Episode 11 - Deepak Chopra – Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment – Part 1
Deepak Chopra – Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment - Part 1
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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, Galileo and quantum physicist David Bohm, mutually participatory dialogue has been seen as the key to revolving and transforming consciousness evoking a flow of meaning – a ‘dia’ – flow of ‘logos’ - meaning, beyond what any one 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'm your host Duncan Campbell. With me for this particular dialogue, I am truly delighted to have my friend and colleague, Deepak Chopra as my guest.
Deepak Chopra is the founder of the Chopra Center For Well-Being and is recognized as the preeminent teacher of Eastern philosophy to the Western world. He has been a best-selling author for decades and his writings have sold millions of copies.
You can visit Deepak online at www.chopra.com. Among the books that he has written that have been translated into 35 languages are ‘The Spontaneous Fulfillment of Desire’, ‘How to Know God’, ‘The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success’ and numerous others. Deepak's ‘Wellness Radio’ program airs weekly on Sirius satellite radio from 10 o'clock to one o'clock Eastern time on Saturdays. His frequent work with PBS includes ‘The Soul of Healing’ and ‘Body, Mind and Soul - the Mystery and the Magic’, one of the most highly viewed and successful fundraisers in the history of the PBS network.
And now Deepak offers his remarkable insights on the inspiring the life of one of the world’s most important figures, the Buddha. This reimagining of the Buddha's life presents a new form of teaching and shows how the iconic journey of Prince Siddhartha, who became the Buddha, has changed the world forever and how the lessons he taught continue to influence every corner of the world.
The book is entitled ‘Buddha - A Story of Enlightenment’ and in his very first week of publication, it went immediately to the top 14 books on the New York Times bestseller list.
So Deepak, it seems that the Buddhist time has come once again.
Deepak Chopra: Yeah. As long as you understand that the Buddha is not really a person but the fully conscious being in all of us. To be a Buddha means to be fully awake.
Duncan Campbell: And in fact, for those not familiar with the story, we could say the story falls into three parts. There is the beginning, where the man we call the Buddha now, was known as Prince Siddhartha. The meaning of the word Siddhartha is ‘he who has attained all desires’.
Deepak Chopra: Mmmhmm.
Duncan Campbell: And at a certain point in time, having experienced all the earthly pleasures we might say, he was exposed to sickness, old age and death. His heart awakened with such compassion that he renounced the world and became a monk called Gautama.
Deepak Chopra: Mmmhmm.
Duncan Campbell: His family name, also a name taken by many common people, and having then explored the extremes of asceticism, so well described in your book in the telling of the tale, he eventually became the awakened one or the Buddha.
So perhaps we could begin this journey with you Deepak by saying what inspired you to write this very powerful novel.
Deepak Chopra: Well first of all, I have heard all these stories from childhood from my mother, from my grandmother. I have visited the place is several times where he was born, where he gave his first sermon, where he got enlightened and where he died. The journeys he took to different places, the pilgrimage, the lectures he gave in various cities are all part of my childhood. So I was very familiar with the story to begin with.
Then after my father died I was in a place immersing his ashes where they had records of our ancestors, my family ancestors that go back to the time of the Greeks, to the time that Alexander the Great came to India, which is a couple of hundred years after the Buddha.
So I was sitting in this place. I was near Buddha. And suddenly, I don't know what, I had a nonlocal experience. The most pressing need at our time as you and I have discussed before is a critical mass of consciousness that understands the principles that the Buddha taught, that relativism is permanent and yet in the deeper domain we are all inseparably one, that everything is an interdependent core rising, which is very much what we call nonlocal correlation these days and that if you want to solve any problem you have to come up with a creative solution, not the metaphors of violence that we use today, like the War on Drugs and the War on AIDS and the War On Terrorism.
They are metaphors of violence and yet creativity is the only solution. Creativity is inherent in fully awakened consciousness. So all these thoughts are going around in my mind. At that time I met my friend Shekhar Kapur who is a film director. He has done some really extraordinary films including ‘Elizabeth’, which won eight Academy Awards. He is now doing a sequel to ‘Elizabeth’ - ‘The Golden Age’ with Geoffrey Rush and Clive Owen and Cate Blanchett.
He came and spent a week with me. We went over what a magnificent epic this was to write about. He said, “Why don't you write a book and then maybe one day we will do a movie?” So we spent a week going over some of the seminal scenes in our minds and the visuals stuck in my consciousness. Finally I sat down and wrote the book.
Duncan Campbell: Well, it is very interesting because there are many ways that the story has been told. One of the ones of course many of us were exposed to 40 or 50 years ago was Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse, a great telling of the story in an imaginative way, not following quite the same historical detail, structure and framework that you did.
But it is definitely one that really cast the Buddha as an archetypal seeker who, at the end of the day, was a kind of modern transcendent Candide. Having explored many realms of earthly pleasure and asceticism and even suffering, he found the so-called ‘middle way’ and came into the realization that the deep stillness within was the access points to what Joseph Campbell has called, in the Western tradition, “finding the Grail”.
So perhaps you could talk about the meaning of ‘the middle way’ and maybe sketch out for us a little bit of the story as you tell it.
Deepak Chopra: Well the story begins with his birth. The court astrologers tell the father that this young boy, this child, this infant will one day be the ruler of the world or he could become a monk. Of course, the father is not happy with the idea that he could become a monk. The father is a warlord and very ambitious. He wants to rule the whole land. He wants his son to be an emperor.
So he says, “How can I prevent him from being a monk?” The court priest said, “Surround him with pleasure and don't allow him to see anybody suffering.” So the father actually creates a palace where the ramparts of the palace, the inside walls of the palace have only young and beautiful people and he is surrounded by pleasure. In fact, they create a ‘pleasure palace’ for him where he is initiated into sensual and sexual play and arts.
He also learns the martial arts. He learns astronomy. He is a scholar. He is a wrestler. He is a horseback rider. He is just everything a prince could be. In my version of the story, which is drawn from various sources, he falls in love with a child prostitute in the pleasure palace. She is murdered and raped by his evil cousin. He doesn't know this. He just finds that she has disappeared. He is told that she has probably run away with the precious jewel that he had given her - an emerald.
So he is devastated of course. He doesn't believe that. But he asks his best friend, who is a stable boy to take him outside the walls of the palace. When they do, they enter what is called the ‘forbidden city’, where all the old and sick are living. For the first time he sees extreme old age, extreme disease and he sees several corpses. He asks his friend, “Does everyone get old and sick and die?” The friend says, “Yes”. He said, “Will I get old and sick and die?” And his friend says, “Yes, you will.”
So that starts his existential anxiety and anguish. That begins the journey. That is basically the first part of the story.
The second part of the story is where he meets the scholars, Yogi's, other monks, saddus, people who practice the Sidis, people who practice severe asceticism. He learns intellectually all about consciousness. He learns yoga breathing techniques. Nothing seems to really work.
He is almost dying from starvation when a young girl tries to feed him. She finds him on the forest floor. He at first refuses to eat. But then he asks her name and she says her name is Sujata, which was the name of the girl that he was in love with when he was a teenager.
Tears come to his eyes and he immediately realizes that with all his asceticism he was not able to give up desire. In fact, if you try to give up desire, it only gets stronger and ultimately it expresses itself in some pathology as a shadow energy.
So at this moment he has insight. Through the insight he also has a detachment and finally under the Bohdi tree, even though surrounded by Mara the demon, who is his own shadow self and his three daughters who offer him every kind of temptation. He does not resist them. He in fact embraces them and allows them to come to him and says to them that, “I will convert you. I will transform you. I will transmute you. I will sublimate you into your opposites.”
That's when enlightenment dawns on him. It's subtle, but his consciousness expands and is no longer alienated or fearful or separate. He realizes the Four Noble Truths, which are – 1) there is suffering, 2) there are reasons for suffering, 3) there is a way out, and 4) like the good doctor he prescribes the prescription, the Eightfold Noble Path.
He identifies the causes of suffering as 1) craving and aversion for that which is impermanent, 2) suffering that arises from the constricted self, 3) suffering that arises from impermanence, 4) suffering that arises from not knowing the true nature of reality. And so his journey begins. His journey as the Buddha begins.
My story ends with him bringing peace to a war that is going on. Just his presence begins peace. So the message of course is that consciousness being the ground of all possibilities, is responsible for everything that we call reality - cognition, emotions, perception, behavior, biology, personal relationships, social interactions, environment and even the forces of nature are an expression of our consciousness.
When our consciousness shifts, everything shifts.
Duncan Campbell: And in fact Deepak, we might say that the war that you referred to in the end of your particular telling of the tale is a war that involves his own father and his cousin, who you might say again is his shadow self. His cousin is an archenemy. So in a way what it reminds me of is the Bhagavad Gita where the great dilemma is within our own heart.
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, ultimately the world is a reflection of who we are. And all our relationships are a reflection of who we are.
Duncan Campbell: And it reminds me in the Bhagavad Gita, as I mentioned, of this war within oneself, where we have these conflicting desires as the Buddha noted. One of the things I wanted to raise here is his role historically as a reformer within the tradition of the Vedas or the traditions of Hinduism that had become, in many cases degraded in their institutional expression over the centuries.
One of the obvious ones being that people who were so-called Brahmans by birth or by blood were felt sociologically to be inherently superior to other casts and particularly the lower castes. This gave rise to a lot of abuse and corruption.
Recently there was a movie about this that was called ‘Water’ by another great Indian film director, where we could see the child prostitution and the abuse of the Brahmans and so on. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about the historical setting, about what was happening in India and what was happening in the spiritual life in India when the Buddha arose?
Deepak Chopra: Well not only Hinduism being corrupted by the Brahmans, but also they had rigid control over the rituals and they had actually trivialized the Vedic knowledge into ritualistic practice, so Buddha himself was a reformer for sure. He took out all the garbage and in fact brought the essence of the Vedantin teachings.
However, the Brahmans were also very scholarly and academic. They found that the Buddha's teachings were relatively simple and they even thought simplistic. They scorned his teachings. Buddha never became popular in the land of his birth.
It was many hundred years later when an emperor called Ashoka, who was a warlord, had gone to war and killed millions of people or hundreds of thousands of people, had immense remorse. He adopted the principles of Buddhism. During Ashoka’s reign, Buddhism became popular for a while. Ashoka sent emissaries to Southeast Asia, including Hong Kong, what is now Vietnam and Cambodia and Thailand and Japan and China, where Buddhism took root. It made sense as a secular spirituality. It was something that did not rely on belief or dogma. But in the country of its origin it more or less died out.
Then, about 800 AD, it was a great reformer called Adi Shankara, who actually brought about the revival of Vedic knowledge. 100 years later, another great scholar by the name of Nagarjuna revived Buddhism and its scholarly aspect.
You know, if you look at the teachings of Nagarjuna or Shankara and Buddha, they are very similar. They are based on Vedic understanding of consciousness. There are very minor differences and they are all questions of semantics.
Duncan Campbell: Exactly. Another one of the really interesting things to me is that Bodhgaya, which is today the site of a beautiful stupa and a wonderful little lake there that is called Muchalinda that is the Lake of Awake - I visited that site as well myself –
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, and there are lots of Japanese tourists and people from the Far East coming there now so it has roads to it and a new airport and so on.
Duncan Campbell: And you go to the gardens around the stupa, there are many Tibetans and even Westerners now doing full prostrations and some of the classical practices in Tibetan Buddhism.
Deepak Chopra: Last year it was the 2500-year anniversary of Buddha's birth.
Duncan Campbell: You know, one time I was actually sitting under the Pipal Tree, the fig tree there, under the bodhi tree, it is sometimes called - the tree of awake - that is surrounded by a small wall there in Bodhgaya. And literally, as I was sitting there meditating over a three-day period - each day I meditated for a couple of hours there under the tree – one of the leaves of the tree, which are in the shape of a heart just fell, floated down into my palms as I was in meditation posture.
I had that kind of nonlocal experience you had. I had a gifted experience with the sense of timelessness.
Deepak Chopra: Exactly. That tree is over 2500 years old.
Duncan Campbell: [laughs] And the experience that arose in my consciousness was that of a timeless eternity in which the ever present now paradoxical to the rational mind is really the essence of existence or all being. So in a sense, there is the invitation to relax very deeply into the embrace of the beingness itself and not to be caught up in hope and fear or gain and loss and all the things that the Buddha described. Yeah.
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, he summarizes his teaching very simply. The relative is impermanent. Everything is interbeing. Nirvana is the ultimate reality. And there is no separate self. If you understand those four principles you've got the whole thing.
Duncan Campbell: The thing is deceptively simple. On the one hand from the point of view of the scholarly elite among the priesthood, who want to make in a sense, the spiritual knowledge as opposed to the spiritual wisdom, unattainable for ordinary people. So one of his great aspects as a reformer was to communicate.
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, absolutely.
Duncan Campbell: In a way that anyone can relate to. Yeah.
Deepak Chopra: Absolutely.
Duncan Campbell: And another thing that's very interesting I thought we might talk about in our brief time here together, on this particular dialogue, is the fact that Buddhism has come to the West. There was a great classic book, oh maybe 20 or 25 years ago written by my late friend Rick Fields, who at one point was the editor of Yoga Journal. He was a student of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, one of the first great Tibetan masters to come to the West.
His book was called ‘When the Swans Came to the Lake’ about the arrival of Buddhism in the West and how it had been prophesized and so on. And now today we find that there are 1.5 million Buddhist practitioners in the West. This is now the fourth largest religion in America. So we might talk about that phenomenon and how Buddhism really is not a religion. It is not a belief system. It's something that really is more attractive to people because of the actual practice and experiential path that the Buddha described as the Fourth Noble Truth.
Deepak Chopra: Yes. Buddha never spoke of God. He never considered himself a deity. When he was dying, Ananda asked him, “Who are you?” And he said, “I am awake”. That is what the word Buddha means.
His prescription for enlightenment was forms of practice - right perspective, the difference between seeing and perception, right, what he called thinking, which is basically putting your attention on the seeds of compassion and kindness and connectivity and inseparability, right speech, which is a form of speech that almost creates bliss in the listener, conscious witnessing awareness in speech, right concentration, which was how to harness the qualities of attention and intention, right livelihood, which is making your living from nurturing the ecosystem and not damaging it, right effort, which simply meant diligence in practice, and finally the most important, right mindfulness, mindfulness of nonself nature of objects, mindfulness of impermanence and mindfulness of interbeingness.
What he said is to pay attention to these very simple practices, not even all of them, but one of them at a time, particularly mindfulness. Then you will see through the veil of illusion. The veil of illusion is the relative. You know, you look at a flower and you say, “That’s a flower. And I am a person.” But when you pierce the veil, you say, “That flower is the whole universe frozen for this moment as a flower and appearing as a flower. And I am the absolute being that is differentiating into both observer and observed.”
When you have that experience then of course all suffering disappears, even the fear of death because you're now shifting your internal reference point to the absolute being that expresses itself simultaneously as observer and observed. You can see the tangled hierarchy of space/time events and everything is just a transient manifestation.
For full transcript, please contact Duncan Campbell