Read an Excerpt
Chapter One: Day One
Do I Have a Soul?
When I was fifteen, my school was on a green hillside overlooking a valley even more green and lush. That part you already know. Every day I saw this beautiful view, except when the valley filled with billowing mist. On those mornings I walked to school with wisps of white curling around me, like walking through clouds. It was on just such a day, as I was making my way down the road, that a stranger's voice called out.
"Come," it said. "I've been waiting."
The voice seemed to come from another world. I imagine you've walked through fog and know how it creates a hush all around you, like a cocoon. Then my eye caught something. An old man was sitting under the biggest, most twisted tree by the side of the road.
"Baba, I'm on my way to school," I said. "You must be waiting for someone else." I grew up in India, and baba is a term of respect that is given to someone who is considered a wise or holy man.
"We need to talk," he said in a most definite voice. I drew closer. Baba was sitting on the ground with his legs crossed. His beard was almost as white as the immaculate cotton pants and shirt that he wore.
"You're old enough to know things now," he said, not waiting for me to reply. "And who else is going to tell you?"
I felt a shiver run down my spine. "What kind of things?" I asked.
"Invisible things. Secret things." Suddenly Baba laughed. "How mysterious do I have to sound for you to listen?"
I started to forget about school. All kinds of images were filling my mind. Sitting there in that cross-legged position, the old man looked like Buddha, who became enlightened sitting under a tree. His long white beard made Baba look wizardly, like Merlin, and the gleam in his eye told me unmistakably that he must be wise, like Socrates.
"I'm not asking much. Just give me one day," Baba coaxed.
Hesitantly I sat down beside him under the gnarled, twisted tree. The sun was burning the mist off now. Between billows of fog we could glimpse the green tea plantations that filled the valley and surrounding hills.
"This won't be like school," Baba said. "I'm going to teach you a new way to see and a new way to be."
He pointed at the scenery. "What do you see? I mean right now, at this very moment?"
"I see you and this tree, and I see the fog lifting from the valley," I said.
Baba leaned closer. "Want to know what I see? I see your soul." He was catching my attention more and more. "I see a world for you to possess. I see eternity." Baba stopped, and I felt another shiver. "Do you believe me?" he asked.
"I want to believe you, but I can't see any of those things," I said.
"Of course not. It takes a new way of seeing, which is why I had to find you," he said. "A few more years and you might be lost. The old ways are hard to break."
I was at that age when a dreamy inclination comes easily. In fact, the reason I hadn't noticed Baba was that I had been dreaming my way to school. Now it seemed as if I had conjured up a vision out of the mist.
The old man's eyes sharpened. "I'm not talking about fantasies and pink clouds," he said. "You need to know how reality works. Only what's real has power, even when it looks like magic."
"Okay," I said. I had the uncomfortable feeling that he had read my mind when I wondered if he was imaginary.
"In reality there is eternity everywhere," said Baba. "In reality your soul is here for you to experience it. I'll show you what I mean."
He reached down and took up a handful of sand from the side of the road. "Feel it," he said. "What's it like?"
He dropped some of the sand into my hands. "It's rough and sharp and grainy," I said. "And it's warm from the sun."
"Would it surprise you if I told you that none of that is real?" he asked.
I felt confused. "Of course it's real."
"But sand is made of molecules," said Baba. "And molecules aren't sharp or rough or grainy. I could take the molecules in sand and turn them into glass, which is completely smooth. Of course, molecules aren't real either."
"Because they are made of atoms, and atoms are just blurry clouds of energy. You can't see or touch one, and isn't that how you measure real things, by seeing and touching them? Come to think of it, energy isn't real either."
By now I didn't feel like arguing; this was a completely new way of seeing things, just as he had promised.
"Energy vibrates everywhere in the universe," Baba said. "But it springs from the void, which is empty and still. You won't know what's real until we go there. Shall we?"
He let the sand sift through his fingers, and for a moment it was like watching someone letting the whole world sift through his fingers, the world I thought I lived in.
"This is very strange," I murmured.
"Ah, so the old ways are not looking quite so certain," he said, sounding pleased. "What will be left when everything solid vanishes before your eyes?"
"Nothing," I said.
"Nothing!" he repeated. "That's exactly right. But when we're through, nothing will turn into everything -- your soul, God, an infinite world for you to possess. Shall we?" he asked again.
"Absolutely," I said.
What I Learned
Spirituality is about a new way of seeing and a new way of being. When Baba told me that one thing, he told me all I had to know. It wasn't even necessary to use the word spirituality. Words are never as important as reality itself, and what's real is that you and I are like walking clouds at the atomic level. Atoms are a lot more empty than they are solid, which means that we are a lot more empty than we are solid (every person is more than 99.999999 percent empty space; the space between the earth and the sun is much smaller by comparison).
Just beneath the surface, where things look reassuring and solid, we all should fly apart and float away into a fog, but we don't. This is because we aren't really empty. There's an invisible something to be discovered inside us.
"A mysterious force is holding things together and making patterns out of clouds of energy," Baba told me. "You'd better find out what that force is."
"Why?" I asked.
"Because it's everywhere. It's finer than the finest atom. It's subtler than the subtlest energy. It's more real than anything you have ever seen. Don't even compare it to physical forces like gravity and electricity," he said. "Unless an invisible something existed, there would be no universe. And no you."
So that's how it started: A boy and an old man set out to hunt the invisible something that is real even when everything else vanishes. Only years later, after I was grown up, did I come across some lines that perfectly state what we were after. They come from the poet William Blake, and you could call them the motto for this book.
To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.
You Won't Believe Your Eyes
We'll never find anything invisible if you believe your eyes," said Baba. "Most people do that all the time. It's a bad habit." He pointed to a rock lying beside him on the ground. "Even though this is really an energy cloud, a rock looks very solid and heavy, doesn't it?"
"Yes, because it is. A cloud wouldn't hurt if you dropped one on your foot," I said.
"Ah, you do trust your five senses," said Baba. "Why shouldn't you? After all, the world is flat, just the way your eyes see it."
"Well, no, that's something I couldn't trust," I said.
"Oh, but the sun moves across the sky and sets in the west at night, doesn't it?" said Baba.
"No, it only looks that way," I admitted.
"So you're already in the habit of not trusting your eyes," said Baba, smiling a certain way. I came to call this his I know a secret smile, and one could never quite tell when it was coming.
"Maybe I can't trust my eyes all the time, but how can I rely on what I can't see at all?" I asked.
"Here's a clue wrapped in a story," said Baba. "One night while you were asleep, your body started talking to itself. The heart spoke up first. 'I'm sick of pumping blood all day for the stomach. Why should I? I should be working just for myself.'
"When it heard this, the stomach replied, 'You should talk. I digest food all day for the brain. It takes whatever I give, and frankly, I should be working just for myself too.'
"When the brain heard this, it said, 'I think all the time about what to put in the stomach. Do you realize how easily it gets upset? If anybody should be working just for themselves, it's me.'
"You can see why this argument is silly," said Baba. "In reality every part of the body works for every other part. How do you see that? In your mind. Knowledge goes beyond the senses. I will teach you to see with your mind's eye. Then you'll have no trouble seeing invisible things."
What I Learned
To be spiritual you have to believe in something invisible. Baba taught me this at the very beginning. First you have to stop trusting that only your five senses are right. It's a hard habit to break, because common sense says, "I want to see it, touch it, taste it -- then I'll know it's real." But I can make you taste something right now that is totally invisible.
Close your eyes and see a bright yellow lemon in your mind's eye. Now see a knife cutting the lemon into slices, and then see yourself biting into one slice. Did you notice that your mouth started watering? This happened exactly as if you were biting into an actual lemon. All it took was a mental picture, which you produced out of nowhere, and suddenly your body went into action. Millions of cells in your brain formed the image; a signal was sent along the network of nerves inside your head to your mouth; your salivary glands received the message and began to flow.
Here are some amazing facts that follow from this simple experiment:
There was no picture of a lemon inside your head. When you thought of a lemon, your brain cells didn't paint an image or project one on a screen. Your brain is as dark as the blackest cave -- there's no light or color inside it. So where did that picture come from?
There was no taste of lemon in your mouth. You didn't actually experience real lemon juice. Your salivary glands, which you may think need food to react to, here needed nothing at all. So where did the sourness come from?
Someplace mysterious. Some place Baba was leading me to, step by step.
Everything Is Connected
Now, let's say you believe there really is something in the universe that you can't see," said Baba. "What does it do? If it had nothing to do, even if you called it God, our lives would stay the same as they are. People probably wouldn't bother looking for it in the first place."
"Probably not," I said.
The sun was rising higher in the sky, and we were comfortable sitting in the cool shade of the tree. Every once in a while I felt a darting worry about missing school, but as long as I kept listening to Baba, even this worry was far away.
"So it's a fine puzzle to figure out what this invisible something could be doing." Baba took in a big breath of air. "Go ahead, do that," he said. "The answer is right here, waiting to be noticed."
I took a deep breath. "I don't notice anything," I said.
"Isn't there something in the air?" asked Baba. "Spring. You can't miss it. When the birds start singing and the buds come out on the trees, when hearts flutter and you see lovers holding hands in the park, isn't spring in the air?"
"Sure, but -- "
"Well, why is it spring? There's no reason for it. The earth tilts a few degrees on its axis -- so what? Yet in the arctic snow a polar bear knows that it is time to come out of hibernation. Flowers know that it is time to sprout without fear of dying in the frost. Locusts buried seven years in the ground know that it is time to creep forth. How can all this happen from a little tilt?"
Before I could hazard a guess, he said, "I'm going to show you. Imagine that you are a bird. You don't think about spring; you don't think in words at all. How do you know that it's time to fly north again and mate?"
"Good enough," said Baba. "Let's call it an impulse that happens only in the spring. One impulse seems to strike every creature. The locust, the polar bear, the flower, and the bird live far apart, but they feel the same impulse in their own way. Even in the darkest depths of the ocean, where sunlight never reaches, the horseshoe crab knows that it's time to march hundreds of miles to shore, and on one single moonlit night millions of horseshoe crabs appear at once. Amazing.
"Sending that impulse is what something is doing. It holds life together. That's its job. But now we can stop calling it something," said Baba. "Once you know what the invisible force does, you can call it by its rightful name."
"Which is what?" I asked.
What I Learned
People have millions of things to say about the soul, but Baba focused on just one: The soul is the glue of the universe. It's not just sticky glue; it's intelligent. The universe is held together in three invisible ways:
Everything is connected.
Everything looks out for everything else.
Everything is in harmony with the whole.
Your body is a living example of how these three things work. A single cell that isn't connected, that selfishly looks out only for itself, and that refuses to be in harmony with the whole turns into a cancer. One rogue cell among billions is enough to destroy the entire scheme of life. The body's intelligence breaks down, and that is far more devastating than physical harm. Fortunately, such runaway cells are very uncommon, less than one in a million, and the huge majority of these rogues do not survive. The body's inner intelligence knows exactly how life should be regulated for maximum survival.
Baba didn't say that the invisible glue must be called the soul. Other terms have come down through the ages: spirit, God, the divine spark, the breath of life. Often I use the word essence. When you reduce anything to its purest form, you have its essence. An armful of roses can be reduced to half an ounce of pure rose essence. There are billions of people living totally different lives. Yet soul or spirit is the purest part of being alive, no matter who you are. It's your essence.
It's strange that this essence is so hard to find. When we go around looking for it, we're like fish looking everywhere for water but never seeming to find it. I imagine the first fish to discover water happened to jump out of the ocean. Maybe a shark was chasing it, and the fish got desperate. When it splashed back into the sea, the fish had a thrilling moment of Aha! So that's where the water is. I've been swimming in it all my life and never knew.
That's what Baba did for me. Like a fish splashing back into the sea, I discovered that I'd been living with spirit, inside and out, all my life. It's everywhere, making sure that everything is connected. The light from a star billions of light-years away is the same light that makes plants grow here on Earth. The plants give food; the food allowed you to develop in your mother's womb; and today you look at those stars with the eyes that the stars gave you. There's the cosmic connection.
Did you know that with every breath you breathe, you take in millions of atoms breathed out yesterday by someone in China? Those atoms were in another body, circulating in the blood or building a cell or perhaps making a baby. Without knowing it, you are connected to a baby who hasn't even been born yet. The water in your body has the same salt and mineral content as the ocean, which means you are carrying the ocean around inside you. The skin cells that you rubbed off with a towel this morning when you stepped out of the shower contain molecules that were once in the body of Jesus and Buddha and every other holy figure from the past.
So rejoice in the cosmic connection. See yourself on a beautiful spring day. You are full of new life and energy. The day feels perfect. Inside you a spark is gleaming, and you suddenly know for sure that you are alive in a world that is your home. At that moment you are truly tuned in. Baba taught me never to forget that feeling of being connected to everything.
And he was just getting started.
Copyright © 2004 by Deepak Chopra
Chapter Introduction: Before You Begin...
A boy of fifteen is standing on a high green hill overlooking a valley. The valley is even more green and lush. It rolls away in wave after wave until the boy thinks it must never end.
"Do you see?" a voice says.
The boy turns, and next to him an old man is standing. The old man has a long white beard, and there is a gleam in his eye.
"Yes, I see," the boy says, but his heart is beating so fast he can hardly express himself.
"I want you to tell me what you see. I have to be sure you learned your lessons well," the old man says.
Ordinarily it would have broken the boy's heart to say good-bye, because he thought the old man with the white beard would be with him forever.
"I see that all this is mine," the boy says. "I belong to the universe, and it belongs to me." He stretches his arms out as if he could own it all -- the high hill, the green valley, the whole span of years ahead of him. Somehow, even though it sounds impossible, he does own it all.
"Never forget this," the old man says. He presses his palms together and bows in respect, and the boy, bowing even deeper, does the same.
And that's the last I saw of him. Because I was the boy on the hill, and in four short days, the only time we were together, the old man changed my life. Each day he answered a question that you are going to read about in this book:
Do I have a soul?
How do wishes come true?
What is the supreme force in the universe?
How can I change the world?
These are big questions, and when I was young and bursting with idealism, they were burning questions. I didn't just want to know the answers -- I had to know. There will always be burning questions in life, but these four remain special because they start a spark, and from that spark you will have a fire in your heart. That fire will make you live your life with excitement and passion.
The old man with the white beard showed me the spiritual side of life, where real passion and excitement come from. I'm going to tell you about our days together, down to the smallest detail, until you are given what I was given. Then you can be transformed too, wherever you are. So before you begin, take a deep breath. This story could turn out to be yours.
Copyright © 2004 by Deepak Chopra