Gary Weber: A short biography.
Biographies and personal histories are of intense interest to others. It is not clear whether knowing this information is of any real value or if it just adds more confusion, but it arises so often that it is easier to include one. It is important to remember that a biography is only one version of the story, always remembered incorrectly and from a highly subjective standpoint. Recent brain studies have shown that the brain does modify long-term memories, perhaps because it too gets bored with them.
All of these experiences happened to no one, and they ultimately mean nothing. The events and situations were created out of the control of an “I” and arose from nothingness and went into nothingness. An “I” was used as the subject here, rather than the standard third person approach like your mother wrote it, but both are equally incorrect. Attaching any importance, ownership, or personal causation to these chance remembrances is foolish.
As one of my Zen teachers, Toni Packer, said frequently, “Whatever happens to you is none of your business”. Or, as Rumi has said, “Your life is not your own”.
I was raised in a devout Methodist home and through early adolescence was involved in religious activities and even gave some religious talks. From early adolescence until late twenties, I lived a secular life with marriage, two children, undergraduate school, nuclear submarine service, and then graduate school. I did, however, at some deep level even as a kid, know that despite much conventional Christian teaching to the contrary, that it was possible for everyone to experience the consciousness of which Jesus spoke. I don’t know how I knew this, but I did.
Following a near-death experience in the military, I became intent on seeing if it was possible to gain an understanding that would somehow end my mental turmoil and confusion. I was also set on knowing the Truth, which didn’t look promising, as all I had known until then was certainly in question. I also burned to be “enlightened”, although I didn’t really know what that meant. I read all of the Eastern spiritual and philosophical books I could find. One day, while reading a book of Zen poetry that I had happened upon, I read the first line of what I would later discover was a famous poem, and the world fell away. I was in a space that was far beyond anything I had ever known. This was totally unexpected. I did not do drugs and had never heard of anything like this, and so was totally unprepared. Consequently, after something like an hour, the state passed. I was, however, left with a burning desire to return to whatever it was that had been there. As this had been a Zen book, I went intensely into Zen meditation. I then took up various yoga practices, at first so that I could sit longer and then later to work with the body and breath.
After finishing graduate school, I became a scientist at a national research laboratory, and then subsequently worked for over 25 years in a series of jobs in different industrial companies. To my great surprise, I eventually reached the level of a Senior Vice President in a large company and oversaw about 1000 employees and a $260MM budget.
Whenever I could, I studied with different yoga and Zen teachers and Eastern philosophers and took workshops and teachers’ training courses. As I had a family, the only real free time that was normally available for practice was early in the morning. I would normally get up several hours before work to meditate and do yoga. I would also meditate in the evenings and read spiritual books when I got the chance. Several times I taught yoga and meditation courses, but ultimately stopped because I knew that I really didn’t know the truth of spiritual practice.
My children were raised, went off to college, we moved many times, etc. There were many spiritual experiences, but nothing that was lasting or that ended the turmoil and confusion of my thoughts.
Somehow, I happened upon the teachings of Ramana Maharshi. I began looking in the other direction, back inside at what it was that was doing all of these practices and causing all of this confusion. One day, realizing that enlightenment was impossible as long as there was an “I” insisting on being present for the exciting conclusion as well as keeping all of its attachments, I surrendered completely. Everything was surrendered, everything; my “self”, possessions, job, corner office, parking space, options, house, attachments, everything. I said deeply and sincerely from the bottom of my being, that I had to know the Truth, even if it cost my life. With that surrender, I could feel something shift.
Shortly afterwards, doing an asana that I had done thousands of times before, the “I” blew out like a candle in the wind, and a page turned. I went into the asana one way and came out transformed. Consciousness shifted completely and irrevocably. Thought stopped as a continuous activity and stillness and presence were there at a level I could never have imagined. I realized that I was not this body, nor these thoughts, but the undying consciousness behind them. I saw that everything was perfect just as it was and that everything was somehow inside me and was in fact, all One. Surprisingly, I also realized that everything was God.
Months later, the opportunity presented itself for some extended spiritual work. I did many silent retreats and visited Zen and yoga teachers in the U.S. and India to clarify and deepen this understanding. Some time later, I found myself in another complex, high-responsibility executive position in academia where I had little training or experience and was successful, even without an “I” doing things.
For several years, although others tried to convince me to begin teaching, I resisted as it just didn’t make any sense. Everyone and everything that I saw was me and it made no sense to teach an imaginary me what I already knew. There was no teacher and no one to teach. Finally, at the urging of fellow travelers, yoga teachers, and a Zen master, I began teaching again. What is taught comes from nowhere just as it arises (which makes class preparation really easy). It is a mystery how and why it all happens, a mystery.