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Our real home is nonlocal, outside of space-time. But our perception fools us into the experience of space-time, and so we have this projection of our consciousness – the wonderful play of lila in the world of maya.
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A Transcendent Worldview of Human Potential
Ed. Note: In the following dialogue, excerpted and edited from the Institute of Noetic Sciences’ recent teleseminar series, “Exploring the Noetic Sciences,” IONS President Marilyn Schlitz talks with Deepak Chopra, who has become an iconic symbol for the intersection of science and spirituality and the deepest explorations of human consciousness.
Mandala Schlitz: I don't think you need to be introduced, so I’d love to just jump in and invite you to characterize how you see yourself in the field of consciousness studies. In particular, what is your own worldview?
Chopra: I am a medical doctor; my training is in neuroendocrinology – brain chemistry. I became interested in consciousness primarily through my own work when I started to see the biological consequences of shifts in consciousness. I gradually became convinced that consciousness is the essence of our existence, the ground of being. That ground then differentiates into everything that we call experience: perception, cognition, emotions, moods, behavior, speech, biology, environment, social interactions, personal relationships, and our relationship with the forces of nature inside us and so-called outside us, which are exactly the same. I took that understanding into the area of feeling and have written about sixty books since then. My primary interest in consciousness is to help bring about a new paradigm that has enormous potential for healing in its widest sense – personal and social, environmental and global. I work with people like you and many other scientists. I’ve begun doing an annual conference, which you came to last year, called “Scientists and Sages,” and I’m now fundraising to create the equivalent of what I hope will be a Nobel Prize for scientists and sages. So, that’s my role at the moment.
Mandala Schlitz: And how would you characterize your worldview – that is, the vantage point or perspective from which you see this new paradigm?
Chopra: My worldview is that we are conscious entities in a universal domain of consciousness. Our real home is nonlocal, outside of space-time. But our perception fools us into the experience of space-time, and so we have this projection of our consciousness – the wonderful play of lila in the world of maya.
I believe the goal of all life ultimately is to be enlightened. Human beings are the sentient organisms through which the universe has become aware of itself. This is a great time for us to take the next leap in our evolution, to go beyond our normal, everyday, socially induced hallucination – or what we call everyday reality. We have enormous dormant potentials, which were first articulated in an ancient text called the Yoga-Sutra by Patanjali, the original author of Yogic literature. I think we are now at a stage where we can take that understanding and couple it with our current scientific understanding of consciousness to make this practical. The whole experience of enlightenment, from soul consciousness to cosmic consciousness to God consciousness to unity consciousness, can be accelerated now because not only do we have the techniques for doing so, which come to us from ancient wisdom traditions, but we have the technology to facilitate and accelerate the learning of these techniques.
Mandala Schlitz: You have made an enormous contribution in helping to translate some of these complex ideas for people. When we think of consciousness and ponder these big questions, it sometimes helps people to ground specifically how these ideas can impact our lives. If we could really begin to integrate these principles you describe, how would they affect us personally?
Chopra: Well, if we were to practically have the experience of our personal self, transpersonal self, and universal self as one continuum of consciousness – not just intellectually but also experientially – that would do three things immediately.
One is that it would automatically transform us into more loving and compassionate human beings. We would really care not only about our personal and social relationships but also about our relationship with our extended body, which we call the environment. We call it the environment, but it’s actually our extended body. We can’t live without the air or the land or the water. The trees are our lungs, the air is our breath, the rivers and waters are our circulation, the earth is recycling as our body, and the sun and the moon and the stars are literally the energy we consume in order to animate our own body. So why do we call it the environment?
Once we have a deep inner experience of our personal body and our universal body as both equally ours, our relationships improve. Collectively, we would be able to address, from a level of deep knowing, the major problems we face today in society – not only environmental degradation and ecological destruction but also social injustice. We would be able to address problems such as economic disparity in a world where more than 50 percent of the people live on less than two dollars a day and where women, children, and poor people are exploited. Every problem that we face right now, whether it’s war, terrorism, social injustice, economic disparities, or global warming, would be creatively addressed by our collective consciousness moving to a new level.
So, that would be one immediate consequence. We would also awaken dormant potentials that we call paranormal, but they are not paranormal. They are dormant potentials that can extend the range of our experience. Extrasensory perception, clairvoyance or looking into the future or the past, astral travel or navigating across the seas of space in our subtle bodies, all of that – which is now considered science fiction – would open up because they are actually attributes of our nonlocal self, our deeper self. This would be the second consequence.
Finally, our deepest yearning, which is our union with the Divine, would also become more manifest.
Mandala Schlitz: Today I was in a meeting with a group of scientists talking about specific action steps one could take to help facilitate a transformation in worldview that would allow a deep exploration of consciousness – because there certainly is a tremendous amount that is taboo about this topic within mainstream science and even in society, a kind of resistance to self-reflection and self-inquiry. What are some specific steps you think we need to be taking?
Chopra: I would say a personal commitment to actually do everything possible to accelerate this process from anybody who is interested in transforming this world and themselves.
I will tell you what that commitment is in my case by referring to three Sanskrit words. The first is smarana, which means, “to remember the Divine.” I am very, very, very diligent about my personal practice of Yoga, not just yoga as breathing exercises and physical poses, which I do, but also the deep practice of daily meditation. I personally explore meditation in all its deep significance. This is a personal commitment, which I have not dropped over the last thirty-five years. There has not been a day when I have not done at least two hours of personal reflection, meditation, contemplation, and silence. This year, I am going to take some time off in July to join a monkhood in Thailand. I am going to live like a monk, with a begging bowl on the streets while observing the experience of silence. So there’s my commitment to the yoga of meditation and inner reflection as well as to the yoga of love and compassion, the yoga of the intellect as I interact with scientists, and finally, karma yoga, which is putting into practice what I’ve learned in the service of humanity.
I invite anyone who is interested in such a commitment to go to a website, which is part of the Chopra Foundation, called Itakethevow.com, where they can announce their personal commitment – 27,000 people have already done so. Once visitors post their commitment, we offer them techniques for their personal well-being, their social well-being, their financial well-being, and their career well-being. We put all that together under one umbrella of spiritual well-being. We also ask people to invite others to make the commitment. Our goal is to have a network of what we call peace-and well-being ambassadors.
We now have the data on what that takes. I’m working as a senior scientist with Gallup. We can actually talk about the well-being of any country, region, state, or city on any particular day. For example, today, 57 percent of people in the United States are thriving, and the rest are struggling or suffering. In Denmark, 81 percent are thriving, while the rest are struggling. In Africa’s Togo, only 1 percent is thriving. And so on. So now that we know what it takes, it’s time to practice what we know. I urge you all to take a vow, make the commitment, get other people you know to do so, and let’s create the critical mass to get rid of personal and institutional egos. We know so much about how the whole of consciousness manifests what we call reality. Why not take the next step?
While I’m saying this, I’m also realizing that we are always improving and building social networks, but today we have this ability to create local and then global communities of seva (which is service), smarana (which is remembrance of the Divine), and satsanga (which is gathering together to stimulate the spiritual process). We can gather together in cyberspace or in real time – as we do with “Sages and Scientists” or at one of your conferences.
Mandala Schlitz: IONS is eager to engage a global learning community, using our community groups, our website, and our Worldview Literacy Project™. There are some ripe opportunities for collaboration with what you’re doing.
Chopra: I would love to collaborate with your organization, and I take the vow to collaborate together.
Mandala Schlitz: Speaking of interesting projects, you are doing something in partnership with Scientific American on the biology of love. Tell us a little bit about that.
Chopra: Actually, I partnered with a company called The Visual MD (their website is www.thevisualmd.com). I met a scientist at TED who was showing CAT scans of the brain and the body and real-time fMRIs of various conditions. The technology was brilliant! I went up to him afterward and said, “You can help me look at consciousness.” He asked how, and so I came to New York where we did a program called “The Biology of Love.”
We started with something very basic, the mother-baby bond. If you look at what happens in the biology even before a baby is born, right from the moment of conception through delivery and the first year of life, it is very dramatic – how the fertilized ovum starts to divide only fifty times to become the hundred trillion cells and how the mother’s body actually responds and anticipates and adapts to what’s going to happen almost before it happens. And we can see this! We can see how every stage through pregnancy is an exquisite display of nonlocal intelligence. Everything happens at the appropriate time. When a baby is coming out through the birth canal, the baby gets a dose of bacteria that serves as an inoculation to create antibodies against diseases. Everything that happens, from breastfeeding to touching and cuddling to cooing, singing, and kissing, has a biological function that we can actually observe. Whether it’s oxytocin for the emotional bonding or the production of antibodies that result from a mother kissing her baby, taking in some bacteria, and then creating antibodies to the bacteria for the baby, everything has a biological function.
So, we created this program on the biology of love, the mother-baby bond, and posted it on The Visual MD website. Scientific American published a 15-page supplement about it in their issue close to Mother’s Day. What we aim to do is a series of programs about the mind-body to show the role of emotions and spirituality. There’s nothing more dramatic than a good cinematic story. We have the technology now to show the biology of love and the biology of compassion, of equanimity, of loving-kindness, of happiness, of empathy – of the attributes the Buddha called divine.
Mandala Schlitz: How do you link this to the new paradigm that is emerging at the interface between science and spirituality? What collective vision do you think is being born right now?
Chopra: I think what is being born is a very deep understanding, first intellectually and then experientially. The way I see it, there is no experience that we can call an experience or knowledge that we can call knowledge that isn’t in consciousness. So I’m speaking to you right now from New York City, where it’s dark. I’m on the 69th floor and I’m looking out of the window of my apartment at Times Square. It’s crowded, the neon lights are there, and my perception tells me that is out there. But actually that is happening in my consciousness. There is nothing that is not happening in my consciousness. Without my consciousness, that would remain a radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup.
The ancient Vedic sages, the rishis, said the world is in us. We are not in the world; the world is in us. This is literally true. The whole world is conceived, constructed, manifested, governed, and maintained in consciousness. Similarly, where do I experience my body? I experience my body in my own consciousness. Where do I experience my subjectivity, my thoughts? Also in my consciousness. So, again, going back to the rishis, I am not in the world; the world is in me. I am not in the body; the body is in me. I am not in the mind; the mind is in me. The body, mind, and world are my creation as I curve back within myself, and I create again and again. Lord Krishna says this in the Bhagavad Gita.
Now we are at a stage where some scientists, such as Stuart Hameroff and Roger Penrose, are asserting that consciousness is linked to the most fundamental structures of the universe. Consciousness is part of space-time geometry. Without going into the technicalities, this universe is a constantly created, constantly maintained, constantly destroyed and recreated universe in a single consciousness, and that creation occurs through sentient beings. I’m looking at New York City right now and cocreating it with everybody else who is looking at it, and having created it, of course we are participating in it. But so is a mosquito! And so is any sentient entity creating its own universe, depending on the kinds of receptors it has and depending on how those receptors cooperate in the collapse of wave functions, which are a superposition of infinite possibilities.
This mysterious entity that we call God, the Mystery, is creating the universe through its own expressions of sentience, and those expressions of sentience are of all varieties. God creates the universe through you and me and mosquitos and whatever, and sometimes God uses the same technology. For example, 65 percent of your DNA is the same as a banana’s, 80 percent is the same as a mouse’s, and 98 percent is the same as a chimpanzee’s. The genome that makes your heart beat is also the genome that flaps the wings of a butterfly. It’s wonderful! God has a language, a technology, and a methodology that says let’s keep creating and evolving.
I believe in literal leaps of evolution throughout evolutionary time. When Rumi says, “When I die, I will soar with the angels, and when I die to the angels, what I shall become, you cannot imagine,” I take that literally, because what is imagination? It’s nothing other than another attribute of the Divine. I mean, our neurons don’t imagine. We use our neurons when we imagine, but the neurons are physical stuff. Physical stuff does not imagine; physical stuff does not have meaning or purpose. Physical stuff does not reflect. Physical stuff cannot look into the future or the past; all it knows is its present state. Furthermore, physical stuff doesn’t exist, because what we call physical stuff is a space-time event in consciousness, and by the time we’ve actually grasped it, it’s not even there. I recently asked physicist Hans-Peter Duerr what matter is, and he said, “It doesn’t exist. That only haps in a consciousness.” He was using the word “haps” for happenings. These happenings are then experienced as mind and body and words. It’s all very magical.
Mandala Schlitz: It seems that the great opportunity for our moment is to become conscious agents in this evolutionary process – not just passive, along-for-the-ride passengers but really engaged participants who can help mindfully and intentionally shift this model, which has potentials to go one direction or another.