Richard Moss: The words, “personal transformation” are increasingly used in the community of people seeking psychological and spiritual healing and exploration, but there isn’t general agreement on what the words mean. To some people it has to do with personal improvement. To others, like myself, it has to do with a fundamental transformation in the very structure of consciousness. What does personal transformation mean to you?
Deepak Chopra: I am glad you asked the question like you did, referring to the structure of consciousness. Like many people of my generation, I was exposed to Vedanta in India during my growing up years. We were brought up with a vocabulary that laid out a map for the transformation of consciousness. In that sense, what I say in this interview is not original at all.
When you study physics, you’ve got to learn the vocabulary that physicists use. The same is true if you want to understand the structure of consciousness. People before us have traveled this road; they laid out a map and established a vocabulary. If you understand that vocabulary, you can understand what transformation of consciousness means. This is not the only vocabulary. Many vocabularies can be used to explore maps, and many maps can be used to get to the same place. If I am driving from Boston to New York, I use a road map; if I go by ship, I use another map; if I fly, I use yet another map. The maps explore certain types of territory, but they can all lead to the same destination.
I was brought up to think of transformation of consciousness in a certain sequential manner. I was told that consciousness has different states of awareness. Each state of awareness results in a certain kind of behavior for the human nervous system, and each state of consciousness creates its own physiology. It is not physiology that creates consciousness; rather consciousness uses the nervous system to create its own physiology. As a result of that physiology, your perception of your experience of the physical world is altered. What you behold with your physical eyes is a function of the state of awareness you are in, and as that state of awareness changes what you behold changes. Ken Wilber said, “We can see with the eyes of the flesh or we can see with the eyes of the mind or we can see with the eyes of the soul.” Most of us, who have not explored the realms of experience of our consciousness, see with the eyes of the flesh and sometimes with the eyes of the mind, but never with the eyes of the soul. William Blake said so beautifully, “We are led to believe a lie when we see with and not through the eyes.”
In my spiritual indoctrination, from the earliest time of my life, I heard my parents and grandparents use the word maya for the artifacts of our perceptual experience. Every time they looked at the world they said, “This is maya.” There was a deeper reality, which they referred to as Brahma. I became familiar with those words early in life, but it wasn’t until many years later that I began to understand they weren’t speaking metaphorically: they were speaking literally. As we shift from sleep to dreams to waking states of consciousness, reality shifts. Reality is infinitely flexible and subject to revision. I heard a phrase over and over early in childhood from the great sage Vasishtha, the incarnation of God himself. The great sage Vasishtha told his disciple Rama, “Infinite worlds come and go in the vast expanse of my consciousness; they are like moats of dust, dancing in a beam of light that’s shining through a hole in my roof.” Those words are beautiful, and I didn’t realize until later that they were real; they were not a metaphor for reality. As our consciousness undergoes a structural change, reality shifts because reality is not some external thing. We are specks of awareness that project our own universe and then experience it.
Richard Moss : I am glad that you are talking about the origins of your work and early life. You are articulating a new way of understanding the Vedic and Vedantic tradition. If I take my life in comparison, I don’t remember the richness of spirituality in my early life. In my life, and I think this is typical of many westerners, I didn’t understand the lineage of my religion as a phenomenon for expression of consciousness. We don’t understand the metaphors in Christianity or Judaism as maps or metaphors for deep states of consciousness. For myself, there was a deep sensitivity bordering on suffering which caused me to seek various disciplines and practices. At the age of 30, I had a spontaneous experience that you could call a fundamental change of consciousness. For the first time, I begin to understand what the teachings from the Judeo-Christian lineage were about. I became hungrily interested in Vedanta. I read Shankara’s Crest Jewel of Discrimination, and it made sense to me. I read Walt Whitman, and suddenly I was in the state of consciousness of the poet. I was transformed in a way. It seems self involved to discuss this, but it doesn’t make sense to readers unless they understand that this isn’t theory.
My perception of reality changed. I didn’t know that at one level of consciousness you have one body, and when that level of consciousness is changed, you have another body. Yet my body changed, my capacity to perceive changed, my intuition and my energy changed. When a westerner comes to this lineage of teachings, most of the time we aren’t coming because we want to change consciousness, but because we want to be happier, more successful, and want to escape suffering. It is the ego who wants these things, and it is the ego who generates the suffering. There is a fundamental paradox in how people come to spiritual work.
Deepak Chopra: You are right. You are one of those people who came from the need to alleviate suffering and found that the only way to do that was to go to a level which is beyond the ego, which gives birth to all suffering. Suffering brought you to a spiritual path. In many ways that is more credible than for someone like myself, who was brought up with the spiritual map being talked about all the time.
I, like you, went to medical school. I came to the west and got caught up in the rat race and stresses of a physician’s life. It wasn’t until I started the practice of meditation that those muffled learnings inside my consciousness from childhood returned and said, “This is what my parents and my grandparents were talking about.” I went back to the same books I had seen in my house all the time, such as the Crest Jewel of Discrimination and the Upanishads. As consciousness began to slowly but definitely unfold these new experiences to me, I looked in books to find confirmation of what I was going through.
Richard Moss : In my late twenties, each morning I read one of the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali and then meditated, watching my breathing. Then I again read from the Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. I didn’t understand the terminology’s, but into my subconscious came powerful images. One month before the major change of my life, a priest friend gave me the gospels. I had not read the gospels for many years. I re-read them and I found myself crying tears of recognition. Yet if I had tried to explain to my rational mind what was being affected, I would not have been able to convey it. When this change in my consciousness came, I found it difficult to pass through. I think this passage may be more difficult when there is no lineage to help you. Suddenly the gospels came to me, and I asked myself, “Who has lived this consciousness?” Strange as it would seem, having been raised as a Jew, it was clear to me that this was the Christ consciousness. Christ lived this. Immediately, inside myself, something eased. I won’t say that I relaxed because the stress of the event was awesome for me, but I did know that others had been there before.
The point I want to make is that we can follow a lineage and a teaching, but at a certain place, we enter into mysterious territory that is beyond any teaching, beyond any teacher. These teachings become powerful forces in our subconscious, but we enter something that no longer is attainable by our effort. I say this because most people confuse personal transformation with making a personal effort through spiritual practices and psychotherapy. These have profound value and can be helpful, depending on how we define personal transformation. Is it improvement? Is it elimination of certain kinds of negative or destructive patterns of behavior? Or is there something in evolution itself, something given by nature, that the sages talk about, that isn’t necessarily the creation of a man’s effort, but something we can come toward if we meditate or pray sincerely. What I call deep transformation isn’t a willed process. In fact, it was after I gave up and surrendered inside myself, that the real change came, after I realized that my seeking was between me and whatever was real.
Deepak Chopra: Yes, I agree. Even meditation is never willed; it is a process of surrender. Most people confuse meditation with concentration, when it is the ability to let go of everything, including concentration. It is the ability to go beyond the thinking process, to transcend it. Exploring those realms of consciousness is a process of total and ultimate surrender. The techniques and the disciplines are tools that help you go to a certain level where you can come to that place of surrender.
Every three months, I take four or five days and go into a silent retreat in some wilderness area, usually a rain forest or desert. About three years ago, I went to the rain forest of Costa Rica to be alone for three days. I didn’t take books or writing material because that is not silence; that is having a conversation with the author. After one or two days, I got extremely restless. There was nothing I could do. The restlessness passed, and I experienced a profound silence. The day I was leaving, I went to the airport and stayed at the hotel. There was only one book in the room, the Bible. I read the Gospel of John and it was like reading Vedanta for me. I was familiar with every word – the world was made into the flesh, I and my father are one, I am in you and you are in me, and greater works than these shall you do. I realized that Christ consciousness is what we are aspiring to and that Christ consciousness is a state of awareness that we go into. Christ wasn’t about the crucifixion; he was about the resurrection and redemption. God-realized people are those who have achieved that state of Christ consciousness.
Richard Moss: I find that what limits a person’s capacity for love or recognition is what they are afraid to feel. Wherever I go, whomever I talk with, their ability to stay in a marriage, to work consciously, to be without fear and to experience joy depends upon what they have the capacity to feel. I’ve found in my work you have to address suffering, and the Vedantic tradition suggests that if you use these tools, primarily meditation, you can avoid the necessity of engaging a certain kind of suffering.
Deepak Chopra: The authors of Vedanta, and the great teachers of the Upanishads did not have the karmic load that we have. Those problems that are so pertinent to us probably were not important to the great Rishis. Buddha said, “You know the Vedantas very well, but I have to talk to these people who are suffering and how should I do it?” One of the greatest teachings is that if you want to go beyond suffering, you have to experience it. A sutra that I remember well is that nothing should be clung to as me or mine. A long time ago, I started practicing that in my daily activity, attempting to keep that in my awareness, because reality is the universal being, and the rest is just a kind of a game, similar to the video games we play as the shooter games as Overwatch that we play using boosting services with the different OW prices you can find online. Yet, to get to that stage, you have to go through your suffering. If you don’t experience it, if you run away from it or avoid it, suffering ultimately manifests the states of hostility, fear, guilt and depression, which are nothing other than not having addressed the suffering when it was taking place. Remembered pain is hostility and anger, anticipated pain is fear and anxiety, pain directed at yourself is guilt. The depletion of energy with all of the above is depression. We have to be intimate with our suffering – express it to ourselves, share it with other people, release our pain and surrender.
Richard Moss: This is the contribution of psychotherapies, even though they don’t have a spiritual base. You have laid out this incredible map, but nobody can get to a state of cosmic consciousness if there is more truth in happiness and freedom and less truth in suffering. In other words, you used images of the flower and the sunset, but when you walk through a forest, there is glory in the dead trees lying on the ground as well. The cycle of life and death is part of the truth of life. You were talking about anxiety. Anxiety starts in the mind the moment there is a sense that I exist as a separate self and that I might not get something the separate self thinks it needs.
Deepak Chopra: In the end, it’s all an artifact. That sense of a separate self is really an illusion because there is no separate self. It is easy to understand intellectually that what I call myself is a dynamic bundle of energy that is constantly transforming. I am not the same physical body that I was ten years ago, so I can’t be my body. I am not the same mind that I was ten years ago; hopefully it is more mature, so I can’t be my mind. I am not my emotional states because those come and go all the time. I am the witness of all that, and the witness of all that is not a person; it is a universal being and I am that universal being. Intellectually I can explain it, but experientially, if somebody meets me on the street and says, “You are a bloody fool,” I suddenly start nursing my grievances. That is not me; that’s my ego. This whole thing that I call myself is a bundle of memories and dreams and wishes I have created. By referring to myself through objects, I separate myself from my real inheritance, which is that I am a citizen of the cosmos.
Richard Moss: That someone on the street can insult you and you contract is part of the beauty of this world. The creature in us structures our activities to seek pleasure and avoid pain. What structures the average human mind is the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment through jobs, appearance, money, whom we marry and so on. A higher level of consciousness structures the mind through the desire for truth, for true understanding. You can meditate, and you can have glimpses of cosmic consciousness, but you have to turn into this world. You can’t say to the world, “Oh, the world is maya, it’s a lie.” You turn to your wife or husband and discover how much pain you can cause in them, and you have to take responsibility for it. Or you feel yourself contract because you lose a job, and you realize that you are identified once again with this separate self. If the first part of the process is ascending to this wonderful state of unitive consciousness, the process is not complete until we bring that into every corner of our human experience – how we raise our children, how we live, how we care for each other. We will be provoked to contract. To the extent that we are insecure we will be provoked into seeking until, we begin to realize, I can’t speak for myself because I still contract, but a deep place inside of me realizes that I am not that one who contracts.
Deepak Chopra: We have to go through it in order to transcend it. And there is no hurry; we have all of eternity to recognize who we really are. What’s the big hurry? Whatever we are doing at this moment is from the level of awareness we are in, and in that sense, we all do the best we can. It’s okay to desire; it is okay to get insulted. I am reminded of the prayer of St. Augustine in which he says, “Lord give me chastity, give me continence, but not just now.”
Richard Moss: I am going to ask you a personal question. When a voice of doubt arises within you, what does it say to you so that you get the chance to reexamine yourself?
Deepak Chopra: Doubt talks to me in the following way, “Deepak, are you so sure of yourself that you know you have created this map in your head? In fact, this may be a meaningless universe, maybe it’s a speck of dust in the mindless void and you are a capricious anomaly in a sea of space; there is really nothing there. This is all your creation and your own imagination; we are freak accidents of nature…” When that doubt comes, I look at the beauty and the grandeur and the magnificence of everything around me, including my own physical body. The human body is the most marvelous, grand and mysterious thing. A psalm in the Bible says, “Behold, I am made so fearfully and so mysteriously.” A human body can thank God, play a piano, kill germs, make a baby, and track the movement of stars. When I see this absolute beauty, my doubt goes away.
Richard Moss: You said there is no hurry, but you write so many books. Are you in a hurry?
Deepak Chopra: No. I have four or five books written now, waiting to be printed. My publisher said, “You’ve got a rage; you are cannibalizing yourself.” Sometimes I feel this compulsive need to regurgitate every insight that I get. That is part of my addictive personality.
Richard Moss: That’s interesting because years ago, early on, when I watched fantastic thoughts come in my mind, as I deepened in meditation, I said to myself, “I will not be a teacher when I meditate; I will not process information to give it to people when I meditate, because the identity of teacher or helper is too small, I know there is something more.” For me, when that arises in meditation, I let that pass through, because that isn’t who I am. I am more than a teacher.
Deepak Chopra: That requires a certain degree of maturity to do that. I am hoping to get that…
Richard Moss: It is an astronomical amount of work, to be composing so much. Do you dictate it?
Deepak Chopra: Yes I do. I was flying the other day from Perth, Australia, to Singapore, and there were delays. It took me twelve hours to get there, and I began thinking of synchronicity and started taking notes. In Singapore, there was another delay before I could leave for India. I was there for five hours, and finally, I had a hundred pages of notes. I got into a telephone booth and dictated on my voice mail a whole book on synchronicity. The manuscript was sitting on my desk when I returned from Asia.
Richard Moss: One of my voices of doubt says, “Richard, when you are teaching, you are accessing energy by the focus of attention on you by the people.” This lifts me to a different clarity, and it helps me stand above the tendency to identify with separate self or isolated self. So it says, “Do not judge yourself by the depth of what you can teach, but only by what you live in the ordinary, in the most benign parts of your life.”
Deepak Chopra: Absolutely true. If you really want to know what somebody is like, speak to his wife.
Richard Moss: What would your wife say about you?
Deepak Chopra: She thinks I am a great intellect, but that I need to mature, that I am still trying to prove something to the world, and that I need to let go of that, and she is right. In the end, what helps me most is to constantly experience gratitude for everything I have, for the relationships I have. Gratitude always brings me to a place of peace. As long as I keep my awareness in the experience of gratitude, the grace of God is there.