It’s 1970 and a young Deepak Chopra sits in front of a slot machine in Las Vegas. He’s just arrived from India to complete a medical residency and has brought all of $8 with him; enough, he decides, to warrant a gamble. Perhaps in a preview of how America would receive him, Lady Luck smiled, transforming the sum into $1,500. “It felt great!” remembers the now-famous author whom Time named as one of the top 100 heroes / icons of the twenty-first century. “But in the morning I felt empty; something was missing.” The feeling intensified when one of his first medical duties was to pronounce a man dead from multiple gunshot wounds. “I found myself wondering what happened to the soul that had, moments before, inhabited the inanimate body I now presided over.”
The wonder is that he wasn’t sure. But that was then; now, in 2007 Deepak Chopra is confident not only that there is a God and an afterlife, but that both are created from inner states of awareness. Creationists and Intelligent Designers may both object, but Chopra insists we’re not reducing the Almighty to a firestorm of electrical activity in the cerebral cortex. We are, rather, trying to find the basic facts that will make God real in a chaotic world that has lost the sense of the sacred. He is adamant that the human brain is hard-wired to know God and that our nervous systems have seven biological responses that correspond to seven levels of divine experience. “As far as I know, the brain cannot register a deity outside these seven responses,” he states. “God is woven into reality and the brain knows reality in these limited ways.” These responses, which loosely correlate with the seven major chakras (energy vortices associated with ganglionic nerve centers in the body) are: fight-or-flight, reactive, restful awareness, intuitive, creative, visionary and sacred. “God is as we are,” says Chopra. Depending on our awareness, we project the world differently, face different challenges, perceive good and evil in a particular way, and find God through fear and devotion, awe and obedience, meditation, self-acceptance, inspiration, grace or transcendence.
Chopra’s latest projects address the existence of God and the afterlife (though his focus has already moved on to an upcoming book on the life of the Buddha). His first DVD, How To Know God is based on his 2000 book of the same name. In Life After Death: The Burden of Proof (Harmony Books), he makes the case that we not only create our lives, but orchestrate our experiences after death. Again, incendiary stuff for a religious fundamentalist or a skeptic, but remember: this man is striving to prove the existence of God through science, something both sides might well find comforting.
Set in Las Vegas, the fast-paced, hip film (produced with daughter Mallika, son Gotham and friend Ron Frank) begins with a sound clip of an astronaut from Apollo 8 reading from Genesis. A first viewing may not reveal the ‘seven stages’ delineated in the book, but seeing How To Know God a second time shows the principles cleverly woven in. “We didn’t want it to be exactly like the book,” says Chopra, who narrates throughout the picture. Donning a pair of flashy sunglasses with both a red and a blue lens, the sixty-something guide reminds us to remain childlike. His own childhood was filled with the colorful magic of Indian mythology. His mother (seen in the movie reading to one of Chopra’s nephews shortly before her death) read to him the stories of Gods and Goddesses, demons and deities that he says represent qualities within everyone’s unconscious. “These stories influenced me profoundly,” he says. “Myths became embodied in my psyche and Soul, lifted me from the mundane to the magical, and showed me both were inside me; I do all of what I do today because of this understanding. While writing Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, I kept being drawn back to these stories; so I decided to weave the book around tales I heard at home, around the temples, and at school, hoping the reader would be enticed by a world where heroes battle darkness in order to emerge into the light.”
And it’s the Light that links the ancient Shekinah with photons pushing the envelope of space, bursting forth with the firing of neurons, and rushing toward our retinas. “The perceiver is woven into what s/he sees,” reminds Chopra. “The whole Universe is a quantum mirage; If Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so is God.” Though skeptics may deny His existence, the absence of an external God would still allow for an internal revolution; mystics of all religions found God by going within. How To Know God takes us to a video game-like simulation of a museum of religious art (Chopra helped create a biofeedback video game called Journey To Wild Divine, but says those techniques were not employed in the DVD). The excursion makes the point that, since God’s Presence was visible in the ‘burning bush’ and as halos around Christ and saints, S/He can be experienced. “God has managed to pull off the amazing feat of being both worshipped and invisible at the same time,” he mentions, adding that “The image of a white-bearded patriarch in the sky no longer works. We need a model that is part of religion, but not bound by it. After centuries of believing in God through faith, perhaps we’re ready to experience infinite intelligence directly.”
That experience would come via our Soul, the intermediary between our physical and ‘virtual’ selves (the virtual Self being beyond time and space). Represented as a twinkling light (one is reminded of Disney’s Tinker Bell) that appears in the deadened space of an after-hours casino (amusingly, “The Holy Roller”), the Soul moves through time and space and is, says Chopra, the only part of us that is real. “What if it’s not the case that the Soul leaves the body at the time of death, but that the body leaves the Soul?” he asks. Strolling amidst neon signs, he muses that “we are not really in the world, the world is in us.” He stops under a Vegas Sphinx pyramid, then transports us to ancient Egypt, where he stands next to The Great Pyramid. Through the introduction of the goddess Isis, her husband Osiris and their son Horus, he establishes the common themes of mythology (birth, death, judgment, resurrection, the afterlife), noting that the concept of reincarnation was introduced to the West through this culture. We then visit India, with its myriad mythological deities—his personal favorite is the Elephant God Ganesha, the Remover of Obstacles (seems to have worked!). “India did something that ancient Egypt never did, and that was to make death creative,” he remarks. “To the ancient rishis of India, there was no strict division between this life and the afterlife. Both are created in consciousness. Your level of awareness is the one and only thing that determines how life turns out. Every person you know, everything that happens to you, originates at the deepest level of your own consciousness. Death was seen as a brief stopping point on an endless soul journey that could turn a peasant into a king and vice versa. With the possibility of infinite lifetimes extending forward and backward, a soul could experience hundreds of heavens and hells. Death ended nothing; it opened up limitless adventures.”
Back in Vegas, a city he says exemplifies a society that has strip-mined myth, Chopra points out the presence of Greek and Roman mythological influences. Looking around, he echoes Einstein’s comment: “I want to know what God thinks.” This is where things get complicated. Those familiar with “The Secret” (a current popular phenomenon about manifesting desires) have commented they like its simplicity and find “How To Know God” overly complex. Chopra won’t comment directly on what amounts to a competitive product, but seems to consider it overly simplistic. The guy is, well, ‘way’ intelligent, and his material is meaty. It gets “out there” with the introduction of quantum physics, black holes and synaptic gaps. You have to wonder where his deep understanding of a subject he wasn’t formally trained in comes from. Armed with a great education, a passion for literature and the written word, (not to mention his rich heritage and numerous medical degrees), Chopra somehow got a grasp on cutting-edge science—so tight a grasp that he speaks with profound authority and has made ‘the new physics’ a jump-off point for his theories.”
Chopra’s working theory of creation states that before the Big Bang, space was unbounded, expanded like an accordion into infinite pleats or dimensions, while time existed in seed form (no past, present or future). This state, which physicists refer to as a singularity, contained nothing we could perceive, yet held the potential for everything, both manifest and unmanifest. Time, space and the entire material universe were once contained in a point. “A singularity is conceived as the smallest dot you can imagine, and therefore not a dot at all,” he explains. Such conundrums are the stuff of his everyday reality. Chopra seems to have advanced light-years in his own evolution; his very appearance is less dense, his voice sounds muted and somewhat far away. Asked if he has a hard time compressing such expanded awareness into mundane life, he answers; “I enjoy the illusion of it all. I’m standing in an apartment in New York City on the 69th floor overlooking the city and I know it’s not ‘real’, but I can really appreciate it.”
Chopra admits that his interest in plumbing the seven stages of knowing God lies in being a co-creator. He continues the theme in Life After Death: The Burden of Proof. “You are the author of your own life,” he states. “Can this be proved? The afterlife is a field where science is quickly advancing over worn-out religious beliefs. The assumption that no knowledge can be gained about ‘the other side’ is being disproved on many fronts. What we call dreaming, wishing, imagining, and projecting are very powerful processes. If you learn how these aspects of your awareness work—or aren’t working—you can project the kind of life you want, and that includes life after death.” He concedes it sounds radical, but points out that it’s a very appealing concept, because it puts the power back into our own hands. “What could be more fascinating than learning how you create the world around you—and always will?”
Though his books on these topics have been endorsed by everyone from the Dalai Lama to Mikhail Gorbachev, Arianna Huffington and Larry King, not everyone finds Chopra’s ideas so fascinating: professional skeptic Michael Shermer recently blog-bashed Life After Death: The Burden of Proof, attempting to discredit the work on a number of fronts. Towards the end of a brilliant rebuttal, Chopra writes: “Shermer and I are speaking two different languages. He makes no reference to consciousness, the field, quantum mechanics, advanced neurology, or philosophy. I’d like to hear arguments from someone more up to date in these fields. It’s a strange feeling when somebody in a Model A Ford challenges you to a race when you are in a Lexus, but even stranger when he thinks he’s going to win.” A bit of the Mars archetypal energy flowing through!
Not only does Chopra know his mythology, he knows the world’s sacred texts and classics, and particularly appreciates Shakespeare. “Hamlet was right to call death an undiscovered country,” he writes; “Not because the living cannot reach it, but because heaven’s geography keeps shifting. If we look at how various cultures perceive the afterlife, there are roughly seven categories. In the West the hereafter has been viewed as a place akin to the material world. Heaven, hell, and purgatory lie in some distant region beyond the sky or under the earth. In the India of my childhood the hereafter wasn’t a place at all, but a state of awareness.” Special effects in the How To Know God DVD illustrate the concept that the cosmos we experience, with trees, plants, people, houses, cars, stars, and galaxies is just consciousness expressing itself at one particular frequency. Elsewhere in space-time, explains Chopra, different planes exist simultaneously. “By analogy, if you are listening to a concert orchestra, there are a hundred instruments playing, each occupying the same place in space and time. You can listen to the symphony as a whole or put your attention on a specific instrument. You can even separate out the individual notes played by that instrument. Every frequency in nature exists simultaneously, and yet we experience only what we see.”
Which brings us back to the fact that God is invisible, and that when we die, we become invisible to those still on the material plane. Because of this, we fear death and debate the existence of God. Deepak Chopra is utilizing his spiritual and scientific genius to help us know our selves as God. “If we know God, we can heal the fear of death, know our soul and realize our full potential in life,” he says. And the good news is that we don’t have to believe in God in order to experience God. Chopra chose this quote by Simone Weil to open the book How To Know God: “In what concerns divine things, belief is not appropriate. Only certainty will do. Anything less than certainty is unworthy of God.” That certainly sums things up.
Deepak Chopra MD, FACP was formerly Chief of Staff of Boston Regional Medical Center and Assistant Clinical Professor of Socio-Medical Sciences at Boston University School of Medicine. He has taught at Harvard Medical, Business and Divinity Schools. The author of over 40 books, many of which have been translated into numerous languages, his mission is to bridge the technological miracles of the West with the wisdom of the East. He and his colleagues conduct public seminars and workshops and provide training for health care professionals around the world.