Deepak Chopra Interview

Carolyn and I have appreciated the work of physician, inspirational speaker, and spiritual teacher Deepak Chopra, who is the author of more than 80 books on the topics of alternative medicine, self-improvement, and spirituality. He is well known for integrating modern theories of quantum physics with the timeless wisdom of ancient cultures.

Chopra combines conventional Western medical approaches with traditional Ayurvedic medicine from India, and has been one of the leading figures in mind/body medicine for close to 40 years. His work has had a significant influence on many Western physicians, and he helped to bring the notion of holistic medicine to many people’s attention with his innovative combination of Eastern and Western healing.

Deepak Chopra was born in New Delhi, India in 1946. His father was a cardiologist, and head of the department of medicine at a New Delhi Hospital, as well as a lieutenant in the British army. As a child, Chopra went to a Catholic missionary school, and was very interested in Shakespeare, the dramatic arts, debating, and cricket. He told me that he “had a wonderful childhood.” His “parents were extremely caring and loving,” he said, and his “father flooded the house with books of knowledge and literature.”

Chopra completed his primary education in New Delhi, and graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in 1969. Chopra had a particular interest in neuroendocrinology, the branch of medicine that studies the relationship between the nervous system and hormonal system, because he was interested in finding a biological basis for the influence of thoughts and emotions. After Chopra graduated from medical school, he worked for six months in a village in rural India.

In 1970, Chopra moved to the United States, and he began a series of residencies at hospitals in New Jersey, Virginia, and Massachusetts. In 1973, he earned his license to practice medicine in Massachusetts, becoming board certified, and he set up a private practice in Boston.

In 1981, Chopra retuned to New Delhi, where he met with a physician who introduced him to Ayurvedic medicine, an ancient Indian medical tradition that includes herbal treatments, special diets, meditation, and yoga. He then took up transcendental meditation, a form of silent mantra mediation, which he practiced regularly for several hours a day.

Ayurvedic medicine and meditation had a profound influence on Chopra’s medical perspective. He became disenchanted with prescribing drugs as the primary way to treat medical problems, and adopted more holistic treatments. Chopra became a spokesperson for the Transcendental Meditation movement, and in 1985 he became the founding president of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. Chopra established the Maharishi Ayur-Veda Health Center for Behavioral Medicine and Stress Management in Lancaster, Massachusetts, which utilized both Ayurvedic and Western practices, and he treated a number of celebrity patients, such as Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Jackson, and Madonna.

In 1989, Chopra published his landmark book Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine, which integrates Western medicine, neuroscience, and physics with the insights of Ayurvedic medicine, and became a New York Times bestseller. Chopra contends that all occurrences within the mind and brain possess physical representations elsewhere in the body. Mental states, including thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and memories, are believed to directly impact physiology through neurotransmitters like dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

A year later, this was followed by his book Perfect Health: The Complete Mind/Body Guide, and in 1993 Chopra was interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey Show about his books, after which he gained a huge following. That same year, Chopra moved to California, where he became executive director of Sharp HealthCare’s Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body Medicine, and head of their Center for Mind/Body Medicine, a clinic in an exclusive resort in Del Mar.

In 1996, Chopra co-founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in Carlsbad. Chopra is the owner and supervisor of the Mind-Body Medical Group within the Chopra Center, which in addition to standard medical treatment offers personalized advice about nutrition, sleep-wake cycles, and stress management based on mainstream medicine and Ayurveda.

Chopra has lectured around the world, and has made presentations to such organizations as the United Nations, the World Health Organization in Geneva, and London’s Royal Society of Medicine. Esquire magazine designated Chopra as one of the top ten motivational speakers in the country; and in 1995, he was a recipient of the Toastmasters International Top Five Outstanding Speakers award. In 1999 Time magazine selected Dr. Chopra as one of the Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the Century, describing him as “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine.”

Chopra’s books, which have been translated into more than 43 languages, explore many spiritual and health-related topics. His book How to Know God: The Soul’s Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries presents a seven stage theory of how people perceive religious experiences. Some of his other bestselling books include The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Unconditional Life, Perfect Health, The Return of Merlin, The Path to Love, and Return of the Rishi. He has also produced more than a hundred audio and video titles.

I interviewed Deepak Chopra in 2003 for my book Conversations on the Edge of the Apocalypse. I found him to be a very eloquent speaker. He expresses his ideas with clarity, simplicity, and charm. We spoke about the relationship between the mind and body, whether or not one can be certain of spiritual beliefs, psychic phenomena, mystical experiences, and the nature of God and consciousness. Here are some excerpts from our conversation:

David: What do you think happens to consciousness after the death of the body?

Deepak: Nothing happens to consciousness after the death of the body. When two people are speaking on the phone, and the lines are cut off, nothing happens to them. If the room I’m sitting in is destroyed, nothing happens to the space I’m in. Consciousness just loses a vehicle to express itself. If I destroy my radio set the broadcast is still happening, but it’s not being actualized in the physical form, because the instrument is missing. So, I think that when the instrument gets destroyed, consciousness ceases to express itself in the realm of space-time and causality, until it finds another vehicle to express itself. And, after a sufficient period of incubation, it does do that, by taking a quantum leap of creativity.

David: You know Deepak, even though I sense that there’s wisdom in what you’re saying, I have to admit, that I always have this scientific skeptic inside me that questions all spiritual and mystical assertions, when they are expressed as facts. I’m curious as to how you can be so sure about things that have mystified human beings since the beginning of time — such as the nature of God, the existence of a soul, and what happens to consciousness after death. What gives you such a sense of certainty about your spiritual ideas?

Deepak: The only thing that can give you any degree of certainty is direct experience, and I come from there. Science is just one of the ways to express the truth, and it’s really not an adequate way. Science is not an adequate way to express the truth; it’s just a way to express our conceptional map of what we think the truth is. The conceptional map of science keeps changing. So, I think science is extremely inadequate as a way of understanding reality. Reality is the observer, the process of observation, and that which is observed. Science addresses only that which is observed, completely excluding both the process of observation, and more fundamentally, the observer. So actually, even though I express my ideas in a scientific vocabulary, because that seems to be the fashion of the day, I really don’t think science is adequate to address these deeper questions.

David: But still, I don’t understand how you can be so certain. I mean, you say that your experience gives you a sense of certainty— but we can certainly be fooled by our experiences.

Deepak: I’m more certain that I exist than of anything else. Then, in the certainty of existence, is the certainty of consciousness. The fact that I exist is the only thing I can be certain about. Everything else is really a perceptual artifact. I spend three hours in meditation every day, and I’ve been obsessed with these ideas ever since I was a child. To tell you the truth, I don’t think I’m certain about anything else. I think the only thing I’m certain about is the nature of God and the existence of the soul.

I’m not certain about what I see or perceive, because I really know, from the depth of my being, that if you can think about something — if you can conceptualize it, if you can visualize it, and if you can experience it through your senses — then it’s not real. It depends on something that you can’t conceptualize, that you cannot visualize, that you cannot experience through your senses, and yet, is much more real than anything that you can conceptualize. So, conceptualization, visualization, perception, understanding, intuition, creativity, meaning, purpose, and decision-making all depend on consciousness.

So, to me, consciousness or God is not difficult to explain; it’s impossible to avoid. Everything else is very difficult to explain. How do you explain perception? Your brain only recognizes PH, body temperature, biochemical changes, and electromagnetic impulses. That doesn’t tell me how you experience a red rose in your consciousness, how you feel beauty or, for that matter, how you experience sexual orgasm. Nothing that we explain in science really explains anything.

by David Jay Brown

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