Chopra Deepak (2003): How to Know God The Soul’s Journey Into the Mystery of Mysteries. ISBN 0-609-60078-8 Harmony Books, 201 E 50th St. NY.NY. 10022.
In this rather rambling book, Dr. Deepak Chopra, former endocrinologist, takes on the impossible task of explaining the human mind and The God who created it. Chopra basically argues that the material world as we humans experience it is really the quantum world of energy packets as described by Science but connected by God or Supreme Principle, that connects the quantum world and creates the material world, and is itself, what Chopra terms the “Virtual World”. Dr. Chopra then goes on to give instructions on how to contact this so called “Virtual World” or God.
One of the first things that a non-fiction writer ought to do, is to verify the so called “facts” which he/she uses to develop his/her ideas. I will bring up three such “facts” mentioned in the book, the first regarding sea-cucumbers, the second about Multiple Personality Disorder, and a third regarding meditation mantras.
“In a similar act of communal awareness, the cells of a sea cucumber are arranged to give a mouth and a digestive tract to this primitive animal, which is little more than a giant feeding tube. You can puree a sea cucumber in a blender, pour the solution of brine and cells into a bucket, and after a while the entire animal will regroup itself from the unformed biological sludge.” (Chopra, pg. 249)
This sea-cucumber fact is used to explain ESP type phenomena. Chopra talks of a unified “Mind-field” which connects us all. This Mind-field is “intelligence” “information” or “God” and it also does the job of holding all the atoms together and giving them the shape and form that material goods have. It is the “virtual world” supreme principle that directs and allows the regrouping of the pulverized sea cucumber.
On reading this, I contacted the Information Officer for the Charles Darwin Foundation for the Galapagos Isles at firstname.lastname@example.org and requested verification. Ros Cameron of the Foundation replied “Highly unlikely that any animal, even a system as simple as the sea cucumber could be pureed and then reform itself from the mix….Our marine staff who work with the sea cucumbers have never heard of this. Probably be worthy of a Nobel prize if ever proven to be true.” (Cameron, 2003, personal communication, emphasis added).
The second item is the enigmatic Multiple Personality problem. Chopra fills the reader in on the existing theories of the genesis of the Multiple Personality Disorder, including the one where MPD is seen as “role playing”. He seems to subscribe to the role-playing theory, and then goes on to explain it in terms of his “Mind-field” theory. Chopra says:
“Alter egos must come from a region beyond personal experience; they are like voluntary incarnations—or partial incarnations—activated from the storehouse of the mind field” (Chopra, pgs. 252-253)
There is however, no explanation as to why the Mind-field in all its wisdom produces these socio-pathic “alters” which make the life of the host personality a living nightmare. Chopra then goes on to say:
“From the perspective of the mind field, if an alter ego is strong enough, it can actually change the body to conform to it. Striking cases are on record in which one personality is menopausal, for example, while the others aren’t, or, or where each of the alter egos has its own menstrual cycle. In other cases a single personality may be diabetic or allergic to pollen while the others show no signs of these disorders. ….The diabetic personality may be insulin dependent and yet revert to normal blood sugar levels during the time when other personalities appear”. (Chopra, pgs. 252-253” emphasis added).
Different menstrual cycles for each alter personality? Talk about magical thinking! Wouldn’t it be neat if each personality also had its own pregnancy, its own gestational period and its own baby? So we could have one very straight laced, non-pregnant personality and one baby-kicking in the womb, soon-to-give-birth personality? Alas, Chopra himself does not provide any references. A survey of literature on MPD conducted by me indicated that even authorities on the subject like Frank Putnam (1987), Colin Ross, 1996 ; Eugene L. Bliss (1986), etc. do not record any such cases. Putnam talks of anecdotal evidence of different personalities being differentially dose-sensitive to psychoactive drugs, but goes no further.
Chopra has also failed to substantiate his statement regarding meditation. Chopra writes “-— the vibration of the Mantra is the key. The word vibration means the frequency of brain activity in the cerebral cortex” (Chopra, pg.93. emphasis added). The above sentences make it seem like different EEG frequencies are linked to or generated by use of different Mantras, where the word “mantra” stands for a specific Hindu or Buddhist chant used for meditation. Again, Dr. Chopra does not provide any references. While there is scientific evidence especially that provided by Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard, that meditation induces a relaxation response, and that EEG slows down to that of a tranquil state (Benson, 1984), there is no evidence that different chants are associated with different EEG frequencies or patterns. Providing references for such facts would have really enhanced the usefulness of the book.
Furthermore, although Chopra addresses various interesting anomalous phenomena and tries to pull everything into a neat little “quantum” package complete with a “virtual” God, and a recipe to reach him, it is fraught with discordant religious ideologies which he tries in vain to synthesize.
Chopra pulls in age old ideas from the Bible such as “Ask and you shall receive” and quirky new ideas from the writings of New Age writers, such as “mankind as a whole is evolving towards transcendence” or that God is a “Bright White Light” etc. which are a world apart. He draws from the Philosophy propounded in the Yoga Sutras of India (which Indian intellectuals uphold as the “true” teachings of Hinduism) and the teachings of Jyotish Shastra or Hindu Astrology, which reflect the actual religious practices of most Hindus and are a far cry from the teachings of the Yoga Sutras. Dr. Chopra merrily writes his huge treatise as if all of these philosophies were alluding to the same ONE God. The problem is they are not. Their “gods” are different and their world views are different.
The Bible professes one jealous Supreme Being that wants you to forsake other similar Supreme Beings. This God rewards those who comply with Biblical teachings and metes out punishments to those who don’t. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra professes an all-pervading principle, which one can access if one wants to. Patanjalli does not equate it with white light or synchronicity in life events. No specific punishment outside of common human misery is professed, if one does not access this principle. The Yoga Sutras talk specifically of leading a disciplined, controlled life and using meditation and physical exercises to overcome pain and misery. In contrast, the religious teachings of Seers like Bhrigu, the famous mythical astrologer from India, talk of the existence of various Gods, Goddesses, demi-gods, demons, ghosts, etc. and ascribe causality to eight planets/stars in our galaxy. Any one or more of these gods and also the planets themselves are to be worshipped and given gifts, etc. for a happy successful life, as per this Bhrigu ideology (Rao, 1991). One is also advised of sins committed in previous incarnations and is told which planet/god one should propitiate to mitigate the effects of those sins. Deepak Chopra takes all of these discordant dogmas and pounds them along with a hefty helping of modern Quantum Physics as a binding agent, in creating his new hodge-podge placebo.
After taking the reader through a labyrinth of various and sundry religious ideas, Chopra lists what he calls “Ground rules for knowing God”. Those rules are no different from advice given in any New Age book, such as knowing your intention, setting your intentions high, seeing yourself in the light, learning to forgive yourself and others, and bringing about miracles in your life and the lives of others, etc. There is no mention of those old fashioned moral values such as “thou shalt not commit adultery”, or any mention of giving gifts to the gods to get rid of sins committed in past lives.
Chopra’s main thesis is that every mind is on a journey of evolution where the final goal is to merge with the All-pervading connecting principle, which is pretty much the same as the Vedic Hindu idea of achieving “Moksha” and that there is a specific way in which one can achieve it. The eternal hell/heaven of the Biblical God sort of vanishes and is not discussed. Chopra goes on to say:
“Every mind is on a journey of evolution. The final goal is inevitable, to merge with god. It is better to cooperate than to resist. The soul is the source of truth and love. If you cooperate, your life will be organized with the help of infinite power and intelligence as it flows from God.”
What Dr. Chopra means by this, is that your life will be full of fortunate synchronistic events, and he narrates several fortunate synchronistic events that took place in his life, to support his statements.
Synchronistic events do take place in a person’s life. Sometimes they are fortunate, sometimes they are not! Chopra turns a blind eye to the horrific unfortunate synchronistic events that happen, so there are no answers as to why they happen or how to avoid them.
All in all, Chopra fails to impress scientific minded people because he fails to verify his facts and he leaves non-scientists just as confused as himself with all the discordant views mentioned without the rejection or elimination of any of them. The “virtual world” stuff thrown in for good measure does not help either. So, has Deepak Chopra done the impossible by showing us a way to Know the Unknowable? I don’t think so. But then again, like the movie title said, What the #$*! Do We Know!?
Benson, Herbert & Proctor William. (1984): Beyond the Relaxation Response: How to Harness the Healing Power of Your Personal Beliefs Berkeley Publishing Group, A Division of Penguin Books. Penguin Putnam, New York, N.Y. ISBN 0-425-08183-4
Bliss E.L. (1986): Multiple Personality, Allied Disorders, and Hypnosis, Oxford University Press. ISBN: 0195036581
Putnam, Frank W. (1987): Diagnosis and Treatment of Multiple Personality Disorder. The Guilford Press, NY, London. ISBN 0-89862-177-1
Rao, R.G. (1991): Bhrigu Nandi Nadi, Ranjan Publications, New Delhi, India.
Ross C.A. (1996): Dissociative Identity Disorder: Diagnosis, Clinical Features, and Treatment of Multiple Personality (Wiley Series in General and Clinical Psychiatry) Publisher: John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 0-471-13265-9