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:
Material reality -- the field of physical existence
Quantum reality -- the field of mind
Virtual reality -- the field of spirit
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."
I congratulate Dr. Deepak Chopra for this wonderful book, reaching out to
many, many readers, on the subject of spirituality but with a scientific
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Prolific author Chopra (The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, Creating Health, etc.) explores the different ways people apprehend God. Chopra contends that there are seven responses to God and that "the brain cannot register a deity outside the list of seven responses." Chopra's seven include: fight or flight (a God who can save us from danger), reactive (a rule-giving God), restful awareness (a God who brings tranquility out of chaos), intuitive (a good and forgiving God), creative (God as Creator), visionary (God as exalted) and sacred (God as the source of everything). Different personalities envision God differently, says Chopra; a go-getter determined to shape his own destiny will imagine a creative God, whereas someone who feels she is just barely getting through the day will have the stage-one "fight or flight" response, envisioning a God who can rescue her. For Chopra, these seven ascending stages are normative; someone who has reached stage seven is more in tune with God than someone stuck at stage one. (Readers from law-based religions may feel dismayed that Chopra so devalues their "stage two" conception of God.) To help spiritual pilgrims reach the seventh stage, Chopra recommends that they see themselves and others "in the light," forgive themselves when they err and seek out the sacred and the unknown. Like most theories that claim to be all-encompassing, Chopra's scheme is often reductive, but this will nonetheless be a worthwhile addition to the spiritual seeker's library. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Chopra, best-selling author of Ageless Body, Timeless Mind and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and the CEO and founder of the Chopra Center for Well-Being in La Jolla, CA, continues his exploration of science and philosophy. According to him, the brain is "hardwired to know God." He reminds the listener that the human nervous system has seven biological responses that correspond to the seven levels of divine experience. The brain has an infinite need to make meaning from what Chopra calls "quantum soup." This work delves into the mysteries of religious awakening and offers an accessible guide for the spiritual seeker. The book, while abridged, is still a long listen at five hours. Larger public libraries will probably need at least one copy due to the author's popularity. Smaller public libraries should purchase as the need arises.--Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
From the Publisher
"I congratulate Dr. Deepak Chopra for this wonderful book, reaching out to many, many readers, on the subject of spirituality but with a scientific approach."
The Dalai Lama
"The most important book about God for our times. This book is a magical stairway to ascend to a life-changing experience of the sacred."
Robert Thurman, Ph.D., professor of religion, Columbia University
"This book, which unfolds the knowledge of God-consciousness, is at once a map of Spirit and a map of your own deepest Self."
Ken Wilber, author of Integral Psychology
"How to Know God is a profound and accessible exploration of the experience of God, including an understanding of it in biological and scientific terms.
It is both fascinating and uplifting."
Andrew Weil, M.D., director of the Program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona
"One of the best books ever written about a subject that more people think about than anything else."
-Larry King, host of Larry King Live, CNN
"Deepak Chopra has really done it this timea brilliant, scholarly yet lyrical synthesis of neuroscience, quantum physics, personal reminiscence, and Eastern, Western, and spiritual thinking."
Candace Pert, Ph.D., research professor, Georgetown University School of Medicine, and author of Molecules of Emotion: The Science Behind Mind-Body Medicine
"Just when I think he can't go any deeper, he does. We have in our midst a spiritual genius."
Marianne Williamson, author of Return to Love
Read an Excerpt
From CHAPTER ONE: A Real and Useful God
God has managed the amazing feat of being worshiped and invisible at the same time. Millions of people would describe him as a white-bearded father figure sitting on a throne in the sky, but none could claim to be an eyewitness. Although it doesn't seem possible to offer a single fact about the Almighty that would hold up in a court of law, somehow the vast majority of people believe in God — as many as 96 percent, according to some polls. This reveals a huge gap between belief and what we call everyday reality. We need to heal this gap.
What would the facts be like if we had them? They would be as follows. Everything that we experience as material reality is born in an invisible realm beyond space and time, a realm revealed by science to consist of energy and information. This invisible source of all that exists is not an empty void but the womb of creation itself. Something creates and organizes this energy. It turns the chaos of quantum soup into stars, galaxies, rain forests, human beings, and our own thoughts, emotions, memories, and desires. In the pages that lie ahead we will see that it is not only possible to know this source of existence on an abstract level but to become intimate and at one with it. When this happens, our horizons open to new realities. We will have the experience of God.
After centuries of knowing God through faith, we are now ready to understand divine intelligence directly. In many ways this new knowledge reinforces what spiritual traditions have already promised. God is invisible and yet performs all miracles. He is the source of every impulse of love. Beauty and truth are both children of this God. In the absence of knowing the infinite source of energy and creativity, life's miseries come into being. Getting close to God through a true knowing heals the fear of death, confirms the existence of the soul, and gives ultimate meaning to life.
Our whole notion of reality has actually been topsy-turvy. Instead of God being a vast, imaginary projection, he turns out to be the only thing that is real, and the whole universe, despite its immensity and solidity, is a projection of God's nature. Those astonishing events we call miracles give us clues to the workings of this ineffable intelligence. Consider the following story:
In 1924 an old French villager is walking home. With one eye lost in the Great War and the other severely damaged by mustard gas in the trenches, he can barely see. The setting sun is bright, so the old man is completely unaware of the two youths on bicycles who have wheeled around the corner and are barreling down on him.
At the moment of impact an angel appears. He takes the lead bicycle by its two wheels, lifts it a few feet in the air, and sets it down safely on the grass beside the road. The second bicycle stops short, and the youths become tremendously excited. "There are two! There are two!" one of them shouts, meaning that instead of just the old man alone, two figures are standing in the road. The entire village becomes very worked up, claiming afterward that the youths were drunk or else have made up this fantastic tale. As for the old man, when he is asked about it, he says he doesn't understand the question.
Could we ever come to an answer ourselves? As it happens, the old man was a priest, Pére Jean Lamy, and the appearance of the angel has come down to us through his own testimony before his death. Lamy, who was saintly and beloved, seems to be credited with many instances where God sent angels or other forms of divine aid. Although reluctant to talk about them, his attitude was matter-of-fact and modest. Because of Lamy's religious vocation, it is easy to dismiss this incident as a story for the devout. Skeptics would not be moved.
Yet I am fascinated simply by whether it could have happened, whether we can open the door and allow helpful angels into our reality, along with miracles, visions, prophecy, and ultimately that great outsider, God himself.
We all know that a person can learn about life without religion. If I took a hundred newborn babies and filmed every moment of their lives from beginning to end, it wouldn't be possible to predict that the believers in God will turn out to be happier, wiser, or more successful than the nonbelievers. Yet the video camera cannot record what is happening below the surface. Someone who has experienced God may be looking on the entire world with wonder and joy. Is this experience real? Is it useful to our lives or just a subjective event, full of meaning to the person having it but otherwise no more practical than a dream?
One bald fact stands at the beginning of any search for God. He leaves no footprints in the material world. From the very beginning of religion in the West, it was obvious that God had some kind of presence, known in Hebrew as Shekhinah. Sometimes this word is simply translated as "light" or radiance. Shekhinah formed the halos around angels and the luminous joy in the face of a saint. It was feminine, even though God, as interpreted in the Judeo-Christian tradition, is masculine. The significant fact about Shekhinah was not its gender, however. Since God is infinite, calling the deity He or She is just a human convention. Much more important was the notion that if God has a presence, that means he can be experienced. He can be known. This is a huge point, because in every other way God is understood to be invisible and untouchable. And unless some small part of God touches the material world, he will remain inaccessible forever.