May 13, 2012

Keep Your Eye on the Path – Responding to Susan Blackmore.


When your mind and heart are truly open abundance will flow to you effortlessly and easily.

This post is a response to Debating Deepak Chopra by Susan Blackmore and originally was published by

In her recent blog post ("Debating Deepak Chopra") Susan Blackmore raises questions that have fascinated me for over a quarter of a century. What is consciousness? How is the mind related to the body? What does it mean to lead a spiritual life?

Her answers come from a long background in Zen Buddhism, mine from the non-dual tradition of Vedanta (which predates Buddhism and is the deepest spiritual tradition in India). As soon as they read these esoteric terms, many readers—unless they already practice Zen—may wonder how such arcane discussions, which haven't been settled over the last two or three thousand years—concern them in daily life. I sympathize, because I asked myself the same question 30 years ago as a young physician in Boston who had spent a good many years ignoring the culture that gave me birth.

Once I took a serious look, however, what I concluded is that consciousness is the richest aspect of human existence. It unfolds in four areas of life that potentially bring great personal fulfillment: work, wealth, pleasure, and enlightenment. As set down by the ancient rishis, these four areas (Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha) are all spiritual in the broadest sense. What is that broadest sense? Making each phase of life into its own ideal. Liberation or enlightenment sounds spiritual to almost anyone who hears the term Wealth and sensual desires don't. But as life unfolds, if the universe is benevolent and consciousness is our link to the universe, the ancient sages declared that the path to enlightenment leads through every kind of aspiration, including the worldly. Blackmore would probably laugh out loud at the notion of a benevolent universe, but given the choice between a chocolate croissant and a beaker of random electrons, she takes the croissant.

Readers who arrive at the point in Blackmore's article where she declares that the "I" or inner self is an illusion must be very baffled. Common sense identifies each of us with a self. Everyday experience depends on knowing who you are. It's very helpful to respond to your own name rather than your neighbor's or your dog's. But Eastern wisdom traditions cast doubt upon the self, the isolated individual "I." Here Blackmore delivers the standard Zen teaching about self-as-illusion, but I'd like to inform readers that there are many other ways to state the argument, in both Eastern and Western terms. A Christian seeking to redeem his soul and experience divine grace has set out to unseat the everyday self, too.

Here I want to be practical. If you sit someone down and say, "Pin a note on your bathroom mirror to remind yourself that you aren't real," they won't be helped very much. Quantum physicists realize that all matter can be reduced to clouds of invisible energy, but they still drive a car to work, and cars are solid, tangible objects. The same holds true for the self. Blackmore uses the word "I" as often as anybody else, even though her spiritual background informs her that "I" isn't real.

Hers is the same situation as any seeker's. She's on a path, and as the path unfolds, "I" shifts until a moment of realization arrives. Getting to that moment may take many, many years, but only then can a person make much use of the-self-as-illusion argument. Vedanta prescribes a path that arrives at the same realization. I favor this path, known as Yoga, but I respect all other wisdom traditions and in fact wrote a book on the Buddha.

Blackmore gives no respect to the Vedanta branch of Indian spirituality, even though it is far more ancient than Buddhism, has been followed for countless generations, and in the end is just as philosophical as her beloved Zen. Tagging me with the aims of Vedanta is a high compliment, although she doesn't intend it as one. As for my own financial success, such as it is, I haven't snooped in Blackmore's bank account, and she shouldn't snoop in mine. (I might also clarify that 'guru' is a catch-all term sometimes applied to me by the press. I've never applied it to myself—quite the opposite.)

It's customary in rebuttals to make feints and jabs that embarrass your opponent. Blackmore took advantage of this entertaining ritual, but I won't. I write books that refer to science quite often, and I check out my facts with credentialed specialists in the field, usually at a very high university level. One advantage of being in the public eye is also a disadvantage: People know what they think of you already. I enjoyed debating Susan Blackmore and believe that I have better positions on the big questions than she does. That's why debates exist. However, any reader who is seriously interested in "Who am I?" and "What is consciousness?" won't get answers from barbed comments between debaters. There is a path to be walked, and although Blackmore has tried to elbow me off the path, the irony is that somewhere, some day, we will meet and nod in agreement, hopefully with smiles on our faces.

Infinity is big enough to encompass both Susan Blackmore and me. Or it was the last time I looked.

By Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP 

Write Your Comment

  1. Padmanav Sahoo

    I am puzzled when she laughs at the research on health benefits of meditation. Is she not aware of the outcome of NIH(or its subsidiary NCC...) funded research on meditation- their findings on grey matter, gyrification etc, etc. I am a lay man. I am simply puzzled when great people fight.

  2. everlastingquantumsoul

    If Deepak had even a shred of the integrity Susan Blackmore did he would cease to prey on the uneducated who support him. Susan (and others who value truth and honesty) have made great and lasting contributions to humanity by furthering our understanding of what it means to be human. Contrast that with Deepak`s predatory actions that obfuscate reality and lead to far more confusion and pain in the world, all while feeding his overpowering ego in his accumulation of more money and fame. The world would be far better without those such as Deepak. All you supporters of this sort of woo- do yourself the biggest favor you ever could and try to inoculate yourselves against this sort of nonsense through real science education- you won`t find that in the mystic/ spiritual section of the bookstore. And just because something "feels" right or good, has no impact on the actual veracity of it. You are being exploited. There IS a true path of enlightenment to go down- and it is the path of education-- to educate yourself about your true nature, and about the true nature of nature of which we are a part. Step one is critical thinking and learning to decipher the noise, lies and misinformation which would eliminate 99% of Deepak`s "message." Free yourselves.

  3. Cherry Robinson

    To be conscious is to be in tune with your soul, for me a spiritual life is to be living in love ....

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