Clear. Costs are somewhat difficult to pin down. According to Ortega, reaching Clear in 2013 came with a hefty price tag: $183,197.

Solo auditing

Auditing is one of the key practices in Scientology, and according to official teachings, it's a series of questions given by an auditor and written in a way that's supposedly designed to help pinpoint problem areas in a person's life. While auditing at lower levels of the Bridge is done on a one-on-one basis with an auditor, those who have gone Clear have to learn to audit themselves. That's where the OT Prep levels and Solo Courses come in (via What is Scientology).

Claire Headley, a former Sea Org worker and Scientologist who left the group in 2005 after personally working with Tom Cruise, sat down with journalist Tony Ortega (and The Underground Bunker) to explain what the Solo Auditing stage of the Bridge is. She explained that in a nutshell, it was believed that a person — with the correct training and help of an E-meter — could learn to ask themselves questions, interpret their own responses, and essentially guide themselves on the way to overcome negative thoughts. Yes, Headley confirms, it's completely bizarre — especially considering the weight L. Ron Hubbard's teachings give to communication, this is essentially teaching people to — silently — think about things. She explained, "I think it's part of human nature to want to trust and believe in something so much, even when, from an outside perspective, it simply defies all logic."

What does OT mean?

The remaining levels of The Bridge to Total Freedom are simply labeled OT I through OT VIII, and it's worth taking a minute to talk about exactly what OT — or "Operating Thetan" is, according to Scientology's teachings.

The existence of the Operating Thetan is one of a number of things that L. Ron Hubbard claimed he discovered during his extensive research into the mind. How extensive? In "The Scandal of Scientology," Paulette Cooper wrote that he had claimed he had spent 35 years researching before the release of Dianetics, which would have made him 3 years old at the start of it all. Regardless, Hubbard claimed to have done extensive research around the experiences of 270 people, shaping his findings and theories from that initial group.

Included in that research was the definition of "Operating Thetan," which is defined as a spiritual state where a person is "the spiritual being that is the basic self" and is "able to act and handle things." It continues, "It doesn't mean one becomes God. It means one becomes wholly oneself." Along with attaining OT levels, they say, comes the knowledge that the physical and spiritual are two entirely separate entities, and with the newly discovered control that a person has over themselves and their surroundings, they're said to gain a series of new abilities as they progress along the Bridge.

OT I and OT II

Ex-Scientologist and Sea Org member Claire Headley says (via The Underground Bunker) that after getting an in-depth audit to make sure everything has been completed to Scientology standards, the next step of the journey is OT I.

Hubbard's instructions for completing OT I are equally straightforward and weird, starting with the first instructions: "Walk around and count bodies until you have a cognition. Make a report saying how many you counted and your cognition." That's followed by a dozen similar instructions, that say to count things like male or female bodies. And the cognition? Headley says that it didn't really matter what it was, just that a person went through with the process.

Get to OT II, and that's where the truly esoteric stuff comes in. Headley says that it all needs to be studied entirely in order to do what Scientology describes as "confront the whole track," or millions of years of existence. It involves a lot of things, but one of the big ones is the relentless, hours-long recital of head-spinning phrases like, "To Disagree is to Agree, To Agree is to Disagree," and "To Hurt is to Enjoy, To Enjoy is to Hurt." The idea is to help the person rid themselves of "goals problem mass," or GPMs, which are basically trillion-year-old speedbumps on humanity's way to full potential. Along the way, you're supposed to unlock hidden abilities ... which requirements also say you're not allowed to disclose to anyone else.


While all OT levels are top secret and confidential, there's an extra layer of secrecy around the level known as OT III — or the Wall of Fire. According to what Margery Wakefield wrote in "Understanding Scientology," Scientologists are promised that when they get to this level, they're going to be told the universe's last great secret, and it will allow them to understand why the world is the way it is.

The secret is carried in a sealed briefcase, and only those who have reached OT III have the appropriate clearance to see the documents. Fortunately, there are plenty of ex-Scientologists who are willing to reveal it to the rest of us and say that it's the story of the intergalactic confederation leader Xenu, who solved his overpopulation problem by dumping 178 billion people on the planet Teegeeack — now known as Earth — and killing them all with a massive H-bomb.

It's at this point that most people outside of Scientology roll their eyes and wonder how anyone could possibly believe that sort of nonsense, but journalist Tony Ortega found some interesting things when he interviewed ex-Scientologists who were willing to talk (via The Village Voice). Some pointed out that aliens were no stranger than demons and angels, others said they had already gone too far to back out, and others simply explained that after years of immersion in Scientology rhetoric, it actually made perfect sense.

OT IV and OT V

Another part of the big reveal of OT III is that the spirits of those aliens that were nuked into oblivion by the warlord Xenu are crawling all over us in a very literal way. According to ex-Scientologist Bruce Hines (via The Underground Bunker), they have to be removed — along with all their negative energy — in order for a person to reach that full potential Scientology relentlessly advertises.

An older version of OT IV has since been superseded by a new one, published just before L. Ron Hubbard went into hiding (and would remain in hiding until dying in 1986). Hubbard wrote that all the drugs that were ever used along the trillion-year "track" that is the life of your "body thetans" have built up in current incarnations, and it's just waiting to give someone a million-year-old flashback. In other words: The thetans living on a person's body are addicts and need to be purified via more auditing.

And what about OT V? Hines says (via The Underground Bunker) it comes with a huge promise: Those who complete it will not only learn "the truth about the physical universe," but also be "free of its laws." This is done by a series of commands based around "Spot a spot in the room," and "Spot a spot in your body," and then imagining different things happening to the different spots.


By the time the average Scientologist reaches OT VI, it's at a cost of around $329,000. What does one learn for all that? According to ex-Scientologist Bruce Hines (via The Underground Bunker), OT VI is where Scientology faithful learn to telepathically communicate with all of the body thetans that are still hovering around. Learning this form of communication, in theory, gets rid of them and frees up a person still further in their journey.

Hines says that from there, it's on to OT VII — and this level is brief and complicated at the same time. Although there's not a whole heck of a lot that L. Ron Hubbard wrote about this level, it's also the one that many people spend years on. Like other levels, there are a few different versions of OT VII, with the original asking people to go through a series of 49 commands, including things like, "Decide something," "Spot an acceptable energy source," and "Go to a zoo or a place with many types of life and communicate with each of them until you know the communication is received and, if possible, returned."

Another part of OT VII was learning how to "place an intention into or on a being and/or body," which is essentially the belief that someone's gaining the power to manipulate others into doing whatever they want.


Rolling Stone explains that Scientology says that when you reach OT VIII, you'll gain "cause over matter, energy, space, and time, which translates to various superhuman abilities, including being impervious to disease." Per the Tampa Bay Times, the Freewinds — Scientology's cruise ship — is the place to achieve this.

OT VIII was first offered two years after L. Ron Hubbard's death, and shortly after that, documents called the Fishman Papers were leaked to the public following a court case. Journalist Tony Ortega says (via The Underground Bunker) that in the documents, Hubbard claimed that he was both the reincarnation of Buddha, and — at the same time — the Antichrist. Those claims have been corroborated by other former OT VIII Scientologists, along with other "truths," including the idea that the authors of the Bible got the concepts of good and evil backward.

That was the original version, but when it didn't go over very well, Scientology reportedly backed down and modified the big reveal. When Leah Remini's "Scientology and the Aftermath" aired, she shared more about what they learned: She said (via The Underground Bunker), "That you are yourself." However, other ex-Scientologists have said this final level was more about the money than the reveal: Mary Kahn reported that it didn't take her long at all to hit OT VIII, but once she did, she found herself on a cruise ship — with nowhere to go — surrounded by Ethics Officers and other Scientology higher-ups who pressured her for more and more donations.

What happens when someone reaches the end?

If reaching OT VIII is the very pinnacle of Scientology, what happens afterward? Some — like Sherry Katz — leave when they find that what was promised wasn't really what happened. Katz told the Tampa Bay Times that she was told that she would have the world at her fingertips when she completed OT VIII, and when she didn't, she felt so lost that she left. Vicki Marshall — Leah Remini's mother — also left at OT VIII, for very similar reasons.

According to ex-Scientologist Mike Rinder (via The Hollywood Reporter), top-level Scientologists were told that they would now be on their way to learning the ultimate truths in levels OT IX and OT X, but there were never any such levels written by L. Ron Hubbard.

With his death, ex-Scientologist Marty Rathbun told The Revealer that there were long-whispered rumors of secret papers that Hubbard left behind and promises that new levels would be introduced. "All this talk about new levels is bulls***," Rathburn clarified. "There [are] none. And [David Miscavige is] powerless to create them." That led to another claim: Instead, those who achieved the pinnacle of Scientology levels were then told that they had crossed the Bridge ... and now, they needed to go back down the bridge to unlock more secrets.