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Life After Death: The Burden of Proof Hardcover – October 17, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In India death is perceived very differently than in the West, "as a brief stopping point on an endless soul journey," says Chopra in this introduction to life beyond bodily existence. Chopra, a medical doctor and world leader in mind-body medicine as well as author of more than 45 books, now ventures to answer: what happens after we die? For Chopra, death deserves to be called miraculous, a "doorway to a far more important event—the beginning of the afterlife" and a mode of being that "can be as creative as living." Chopra effectively uses the classic Vedanta story of Savitri—a woman who comes home to find death, Lord Yama, waiting to take her husband, and who seeks the monk Ramana's advice to outwit death—to frame each chapter. Chopra grounds each topic in the long arc of this singular story, which is the perfect springboard for Chopra to introduce concepts such as Akasha (the highest stage a soul can attain) and Eternity within the Indian tradition (where we are beyond death, life, maleness, femaleness, and the experience of time). Chopra presents a fascinating account of life after death for Westerners that will certainly please his avid fans and draw in new readers as well. (Nov.)
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“A must read for everyone who will die.” —Candace B. Pert, Ph.D., author of Molecules of Emotion
“A penetrating and insightful investigation into the greatest mystery of existence. This is an important book because only by facing death will we come to a deeper realization of who we are.” —Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now
“If I had any doubts about the afterlife, I don’t have them anymore. Deepak Chopra has cast his inimitable light on the darkened corners of death. I think this is his greatest contribution yet.” —Marianne Williamson, author of The Gift of Change
“Deepak Chopra . . . takes us to the edge of our own deepest inner truth about life after death by sharing with us his vision and his wisdom, which, as always, is breathtaking, healing, and soul-opening.” —Neale Donald Walsch, author of Home with God: In a Life That Never Ends
“Deepak Chopra has written a masterpiece that is long overdue in our spiritual culture. Life After Death: The Burden of Proof is a bold and comforting guide into the afterlife.” —Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit and Sacred Contracts
“By marrying science and wisdom in Life After Death, Chopra builds his case for an afterlife in which our most essential self, the seer that observes our experiences in this temporary home that we call the self, uses the end of this lifetime to pass over into the next. This is an intellectual and spiritual tour de force.” —Professor Robert Thurman, Columbia University, author of Infinite Life and The Tibetan Book of the Dead
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The book doesn't try to prove life after death merely by talking about NDEs. It's really more about cosmology and the nature of reality than it is about trying to track the soul after we die. Chopra draws deeply from an ancient Indian tradition called "Vedanta". I found it fascinating that throughout the book, he relates recent scientific discoveries to ancient religious traditions. The book looks at at death and the universe completely opposite from the way Christianity and many religions view death and the way modern scientists view the material universe. Death is seen as a miracle, similar to the miracle of birth. I was taught that death entered the world through sin and is the enemy. Something to fear. The Devil and Death are the enemy and God rescues us. Chopra says death is a miracle that:
* Replaces time with timelessness
* Stretches the boundaries of space to infinity
* Reveals the source of life
* Brings a new way of knowing that lies beyond the five senses
* Reveals the underlying intelligence that organizes and sustains creation (what most of us would call God)
Rather than seeing the Universe as something that just "happened", the book sees the material world as having arisen from Consciousness. Science has been trying to figure out what consciousness is and how it has arisen from a Big Bang of inanimate material. That is once science figure out that it hasn't just always been here. Chopra's approach, and what he argues science is uncovering, is that the material world has actually arisen from Consciousness. It's not the "spiritual" world that is unreal, it's the material world that is the illusion. or the projection. The way he weaves scientific discovery with the ancient traditions of the Indian rishis is very interesting. It reminds me of an illustration I saw presented by a theologian many years ago. Scientists arrive at the top of the mountain to discover a theologian sitting there. The theologian looks up and says "What took you so long?" Religion has taught us the Universe wasn't always here. Religion has taught us that some Intelligence created the material world. Religion has taught us there is design and purpose for what we see. Religion has taught us that we are more than our bodies (our brains).
The afterlife begins to make sense when you take the approach that consciousness is not in the brain. But, the brain is more like a receiver of consciousness. This is a model being investigated by some neuroscientists. Science cannot tell us how the brain works. We can see it working, different parts lighting up as we think or dream. But, we are obviously more than just our brains. For example, while many people believe that our brains produce our thoughts, thoughts actually can change brain chemistry. Since drugs are somewhat effective in treating depression one could say changing one's brain chemistry can change one's thoughts. However, talk therapy works as well and can produce changes in brain chemistry. Meditation can produce changes in brain chemistry. It's definitely not a one way street. While depression can be caused by chemical imbalances, a depressing event can lead to those chemical imbalances. So, our thoughts are clearly not only produced by our brain chemistry. Something, outside of our brain, is the observer, the creator.
The book does touch on Near Death Experiences (NDEs) and OOBEs (Out Of Body Experiences). It also talks about different levels of reality from the physical all the way up to the ultimate level (called the Akashic field in this book). The heavens and hells experienced by people who have had NDEs are temporary stops along the way (as many who have had NDEs have reported). They are largely created by the mind and the expectation of the person dying. Of course, scientists have said this all along- they're purely subjective experiences and do not reflect reality. But, this brings us to the question as to what the nature of reality is. If you're in a dream and you can't wake up, that is reality to you. We call this reality because it's a shared experience. But, reality is whatever your senses tell you it is. None of us experiences reality directly (in this body anyway). How much do our minds create "reality"?
At the point of death, our ties to the physical world fall away and we begin to experience more directly the other two realms (the subtle world the the world of pure consciousness). Chopra talks about how we can begin to shift our focus on these realms of reality before we die.
In the second part of the book, Chopra talks about the burden of proof. He addresses the following five questions:
* Is Akasha real (the realm of pure consciousness, the Void from which all creation flows)?
* Does the mind extend beyond the brain?
* Is the universe aware?
* Does consciousness have a basis outside of time and space?
* Can our beliefs shape reality?
If we can answer all of these questions in the affirmative, it's not so hard to believe that we survive the death of our bodies (really the death of our brains since that is where the mind is said to reside). Chopra links the question about Akasha to what scientists are discovering about the ultimate nature of the universe. He gets into some pretty complex physics that I have to confess I don't really understand. But, what is interesting is that the word Akasha has an English equivalent- ether. Up until the late 1800s scientists believed there was no "void" in space but everything was transmitted through the ether. Physicists more recently have gone back to a model that says space is full of activity in the form of invisible fluctuations in the quantum field. Physicists have come up with a Zero Point Field which contains not just what we see in the universe but everything that could possibly exists. This "field of fields", this seething exchange of energy is what everything that exists pops into and out of existence. The Zero Point field has been calculated to contain 10 to the 40th power more energy than the visible universe. This sounds a lot like what religion has been telling us that the unseen is incredibly more powerful than the seen.
That last paragraph may have been over your head (it's over mine). Chopra goes on and gives some analogies that are very helpful. Basically what he is positing it that our physical world is projected from a nonmaterial source. The invisible world comes first. And, reality increases the closer one gets to the source. As we die, we do not blink out of existence. We move from the projected to the real.
The next chapters go on to address the other questions asked above. Chopra concludes with a poem by Rabgindranath Tagore. He only gives part of it. But, I've looked up the whole thing. Some of the words in this translation are slightly different than Chopra presented them. I like this one better. I've been reflecting on this for the last few days and it has brought me comfort. I fear death because it's a journey into the unknown. But, this poem relates death to birth.
I was not aware of the moment
when I first crossed the threshold of this life.
What was the power that made me open out into this vast mystery
like a bud in the forest at midnight!
When in the morning I looked upon the light
I felt in a moment that I was no stranger in this world,
that the inscrutable without name and form
had taken me in its arms in the form of my own mother.
Even so, in death the same unknown will appear as ever known to me.
And because I love this life,
I know I shall love death as well.
The child cries out
when from the right breast the mother takes it away,
in the very next moment to find in the left one its consolation.
Perhaps the only idea that left me a little shaken, was the idea that the afterlife is essentially a level beyond, but co-existent with our own. In other words - everything is here, in front of you, including the afterlife. The problem here, is that when die we become consciousness - and to me (at least to me) it translates into not seeing my family ever again. While Mr. Chopra insists that the "person" is never truly gone, but is actually everywhere...still, deep down I still hope to see my family again as I know them.
I value his knowledge, and his ability to tackle this topic with great tact. I must admit that this is the first book I have ever read by Mr. Chopra - and I do believe that it is better to be acquainted with his other works before reading this one. Truly, I took the reading of this book into small steps, because the subject matter, the language, and his ideas are sometimes hard to understand.
Do not go into this book expecting yet another interpretation of Biblical verses. Understand that there have been, and always will be other religions, philosophies and ideas outside the Christian belief, before you rank this book a "blasphemy" as some other readers have done. If your brain and soul can only accept Christianity - stick with it, and leave these books to other seekers.