Episode 12: Deepak Chopra - Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment - Part 2
Deepak Chopra – Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment - Part 2
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DEEPAK CHOPRA: I am Deepak Chopra. It’s my great privilege always to be interviewed by Duncan Campbell. Duncan’s program, “Living Dialogues”, is a real trendsetter for the kind of media programming we need in the future. It is uniquely transformative, and deep. Duncan’s conversations are more than interviews; they always bring out the best in both him and the person he’s interviewing.
Duncan Campbell: From time immemorial, beginning with indigenous councils and ancient wisdom traditions through the work of western visionaries, such as Plato, Galieo, and quantum-physicist David Bohm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to evolving and transforming consciousness. Evoking a flow of meaning, a dipop flow of logos meaning, beyond what anyone individual can bring through alone. So join us now, as together with you the active deep listener, we evoke and engage in - Living Dialogues.
Duncan Campbell: Welcome to Living Dialogues. I am your host Duncan Campbell and with me for this particular program - I am really delighted to have my friend and colleague Deepak Chopra as my guest. Deepak Chopra is known to literally millions people worldwide and every continent as the Chopra Center for Well Being and the author books translated into dozens of languages and sold literally millions of copies worldwide. In addition to finding the Chopra Center for Well Being, he is seen as the preeminent teacher of eastern philosophy to the western world. His writings, as I have said, not only sold millions of copies, but they have moved and transformed millions of people. He can be visited online at - www.deepakchopra.com - where you can visit him through his blogs and his conversations with people and many areas of interest and ways he is working to, through a planetary consciousness, reach critical mass. More about that can be found on the Alliance for a New Humanity website. Deepak has recently accepted the position of CEO for the Alliance for a New Humanity of which he is one of the founders, along with several Noble Laureates. The website for that is anhglobal.org - Alliance for a New Humanity. So Deepak, at this time in your life, it's very interesting that you have chosen to write your last book, a wonderful novel, entitled Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment. You've written many prose works before, you've also written fiction before, but Publisher's Weekly and others have said you've really hit your stride as a novelist and a storyteller. With this new book, it's extremely engaging, it's historically more or less accurate and it really conveys the deep feeling of what it means to be a human being following that yearning we all have to be awake, to be aware and to participate with compassion and wisdom during this lifetime.
Deepak Chopra: Yes, it's a story we all have at some point in our lives. We are faced with extistenal dilemmas. Why is there suffering in the world? Is there a way out of suffering? How can we help ourselves to get out of the suffering we experience? How can we help others? What is the meaning of life? What is meaning of death for that matter? We have questions. Is there any purpose to living? Where do we come from? What happens to us after we die? Do we have a self or a soul? Does God exist? And if God exists does God care about us? So most of us ask these questions in adolescence , or even early. Then some of us resort to religious dogma, religious doctrine, theology, looking for external sources to answer these questions. Buddha chose not to do that. Buddha was more or less a man who, I think, was of the opinion, as I am by the way, that belief is a cover-up for insecurity. We only believe in things we are not quite sure about. I don't have to convince you to believe in gravity or electricity or any of the forces of nature. We understand them. We can experience them. We can experiment with them and we can also develop technologies as a result of our understanding. Buddha came to a very radical conclusion that the same is true of consciousness. After all, if there is one thing we are sure of it is we are sentient, we are conscious. You might deny the existence of God, but you cannot deny the existence of consciousness. We're conscious, sentient beings. So you can be sure we experience consciousness and that we are conscious. Most of the time we experience consciousness through its, you might say, its by-products. Its side-effects, which are cognition, emotions, and behavior and biology and social interaction and personal relationships and the environments we create. These are all expressions of our consciousness. The art. We create the scientific discoveries. Buddha asked an even more radical question. He was not so interested in the by-products of consciousness, but in consciousness itself. We experience consciousness itself, by itself in its pure state. And then see by actually causing shifts in consciousness, we can call shifts in reality because so called reality is a projection of that consciousness.
Duncan Campbell: In fact, as you talk Deepak, I'm thinking this is twenty-first century formulation, or reformulation, of Descartes famous dictum - "Cogito, ergo, sum" - because "Cogito, ergo, sum" was "I think, therefore, I am". Yet you are bringing into the twenty-first century something that is deeper than that. I am conscious, which is way beyond thinking, thinking is only one aspect of consciousness, and this is something the Buddha himself discovered 2500 years ago. It remains as relevant today in our time as it was in his time.
Deepak Chopra: Yes, there are many new theories about consciousness being in the discontinuity. Consciousness being a field of possibilities. Consciousness being the basis of non-local correlation. Consciousness being the observer affect. Consciousness being the source of quantum creativity, which is non-algorithmic and cannot be programmed into a computer. See these are the modern theories of consciousness, but if you go deeply into Buddha's teachings you see he said the same thing, he didn't say, use words like non-local correlation, but he said interdependent co-arising. He didn't use words like "waves of possibility", but he say the ground of being from which the observer and the observed both come. So Buddha's insights are remarkable for a man 2500 years ago, who was in my opinion a scientist. He was an explorer of the inner domain, much as scientists are explorers of the outer domain. Science has very simple procedures. There is a theory, there is a hypothesis, there is an experiment and protocol, and you do the experiment and get certain results. Then you share your results with your peers, your colleagues, and if they follow the protocol and get the same results, then you say this is probably true. That is the scientific method. Buddha did exactly the same thing. He said this is the experiment. This is the hypothesis. This is what you do. If you do what I did, you might get the same results and you will be free. Enlightenment is freedom. Freedom from conditioning. Freedom from the past. Freedom from the known. The ability to set into the unknown and get in touch with the source of all creation because the consciousness behind your thoughts is actually the same consciousness behind all the intelligent activity of the universe.
Duncan Campbell: In fact, one of the things I think most interesting about that is how you started this explanation by saying that what the Buddha discovered and what has come to be now called Buddhism, as a way to understanding reality, is not a belief system. When you appeared on Larry King at one point upon the publication of this book for the first time, you said what we're talking about here is a secular spirituality, it is not a belief system or a religion in the conventional sense. And one of the things I thought was most interesting about that was that in your blog on your website - www.deepakchopra.com - you taken on one of the great current controversies of our time lead by people like Richard Dawkins - God Is An Allusion. Richard Dawkins is a famous scientist himself in the twenty-first century. He is also the Oxford Professor for the Public Understanding of Science. His view is quite different than your view and the view of the Buddha. Perhaps we could talk about that a little bit.
Deepah Chopra: I have had several run-ins with Richard Dawkins both personally and, you know, in front of the camera. And in public. I have debated him a few times. I am of the opinion that Dawkins is a fundamentalist and he is old-fashioned scientific fundamentalist. He is a old-fashioned atheist. The God that he is attacking is easy, is easy to attack. That God has nothing to defend. It's the old-fashioned dead, white man in the sky.
Duncan Campbell: A kind of straw man.
Deepah Chopra: A kind of straw man. We don't have any problems with that kind of attack and that kind of old-fashioned atheism is somehow becoming very popular now. You have a book by Christopher Hitchens and you have Daniel Dennett talking about the non-existence of consciousness, that it is an emerging property. So you have these people, and they're very smart people in a sense. On the other hand, you know, they are not really addressing the most fundamental issue which is, you know, they say consciousness doesn't exist. Are they denying their own consciousness? They say, you know, well consciousness is an artifact. It's a synaptic network, making an inquiry of a synaptic network. Even when you use phrases like, for which Dawkin has become very famous, the selfish gene. Selfishness is an attribute of consciousness. It's not an attribute of a double-stranded DNA. The very word selfishness means there is somebody, or some being, or some conscious entity that is being self-ish. So, I have a problem with people like Dawkins and I don't think they address the real issue. On the other hand I can understand their disgust with religion because religious fundamentalist make blocked things like choice, free choice. They've blocked things like stem-cell research. They block things like understanding cloning, a lot of medical research and other kinds of really important research. They are being blocked by people who have very primitive ideas about reality. I mean, the fact still exists that people in our country here believe that the world was created 5,000 years ago by the "straw man" and that Adam and Eve were the first two humans about 5000, 6000 years ago. We know that the Big Bang occurred about 13.8 billion years ago. We know the Earth is about 13.8 billion years old. We know that the first biological organisms, which were chemo-litho autotrophic hypo-thermophils, on the rims of volcanoes showed up on about 2 billion years ago. We know that homo-sapiens are about 60,000 years of age. We know that written language is 5,000 years old, when presumably, according to the Bible, the world was created. We know that oral language is 15,000 years. So we need a spirituality, we need a secular spirituality which is consistent with the understandings of reality as we know them through science, which does not contradict what we know about the world in modern cosmology or modern physics or biology or mathematics or evolution. We need a spirituality and I think that is where we are coming. We are coming of age in understanding reality and understanding that a biological life-form is the most amazing combination of the laws of physics, chemistry, biology, and mathematics. That is so interesting and so confounding at the same time because even-though we try to understand consciousness objectively - it is very difficult because consciousness is what allows us to understand the objective world. For consciousness to understand itself is like the tooth has to bite itself or the eye has to look at itself. We know nothing about even simple things like perception. How does the brain, which is inside your skull and which has no experience of any external world, how does -- Your brain responds to things like PH, electrolytes, hormones, and body temperature, all that activity final translates into synaptic firings and neural networks, which ultimately are basically plus and minus binary codes of charges across cell membranes. How does that give an experience of an external world? Or how does that give an experience give subjectively? If I ask anyone now who is listening to us to close their eyes and imagine a red rose, they can see a picture of a red rose somewhere. But where is that picture? If you go inside the brain, there is no picture. You know I am looking at you and you are out there, but what I am projecting is you out there. It is a result of some synaptic firing in my brain in here. Sir Arthur Ellington, who is one of the best scientist of the last century, in the end he just threw up his hands. He said even the best we say even with simple things like perception is that something unknown is doing, we do not know what. This is the genius of people like Buddha who said if consciousness has to understand itself it has to be through subjectivity. You have to go inward, not outward. But now we are being to understand that if you go deep enough outward you end up in the same place as you would if you went deep enough inward.
Duncan Campbell: So the old, "As above, so below" or the "Macrocosm is the microcosm", would be reformulated that the extreme outer meets the extreme inner. Meaning that, actually it is almost like the indigenous of the auraboris of the serpent eating its own tail. That there is the kind of web-of-life, a web-of-being, which is accessible to our consciousness but is beyond mental thinking activity. We have to enter into a different kind of paradoxical surrender of our active, thinking, self-projecting mental concept-forming activity and open to an experiential sense of the web-of-life.
Deepak Chopra: Yes. I think the whole problem with this outer-inner language is it is based on a very false premise. That is there is a biological organism that is looking out at the universe. That biological organism, somewhere outside the universe, but when in fact both the biological organism and the universe are differentiated aspects of a single reality. As far as the universe is concerned, an electromagnetic storm in your synaptic network and an electromagnetic storm in the sky are both its activity. The universe is not differentiating an inner and outer. What's that - Rumi has a poem where he says that "I lived on the lip of insanity wanting to know reasons, knocking at the door. The door opens up and is knocking from the inside".
Duncan Campbell: Exactly. That wonderful sense of, you know, of the view of the person sitting inside the mental prison with the keys in their hand. You know, that kind of quality of mysticism. It is an image from the mystical tradition and recently Caroline Mase, another colleague, has said that in her view fundamentalism is the response to the increasing uncertainty in the external world. Whereas mysticism is the response to the uncertainty in the inner world. And so, going back to the popular debate now, whether God exists or doesn't exist, in terms of Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens and others. There is this sense that there is a kind of scientism that is just stubbornly reductive. That the only reality is that which we can see or touch or X-ray, and that consciousness is somehow a figment of our imagination. It's not real. The very first one we did, remember Deepak, the very first dialogue we did over 10 years ago - your first statement was actually what we are finding out now in the cutting edge of science is that consciousness is primary and matter is the epiphenomenon.
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, you know there is this saying in the Vedanta which comes to us through the Upanishads, but also through the teachings of a great Sere, called (--inaudible--), in that he says if you can see it, if you can touch it, if you can taste it, if you can smell it, if it is solid, if you can imagine it, if you can conceptualize, if you can think about it, if you can visualize it, then it is not real. Because, it is a projection of something that you cannot visualize, that you cannot - but without which there is no visualization. If you have no consciousness you cannot visualize it. If you have no consciousness, you can't see, you can't touch, you can't taste, you can't smell. These are the epiphenomenona of consciousness. Consciousness, even-though it is totally unmanifest, and you cannot visualize it - without it you wouldn't be able to visualize. It is dependent on the ground of being from where everything comes, including the observer, the observed, and all the processes of interaction between the observer and the observed. These are differentiated aspects of a single reality, what Buddha calls interdependent co-arising and what modern scientists, like (--inaudible--), call tangled hierarchy.
Duncan Campbell: And so, perhaps what we could do now is go back in time 2,500 years and - what was it about the Buddha's quest that lead to this particular methodology that actually when we look at it now, it is very scientific, it does follow exactly the dynamic that you talked about, where the Buddha from his own experience evolves certain observations and a certain way of understanding reality and he then shared those with initially the first 5 monks that he talked to, in the great discourse in the deer park where he articulated the 4 Noble Truths. He then said, even eventually at the end of his life, he said "Be a lamp unto ourself". You do not have to believe what my experience is, you can try it for yourself. One of the ways you can is you can sit in mediation, as I did, and you see what you discover. So maybe we can put a little flesh on the conceptual understanding here and maybe talk about the path of the Buddha that is sometimes called the "Middle Way", where he started at one extreme, went to another, and eventually found the deeper truth in the middle.
Deepak Chopra: Well he went to the extreme of pleasure in his youth and then he went to the extreme of pain as a monk.
Duncan Campbell: Asceticism.
Deepak Chopra: Asceticism - and nothing worked. Then I think in a moment of surrender when he saw everything as it is. And, you know, even-though frequently Buddhists talk about satori, or sudden enlightenment, it's really more like a fruit that has been maturing for a long time and then it is ripe and it suddenly falls. But, you know, it takes a long time for the fruit to mature and that is what happened with him. But when it did mature, his conclusions where very simple. Through mindfulness first. Anyone of us can try this. He says be mindful of your breath and you will see that is arises and subsides. It is of the nature of arising and subsiding. But then if you observe other things like thoughts, you will also see that they arise and they subside - a thought comes, then it goes. You can be attentive or mindful to your feelings. An emotion arises and subsides. You can be attentive or mindful to form. Everything that has form, any object, it comes into existence. It has a beginning, it has a middle, then it subsides. So with this he comes to a very, very simple conclusion. The relative is impermanent. Impermanence is the nature of the relative. If it is of the nature of arising, it also is of the nature of subsiding. But then he says, which is very interesting, is - so that is the first Dharma Seal- the relative impermanence. The second Dharma Seal is that there is no such thing as a separate self. He comes to that conclusion very simply by being mindful of impermanence and of the interdependent co-arising of everything in the relative world. He says, look at a flower. You see a flower on the level of the relative it is a flower. But on the level of the absolute a flower is the whole universe. It is rainbows and sunshine and earth and water and wind and air and the infinite void. Remember, he talks about the infinite void as much as a quantum scientist (--inaudible--) - infinite void.
Duncan Campbell: The famous phrase of William Blake, "See an eternity in a grain of sand."
Deepak Chopra: Right. Exactly. So you see this flower. It is the whole universe right now, arising and subsiding as a flower. So, where is the self-nature of this flower? He says it's non-self. Our bodies are recycled earth. Our breath is recycled air. Our circulation is recycled water. Our emotions are recycled energies that we exchange in relationship. Our thoughts are recycled information. So where is me? And in the end he comes to the conclusion that me is a reflection of everybody else. If I have a soul, then - and he doesn't use the word soul - he uses the word self, so if I have a self, it is a reflection of all other selves. When I am experienced in that, when I am grounded in that, then love and compassion and kindness is my very nature. Not a moral injunction. Leave morality to the hypocrites.
Duncan Campbell: (Laughs) Yeah.
Deepak Chopra; Leave morality to the hypocrites. This is a by-product of my state of awareness. The non-self nature of objects, which is the second Dharma Seal. And the third Dharma Seal is nirvana is the ultimate reality. What is nirvana? Nirvana is the non-dual consciousness that is arising and subsiding as both the observer and the observed. So on the relative I can say that is a flower and this is a person. The one that is examining, looking at the flower. But on the absolute level, that's the whole universe and I am the absolute being that is manifesting as both the observer and the observed. It is brilliant, actually.
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