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Transpersonal Psychology: Integral · Esoteric · Meditation

The California Institute of Integral Studies (CIIS) is an accredited private San Francisco, California-based graduate school whose programs focus on clinical psychology as well as the study of the world's various spiritual traditions. It has about 1,000 students, many of them studying part-time.


California Institute of Integral Studies is generally devoted to integrating the academic sphere with the spiritual. Though having historical roots among followers of the Bengali sage Sri Aurobindo, CIIS has no official religion or spiritual path. Its students and professors tend to be interested in a wide variety of Eastern religions or Western mystical traditions, especially those emphasized by the New Age movement.

The Institute has moved among several San Francisco neighborhoods in the course of its history and is currently located on the border between the Mission District and the Tenderloin.

The name

The "Integral" of the school's name has nothing to do with mathematical integrals, but translates a technical term from the writings of Sri Aurobindo, namely "Integral Yoga" (purnayoga). By this Aurobindo intends to harmonize the paths of karma-, jnana-, and bhakti-yoga as described in the Bhagavad-Gita--roughly speaking, body, mind, and spirit. In the CIIS context the term also suggests various other possible divisions to be integrated as well (e.g. East and West, masculinity and femininity, science and spirituality, First World and Third).

The word "integral" in this wider sense has recently been adopted by various figures in transpersonal psychology, notably Ken Wilber. Wilber, however, criticizes CIIS as insufficiently "integral" according to his understanding (for example in the footnotes of Eye of Spirit). His memoir Grace and Grit describes his life with his late wife Treya Wilber, a CIIS student.


The school symbol is the Shri Yantra, a mandala-like symbol of the Hindu goddess Shri (identified with Lakshmi), who Hindu tantrists sometimes call the Mother of the Universe.


In 1951, San Francisco businessman Louis Gainsborough invited several authorities on Eastern religions (among them Frederic Spiegelberg, a Stanford professor of Indic studies; Alan Watts, then an Episcopal chaplain but otherwise an apologist for Zen; and Haridas Chaudhuri, a Bengali disciple of Sri Aurobindo) to form something called the American Academy of Asian Studies, which offered evening classes. Among their students were Michael Murphy and Dick Price, later the co-founders of Esalen Institute; and Eugene Rose, later Fr. Seraphim Rose of the Saint Herman of Alaska Brotherhood. The Academy as such folded in 1968.

Between 1968 and 1974 Chaudhuri headed a successor organization, the California Institute of Asian Studies, whose formal institutional status was that of an educational branch of the Cultural Integration Fellowship (an Aurobindo organization founded by Chaudhuri).

The Institute became independent of the Cultural Integration Fellowship in 1974, with an eye to attaining regional accreditation. It changed its name from "Asian" to "Integral" Studies at this time, and added "East-West Psychology" as an important new emphasis. Chaudhuri died in 1975, after which his widow Bina Chaudhuri joined with Spiegelberg to guide the Institute.

Obadiah Harris served briefly as CIIS's president before going on to head the Philosophical Research Society of Los Angeles, replacing founder Manly Palmer Hall after his death.

During the 1990's, under the presidency of Robert McDermott (the author of books on Aurobindo and Rudolf Steiner), CIIS significantly expanded its programs after receiving a Rockefeller grant. Some of the new programs were a success (e.g., "Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness", conceived as a combination of Western esotericism with selected scientific themes such as written about by Brian Swimme), others were not. The result was a period of financial exigency, and a contraction of academic offerings.

Since 1999 the Institute's president has been Joseph Subbiondo, a linguist.


California Institute of Integral Studies is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), while the Clinical Psychology Doctoral (Psy.D.) is accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA).

External links

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