REL Impermanence of life is latest Chopra exploration
By Richard Scheinin
Knight Ridder Newspapers
Deepak Chopra returned to India recently to bathe, anoint and cremate his late father's body. The 81-year-old cardiologist had seen patients on the day before his death. But at 1:30 a.m. he woke up and said to his wife, "Please hold my hand, I'm leaving now."
After 15 years as one of the world's best-known authors and lecturers on psychological and spiritual health, Chopra was inspired by his father's "conscious dying." And he began to ponder some of the most basic questions posed by religion: "Where do we come from?" he asks. "Why do some people have such a blissful life and conscious death, and others just the opposite?"
Now Chopra is writing his 27th book, a novel, to explore the theme.
Chopra's best-selling books have been translated into 35 languages. In 1999, Time magazine called the former rural India doctor one of the 20th century's "Top 100 Icons and Heroes" and "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." He recently answered some questions from his office in La Jolla, Calif., where he runs the Chopra Center for Well Being.
Q. Your books cover such a range of subjects. What's the connecting thread?
A. The thread is the evolution of our understanding of ourselves, which is an ongoing process. After my father's death, I went to India and went through rituals that you in the West would find strange. I bathed and anointed my father's body, then carried it on my shoulder, stoked the cremation fires, and watched his body burn. I took his remains to the mouth of the Ganges and watched them float away to return his dust to where he came from. And there was a part of me that was grieving, and yet there was also a part that was celebrating the great, joyous life that he had.
Q. Tell me something about your father's life.
A. Krishan Chopra was a very colorful person. He was a prisoner of war, held by the Japanese during the Second World War. He was a consulting cardiologist at the Royal Heart Hospital in England. My father recorded the first instance of mountain sickness at high altitudes. He was an adventurer, explorer, scientist and humanist. I idolized him.
Q. What new ideas are occurring to you as a result of his death?
A. I am questioning the whole idea that there is such a thing as a person. A few hours after cremation the person has totally disappeared. You collect the bones; they're like little pieces of ivory. You wash them in the Ganges, and then the person merges back into the energy and intelligence of the universe from where he came.
So you start to wonder: For all eternity, we are there in that primordial quantum soup. And for a few years, which is nothing -- it's like the flicker of a firefly in the middle of the night -- we are individuals. And so we identify with the flicker instead of the real home that we have. And if we did identify with that real home, I think we would have a lot more love and compassion.
Q. Why is that?
A. Because we would recognize our oneness, our inseparability. When I look at a tree it is my lungs; the earth is my body; the waters are my circulation. It's not environment; it's your extended body. It's you.
Q. Your most recent book is about "How to Know God." The one you're writing is about dying. What's the connection?
A. The grand theme of "How to Know God" is that ultimately we might all be the same being in different disguises. Remove the social mask and there's only one presence there and that is spirit. As long as you think of yourself as a person, you're squeezed into the volume of your body and the span of your lifetime. It's only when you relinquish and let go of your person that you find …; the seer behind the scenery. Those who don't have a social mask -- Mother Teresa or His Holiness the Dalai Lama or even my father -- are very giving people. And because there was no self concern, there was no anxiety …
; Q. Your father didn't fear anything?
A. I never saw him worried, never saw him lose his temper, never saw him upset, never even saw him sick. And he died a conscious death. And this conscious dying in Indian tradition is recognized to be a sign of enlightenment.
Q. What are you afraid of?
A. I'm afraid of getting too sure of myself. I'm not afraid of death or criticism; I'm a happy person. But I'm on a journey like anyone else.
Q. What is salvation?
A. Freedom. Salvation means freedom from all your psychological and religious and cultural and historical conditioning. True spirituality is freedom from fear, the fear of mortality.
Q. You write that God is the great organizer of energy, information and intelligence. That's a good definition for the technological age.
A. God generates, organizes and delivers the information and energy and intelligence of the universe and does it through the laws of nature. The laws of nature are actually God's thoughts. So that's why somebody like Einstein gets this high in a moment of discovery. All scientists are aware of this eureka experience and this moment of inspiration -- "inspiration" means to be in spirit.
The reason is, when they've gotten in touch with the laws of nature, they've actually gotten in touch with the thoughts of God.