Putting a price on God

2015-03-22 15:00

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Charismatic self-help guru Deepak Chopra was in SA this past week to sell his new type of ­spirituality – God 2.0 – to his devoted fans

Deepak Chopra, the charismatic New Age spiritual businessman, self-proclaimed “poet-prophet”, alternative medicine advocate and bestselling author of more than 50 self-help books, brought his successful brand of charismatic concerts to Johannesburg on Wednesday.

The concerts are attended by thousands of devotees who are willing to fork out thousands of rands to hear the guru speak. At the concert at Emperors Palace, tickets ranged from R700 for “explorer” tickets (the nosebleed seats at the back) to R3?000 (the more valuable “guru” tickets right up front).

Enlightenment, for Chopra’s followers at least, comes at a premium. He reportedly charges a minimum of R300?000 to take the stage, a figure that made Robert Carroll, author of The Skeptic’s Dictionary, wonder how the “rock star of new spirituality” could “give spiritual advice while warning against the ill effects of materialism”.

Chopra’s spiritual calling came years into a successful career as a medical doctor and endocrinologist, where he began testing psychology and its effects on the endocrine, or hormonal, production systems.

During his time as chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Boston, he began practising Transcendental Meditation, which ultimately changed all his beliefs in traditional medicine and directed him towards his ultimate calling, what he would later call “quantum healing”.

This wasn’t well received by the medical and scientific fraternity. It began a brutal war that raged for years between Chopra and Richard Dawkins, the celebrated evolutionary biologist and outspoken atheist. Dawkins’ BBC series The Enemies of Reason cornered Chopra at every opportunity and challenged him to prove his views.

Chopra’s tour to South Africa comes after the local release of The Future of God earlier this year. This book is the latest volume in his “practical guides to spirituality for our times” series.

In the book, he asks a big and increasingly important question: “What has God done for you lately?” In the book, Chopra envisions a new kind of spirituality that he brands, in his classic style, God 2.0.

“Faith is in crisis,” Chopra tells us. “Are God and faith still useful in this modern world?” If God is to have a future, Chopra argues, then we must find a new approach to spirituality. God 2.0 is seemingly the answer.

He spends the first five chapters of the book defending his movement’s positions and actions against the “militant atheism” of Dawkins and his subscribers.

I spoke with Chopra this week at an ultraluxurious hotel in Sandton City about life, God and quantum healing.

What is the question your devotees ask you most?

People who have grown up with me over the years are still asking fundamental questions: ‘What is the nature of reality?’ The fact is, most people don’t realise that our science right now is asking two fundamental questions that remain totally unanswered: ‘What’s the stuff of the universe, what is it actually made of?’ The answer is, we don’t know.

Seventy percent is a mysterious dark energy that is expanding the universe faster than the speed of light; 25% is dark matter, which is non-atomic, so we don’t know what it is. Only 5% of the universe is atomic, of which 99.99% is interstellar dust and of the atomic universe, which makes up all of the galaxies, the stars?…?the planetary system the atoms are made of?...?particles which arrive as waves which are made of nothing. So the universe is made of nothing.

The second question that remains a big conundrum for scientists is: ‘What’s the origin of consciousness?’ We’re conscious beings. We look at the world. We experience the world. We assume there is something here and something out there, but we can’t explain how the world that we experience comes about. Is the world that you’re experiencing right now in your head? Well if it is, what are you experiencing right now in your head? If it’s produced by your brain, then it’s a hallucination. Which one of these is it? Either way, you get lost. Photons are coming to your eyes sending electrical impulses to your brain – a chemical reaction.

You’re not experiencing chemical reactions. You’re experiencing a world of colour and taste and form and people and stars and galaxies. How come? No one knows. So we need to start looking at ways we can look at reality besides the scientific ways. But is that the only way we can look at reality? No.

Who is God 2.0?

God 1.0 is a deity in our imagination. God 2.0 is the awareness in which we know things. There are two things you can be sure of. One is existence. You exist. The chair exists, even though we may not know the nature of this existence. The other thing you can be sure of is that there is awareness of this existence because if you weren’t aware of this existence, then, for all practical purposes, there is no existence.

So awareness of existence and existence may be the same thing. The fundamental ground of all could be what is called ‘being existence awareness’.

Once you get there, you start to look for God to point to. That is: Is there a fundamental reality that exists beyond your mind, your body, your intellect, your ego? If there is such a thing, then how does tapping into it create moments of joy, intuition, creativity, love, compassion, truth, goodness, beauty, harmony, of the loss of the fear of death?

That has been there in most traditional cultures, and religions were based on that insight – transcendence, going beyond and the emergence of Platonic values. Somehow that got lost in institutionalised religion as dogma, rules and regulations, so-called morality, war.

So it takes it back to a personal God?

It takes it back to a personal search for God, yes.

You devote a chunk of the book’s pages to defending yourself against Dawkins and his ‘militant atheism’.

He’s been my petty tyrant over the years, so this has been a little bit of an attempt to expunge the resentment I had against his militancy. It’s over and I’m done with him now. I got it out of my system.

What has God done for you lately?

Everything. Everything I have in my existence is coming directly from that core being. I feel immense gratitude, joy and love when I get in touch with that God of my being. It has convinced me that there is only God.

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