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Lunch with Deepak IV: Drama, Obama’s Dog, and the Pope

A skeptic and a mystic seek common ground. Part four of four.

This post is in response to
Lunch with Deepak III: Bullsh*t, Dawkins, and Watson

This is part 4 of 4. Here are parts 1, 2, and 3.

Matt: So you said you’re committed to knowing reality outside of constructs, right?

Deepak: No, I’m committed to knowing reality as pure consciousness minus all constructs.

Matt: That sounds like an oxymoron. Just the notion of pure consciousness is a construct.

Deepak: If I had to use words, yes. [We head back toward Deepak's office.] So yes, as soon as I use a word, you have to use a construct, right? So pure consciousness as a word is a construct, but pure consciousness as an experience of contentment is not. And then again using a dangerous word. Rumi the mystical poet, he says, God’s language is silence, everything else is poor translation.

So I asked Dawkins in the debate, Have you ever experienced transcendence? I don’t think he understood the word. And yet that’s the inspiration for all great science, art, music, whatever, you know?

Matt: Right.

Deepak: So once you start using words, which is a human, amazing human enterprise, by the way, and then one construct leads to another, mathematical, this, that, the other, you break one construct, the whole thing falls apart.

Matt: Even before you get to the use of words, just your conceptual notion of pure consciousness is a construct.

Deepak: Let me tell you what I have experienced, which millions of people also have experienced through the ages. It is existence as awareness, with no images, no sensations, no thoughts, no boundaries, no feelings, no perceptions, just being. That’s it. Boundaryless but still aware. A knowing that I exist. Not as this form and not as this phenomenon, and then when I think about it I realize that every form is a phenomenon. Every form is a phenomenon. And every phenomenon is the arising and subsiding of expectations of consciousness as sensations, images, feelings, thoughts, and perceptions. The rest is a story. And those sensations, images, feelings, thoughts, perceptions are the excitations of my own consciousness. Now every night, what happens? I close my eyes and I have a practice—by the way, it’s called yoga nidra, which is yoga in sleep, okay? And what’s the practice? The practice is very simple. It’s a well-known practice, by the way, amongst the people who are in our ecosystem of spirituality [laughs].

So I sit in bed and I recapitulate the day. I woke up this morning, I had a meeting with a philanthropist, I did my Facebook post, I did a couple of tweets, I met Matt, I’m going to meet Paulette, I’m having the evening, so I sit in bed and I experience what happened. For me at the end of today before I go to bed this will be a dream. It’s ungraspable, it’s gone. It was basically excitations of consciousness, the lucid dream that we call now. Then I sit in bed, the lights are dimmed, and I just look around and experience shapes and forms without necessarily labeling them, including the shape and form of my own body. Then I close my eyes. Then I simply experience sound. It might be the hum of the air conditioner. May my own occasional cough. Maybe somebody in the other room making a noise. I experience sound by putting my attention on the experience of sound. Then I take away my attention from the experience of sound. I experience sensations in my body. All this with the inner knowing after all these years that these expectations of my consciousness, the forms, the colors, the shapes. Then I take away my attention from bodily sensation and experience my breath and then slowly I take away my attention to my breath to that where this experience is happening, which is me, I, what I call I. I also, in a very subtle way without using words, I say what happened today is a dream, it’s gone, ungraspable. What I am experiencing now is also a lucid dream. Now I will prepare myself for my dream at night, and I will experience awareness in the dream, what we would normally call a lucid dream, and I’ve developed that over the years so. Actually I can witness my dreams, okay, so I can be the witness of the dream.

Matt: Are all your dreams lucid dreams?

Deepak: Yeah but they’re not so lucid as this experience, okay?

Matt: Do you realize you are in a dream during the dream?

Deepak: I realize I’m in a dream. But I also tell myself I will be awake in deep sleep. [Laughter.] Okay? By the way, these are by the way regular spiritual practices. For those who are outside this ecosystem it’s weird, but I tell myself that I’ll be aware in my dream. So over the years, I have now an experience that I can call local and nonlocal at the same time. I know that this is a fluctuation of consciousness, and in deep sleep all fluctuations die down. It’s rehearsal for death. Every 24 hours I go through what is called pure consciousness, which is by the way the same thing as deep sleep, except I’m not aware.

Matt: Deep dreamless sleep? [I feel like this is the opposite of being aware.]

Deepak: Deep dreamless sleep. Let me show you my app. So last night the sleep duration seven hours so and so, time to fall asleep 20 minutes, light, deep, REM. And then if I go back it gives me my score, and I go back a little bit more. I have like multiple of these apps because I’m always experimenting with myself, so I have these different things, but basically, I monitor my sleep, my dreams, my lucid dreams, this is a lucid dream. Two minutes from now after you leave this will be a not-so-lucid dream, when you think about it. It will be like the dream at night. So at night then I experience the dream and I’m aware of it, it’s not so lucid, but then as I’m going to sleep I’m aware of being asleep. Then when I wake up I check my data but I also recall the night’s dream. What this has done over the years is I’ve stopped identifying with the dream because I see it as provisional. Every experience is provisional, every identity is provisional. Except what I’m now calling pure consciousness. And some people experience that when they take ketamine [laughter] or ayahuasca or other stuff.

Matt: Some identities are more provisional than others. Some it’s hard to escape from.

Deepak: Unless you make a lifelong quest to escape from them. That’s what in spiritual traditions, including Christianity, it says to be in the world and not of it. I don’t use those words. I say to be local and non-local at the same time. The practical advantage of this is, there’s no hysteria, there’s no drama, there’s no fighting for a cause, because everybody’s ideologically tied to their dream. And you can’t get them out, you can’t get them out. You saw that in the debate, right?

Matt: Sometimes it’s good to fight for a cause.

Deepak: Yeah. I agree. I agree. But we get to that cause only because of ideological conflicts. Every conflict in the world is ideological. And right now it’s at the lowest level of awareness. The lowest, most banal, most cruel, I mean we say this is a sane world. If you say this is sanity, you’re insane. Global warming—climate change, whatever—the extinction of species, risking our own extinction, mechanized death, social and economic injustice: normal! It’s like you’re in an insane asylum! And the value of doing spiritual discipline is you don’t escape the insane asylum but you do pick up your visitor’s badge. [Laughter.] I’ve picked up my visitor’s badge, I fight for causes, you know, I have my own philanthropies. I met a philanthropist this morning. He’s engaged in global philanthropy for giving for feeling good. I said it’s more than feeling good. When you give your inflammatory markers go down. We’ve published that research. When people feel gratitude or give, inflammatory markers, which are models, they go down in the body, feel healthier, your body blood pressure goes down, all of that. And so, you know, all that we call alternative medicine, which I don’t use the word myself, although I’m labeled with it, integrative medicine is the word I use, that is basically integrating the best of mechanistic science with the best of what I would say consciousness-based understanding of your body and focusing on subjective experiences, and looking at the biological correlates. So epigenetics was dismissed by Dawkins, but he also said panpsychism, he was very dismissive of it when he first heard of it. Actually, he hadn’t heard about it until say five years ago. He’s so constricted in his vision.

Matt: So you talk about wanting to avoid conflict but you have conflicts—

Deepak: Except I don’t get emotionally involved.

Matt: —and I don’t think it’s good to avoid conflict. Evolution is based on conflict.

Deepak: Uh, yeah, but it’s also based on cooperation.

Matt: It’s good to have both.

Deepak: Yeah. Contained conflict. I think explicit enemies are implicit allies. They keep each other going. Trump and Kim Jung keep each other going. I avoid conflict but as I’ve grown older, I just turned 71, I’m not affected by it emotionally the way I used to be. I’m not affected by the drama of it.

Matt: I don’t buy that.

Deepak: Why?

Matt: I think it’s impossible not to be affected emotionally by conflict.

Deepak: Well, if you make a discipline out of it, and you see it’s all drama based on ideological constructs.

Matt: Maybe you can reduce your knee-jerk reaction to things but it’s hard for animals to erase their own emotions.

Deepak: Okay, yeah, okay, I agree, yeah, I agree. But emotions are biological functions, we know that now right? And yet emotions are not in the realm of [knocks on table] what we call matter. In fact, matter is a useful construct. That’s all it is. So let me show you, I wanted to show you this, what was I going to show you? One of the most brilliant scientists ever. But we had this argument because he believes mystical experiences are serotonin [laughter].

Matt: Yeah.

Deepak: [Laughter.] So I said, "You created the concept of serotonin. There was no serotonin until you described it," I said to this guy. He was listening. I mean we had Andrew Weil there, who is also an integrative guy. Originally we went, he was at Harvard when I was at Harvard many years ago, and so Andrew—here we are, that’s my 94-year-old professor, and that’s Andrew Weil. And he was a professor of endocrinology. He actually trained me. Everything I know about endocrinology is from him. But he’s still wedded to serotonin. I mean he was one of the original people and the whole thing.

Matt: So there’s the potential for a never-ending cycle of believing in the brain as a model—as a construct—in consciousness, but then thinking that that consciousness is a result of the brain, but then thinking that that brain is a model in consciousness. So it’s a Russian nesting doll of constructs.

Deepak: That is the hard problem. [The so-called "hard problem of consciousness," the mystery of why subjectively experience exists at all.] Everybody says, all the physicalists say, Heather Berlin will say that consciousness is a product of the brain. Show how. How does a neural network producing peptides create this experience? Where is this experience happening? Don’t tell me it’s happening in the brain. This room, this body, and that building does not fit into the brain. That’s naïve realism.

Matt: Yep.

Deepak: That’s the hard problem. That is the hard problem, and it will remain hard as long as you believe in the superstition of matter. It’s unsolvable.

Matt: Yes, I agree. So the best existing model that we have, which has this big problem of the hard problem of consciousness, is that somehow consciousness is produced by the brain. We don’t know how, but it appears that it probably is.

Deepak: The brain is a perceptual experience in consciousness.

Matt: Which is then created by the brain. Which is then in consciousness. Which has been created by the brain.

Deepak: Created by the brain is a supposition.

Matt: So is the notion that—so you’re saying that the construct of the brain is within this context of just consciousness which is all that exists, and that’s where it ends.

Deepak: It’s a human creation.

Matt: Okay. It’s possible that this consciousness is created by the brain.

Deepak: If consciousness is infinite, it was never created, it is not in time, it is non-local, and it’s eternal. [Question for next time: Why does he believe consciousness is "infinite"?] Everything else is a fluctuation in that. And it’s a species-specific fluctuation. Why do we feel that this whole thing is just the only experience that consciousness has? Consciousness is having innumerable experiences as what we referred to in Eastern traditions not as biological organisms but as sentient beings. Each sentient being is a rivulet of infinite consciousness in time.

Matt: Why don’t the rivulets experience each other if they’re part of the same—

Deepak: To some extent they do. To some extent they do. I don’t know if Obama remembers that, but I asked him. I said. "Does Bo, your dog, know that you’re the president of the United States? Does your Bo, your dog, know that he’s sitting next to you in the oval office?" "No." "Okay, but do you have a relationship with that dog?" "Yes." So consciousness has leaky margins. In mammals anyway. Because you have pets, you have cats and dogs horses, people now talk about the horse whisperer, the dog whisperer. They have all these amazing experiences, they have more grief when their dog or horse dies or cat dies than when a human dies, so consciousness has leaky margins, but at its fundamental ground, infinite.

Matt: Inferring what another animal or person must be thinking is different from your consciousness merging with that creature’s consciousness.

Deepak: There’s a relationship. We can collect transpersonal consciousness, transspecies consciousness. It’s a very holy experience. I can tell you it’s very sacred to feel that way.

Matt: Like, are you tapped into my consciousness right now, or are you just thinking about what I might be thinking?

Deepak: There are experiments, again very difficult to get this published, very difficult to get this published, because even peer review goes through constrained models. But I can put 20 people in a room in meditation and then record their brain waves and you would think it’s one brainwave all resonating together.

Matt: That could be explained with people picking up on social cues or physical cues or factors in the environment.

Deepak: Sure, I mean you could explain anything. Once you have a construct you can explain anything within the frames of the construct. You know, there’s a mythical story of somebody going to some remote part of India and he’s dancing alone in the forest. And so this British anthropologist comes to him and says, ‘What are you doing dancing all by yourself?’ He says, ‘What do you mean all by myself?’ [Laughs] He says, ‘If you’re not dancing with me you can’t hear the music.’ That’s all. So what I think is needed if you want to make progress is scientists to step off their ivory thrones and talk to people who have spiritual experience, talk to people who are artistic geniuses. I mean they tap into something so remarkable. If I look at Van Gogh, I feel something, I feel the consciousness of Van Gogh.

Matt: Hmmm. [Skeptical.]

Deepak: I feel what must have inspired that. By the way, I’m going to the Vatican this week. I’m on one of their boards for technology and science. The current pope is very interested in stem cells and stem cell research, and so they’re actually, with all their backwardness, there is a new fresh look in this current pope’s mentality, but he’s not doing it too rapidly because he’ll lose his church if he does it too rapidly. So now that I found that you can find stem cells in the circulation, let’s talk about stem cells. But what’s a stem cell? It’s a pluripotential cell. Before it differentiates into this body. Now of course there are all kinds of new explanations, it’s epigenetic it’s this and that, but that’s one of the greatest mysteries of existence. Morphogenesis and differentiation. Now we’ve created a construct called embryology and then you can become an expert in it and say this this this this this, all within that remark. But outside the framework there are other people looking at that trend.

Matt: As a side note, your defining the potential for consciousness as consciousness, I think that confuses people.

Deepak: Uh, yeah. The potential for experience. Consciousness is the potential—which nobody understood at the debate—I said it’s the immeasurable potential for all forms of knowing and experience in all species.

Matt: I think referring to that mere potential for experience as consciousness—

Deepak: That’s how it’s defined, by the way, in Eastern wisdom and spiritual traditions. Consciousness is the immeasurable potential for all experiences in the past, present, and future.

Matt: That’s definitely confusing for people like me who use consciousness synonymously with experience.

Deepak: Because people like you were trained in the model that the brain produces consciousness. [I get the idea; it’s just a matter of differing terminology.] Once you’re trained in that model you’re stuck with it. And there’s nothing wrong, by the way except that we end up fighting about it. [Laughter.] We shouldn’t. We should see what all the other models of reality are. Which may not be useful for making planes or gadgets or iPhones. But they may be very useful in finding security in being, or in the mystery of experience and surrendering to it.

Matt: Are there empirical studies on the therapeutic value of believing in non-dualism?

Deepak: We just published a study, published of course in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine—where else, nobody will accept that study—where yes, people have more peace, they have better quality of life etc. We also published a study in Nature Translational Psychiatry with a Nobel laureate where a week’s meditation increases the levels of telomerase by 40% and increased the activity of genes that create homeostasis significantly. Some genes went up 17 times over baseline, some genes went down, the ones for inflammation, as a result of the peace people were experiencing. The genes for inflammation went down. The actual research was done here at Mount Sinai by Eric Schadt, who is one of the world’s experts on RNA transcriptome, etc. So when he gave his talk at our center and he showed the slide which I’m happy to send you, 17 times over baseline gene activation goes up, somebody asked him, "Dr. Schadt, do you meditate?" He said "No." 'Are you planning to?" He said, "No." "But you just showed us your own study that shows what happens to genes." He said, "Yeah, but I’m going to figure out how to make a drug out of this."

Matt: Is it possible to meditate and get those results without—

Deepak: Without buying into the ideology.

Matt: Yeah.

Deepak: Yep. I can take anybody through that experience and show them what happens within a week to their gene expression. And by the way, after we published, replicated all over. Harvard, everywhere. We have a Nobel laureate with our collaboration, but now she’s getting a bad rep, collaborated with this guy. [Laughter.]

Matt: Even if there’s no problem with the methodology or the analysis, just the fact that your name is attached?

Deepak: That’s it. My name is attached. Now there’s one guy here, last week published a paper, he’s a pathologist, and he made headlines with a paper published in Nature Scientific Reports. He’s discovered a new organ called the interstitium. So now what happens is, people look up his credentials. He’s a professor, he’s gay, flamboyantly, a brilliant scientist. The first person to show stem cells in the circulation. But he has been to conferences with me. And it’s on the Internet. Okay, Neil Theise. And he talks about consciousness. The paper has been questioned.

Matt: “He’s a wacko.”

Deepak: “He’s a wacko, and the paper has no credibility. How could it? He’s with Deepak Chopra." [Laughter.] Listen, we should continue this. I’m enjoying this meeting with you, but I have to meet Paulette. But thanks for coming. [He gives me books, including War of the Worldviews, with portions written by Deepak and the physicist Leonard Mlodinow.] Okay so he does all the writing for Steven Hawking. He’s the one who’s been told don’t hang out with the charlatan, so the sciences of spirituality. We were both in a different mode when we wrote this. Three or four years ago. Now we talk to each other. At that time, I was giving a talk at Caltech and I was talking about consciousness, and he stood up in the audience and he said, "I work with Steven Hawking. Everything you’re saying is wrong." And it was a humiliating moment. It was on the Internet. So I called him, I said, "You know nothing about consciousness. I know nothing about science. Let’s talk." And that’s how this book cane about.

Come this evening if you can [to a meditation with Rupert Spira]. You’ll enjoy it.