Is reality real? Deepak Chopra has dedicated his life to the scientific and spiritual exploration of what is. In this episode, Jeff and Deepak talk about how everything we consider real—from your next thought to the most distant star—is simply a modified form of yourself. When you understand that you are the universe, you begin to access the infinite possibilities within.
Jeff: We'll dive in and try to unpack the nature of reality in 20 minutes.
Deepak: Okay, okay.
Jeff: It'll be an interesting challenge. So, I always start with asking who you are and what do you do.
Deepak: I actually still don't know who I am, I think I'm a dimensionless being in non-local reality. I'm trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life.
Jeff: That's a unique answer, so I'm going to start with an assertion and you're welcome to discredit it.
Jeff: As we unpack the nature of reality and understanding how that can impact our lives, and make us lighter, happier, I have landed on the idea that there are two basic realities. There is this reality of material form that is perceivable and exists in time and space. It's this beautiful persimmon tree that I'm looking out my window at right now. And there is the existence of the formless, which is infinite, without location, and outside of time and space. Is that fair?
Deepak: Yes, that's true. I think here's where people have a lot of confusion, when they use the word "I", they refer to their body-mind.
And so just in that, just in that identification with the body-mind, you create a separation between yourself and the everyday perceptual world that we call the physical world, but your physical body along with its mind is also an activity of the universe. This artificial subject/object split that we have, which is the basis of all science, by the way, the science ... even relativity and Einstein's theories, the observer is always inside the body-mind.
The body-mind is traveling at the speed of light, the body-mind gets to the event horizon. The perspective is me and then, everything else, and me refers to the body-mind, but the body-mind goes along with the activity that we call the universe. The real observer is the observer of the body-mind and the universe that are its unified experience. The universe and that which we call the body-mind are a unified experience and so, the universe you and I are experiencing, the one that you just described looking out of the window, that's a human universe.
If you look at another sentient being, another organism ... let's take an extreme example, something like a butterfly called the lady, the painted lady, okay? This butterfly, she tastes food through her feet, she smells through her antenna, her wings are her hearing apparatus, and she has 30,000 lenses in her eyes that move like a kaleidoscope giving it presumably an experience of shifting, shimmering shapes and forms. That butterfly and her universe go together. A bat only experiences the echo of ultrasound. What is the universe like to a bat or a dolphin? We're very human-centric being humans. We think that the universe that we see is the real universe, but there's no such thing.
It goes along with the species, so what you're experiencing is a human universe. Furthermore, you've labeled it, so you're looking out, maybe you're at the mountain. But, if you were a baby, then that wouldn't be a mountain, that would be a shape, and a color, and a form. That would be a perceptual activity and your own body-mind would be part of that, so you would be bathed in a bright, collection of sounds, and colors, and shapes, and forms, and tastes, and smell. You wouldn't know that you, Jeff, as a baby, are separate from the universe. It would all be one phenomenon. But, then, somebody comes along, your parents, and you, then, enter the interpreted world. You're Jeff Krasno. This is your name. You're American, you're male. You have such-and-such religion, that's a human construct and so, we are born into a universe that is already labeled, described.
It becomes our perceptual reality that we call the physical universe, including our own body because our bodies are also changing into meeting the experience of sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts. There is everyday reality, which is you, fundamental being, timeless, shapeless, formless, modifying itself as sensations, images, feelings, thoughts, sense perceptions that we now call the physical world. Now, this is all good, but the subject/object split has also created climate change and social and economic injustice, eco-destruction, extinction of species. Right now, war, terrorism, these are all based on misperception of fundamental realities, so it's very well to call the physical world physical even though it isn't. It's a perceptual experience that is shifting and changing as the body-mind also shifts, and change, and evolves.
The advantage of knowing this is, of course, once you deconstruct reality into basic raw material, which is sense perceptions and then, their mental interpretations ... once you deconstruct it, then you realize that fundamental reality is infinite. It has all possibilities, it's creative, it's non-local, it's evolving. There's no reason for you and I to think that we finished evolution. Evolution doesn't stop, started with the microbe. Now, here we are, human beings, but human being will evolve, I think, to meta-humans and explore different dimensions of space-time and what we call physical reality. It's already part of our myth and Marvel Comics and all of that, but subtle experience, transpersonal experience, always precedes what we call perceptual experience, which we label as physical reality.
Jeff: My question would be, then, is there a true objective reality beyond our perception of a subjective one?
Deepak: Science is based on that premise, that there is an objective reality, which is independent of our subjective reality. It's a useful construct that there is an objective reality because once you assume that there's an objective reality, then we can verify it, give it names. Once we make it concrete, then we can study it and recreate technology and we're doing that right now. We are speaking to each other and people are listening to us wherever they are, so science is based on that premise of an objective reality. Within the philosophy of science, there's something called Popper's Falsifiability, something has to be verified or falsified by experiment. If you think about it, if you are saying there's an objective reality independent of our human consciousness, then it's not available to us.
That's a good assumption, but it's not available to us.
There, it's neither falsifiable nor can we validate an observer independent reality. We can't do that, but it's a useful construct for doing science, creating technology. But, if you really want to know the real nature of existence, then it's very obvious. That what we experience is a narrow bandwidth of reality, the human bandwidth, the human visual experiences between a certain bandwidth, but that's true of all our sensory experiences. And so reality is infinite. We experience a narrow bandwidth of it unless we transcend our senses through meditation and other practices, yogic practices. Then, we see that we have a wide range of experience available to us and we can navigate these subtle realms of existence, revise our concepts of reality. And strangely enough, when we do that, when you revise the subtle aspects of experience and reinterpret them, then that which we experience as everyday physical reality begins to shift and change.
People do that without knowing what they're doing. They lose 40 pounds, or they change the appearance of their body, or they lower their blood pressure. Yogic techniques like pratyahara, et cetera, withdrawal of the senses and then, navigating in the subtle realms of experience, ultimately changes even the human nervous system and its so-called physical attributes. So, you start to have experiences that people have spoken about through the ages. Precognition, and non-local communication, synchronicity, etc., etc., because you feel a deep sense of connection to the fundamental reality and infinite which is, your core being.
Jeff: Yeah, we spend the overwhelming majority of our lives kind of in this material reality. But it's not always serving us, there have been poets and prophets throughout history that have had glimpses of what lies on the other side in this spaceless, timeless infinite place. Or non-place. You quote the Indian poet, Rabindranath Tagore, "In this playhouse of infinite forms, I have had my play and here I have caught sight of him, who is formless."
Jeff: So, how is it possible for us in this world that we live in, in our kind of temporal form, to access what we might call the infinite soul, or God, or however you want to call it? Can we do that?
Deepak: Yes, we can. I mean, that's the fundamental premise of what today is called yoga, but most people are only focusing on the yogasanas, which is actually also a great introduction because the word "asana," the yogic practice, it means state of awareness. So, even the physical yoga that you do every day, you begin to realize that awareness is not just in the brain. It's everywhere in the body, and you can localize your awareness to any part of your body. But then you can also localize your awareness to any location in space time by thinking about it, by giving attention to it, and by even transforming it through an intention.
So, if you look at the basic yogic literature, and where it comes from, in the yogic traditions, they speak about the five causes of human suffering, where the number cause is you don't know your true nature. Number one. Number two: grasping and clinging that which you can't hold onto because no experience can be held onto. For example, the experience you had this morning waking up, it's gone. It's now part of a dream. In fact, by the time you listen to my voice, it's also gone. You're only experiencing the past, always.
Some pasts are in the scale of microseconds, and some, if you look at the stars, that is on the scale of millions of light years, but it's still the past. The only thing that's present is being of you, as consciousness, and that present is not in time because it's not a moment in time, it's not in time altogether because of presence. You are present in every experience. The experience comes and goes in the twinkling of an eye, it's born and it dies. The only thing it gives continuity is you, actually.
It's like watching a movie. So, the Vedanta, these traditions say that number one is you don't know who you are, and number two, you grasp and cling at that which is ungraspable. Number three, that which causes fear of impermanence. It also creates a false identity called the Ego, and then there's the fear of death. So, you cannot solve these, they are called Kleshas, the causes of human suffering, unless you actually start to question, "Who am I?" "What do I want?" "What's my purpose?" "What am I grateful for?" That's a good way to start.
But you know yoga ask you know word yoga means union, and the Sanskrit word is yuj. In English, the word is yoke. Jesus says, "My yoke is easy, my burden is light," because I'm connected to, in the metaphor of Christianity, the Father. You know, the Father and I are one. You and I are one. I and the world are one. That's a metaphor, and in Christian theology, also there's the expression, "To be the world and not of it."
So, I think you can actually participate in the world with great success, if you're actually connected to your creative source. And that creative source can help you do anything because it's totally malleable. Consciousness is infinite, possibilities infinite, creativity. Moving always in the direction of evolution, truth, goodness, beauty, harmony, and ultimately giving you the ability to revise what we call everyday reality.
You know, people say ... people from traditional religions, or even you know, spiritual traditions, they use expressions like, "God is on my side," or "I seem to be in a state of grace." Or if they're not religious, they're secular, they'll say, "I was lucky," or "Happened to be in the right place at the right time," "I experienced synchronicity." These are all words that people who have a sense of connection to their source, youth, but synchronicity, meaningful coincidence, good luck, state of grace, all these things mean the same thing.
So, it is important to see that your everyday reality, including that which we call your physical body, is a projection of consciousness, and you are that. Now, this is very difficult for a lot of people to grasp, because they identify with their body/mind, and when I say you identify with your body/mind, which one? You were a zygote, then you were a baby, a toddler, a teenager, there's no such thing as a fixed physical body, and there's no such thing as a fixed physical mind as there's no such thing as a fixed universe. It's all happening as a plane consciousness. So, once you get that, then you realize that what we call everyday reality is subject to revision.
Deepak: And this is what The great masters, the great mistakes, the great yogis, saints, sages, psychotics, geniuses have all glimpsed this reality.
Jeff: So, the kind of everyday reality that you refer to, would you say that that's the home for the Ego? We're defining ourselves by what we do, what we have, and...
Deepak: Right. So, Ego is another human construct, just like ... the whole universe is a human construct. The way we describe it is a human construct. We are interpreting perceptual experience as physical reality. Now, of course, in science, by the way, particularly the philosophy of science, there are many schools. There's the school of dualism, there's the school of just, everything is just physical. The problem with all the schools is if mind and body are two different things, and mind, body, and spirit are three different things.
How do they interact with each other? If I lift my arm, that starts with a thought. A thought is non-material. Lifting the arm is a very concrete physical experience. You know, you have electrical impulses traveling through nerves, your muscle contraction, but then if the mind, body, spirit are different things, you can't even lift your arm. It all has to be one thing, whatever that one entity is.
So, you know, the controversies in science today are it's all physical, but then you ask the physicalist, "What is physical?" And they'll tell you, "We're still trying to figure it out." Particles are made of atoms, atoms are made of particles, and particles are waves of probability in mathematical space. There's no such thing as matter. Then you say, okay, there's the dualistic schools who say, "Mind and body are two different things, and the universe is separate," and then they say, "Well, then how do they interact with each other?" And there's that violates all the laws of thermal dynamics, so that's out. The only thing that's left is consciousness is the only reality, and it modulates itself as species-specific experiences.
We are having a human experience, but we go beyond that. We know how to label our experiences, we know how to describe them, we know how to reify them, we know how to create constructs, so we end up creating our experience of the human universe, but at a cost. Because subject/object split is artificial. That's why another thing that spiritual traditions say, "Love is the ultimate truth," because love is not just a sentiment, it's the glue that holds everything together, just like physicists these days talk about quantum entanglement, we can see that our perceptions, our sensations, the images in our mind and our thoughts are all entangled. You change one, you change the other. If you and I are going to a cocktail party, and I tell you, "Jeff, that guy over there in that corner, he's a mafia hit man," and then somebody else joins the party and that same person [inaudible] is a Nobel laureate in poetry or medicine, the two of you will have completely different perspectives or perceptions of that person. Our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings, the images in our mind, and our perceptual experiences are all entangled because they are modifications of our own consciousness.
Jeff: So, I've heard you break down, the makeup of material objects from mass and energy, into smaller and smaller particles, until there is really just this quantum vacuum. A place from which all energy comes,and is formless and spaceless and infinite. I wonder if that is where also the soul lives. Do you equate those things? Do you see those things as part of the same thought pattern?
Deepak: Yeah. If you talk to physicists then the word soul or consciousness leads you nowhere.
Jeff: Yeah (laughs).
Deepak: Physicists won't go there at all. But the space around you, wherever you are, is brimming with energy. The fundamental particles of nature which ultimately lead to atoms and molecules and the physical world are actually modifications of that space itself. Now, why that soul, nobody can answer that question because it's called the hard problem of consciousness because people are assuming the brain is creating this experience. But the brain is part of perceptual reality.
So if the brain is creating this experience, then how? Nobody can explain that. Nobody can explain how an electrical current, going into your brain, produces sound and the experience of color, or form, or taste, or smell. The brain has no sound. There's no color in the brain. There's no color in the physical world either. It's all wavelengths of electromagnetic energy. So when people speak of quantum vacuum, they are speaking about the, the vacuum as a basic physical entity as a potential for physical form.
Deepak: So this is not where spirituality goes. If you know, the spirituality goes a little further. It says Who or what is having this experience, or who or what is coming up with this construct. In the Vedanta, which is the basis of everything I teach, which is consciousness is fundamental and everything else is a construct. There's another reality beyond the quantum vacuum, it's called chittakash. Akash is the word for infinite space. Chitt is the literal meaning of the word consciousness. So chittakash is the infinite space of consciousness prior to space-time and even prior to the quantum vacuum. It is that which is organizing the quantum vacuum into space-time and matter, which includes our own body-mind as well. So chittakash is, is as I said, more fundamental than um, than um the quantum vacuum.
What we call the soul, or our core being, is a part of that. Just like you know a drop of water is part of the ocean. Again, going back to Rumi's interesting insights when he talks about these matters, he said "We come spinning out of space, scattering stars like dust." Elsewhere, he says, "This is not the real reality. The real reality is behind the curtain. In truth, we are not here. This is our shadow." So you know and by the way, in the West, that is what Plato said. It's not very different. They just spoke about archetypal forms that exist in certain space that gives rise to the experience of the physical world. So, these archetypal form the potentialities for manifestation and our soul is part of that.
Jeff: I'll end with this question because you referred to it earlier in the face of the enormity of the world's problems that our human condition right now is riddled with authoritarian regimes and climate crisis, terrorism, social injustice, all of the things that I think we are aware that we are suffering from on a sociopolitical and human level.
Jeff: As it pertains to understanding the nature of reality, do you think it is necessary for mankind to refine a certain kind of awareness and consciousness umm to address the world's problems?
Deepak: Yes. And There is there is no solution other than a shift in our consciousness. If you could see the air as your breath, if you could see a tree as your lungs, if you could see the earth recycling as your body, if you could see the infinite space as your source, if you could see the rivers and waters of our planet as your circulation, which is all 100% true, you would have a shift in how you experience yourself and the world. If enough people did that, you would have a different world.
This morning I met a guy who is reducing climate change by making everything recyclable because he said, "Nature, everything is recyclable. Everything." The technologies are there to create enormous wealth in the world because wealth is a state of consciousness. We created money. There's no such thing as money, it's a human construct. A long time ago, I'd give you a haircut and you could repair my shoes. I'd give you some eggs and you can give me whatever else. So it was all barter, and then we created money as an instrument, and then we created Wall Street, and then we created colonialism and empires and all of that.
These are human constructs based on stories that we tell ourselves about what is reality. Change the story, the world changes. The only reality's consciousness having an experience. Everything else is a story. Even the body is a story because there is no such thing as a fixed body. There is no such thing as a fixed mind. There is no such thing as a fixed universe.
Jeff: Mm-hmm. Deepak Chopra, thank you for helping to lead that shift and for all that you've done throughout your life that's dedicated to raising consciousness. We owe you a great debt.
Deepak: Thank you.
Jeff: To learn more, take Deepak’s mind-bending, spirit-uplifting new 6-day course, The Nature of Reality, at onecommune.com. Thanks for listening to the commune podcast, until the next time, keep it real.