How AI Could Set Us Free

By Deepak Chopra™ MD

Various scientific fields over the course of history have hoped to master Nature for the benefit of humankind. At the top of the heap right now is artificial intelligence (AI), which has allied itself with the technology of robotics. Between them, AI and robotics are having a sizable impact on the workforce as more and more jobs get automated. Advocates of AI are both supremely optimistic and nervous. Both relate to the possibility of a super-intelligent machine that would far surpass human intelligence.

If you are an optimist, this so-called Singularity, as the hypothetical machine is called, would become self-improving. Its software would become free of human constraints, and in a “runaway reaction,” it would keep improving its knowledge and the technology that knowledge creates. The result would be a revolution in human civilization—or its demise. The worriers are nervous that the Singularity could initiate global war on its own, or perhaps turn on us as its inferior and deal us some other kind of fatal blow, for the good of life on Earth.

But these scenarios depend upon an unanswered question: are machines intelligent to begin with? Computers are essentially logic machines that process digital information. But in a recent paper entitled “The Emperor of Strong AI Has No Clothes,” physicist Robert K. Logan in Toronto and Adriana Braga in Rio de Janeiro argue that the dream of a superintelligence has limits that its adherents choose to ignore. (“Strong” AI foresees a machine that is at least as smart and capable as the human mind.) the point that Logan and Braga make is fundamental: human intelligence is far from machine-like, and in addition, our illogical minds are our strength, not a weakness.

The things the Singularity will never get right amount to a long list, to quote the two researchers: “… curiosity, imagination, intuition, emotions, passion, desires, pleasure, aesthetics, joy, purpose, objectives, goals, telos, values, morality, experience, wisdom, judgment, and even humor.” A clever programmer can figure out how to get a computer to answer human questions like “How is your mother feeling?”, “What does chocolate taste like?”, and “Don’t you just love fresh snow?” But having no actual mind, much less a human mind, the machine will be faking it to come up with answers.

It is crucial to realize that the brain isn’t the same as the mind. This runs counter to AI theorists but also neuroscientists, whose entire field is based on the simple equation Brain = Mind. It’s actually quite strange to believe that everything on the Logan-Braga list could be performed by a machine, including the brain, which neuroscience views as essentially a supercomputer made of cells. The confusion over this point is baffling. If you ask a third-grader “What do you want for Christmas?” he would never answer “I haven’t made up my brain yet.” If one middle schooler falls in love with classical music while another falls in love with soccer, it’s clear that their brains didn’t make those choices.

Computers don’t fall in love with anything, because a programmed machine has no attention in the human sense of “paying attention.” Computers are either switched on or off, while we humans occupy a spectrum of attention from total denial to daydreaming, being distracted, focusing in like a laser beam, and growing bored. Personal experience lies behind our likes and dislikes. If you ask a computer, “Do you like tennis?” its answer would be bogus, even if in a split second it could run through the history of tennis, its rules, the psychological benefits of sports, and on and on. The computer has never had the experience of playing tennis; indeed, it has had no experiences at all.

If AI persists in the false assumption that machines can be intelligent the way humans are intelligent, something counter-intuitive might result. Let’s flash forward to the day when robots have taken over every job that a machine could perform and super-computers handle information far beyond the capacity of the human mind. The big question, it seems to me, is what people would decide to do once their minds are freed up. Hordes of humanity, starting in the developed countries, would face a kind of perpetual mental vacation. This could lead to a lotus-eater’s life of dullness, perpetual distraction, and pointless pleasure-seeking.

But there’s another path. To the Logan-Braga list of what distinguishes human intelligence, I’d add “transcendence.” This is actually our unique gift. Given any situation, we are not bound by circumstances imposed on us but can look with fresh eyes, the eyes of self-awareness. To be self-aware is to transcend physical boundaries, including those imposed by a conditioned brain. It’s sadly true that many people live like biological robots, following the conditioning, or mental software, that turn them into non-thinkers. To be ruled by your mental software cuts off the mind’s potential to wake up, to be renewed, to see the world through fresh eyes, and to discover your true self.

The human potential movement has been active for several decades, and yet progress has been blocked for countless people by the simple practicalities of going to work, earning a living, and carrying out every day’s mundane duties and demands. If AI takes over those things, the obstacles to human potential would be radically lessened. This could amount to a leap in the evolution of consciousness. Such a leap is non-technological, or to put it another way, our future evolution depends on developing a technology of consciousness.

The riddle that has remained unsolved for centuries, “What is the mind?”, might become fascinating and compelling to people in their everyday lives. After all, it’s a question no less intriguing than “What is God?” Humanity has spent millennia pondering that question, and at the same time a much smaller band of sages, saints, artists, and savants has been confronting the intimate issues of the world “in here.” It would be ironic if the flaw in strong AI made us more human rather than less. Yet that could very well turn out to be what happens.

 


DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books, September 22, 2020) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com

The Brain Needs Reinventing—Here’s How

By Deepak Chopra™ MD and Rudolph E. Tanzi, Ph.D.

We’re living in a golden age for brain research, which could revolutionize how we think, feel, and behave. Thanks to advanced brain scans like the fMRI, brain activity can be localized and even the most precise activity pinpointed. For example, researchers can spot the minuscule area in the visual cortex that, when damaged, prevents a person from recognizing faces, including his own.

Now the goal of neuroscience is to map the brain’s 100 billion cells and perhaps a quadrillion connections down to the tiniest detail. But what will we use the map for? One obvious area is medicine. The more we know about what goes wrong in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s, the closer we get to a cure. But the highest good would be to reinvent the brain.

“Reinvent” isn’t an exaggeration. Ten thousand years ago Homo sapiens had evolved the same genetic array that modern people inherit, which includes the same brain structure. But in the intervening millennia since then, there arose reading, writing, advanced art and music, mathematics, and science. Each advance required a new relationship between mind and body.

Human beings reinvent the brain as we go along, day by day. You are doing it right now. In short, the brain is a verb, not a noun. It is reshaped by thoughts, memories, desire, and experience.

If genes and a fixed structure of brain cells told the whole story, it would remain a total mystery why a cave dweller after the last Ice Age should have just the right complement of neurons to discover gravity or write a symphony. Now we realize that the human brain is far from fixed, at any level. New brain cells are being formed throughout life; trillions of connections between neurons are developed; and the genetic activity inside each neuron is dynamic, responding to every experience and every stimulus from the outside world.

The brain reflects human existence, which is open-ended. What makes us human is consciousness, which we silently shape simply by perceiving, thinking, wishing, ad exploring. We had to have a brain that is just as open-ended. Because it is dynamic, fluid, and ever-renewing, the brain is much more malleable than anyone ever imagined.

Consider a controversial British medical journal article from 1980 entitled, “Is the brain really necessary?” It was based on the work of British neurologist John Lorber, who had been working with victims of a brain disorder known as hydrocephalus (“water on the brain”), in which excessive fluid builds up. The pressure that results squeezes the life out of brain cells. Hydrocephalus leads to retardation as well as other severe damage and even death.

Lorber had previously written about two infants born with no cerebral cortex. Yet despite this rare and fatal defect, they seemed to be developing normally, with no external signs of damage. One child survived for three months, the other for a year. If this were not remarkable enough, a colleague at Sheffield University sent Lorber a young man who had an enlarged head. He had graduated from college with a first-class honors degree in mathematics and had an I.Q. of 126. There were no symptoms of hydrocephalus; the young man was leading a normal life. Yet a CAT scan revealed, in Lorber’s words, that he had “virtually no brain.” The skull was lined with a thin layer of brain cells about a millimeter thick (less than 1/10 of an inch), while the rest of the space in the skull was filled with cerebral fluid.

This is an appalling disorder to contemplate, but Lorber pushed on, recording over 600 cases. He divided his subjects into four categories depending on how much fluid was in the brain. The most severe category, which accounted for only 10% of the sample, consisted of people whose brain cavity was 95% filled with fluid. Of these, half were severely retarded; the other half, however, had I.Q.s over 100.

These findings were not seriously challenged as being false or distorted. The controversy arose over how to explain them. Even now, when the old view of a fixed brain has been replaced, such radical adaptability is mystifying. But it seems undeniable that reinventing the brain is viable. Stroke victims are rehabilitated on that basis, training undamaged areas of the brain to take up functions lost from the stroke.

Once medical science accepts that the brain can be reinvented, there is no limit. Together with Dr. Rudolph E. Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and a leading researcher on Alzheimer’s, my efforts have been directed at how each person can relate to the brain in a new way. As we argue in our book, Super Brain, the most direct way to improve brain function is through the mind. The mind-body connection is powerful because our habits lead to brain changes. What you pay attention to, what your passion is, your approach to diet, exercise, stress, and even basic emotions like anger and fear – all of these things register in your brain and drastically shape its structure.

In the simplest terms, every experience is either positive or negative when seen as input for the brain. A brain that is processing positive input will grow and evolve much differently from a brain that processes negative input. This has always seemed intuitively right – we all know that children who are well-loved, for example, almost always turn out better than children who are abused. Now we have validation from neuroscience. the most important conclusion is that no one needs to submit to old conditioning. The past can be changed by changing the brain, just as the future can be shaped by how your brain is trained today. Reinventing the brain is much closer than you think.

 

 


DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books, September 22, 2020) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com
RUDOLPH E. TANZI, PH.D. is the Vice-Chair of Neurology, Director of the Genetics and Aging Research Unit, Co-Director of the Henry and Allison McCance Center for Brain Health, and Co-Director of the MassGeneral Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease at Massachusetts General Hospital. He also serves as the Joseph P. and Rose F. Kennedy Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Tanzi discovered several Alzheimer’s disease genes, including all three early-onset familial Alzheimer’s genes, and serves as director of the Alzheimer’s Genome Project. He is also developing therapies for treating and preventing AD using human mini-brain organoid models of the disease, pioneered in his laboratory. Dr. Tanzi has published 600 papers, received numerous awards and was on the 2015 TIME100 Most Influential People in the World list. Dr. Tanzi is a New York Times bestselling author, who has co-authored “Decoding Darkness” and three bestsellers with Deepak Chopra: “Super Brain”, “Super Genes”, and “The Healing Self”.

Is There a Better Way to Be Happy?

By Deepak Chopra™ MD

History is filled with powerful forces that change the face of the Earth, and right now we are experiencing one, an explosion of a new coronavirus that has upended daily life. Forecasts of a change world are in the air once the pandemic is over, but no one really knows what the reset will be, if there is going to be one.

I think the best reset would be over happiness. There is an unquenchable drive for humans to seek happiness, but this means very different things at different times. A day laborer hauling stone to build a cathedral in the Middle Ages was happy, even inspired, by backbreaking physical work that never changed and ended with the breakdown of the body.

That way of being happy is unimaginable to modern people. In developed societies, our formula for happiness generally involves the following: physical comfort, ample leisure, scientific medicine, higher education, endless distractions through entertainment and social media, and a steady supply of consumer goods. In the developing world these values are dominant, not as what people already have but what they aspire to have.

There have been many complaints about our way of being happy. It excludes the poor and widens the income gap around the globe. It is racially unjust; it dumbs down traditional education, flattens various cultures into one media culture, and wipes out local history and customs. Yet for all that, our way of being happy felt inexorable, and it was even branded as “the triumph of the West.”

Now that very inexorability has raised fatal risks, because Nature is complaining. The despoiled environment resulted from careless, reckless behavior that is difficult to reverse because all of us participate in it. The two centuries since the Industrial Revolution has raised global temperatures by a seeming fraction, perhaps 2 degrees Centigrade, moving so slowly that six generations were able to march to the tune of progress without thinking about the Earth.

Our way of being happy isn’t a modern trend, however. It goes back to the notion that human reality is the only reality, that animals and plants exist to serve us and don’t live on our high level. (This issue is very well articulated in a recent TED talk by British historian Greg Anderson. A human-centered reality goes to extremes when Nature itself is diminished to nothing more than a background, the scenery decorating the main event on stage: us.

Without changing our way of being happy, the pernicious effect of how we find happiness will continue and get amplified as developing economies in China and India adopt it for themselves. There will never be a return to religious traditions that revere the Earth as a goddess and Nature as the domain of divine forces. Religion isn’t going to resurface with any power over our consciences. Corporations are going to be driven by the need to satisfy their shareholders with rising profits.

The challenge is to raise our own well-being in such a way that we can pursue happiness in a sustainable world. This is going to be like reassembling a puzzle with new pieces put in place. Stop and ask yourself, would you be happier if

  • The oceans were not polluted with plastic?
  • You got clean air and water while paying a somewhat larger portion of your income for them?
  • Poor societies were raised up to a livable, just, fair way of life?
  • The future was not shadowed by impending natural disasters?
  • Your food was more organic and locally sourced?
  • Nationalism was toned down in order to prevent needless wars and xenophobia?
  • The U.S. defense budget was reduced in order to take the country off the war footing that has been in place since Pearl Harbor?
  • Free trade opened markets to every country?
  • Globalism came to an agreement on reversing climate change, with a strong emphasis on the world’s two major polluters, China and the U.S.?
  • Rich countries organized to solve the problem of refugeeism without regard for prejudice?
  • Ridding the world of atomic weapons became a reality?
  • Consumerism proceeded with fair wages to the workers who produce computers, smartphones, and flat-screen TVS (among many other things we outsource)?
  • All cars were electric?
  • Political parties were told by voters to adopt green platforms?
  • The pending mass extinction of animal and plant species was reversed as quickly as possible.
  • Alternative fuel sources were no more expensive than crude oil?

It seems to me that a wide swath of the population would say that these measures, far from being onerous, would make them feel happier. Certainly each would have the effect of raising the total well-being of Earth’s human population.

As long as we insist on maintaining our present way of being happy, people won’t change. They will hide their heads in the sand not so much out of greed, stupidity, or selfishness as out of fear that cleaning up the planet will hurt them personally. It is pure fantasy to believe in a magic-bullet technology that will make global deterioration go away overnight. Advanced technology will certainly play a part, but at bottom people want to be happy. If we can save the planet’s future by improving our own, a real solution will take place. I seriously doubt that any other solution has a chance.

 


DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books, September 22, 2020) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com

To Live in the Now, Start from the Ground Up

By Deepak Chopra™ MD

One hears a lot about the power of now and the value of living in the present. To achieve this state of awareness requires a major change in everyday life. This much is clear, but producing such change is confusing and frustrating. When people seek personal change in their lives, they often don’t get very far. Even in this day when online advice is bewilderingly abundant and self-improvement books are at our fingertips, change eludes us. One way to remedy this is to start from the ground up. Normally, we feel compelled to start where we are right now, and that’s a tremendous problem.

No matter how different people are, each of us woke up this morning to the same situation. We are constantly involved in thinking, feeling, and doing. No one starts this activity afresh. Instead, we are heavily invested in habits, beliefs, opinions, hopes, dreams, and fears collected from the past. So our thinking, feeling, and doing is entangled with the past even when we want something new, better, fresh, and different.

You can’t always use will power or desire to cut the ties that bind you to the past, but you can do something that will lessen the influence of the past: You can start to see yourself clearly. With that one intention, you are starting from the ground up, because seeing yourself clearly happens here and now. You detach yourself from your story, which is the accumulation of your past. You take a fresh look at what is generating all this thinking, feeling, and doing. The process has to have an origin, a source, a wellspring that sets the active mind going every minute of the day.

Normally, if we try to see ourselves clearly, we are actually looking through a lens. We filter and arrange our experiences. Some experiences we reject, ignore, judge against, or censor. Other experiences we encourage, value, appreciate, and allow to enter our minds. The lens you choose is critical, yet people often don’t realize they have a choice. It doesn’t strike them in the first place that they see themselves—and everything around them—through a lens.

The lens you see through can also be called your mindset, worldview, or simply your state of awareness. Your perspective, on life, family, relationships, work stem from it. Things become confusing because we are caught up in the conflicting stories, explanations, and belief systems that everyone gets exposed to. This confusion can be sorted out once you start to see yourself clearly. Cutting through all the clutter, you discover that you actually know what’s going on. Deep inside, you are fully aware already.

According to Anoop Kumar, my fellow M.D. and an excellent writer on consciousness, there are three lenses you can view life through, configured as Mind 1, 2, or 3 at this moment.

Mind 1: You view life as a separate individual. The leading indicator of Mind 1 is the sense of localization within the body. As a result of being limited by the body, Mind 1 can only detect a world of localized things. As we see ourselves, so we see the world. You localize yourself in your body, and as a result you see a world of separate things. Other people live inside their own bodies, which gives them their own sense of separation. In Mind 1 you provide fertile ground for the ego. “I, me, and mine” become all-important. This makes perfect sense, because your agenda as a separate person is all about the experiences of pleasure and pain that emanate from the body. Even a mental state like anxiety is rooted in the body, because what you fear comes down to a painful feeling “in here.” In every respect Mind 1 is dominated by yes and no to the experiences that come your way. To achieve peace, you must successfully compete in the arena of separate people and things, experiences and events.

Mind 1 seems totally right and natural in the modern secular world. Mind 1 is reflected in science’s total focus on physical things, from microbes and subatomic particles, from the Big Bang to the multiverse. A bestselling book from 1970, Our Bodies, Ourselves, applies to all of us in Mind 1.

Mind 2: Mind 2 is centered in the unity of mind and body. It isn’t necessary to see yourself confined to the physical package of a body. In fact, this mindset can be turned on its head. In place of isolation there is connection; in place of things there is process; in place of hard facts, there is an easy continuous flow. You relax into the flow of experience rather than slicing life into bits that must be judged, analyzed, accepted or rejected. Mind 2 lets you see yourself more clearly, because in reality the mind-body connection is a single continuity. Every thought and feeling creates an effect in every cell. You can consciously create change in the whole system through a switch in awareness. Mind 2 is subtler than Mind 1—you have moved deeper inside who you really are, and those aspects and abilities that were filtered out by Mind 1 begin to come into view. You are the one who experiences, observes, and knows.

For most people Mind 2 begins to dawn when they meditate or do Yoga, finding access to the quiet mind that lies beneath the surface of the restless active mind. With this discovery comes a way to see beyond the separate ego’s fruitless search for “perfect” pleasure, power, or success. As a deeper vision of self and life soaks through all experience, Mind 2 is established.

Mind 3: Mind 3 expands awareness beyond all particulars. It is a radical redefining of what we mean when we use the indicator “I.” It places you in an infinite field of pure awareness, where all things exist as possibilities. This is not only a clear view, it is clarity itself, because there is no thing or process to obstruct your vision. Boundaries don’t exist. There is no past or future. Even the idea of a present vanishes. the clearest view you can possibly have, because there are no boundaries to limit your vision. You are awake, you see things without any filter, your past no longer holds you captive, and therefore you are free, which is why Mind 3 has been known for centuries as liberation. There are no more “mind-forged manacles,” as the poet William Blake memorably called our self-imposed limitations.

Mind 3 is open to everyone, but there is a large obstacle that must be overcome, which is this: We are convinced by the lens we see things through already. Each mindset feels real and complete. You identify with physical things in Mind 1, the most important thing being your body. In Mind 2 you identify with your field of awareness as it brings experiences and sensations that rise and fall. Because it takes an inner journey to reach, Mind 2 isn’t where the mass of humankind is, yet without a doubt anyone can go there. Mind 2 is a more natural fit than Mind 1, in fact, because if you see yourself clearly, you cannot doubt that thinking, feeling, and doing is constantly on the move, ever-changing, ever-renewing itself.

But Mind 2 has its own peculiar limitation. “I” lingers and holds its own by experiencing “my” thinking, feeling, and doing. There is no need for this. Everyone alive, with the fewest exceptions, has been indoctrinated into Mind 1. In Mind 2 you escape this crude, second-hand, socially approved indoctrination. But there is a subtle indoctrination that replaces it, which sees the spiritual life as higher, better, and more valuable than ordinary life. This leads to a subtle clinging, a desire to keep the spiritual goodies coming your way and a self-image superior to those people who have not yet seen the light.

The subtle tendency to possess any idea, however fine that idea is, keeps the ego going. Letting it go entirely feels threatening. Who will I be if there is no I anymore? But if you stand back, this fearful worry only exists because the ego is asking it. Of course “I” will never agree to its own demotion. “I” is about self-preservation. The shift into Mind 3 occurs when you see that there are countless moments when you did without your ego.

Every experience of joy, love, compassion, beauty, peace, and service sets the ego aside. You go beyond “I” in a simple, natural glimpse of who you really are. You are the field of awareness itself, unbounded and free. Every possible experience originates here, before the whole interference of ego, society, family, school, and painful memories even begins.

That’s why Mind 3 has been dubbed the first and last freedom. It is the freedom you attain when you realize that you had it all along. Clear away the clutter, and it is simply there. Mind 1 and Mind 2 are creations, while Mind 3 is uncreated. It is the womb of creation, and when we arrive there, the inevitable feeling is that we’ve returned home at last.

 


DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books, September 22, 2020) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com

Spirituality Means More Than Ever Now

By Deepak Chopra™ MD

It’s natural in troubled times for people to reflect on God and religion as a source of solace and hop, which matters more in a crisis. But with church services being so limited, not to mention the decline in organized religion that has continued for fifty years, God isn’t the pillar of faith that past generations relied on.

I don’t find myself thinking about spirituality in those terms, however. Like a winter coat that’s put away in spring, for many people religion gets put away once the crisis has passed. Crises by their nature go up and down, but the deeper need for spirituality remains. This need is rooted deeper than solace and hope. It’s the need for wisdom. Wisdom is a word that’s open to skepticism and dismissal. Even people who think of themselves as spiritual are likely to think much more about issues like self-esteem and love.

Wisdom is much less personal but of crucial importance. It gives answers to why we exist and what our purpose is. Wisdom offers a vision of consciousness itself, bridging all ages and circumstances. It gets at the heart of reality. Ultimately the search for reality is what binds people who want to reach beyond organized religion and its perceived drawbacks.

Right now the search for wisdom is more important, I think, than the search for God. Ever since Aldous Huxley coined the phrase “the perennial philosophy,” seekers in the West have come to realize that sectarianism is too narrow and religions too orthodox to contain the great body of wisdom that has accumulated over time. The spiritual scene unfolding around us is today’s Americanized version of the perennial philosophy. In all times and places, the perennial philosophy is about transcendence. It’s the evidence based on direct experience that higher consciousness is real.

For many spiritual people there’s little doubt that organized religion, by turning to fundamentalism, is serving reactionary social forces and a dogmatic version of God. Yet it is far more deplorable to ignore the spiritual yearning that exists in us. The current spiritual scene may not fill the vacuum perfectly, but it has many virtues, which I consider real wisdom because it is dynamic and alive.

  • People feel free to express themselves outside the doctrines of organized faiths.
  • They feel open to experiences that earlier generations denied or condemned, and that arch materialists totally deny.
  • They are aware that spirituality is a broad river running back many centuries.
  • They feel included in a magnificent human quest.
  • They believe that evolution of consciousness is real and worth pursuing.
  • They believe they can find a noble vision and begin to live up to it.

These values represent wisdom as personal experience rather than words in a book, however sacred the text. The current spirituality embraces a huge number of people who have tasted transcendence through meditation and various peak experience, those moments when the veil of the personal self drops away and reality is seen without interference by the ego, memory, and old conditioning.

The seekers that one meets vary enormously: students and practitioners of yoga, meditators of every stripe, Jungians brought up in the Fifties, freethinkers and flower children from the Sixties, and even Theosophists, followers of teachers like J. Krishnamurti and gurus like Paramahansa Yogananda, not to mention readers of Huxley, Gerald Heard, and other expatriates who brought Vedanta to Southern California in the era before World War II. It’s a big tent and hardly a new one.

The net result of this diverse movement is hard to calculate. Certainly, there don’t seem to be many inroads into orthodox political or academic thought, but as a grassroots movement personal spirituality is powerful; it stands for the unquenchable idealism of millions of people who either flirt with the perennial philosophy or dive into it more deeply.

The path of wisdom, being timeless, is always open. I don’t see an alternative, frankly, to our spiritual yearnings unless organized religion finds a new flowering, which seems highly unlikely. So whatever the spiritual scene morphs into thirty years from now, at this moment personal seeking and the inward path are the most viable movement we have, and it deserves to be considered on its own terms, without labels but with a love for wisdom and the untapped resource of human possibilities.

 


DEEPAK CHOPRA™ MD, FACP, founder of The Chopra Foundation, a non-profit entity for research on well-being and humanitarianism, and Chopra Global, a whole health company at the intersection of science and spirituality, is a world-renowned pioneer in integrative medicine and personal transformation. Chopra is a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine and Public Health at the University of California, San Diego and serves as a senior scientist with Gallup Organization. He is the author of over 90 books translated into over forty-three languages, including numerous New York Times bestsellers. His 90th book and national bestseller, Metahuman: Unleashing Your Infinite Potential (Harmony Books), unlocks the secrets to moving beyond our present limitations to access a field of infinite possibilities. For the last thirty years, Chopra has been at the forefront of the meditation revolution and his latest book, Total Meditation (Harmony Books, September 22, 2020) will help to achieve new dimensions of stress-free living and joyful living. TIME magazine has described Dr. Chopra as “one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century.” www.deepakchopra.com