Deepak Chopra has been profoundly influential on the pop culture and spiritual discourse of the United States for the past 30 years. The founder of the Ayur Vedic movement in the United States, speaker, spiritualist, and provocatuer sat down with Stephen Dare to discuss Supergenes, Ayur Veda, and the controversy from scientific critics of his work.
What followed was an interesting and surprising chat that had both men thinking on their feet, one that we think you will enjoy.
Stephen Dare Hi Dr. Chopra. This is Stephen Dare. How are you doing today?
Deepak Chopra I'm very good. How are you?
Stephen Dare Very early for me so I hope you don't mind that I'm going to be drinking coffee through this. So what are you speaking on?
Deepak Chopra I'm to speak on the Future of Well Being. It's a public event. I'm speaking about my new book, Super Genes which I wrote with Harvard neurologist geneticist, Rudy Tanzi.
I will be speaking on Super Genes and how lifestyle affects our gene activity. I'll be also talking about social well-being, community well-being, career well-being, financial well-being, and spiritual well-being. And in the evening with a meditation.
Stephen Dare How wonderful. And I got to see some of the previous reviews on Super Genes, and it seems to be based around the kind of emerging idea of epigenetics in science. That simply by,, experiencing things in our lifetime that we cause actual gene changes that can be passed on to our progeny. Is that true?
Deepak Chopra Yeah. To be careful how we address that. So our life experiences and our choices do not change the genes themselves. The sequence of DNA remains the same. What they do is they influence the activity of the genes. So some genes get silenced, some genes get activated, some genes decrease the amount of activity they have, some genes increase the activity they have. Now think of this like a light switch that you can turn the lights on and off, but with also a dimmer where you can increase the volume or decrease the volume. Now what is interesting is that some of these effects, not some, all of these effects, are mediated by three very specific chemical changes, or as they're called, marks, on the epigenome which is a sheet of proteins that's above the gene. And these are actual chemical marks that go by names like methylation, demethylation, acetylation, deacetylation. But they are physical chemical marks. And these can influence the gene activity even though the next generation, or even three generations down the line, by a mechanism called soft inheritance. We don't really understand how that happens at the moment. And this will be the future of genetic research. But the traumatic memories, for example, of holocaust victims, can be based on to their progeny, and influence their experience of life, whether they experience stress or not, things like that. Also, there's evidence that when there was starvation in the Dutch famine as a result of World War II the future generations of those people who experience that starvation are most susceptible to obesity and diabetes in that the memory of salvation resulted in a compensatory response of the body holding onto everything just in case there was a famine again coming, at least that's the hypothesis. Much of this work is in rats and experimental animals, but I think we now have a window into understanding how our choices which we make every day including choices for sleep, stress management, exercise, emotional experience, and nutrition, how they affect gene activity.
Stephen Dare Now, why is this attractive to you, Doctor Chopra? Why would this idea be important to you?
Deepak Chopra Well, for 30 years I've been writing about mind-body medicine. And although there were some science in mind-body medicine about how your mind affects your body through what we call neurotransmitters or neuropeptides, we really didn't know the extent of the detail with which your mind affects everything including your gene activity.
Stephen Dare And so this is the corroboration of the connection between mind and body for you?
Deepak Chopra Yes. Yes, sir.
Stephen Dare And then it's very fascinating, very fascinating work actually. It's been going on for a while. It's reaching pop culture. People are beginning to get exposed to epigenetic ideas. And I wonder you were involved in the early Ayur Vedic movement?
Deepak Chopra Yes, I was.
Stephen Dare And you're one of the people that popularized Ayurvedic medicine in the United States.
Deepak Chopra I was. I was the first one actually to do it.
Stephen Dare Yeah, and were you involved with Maharishi University?
Deepak Chopra I was for many years, yes.
Stephen Dare Yeah, I actually was in business for a while with Doctor John Peterson who was also an MD and Ayurvedic practitioner, and he went to Maharishi University.
Deepak Chopra Yes, I remember him well.
Stephen Dare You do?
Deepak Chopra Yes.
Stephen Dare That's awesome. He ran for Governor of Indiana with the Natural Law Party.
Deepak Chopra Right. I do remember.
Stephen Dare And I have a question from one of our readers. Doctor Peterson explained to me that Ayurvedic was basically a technology lifted from Vedic texts without the religious trappings. Is that true?
Deepak Chopra That's true. Yes.
Stephen Dare Matt Colaciello asks me, "From what traditions would you say that you drew most heavily in helping create Ayurvedic medicine in the United States? Is it Buddhism? Is it Vedic texts?"
Deepak Chopra It's Vedic texts more than anything else. Buddhism came after, but Buddhism actually also is very much aligned with the underlying tenets of Ayurveda. And Ayurveda is very popular in Buddhist cultures including Nepal.
Stephen Dare Okay [laughter]. And so you do combine elements of both?
Deepak Chopra I do. I do. Yes. I also draw on other Eastern wisdom traditions like Taoism and also indigenous practices all over the world.
Stephen Dare I got to meet the Jyotish master (Narendra Desai) in 1994, and he gave me my death year which was 2080. It was kind of interesting how the idea of that much longevity changed my perspective on life.
Deepak Chopra Well yes. I like that he gave you that and the change of perspective. But the Jyotish only deals with statistical probabilities and ultimately, you're in charge.
Stephen Dare Oh yes. Absolutely. But simply the idea of being possible to live until 116 I think changes perspective.
Deepak Chopra Let's dream the impossible or what's the dream for?
Stephen Dare So, Dr. Chopra, why do people like you so much? I announced that I was doing this interview on Facebook, and I had hundreds of likes. What do you think is the appeal to what you speak about? Why are they attracted to it?
Deepak Chopra I really have no idea. But I think it may be the fact that I try and give a modern insight to the greatest wisdom traditions of the world.
Stephen Dare Yeah. It's funny. You have such an opposite effect on members of the scientific community and members of the public. And it's such an odd dichotomy, I think. You know, in comparing--
Deepak Chopra But you know, this week, I was appointed a full professor at UCSD Medical School in the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health. Our continuing medical education courses at our center are approved for CME credit by the American Medical Association. I give an annual lecture at the CME course at Harvard Medical School along with Beth Israel Hospital. There are a few very vocal scientists and critics, but they are slowly becoming the minority [laughter].
Stephen Dare And you have drawn parallels between theoretical physicists and quantum entanglement with some of the ideas that you personally believe in. Are you a follower of the holographic theory of the universe?
Deepak Chopra Again, I've had some encounters with a certain group of what we might call physicalists in quantum physics. But I've also co-written with a Nobel laureate, Frank Wilczek from MIT, and he's a Nobel laureate in physics. My next book is actually with a quantum physicist who got his PhD from MIT. So these are controversial subjects.
Stephen Dare Oh, yes.
Deepak Chopra And whenever you take one side or the other, you're bound to get critics. But I think that critical-- the critics are given a lot more importance in the media than the people who actually are aligned with you. So if you don't mind giving me your email, I'll send you a few articles that are done with really respectable physicists as well.
Stephen Dare Oh, yeah. Actually, every day I argue with my readers we're an engaging site. And I found that critics are necessary because they allow you to explain your point of view better.
Deepak Chopra What would we do if we didn't have critics?
Stephen Dare All right. Yeah. We'd be talking amongst ourselves and having tea, I suppose [laughter].
Deepak Chopra But they keep us on the alert. And actually, controversy is always good because it expands the conversation. And I saw both. Both sides.
Stephen Dare I have another question from a reader who is-- I suppose, he's been following you for many years. He was very excited to find that you were coming to town. And he felt like most of the questions that people might ask you have already been asked. But he wanted to know where do you see this country, the US, in 10 years spiritually, politically and socially?
Deepak Chopra Well, spiritually, just by going to my Facebook site where I do a daily live video blog, I find a great optimism for the spiritual well-being of this country. We have hundreds of thousands of people participating in self-awareness and evolution of their own being. Politically, I'm right now a little concerned with the demagoguery and the great appeal to primitive values in our country right now that includes a lot of racism, and bigotry, and prejudice. I pray for the political scene to get better. Otherwise, I think we are living in one of the most amazing countries in the world and that is going through a wonderful transformation.
Stephen Dare Yeah. And so do you think in 10 years we will have progressed? Or do you think in 10 years, there's so much risk that it's impossible to tell?
Deepak Chopra I think we will progress. I think the evolutionary impulse always wins out.
Stephen Dare And if you have a piece of advice to a 20-year-old embarking on life now, given what you know, what would be that piece of advice be that you would give to them?
Deepak Chopra Make today a better day for yourself than yesterday. And if you do that every day you'll have a great life [laughter].
Stephen Dare All right. Wonderful. And Dr. Chopra thank you so much for your time. And thanks for sharing your ideas.
Deepak Chopra Thank you very much. Bye-bye.
Hey, have a good day.