by Gussie Fauntleroy
As he was approaching adolescence, Eric Weiss began noticing that none of the adults around him were asking the questions that had been on his mind for years—about God and life and how it all works. When he was 12 he developed the theory that at the onset of sexual maturity, people suddenly turned stupid. For a serious boy with a probing curiosity, it was a terrifying prospect. So he started writing down the important questions and hiding the pieces of paper. He intended to find them in the coming years, in case he fell victim to the same form of amnesia.
He needn’t have worried. Big, cosmic questions have never stopped being Eric’s constant companions. They have propelled his intellectual and spiritual journey, plunged him into years of study and deep into meditation practice, left him shipwrecked in despair, and later rescued and revived him. Answers to his most insistent questions about the nature of reality eventually found expression in his PhD dissertation and in his book, The Long Trajectory: The Metaphysics of Reincarnation and Life after Death, published in 2012.
Eric’s questioning mind also brought him to Crestone. Now 70, he is a beloved and engaging teacher at Sri Aurobindo Learning Center. He also consults privately on doctoral dissertations and philosophical questions. At the Sri Aurobindo Center he leads a weekly exploration of the perspective of Indian visionary Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), whom he considers one of the greatest and least appreciated thinkers of the 20th century.
Through integrating Sri Aurobindo’s ideas with those of English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) and expanding on both, Eric eventually developed what he considers a deeply satisfying theory of the inherent relationship between the physical world and non-material reality. (A sound-bite hint: It has to do with process, rather than units of matter.) Yet even articulating this and other essential questions involved decades of effort and multiple radical shifts in thinking and belief.
A young “old head”
Born in the Bronx, New York City, Eric was the son of an intellectually oriented accountant father and a mother with an artistic and spiritual bent. His grandmother affectionately called him by a Yiddish term meaning “old head.” When he was five the family moved to a Los Angeles suburb, and at 13 he had an experience he now calls his first glimpse of awakening. Wandering away from a dance during summer camp, he remembers standing in the woods and suddenly feeling awe-struck by the awareness of “endless, dark, infinite emptiness.” In that moment he dedicated himself to understanding the infinite. But at that point in life, he says, smiling, “My curiosity was much bigger than my capacity.”
After high school he enrolled in Columbia University in New York but dropped out after less than two years because what he was studying—not yet philosophy—did not seem relevant. He hitchhiked between New York and LA a couple of times and held odd jobs, including typing equations for physics journals and working as a private chauffeur. While waiting hours between driving a client, he read Alan Watts for the first time, opening a door to esoteric books, which led to Tibetan Buddhism.
At 23 Eric began studying with Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. He moved to Boulder and immersed himself in the practice, becoming one of the meditation teacher’s earliest American advanced students. He believed he had found his orientation in life. About eight years later, however, what he saw as unhealthy hierarchy and abuse of power led him to leave the organization and Buddhism. He returned to LA, married, and was hired by a psychiatrist who was working to computerize psychotherapy. He earned a psychology degree from Antioch University Los Angeles and for a time had a small private psychotherapy practice.
At some point it occurred to Eric that theism contained as much inherent logic as a non-theistic approach such as Buddhism. He returned to his Jewish roots and was encouraged to become a rabbi. But it soon became clear that his interest in Judaism was deeply spiritual rather than culturally oriented and was out of step with what was expected of him. He left Judaism, got divorced, and was depressed and lost for a while. In 1996 he left California in a motorized version of a “walkabout,” driving with no goal except to find his place in life. He came to Crestone, where he met Anrahyah Arstad, with whom he had an intense seven-month relationship before they went separate ways.
Eventually, during an extended solitary retreat in which he delved minutely into the writings of Sri Aurobindo, Eric intuitively received his intellectual instructions. “Work where the occult and the scientific intersect,” an inner voice said. “And one more thing: Stop hiding your brilliance.” It was the prod he needed to dive into seven years of what ultimately became his most gratifying pursuit. “I had to rethink the nature of space, time, energy, causality, and matter,” he says. The results became his dissertation and later his book.
Light shining through
After earning a PhD in Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness from the California Institute of Integral Studies, Eric served as adjunct associate professor at CIIS, teaching highly popular courses. He was also a distinguished scholar at the Esalen Center for Theory and Research, studying and lecturing on life after death. There the actor John Cleese heard him speak and was so impressed he gave him $2,000 toward writing a book.
In the midst of working on his dissertation, Eric experienced debilitatingly severe skin rashes, treated with massive amounts of cortisone steroids. After reconnecting with Anrahyah in California, he was able to withdraw from the drugs, and six years ago he and Anrahyah (and Eric’s stepfather, Stuart Sapadin) returned and settled in Crestone. Eric now suffers from kidney failure requiring dialysis, which he believes is a result of the steroids. Yet the quiet of Crestone, the love and support of friends and Anrahyah, and teaching at the Sri Aurobindo Center are “very sustaining,” he says. “My understanding continues to deepen. I’m not by temperament very devotional, but Sri Aurobindo’s ideas create a cathedral for me, and God’s light shines through.”
Eric’s Sri Aurobindo class takes place each Sunday morning at 10:30 and is open to the public. For information: 719-937-7936.