When the planning committee for the November 2013 TAT Foundation meeting proposed inviting Gary Weber to speak, my reaction was, “who?” He gave a great talk, weaving scientific observations with his experience in meditation, and carrying that fine mix of seriousness and humor that you often find in those who dwell on solid ground. I should not be surprised that a relatively lesser-known figure turns out to be an authentic pointer towards truth. Not only that, but I really like this photo of Gary Weber because he looks like he’s ready to kick someone’s butt.
Gary Weber was kind enough to answer a few questions via email.
Q: If I had to sum up this Gary Weber fellow’s teaching in a sentence, it would be “stop thought by realizing that the I doesn’t exist.” Have I mangled your message?
A: The only modification i would add is “stop self-referential internal narrative by realizing that the I doesn’t exist”. The clarifying language is needed by some folk as “no thoughts” is often misinterpreted. Since the self-referential internal narrative (SRIN) is 98% of most folks’ internal dialogue it is close to the same thing but doesn’t raise as much resistance.
Q: Is the stopping of SRIN a byproduct of realizing the I doesn’t exist? You are talking about something more than simply quieting the mind, I gather. For example, I could quiet the mind with a mantra, but that would be different than realizing the I doesn’t exist, wouldn’t it?
A: Yes, the stopping of SRIN was important as my process was mostly do-it-yourself (DIY). my job had a lot of responsibilities and was often 60+ hrs/wk w/lots of travel, often overseas, and w/very little vacation, so i had to have a good instantaneous monitor on how i was doing w/my practices. i had two Zen masters i worked with but w/my limited time, it needed to be something i could do DIY.
It is, as you say, “a byproduct of realizing the I doesn’t exist”, but it is even more than that as the practices are designed to deconstruct the “I” so that it does not continue to manifest. If the I is only pushed aside temporarily, like w/a mantra, as soon as the mantra is stopped, the SRIN and the problems that arise w/the I and selfing like anxiety, depression, unhappiness, etc. return in full force. Ramana Maharshi made this distinction between temporary and permanent removal of the “I” construct an important element in his teachings.
Q: I love that your book is full of practices. What do you say to the many who would say that practices keep the student from realizing what is in front of them at all times? In other words, that practices are just another ego distraction.
A: There is a mountain of research on the amount of practice required for achieving “mastery” in everything from chess to playing the violin, or meditation. This has been widely documented in the popular books Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success and in extensive research by K. Anders Ericsson @ Florida State University.
i wrote several blogposts on the issue including “Are 10,000 hrs needed for awakening?…” and “10,000 hrs of (meditation) practice isn’t enough…genetics matters”. As i point out in my book Happiness Beyond Thought, those that claim there is nothing to do to awaken (and who are in fact awakened) did exhaustive practice before, and/or after their awakening experience.
There are also many folk around today who are generally called “neo-advaitans”, who also say there is nothing to do to be awakened, that we already are, who are generally not awakened. It is what folk want to hear, so this philosophy, which is all it is, is popular, but there is nothing to support it.
Q: I know you are an author, but do also you accept students and consider yourself a spiritual teacher? Do you have regular meetings? What do you see as the role of a spiritual teacher?
A:i do not consider myself as “anything”, let alone a “spiritual teacher”.
The very establishment of a “spiritual teacher” and a “student”, as someone who knows and someone who doesn’t, makes direct, and open, useful, dialogue all but impossible. True learning only occurs when it becomes folk meeting “now, now, now” and sharing the truth of where they are, and what they have discovered, freely and openly w/o an agenda or template of how something “ought” to be. Everyone has something to teach…
As a recent youTube video dialogue “What is a teacher?” discusses, everything is a teacher if you are open to it. It can be the person in line w/you @ the supermarket, your kids and/or partner, your pets, the trees, the sun shining across the frozen snow, the folk @ the DMV, some book or page that found its way “mysteriously” into your hands, etc.
If someone declares that they are the teacher and that they are enlightened, and you are the student and aren’t, but they can perhaps make you enlightened, if you pay them, they have more work to do.
Q: What advice do you have for people who struggle with establishing any regularity in their practices? One of the most common complaints I hear is the inability to meditate regularly.
A: There is little, in my experience, that can be done to “make” someone want to practice. i give folk lots of alternatives, as described in my book, as not everyone is drawn to the same approach, and an approach that is right for you now, may not be in 6 months. When i work w/folk, by skype, or e-mail or in person, i tell them to look through the book and my material and choose what really “draws” them, and we’ll start there. There’s no point “prescribing” a “perfect” approach that doesn’t interest someone; they just won’t do it.
Q: Sometimes I think all that is really needed is intense desire, and everything else will happen as it should. What do you think about that?
A:Yes, intense desire is “all that is needed”. i’ve never met someone who absolutely HAD to awaken who didn’t; Adyashanti has said the same thing. we use the old Zen metaphor of someone w/their hair on fire. Ramana Maharshi said it needed to be like someone being held under water. i couldn’t not practice; i knew it was the most important thing in my life and no matter what happened, i had to wake up or my life would have been a failure. It was no effort at all to do what some folk describe as an “insane” amount of practice; i loved it, and i really HAD to awaken.
Q: How efficacious are the chanting practices, which make up a large part of your book Happiness Beyond Thought? I was surprised that they played no role in your own “big shift,” yet you recommend them for others. Do you have some data on the success rate of people who have tried them?
A: Re chanting, it is useful to remember that the page turned for me 9 years before Happiness Beyond Thought manifested. The only Sanskrit text that appeared in HBT that i knew before the page turned was Nirvana Shatakam, of which i could only poorly chant a few verses.
i have subsequently found chanting to be a powerful vehicle in working w/folk. It has the capacity to work on many levels simultaneously and is the most direct way i have found to accomplish what we would describe as “transmission” if folk are open to working w/it. i was strongly resistant to it before the page turned, and to anything in Sanskrit, so i do appreciate that it may not be right for all folk, even some who are serious about practice.
i have no statistics on success w/chanting, as it depends on “readiness”, so the population is heavily skewed toward success. i rarely only do just chanting w/folk, so that is also a confound.
Gary Weber has an extensive web presence at happiness-beyond-thought.com
I enjoyed Gary Weber’s book Happiness Beyond Thought, as it is filled with practical exercises and advice. Among others, he offers an intriguing combination of yoga and self-inquiry, plus many examples of chanting as self-inquiry. I can not speak to their effectiveness, but believe it worth trying. I’ll leave you with a quote from the book:
You may have heard that you are already enlightened and perfect and that there is nothing that you need to do. You may have also read that there is no you and that everything is beyond your control, so doing a practice is impossible. However, if just hearing those statements were enough, you and the millions who have heard them would already be enjoying endless uncaused stillness and peace. If you are, you don’t need this book. If that isn’t your reality, you will need to do some work. This book, which has come from nowhere and is written by no one, will give you approaches that can make that realization yours and the ever present mysterious reality and happiness that you are apparent. Let’s get to it.
~ Gary Weber