Deepak Chopra and Intent

Deepak Chopra and Intent

Skepticism and a Million Dollar Challenge

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When public perception is skewed and distorted, it’s important to push back. I’ve found myself doing this in the arena of skepticism. Without a doubt we live in a skeptical age, and it affects everyone. To doubt is a tool for finding truth, but like every positive value, there are pitfalls. Skepticism, of the kind advanced by characters as diverse as James “The Amazing” Randi, Richard Dawkins, Laurence Krauss, and Jerry Coyne, does far more harm than good.

 

We’re confronted with a strange mixture of bedfellows: an aging stage magician, an Oxford professor on the rampage against “the God delusion,” an astrophysicist, and a biology professor at the University of Chicago who sees himself as a gadfly against pseudoscience. Behind them marches a ragged band of atheists, scientists, blogosphere pests, mischievous troublemakers, and sincere doubters.

 

What makes this movement particularly strange is that there is no real need for it to exist. Secularism and science won the day long ago. Does anyone seriously believe that our current problems arise from too much reliance on faith in God? Church attendance has been in decline in the U.S. and every other developed country since the 1950s. Other than serving as an outlet for malcontents, the skeptical movement’s posture of holding back the tide of ignorance has little basis or utility. They aren’t converting the believers to atheism. In the face of actual harm done by religion (e.g., the rise of jihadist Islam, the pressure against stem-cell research, the prejudice against gay marriage on the religious right), skepticism has a very small, even insignificant role to play.

 

Solving these problems requires rational people acting out of conscience in a concerted effort to bring a solution. Skepticism, as a gadfly movement, consists of angry people who play “gotcha,” adopt an air of smug superiority, and generally alienate anyone who comes close to them.  So why confront them in the first place?

 

As one of the major confronters, I’d say that my primary goal is to defend the truth of spirituality. The world’s wisdom traditions are just as precious as science. To lump them together as arrant charlatanism (as if Buddha and Jesus stand on the same level as a stage magician or con man) is grossly misleading. To dress up this hostile attitude as scientific and rational only deepens the deception. In the familiar metaphor of Elmer Gantry, the fire and brimstone preacher who was a greater sinner than those he preached to, the skeptical movement is much more close-minded and blindly irrational than anyone they expose.

 

In that light, I recently put out a video called “One Million Dollar Challenge to the Skeptics.” The title plays on Randi’s offer of a million dollars to anyone who can demonstrate the reality of any paranormal, supernatural, or occult power. My offer was the opposite, offering the same amount to any skeptic who could prove how electrochemical activity in the brain produces the appearance of a three-dimensional world, the point being that debunkers of the paranormal can’t come close to explaining the normal. The mystery of everyday reality is confronted by all of us, skeptics and believers alike, and the cumulative efforts of physics, biology, psychology, and neuroscience has only begun to unravel it.

 

Within twenty-four hours, my challenge met with the predictable reaction. My skeptic fans decried the video as silly, ridiculous, a publicity stunt. But in what way was my offer any different from Randi’s? He won a prestigious “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation in 1986, which placed an intellectual seal of approval on his campaign against the paranormal. It began as a challenge to another magician, Uri Geller, but spread out to unseat televangelist faith healers and other merchants of superstition.

 

Since Randi’s reward has never been handed out, the overall effect seems unquestionable: Nothing beyond the grasp of the scientific, rational mind is real. The toxic side effect, however, has been to tar spirituality and hoaxes with the same brush. The educated public buys into this conclusion, and as a result, being on the side of the truth  means that you dismiss faith, healing, alternative medicine, unexplained phenomena, and ancient wisdom while priding yourself that none of it needs examining, since science is the one true way. As a society for the suppression of curiosity, the skeptic movement has no qualms about attacking anyone they please with contempt and ridicule.

 

Sane people stay away from dogfights, and for years I stayed away. But it turns out that a positive good can be achieved by going after the skeptics. Let’s leave aside the whole question of God, faith, miracles, and the so-called supernatural. These things have been incendiary for a long time and arouse stubborn resistance on both sides. The real issue is exactly what my offer focuses on: What is consciousness, how does it create reality, and how far does this reality extend?

 

Compared to this issue, what the skeptics do, for good or ill, is not very significant. Who opposes the exposure of hoaxes? It’s sad that thousands of dedicated researchers and farseeing thinkers earn almost no public attention while noisy skeptics grab the limelight. When all is said and done, the people outside the glare of publicity will do far more good than even the best-intentioned skeptic. The reasoning behind my million-dollar challenge, which is really a challenge against materialism, will be explained in the next post.

 

(To be cont.)

 

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

The Fourth Dimension Is Real, But Who Owns It?

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The human imagination has been inspired for centuries by the possibility of a higher dimension. The ownership of this dimension was in the dubious hands of “charlatans, mystics, and science fiction writers”, to quote a recent article by Michio Kaku, the noted theoretical physicist and best-selling author. Actually, since Heaven can be considered a higher dimension, ownership should be extended to most religious people and many spiritual traditions. But Kaku wasn’t writing to denigrate the concept of a reality beyond the five senses. Instead, he declares that the much-prized Theory of Everything, the holy grail of physics, may not be found without adding a fourth dimension to the three we all navigate in.

 

This is more than an abstract question. The fourth dimension that Kaku describes isn’t time, although time is popularly called the fourth dimension. Rather, physics needs a fourth or fifth or more spatial dimensions (hyperspace) to make mathematical sense of the universe. For fifty or sixty years this goal has proved impossible to reach. The problem is that the four basic forces in nature–gravity, electromagnetism, and the weak and strong forces–are so different from one another that only looking to a higher dimension of “vibration” could hold the key to unifying them.

 

What most fascinates me isn’t this scientific pursuit but its implications for everyday life. Kaku holds that the fourth dimension is inconceivable to the human brain, and he points to evolution as the reason why. Our survival depended on operating skillfully in three dimensions, which allowed our ancestors to judge how to locate and kill game and how to elude prey. An extra dimension wasn’t necessary until mathematics and the frustration of physicists made it so.

 

This is the point at which ownership of higher dimensions becomes controversial. As the realm of God or the gods, of higher states of consciousness, of miracles and other so-called supernatural events, a higher dimension was absolutely necessary in the past. Kaku holds that there was never any scientific proof for that kind of higher dimension, which is arguable. But let’s accept his point. The new ownership of higher dimensions sweeps away all such claims about spirituality. And yet there are surprising resemblances between the two conceptions.

 

Both consider higher dimensions inconceivable and yet necessary for the existence of the universe.

Both attribute powers to the fourth dimension that cannot be duplicated in three dimensions.

Both look on the fourth dimension as a hidden, invisible field that permeates every part of the three-dimensional world.

 

That science and spirituality should have even this much in common is fairly astonishing. The problem, however, is that reality has no ownership. It’s simply real. So what could a higher dimension be that satisfies both claims? To answer this, let me refer to an extended example Kaku offers, derived from a cult novel beloved of scientists titled Flat Land, by Edwin A. Abbott.  The fictional inhabitants of Flat Land, known as Flatlanders, live in two dimensions, or to simplify it, their domain is like a piece of paper with no concept of up or down. As beings of three dimensions, we can look down on the piece of paper and see everything on it, while Flatlanders must travel from one point to the next to discover what’s happening at a distance. So to them, we are omniscient. We can reach down into their land, but they can’t see us coming, so we are invisible until we make our presence felt. We can crumple and manipulate a piece of paper any way we want, which makes us omnipotent, and so on.

 

In other words, our godlike powers are actually the product of limited perception on the part of Flatlanders.  Their brains are not set up to perceive what we take to be natural–the third dimension–and we would smile to be thought of as gods.  Seeming supernatural is one implication of a higher dimension, including the fourth one that our brains can’t perceive. To operate from the fourth dimension seems omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent as related to our world. I’d like to suggest that this isn’t a fiction or a limitation of perception–it’s how reality works.

 

To speak of God, as a spiritual person does, or of vibrations and fields, as a physicist does, amounts to the same order of explanation. There is no relationship between our world and dimensions that are inconceivable. Therefore, no theory or model can describe higher dimensions. Kaku and other physicists are reluctant to concede this point, because they think they possess a tool that can penetrate the inconceivable: mathematics. However, there is no proof that this is true, because many aspects of theoretical physics are beyond experimentation, data collection, and every other extension of the mind, including pet theories about super strings, multiple universes, and the time period at the very beginning of creation, known as the Planck epoch.

 

We might pity Flatlanders because they can’t peer into three dimensions, but we shouldn’t. When they imbue us with omniscience and omnipotence, they are right from the viewpoint of two dimensions. And when spiritual traditions imbue God with the same qualities, there’s a good chance–a rational chance–that something correct is being said.  Not that there is a superhuman patriarch sitting above the clouds, but rather the higher dimension may be the field where mind originates. With mind comes intelligence, awareness, creativity, insight, and infinite possibilities. More pointedly, mind brings mathematics.  This means that math can’t rescue the Theory of Everything, as if it stands apart and can look down upon the universe the way we look down on Flat Land.  Math emerges from the mind field along with everything else.

 

Anyone fascinated by this argument should read Kaku’s articulate article, “Hyperspace–A Scientific Odyssey,” online at his website; it’s geared to the non-scientist reader.  What he calls hyperspace can’t be equated with Heaven.  For one thing, hyperspace applies only to the physical universe, while Heaven crosses over into our inner world. But if the fourth dimension permeates everything we call creation, there may be no difference between hyperspace and Heaven except for whether it contains mind or not. That’s a burning question, which I firmly believe will be settled in favor of mind over matter. Let’s wait and see.

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

 

A Spiritual Mystery: Does God Listen to Prayers? (Part 3)

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It may sound odd at first, but there are ways to improve the chances that God will answer your prayer. In the first two posts we saw that the whole subject of prayer is filled with assumptions and preconceptions. Once they are cleared away, a prayer turns out to be a special kind of intention. Therefore, the rules that apply to intentions, which are rules about consciousness, apply. Your prayer will be answered, or not, depending on events happening out of sight – but not out of mind. The mind furnishes the mechanics of making any intention come true.

 

This quick summary will raise eyebrows if someone denies that the inner and outer worlds are connected. (See the two previous posts for the reasoning behind the union of these two domains of reality.)  The world’s wisdom traditions don’t run into this obstacle, which is peculiar to modern materialism. Yet in a way it’s good to start with a blank slate.  What makes any intention come true? Three vital elements are at work, as mentioned in the first post of this series:

 

1. How deep into the mind is the intention coming from?

2. How steady is your focus?

3. How fluid is your intention?

 

When you perfect these three things, the power of intention becomes real and useful. This is the teaching of Samyama, as it is described in Sanskrit.  Let me treat each element in the way Vedanta prescribes.

 

1. Depth of awareness is Samadhi. Like a river that runs fast on the surface but much more slowly near the bottom, the mind is conceived of as both active and still, even though it’s the same mind. The stillness is present, for example, in the space between thoughts. When you are accustomed to experiencing your mind only through activity (i.e., sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts), the silent source of the mind has been missed. The whole point of Eastern meditation practices is to reacquaint a person with this source. The more often you dive into silent mind, the deeper your intentions are coming from when you aren’t meditating.

What helps Samadhi: meditation, calm, peaceful surroundings, lack of mental agitation, absence of stress, minimal distractions, self-acceptance, self-awareness.

What hurts Samadhi: the opposite of the above.

 

2. Steady mental focus is Dharana. Calling up an intention is natural to everyone’s mind. The key is that the intention be one-pointed, that is, your desire doesn’t conflict with other desires or get dissipated in mental restlessness. To be alert, sharp, and clear should be the goal. This isn’t accomplished overnight, and yet there is nothing exotic to learn. We’ve all experienced moments of knowing exactly what we want and never losing focus as long as our desire holds our attention.

What helps Dharana: Clear thinking, acting purposefully, not losing sight of the goal, confidence, the ability to stick with a mental task, follow-through, diligence

What hurts Dharana: multi-tasking, mental confusion, conflicted desires, lack of self-knowledge, fantasy and daydreaming, short attention span, a craving to escape the self.

 

3. Fluid awareness is Dhyana.  Although all the elements behind intention come naturally and are part of everyone’s mental makeup, there is a seeming contradiction between holding a steady focus (Dharana) and being in a flexible, fluid state of mind (Dhyana). It’s like asking water to be ice and liquid at the same time. But the mind isn’t an object or substance. It exhibits complementary states that seem opposite but actually work together. In this case, an open mind that can adapt to any response is compatible with steady focus. No better example exists than playing a video game, where the player is fiercely intent of scoring points but must be open to every surprising, unexpected event in order to reach a high score. In everyday life, a desire is one-pointed at its inception, but you let it go and await whatever response comes to you. There is a skill involved: Learning to view the world “out there” as responsive to the signals you send to it from “in here.”

What helps Dhyana: Being relaxed and easy, mindfulness, acceptance of things as they are, putting a value on being, trust, believing in the wisdom of uncertainty, allegiance to a higher level of intelligence that organizes reality

What hurts Dhyana:  Tension, anticipation, controlling yourself and others, rigidity, insistence on rules and routines, obsession, compulsive behavior, inability to believe that the universe supports you.

 

In these three elements, as you can see, lies a lifetime of potential unfolding into actuality. Every thought has the power of intention behind it. The only issue is how far you are willing to go to cooperate with this ability, to unearth its possibilities, and improve your skill at Samyama. I’ve deviated from the Indian spiritual tradition by making the power of intention a natural aspect of the mind rather than an advanced, specialized ability that only yogis and swamis can attain. But this is in keeping with the spiritual principle I hold highest: All spiritual attainments are a birthright belonging to everyone. The greatest mysteries are answered by looking at ourselves, here and now.

 

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

A Spiritual Mystery: Does God Listen to Prayers? (Part 2)

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To say that prayers are answered isn’t the same as saying that God answers prayers. In the first case, a thought manifests as reality. You wish, intend, or ask for an outcome, and the outcome appears. In the second case, a supernatural being in the sky listens to millions of requests every day and kindly responds to a few while turning his back on the vast majority. The first post in this series was devoted to a consciousness-based explanation for prayers as opposed to a religious explanation.

The question automatically arises: If answered and unanswered prayers have a basis in our own awareness, what creates the difference? Here, I think, the religious explanation leads to serious difficulties. If you pray to be healed, for example, and the healing doesn’t come, religious thinking puts the blame on you. God has not granted your prayer, the reasoning goes, because you don’t have enough faith. Or you didn’t surrender to his will. Or you have secret sins in your heart that you haven’t repented of. These are time-honored explanations, and the problem with them – as with the existence of God – is that they can’t be proved one way or another. Does God hate you? Is God simply unfair? These are questions that have no basis for a valid answer.

On the other hand, consciousness is undoubtedly real. How to explain its origins remains a mystery, but we all think, and one mode of thinking is to intend for something to happen. If this something is within physical reach, you can reach for it. Grabbing a pizza, starting the car, getting out of bed in the morning – our choice to connect cause-and-effect in these cases is considered normal and natural. Other intentions seem supernatural because the link between cause and effect is invisible.

Yet the reach of the supernatural is actually quite arbitrary from culture to culture. An airplane might easily seem supernatural to an aboriginal culture, or the action of aspirin to eliminate pain, or the ability of a bullet to kill a deer. Before labeling this as a primitive reaction, consider that in modern society we have no explanation for where thoughts come from or how the invisible quantum field gives rise to the appearance of solid, tangible objects. We simply accept that some line of cause-and-effect exists, which will be clarified by future scientists. This article of faith breaks down when you ask the obvious question: Where do cause and effect come from? Ever since the quantum revolution of a century ago, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle disabused physics of naive realism, the notion that reality matches what our five senses tell us.

We live in a universe that is radically different from what our eyes and ears perceive, and one major difference is known as “non-locality.” Even though a rose bush growing in your yard looks isolated, alone, an intact, it is actually an outcropping of the quantum field at the microscopic field, and its position in time and space isn’t local at all. The quanta from which matter arises are at bottom only probability waves, extending infinitely in all directions. At an even finer level all matter and energy vanish into the quantum vacuum, which is a field of pure potential which would appear to the naked eye as a void. So the rose bush is nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

Physics remains baffled about how the non-locality of quantum events turns into the obvious locality of a rose bush, which sits in your yard, not on Mars or the Andromeda galaxy. For a long time the scientific mind resisted the possibility that quantum behavior might apply in everyday life. Reality was divided into two compartments, one for quanta, which are allowed to act as strangely as they like, and one for rose bushes and other “classical” objects, which act in the normal cause-and-effect way. But the notion of two realities is uncomfortable, and in recent decades a genuine effort has been made to find the link between quantum and classical, so that we can have a single reality whose laws and rules are united at some deeper level.

This brings us back to prayers. Let’s say that a prayer is a classical event, or feels like one. You, a unique individual, have a particular request, which you voice in words that no one else is speaking at that instant. What if this classical event gets processed at a non-local level? The notion isn’t far-fetched, because it seems that the mind-body link does consist of fluctuations at the quantum level. If this is so, then any thought, not just a prayer, has quantum implications, and if that’s true, suddenly we have taken a trip into the realm of the non-local.

Your prayer will be answered, or not, depending on events happening out of sight – but not out of mind. By expanding our definition of mind, we can account for answered prayers, and even set down their behavior. Once a prayer is allowed to leave the classical world, it doesn’t become supernatural. It enters another level of Nature, and what happens there is fascinating.

(To be cont.)

Deepak Chopra, MD is the author of more than 80 books with twenty-two New York Times bestsellers including Super Brain. He serves as the founder of The Chopra Foundation and co-founder of The Chopra Center for Wellbeing. Join him at The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists Symposium 2014. www.choprafoundation.org

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