On a snow-blasted day in late January, New Age icon Deepak Chopra and rock n’ roll party evangelist Andrew W.K. gathered in the kitchen of Chopra’s Greenwich Village loft to compare their wildly different, weirdly parallel approaches to fulfillment. If Chopra, whose book The 13th Disciple: A Spiritual Adventure is out in March, was surprised by W.K.’s thoughtful manner or pizza-centric line of questioning, he didn’t let on. Over 45 minutes, they discussed drugs, music, consciousness and God. We’d like to think that, once his guest had departed, Chopra cued up “Party Till You Puke.”
ANDREW W.K.: So I’m very familiar with your work.
DEEPAK CHOPRA: Oh really?
W.K.: Yes. And I’ve enjoyed it. I appreciate your perspectives, and relate to a great deal of them.
CHOPRA: What’s your name?
W.K.: Yeah. And my angle is partying. Have you partied before?
CHOPRA: Uh, yes, I have.
W.K.: Okay good. Well then I’m sure that we can relate to one another, because that’s basically my whole thing. I figured you had, ’cause your outlook really is a celebratory perspective. Seeing that you live in New York, do you enjoy pizza?
CHOPRA: I don’t. Actually, in the last few years I’ve become very mindful of what suits my body. So I totally refrain from anything that’s sweet, refined, manufactured, processed, GMOs, pesticides…
W.K.: Well, I’ll eat pizza on your behalf then.
[Following a brief discussion of neighborhood pizzerias, the conversation returns to partying.]
CHOPRA: I think partying changes its connotation as you grow older and become a little more self-aware. So, when I was 17 and joined medical school, I tried LSD.
W.K.: Oh, that’s great. I was going to ask you about that.
CHOPRA: Throughout medical school I was a party animal. I tried everything, from marijuana to, unfortunately, cigarettes and alcohol and all of that. I never missed anything that had music, alcohol, drugs and everything else that went with it. Then, in my residency, in Boston, I started to get burned out. I also realized that I had an addictive personality. So then I chose to move from spirits to spirit, as I say it. Right now, I am always feeling an internal state of euphoria. I don’t think about the future. I’m not burdened by the past. I experience a joyful, energetic body. I feel love and compassion in my heart. I have a restful, alert mind. And my being is in flow all the time. Now, on the outside, I appear to do everything else. I go to social functions, I’m on the stage, I travel, I cross the world — but I’m witnessing that. It’s not me; it’s my body and my mind that travels around the world and does what it does. There’s a part of me that never leaves home. And home, I don’t mean this location. Home, I mean outside of space and time. Which is the ultimate party.
W.K.: And so you think, like, all the other stuff that makes up life – work, going here and there, tasks — at the core of that, there’s this constant tone. It’s like a little buzzing sound almost. Maybe the whole way it works is that it resonates off of that constant tone, that buzzing state of pure being that everyone is able to relate to, and that music is touching that part of being that goes beyond all the extraneous aspects.
CHOPRA: Yes, I think music is the language of the soul, for sure. I was very close, fortunately, to George Harrison for about 25 years. He was almost like my best friend. So, we would — that’s George Harrison of the Beatles — we traveled all over the world, and he would spontaneously go into a state where he would access music and lyrics and he would just express them out of the blue. It was very unusual. I was also very close with Michael Jackson. He did exactly the same. He would go into a different space. So I totally relate to music, and art in general.
W.K.: And the partying — when I explain partying, of course I wouldn’t tell someone how to do it. It’s their own pleasure. It’s their own joy.
CHOPRA: It’s the celebration of life.
ANDREW W.K.: …of existing, exactly.
CHOPRA: Of existence. Even better: of existence. Only two things you can be sure of: one is that there is existence, whatever it is. The second thing that you can be sure of is that there is awareness of existence — the two go together. The rest of everything is your creation. You make it up as you go along. So some people get together with other people who make the same thing, and you can make war, you can make love, you can make music, you can make…
W.K.: What about the truth is there is no truth? That kind of paradox. Because often I find that the more you hold onto one idea, the more it starts to contradict itself.
CHOPRA: If there is an absolute truth, it’s the truth of possibility.
W.K.: Why do you think people have such a hard time not fighting about ideas? Like God, space, science — why is it so appealing to argue about it for so many folks?
CHOPRA: I think the majority of people pride themselves on what they call rationality, reason. But think about it: reason is a form of thinking that is based on the common sense of a sensory-based intellect. So we know for a fact that our senses take in one billionth of the
information around us — number one.
W.K.: Right. One version of interpretation.
CHOPRA: And then by the time that sensory information goes to your brain — and by the way, the way it goes, smell or taste or sound or vision, all that goes to the brain is an electrical current. Somehow we presume that creates the experience of this three-dimensional reality evolving in time. How does a photon hitting my eyes, which has no color and no dimensionality, create the experience of a three-dimensional world in space and time? The answer is we don’t know. Furthermore, the fact that we think that the brain is where we experience the world is actually a premise; that if you look hard enough, it’s very difficult to actually track it down. So, when I ask people, “Where is experience happening?” First they point to their eyes. And then I say to them, “Listen: what’s going into your eyes are photons. Even if the experience was happening in your eyes, your eyes are nine centimeters apart, your retina is curved — by the time photons get to the retina, they invert, going through a lens, so you should be seeing two of everything, upside down and curved. So whatever is happening in your eyes, it’s not the experience of the world that’s happening.” And then they say their brain. How do I fit inside your brain? I don’t.
W.K.: Well, you couldn’t. Yeah, that’s true.
CHOPRA: What’s happening in the brain is some neural networks are getting activated. So where is it happening? Frequently, they’ll point to the object. They’ll say: “My experience is happening there.” And then, of course, the objection to that is, “But you’re here. If you’re here, how is the experience happening there?” So it’s a conundrum. Where is the experience happening? The wisdom traditions of the East, and many other traditions, experientially investigate this idea. And they come to the conclusion that experience happens in consciousness: you experience your body in consciousness, you experience your thoughts in consciousness, you experience the world in consciousness, and when you look at a brain as a perceptual object, you experience that in consciousness. So where is that consciousness? And it turns out it’s the wrong question. “Where” implies a location in space or time to something that doesn’t occupy space and doesn’t exist in time. So what is the nature of the universe? We actually don’t know. It seems to be a field of possibilities. Maybe the universe and consciousness are the same being. Maybe the universe and consciousness are what we call existence, awareness, being. If I’m speaking to you right now, and you’re listening to me — let’s say we’re at a party. Your favorite thing. [laughs]
W.K.: I can work with this situation.
CHOPRA: We are listening to music, but everything’s a buzz, right? Because you’re paying attention to me. But somebody at the edge of the room starts talking about Andrew. And then your attention goes there, and you stop hearing what I’m saying, even though I’m right next to you, right? So maybe consciousness is streaming out and, through attention and intention, creates the experience of a perceptual reality.
W.K.: Then there’s the LSD experience — I always thought maybe it was like putting your brain in someone else’s…
CHOPRA: I did LSD a few times in my teenage years. One, I was on a train from Delhi on my way to Sri Lanka. And I was maybe seventeen years old.
W.K.: Was that the first time?
CHOPRA: Yeah. And I saw a poster of Mother Theresa — she was feeding hungry children, or hugging them — and I felt infinite compassion. And that has never left me.
W.K.: That experience was permanent.
CHOPRA: That feeling… yeah. I can walk by New York City and see a homeless person and I get overwhelmed. Sometimes because of that and I pull out twenty dollars and I leave it there, because I can’t help myself. The other time I experienced what I can only call heaven…[laughs] You know, it was my teenager’s imagination of what heaven could be, so there were dancing girls and there was Krishna on the flute and the colors were extraordinary.
W.K.: Were there clouds?
CHOPRA: Clouds, but also palaces. Celestial palaces with infinite myriads of colors. And amazing music, way beyond even George Harrison or Michael Jackson. And these dancing damsels. And then there was a part of me, even then, that said, Would you want to live here permanently? And the answer came, no. Because it’s just another projection. I’d rather know what it is that does the projection. But what convinced me with the LSD experience was that, number one, reality, even ordinary reality, is not what it appears to be. Secondly, our brain actually filters out and edits everything that does not conform to the hypnosis of social conditioning. You know, what we call everyday reality is just a hypnosis of social conditioning.
CHOPRA: Agreement… And sometimes it’s so terrible, you know, at war, and eco destruction, and terrorism, and social injustice — crazy things which we take for normal.
W.K.: What about religion and the concept of God? You think even the concept of God is symbolic of an impenetrable, unknowable truth? Is this what your new book is about?
CHOPRA: My new book addresses what I call naïve realism. Naïve realism is naïve ideas about the physical world: “This is how it is,” which we agree it isn’t — it can take so many forms. But this is how God is: another image in our mind. So naïve ideas about reality and naïve ideas about God as well. So the word God conjures up images and ideas, and then we get lost. But if you could just stay with that one idea that we’ve had so far, possibility, that would be close. Existence? That would be close. Awareness? That would be close. Maybe they’re all the same thing. In which case, then, “Who am I?” turns out to be simple. Answer to that: I’m God in drag. And so are you.
W.K.: Yeah? Well hey, that’s a great thing to be.
CHOPRA: And this is a great party. We’re all God in drag having a party.