History of the International Transpersonal Association
Essential to the legacy of Stan Grof is the history of the International Transpersonal Association (ITA). Stan launched the ITA in 1978, along with Michael Murphy and Richard Price, founders of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, the first modern human potential (growth) center. Since its inception, ITA has sponsored international conferences that have been seminal in establishing the global transpersonal movement.
The ITA conferences have brought together luminaries from many fields and thousands of interested people from dozens of countries around the world. ITA has helped birth a global transpersonal community pointing towards a future where science and spirituality offer a shared vision returning humanity to a meaningful place in the cosmos.
The story of the ITA is told below by Stan Grof.
Prior to the formation of ITA, the Association of Transpersonal Psychology (ATP) was created in the late 1960s and held since its inception regular conferences in Asilomar, California. Later, several transpersonal conferences were held outside of California but still within the USA, including those held in Council Grove, Kansas. These started in 1969 by a small group of people (Walter Pahnke, John Lilly, Ken Godfrey, Helen Bonny, Elmer Green, Alyce Green, and Stanislav Grof). The Kansas conferences included some participants from abroad. As interest in the transpersonal movement grew, occasional international transpersonal conferences were held outside the San Francisco Bay Area and outside of the USA.
The first International Transpersonal Conference took place in 1972 in Bifrost, Iceland. It was organized by Geir Vihjamsson, a psychologist from Reykjavik, and Ingrid Vilhjamsson. A group of 58 participants represented psychologists, psychiatrists, theologists, comparative religionists, orentologists, mythologists, physiologists, physicists, chemists, music therapists, choreographers and dancers. Among the attendees were Joseph Campbell and Jean Campbell-Erdman, Huston Smith, Walter Houston Clark, Stan Grof, Joan Halifax, Paul Grof, Eva Grof, William Richards, Ilse Richards, Martha Crampton, Lawrence LeShan, Edgar Jackson, Roan Reid, Nicholas Herbert, Buryl Payne, Jean-George Henrotte, Lester Fehmi, and Icelandic mythologist Einar Palsson.
On the last of this conference, Stan Grof and Joan Halifax decided to get married. Joe Campbell and Einar Palsson recreated an ancient Viking marriage ritual, Jean Campbell-Erdman choreagraphed a ritual nuptial procession, and all the participants donned costumes and masks. The ritual took place when the sun rose in the volcanic crater at three o’clock into the splendid white night. The joiner was Huston Smith and speaker Walter Houston Clark. All participants hiked to the Langjökull Glacier and slept there overnight in the lodge. The Viking Wedding is described in Stan's book, When the Impossible Happens: The Rainbow Bridge of the Gods.
The Second International Transpersonal Conference was again held in Bifrost in 1973; it was again organized by Geir and Ingrid Vilhjamsson. This was the only International Transpersonal Association Conference which Stan Grof was not able to attend.
The Third International Transpersonal Conference
The Third International Transpersonal Conference was held in a school in Inari, Finland Lappland in 1976, on the Soviet border. The lectures were held in the gymnasium of the school building that hosted the event; it was vacation time and the classrooms were transformed into residential units. Among its participants were Mexican psychedelic psychiatric Salvador Roquet (center in photo to left, with Mexican curandera Maria Sabina and psychologist Stanley Krippner) and Prince Peter of Denmark (son of the psychoanalyst Greek Princess Marie Bonaparte). Christina Grof participated for the first time. Prince Peter, who had lived for 20 years in Tibet presented a fascinating movie about the four Tibetan oracles or kutens, important figures in Tibetan religion, politics, prophecy, and healing
The first three conferences were held at the time of white nights in areas that lie beyond the polar circle. It is well-known that people who live in these far northern territories have a strikingly high incidence of psychic phenomena. We met many people who were precognitive, telepathic, and clairvoyant, and others who had a reputation as healers, or were successful dowsers. The atmosphere and energy in these conferences were quite remarkable; many participants experienced spontaneous non-ordinary states and had ESP experiences.
The Fourth International Transpersonal Conference was held in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, in 1977; it was organized by Pierre Weil and Leo Matos, born in Brazil and living in Denmark. The meeting introduced participants to the extraordinary spiritual life in Brazil, including the spiritist movement and the syncretistic rituals of Umbanda. During the final meeting of this conference, it was noted that these conferences had become very popular and well attended and several participants suggested that the tradition of the international transpersonal meetings should be formalized. It was suggested that the tradition should be formalized under an international association.
We decided we should create an international association of transpersonal psychology that would become a vehicle for future international meetings. The proposal to form such an organization was enthusiastically accepted by all present. When the question of the president of this organization came up, somebody mentioned my name and most of the hands went up. Against my better judgment - since I had always strongly disliked administration – I accepted the offer.
The International Transpersonal Association (ITA) was launched in 1978; its founding president was Stan Grof and two cosigner members were Michael Murphy and Richard Price, the co-founders of Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA, the first modern human potential (growth) center. By that time, it became obvious that the transpersonal movement had become not only international but also interdisciplinary. Calling the new organization International Association of Transpersonal Psychology would have also suggested hierarchical superiority over the Association of Transpersonal Psychology (ATP), which did not seem appropriate. After a discussion with Arthur Hastings, I decided to use for the new organization the name International Transpersonal Association (ITA).
ITA was incorporated in California on February 27, 1980 as a scientific and educational corporation whose mission was to promote transpersonal education and scientific research, as well as to guarantee continuation of these international transpersonal conferences into the future.
The interdisciplinary nature of these international transpersonal conferences is exemplified by the fact that they featured not just prominent transpersonal psychologists but also many from other healing professions such as physicians, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists, as well as anthropologists, artists, biologists, educators, economists, mathematicians, mythologists, philosophers, physicists, politicians, spiritual teachers, and leaders from many other areas of human endeavor influenced by the transpersonal orientation.
The ITA Conferences
Danvers (Boston), USA, 1979. The first project of the new ITA was to organize the next international transpersonal conference. Elias and Isa Amador offered to be the organizers, while Stan and Christina Grof chose the topic, The Nature of Reality. The responsible parties attempted to bring together all major representatives of the field as a “coming out” for ITA and the international transpersonal movement. All the presenters invited to the conference agreed to present in return for only traveling expenses and accommodations, despite the fact that many were able to command significant fees for presenting elsewhere—this became the tradition continuing at all the subsequent ITA international transpersonal conferences. Stan and Christina were the program coordinators and a special guest of the conference was Swami Muktananda (photo to right). Alex and Allyson Grey exhibited their Sacred Mirrors for the first time.
Melbourne, Phillip Island Australia, 1980. Alf and Muriel Foote, Australians who attended an Esalen workshop with the Grofs, offered to be organizers of the next international transpersonal conference. Since transpersonal psychology was completely unknown in Australia, the conference desperately needed advertising so Stan and Christina traveled to Australia to give a series of workshops, lectures, and TV/radio interviews. The conference had over 400 participants and brought together people from all over Australia who were interested in transpersonal subjects, often without their having any prior knowledge of the term “transpersonal.” Special conference events included observation of a giant colony of penguins with young and a forest with koalas. This meeting started the transpersonal movement in Australia.
Bombay (Mumbai), India, 1982. The next ITA conference was organized in cooperation with the Siddha Yoga Foundation and the site coordinator was Marilyn Hershenson. Its theme was Ancient Wisdom and Modern Science and focused on bringing together spiritual teachers and new paradigm scientists to show the convergence of worldviews. The conference was to be opened by the Dalai Lama and closed by the Karmapa with the Black Crown ceremony, but the illness of the Dalai Lama and death of the Karmapa prevented this. However, presentations included many prominent spiritual figures—Swami Muktananda, Mother Teresa, the Parsee high priest Dastoor Minocher Homji, and Jack Kornfield—along with important scientists and psychologists, including Karl Pribram, Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Elmer and Alyce Green, and Virginia Satir. The first connection was made with Karan Singh, former Maharaja of Kashmir and Jammu, an Aurobindo scholar and a brilliant speaker, who later participated in a number of ITA conferences. The cultural program featured the rising Indian star, dancer Alarmel Valli; Paul Horn with Al Huang; an evening of Jewish mysticism with Shlomo Carlebach and Zalman Schachter; and a zikr by the Halveti Jerrahi dervishes, who for the first time invited women to participate at the end of the dance, a cultural sensation. Over seven hundred people participated in this conference.
Davos, Switzerland, 1983. At the end of the Bombay conference, Stan Grof passed the ITA presidency on to Cecil Burney, who organized the next ITA conference with the help of Rashna Imhasly. The Dalai Lama was able to come this time and among the special guests were Frederic Leboyer, Michael Harner, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Sri Chakravarti, Gopi Krishna, Karan Singh, and Marie-Louise von Franz.
Kyoto, Japan, 1985. The theme of this International Transpersonal Association Conference was Spirituality and Technological Society. After the success of the Davos conference, Cecil Burney traveled to Japan with his teacher of sand play, Dora Kallf, who was extremely popular in Japan. He managed to recruit to the conference organizing committee the founder and honorary chairman of Sony and the founder of Kyocera, then the fastest growing company in Japan. Encouraged by this alliance and the success of the ITA Conference in Davos, Burney rented the Kyoto International Conference Center at the cost of $11,000, based on the expectation of attracting 1,500 paying participants. Although the conference attracted 700 people, an impressive number, the projection fell short, likely because transpersonal psychology was unknown at the time in Japan and many Japanese people were not accustomed to taking a week away from work to attend a conference unrelated to their jobs. Nevertheless, the conference was an extraordinary gathering, featuring prominent Japanese spiritual teachers and philosophers (e.g., Nikitani Roshi), African shaman and anthropologist Credo Mutwa, and astronaut Rusty Schweickart. The cultural program included an imperial drama, a Shinto fire ceremony, and a flute performance by a group of monks who live with their heads covered by special baskets. Unfortunately, the conference lost over $50,000 and sent the ITA into bankruptcy.
Santa Rosa, CA., USA, 1988. Some fortuitous circumstances allowed the ITA to survive. Following the resignation of Ken Wilber as editor of the Re-Vision Journal, the publisher, Heldref Publications, invited Stan to take his place. Heldref sent one of its staff members, Stuart d’Eggnuff, as observer to the Kyoto conference. After d’Eggnuff provided an enthusiastic report about the conference, Heldref offered a loan as seed money for another international transpersonal conference. ITA was resurrected, this time with a home in Washington, D.C., with Stan Grof returning as president.
To increase the likelihood of financial viability, Stan and Christina decided to place the meeting close to the San Francisco Bay Area, where a large number of prominent presenters could participate without incurring significant traveling expenses. The participation of this core group made the conference attractive not only for participants, but also for additional presenters.
The theme of the Santa Rosa conference was The Transpersonal Vision: Past, Present, and Future. The coordinator was John McKenzie, assisted by Tav and Cary Sparks. Among the special features of the conference was participation of Albert Hofmann, Dora Kallf and an evening with Mickey Hart (photo right). The conference was a great financial success, with profit over $130,000. ITA not only returned the loan from Heldref ($70,000), but also had enough seed money for its next conference.
Eugene (Oregon), USA, 1990. The theme of this international transpersonal conference was Mystical Quest, Attachment, and Addictions, combining treatment of addictions with spiritual understandings based on transpersonal psychology. John Bradshaw (photo right), the Sierra Tucson staff, Linda Leonard, and other representatives from the addiction field joined transpersonal psychiatrists, psychologists, and spiritual teachers in exploring the relationship between spiritual transformation and recovering from addiction.
Atlanta, USA, 1991. The next ITA conference was on the same theme, Mystical Quest, Attachment, and Addiction. It was brought to the East Coast after the success of the previous Eugene conference. After that conference, Stan Grof passed the ITA presidency to Patricia Demetrios-Ellard.
Prague, Czechoslovakia, 1992. After the death of Patricia Demetrios-Ellard, Stan Grof resumed the presidency of ITA. Following an unsuccessful attempt to organize a conference in Russia (due to perestroika and glasnost), the conference on the theme of Science, Spirituality, and the Global Crisis: Toward a World with a Future was held in Prague. The conference was the first opportunity for Eastern and Western representatives of the transpersonal movement to meet and exchange information and was enormously successful. The hall with a capacity of 1600 people was sold out and the registration for Westerners had to be stopped a month before the conference, while hundreds of interested Czechs could not be admitted to the conference due to space limitations. The participants came from 36 different countries. The presenters included Karan Singh, Igor Charkovsky, David Bohm, Rupert Sheldrake, Fritjof Capra, Frances Vaughan, Roger Walsh, Angeles Arrien, Brant Secunda, Michael Harner, Sandra Harner, Paul Brof, Zdenek Neubauer, Ivan Havel, Chungliang Al Huang, Ram Das, and Jack Kornfield.
The conference was under the aegis of Czechoslovakian President Vaclav Havel. Havel could not address the conference, because he had to work the entire night in the Parliament dealing with a major crisis - Czechoslovakia breaking into two countries.
The highlight of the program was the performance of Babatunde Olatunji (right), a Yoruba singer, with ten African drummers and dancers. After receiving an enthusiastic standing ovation for their stunning act, the performers decided not to recede behind the curtain, but continued dancing through the center of the hall and out through the front entrance of the building into the streets of Prague. Followed by a significant part of the audience, they sang, drummed, and danced down Celetná Street, a small street in the historical part of Prague to Old Town Square. On the way they were joined by a large number of Prague citizens from the neighboring houses, attracted by the bacchanalian spectacle. The jubilant crowd filled the square. After forty years of Communist oppression, when even the twist was considered to be unacceptably Bourgeois, the celebration continued to the sound of African drums and songs until the wee hours of the morning.
Killarney, Ireland, 1994. The next international transpersonal conference focused on the application of transpersonal psychology to urgent social and political problems. The conference theme was Spirituality, Ecology, and Native Wisdom, and its coordinator was Ralph Metzner. Presenters included Angeles Arrien, Jane Middelton-Moz, Roger Walsh, Francis Vaughn and Jack Kornfield. Cathy Coleman organized a special program for ITA children at the conference.
Santa Clara (San Francisco), USA, 1995. This conference continued the theme of bringing the transpersonal perspective into politics, business, medicine and the economy. New presenters in Spirit in Action: Awakening to the Sacred in Everyday Life included Isabel Allende, Gloria Steinem, Jerry Brown, Jim Garrison, Thomas Benyaka, Michel Odent, and others.
Manaus, Brazil, 1996. The theme of this ITA Conference was Technologies of the Sacred: Ancient, Aboriginal, and Modern. The gathering included shamans from Peru, Ecuador, and Brazil; representatives of the Santo Daime tradition; and members of Union de Vegetal. The cultural program included Capoeira, School of Samba, Santo Daime chants, and many others. The highlight of the conference was a concert in the famous Manaus opera house featuring Jai Uttal, Geoff Gordon, Chungliang Al Huang, and others. Over 900 people participated at the conference.
Palm Springs, CA, USA, 2004. Inspired by the 100th anniversary of the birth of Joseph Campbell, the theme of the 2004 conference was Mythic Imagination & Modern Society: The Re-Enchantment of the World. Stan and Christina organized the conference and the coordinator was Robert Duchmann. Among the special guests were John Cleese, Lorin Hollander (playing Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition), and Indian classical dancers Vishnu Tattva Dass and Barbara Framm. The presenters included Rick Tarnas, Chungliang Al Huang, Michael and Sandra Harner, Michael and Annie Mithoefer, Peter Russell, Huston Smith, Jenny Wade, John Mack, Roger Walsh, Jack Kornfield, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Francis Lu, Albrecht Mahr, Francisco Moreno, Bernard Lietaer, Robert McDermott, Wes Nisker, Marilyn Schlitz , Michael Meade, Paul Grof, Ralph Metzner, John Buchanan, Rick Doblin, Shairy Jose Quimbo, Charles Grob, Sean Kelly, Angeles Arrien, Charlene Spretnak, Frances Vaughan, David Lukoff, Francis Lu, Stephen and Robin Larsen.
Stan and Christina decided this was their last ITA Conference given their many other commitments.
In 2008, the International Transpersonal Association began again through conversations at the World Congress of Spirituality and Psychology held in Delhi, India. David Lukoff sponsored a meeting to discuss forming an international group and the decision was made to continue in the tradition of ITA. The sponsoring group included Harris Friedman, Glen Hartelius, Les Lancaster, David Lukoff, and many others. Stan Grof gave his blessing to the idea and Friedman offered to solicit funding from the Floraglades Foundation, a nonprofit organization that owns the International Journal of Transpersonal Studies (IJTS). The organization has a new website describing its mission and work.
The new ITA began with Harris Friedman serving as its President, David Lukoff as Vice President, and Glen Hartelius as Secretary and Treasurer. The new board met for the first time at the EUROTAS 2010 conference in Moscow (see below). Les Lancaster served as a president of ITA between 2009 and 2017. Zana Marovic is the current president.
Moscow, Russia, June 21-29, 2010. The conference on the theme of The Consciousness Revolution: Transpersonal Discoveries that are Changing the World was held in Moscow. It was a new opportunity for Eastern and Western representatives of the transpersonal movement to meet and exchange information and was enormously successful. The hall with a capacity of 1000 people was almost full. The participants came from 26 different countries. The presenters included Karan Singh (photo, right), Stanislav and Christina Grof, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Yeshi Silvano Namkai, Jim Garrison, Jorge Ferrer, Harris Friedman, Alex and Allison Grey, David Lukoff, Silvia Nakkash, Nikolay Oorzhak, Pilot Baba, Rajish Dalal, Andrew Cohen, Eduard Sagalaev, Tonu Soidla, Dmitri Spival, Vladimir Maykov, Yuri Bubeev, Bronislav Vinogrodsky, Evgeny Krupitsky, Stanley Krippner, Amit Goswami, Bernard Lietaer, Elias Capriles, Richard Tarnas, Jenny Wade, Rick Doblin, Harry Hunt.
The pre-conference workshop -- offering the opportunity to experience holotropic breathwork directed by Stan and Christina Grof with the assistance of an international team of over 45 facilitators -- joined together approximately 460 participants and represented the largest holotropic breathwork workshop in the world (photo to right).
There was also a very successful pre-conference workshop by Alex and Allyson Grey on Visionary Art. The final artistic concert of the Conference Anima Mundi manifested the treasure of world transpersonal art, singing and ritual performance.
The 2017 International Transpersonal Conference was held in Prague, Stan's birthplace, with the theme Beyond Materialism: Towards Wholeness. Stan was a featured speaker, along with Ervin Laszlo, Richard Tarnas, David Lukoff, Charles Grob, Raymond Moody, Sandra Harner, and Christopher Bache.
With hundreds of enthusiastic participants from dozens of countries, the 2017 conference took place exactly 25 years after the historical and very successful first international conference in Prague. The call to participation in the conference was phrased as follows:
The overall state of human civilization and its reign over the Earth is no longer sustainable. When we take into consideration the health of the planet, society and modern man, we have to conclude that we are in crisis. There is a rising number of scientists and specialists who are warning us not only about specific challenges in culture, technology, religion, politics, economics and ecology, but also about their various interactions and the unpredictability of their acceleration and multiplication. However, each crisis may prove to be the trigger of a radical re-evaluation; opening up new possibilities of change.
In partnership with all international trainers under the Grof Legacy Training umbrella, and all those interested in working towards wholeness in our time of planetary crisis, we at Grof Legacy Project USA look forward to many future international conferences carrying forward the ITA banner begun by Stan when the transpersonal movement was born.
Presenters in the ITA Conferences
Many of the presenters at ITA Conferences have been outstanding representatives of various fields. These include luminaries from psychology and psychiatry, other sciences, spiritual life, art and cultural life, and politics, some of whom are listed as follows:
Psychology and psychiatry—Frances Vaughan, Roger Walsh, Sandra Harner, June Singer, John Perry, James Fadiman, Arthur Hastings, R. D. Laing, Virginia Satir, Dora Kalff, Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, Marie-Louise von Franz, Jean Shinoda Bolen, Claudio Naranjo, Ken Pelletier, Ralph Metzner, Angeles Arrien, Christopher Bache, Paul Grof, Stanislav Grof, Christina Grof, Charles Tart, Steven Larsen, Robin Larsen, Kenneth Ring, Arthur Hastings, Judith Cornell, Richard Tarnas, Jean Houston, Steve Aizenstat, Arnold Mindell, Amy Mindell, Roger Woolger, Gilda Moura, Raymond Moody, John Bradshaw, Pierre Weil, Marion Woodman, Massimo Rosselli, Ann Armstrong, Paulo Rzezinski, Linda Leonard, Jane Middelton-Moz, Rokelle Lerner, Charles Whitfield, John Mack, Robert Jay Lifton, Robert McDermott, Stanley Krippner, Andrew Weil, Seymour Boorstein, Dean Shapiro, Charlene Spretnak, Marilyn Schlitz, Ingo Jahrsetz, Hércoles Jaci, John Beebe, Harris Friedman, Jenny Wade, Michael Mithoefer, Charles Grob, Richard Yensen, Vladimir Maykov, Donna Dryer, Dennis Slattery, Rick Strassman, Phillippe Bandeira de Melo, Michael Grosso, David Ulansey, Don Juan Nuñez del Prado, and Roberto Baruzzi;
Other sciences—David Bohm, Karl Pribram, Fritjof Capra, Rupert Sheldrake, Fred Alan Wolf, Ervin Laszlo, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, Willis Harman, Albert Hofmann, Orlando Villas-Boas, Vasily Nalimov, Ilya Prigogine, Lee Sannella, Igor Charkovsky, Elmer and Alyce Green, Michael Harner, Peter Russell, Richard Katz, Russell Targ, Arthur Young, Jean Achterberg, Duane Elgin, Ivan Havel, Zdenek Neubauer, Carl Simonton, Frederic Leboyer, Peter Schwartz, Bernard Lietaer, Brian McCusker, Terence McKenna, Brian Swimme, Amit Goswami, Igor Charkovsky, Luiz Augusto de Queiroz, Michel Odent, and Rachel Naomi Remen;
Spiritual teachers--Mother Teresa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Swami Muktananda, Brother David Steindl-Rast, Pir Vilayat Khan, Sheikh Muzaffer and the Halveti-Jerahi dervishes, Sogyal Rinpoche, Ram Dass, Chungliang Al Huang, Matthew Fox, Jack Kornfield, Wes Nisker, Nishitani Roshi, Gopi Krishna, Thomas Banyacya, Don Manuel Q’espi, Andrew Harvey, Lauren Artress, Alex Polari de Alverga, Huston Smith, Cecil Williams, Shairy Jose Quimbo, Brooke Medicine Eagle, Zalman Schachter.
Artsts and cultural life: Olotunji Babatunde, and Shlomo Carlebach—John Cleese, Alarmel Vali, Paul Horn, Mickey Hart, Steven Halpern, David Darling, Randall Bramblett, Michael Vetter, Gabrielle Roth, Nina Wise, Jiri Stivín, Patricia Ellsberg, Alex Grey, Silvia Nakkach, Lorin Hollander, Tara Tupper, Nina Simons, Jon Voight, Jai Uttal, Geoffrey Gordon, Russell Walder, Vishnu Tattva Das, Barbara Framm, Susan Griffin, Robert Bly, Robert Schwartz, Gloria Steinem, Isabel Allende, Jill Purce, Georgia Kelly, Steve Roach, Rusty Schweickart, Raizes Caboclas Orchestra, Mar Azul Capoeira group, and Lost at Last; and politics—Karan Singh, Jerry Brown, John Vasconcellos, Jim Garrison, Burnum Burnum, and Sulak Sivaraksa.