Fully Human Being

Aldous Huxley's Island, Tantra, and Human Potential


  • Jake Poller Queen Mary, University of London


Aldous Huxley, human potential


In Island (1962), Aldous Huxley presents a utopian community in which theinhabitants aim to become "fully human beings" by realizing their "potentialities."I demonstrate how Huxley's notion of the "human potentialities" havebeen misrepresented, both by scholars and by the founders of the Esalen Institute.Huxley's focus on human potentialities arose from a shift in his thinkingfrom the other-worldly mysticism of The Perennial Philosophy (1945) to thelife-affirming traditions of Tantra, Zen and Mahayana Buddhism. In Island,the population attempt to realize their human potentialities and engage in anexperiential spirituality that celebrates the body and nature as sacred throughthe use of the moksha-medicine and the practice of maithuna. I argue thatwhereas Tantric adepts practised maithuna as a means to acquire supernormalpowers (siddhis), in Island the Palanese version of maithuna is quite differentand is used to valorize samsara and the acquisition of human potentialities.


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