Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

The Physical Universe Is My Guru

Cowboy Cottage, East Napa, California, USA

April 10, 2020

"The physical universe is my guru." ...   answering the question "Many people have a guru. Who is your guru?" 
This essay, The Physical Universe Is My Guru, is the sequel to Friend Of The Physical Universe: Manifesto II.

It was written at the same time as Practicing Being.

Werner Erhard without hesitating, without skipping a beat, answering the totally valid and entirely appropriate question (it's definitely not a "Gotcha!")  "Many people have a guru - who is your guru?" with "The physical universe  is my guru" is breathtaking and extraordinary, both in its scope as well as in its deftness. Be careful: if you listen it like you're listening an almanac of bon mots, or like you're reading the fortune from a Chinese cookie, you'll miss exactly how breathtakingly extraordinary it is. Look: his is not your typical answer, yes? It's not the one you'd ordinarily expect as an answer to "Who is your guru?". The "physical ... universe"??  Excuse me?

From the Cambridge International Dictionary:


a religious leader or teacher in the Hindu or Sikh religion

With his "The physical universe is my guru", Werner's not being a smart aleck, nor is he avoiding answering a fair question about his teacher(s). The fact is he often, generously and unabashedly, acknowledges all his tutors* who include philosophers Isaiah Berlin, Hubert Dreyfus, Michel Foucault, Sir Karl Popper, Hilary Putnam, and Michael Zimmerman; leadership and business academics Warren Bennis, Fernando Flores, Ronald Heifetz, and Dave Logan; economics academics Milton Friedman and Michael Jensen; neuroscientists David Eagleman and Karl Pribram; theoretical physicists Richard Feynman and Leonard Susskind; social scientist and anthropologist Gregory Bateson; cyberneticists Heinz von Foerster and James Grier Miller; biologist Humberto Maturana; IBM fellow Allan Scherr; futurist Buckminster Fuller; and artist Robert Rauschenberg - among others. So why would he cite the "physical universe" as his guru if there's no dearth of sources he could list from this lofty ensemble?

OK, why does  he cite the physical universe as his guru, and not one or some or all on the signature list of his tutors? I have two answers to this "Why?" question.

The first is that citing one or more distinguished members of his tutors' list, is likely to provoke a spirited, lively, extensive conversation, not to mention spark the need to familiarize ourselves with the people on his list, their way of thinking and looking at the world, and their contribution both to Werner as well as to humanity at large. All well and good, yet it brings with it a risk of distracting from the direct experience  of who his guru is (which will likely get completly lost in the ensuing discussion).

The second is that Werner's concise, terse, laser  response cuts cleanly through all intellectual debris which often, like flotsam and jetsam, washes up and obfuscates insightful answers to such provocative questions. With "The physical universe is my guru", he pulls the carpet out from underneath my complacent feet, immediately casting me into open water without floaties, leaving me shocked to find myself completely out of my depth ... and yet at the same time fascinated by the experience.

Now: what does he mean  by it? Recall in any conversation for transformation including this one, "What does he mean by it?" as an access to transformation, has very limited use. Yet with that said, it's good enough for jazz. So what does  he mean by "The physical universe is my guru"? What valuable insight may we glean from it?

One valuable insight I get from it, is that the physical universe is the perfect foil  for ie it's the very antithesis  of everything that we construe to be us inside  (if you will): mental state (attitude and state of mind), emotional state (feelings and emotions), bodily state (bodily sensations), thought processes (thoughts, memories, and decisions), and representations (conceptual grasps ie pictures  of reality), and that's it  - all of which are on full automatic, and so are arguably not who we really  are.


Listen: if you're still unclear that your feelings and thoughts are on full automatic, then stop  having feelings / stop thinking thoughts.


The physical universe on the other hand, occurs for us in the realm of who we really  are ie the physical universe occurs for us as out-here  (for us human beings, the physical universe out-here is simply what's so). The gift of a guru ie the consensual relationship we have with a guru, allows the guru to lead us (ie to show us) who we really are. And when I'm in a powerful relationship with the physical universe out-here, I'm called to be the most powerful, most authentic present  Self I can be.

That's Werner, daring me to allow the physical universe to tease out who I really am as out-here - not as all the noise in my head nor as all the machinery "in here".

A final question to ponder, is this: is Werner a guru? No, Werner is not a guru. He's a friend. If you don't grok  the difference, sit with it in your lap - like a hot brick.

* Citation:

Communication Promise E-Mail | Home

© Laurence Platt - 2020, 2021 Permission