Deepak Chopra, author of numerous books on the interactions of spiritual and physical healing, turns his attention in his newest book to those most plaguing spiritual questions: What is God? Where is God? And how do I find him? How to Know God: The Soul's Journey into the Mystery of Mysteries is an engaging blend of Eastern and Western mysticism, but it also draws significant insights from such material sciences as psychology, neuroscience, and physics. The combination, as drawn together in Chopra's inimitable style, proves irresistible.
The quest to know God is, for Chopra, a quest that we all undertake in common, though at different times and in different forms. "We are evolved to find God," he writes. "This is what the lightning storm of the brain's endless activity is all about. God for us is not a choice but a necessity." But in knowing God -- who is, for Chopra, not a person, but a process -- there are a number of stages, each of which provides benefits but brings difficulties as well. Understanding these "stages of God" as Chopra describes them is ultimately a journey toward an awareness of the self and into the mysteries of reality.
For Chopra, reality is multilayered, and much of this reality is not immediately visible to the human eye. The material reality by which we are surrounded is directly perceptible. "Virtual" reality (a term from physics, not to be confused with realities that are computer-simulated) is the level beyond time and space where God exists, a level that is not available to the physical senses. Between these two -- which together build what Chopra refers to as a "reality sandwich" -- is a transition zone, or a "quantum" reality. This quantum reality is in many ways illuminated by the findings of quantum physics, which argues that the appearance of solidity in the material world around us is deceptive, as the distances between particles on the atomic level are infinitely greater than the size of the particles themselves. Solid objects, then, are primarily composed of empty space. In Chopra's quantum reality, the solidity of the material world falls away, and we become aware of the spaces between. The quest to know God is, for Chopra, a quest to awaken to the quantum and virtual realities that exist just beyond our grasp.
These three layers of reality might be further characterized as follows:
For Chopra, all energy flows from the virtual level of existence, through the quantum, to the material. Learning to see the quantum reality through the material moves us closer to the energy that is God. Chopra explains the concepts of the material and the quantum in the first section of the book by examining the distinction between the physical brain and the field of mind. The existence of mind on the quantum level of reality rather than the material can be used to account for a number of otherwise inexplicable mysteries, including inspiration, synchronicity, telepathy, and the existence of savants. If mind were wholly contained within the material level of reality, each of these phenomena would remain impossible. Instead, just as dreams provided Freud with reason to posit the existence of the unconscious, these odd moments of insight, of extrasensory perception, of inexplicable genius, provide us with access to the quantum.
Soul is for Chopra similarly "a junction point between time and the timeless." Turning to his own religious origins in India, Chopra explains soul as a combination of "Jiva," the individual soul that must undertake a journey to find God, and "Atman," the part of the soul that is "pure spirit, made of the same essence as God." These two aspects of soul are mutually interdependent, and yet often in conflict. If we stubbornly insist that all reality rest in the material plane of existence, we deny "Atman" and thus remain grounded by our own skepticism. In fact, as Chopra points out, the Vedantic literature argues that, of the five causes of human suffering --
1. Ignorance about the nature of reality
2. Identification with the ego
3. Attraction toward objects of desire
4. Repulsion from objects of desire
5. Fear of death
-- all are ultimately attributable to the first. Only when we are trapped within the material world are we led to overidentify with the ego, to prize or hate external objects, and to fear the passing of this life. If we open our minds to the true nature of reality, to the quantum and the virtual that exist behind the material, we can find our way to "Atman," and thus to God.
In the second section of the book, Chopra explores the seven stages of God, how each is tied to a particular biological response, and how within each stage, our image of God changes based upon a projection of our human needs. In the first stage, when we are struggling for survival, God takes on the role of Protector -- but this Protector God, as in the Old Testament, often appears vengeful and merciless. In the second stage, when survival is assured, and we instead find ourselves driven by the demands of an ambitious ego, God becomes the Almighty, who represents a rational justice -- but also brings the birth of guilt. In the third stage, when we begin to redirect our attention from the outer life to the inner, we encounter the God of Peace -- but this inner-directedness runs the risk of solipsism. And so on, through the tolerance of God the Redeemer, the abundance of God the Creator, and the enlightenment of the God of Miracles, until, in stage seven, we encounter the infinite God of Pure Being, the "I Am." In this final stage, the divine and the earthly can at last become one.
How to Know God is not a traditional how-to book. Its answers at times are more puzzling than its questions. But the truth of God, for Chopra, lies in the puzzles: "God lives in the unknown, and when you can embrace it fully, you will be home free."