Review: Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion


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Toby Johnson's books:

GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness

GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe

SECRET MATTER: updated, revised & expanded edition from Lethe Press with Afterword by Mark Jordan

GETTING LIFE IN PERSPECTIVE: A romance novel set in the 1980s and the 1890s.

THE FOURTH QUILL, a novel about attitudinal healing and the problem of evil

TWO SPIRITS: A Story of Life with the Navajo, a collaboration with Walter L. Williams

CHARMED LIVES: Spinning Straw into Gold: Reclaiming Our Queer Spirituality Through Story

PLAGUE: A NOVEL ABOUT HEALING.

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Funny Coincidence: "Aliens Settle in San Francisco"


The Simple Answer to the Gay Marriage Debate

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Second March on Washington


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Why Gay Spirituality: Spirituality as Artistic Medium


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"It's Always About You"

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Next Step in Evolution

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Gaia is a Bodhisattva

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Marian Doctrines: Immaculate Conception & Assumption


Teenage Prostitution and the Nature of Evil

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Book Reviews


Be Done on Earth by Howard E. Cook

Pay Me What I'm Worth by Souldancer

The Way Out by Christopher L  Nutter
The Gay Disciple by John Henson

Art That Dares by Kittredge Cherry

Coming Out, Coming Home by Kennth A. Burr

Extinguishing the Light by B. Alan Bourgeois


Over Coffee: A conversation For Gay Partnership & Conservative Faith by D.a. Thompson

Dark Knowledge by Kenneth Low

Janet Planet by Eleanor Lerman

The Kairos by Paul E. Hartman

Wrestling with Jesus by D.K.Maylor

Kali Rising by Rudolph Ballentine

The Missing Myth by Gilles Herrada

The Secret of the Second Coming by Howard E. Cook

The Scar Letters: A Novel by Richard Alther

The Future is Queer by Labonte & Schimel

Missing Mary by Charlene Spretnak

Gay Spirituality 101 by Joe Perez

Cut Hand: A Nineteeth Century Love Story on the American Frontier by Mark Wildyr

Radiomen by Eleanor Lerman

Nights at Rizzoli by Felice Picano

The Key to Unlocking the Closet Door by Chelsea Griffo

The Door of the Heart by Diana Finfrock Farrar

Occam’s Razor by David Duncan

Grace and Demion by Mel White

Gay Men and The New Way Forward by Raymond L. Rigoglioso

The Dimensional Stucture of Consciousness by Samuel Avery

The Manly Pursuit of Desire and Love by Perry Brass


Esalen Institute was one of the sources of modern spiritual wisdom



Esalen cover

Esalen:
America and the Religion of No Religion

By Jeffrey J. Kripal

University of Chicago Press,
576 pages, Trade paperback, $20
978-0-226-45370-5


Available from
amazon.com









5 stars

Reviewed by Toby Johnson, author of The Myth of the Great Secret: An Appreciation of Joseph Campbell

Book description:

"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."


Toby Johnson writes:

Jeffrey J. Kripal is a wonderful, engaging writer with a sense of humor and a talent for telling stories--and retelling stories--so they take on so much more meaning.

Esalen: American and the Religion of No Religion is a very big, thick book. It's a little intimidating. But it reads so easily and is so interesting I found I was disappointed when I finally finished. I'd have liked to have had the presentation go on.

The book is structured around the history of the Esalen Institute in Big Sur along the California coast, but it's about so much more than just Esalen. That's partly because Esalen proved to be very influential in West Coast thinking and then worldwide culture. So a discussion of Esalen includes all those issues of the last half of the 20th Century that are roughly called New Age and/or Countercultural. Esalen was a part of the transformation of how modern culture understands religion. The subtitle of the book is "America and the Religion of No Religion."

The Religion of No Religion is the modern religion now. The popular term in social media is "Spiritual, not religious." Kripal writes about very heady stuff, but I found it easy to read and easy to understand. I've also read Kripal's The Serpent's Gift, and found it really enlightening. I resonate with his idea of a "gnosticism" that comes from the study of religion from over and above. Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion is wonderful both for its broad generalizations about meaning and the evolution of consciousness and for its minute details and intriguing stories of the history of the land and people that constituted Esalen.

On a personal note, let me add that the expression "The Religion of No Religion" was coined by Professor Frederic Spiegelberg. This Sanscrit scholar and professor of Comparative Religions was one of the founders of the California Institute of Asian Studies, now the California Institute of Integral Studies. This is the private, free-standing graduate school in San Francisco from which I received by Masters ("Philosophy and Religion") and my Doctoral ("Integral Counseling and Psychotherapy") degrees in the late 1970s. I have a very minor personal connection to Dr. Spiegelberg from the brief period in which he came back to be interim President of C.I.A.S. after the sudden death of the "Great Teacher"/guru-like President of the Institute, Haridas Chaudhuri. Both Dr. Spiegelberg and Dr. Chaudhuri play significant roles in Jeffrey Kripal's history of Esalen. I've written about that personal experience and the more "magical/mystical" implications on the page: Early Years in San Francisco AND Dr. Spielgelberg


Read Toby Johnson's review of The Serpent's Gift by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Toby Johnson's book The Myth of the Great Secret refers to this "Religion of No Religion" as the "meta-myth," the myth of myth and argues that this is what Joseph Campbell's idea of the "New Myth" results in.

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Toby Johnson, PhD is author of eight books: three non-fiction books that apply the wisdom of his teacher and "wise old man," Joseph Campbell to modern-day social and religious problems, three gay genre novels that dramatize spiritual issues at the heart of gay identity, and two books on gay men's spiritualities and the mystical experience of homosexuality. In addition to the novels featured elsewhere in this web site, Johnson is author of IN SEARCH OF GOD IN THE SEXUAL UNDERWORLD and THE MYTH OF THE GREAT SECRET (Revised edition): AN APPRECIATION OF JOSEPH CAMPBELL.

Johnson's Lammy Award winning book GAY SPIRITUALITY: The Role of Gay Identity in the Transformation of Human Consciousness was published in 2000. His Lammy-nominated book  GAY PERSPECTIVE: Things Our Homosexuality Tells Us about the Nature of God and the Universe was published by Alyson in 2003. Both books are available now from Lethe Press.

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