Michael Murphy is a pioneer in the human potential movement. He co-founded the Esalen Institute with Dick Price in 1962 on the beautiful Big Sur coast in California. For some, Esalen was the "center of the universe" spawning a unique spiritual movement in the 1960s. Michael speaks about his beginning consciousness in environmentalism and how various individuals have informed his life's spiritual work, his concepts about nature, and his overall world view.
Michael Murphy has been referred to as the father of the human potential movement. Murphy co-founded the Esalen Institute on the Big Sur Coast of California. Michael is the author of both fiction and non-fiction books that explore evidence for extraordinary human capacities. Murphy is author of The Future of the Body, The Life We Are Given (with George Leonard), In the Zone: Transcendent Experience in Sports (with Rhea White), The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation (with Steven Donovan), God and The Evolving Universe (with James Redfield and Sylvia Timbers), and four novels Golf in the Kingdom, The Kingdom of Shivas Irons, Jacob Atabet, and An End to Ordinary History. Golf in the Kingdom was made into a film. The DVD is available on Amazon, Netflix and Barnes and Noble. The book, Golf in the Kingdom is the largest selling golf novel ever written.
During his fifty-year involvement in the human potential movement, Michael Murphy and his work have been profiled in the New Yorker and featured in many magazines and journals worldwide. After graduating from Stanford University, he did graduate work there in philosophy, practiced meditation at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in South India in 1956 and 1957, and co-founded Esalen in 1962.
Michael Murphy: There are many tributaries into the great mighty river of environmentalism and sustainability.
Huey Johnson: Michael, you are a pioneer in a lot of things, but the body/mind science and the expansion of personal consciousness movement is a summary someone’s used — one author. You’re the co-founder and the former chair of the Esalen Institute. Tell me about yourself and how you got where you are.
Michael Murphy: Well, you mentioned the Esalen Institute, which we started, Dick Price and I, in 1962 on old family property in Big Sur that my grandfather purchased in 1910 when you got there by horseback. The dream behind it had been ignited in me when I was at Stanford University. I was a sophomore, wandered into the class of Frederic Spiegelberg, a great professor of comparative religious studies. That was in 1950, and his class on comparative religions — I actually was in there by mistake because they had flipped courses and I’d heard about him. So it was the second lecture of the course, and so I said, “I want to stay.” About 650 in this auditorium and he came in and didn’t speak and held the audience in this pregnant silence. And then, after a long pause, said “Brahman” and that changed my life.
Michael Murphy: He was lecturing on the Vedic hymns from which the great Indian traditions arose, the omnipresent reality. And he finishes his lecture with the word “Atman,” which is the deepest subjectivity we have. It’s the eye beyond the ordinary eye, and “Atman is Brahman,” that’s the basic insight of the Indian mystical philosophy. By the end of the course he had covered the major religions and he had landed on an Indian philosopher who’s had an enormous influence on me, Sri Aurobindo. His world view, which has animated me is that this whole world, indeed the whole cosmos is latently divine. The deus implicitus, this is Schilling, the philosopher Schilling, the divine that is enclosed in matter in the course of time through evolution, is becoming the deus explicitous. In other words, god is waking up.
Michael Murphy: And so as life appears out of matter, consciousness starts to appear, and in these – all we really know about that is that in this planet and over these course of this–these four plus billion years, humankind appears and then among – in humankind, this awakening to our source to who we really are, to the secret of it all. That’s the world view. That is what lit me up then. That’s the reason I started Esalen. It’s that world view that leads me to do the things I do. So, now Esalen. When we started we did not have a blueprint but we had the idea that we wanted to display the ways and means of this self actualization, the universe’s unfoldment of its latent divinity. Lo and behold, here we had this broken down motel at the end of nowhere there in Big Sur, it was beautiful country and great vistas and everything. And here… but Dick Price and I, neither of us had PhDs, nobody knew who we were, everybody came. And the thing kind of exploded on the scene and we caught the big wave of the ’60s. We were able to then, with the help of various foundations and great friends like Laurence Rockefeller, to do all sorts of initiatives to flesh out this dream we had in various fields, including some that would certainly bear upon environmentalism. We had a conference a few weeks ago with the so-called agrarian elders, they call themselves. These are the granddaddies of the organic farming movement. The art of organic agriculture is immense. This thing has really developed as a great parallel system to mainstream agriculture. Then the permaculture folks have found a base at Esalen. These various streams that it seems to me now comprise the — this huge movement of environmentalism and sustainability have come into Esalen, some just on their own. You know, it’s not out of any grand design, it’s like an army has been forming without a one general. It’s actually a movement of movements I’ve begun to think, but it’s the human race waking up.
Michael Murphy: One of the other great tributaries into the great river of environmentalism comes from what you would call the — this deeply mystical stream that I would include Thoreau and John Muir, and David Brower in. The basic, not only philosophy, but attitude, is this luminous vision they had, the marvelous language and the ethic. It’s more than just saying, “We love nature.” It’s a love that carries a luminous opening, and it’s empowering. And Emerson’s influence in America, I’d include Emerson in that, and Walt Whitman. Their embrace of nature came out of the sort of deep place that ours did in the early ’60s at Esalen, and I count Esalen very much in the tradition of Emerson, and Thoreau and Whitman and that — and John Muir. So that – call it the philosophical, mystical, certainly spiritual stream, entered in along side the political work and all the set asides, and the organic agriculture, and the super-smart science that has contributed to environmentalism.