Many readers will probably not have heard of Esalen—but that doesn't mean they won't find its history fascinating. Esalen is a legendary sacred place, but legendary among the privileged few like Aldous Huxley, Henry Miller and Joseph Campbell, for whom Esalen was a spiritual playground. Kripal, a professor of religious studies at Rice University, tells the story of this beautiful retreat in California's Big Sur region—its history at once sexy, salacious, intellectual and political—with reverence and playfulness, alternating between the hushed tones of awe and the glee of partaking in Esalen's infamous sinful delights. The community itself, Kripal explains, is centered around the idea of a "religion of no religion," which provides "a kind of American Mystical Constitution" for its visitors and "a spiritual space where almost any religious form can flourish." Kripal jumps among a wide range of historical moments, from Esalen's alleged relationship to the collapse of the Soviet Union to the idea of the disembodied erotic. Readers shouldn't be scared off by the book's heft. Kripal is an engaging storyteller, Esalen a worthy subject (a kind of Us Weekly
for the discerning intellectual), and it's as easy to jump from the introduction to chapter 14 as it is to continue in order. (Apr.)
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“This is it: the definitive history of the original American human potential center and the people who first envisioned it and made it work. A truly astonishing story of spiritual inspiration, global vision, political adventure, and delightful humor, and just at the right time. A genuinely hopeful vision of what we yet could be in the mirror of what we have been. Stunning.”
“In this engaging book, Jeffrey Kripal assesses one of the world’s most engaging places, and finds in Esalen a perfect metaphor for America’s unique creed of science and religion. Here—literally on the western edge of the North American continent—the European enlightenment meets Asian spirituality, Einstein confronts Walt Whitman, Calvinism takes on mysticism, and secularism encounters the divine. It’s a wild ride, filled with ironies and tensions, but it’s also America at the start of the twenty-first century, and perhaps the future of the world.”
(Robert B. Reich)
"Kripal tells the story of this beautiful retreat in California’s Big Sur region—its history at once sexy, salacious, intellectual and political—with reverence and playfulness. . . . He is an engaging storyteller, Esalen a worthy subject (a kind of Us Weekly for the discerning intellectual), and it’s as easy to jump from the introduction to chapter 14 as it is to continue in order."—Publishers Weekly
“In this history of the institute, readers will take a spellbinding journey through art, pop psychology, Tantric sex, Cold War physics, psychedelic drugs, and, of course, religion. Kripal becomes a raconteur of stories involving a cast of characters—from folk singer Joan Baez and Gonzo journalist Hunter Thompson to gay bathers, Hell’s Angels, and others attracted to the coast of California’s Big Sur country. Kripal explains the institute’s mixing of popular and political culture with the transformative spiritual practices of humanistic alternative education; its embodiment of East/West philosophies and dedication to the continual exploration of human potential. Upon finishing this book, readers will feel compelled to visit this remarkable place, where all are accepted.”—Library Journal
"An impressive new book ... [Esalen] is, by many accounts, the birthplace of the human potential movement, which advocates the raising of spiritual consciousness, human functioning, mystical awareness, and interpersonal connection. [Kripal] has written the definitive intellectual history of the ideas behind the institute."—Don Lattin, San Francisco Chronicle
(Don Lattin San Francisco Chronicle
"Esalen Institute is a combination alt-think tank, academic community and sensual retreat perched on the Pacific-facing cliffs of Big Sur, California. Its thinkers formed the leading edge of American culture for decades. Here was ground zero of the 1960s social revolution: the sweaty hot-tub commingling of free love, tantric yoga, Buddhist meditation and Gestalt therapy—as well as the academy for the propagation of the human-potential movement. Outlaw all-stars like Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg and Hunter S. Thompson felt the pull of the place. Now scholar Jeffrey 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
“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. That he reconciles all this while barely batting an eye is remarkable; that he does so while writing with such élan is nothing short of wondrous. This essential volume achieves what Esalen itself ultimately couldn’t sustain: a true gestalt.”
"This history of the Esalen Institute describes how the Big Sur hot springs became a crucible for a brand of secular metaphysics known at 'the religion of no religion.' Founded in the early 1960s, Esalen drew eccentrics and artists like Aldous Huxley, Timothy Leary, Henry Miller, and Joan Baez, and soon became a sort of sybaritic commune, where life consisted, according to Kripal, of 'sodomy in the baths, glossolalia in the lodge, fistfights in the parking lot, folk music in the cabins, and meditation in the Big House.' ".—New Yorker
"Although several memoirs by participants and popular histories of Esalen and its creative role in American culture are available, this book is nothing less than the gold standard. Essential."
"I savored every page of this exquisitely crafted book. . . . Wisely, Kripal--having given the fairest and most comprehensive account of the Esalen story we will probably ever see--does not make any judgment."
(Harvey Cox The Sixties
"Kripal's documentary style is eminently suited to decribing the events and people that have made the Esalen Institute a place like no other. This makes his book an engaging read. . . . A well-crafted chronicle that will be of great interest to anybody curious about the emergence of the counterculture and of contemporary 'alternative' religion."
(Olav Hammer History of Religions