From Bridge to Hub: A Brief Biography of East-West Psychology
The California Institute of Integral Studies had been founded in 1968--the year astronauts aboard Apollo 8 beamed the famous "Earthrise" photograph back to their home planet--as a school to house Asian wisdom traditions and contemplative practices on the West Coast.
In 1975, Dr. Kimberly McKell proposed an idea to Haridas Chaudhuri, one of the founders of CIIS: What about a department bridging ancient Asian wisdom and integral Western psychology? He was intrigued. What might such a department be called? Her reply: "East-West Psychology." And so it was. To a growing group of graduate students Dr. McKell, educational psychologist Dr. Mary Oliver Tasch, and Asian spirituality expert Dr. Hilary Anderson taught classes on Tantra, depth psychology, Greek mythology, meditation, Tarot, I Ching, shamanism, and integral thought. The work of Alan Watts was also a formative influence.
From the start Dr. Chaudhuri intended East-West Psychology as an experiment. What transformative alchemies of learning and practice (he wondered) might emerge in studies bridging East and West? Dr. Chaudhuri had been a student of Sri Aurobindo, who taught that transformation is essentially experimental, an ongoing work of becoming. To remain viable, to grow to its full stature, every living being must adapt to the demands of its time while remaining true to its origins, values, and identity.
Through four decades of expansion EWP has retained its spirit of experimentation. In our department integral education has grown to include the study and practice of indigenous knowledge, systems science, entheogenic shamanism, holistic sexuality, and ecopsychology, adding a lengthening and deepening North-South axis to the original East-West axis we continue to extend and enrich. Our bridge has evolved into a hub, a center in which the four directions point outward as well as inward.
As Lao Tzu said:
"We join spokes together in a wheel, but it is the center hole that makes the wagon move.
We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want.
We hammer wood for a house, but it is the inner space that makes it congenial."
We also deal in engaged psychology, an umbrella term for psychologies that seek to leave the world a better, richer, more just and more sustainable place than we found it. We hold personal, cultural, and planetary transmutation together as we collaborate on visions of community and learning that embrace what Sri Aurobindo praised as the "inalienable impulse of Nature towards self-realization."