Friday, February 29, 2008

Interview with Fritjof Capra

By Barbara Vogl

Fritjof Capra is the author of the ground-breaking book, The Tao of Physics (1975) which explores the parallels between modern physics and Eastern mysticism. He observed that the world views of both physics and Eastern mysticism emerge when humans "enquire into the essential nature of things, the deeper realms of matter in physics; the deeper realms of consciousness in mysticism when they discover a different reality behind the superficial mechanistic appearance of everyday life." (p. 304) From this beginning, his other books such as his latest, The Web of Life, and his popular film, Mind Walk, have consistently laid the path to his present work as founder and director of the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, California. The Center is dedicated to fostering the understanding and practice of the principles of ecology, the "language of nature." It is dedicated to using those principles for creating sustainable human communities; in particular, learning communities.I first met Fritjof when he was a post doctoral lecturer at the University of California at Santa Cruz in the late '60s. It is obvious to me now, that at that time, his explorations into Eastern mysticism was a search for his own path. At the beginning of The Tao of Physics, he quotes Carlos Castaneda, from The Teachings of Don Juan, a book that had a profound affect on many of us UCSC students. "Look at every path closely and deliberately. Try it as many times as you think necessary. Then ask yourself, and yourself alone, one question...Does this path have a heart? If it does, the path is good; if it doesn't it is of no use." Fritjof Capra's work has heart. I felt it when I met him for the following interview at a cafe in Berkeley where he lives with his wife and 13 year old daughter. ~Barbara Vogl, Editor Barbara: I was reading the book of your conversations with the Benedictine monks, Brother David Stendl-Rost and Brother Thomas Matus, where you emphasize the importance of the sense of Belonging to the Universe, the title of the book. So many of us are confused and wondering where they belong now in our very complex society.

I was wondering how the systemic concept of self-organization in our individual lives and organizations can be useful in helping us to see how to get through the anxiety in our period of transitionÑpassing into new paradigm thinking.

Fritjof: Well I think self-organization and the newer understanding of life and complexity, when it is applied to the social realm and human organizations, can help people to find their authenticity as human beings The old paradigm model is a mechanistic model where people are seen as parts of a big machine and the machine is designed by experts who either sit at the top of the organization or are brought in from outside as consultants. Then this design of new structures is imposed upon the people who work in the organization and they are pigeon-holed in certain departments with well-defined boundaries. So the underlying model is that of a machine working very smoothly.What self-organization tells you, among many other things, is that creativity is an inherent property of all living systems. All living systems are creative because they have the ability to reach out and create something new. In the last 20-25 years we have begun to understand the dynamics of this creativity, in terms of emergence of new structures and in terms of instability, bifurcation points, and the spontaneous emergence of order. This is the underlying dynamics of creativity at all levels of life.When people understand this they will realize that human individuals as well as groups of individuals are inherently creative. So when you have an organization and you want to design a new structure and you bring in outside experts and then impose this structure on the organization you have to spend a lot of energy and money to sell the idea to the employees and the manager. Since human beings are inherently creative they will not accept the idea as it is. since this will deny their humanity. Therefore you can give them orders and they will nominally adhere to the orders but they will circumvent the orders; they will re-invent the orders and will modify it, either boycott it or embellish it, adding their own interpretation.

B. Otherwise their soul wouldn't be in it.

F. So the smart thing.... and entrepreneurs and managers are beginning to learn this now... is not to impose a new structure but to involve people in the creation of this organization because that acknowledges their humanity and inherent creativity. When they participate from the start you don't need to sell them the idea because it is their idea. The ideas of self-organization are very important to understand the autonomy, the authenticity and basic humanity of people.

B. There is so much talk now of the soul and the spirit and this is seeping into the educational literature. I've often felt that the wholistic perspective which includes the soul, the emotions, the intellect and the whole person is a part of the self-organizing process.

F. I, myself, don't use the term 'soul.' I find it has too much baggage and can be misinterpreted. I use the terms 'consciousness' and 'spirit' but not soul.

B. You have said that in the new paradigm, how you observe something changes what you are observing.

F. Right.

B. If, for instance, you were to change how you observe schools, would that actually bring about changes in the structure of schools?

F. This is a difficult question. I think you're referring to an understanding of cognition in the currently emerging theory of living systems. There is a piece that is called the Santiago Theory of Cognition developed by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varella. It says that cognition is not a representation of an objectively existing world but is a bringing forth of a world in the process of living. So the process of knowledge or the process of cognition ( that's what it means, the process of knowledge) is a creative process of bringing forth a world. There is no fixed world out there or fixed objects. This is a difficult subject because it does not mean there is nothing there. It means that there are no "things" there with fixed outlines. So, for instance, when we look at a tree we see a certain outline of the tree and we say, "this is a tree"...we draw a picture of the tree and if we did a little test we would find that most of us wouldn't draw the roots...The part above the ground would be larger than the part showing the roots. But in nature, that's not so. The part below the earth is just as large. In fact, in the forest all the trees are interlinked so there is really only one system, only one network, and the trees nourish each other through this network of roots.So who is to say where one tree begins and another tree ends? Then if you take a cat or a deer looking at a tree, they will see different outlines because their sensory apparatus is different. So what's the correct outline of the tree? Is it mine or is it the deer's or the rabbit's?This shows you that what we call an object really depends on how we look at it and how we look at it depends on who we are.But the important thing to recognize is that we don't need to go through this analysis all the time. This is important to understand.... this process of cognition and to understand how cognition is part of all levels of life. Once you have understood that, you can revert back to seeing external objects. You know in the back of your mind there are no really fixed objects but for us, as humans, we all see more or less the same objects. This is important so that we can say, "let's meet at such and such a place at such and such a time." We don't say there really is no such place; we bring it forth together.

B. That is the clearest explanation I have ever heard.

F. There is a famous Zen saying.
Before you study Zen, rivers are rivers and mountains are mountains.While you study Zen rivers are no longer rivers and mountains are no longer mountains.But when you have reached enlightenment rivers are again rivers and mountains are again mountains.The Santiago Theory is similar. Once you have understood it then you can talk again about rivers and mountains. You don't need to go through the cognitive analysis at each step. So I would say in answer to your questions about schools, it doesn't really play a role--that process of cognition.

B. I see. Schools are not objects. We have an organizational mind that is determined by the machine metaphor and that determines how schools are structured. But if we begin to see organizations as living systems then it would begin to change, wouldn't it?

F. Yes, that would play a big role. What we do at the Center for Ecoliteracy we start with Ecology and we say that the great challenge of our times is to create ecological and sustainable communities. Now when you look at nature you see that nature has the inherent capability to sustain life. Life is over 3 billion years old and from the very first cell has continued in this process to the present day without interruption. I think that, in itself, is a fact that people don't appreciate because of our mechanistic biology which makes us believe that when an organism reproduces it sends the genetic material into the new cell. The DNA from the parents splits and recombines and receives the information for creating the new cell. But this is not what happens. This is the mechanistic model. What happens is that the whole cell splits and what is transferred to the next generation is not just the DNA but the entire cellular process. So all the equipment of the cell plus all the processes that take place in the cell go on, without interruption, when the cell divides. It's like dividing an organization. You say, you guys go over there. This will be your organization but you continue to do your business and accounting and meet for lunch all the -processes continue. And then there's another part that goes over to another side and continues the same processes, circulating the same newsletters, etc. doing the same business. With the cell, it is similar. The process applies continuously and has continued for billions of years. This is quite awe-inspiring.

B. So are you saying memory is transmitted this way?

F. I'm not sure about memory. But it's mimetic material.

B. Gregory Bateson speaks of all life having intelligence.

F. I think you can call it memory but I don't know if that statement is metaphoric or not. So nature has an inherent ability to sustain the same life. But what is happening with human industrial society is that we interfere with nature's ability to sustain life. We disrupt the natural cycle, we decimate the biodiversity, we pollute and poison the environment. What we need to do is fundamentally change our technologies, our businesses, our life styles, our institutions, our physical structures so that they do not interfere with this ongoing process of sustaining life.Now in order to do that, the first thing we need to do is to understand what that process is. Because, if we're going to develop technologies that mimic that process, first we need to understand it. This is what I call ecological literacy.

B. So how do you teach this?

F. There's a theoretical part and a practical part. The theoretical part is systems theory because we're talking about eco systems--living systems--and in order to understand the basic principles of ecology and sustainability we need to think terms of interconnections, relationships, and context. As for the practical part, we could educate our children so they understand it theoretically but if they don't care about it they would throw away the garbage and not recycle and do other harmful things. So at the Center for Ecoliteracy we're trying to foster both the understanding of nature and the love of nature. We get children out into nature...we help them experience ecology. We help them to gain a sense of place....a sense of belonging as Brother David would say. And in this process we teach them ecology.Now, since ecology is based on systems thinking, this helps also with the rest of education. For example, there are a lot of new insights about learning from neuroscience recently that show that the brain is in a constant search for pattern. The children come to school, not with an empty mind but they come with their own context and they relate everything they hear, that's presented to them, to their own context, searching for meaningful patterns. So the search for patterns and meaning is central to the learning process.And again, to understand this you have to think systemically. Just to understand meaning you have to think systemically. Then this affects the instruction because you would want to have a curriculum that is integrated where these same patterns can be recognized. Then, on the other hand, it affects the process of teaching because if you teach in integrated fashion so that what the geography teacher says is related to what the math teacher says and that's related to what the PE teacher does with the kids, obviously those teachers need to talk with each other and collaborate. This translates into community and, in fact, most of our work to date has been in community building, teaching ecology and systems thinking too, but mostly community building. So we teach ecology, the experience of nature, community building, learning theory and integrated curriculum.

B. And that in itself is all integrated in the process because it's all at the same time.

F. And that hangs together through systems thinking...because those are all interconnected systemically.

B. And, for me, that gives the sense and the spirit, ...the feeling of getting it all together...the sense of being a whole piece of cloth...the feeling that people so desperately seem to be needing now.

F. We've been working in schools for 7 years now and what we're hearing from teachers when we ask what ecoliteracy means for them, is that it has made teaching meaningful again. That's the main reason why they like it.

B. And to me, meaningfulness is soul. That's what we seem to be lacking now.

F. To me, it is connectedness. I define meaning as the experience of context. When you see how something belongs to a larger context and not only understand it intellectually, but when you experience this, then you experience meaning.

B. I was reminded of the Constructivist theory in your description.F. Yes that's what I was describing.....absolutely. And of course you could say that the Santiago Theory is also a Constructivist theory. That fits very well.

B. The metaphors we use seem so important because it is only through metaphors that we seem to make that stretch of understanding we need today.

F. Right.B. In your conversation with Brother David you agree that there is a shift of metaphors from Knowledge as a Building to Knowledge as a Network. For example, you point out that 'God as Architect' has been a metaphor in both Science and Religion. Brother David speaks of the new paradigm in religion as containing "a dialogic dimension of meaning." In other words, "our interaction with God as co-creators of the world." Certainly, in the context of Deep Ecology there is dialogue with nature. In both instances there is a shift from domination and control to dialogue. What Riane Eisler would call partnership. This seems a shift from the prevalence of top/down hierarchy to that of an exchange as in a network... a shift from structure to process which you say is a criteria of the new paradigm thinking in Science. Would you say something about Knowledge as a Network?

F. This goes directly back to the basic question, What is Life? because one of the first insights and still one of the most important insights of the systemic understanding of life is that living systems are networks. Again, I think it is important to point out that we're not talking about network structure, although that's also there. For example, the nervous system is a network structure. It is anatomical. But what we're talking about in an organism is a functional network. So its a network of relationships, a network that interconnects the processes. Then you can ask what are these processes? It depends on the level of life you are looking at. If you look at a cell then the process is a chemical process. If you look at an ecosystem the basic network process is feeding relationships. The animals feed on certain plants, the plants feed on sunlight, the plants die, the insects and the fungi feed on them and we have the whole recycling process. When you come to the human realm--human society or community-- the process is communication. You have language and conversation. I think this is why conversations, such as dialogue, is so important now. When we talk about networking in the human realm we don't talk about exchanging chemicals or eating each other, we talk about communication networks.B. And certainly the internet is playing a big part.

F. Yes, it's an electronic communication network.

B. What I like is that in their websites, people can express their creativity and get it out there so it can be exchanged. I see it as a potential for future education.

F. It is a potential but you have to be careful because the computer industry wants to push computers into elementary and even kindergartens and preschools. That is premature. It has to come in at the appropriate level of development of the child because it requires a certain sense of abstraction. At a young age children are much better off playing and learning in the real world rather than in the virtual reality.

B. I'm interested in the difference between purposeful thinking and playful thinking and particularly in story-telling as a way of communicating playfully in order to find meaning.

F. I have thought a lot about purpose recently. Purpose requires the ability to form mental images. If I go somewhere with a purpose I have something in mind. If I develop a strategy for some purpose I need to be able to have alternatives in mind. This is why plants and lower level animals don't have purpose because they don't have a nervous system and they don't have the ability to form mental images. Once children are able to think in an abstract way then they can act purposefully but at the beginning they act more playfully. Of course there is an interplay between the two. My daughter is now 13 and she acts purposefully but she also likes to act playfully.

B. There is increasing interest in the importance of acting playfully in order to further creativity and meaning.

F. One big theme in the new understanding of life is the understanding of complexity and non-linearity. Purposeful thinking is linear thinking. You zoom in on something linearly whereas the playful thinking is non-linear.

B. I think of playful thinking as being much more systemically oriented. Playfulness seems to allow for the kind of letting go so we can deal with the new paradigm thinking. For example, in new paradigm thinking in Science you say there is a shift from truth to approximate description. Everything we say is limited and approximate yet we act as if there were absolute truths.F. In science we know that but I would say not in experience. You can experience true love for instance and it's not approximate.

B. It is your own experience. But there is dogmatism in both religion and science.

F. I think the expression of experience and the verbal representation of experience can never be absolutely true. It is always approximate. But the experience itself can have this feeling of truth.

B. If you think of representation of experience, in other words, knowledge, as approximate, how do you teach children through tests in the old way of teaching?

F. That's not a contradiction at all. In Science, for example, in classical mechanics, I would give my students a test. For instance, I have an object and I drop it from a certain height and they have to calculate how long it takes for this object to reach the ground. They can do this with certain formulas and equations from Newtonian physics but it is approximate because it does not take into account the air resistance. And if a student asks me, "Should I take this into account?" I can say, "No just forget about it. Let's just do it as if it were in a vacuum." But then I can teach them to refine the formula and add a term for air resistance and then it will again be approximate because the air resistance depends on the weather conditions and son and on.

B. It's a part of the fact that everything is interconnected.

F. Right. I sometimes say everything is interconnected but some things are more interconnected than others. This is where Science comes in. We try to identify the important interconnections and leave out the unimportant. Of course there's a risk of error but that's part of the game.

B. Would that relate to being aware of the shift from objective science to epistemic science in your five criteria for new paradigm thinking in Science?

F. Yes, because the nature of the approximation depends on the human observer, on our epistemology.

B. In your childhood or in your life do you feel there was anything that directed you toward the kind of work you do now?

F. Several things. Something that I have recognized only recently is that my early childhood was spent in the country. I grew up in Austria on a farm and the first 12 years of my life I was on the farm and I walked to school for about three miles through the snow and everything. And most of the summer I went around barefoot and I knew all the trees and all the insects, the birds and plants, the fruits and vegetables that were grown. I think that I acquired my basic sense of ecology in my early childhood. Then later on in my teen-age years I was influenced by a very good mathematics teacher and later still by reading Werner Heisenberg's book, Physics and Philosophy. At that point I had already become very interested in quantum physics.

B. When did you read Heisenberg?

F. Well... at the age of 17... before I went to college.

B. Did your exploration into Eastern mysticism have any effect on your development of The Center for Ecoliteracy? Certainly, your book, The Tao of Physics, has affected many of us.

F. I think that my exploration of mystical tradition gave me my whole outlook on reality, together with my work in science. So, yes, it affects everything I do.



In this column, the author will explore theimplementations of the new understandingof life presented in his book, The Web of Life.
For an outline of this new conceptual framework,see Capra's 1995 lecture at Schumacher College,published in Resurgence 178.

ONE OF THE MOST revolutionary aspects of the emerging systems theory of life is the new conception of mind, or cognition, it implies. This new conception was proposed by Gregory Bateson and elaborated more extensively by Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela in a theory known as the Santiago theory of cognition.'
The central insight of the Santiago theory is the identification of cognition, the process of knowing, with the process of life. Cognition, according to Maturana and Varela, is the activity involved in the self-generation and self-perpetuation of living systems. In other words, cognition is the very process of life.
It is obvious that we are dealing here with a radical expansion of the concept of cognition and, implicitly, the concept of mind. In this new view, cognition involves the entire process of life - including perception, emotion, and behaviour - and does not necessarily require a brain and a nervous system. At the human level, however, cognition includes language, conceptual thought, and all the other attributes of human consciousness.
The Santiago theory of cognition, in my view, is the first scientific theory that really overcomes the Cartesian division of mind and matter, and will thus have the most far-reaching implications. Mind and matter no longer appear to belong to two separate categories but are seen as representing two complementary aspects of the phenomenon of life - the process aspect and the structure aspect. At all levels of life, beginning with the simplest cell, mind and matter, process and structure are inseparably connected. Thus, for the first time, we have a scientific theory that unifies mind, matter and life.
Let me illustrate the conceptual advance represented by this unified view with a question that has confused scientists and philosophers for over a hundred years: What is the relationship between the mind and the brain? Neuroscientists have known since the nineteenth century that brain structures and mental functions are intimately connected, but the exact relationship between mind and brain always remained a mystery.
In the Santiago theory the relationship between mind and brain is simple and clear. Descartes' characterization of mind as the "thinking thing" (res cogitans) is finally abandoned. Mind is not a thing but a process - the process of cognition, which is identified with the process of life. The brain is a specific structure through which this process operates. The relationship between mind and brain, therefore, is one between process and structure.
The brain, moreover, is by no means the only structure involved in the process of cognition. In the human organism, as in the organisms of all vertebrates, the immune system is increasingly being recognized as a network that is as complex and interconnected as the nervous system and serves equally important co-ordinating functions.
Classical immunology sees the immune system as the body's defence system, outwardly directed and often described in terms of military metaphors - armies of white blood cells, generals, soldiers, etc. Recent discoveries by Francisco Varela and his colleagues at the University of Paris are seriously challenging this conception. In fact, some researchers now believe that the classical view with its military metaphors has been one of the main stumbling- blocks in our understanding of auto-immune diseases such as AIDS.
Instead of being concentrated and interconnected through anatomical structures like the nervous system, the immune system is dispersed in the lymph fluid, permeating every single tissue. Its components - a class of cells called lymphocytes, popularly known as white blood cells - move around very rapidly and bind chemically to each other. The lymphocytes are an extremely diverse group of cells. Each type is distinguished by specific molecular markers, called "antibodies", sticking out from their surfaces. The human body contains billions of different types of white blood cell, with an enormous ability to bind chemically to any molecular profile in their environment. According to traditional immunology, the lymphocytes identify an intruding agent, the antibodies attach themselves to it and, by doing so, neutralize it.
Recent research has shown that under normal conditions the antibodies circulating in the body bind to many (if not all) types of cell, including themselves. The entire system looks much more like a net- work, more like people talking to each other, than soldiers looking out for an enemy. Gradually, immunologists have been forced to shift their perception from an immune system to an immune network.
This shift in perception presents a big problem for the classical view. If the immune system is a network whose components bind to each other, and if antibodies are meant to eliminate whatever they bind to, we should all be destroying ourselves. Obviously, we are not.
The immune system seems to be able to distinguish between its own body's cells and foreign agents, between self and non-self. But since, in the classical view, for an antibody to recognize a foreign agent means binding to it chemically and thereby neutralizing it, it remains mysterious how the immune system can recognize its own cells.
Varela and his colleagues argue that the immune system needs to be understood as an autonomous, cognitive network which is responsible for the body's "molecular identity". By interacting with one another and with the other body cells, the lymphocytes continually regulate the number of cells and their molecular profiles. Rather than merely reacting against foreign agents, the immune system serves the important function of regulating the organism's cellular and molecular repertoire.
From the perspective of the Santiago theory, this regulatory function is part of the immune system s process of cognition. When foreign molecules enter the body, the resulting response is not their automatic destruction but regulation of their levels within the system's other cognitive activities. The response will vary and will depend upon the entire context of the network.
When immunologists inject large amounts of a foreign agent into the body, as they do in standard animal experiments, the immune system reacts with the massive defensive response described in the classical theory. However, this is a highly contrived laboratory situation. In its natural surroundings, an animal does not receive large amounts of harmful substances. The small amounts that do enter its body are incorporated naturally into the ongoing regulatory activities of its immune network.
With this understanding of the immune system as a cognitive, self-organizing and self-regulating network, the puzzle of the self/non-self distinction is easily resolved. The immune system simply does not and needs not distinguish between body cells and foreign agents, because both are subject to the same regulatory processes. However, when the invading foreign agents are so massive that they cannot be incorporated into the regulatory network, as for example in the case of infections, they will trigger specific mechanisms in the immune system that mount a defensive response.
The field of "cognitive immunology" is still in its infancy, and the self-organizing properties of immune networks are by no means well understood. However, some of the scientists active in this growing field of research have already begun to speculate about exciting clinical applications to the treatment of auto-immune diseases. Future therapeutic strategies are likely to be based on the understanding that auto- immune diseases reflect a failure in the cognitive operation of the immune network and may involve various novel techniques designed to reinforce the network by boosting its connectivity.
Such techniques, however will require a much deeper understanding of the rich dynamics of immune networks before they can be applied effectively. In the long run, the discoveries of cognitive immunology promise to be tremendously important for the whole field of health and healing. In Varela's opinion, a sophisticated psychosomatic ("mind-body") view of health will not develop until we understand the nervous system and the immune system as two interacting cognitive systems, two "brains" in continuous conversation.

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Fritjof Capra

Reflections on the Spirit and Legacy of the Sixties
December 1, 2002
The 1960s were the period of my life during which I experienced the most profound and most radical personal transformation. For those of us who identify with the cultural and political movements of the sixties, that period represents not so much a decade as a state of consciousness, characterized by "transpersonal" expansion, the questioning of authority, a sense of empowerment, and the experience of sensuous beauty and community.
This state of consciousness reached well into the seventies. In fact, one could say that the sixties came to an end only in December 1980, with the shot that killed John Lennon. The immense sense of loss felt by so many of us was, to a great extent, about the loss of an era. For a few days after the fatal shooting we relived the magic of the sixties. We did so in sadness and with tears, but the same feeling of enchantment and of community was once again alive. Wherever you went during those few days — in every neighborhood, every city, every country around the world — you heard John Lennon's music, and the intense idealism that had carried us through the sixties manifested itself once again:
You may say I'm a dreamer,but I'm not the only one.I hope some day you'll join usand the world will live as one.
In this essay, I shall try to evoke the spirit of that remarkable period, identify its defining characteristics, and provide an answer to some questions that are often asked nowadays: What happened to the cultural movements of the sixties? What did they achieve, and what, if any, is their legacy?
expansion of consciousness
The era of the sixties was dominated by an expansion of consciousness in two directions. One movement, in reaction to the increasing materialism and secularism of Western society, embraced a new kind of spirituality akin to the mystical traditions of the East. This involved an expansion of consciousness toward experiences involving nonordinary modes of awareness, which are traditionally achieved through meditation but may also occur in various other contexts, and which psychologists at the time began to call "transpersonal." Psychedelic drugs played a significant role in that movement, as did the human potential movement's promotion of expanded sensory awareness, expressed in its exhortation, "Get out of your head and into your senses!"
The first expansion of consciousness, then, was a movement beyond materialism and toward a new spirituality, beyond ordinary reality via meditative and psychedelic experiences, and beyond rationality through expanded sensory awareness. The combined effect was a continual sense of magic, awe, and wonder that for many of us will forever be associated with the sixties.
questioning of authority
The other movement was an expansion of social consciousness, triggered by a radical questioning of authority. This happened independently in several areas. While the American civil rights movement demanded that Black citizens be included in the political process, the free speech movement at Berkeley and student movements at other universities throughout the United States and Europe demanded the same for students.
In Europe, these movements culminated in the memorable revolt of French university students that is still known simply as "May '68." During that time, all research and teaching activities came to a complete halt at most French universities when the students, led by Daniel Cohn-Bendit, extended their critique to society as a whole and sought the solidarity of the French labor movement to change the entire social order. For three weeks, the administrations of Paris and other French cities, public transport, and businesses of every kind were paralyzed by a general strike. In Paris, people spent most of their time discussing politics in the streets, while the students held strategic discussions at the Sorbonne and other universities. In addition, they occupied the Odéon, the spacious theater of the Comédie Française, and transformed it into a twenty-four-hour "people's parliament," where they discussed their stimulating, albeit highly idealistic, visions of a future social order.
1968 was also the year of the celebrated "Prague Spring," during which Czech citizens, led by Alexander Dubcek, questioned the authority of the Soviet regime, which alarmed the Soviet Communist party to such an extent that, a few months later, it crushed the democratization processes initiated in Prague in its brutal invasion of Czechoslovakia.
In the United States, opposition to the Vietnam war became a political rallying point for the student movement and the counterculture. It sparked a huge anti-war movement, which exerted a major influence on the American political scene and led to many memorable events, including the decision by President Johnson not to seek reelection, the turbulent 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, the Watergate scandal, and the resignation of President Nixon.
a new sense of community
While the civil rights movement questioned the authority of white society and the student movements questioned the authority of their universities on political issues, the women's movement began to question patriarchal authority; humanistic psychologists undermined the authority of doctors and therapists; and the sexual revolution, triggered by the availability of birth control pills, broke down the puritan attitudes toward sexuality that were typical of American culture.
The radical questioning of authority and the expansion of social and transpersonal consciousness gave rise to a whole new culture — a "counterculture" — that defined itself in opposition to the dominant "straight" culture by embracing a different set of values. The members of this alternative culture, who were called "hippies" by outsiders but rarely used that term themselves, were held together by a strong sense of community. To distinguish ourselves from the crew cuts and polyester suits of that era's business executives, we wore long hair, colorful and individualistic clothes, flowers, beads, and other jewelry. Many of us were vegetarians who often baked our own bread, practiced yoga or some other form of meditation, and learned to work with our hands in various crafts.
Our subculture was immediately identifiable and tightly bound together. It had its own rituals, music, poetry, and literature; a common fascination with spirituality and the occult; and the shared vision of a peaceful and beautiful society. Rock music and psychedelic drugs were powerful bonds that strongly influenced the art and lifestyle of the hippie culture. In addition, the closeness, peacefulness, and trust of the hippie communities were expressed in casual communal nudity and freely shared sexuality. In our homes we would frequently burn incense and keep little altars with eclectic collections of statues of Indian gods and goddesses, meditating Buddhas, yarrow stalks or coins for consulting the I Ching, and various personal "sacred" objects.
Although different branches of the sixties movement arose independently and often remained distinct movements with little overlap for several years, they eventually became aware of one another, expressed mutual solidarity, and, during the 1970s, merged more or less into a single subculture. By that time, psychedelic drugs, rock music, and the hippie fashion had transcended national boundaries and had forged strong ties among the international counterculture. Multinational hippie tribes gathered in several countercultural centers — London, Amsterdam, San Francisco, Greenwich Village — as well as in more remote and exotic cities like Marrakech and Katmandu. These frequent cross-cultural exchanges gave rise to an "alternative global awareness" long before the onset of economic globalization.
the sixties' music
The zeitgeist of the sixties found expression in many art forms that often involved radical innovations, absorbed various facets of the counterculture, and strengthened the multiple relationships among the international alternative community.
Rock music was the strongest among these artistic bonds. The Beatles broke down the authority of studios and songwriters by writing their own music and lyrics, creating new musical genres, and setting up their own production company. While doing so, they incorporated many facets of the period's characteristic expansion of consciousness into their songs and lifestyles.
Bob Dylan expressed the spirit of the political protests in powerful poetry and music that became anthems of the sixties. The Rolling Stones represented the counterculture's irreverence, exuberance, and sexual energy, while San Francisco's "acid rock" scene gave expression to its psychedelic experiences.
At the same time, the "free jazz" of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Archie Shepp, and others shattered conventional forms of jazz improvisation and gave expression to spirituality, radical political poetry, street theater, and other elements of the counterculture. Like the jazz musicians, classical composers, such as Karlheinz Stockhausen in Germany and John Cage in the United States, broke down conventional musical forms and incorporated much of the sixties' spontaneity and expanded awareness into their music.
The fascination of the hippies with Indian religious philosophies, art, and culture led to a great popularity of Indian music. Most record collections in those days contained albums of Ravi Shankar, Ali Akbar Khan, and other masters of classical Indian music along with rock and folk music, jazz and blues.
The rock and drug culture of the sixties found its visual expressions in the psychedelic posters of the era's legendary rock concerts, especially in San Francisco, and in album covers of ever increasing sophistication, which became lasting icons of the sixties' subculture. Many rock concerts also featured "light shows" — a novel form of psychedelic art in which images of multicolored, pulsating, and ever changing shapes were projected onto walls and ceilings. Together with the loud rock music, these visual images created highly effective simulations of psychedelic experiences.
new literary forms
The main expressions of sixties' poetry were in the lyrics of rock and folk music. In addition, the "beat poetry" of Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gary Snyder, and others, which had originated a decade earlier and shared many characteristics with the sixties' art forms, remained popular in the counterculture.
One of the major new literary forms was the "magical realism" of Latin American literature. In their short stories and novels, writers like Jorges Luis Borges and Gabriel García Márquez blended descriptions of realistic scenes with fantastic and dreamlike elements, metaphysical allegories, and mythical images. This was a perfect genre for the counterculture's fascination with altered states of consciousness and pervasive sense of magic.
In addition to the Latin American magical realism, science fiction, especially the complex series of Dune novels by Frank Herbert, exerted great fascination on the sixties' youth, as did the fantasy writings of J. R. R. Tolkien and Kurt Vonnegut. Many of us also turned to literary works of the past, such as the romantic novels of Hermann Hesse, in which we saw reflections of our own experiences.
Of equal, if not greater, popularity were the semi-fictional shamanistic writings of Carlos Castaneda, which satisfied the hippies' yearning for spirituality and "separate realities" mediated by psychedelic drugs. In addition, the dramatic encounters between Carlos and the Yaqui sorcerer Don Juan symbolized in a powerful way the clashes between the rational approach of modern industrial societies and the wisdom of traditional cultures.
film and the performing arts
In the sixties, the performing arts experienced radical innovations that broke every imaginable tradition of theater and dance. In fact, in companies like the Living Theater, the Judson Dance Theater, and the San Francisco Mime Troupe, theater and dance were often fused and combined with other forms of art. The performances involved trained actors and dancers as well as visual artists, musicians, poets, filmmakers, and even members of the audience.
Men and women often enjoyed equal status; nudity was frequent. Performances, often with strong political content, took place not only in theaters but also in museums, churches, parks, and in the streets. All these elements combined to create the dramatic expansion of experience and strong sense of community that was typical of the counterculture.
Film, too, was an important medium for expressing the zeitgeist of the sixties. Like the performing artists, the sixties' filmmakers, beginning with the pioneers of the French New Wave cinema, broke with the traditional techniques of their art, introducing multi-media approaches, often abandoning narratives altogether, and using their films to give a powerful voice to social critique.
With their innovative styles, these filmmakers expressed many key characteristics of the counterculture. For example, we can find the sixties' irreverence and political protest in the films of Godard; the questioning of materialism and a pervasive sense of alienation in Antonioni; questioning of the social order and transcendence of ordinary reality in Fellini; the exposure of class hypocrisy in Buñuel; social critique and utopian visions in Kubrik; the breaking down of sexual and gender stereotypes in Warhol; and the portrayal of altered states of consciousness in the works of experimental filmmakers like Kenneth Anger and John Whitney. In addition, the films of these directors are characterized by a strong sense of magical realism.
the legacy of the sixties
Many of the cultural expressions that were radical and subversive in the sixties have been accepted by broad segments of mainstream culture during the subsequent three decades. Examples would be the long hair and sixties fashion, the practice of Eastern forms of meditation and spirituality, recreational use of marijuana, increased sexual freedom, rejection of sexual and gender stereotypes, and the use of rock (and more recently rap) music to express alternative cultural values. All of these were once expressions of the counterculture that were ridiculed, suppressed, and even persecuted by the dominant mainstream society.
Beyond these contemporary expressions of values and esthetics that were shared by the sixties' counterculture, the most important and enduring legacy of that era has been the creation and subsequent flourishing of a global alternative culture that shares a set of core values. Although many of these values — e.g. environmentalism, feminism, gay rights, global justice — were shaped by cultural movements in the seventies, eighties, and nineties, their essential core was first expressed by the sixties' counterculture. In addition, many of today's senior progressive political activists, writers, and community leaders trace the roots of their original inspiration back to the sixties.
Green politics
In the sixties we questioned the dominant society and lived according to different values, but we did not formulate our critique in a coherent, systematic way. We did have concrete criticisms on single issues, such as the Vietnam war, but we did not develop any comprehensive alternative system of values and ideas. Our critique was based on intuitive feeling; we lived and embodied our protest rather than verbalizing and systematizing it.
The seventies brought consolidation of our views. As the magic of the sixties gradually faded, the initial excitement gave way to a period of focusing, digesting, and integrating. Two new cultural movements, the ecology movement and the feminist movement, emerged during the seventies and together provided the much-needed broad framework for our critique and alternative ideas.
The European student movement, which was largely Marxist oriented, was not able to turn its idealistic visions into realities during the sixties. But it kept its social concerns alive during the subsequent decade, while many of its members went through profound personal transformations. Influenced by the two major political themes of the seventies, feminism and ecology, these members of the "new left" broadened their horizons without losing their social consciousness. At the end of the decade, many of them became the leaders of transformed socialist parties. In Germany, these "young socialists" formed coalitions with ecologists, feminists, and peace activists, out of which emerged the Green Party — a new political party whose members confidently declared: "We are neither left nor right; we are in front."
During the 1980s and 1990s, the Green movement became a permanent feature of the European political landscape, and Greens now hold seats in numerous national and regional parliaments around the world. They are the political embodiment of the core values of the sixties.
the end of the Cold War
During the 1970s and 1980s, the American anti-war movement expanded into the anti-nuclear and peace movements, in solidarity with corresponding movements in Europe, especially those in the UK and West Germany. This, in turn, sparked a powerful peace movement in East Germany, led by the Protestant churches, which maintained regular contacts with the West German peace movement, and in particular with Petra Kelly, the charismatic leader of the German Greens.
When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985, he was well aware of the strength of the Western peace movement and accepted our argument that a nuclear war cannot be won and should never be fought. This realization played an important part in Gorbachev's "new thinking" and his restructuring (perestroika) of the Soviet regime, which would lead, eventually, to the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia, and the end of Soviet Communism.
All social and political systems are highly nonlinear and do not lend themselves to being analyzed in terms of linear chains of cause and effect. Nevertheless, careful study of our recent history shows that the key ingredient in creating the climate that led to the end of the Cold War was not the hard-line strategy of the Reagan administration, as the conservative mythology would have it, but the international peace movement. This movement clearly had its political and cultural roots in the student movements and counterculture of the sixties.
the information technology revolution
The last decade of the twentieth century brought a global phenomenon that took most cultural observers by surprise. A new world emerged, shaped by new technologies, new social structures, a new economy, and a new culture. "Globalization" became the term used to summarize the extraordinary changes and the seemingly irresistible momentum that were now felt by millions of people.
A common characteristic of the multiple aspects of globalization is a global information and communications network based on revolutionary new technologies. The information technology revolution is the result of a complex dynamic of technological and human interactions, which produced synergistic effects in three major areas of electronics — computers, microelectronics, and telecommunications. The key innovations that created the radically new electronic environment of the 1990s all took place 20 years earlier, during the 1970s.
It may be surprising to many that, like so many other recent cultural movements, the information technology revolution has important roots in the sixties' counterculture. It was triggered by a dramatic technological development — a shift from data storage and processing in large, isolated machines to the interactive use of microcomputers and the sharing of computer power in electronic networks. This shift was spearheaded by young technology enthusiasts who embraced many aspects of the counterculture, which was still very much alive at that time.
The first commercially successful microcomputer was built in 1976 by two college dropouts, Steve Wosniak and Steve Jobs, in their now legendary garage in Silicon Valley. These young innovators and others like them brought the irreverent attitudes, freewheeling lifestyles, and strong sense of community they had adopted in the counterculture to their working environments. In doing so, they created the relatively informal, open, decentralized, and cooperative working styles that became characteristic of the new information technologies.
global capitalism
However, the ideals of the young technology pioneers of the seventies were not reflected in the new global economy that emerged from the information technology revolution 20 years later. On the contrary, what emerged was a new materialism, excessive corporate greed, and a dramatic rise of unethical behavior among our corporate and political leaders. These harmful and destructive attitudes are direct consequences of a new form of global capitalism, structured largely around electronic networks of financial and informational flows. The so-called "global market" is a network of machines programmed according to the fundamental principle that money-making should take precedence over human rights, democracy, environmental protection, or any other value.
Since the new economy is organized according to this quintessential capitalist principle, it is not surprising that it has produced a multitude of interconnected harmful consequences that are in sharp contradiction to the ideals of the global Green movement: rising social inequality and social exclusion, a breakdown of democracy, more rapid and extensive deterioration of the natural environment, and increasing poverty and alienation. The new global capitalism has threatened and destroyed local communities around the world; and with the pursuit of an ill-conceived biotechnology, it has invaded the sanctity of life by attempting to turn diversity into monoculture, ecology into engineering, and life itself into a commodity.
It has become increasingly clear that global capitalism in its present form is unsustainable and needs to be fundamentally redesigned. Indeed, scholars, community leaders, and grassroots activists around the world are now raising their voices, demanding that we must "change the game" and suggesting concrete ways of doing so.
the global civil society
At the turn of this century, an impressive global coalition of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), many of them led by men and women with deep personal roots in the sixties, formed around the core values of human dignity and ecological sustainability. In 1999, hundreds of these grassroots organizations interlinked electronically for several months to prepare for joint protest actions at the meeting of the World Trade Organization (WTO) in Seattle. The "Seattle Coalition," as it is now called, was extremely successful in derailing the WTO meeting and in making its views known to the world. Its concerted actions have permanently changed the political climate around the issue of economic globalization.
Since that time, the Seattle Coalition, or "global justice movement," has not only organized further protests but has also held several World Social Forum meetings in Porto Alegre, Brazil. At the second of these meetings, the NGOs proposed a whole set of alternative trade policies, including concrete and radical proposals for restructuring global financial institutions, which would profoundly change the nature of globalization.
The global justice movement exemplifies a new kind of political movement that is typical of our Information Age. Because of their skillful use of the Internet, the NGOs in the coalition are able to network with each other, share information, and mobilize their members with unprecedented speed. As a result, the new global NGOs have emerged as effective political actors who are independent of traditional national or international institutions. They constitute a new kind of global civil society.
This new form of alternative global community, sharing core values and making extensive use of electronic networks in addition to frequent human contacts, is one of the most important legacies of the sixties. If it succeeds in reshaping economic globalization so as to make it compatible with the values of human dignity and ecological sustainability, the dreams of the "sixties revolution" will have been realized:
Imagine no possessions,I wonder if you can,no need for greed or hunger,a brotherhood of man.Imagine all the peoplesharing all the world...You may say I'm a dreamer,but I'm not the only one.I hope some day you'll join usand the world will live as one.

Interview By Eliza Thomas

Deepak Chopra

This month, Deepak Chopra celebrates the release of — by our count —his 50th book, The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore. Next month, the beloved physician, poet, prophet and author travels to Costa Rica to lead The Human Forum, a three-day gathering of 500 environmentalists, economists, peace workers, artists and musicians dedicated to creating a more sustainable and compassionate world. The forum, which is open to the public, is an offshoot of Alliance For a New Humanity, Chopra’s ambitious mission to merge the millions of initiatives and individuals working for social change into one great “movement of movements.” “Creativity is the highest expression of spirituality,” Chopra told us, in between taping “The Happiness Prescription” for San Francisco public television. If the social change movement can be organized into one grand symphony, then Chopra, who creates like a man possessed, is our pick for conductor. What is “The Happiness Prescription?”Over the last five or six years, I’ve been looking at the relationship between happiness and subjective wellbeing. Science has focused on stress and disease for years. We know that when you’re stressed it leads to all kinds of problems. Epidemics of our time — cardiovascular disease, cancer, infectious disease and addiction — these are all connected to stress. But [I’ve been focused on] the opposite — if you’re happy, are you healthy? Most people have the idea if I’m healthy, if I have a good relationship, or if I’m successful, I’ll be happy. But it’s the other way around. Life situations don’t make much of a difference. If you win the lottery, you’ll be happy for a little while, but after a year, you’ll be exactly where you were. People have certain set points in their brains for whether they look at things as problems or opportunities. That set point is determined almost genetically, but it can be influenced by meditation, cognitive therapy and, for some people, by antidepressant drugs that act in the very short term but can change your set point. I’ve seen the studies correlating winning the lottery to stress and anxiety in some situations.Yes, this is true. Even if you have a tragedy — let’s say you have a death in the family — after a year or so you’ll be back where you started. Life situation adds about 8-10 percent to your happiness quotient. What makes a significant difference — other than from, say, spiritual discipline or meditation or cognitive therapy — is if you make other people happy, you’re happy. If you do something meaningful, you’re happy. If you have a sense of accomplishment, of creativity, you are happy. If you make a significant difference in your community, or to the environment, you’re happy. But given all that research, there’s something that’s called “existential outcome happiness,” which comes from questions like, “Is there any meaning to our existence?” “Do I have a soul?” “Does God exist?” “What happens to us after we die?” You can have everything, but still have this existential unhappiness. What I’ve been doing is looking into all the research, but then looking deeper into Buddha’s teachings on impermanence, the non-self nature of objects, the non-self nature of our own being, interconnectedness. It has been a great adventure to introduce Buddha’s story as well as his wisdom into this search. I’m hoping it will revive interest in wisdom traditions. If you had to distill your best advice down to one key piece, what would it be?Really understand that you are not a separate self. We are all connected, and everything we call “life” is actually a relationship — even our bodies, which are relationships of organs, which are relationships of tissues, which are relationships of molecules, which are relationships of atoms, which are relationships of subatomic particles. And ultimately there’s only the relationship of consciousness to itself. Somebody totally gets that when they say, “as long as there is me and mine, and me and mine is the predominant internal dialogue, then I will be unhappy.” Because the person you think you are doesn’t exist. You’re a confluence of relationships. If you pay attention to relationship, you will solve even the problem of existential unhappiness. From there, it all includes compassion, which means to be able to suffer with other people. It means to feel the pain of the environment, or what we call the environment, which is really our extended body. It means to be able to help brothers in distress, to understand at the deepest level you wouldn’t exist except in terms of the other. Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself. The deeper meaning is that the other is you. You define yourself. You define even your enemies. You know, George Bush defines himself by looking at his enemies -— Osama Bin Laden, and so on. They’re explicit enemies but they’re also allies, because everything co-creates everything else. To put it simply, the only way to freedom is through compassion. And when there’s compassion there’s love, and when there’s love there’s healing. Not love just as a sentiment, or an emotion, but love as the deepest doing-ness, that we’re actually a single consciousness differentiating into many observers, many points of view and, ultimately, many objects of perception. So in that way, a practice of giving back is like an active expression of our inherent interconnectedness.Yes. But love without giving and love without action is meaningless, and also action without love is irrelevant. There’s lots of angry activism in the world. That’s happened with the environmental movement. If you understand that consciousness is a field, then even justifiable moral outrage adds to the anger of the field. True healing requires activism of a sacred kind, coming from a place of creativity and sobriety, when you’re not outraged even by the gross injustices of the world. Outrage adds to the drama. When you get involved with the melodrama of it all, creativity is lost, and the highest expression of spirituality is creativity, not holiness in the traditional sense, but creativity. We talk about God as the Creator. The more we have access to our own creativity and our collective creativity, the closer we are to the Creator, whatever that mystery is.It seems like you’ve been making a concerted shift towards speaking and focusing on environmental issues.It was a natural evolution. I started as a physician. First you’re treating the body, then you’re treating the mind, then the spirit. Then you realize you can’t treat someone separate of their social interactions. And you can’t look at social interactions isolated from the environment. It’s all one continuum. But the theme remains the same — healing. You have said that humankind’s next evolution will be an evolution of consciousness. What does that mean?If there were a critical mass of people employing insight, imagination, the power of intention, conscious choice making, creativity, inspiration, higher guidance and the awakening of dormant potentials which come about from experiencing our non-local self — which is not the personal self but the transpersonal self — the world would transform, because the world is an expression of our consciousness. Consciousness is a field, and our individual consciousness is just an outcropping of the field. This field transcends space and time, so it would be possible to reach a critical mass that would affect the field itself, transforming even individual consciousness. So that even if you are totally unaware of the greater issues confronting humanity, if there is a critical mass of coherence in that field, your consciousness could spontaneously be affected.In very simple terms, our individual mind is part of a larger mind, whatever you want to call that — “cosmic mind,” “the mind of God,” whatever — we are all contained in one mind. And if there’s turbulence in that mind, then our [individual] minds are in conflict. What keeps you up at night?Meditation. I wake up every hour to meditate for half an hour. I’ve been doing that for almost twenty years; it’s a habit. I meditate in a practice that’s called “witnessing awareness,” and even when my body is fast asleep my consciousness is awake. I get a lot of rest that way. If your mind is still, then even in the waking state your body is completely rested. Sometimes I get so rested that I have to go to the gym.What keeps you focused and motivated and hopeful?I don’t believe in hope. I think hope is a sign of despair. You know, only people who are in despair use the word hope. You have to be in a state of consciousness that is beyond hope and despair, which means a state that is creative, peaceful, not melodramatic, not hysterical, anchored in sobriety and in touch with your soul. Transcendence means beyond hope, beyond despair, beyond pleasure, beyond pain and yet still being conscious of choices you can make that are creative. The best way to change the future is to be fully in the present and to practice intention. But intention not as attachment or addiction.How do you know if your intention is being motivated by attachment or addiction?As long as there is addiction or attachment, there is anxiety. When it’s creative, it’s inspiring and it’s very pleasant. The worst state is addiction. The second is attachment. The third is craving or desire. The fourth is intention. The fifth is just the seed of intention. The sixth is choiceless awareness, which is when you have no choices but you’re so grounded in choiceless awareness that your choices become the ecstatic evolutionary impulse of the universe. So it’s total flow. You don’t make any choices. You allow the universe to choose.What issues are most woefully ignored in public discourse? I would like to hear people talking about economic disparities — really addressing the fact that 50 percent of the world lives on less than $2 per day, 20 percent on less than $1 per day, while we have people who are actually proud to fly private airplanes and display obscene extravagance. It’s already not even politically correct, or won’t be, I hope. [We] must address the fact that there are 250,000 sexual contracts in the brothels of Bombay, that women don’t have any choice because they’re so disempowered. Society has been so primitively sexist. If you empower the women, economy improves, AIDS rates drop and children go to school. So, the answer to AIDS is not retroviral drugs or condoms; it’s the empowerment of women. Extreme poverty can’t be cured by giving aid. The only thing that has been shown to work against poverty is transformation of leadership.What are some of the most exciting ideas or organizations or people that you’ve run across? What’s on your radar these days?I think leadership is the most exciting thing. I teach corporate leadership through a program called “The Soul of Leadership.” Right now I’m working with Frito Lay, a division of Pepsi, which is going to start nutritious projects, completely carbon-neutral manufacturing and consciousness work with 49,000 people next year. So that’s the corporate world, but then there’s the world of the UN which is very grassroots in villages with women and children — and that’s even more exciting.Okay, the final question: what question do you wish our readers would ask of themselves?“How can I help?”Perfect

New Age Supersage

By Ptolemy Tompkins
To chart the transformation of Deepak Chopra from just another proponent of holistic health and nutrition into the international supersage he is today, one needn't look further than the covers of two of his books. On the back of 1997's The Path to Love, Chopra stares out at us wearing a black coat and white collarless shirt that give him a vaguely clerical look. His expression is earnest, but a little geeky. On the back of this fall's The Daughters of Joy: An Adventure of the Heart—Chopra's third novel and his second book published this year—all that has changed. A glint of gray shows at his temples, and the tentative half smile of the earlier picture is replaced by a confident, twinkly-eyed grin. Dressed in a black pullover more Melrose than Madras and posed with the easy confidence of someone used to working with photographers and stylists, Chopra has the look of a guru who has arrived.
And arrived he has. Chopra's Mission Control—the Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California—attracts thousands of visitors and millions of dollars' worth of business each year. His list of friends and admirers runs from Demi Moore to the Dalai Lama. Chopra's 29 books have sold over 10 million copies in English alone and been translated into more than 30 languages. His overall yearly profit exceeds $15 million. His son Gotham and daughter Mallika are each following in his footsteps, Gotham with books and TV gigs and Mallika with a website on human potential. Traditional and alternative medicine, Far Eastern spirituality, New Age philosophy: Chopra's is the name preeminently associated with them all.
Of all the Asian gurus who in recent decades have managed the crossover into the hearts and minds of Westerners seeking enlightenment beyond their own borders, Chopra has arguably been the most successful at erasing apparent differences between East and West by packaging Eastern mystique in credible Western garb. When Larry King turned to him for answers in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, viewers saw a man with a mind completely at home with both tradition and modernity and a heart big enough to mend their differences. Plenty have tried, but no other contemporary importer of Asian wisdom has managed to embody this synthesis in as appealing a package as Chopra has.
Born in New Delhi in 1947, Chopra started out with dreams of becoming a novelist before his cardiologist father convinced him to go to medical school instead. He came west at 21, ending up as an endocrinologist and chief of staff at Boston Regional Medical Center. Fueling himself with coffee, cigarettes and alcohol, dispensing pharmaceuticals that numbed symptoms but often made no deeper impact on his patients' illnesses, Chopra found himself thinking more and more about the heritage of traditional healing he had left behind with his move to America. In 1985, after hearing a lecture by Transcendental Meditation guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Chopra became interested in Ayurveda, an ancient Indian science of healthy living based on an understanding that the physical body has its roots in the world of spirit. Convinced that it held secrets the modern world was in dire need of, Chopra turned his life around. He stopped the cigarettes and alcohol and plunged into a study of Ayurveda and other sciences of traditional healing. Soon he was downloading In-dia's vast corpus of wisdom on the subject into a series of slim, digestible volumes with names like Perfect Health and Uncondi-tional Life. From insomnia to obesity to cancer, no modern misery went unexamined.
With 1993's Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, Chopra broke through in earnest. The book became a best seller, got Chopra wide coverage in the media and established his image as a man of science with the soul of a mystic. In the years since, Chopra has steadily enlarged his reputation from that of healer to philosopher-at-large. East and West, mind and body, science and spirit: Chopra's smiling, ever more confident face has become an icon of the hope that the world is entering a new age of synthesis and understanding where all such rifts will become mere memories.
Anyone with a glancing knowledge of the writings of the human-potential movement of the past 40 years will have no trouble finding in Chopra's work influences, both hidden and acknowledged, from beyond India's borders. Abraham Maslow, Teilhard de Chardin, Joseph Campbell, Carlos Castaneda and other counterculture standards blend into the mix with a healthy helping of contemporary psychologists, biologists and physicists. "Our brains are hardwired to know God," Chopra has said, in a characteristic splice of old-fashioned mysticism and modern techno-speak. In The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, he explains that "the physical universe is nothing other than the Self curving back within Itself to experience Itself as spirit, mind and physical matter ... The same laws that nature uses to create a forest or a galaxy or a star or a human body can also bring about the fulfillment of our deepest desires."
Chopra's take on those desires is one of the aspects of his thought that most sets him apart from the traditional Eastern texts he sources. Does union with the cosmos mean renouncing one's wealth, one's fame or other such amenities? "If you have guilt, fear and insecurity over money or success or anything else," Chopra writes, "these are reflections of guilt, fear and insecurity as basic aspects of your personality." Having thoroughly examined and come to know your true nature, he argues, "you will never feel guilty, fearful or insecure about money or affluence or fulfilling your desires because you will realize that the essence of all material wealth is life energy, it is pure potentiality. And pure potentiality is your intrinsic nature."
In other words: don't worry, Demi.
Chopra's news on pain—desire's unfortunate partner down here in the phenomenal world—is equally cheering. In How to Know God, Chopra explains that for one who is enlightened, "a rotten tooth, a tumor or a detached retina" can each be seen as "a cluster of photons, a warped image made of light ... My identity floats in a quantum fog as photons wink in and out of existence. Observing these shifting patterns, I feel no attachment to any of them. They come and go; I am not even troubled by having no permanent home. It is enough to be bathed in the light."
It's a smooth, seductive rap, unfolding in much the same way in book after book. The Daughters of Joy is no exception. Unlike Chopra's previous novel Soulmate, which dwelt at length on specifically Eastern ideas like karma and reincarnation, Daughters focuses on a figure long popular in Western myth and legend, and among contemporary New Agers as well: the Wise Woman. Its slim plot revolves around Jess Conover, a young reporter at a Boston newspaper. Confused, adrift and emotionally anemic, Jess stumbles, seemingly by chance, on a classified ad in a newspaper: "Love has found you. Tell no one. Just come." Could the message somehow be intended for him? Chopra's loyal readers won't linger a nanosecond on that question. Jess's apparently random discovery of the ad, they will know, is an example of what Chopra calls "SynchroDestiny," a process in which the world around us lays out clues in order to draw us into its deeper levels. Jess wrestles his doubts aside long enough to call the number and drive out to the New Hampshire farmhouse of Dolly, a motherly, enigmatic sage who has, indeed, placed the ad just for him.
Jess soon learns that he has stumbled into a sisterhood of modern mystical sorceresses who, page by page, short-circuit every last one of his ingrained, materialist expectations about the universe and his true place in it. Mysterious potions are drunk, lingering glances exchanged, and the mundane world falls away to reveal a visionary landscape of miracles, marvels and fulfilled hearts—one that, Jess discovers, had been there all along, just waiting for him to stumble on it. "We didn't lead you into an illusion," Dolly explains to Jess as he struggles to find his bearings in this dizzying new world. "Dear me, the places you came from, the things you've trusted all your life, the people you've invested in—those are the illusions."
As is the rule with Chopra's books, the proceedings finish up with clearly laid-out instructions to help the reader find the magic lying at the heart of his or her own world. "Life is set up to bring you every needed situation in its own right time." "Judgment is a negative belief system held in place by stuck energy." "Fear is the spiritual opposite of love." And so forth. "Damn it," Jess remarks at one point in his adventure. "I was caught between sobbing and screaming. En-chantment overload will do that."
Ever since his early days as an advocate of alternative healing and nutrition, Chopra has been a magnet for criticism—most of it from the medical and scientific communities. Accusations have ranged from the dismissive—Chopra is just another huckster purveying watered-down Eastern wisdom mixed with pseudo science and pop psychology—to the outright damning. Chopra's extravagant claims for Ayurveda and other traditional healing techniques can, some have argued, create false hope in genuinely ill people and dissuade them from seeking medical care and guidance. Chopra has weathered all such claims, either with smiling equanimity or, on occasion, a call from his lawyers. In 1996 London's Weekly Standard published an article accusing him of such unsavory activities as plagiarism and soliciting a prostitute. Chopra sued and scored a resounding victory, forcing the paper to recant its charges and print an apology.
That Chopra is a smoothie—who in his quest to construct a pleasing and seamless model of the universe tends to jump to easy conclusions and to spackle over problematic gaps and inconsistencies in the ideas he presents—is obvious to all but his most starry-eyed fans. But grousing about such crimes—as many do—does little to explain his enormous popularity. Chopra is as rich as he is today not because he has been dishonest with anyone, but because his basic message—that love, health and happiness are possible, that mystery is real and that the universe is ultimately a friendly and benevolent place where orthodoxies old and new can meet and make peace with one another—is one that he wants to believe in just as sincerely as his readers do.
"Nothing feels more impossible than human suffering," says a character in The Daughters of Joy. "We get trapped in it because we've lined up our unsolved problems like horses on a merry-go-round. Every day the same horses go around inside our heads. Old grievances, unforgotten pain, resentment, anger, failure and insecurity—the circle keeps turning." Through his books, videos and workshops, Chopra offers a ticket off that merry-go-round. He is hardly to blame if, to date, there has been no shortage of takers.


Deepak Chopra is a traditionally trained physician of Indian origin who emerged onto the American medical scene in the eighties preaching and practicing medicine based on the eastern principals of healing the whole person as opposed to the piecemeal approach often used by many western doctors: treating symptoms and individual ailments with drugs and surgery. After applying more mainstream tactics at the beginning of his career, Chopra stated that he felt like a “legal drug pusher.” Taking note of the teachings of his eastern relatives and other holistic physicians, he instinctually recognized that healing did not take place exclusively in this physical realm. Deepak Chopra dared to proclaim that in order to heal the body, you needed to treat the whole person rather then a conglomeration of body parts. Hence, the term “holistic.”
Deepak Chopra was also so bold as to infer that there was something more at work that impacts our health and wellbeing. Whether you call it your brain’s chemistry, your soul, your consciousness or a combination of the three (whatever terminology makes you feel more comfortable), there is a mysterious, yet legitimate mind/body connection at work in all of us and it is taking place even as you read this. (Allison Kugel):
I want to start by talking to you about meditation, because it’s pertinent to your new book, Buddha. I’ve heard you speak about what should be achieved during meditation. You speak a lot about how in the western world we consider the goal of meditation to be relaxation just because our lives are so crazy and busy. But you actually describe this space that exists in between our conscious thoughts. Can you elaborate on that?
Deepak Chopra: Yeah. The space between our conscious thoughts is referred to as a discontinuity. This is the ground of our existence and more and more it’s being recognized by a few scientists, that the essential nature of everything is a discontinuity. When you look at a table or a tree or a plant or a piece of rock, they too are made up of atoms. The atoms are subatomic particles and the subatomic particles emerge out of something and then disappear into the same place. So a few scientists are beginning to recognize that even though everything appears physical to us and our senses, at the most fundamental level of creation it’s a vibration. It’s something that is going on and off. The space between the two “ons” of every vibration is a discontinuity. That might be the ultimate ground of everything in the universe. So, that means that the discontinuity that exists between your thoughts is the ground of, not only your existence, but the ground of all existence. In other words, the consciousness that is at the background of your thoughts is the same consciousness which is at the background of all the intelligent activity of the whole universe. Does that mean that we’re all sharing the same consciousness?
Deepak Chopra: At the most fundamental level, yes. We’re all contained in a single consciousness. That consciousness has depth to it, so there’s a personal domain, there’s a collective domain and there’s a universal domain. Is the drop in the wave in the ocean the same thing? The answer is yes. They all share the same common bed. When we practice meditation, how can we reach that state?
"Buddha," by Deepak Chopra
Deepak Chopra: Well, there comes a moment, if you’re diligent with your meditation, there comes a moment where there are no thoughts and there is no device that is being used for meditation as well. In the eastern traditions, frequently the device that is used for mediation is called a mantra. Mantra is a sound that has no story attached to it. So if, for example, you mentally repeat the phrase, “Thy will be done,” that really has no story other then surrender. So if you keep mentally repeating something like that, it starts to compete with your thinking process. If you just stay with it very, very effortlessly, then there comes a time when the mantra and the thoughts kind of cancel each other out and your replacement is neither mantra nor thought. And then what is achieved in that state?
Deepak Chopra: Complete silence in the mind and therefore complete silence in the body as well; a state of unity consciousness. What separates you from others is your individual mind that manifests as your personal ego. So if you take that out of the way, there is nothing that separates you from anything else in existence. Now, we know from even fundamental particle physics that the space between subatomic particles or what you call the discontinuity is a field of possibilities. It’s a field where space, time, energy, information and matter all become one. It’s a field where there is uncertainty. It’s a field where there is creativity and it’s a field where there is something called observer effect. The means intention orchestrated fulfillment. It’s a state of consciousness. When consciousness is without thought content, then everything is unified. As mentioned in your book, some of the things that are involved in practicing Buddhism are letting go of the self, non-doing and the concept of time being an illusion. These are concepts that must seem very alien, especially to people in the western world where things like deadlines, ambition and money take precedence. Can you go over each of these things and explain how people here in the United States can incorporate this into their lives?
Deepak Chopra: The non-self refers to no separate self. So the very logic of it, just to take it very logically, you’ll see that your body fluids are the recycling of water, your breath is the recycling of air, your thoughts are the recycling of information, your emotions are the recycling of interactions with other people, your personality is the recycling of relationships. So when you really see yourself in all these different aspects, you see that you don’t exist by yourself. You cannot define yourself without talking about everything else that you’re in relationship to. So the idea of non-self is really a different way of saying that relationship is the key to fulfillment. Without relationships you feel lonely, you feel alienated, you feel fearful. So actually all problems including conflict, war, terrorism, ecological destruction, economic disparities, poverty, lack of caring for what is happening to other people… this is the cause of all our suffering. Buddha is absolutely right… Meaning isolation is the cause…
Deepak Chopra: Fear, isolation and the feeling of separation. The feeling that it’s all “me” or “mine.” It’s a wrong identity. There is no such thing as “me” or “mine.” There is only “us.” There is only what the Buddhists call “interbeingness.” And it’s very much part of western religion. When Jesus Christ says, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” or “Forgive your enemies,” all of that. Everything that is written in the gospel, it’s not about “me” or “mine.” It’s all about “us.” What is non-doing?
Deepak Chopra: Non-doing means when you perform an action without being addicted to the outcome, which is the [source] of stress. You know, the deadlines, meeting this margin in profits, the need to make so much income. What happens is the addiction itself, the anxiety that is created by the addiction in itself, interferes with the process. When a gardener puts a seed into the ground, he doesn’t take it out everyday to see how it is doing. You plant the seed and you pay attention to it. You water the ground and when the season is appropriate the seed comes out. You don’t force it. So the Buddhist’s idea of non-doing simply means that if you are in alignment with the ecstatic evolutionary impulse of creation then your very intention will orchestrate the situation. The circumstances will be events in your life that will give you the creative opportunities to take you to the next place without any anxiety on your part. So again, it’s not only true of Buddhism, but Jesus Christ talks about it. He said, “Look at the lilies of the field. They neither toil nor spin, yet they are more gloriously glowed then Solomon in all his glory.” Or, “I say to you, do not worry about tomorrow.” So the best way to prepare for the future is to be totally in the present and not be addicted to outcome. That is an attitude of non-doing. It’s the attitude that, “Everything I do is part of the impulse of the total universe.” To expand on that point, you come from the point of view, I would assume that we are spiritual beings. Is that correct?
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, by spiritual I mean conscious. Without consciousness there is no life. Why do you suppose we are on this physical plane where we live with money, material objects and things like clothes, jewelry, cars and things like that? Is that a test for us?
Deepak Chopra: Yeah, and it’s also a stage of evolution. When you have all that and you realize that you can say, “Been there, done that,” and it’s not important to you anymore. So every stage of evolution has its own expressions. Do you think one can be enlightened and still enjoy material possessions or do you believe that in order for true enlightenment to be achieved, you have to denounce any kind of materialism?
Deepak Chopra: I think an enlightened person can enjoy everything, with or without material possessions. The difference is addiction. And the concept of time as being an illusion?
Deepak Chopra: Well, if you’re in love then time doesn’t exist. If you’re having a good time, it flies. If you’re having deadlines then you start to think, “I’m running out of time.” If you’re bored you say, “Time is dragging.” If you’re in a very anxious situation, then time takes forever. Time is the way we measure our experience. In the deeper domains where there is unity consciousness, time doesn’t exist. Time is the movement of thought. It separates the observer from the observed when in the deepest reality, the observer and the observed, the seer and the scenery, the lover and the beloved… they’re all the same consciousness. How do you determine, according to your understanding, what you would refer to as the soul or the spirit, and the brain? In other words, when that inner voice speaks to us or when we are having certain thoughts or feelings, what is coming from our soul and what is coming from our brain?
Deepak Chopra: Everything comes from the soul. The brain is an instrument. All your fears, all your anxieties, all your phobias, all your imagination, all your fantasies, all your desires, your creativity, your insight, your intuition, your inspiration, your conflicts… the soul is a place of extreme opposites. It’s a place of ambiguity, a place of uncertainty, and a place of contradiction and paradox. The brain is just the instrument which orchestrates what your soul is. Your soul is evolving. It starts from a place of extreme ignorance and ultimately ends up in a place of extreme enlightenment. That’s our journey. We use our brain and our body to orchestrate everything. But, if you take somebody like a mental health practitioner, and you were to bring up the topics of bipolar disorder, anxiety, depression, phobias, they would argue that it comes from chemical reactions taking place in the brain. Do you disagree?
Deepak Chopra: Well, if I am listening to Beethoven on my radio and my radio is damaged, I won’t be able to hear Beethoven until I fix the radio. They’re right. You have to fix the instrument. But the fault of the instrument is not a reflection of the user of the instrument. Do you always live in a space of complete balance or do you ever have moments, like the rest of us, where you feel out of balance or less peaceful then you’d like to?
Deepak Chopra: I don’t get affected by imbalance, let’s say. So, if I’m traveling from here to Malaysia tonight and I have jetlag… first of all… I don’t experience it the way other people experience it. But, on the other hand if I have it, it’s not a big deal. I’m not uncomfortable by being uncomfortable. You’ve said that you are a follower of the teachings of Buddha, and you wrote a book about it, obviously. Yet, you don’t consider yourself to be a Buddhist or a follower of any particular religion…
Deepak Chopra: Well, my next book is called The Third Jesus, so there you are. I’m trying to see what the experiences were that Jesus Christ had in order to say what he said. The reason it’s called Third Jesus is the first Jesus is historical and the second Jesus is the one hijacked by the Christians and the church. The third Jesus is a state of consciousness which is very similar to Buddha. Is it fair to say that you’re more of a student as opposed to someone who adheres to any one particular religion?
Deepak Chopra: It’s fair to say that I try to see spirituality in the teachings of great wisdom traditions. I try to find the spirituality and the universal insights in the teachings of great prophets… of those people that we call “enlightened.” So, for me there is no difference between the consciousness of, say, Jesus Christ and the consciousness of Buddha. That’s why I think spirituality is the biggest threat to religion. How do you define God?

Deepak Chopra: I think the best definition of God is that God is a mystery. [It’s] the mystery of existence, the mystery of life, the mystery of the universe. As we get closer to this mystery, then we experience love, we experience compassion, we experience creativity, we experience intelligence, we experience joy, we experience loss of fear and loss of fear of even death. We experience inspiration, insight, intuition, imagination. Those are the things that bespeak of the mystery of our own existence. I would say that as soon as you try to conceptualize this mystery, say like a dead white man in the sky, then you lose the essence of the mystery. The moment you conceptualize it, then you limit it to your concept. If God is infinite then God cannot be conceptualized, just like infinity cannot be conceptualized. I would say God is also the source of space, time, energy, information and everything else that exists in the universe. The only definition that’s valid is that God is infinite possibilities. As far as our physical biology, you’ve talked many times about the fact that we are capable of changing our biology and our physiology. On Anderson Cooper 360 you spoke about prayer having a positive impact on health and even helping to potentially reverse life threatening conditions. Do you believe that peoples’ prayers are actually being answered, or is it that by praying you’re getting into a more positive state whereby you’re actually doing it yourself, that you’re changing your own physiology?
Deepak Chopra: Everything you do, you do your own self. Even God is your own creation. I think at the deeper domain, consciousness is what influences biology, what influences social interaction, personal relationships, behavior, environment… everything is the result of consciousness. Now it depends from the depth of which that consciousness is orchestrating its activity. If it’s coming from your limited ego self then it’s not that powerful. If it’s coming from a more collective or universal domain then it’s more powerful. But, everything is you, whether it’s the isolated you, the universal you or the collective you. It’s still you. How can the everyday person tap into this energy to stimulate and improve their own immune system?
Deepak Chopra: It’s a journey. It’s a journey of meditation, behavior and relationships. And it’s a journey of surrender and insight. So if you pay attention to taking time to be still, if you pay attention to nurturing relationships with love and compassion, if you perform actions without being addicted to outcome and if you take the journey of deeper understanding into the nature of reality, then by and by you will have the realization that everything that is happening in your life is a reflection or a mirror of what’s happening in you. Talk about reversing the aging process and what you’ve mentioned in the past about how you can actually reverse it to the point where you can make yourself, biologically speaking, fifteen years younger or fifteen years older then your actual chronological age.
Deepak Chopra: Your biology is an expression of what’s happening in consciousness. The fastest growing segment of the American population right now is over the age of ninety, and in many parts of the world, over the age of one hundred. A lot of that has to do with better nutrition, better lifestyle and better living conditions. That we’re not dying of smallpox or heatstroke or frostbite, and also because our nutritional status is such that our immune systems are healthy. But knowing that, we also know that if somebody is really abusing their body physically and emotionally, they are burned out and they smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and take drugs and alcohol and their relationships are really messed up, then they could be biologically forty-five even though they’re chronologically twenty-five. In other words, the biological markers reflect a much older biology then their chronological years would suggest. Similarly, if you have somebody who is sixty-five or older but they are physically and emotionally fit, then their biological markers could be much younger. Things like blood pressure, bone density, body temperature regulation, metabolic rate, fat content, cardiovascular conditioning, cholesterol, muscle mass, the strength of muscles, sugar tolerance, sex hormones, hearing, vision, skin thickness, immune function… they could be all reflective of a much younger age. The human body is a function of literally, all the forces of nature. If you understand that these forces of nature are an expression of your own consciousness then you can reverse these forces of nature. Are there certain markers in different parts of the world, where people are living to be over one hundred years old and higher? Are there a few things that come to mind in what people are doing there that they’re not doing here [in the United States]?
Deepak Chopra: Yeah. In places where people live much longer they have respect for the elderly. They think that older people are more useful to society. They don’t have the idea that when you’re sixty-five you have to go to Florida and live there in retirement. It’s a different mindset. Have you been ostracized or criticized for your holistic views?
Deepak Chopra: In the eighties, but nothing since then. In the eighties and maybe nineties, but not now. Not in the mainstream medical community?
Deepak Chopra: No. Actually next week I lecture at Harvard Medical School. I do it once a year and I’ve been [lecturing] there for seven years. It’s one of the highest attended lectures by the medical community.
Deepak Chopra That’s good news! Do you find that many medical institutions are asking for your advice and for your input?
Deepak Chopra: Not advice but definitely for education. We have programs that we offer to medical institutions and also people who take our courses (at The Chopra Center). We’re recognized by the American Medical Association for what they call “The Physicians Recognition Award.” You often refer to quantum science. Can you elaborate on what quantum science is?
Deepak Chopra: Quantum Science is that science that looks at activity at a very subatomic level (subatomic = smaller then an atom and therefore the properties that make up an atom) of creation. It gives us more and more insight into the nature of consciousness and what I refer to as discontinuity. What inspired you to write this book about the life of Buddha?
Deepak Chopra: Actually, the death of my father. I was in India and I was cremating my father’s body and even though I’d always thought about death and loss, I still felt it at a deep level. I decided to actually explore this whole idea of impermanence, myself. Then I realized that Buddha had done it so well, so why not explore his life. What do you think Buddha’s ultimate goal was as far as how he lived his life and the example he tried to set?
Deepak Chopra: Well he was a physician in a sense. He made the diagnosis when human beings experienced suffering, and like a good doctor he said, “These are the causes and this is the way out. Here is the prescription.” So I think he never saw himself as a God or a prophet. He said, “If we want to decrease our suffering and the suffering of others, then we have to wake up to our own potential.”