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CompleteMartialArts.com - Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion

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Manufacturer: University Of Chicago Press
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Binding: Hardcover
Dewey Decimal Number: 150.71179476
EAN: 9780226453699
ISBN: 0226453693
Label: University Of Chicago Press
Manufacturer: University Of Chicago Press
Number Of Items: 1
Number Of Pages: 594
Publication Date: 2007-04-15
Publisher: University Of Chicago Press
Studio: University Of Chicago Press

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Editorial Reviews:

Jeffrey Kripal here recounts the spectacular history of Esalen, the institute that has long been a world leader in alternative and experiential education and stands today at the center of the human potential movement. Forged in the literary and mythical leanings of the Beat Generation, inspired in the lecture halls of Stanford by radical scholars of comparative religion, the institute was the remarkable brainchild of Michael Murphy and Richard Price.
Set against the heady backdrop of California during the revolutionary 1960s, Esalen recounts in fascinating detail how these two maverick thinkers sought to fuse the spiritual revelations of the East with the scientific revolutions of the West, or to combine the very best elements of Zen Buddhism, Western psychology, and Indian yoga into a decidedly utopian vision that rejected the dogmas of conventional religion. In their religion of no religion, the natural world was just as crucial as the spiritual one, science and faith not only commingled but became staunch allies, and the enlightenment of the body could lead to the full realization of our development as human beings.
 “An impressive new book. . . . [Kripal] has written the definitive intellectual history of the ideas behind the institute.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Kripal examines Esalen’s extraordinary history and evocatively describes the breech birth of Murphy and Price’s brainchild. His real achievement, though, is effortlessly synthesizing a dizzying array of dissonant phenomena (Cold War espionage, ecstatic religiosity), incongruous pairings (Darwinism, Tantric sex), and otherwise schizy ephemera (psychedelic drugs, spaceflight) into a cogent, satisfyingly complete narrative.”—Atlantic Monthly
“Kripal has produced the first all-encompassing history of Esalen: its intellectual, social, personal, literary and spiritual passages. Kripal brings us up-to-date and takes us deep beneath historical surfaces in this definitive, elegantly written book.”—Playboy

Spotlight customer reviews:

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Too focused on the leadership
Comment: I think this book is for the most part well written, but that Kripal too much drank the "Kool-Aid" and was too focused on the leadership struggles and the pioneering. Actually, I believe, Esalen and similar retreats fit in an old romantic and counter-culture movement that over the generations has mostly been run over. I also think that, consequently, the core of the Esalen story is the disconnected, hurting people who go there.

In my 2007 literary novel, The Seeker Academy, modeled on half a dozen similar retreats including Esalen, my main character, Grace Hudson, is turned away from the leadership, except in the context of the whole:

From Chapter 28...

Since leaving the Golds an hour before, Grace, no doubt influenced by Anton's diagram, had been thinking about faces. Were she to say, trying to ease her muddle, that she saw five or maybe six kinds of faces at Seeker, what were her categories? She felt, first, that people like the Golds showed in their faces a hurt at being puzzled, and a pliant and persuadable--see this in others or miss it in yourself, Betsy liked to say--search for answers. A second, morose kind of face belonged to the knowingly wounded, perhaps typified by Moira Kathleen. Such faces were schooled in longing and failure--in, especially, hardships of the latter. They looked inward and askance but rarely at others. A third kind--she saw it would round out the first of her two galleries, her gallery of fear--was actually an aggressive cousin of the morose face. It showed conviction, gave hints of being out on a limb, and grew defensive if its vision was contested. Some teachers Grace had watched pass through the academy fit unmistakably in this group.

(Then, a page later:)

Grace found herself replying in an essential way. "I'm just getting more confused. What goes on here as much scares me as inspires me. I expect you heard that Willa and Trumpeter both went a bit crazy after the accident. I hardly know them, yet I'm afraid for them. And then I saw teenagers--kids not much older than my son--chanting with their eyes closed in Francine's hospital room. What do people risk by coming here?"

"Might we carry the risks, rather than find them here?" asked Sophie. Then she smiled softly. "But yes, I'd like a heart-to-heart, about my aims but also yours."

"I may be more aimless than aimed. About Willa: how is she? I haven't even bumped into her in two days."

Sophie, peering out from her fortuitous good looks, with the simple lines, thought Grace, of a red-haired doll, took Grace's hand. "She's unsteady, in a way I'd not seen before. I'll invite her to join us."

They parted, with Grace embarrassed by a self-appraisal that she now thought was misleading.

As two strangers sat near the rock pond where she had thought to stop, she climbed higher. The world here was sweet and softening. I'll begin with Sophie and build a polar opposite to my fear gallery, she thought. Rather, I'll try to work it out abstractly. Maybe I see only two kinds of happy faces at Seeker. The first is shown publicly: I mean the hundred smiling photo portraits in the catalog. I should think about them, anyway, as they'll be on the quiz I get from Betsy.

Back home, the main link to Seeker was its catalog, which issued each spring. And if she had never really thought to come here, she had skimmed the catalogs for years; her friends did, too. And then what came up first in conversation was its store of blissful faces. Most people pictured looked as if they were smiling not from amusement but from a tap on the brow by a magic wand. Everything is fine, the smiles said; which attracted some people and repulsed others. "If magic is involved," asked the naysayers, "can the heart be, as well? And what could make such blissful eyes frown or cry, let alone laugh at a raucous situation?"

Grace herself wondered if such people, who earned their living from this work, could be believable. Coming from the same half-wealthy class as did she and other participants, could they see further? Where behind a beatific smile would lie crackup, or at least the uncertainties that fell on everyone? Many people pictured taught therapies that, while defying Grace's habits, had won her admiration. Yet, if the therapies led people to not courage but safety, where courage would no longer matter, Grace did not yet see how.
The Seeker Academy

Customer Rating: Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5Average rating of 4/5
Summary: Excellent read, and beautifully presented
Comment: Loved this book! For a work of non-fiction, it was a surprising page-turner. I was fascinated to learn that many of our common (and some rather uncommon) conceptions sprung from this mystical think tank on the California coast. This book embodies the spirit of Esalen; and hopefully other readers will find themselves having delightful "textual synchronicities" as I did! This is a "must read" for anyone interested in the human potential movement, mysticism, and modern psychology.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Not objective enough....
Comment: The author sometimes has trouble with choppy writing, and overly long sentences. However, for the most part his subject matter is interesting enough that the issues of writing can be overlooked, However, what was annoying to me was his impression or conviction that everything and everybody "really" were experiencing Hindu Tantric experiences. This occurs despite the fact that no one he writes about saw themselves that way, used the terms, or followed that path. However, the author has followed that path - and that's all that matters. If he was a Christian no doubt everything would "really" be about Christ's manifestation at Esalen. I have no trouble with the concepts of Tantra - I practice Buddhist Tantra - but we cannot impose our own business or spiritual position on the subject matter when proposing the write a history.

Other than this issue - which was more annoying than anything else - the book is pretty good. Upstart Spring might be better.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5Average rating of 3/5
Summary: Esalen story need not be this "Wordy"
Comment: Too many people who make Esalen work on a day to day basis were not mentioned. I am not sure why we needed an interpretation of Michael Murphy's books. Otherwise a good time-line presentation.

Customer Rating: Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5Average rating of 5/5
Summary: Fascinating Analysis of Esalen
Comment: I fascinating anaylsis of Esalen, the birthplace of the Human Potential Movement. This timely history of Esalen helped me fill in several gaps in my 20+ exploration of the human potential movement.

I especially appreciated Jeff Kripal's open stance about his biases and analysis. I'm not sure that I agree with his all of his minor conclusions -- such as the one about Joseph Campbell being more Freudian than Jungian, but that's a discussion best left for good friends, a fine meal and an excellent wine. ;-)

Wonderfully researched, I'm very jealous of Jeff Kripal's opportunity to explore the history of Esalen and the human potential movement. This is a book that I would have been proud to have written. I can think of no higher praise.

Highly recommended.

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