Book Review: How to Know God, by Deepak Chopra

Dr. Deepak Chopra’s (picture) (Wikipedia) 26th book is How to Know God. With no knowledge of Chopra (I thought he was a diet guru), I approached this book with anticipation, it having been highly recommended. And it comes with six full pages of recommendations at the beginning—from luminaries including the Dalai Lama (“a wonderful book”) and Ken Wilber.

My conclusion: Chopra is one crafty guy, with a careful strategy for raising mankind’s spiritual level, albeit one not everyone would agree with. At first glance, much of what is in his book appears to be simply off the deep end. For instance, he presents, as definitive proof that all humankind is connected by a shared mind, the fact that sometimes you meet someone with the same birthday as yours. A man in Canada won the lottery two years in a row. The author once found himself sitting next to a tea wholesaler on a plane right after he had had another discussion about tea. Sometimes you feel like someone is watching you behind your back and it turns out they actually are! A woman came home and found that her boyfriend had cleaned out the closet, just like she had imagined! Twins often think alike!

Nor are these mere coincidences, he says: such phenomena take us beyond our present knowledge of the brain into the regions of the “mind field” that area closest to God. The brain is a receiver of mind, like a radio and quantum reality—the zone of miracles—is a place very nearby. At work here is an invisible organizing principle, a field of awareness, the quantum level, a universal shared mind, a cosmic intelligence.

As if this were not enough to put me off, in one of the very same kinds of synchronous occurrences that Chopra discusses in this book, after my friend had sent it to me but before it arrived I happened to run into Chopra’s ruminations about Intelligent Design (actually I was alerted to this post by Carl Zimmer’s excellent Loom site), where he (Chopra, not Zimmer) makes a series of outlandish claims about evolution which even I could immediate detect were hogwash. Examples: Why doesn’t the fossil record show any adaptive failures? (Answer: they were failures, so they died.) How could the same organism take multiple evolutionary paths? And my favorite: If design doesn’t imply intelligence, why are we so intelligent? Also: Why do forms (such as spirals) replicate themselves without apparent need? Or how about this: What invisible change causes oxygen to acquire intelligence the instant it contacts life? In what way is a bee stinging a survival mechanism, given that the bee doesn’t survive at all?

It would seem that young Deepak skipped tenth grade biology class.

He then followed up this post, unbowed by howls of protest in the comments to his blog entry, with one even more ludicrous. Beginning by attacking his detractors as “emotional”, and literally comparing himself to Einstein and other geniuses unrecognized in their own time, he then proceeds to demonstrate that he played hooky from high school physics as well as biology. A flavor: Until physics can explain apparent design and why entropy developed evolution as its enemy when there was no need to, biology is helpless to explain life, since there is no such thing as Darwinian ‘survival of the fittest’ among atoms. He then posits that consciousness may exist in photons, which seem to be the carrier of all information in the universe, and that using these as working principles we might make tremendous progress in explaining the missing gaps in evolutionary theory. Not all the gaps, one notes, just the missing ones.

To people acquainted with the issues, nothing could be more muddled.

So where, then, is Chopra going with all this? I think he has set himself an audacious goal—to raise the spiritual level of mankind—and paired it with a well-thought out strategy for getting there. With the overwhelming majority of humans on our earth stuck in lives of quiet desperation and mired in simplistic, sterile concepts of the spiritual, Chopra realizes that he must take one step at a time, bringing his target audience along with him gently and gradually. An excellent way to do that is to appeal to people’s beloved “folk religion”, which involves weird things and mysterious realms. He is like a 19th century missionary in Africa who raises the appeal of his teachings by syncretistically and opportunistically incorporating native beliefs in ghosts into Christianity. His statements in favor of Intelligent Design can be seen as another element of this strategy—to establish his credentials among the “heathen” and gain their trust.

Reading Wilber’s recommendation of the book more carefully, we can see that Ken realizes this as well: “Deepak Chopra has introduced literally millions of people to the spiritual path, and for this we should all be profoundly grateful. In How to Know God, Deepak continues his pioneering outreach.”

Chopra begins to coax his readers out of their fundamentalist rut by presenting an unthreatening hierarchy of levels of development, seven in his model, ranging from the visceral, to the reactive, the restful, the intuitive, the creative, the visionary, and the sacred. He walks through these stages in a friendly way, throwing in cute (if sometimes irrelevant) stories along the way, together with vaguely uplifiting assertions along the lines of God exists in a quantum zone on the other side of a transition zone which lies between our material world and Him, the zone where energy turns into matter. Before you know it, he has the Bible-thumping red-staters thinking that total immersion in the One sounds real cool, since after all, Deepak says, that’s what Jesus our Lord and Savior taught anyway. And also buying his herbal teas.

Chopra carefully avoids any discussions of specific practices or efforts which might be necessary to move ourselves along the path he outlines—that’s not what his audience wants to hear right now. And he lays important groundwork for a more biological appoach to spirituality—something we should welcome as students of neurotheology—with constant references to the the brain as a biological mechanism: Your brain is hard-wired to find God. Every image of God was designed in tissue that appears to be a mass of congested nerves. God’s most cherished secrets are hidden within the human skull . Only the brain can deliver this vast range of deities .

All in all, then, this is not a book that would be of any interest to the advanced seeker, other than in the sense of appreciating Chopra’s crafty strategy for advancing the spiritual welfare of the masses. He presents spirituality as something akin to getting a good backrub, or having a nice glass of wine. Anyone can enjoy that.

4 Responses to “Book Review: How to Know God, by Deepak Chopra”

  1. s.a. Says:

    oh yeah, gotta love Chopra. just slap ‘M.D.’ after someone’s name and all of the sudden they magically become omniscient regarding all things “spiritual” and true. Makes for great feel-good yuppie new age fodder.

  2. Kuan Gung Says:

    Well he certainly has written enough books and this, I wasn’t over joyed with. He tends to drift into areas that I believe don’t bode well with many.

  3. Matt Stone Says:

    Unfortunately I couldn’t sustain the interest to finish reading the book. Sigh.

  4. Deepak Kumar Says:

    Long live Deepak sir..

    God bless U..

    U r a wonderful writer..God sent..



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