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Deepak Chopra Interview on Meditation, Yoga and Spirituality

Question: What do you think are the most significant health benefits of meditation?

Deepak Chopra: They are stress reduction, better sleep, lower blood pressure, improved cardiovascular function, improved immunity, and the ability to stay centered in the midst of all the turmoil that’s going on around you. Meditation helps you do less and accomplish more.

Question: I understand there’s now 15 million Americans who are practicing yoga, but most are doing just asanas (poses). How many do you think are aware of the spiritual aspect of yoga?

Deepak Chopra: Not enough. Because when it started in the U.S. it was mainly as another form of physical fitness. Somehow that gained prominence and it became a fad--just a good way to improve flexibility and muscle strength. Of course, these are benefits of yoga. But the larger picture of yoga as it was meant to be understood originally is that yoga is union. It's only now that people are actually becoming aware of the spiritual aspects of yoga.

Question: In your new book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Yoga, you describe the eight limbs of Raja yoga. And one thing that surprised me was that you said they’re not to be seen as sequential stages. I always thought the first limbs were preparatory for the last three, which are the meditation stages.

Deepak Chopra: That's one school of thought, but not what I learned. I had my spiritual apprenticeship with the Shankara- charya school in India. That tradition goes back to the ninth century sage Adi Shankara. Their interpretation always has been that the eight limbs of yoga are practiced simultaneously. In that way it is similar to the Eightfold Path in Buddhism. The eight limbs are Niyama, Yama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi and are all actually combined into one discipline. Yama and Niyama are rules of social and personal conduct, so why not include them as things that you do? It's about the internal shift in attitude that you have to make. Pratyahara and Pranayama are actually forms of Raja yoga, and therefore they are complementary to Asana. Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are supposed to be the culmination of this practice, but all eight limbs are still part of your daily practice.

Question: All right, so we can work on all the limbs at the same time.

Deepak Chopra: Right, and we should.

Question: I see meditation as a way to bridge the apparent gap between the physical and the spiritual. What are your thoughts on this?

Deepak Chopra: Meditation has only one reason: to get in touch with your soul, and then go beyond that and get in touch with the consciousness that your soul is a ripple of. It might be a good stress management technique, but there is only one real purpose, which is the means to enlightenment.

Question: When I interviewed Dr. John Hagelin a couple of years ago (The Secret), I remember him talking about five states of awareness: waking, sleeping, dreaming, meditating, and the fifth state which really intrigued me, a state of enlightenment in action, keeping that consciousness in your actions.

Deepak Chopra: There are actually seven states of awareness. Deep sleep is the first; dreaming is the second; then the third stage is waking; the forth stage is meditation; the fifth is called cosmic consciousness, which is when you have that internal experience of meditation in deep sleep, dreaming, and waking, so you are established in that state even while in action. Then beyond cosmic consciousness is the sixth stage of consciousness which is God consciousness, where you become aware of the spirit in the objects of your perception. So you look at a flower and you can feel the presence of divinity within it. Or you look at a telephone or a table or a shoe and you can feel the presence of the infinite in it. The infinite is everywhere. And the seventh stage is the ever present witnessing awareness in the object of experience. They fuse and become one, and when that happens then you experience enlightenment -- you see the whole world as an expression of yourself and you see that the ground of your being is also the ground of all existence.