Book Review: "Esalen: America and the Religion of No Religion" by Jeffrey J. Kripal

Last year, my father and I visited Big Sur, a national park along the pacific coast of California—and ever since it has captured my interest.

This book is a fascinating account of two mavericks, Michael Murphy and Richard Price, the founders of an alternative and experiential learning institute, the original and inspiring American human potential center, “Esalen,” located right in the heart of the Big Sur region.

Several of my literary and academic hero’s—Abraham Maslow, Aldous Huxley, Allen Ginsberg, Hunter S. Thompson, Fritz Perls, Alan Watts, and Joseph Campbell—had a direct involvement in the location’s unique vision centered upon the idea that human beings possess vast and untapped reserves of energy and consciousness waiting to be actualized through physical, mental and spiritual development.

What I like most about the philosophy of the institute and the message of this book is the emphasis on the New Age, a sort of democratic mysticism with “spiritual but not religious” inclinations; the Perennial Philosophy, referring to a set of doctrines that lay the foundations for all great religions; and the fusion of Western science and psychology with Eastern esoteric and spiritual traditions.

This book is replete with information on transformative knowledge and practice—meditation, yoga, tantra, and massage—and biographical accounts of human “awakening.”

Overall, this book had a deep influence on me and was an invaluable resource to further direct my studies.