Deepka Chopra, M.D., who has been named one of the 100 most influential people in health and fitness by Greatist.com, continues his investigation into integrative medicine and personal transformation in his new book, You Are the Universe, which presents a new understanding of who we are, where we came from, and how we can reach our greatest potential.
You Are the Universe, which Chopra co-authored with leading quantum physicist and cosmologist Dr. Menas C. Kafatos, redefines the nature of reality and what is possible. Combining science with real-world applications, the co-authors delve deep into the belief that each of us is the universe and possess the potential to shape reality itself.
You Are the Universe is Chopra's 86th book and is the continuation of the evolution of his thought process, which began in 1989 with his first book Quantum Healing: Exploring the Frontiers of Mind/Body Medicine. But his endgame is the same.
"My goal in everything that I do is to reach one billion people to create a movement of personal and social transformation for a critical mass to move the world in the direction of a more peaceful, sustainable, healthier and joyful world," Chopra tells Biography.com.
In our conversation with Chopra, who is board certified in internal medicine, endocrinology and metabolism, he also talks about the place of God in terms of his new equation, when he began his journey into spiritualism, the continued resistance by some doctors to Eastern medicine, the benefits of meditation, his new wellbeing app JIYO, and more.
How does your new book, You are the Universe, fit into your goals for a healthier and joyful world?
The universe that you and I experience is in human consciousness. Unless we know the nature of our consciousness, we will not understand how we participate in creating both a personal and a collective reality. The universe is in the experience. It’s not just out there. What’s out there, we don’t know. But for humans it’s an experience just like the universe for a dolphin or an insect with 100 eyes is a different experience. Our universe is a human universe experienced in human consciousness and, unless we understand how consciousness operates, we will never actually be able to participate in the creation of our personal and collective reality.
Does that take God out the equation?
It does take God, as understood in most religions, out of the equation because religions are essentially cultural mythologies that came about in the Bronze Age, and we’re living in a completely different time. Having said that, there is something called a religious experience that was the basis of all religions, which included transcendence, a loss of the fear of death, and the emergence of platonic qualities like love, compassion, joy, and equanimity. All of those are part of what you might call the religious, spiritual experience, which then gets institutionalized in the name of God. God is a tricky word. I would say it does not take divinity out of the equation.
This is your 86th book. Do people need to start at the beginning and go through them all to understand your doctrine? Or can they pick up the new book and immediately get what you’re writing about?
Some people will find it difficult. A lot of people have actually grown up with me, so it’s my 86th book, but there are people who have read all 86 and have seen the evolution of my thought process. If somebody wanted to just take the most relevant book, it’s called The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, and it’s still the most popular. For those who have taken time to reflect, taken time to ask the question who am I, then they could go straight into this book. I would say that’s not everyone.
You began your career as a medical doctor. Was it your meeting with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi that led you to merge spiritualism with medicine? What was the turning point in your life?
The turning point was before that. As a physician who was smoking a pack of cigarettes a day, getting drunk on weekends, stressed out about having 35 patients in the hospital, and not being able to help either them or myself, I had my existential crisis way before I met Maharishi. I did meet him and he was an influence, but I met many other people as well.
It sounds as if your ultimate goal is to improve health and wellbeing in body, mind and spirit, but the one key, if there is just one, seems to be meditation. Is that a good starting point for people?
Yes, meditation is a good starting point, or even a little bit of contemplative reflection, asking questions like: Who am I without my name or form? What is my purpose if there is one? What do I want out of my life? What am I grateful for? Just a little bit of reflection like that starts you on the journey.
You have people like Oprah Winfrey, who has you on her OWN network, and you recently had a PBS special, but there are still people who are dismissive of your work. How do you deal with that?
I used to respond to that, but as I grow older, I think it’s best to ignore your critics. For one thing, they can’t stand it, and secondly, you’re never going to change them.
Why do so many doctors refuse to consider Eastern medicine?
Because they don’t keep up with the research. We have actually created a site called ISHARonline.org. It’s a non-profit site. ISHAR stands for Integrative Studies Historical Archive and Repository. With people’s help, we’ve created an archive of the 65,000 research papers on this material. We do research at our Chopra Foundation, with Harvard, with UCSF [University of California San Francisco], with UCSD [University of California San Diego], and with Scripps. We have a Nobel laureate that we’re working with in medicine and biology, Elizabeth Blackburn. We have many partnerships now doing a great deal of research on integrative medicine.
The critics are people of my generation who actually never kept up with the literature. I am a professor at UCSD Medical School and I have an appointment at Mass General in Boston in the Department of Neurology and Psychiatry, and we teach medical students. The courses at the Chopra Center are now certified for CME [Continuing Medical Education] credit by the American Medical Association. There are critics, but they aren’t going to change their mind because they haven’t even kept up with the research. They say these shifts happen one funeral at a time.
In addition to your books, you’ve created the wellbeing app Jiyo. How does that work?
Ninety-five percent of the content is free. The app basically gives you content in various areas of wellbeing, such as sleep, meditation, stress management, exercise, yoga, breathing exercises, emotional wellbeing, love and relationships, nutrition. The app gets to know you and also, if you’re wearing any device, it gets to monitor your sleep, etc., and then it gives you information that is relevant to you. Now what is also being created on that app is what we call health risk assessment, so in the future, one will be able to be very precise, predictable, and preventive in all areas of wellbeing.
I think of this as the five Ps of wellbeing: preventable, predictable, personalized, participatory, and process-oriented. This is a new era now where most of what you can do for yourself is actually totally dependent on you.
We know that only 5 percent of disease related gene mutations are fully penetrant, which means they guarantee the disease. So say if somebody has a gene mutation, like Angelina Jolie had the BRCA gene, she rightfully did a double mastectomy in order to prevent the cancer because it was going to happen. But that’s only 5 percent of any of it; which means 95 percent of all chronic illness is influenced by lifestyle and you can do a lot about it. With the availability now, we have two apps in technology, it’s only going to get better and more precise.
When you started your journey, did you ever imagine that you would achieve the kind of success and the large following that you have now?
It’s a perpetual surprise. Wasn’t planned; it just happened.