Review by Justin C. Maaia, 2002
Chopra, Deepak. How To Know God. New York: Harmony Books, 2000. 319 pp.
Despite its title, Chopra’s most recent speculative venture into the subject of spirituality is not a list of “twelve steps to enlightenment.” It is not a guide book, not because he fails to fulfill this promise, but because it is not the purpose of the book. Chopra is attempting to evaluate all of the what I will loosely term “religious experience”–mystical experiences, psi experiences, past-life experiences, mental disorders, genius, and the like–and to interpret them in an all-encompassing theory. The work is highly speculative in many places, but this fact does not eclipse its merit. It may very well be providing a glimpse of what future research in the fields of quantum physics and neurobiology may yield regarding religious experience.
The book’s strongest accomplishment is its argument against reductive materialism. Drawing on research in the fields of neurology, quantum physics, and philosophy, Chopra reveals the shortcomings of materialistic theories. The mind, he convincingly argues, is not localized in the brain. Venturing further, he somewhat supports the claim that the mind is not located “in” any one piece of matter. It must be outside of space and time at least as much as it manifests itself within space and time, in the form of the brain (and other organs, as he demonstrates using other preliminary studies in a previous book, Quantum Healing).
It is a long road from this non-localized brain to the concept of God. However, Chopra uses the term “knowing God” as a way of labeling a person’s discovery of his/her deepest self and potentials for creativity, ethical behavior, and awareness. The reader is unsure whether Chopra is arguing that minds, because they are outside of space-time, share some type of eternal, infinite identity and that this is God, or whether he uses “God” in a demythologized way, having more to do with a type of “self-actualization.” I think it is fair to say that he means to prove the latter, and only to suggest the former as possibility that can only be proved with further research.
Adopting this theory of the mind, Chopra shows how each type of religious experience is a result of the manifestation of mind in matter. Mystical experience is a direct encounter with the core of one’s mind (or “Mind”). Different types of genius and savantism are examples of a brain that has been opened to one but not all channels of the Mind. Past life experiences are examples of the fact that the mind lies outside of space and time, which leaves open the possibility that one can remember the past or future if one is in touch with one’s mind.
If we can assume the proposition that a person’s mind is outside space-time (there is no need to assume that it is “one” with all other minds) and that it has a great unrealized potential, then Chopra’s theories of religious experience seem highly plausible. Both of these propositions have a great amount of support in all academic fields, and so it seems that the core of Chopra’s thought is well-grounded. There is also much adventurous speculation throughout the book. Only time will tell whether Dr. Chopra has turned our minds toward future discoveries, or whether he has led us astray concerning these points. However, the strengths of the book make it stand out as a valiant attempt to construct a theory of religious experiences that takes into account the most recent discoveries of the sciences.