Introduction: Asking All the Right Questions
Turn on the TV any day of the week. What do you see? Teens glued to a video game or hanging out in shopping malls. Teens who hate school and make fun of anyone who is different from them. And when they try to be funny, teens come off as too smart for their teachers and too cool for their parents.
In other words, they have no soul.
But my experience tells a very different story. Teenagers worry about their souls more than any other group. Life is a riddle they are eager to solve but also feel troubled by. Teens really want to know who they are. They are old enough not to accept the stories given to children when the big questions come up:
Where's my life going?
Does God really exist?
Why does he allow so many bad things to happen?
Do I matter?
How am I ever going to make a difference?
Since you are a teenager holding this book in your hands, all these questions have run through your mind at some time. But I bet that since you first asked them, somewhere back in your childhood, most of the answers you received aren't that helpful anymore.
This isn't a book about Grandma going to heaven when she dies or God frowning down on you when you swipe cookies from the cookie jar. Whenever I talk with teenagers, they report having heard things like this as a child. They discovered something that's very true: Adults squirm when the big questions come up, especially the big spiritual ones. They don't want their kids to worry, so they give answers that all say one thing: "Don't worry. It's all okay."
And yet the big questions still keep coming up. At every age we all need to know what life is really all about. Not just on the surface, but deep down.
Teenagers are no exception. They deserve a spiritual life all their own. One that offers the kind of comfort we hope to give our children, but is different at the same time. More full of ideas. More mature. More fitting for the whole wide future that lies ahead.
That's what I've tried to do in this book, as fully and as honestly as possible. Not all the answers are nice answers. Does God let bad things happen? Yes; not always, but quite a lot of the time. Does that mean he is cruel? No, but you're really going to have to think, because a person who sits back and lets bad things happen is often cruel. Why is God different from a person, then? Let's talk about it.
That's the kind of discussion you are going to find in these pages -- challenging but not delivered in big words or nice thoughts that aren't really all true. It's based on the questions teenagers actually ask me. Some were asked in person, at public talks. Others were asked around the dinner table, because my son and daughter, Gotham and Mallika, were full of questions when they were teenagers (they're now adults and happily married, with families of their own). The remaining questions were submitted over the Internet, where a Web site was set up to invite teenagers to ask anything they wanted to know about spirituality.
So here it is, the thing you asked for. Not just answers to the big questions, but a guide to spirit as seen through the eyes of teenagers, a special group in society that deserves a spiritual life different from anyone's before or since. I salute your uniqueness and invite you to read on.
Copyright & © 2006 by Deepak Chopra
Chapter One: How Spirit Works (...And It Does Work)
I was shuffling through a pile of questions that teenagers had asked, and one popped to the surface. It's so easy to answer, and yet it's so important that I knew I had to begin with this one.
Dear Deepak, If you could change one thing about the history of our Earth, what would it be?
If you could change one thing about the history of our Earth, what would it be?
That question came from a fourteen-year-old boy. Now, what if you asked it, not to me, but to yourself? There's a lot of changes you might wish for. You might wish that nobody had discovered gunpowder, since that led to such an enormous increase in terrible wars. You might wish that medicine had discovered cures for diseases centuries ago, or that every baby who had ever been born survived to lead a productive life.
But my answer would be different. When it comes down to one and only one choice, here is mine: I wish everyone knew from birth that they had a soul.
You might not think that's much of a change. Doesn't everyone already know they have a soul? Certainly everyone -- or nearly everyone -- is told that they have a soul. But being told and knowing are two different things.
If you truly knew you had a soul, you could change the world. Which is what I'm inviting you to do. The world is changed from the inside. All the greatest people you can think of became great from the inside. Albert Einstein became great by dreaming in a new way about time and space. Leonardo da Vinci became great by imagining inventions that did not come to pass for hundreds of years (did you know that he sketched a helicopter four hundred years before the Wright brothers learned to fly?) and by having a vision of a new way to paint.
Yet there is a kind of greatness open to you right now, even if you think you are a very ordinary, average person. It's the greatness of living from your soul. What does that mean?
Living from the Soul
Imagine that you could have a thought and it would come true.
Imagine that you could feel safe and at peace, no matter what happened around you.
Imagine that you could love yourself as much as you wanted others to love you -- and more.
Imagine that you could wake up every day to greet a new world.
Imagine that you could feel the presence of God.
Anyone who achieved these things would be considered a great success in life. I'm pretty sure that, as a teenager, you worry about how to make a good life for yourself. It can seem like an incredibly difficult project. But if all those things I asked you to imagine came true, wouldn't that be real success? Living from the level of the soul isn't about being goody-goody and hoping that God notices and smiles down on you. It's about the best kind of life you can possibly lead.
One fifteen-year-old boy asked a really important, basic question:
Dear Deepak, What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
What is the difference between religion and spirituality?
To me, they don't have to be different at all. To be religious and spiritual can and should be the same thing. But we have to be real here, and religion almost always means a traditional faith like Christianity or Islam or Judaism. It's practiced in groups. It takes place in churches or mosques or synagogues. There is a given set of beliefs, along with priests, scriptures, and services.
Spirituality, on the other hand, doesn't need a group. It is done one person at a time, almost always in private. I think every spiritual person reads inspiring scriptures, often from many different religious traditions. Such a person may or may not go to church. They may or may not know the set of beliefs that guide the faithful. So you can be deeply spiritual and yet not be a "good" Catholic, Jew, or Muslim. This book isn't about religion. It's about the spiritual side, the private life of the soul.
A Spiritual Quiz
Q: I think I am spiritual, but I'm not sure, especially when things start going wrong. Then I feel really alone. I'm all by myself, still struggling.
A: I think what makes spirit real is change. Spirit changes you, and when the change is very big, it can be called a transformation. Fairy tales are about a child's deep wish to be changed: Frogs transform into princes, ugly ducklings transform into swans. The amazing thing about human nature is that we are the only creatures on Earth who can transform ourselves just because we want to. A caterpillar has no choice but to be reborn as a butterfly. You do have a choice.
Here's a quiz to show you just how many things in your life -- things you probably take for granted -- could be transformed. Then you can see in advance what spirit could be doing for you right now.
What Can Spirit Do for You?
Put a check beside each sentence that you agree with most of the time. Then score yourself (25 points maximum) by counting up the total number of checks.
I worry about what my body looks like.
What others think about my body is important.
If I had a better body, people would like me more.
I should work hard to get a better body.
It's always better to have more money.
If you don't have money, you won't be able to lead a good life.
My personality bothers people, and I wish it didn't.
Being supported by others is really important to me.
Going against the group doesn't pay. People will laugh at you or put you down.
If I can buy what I want and do the things I like to do, I am happy.
The most important thing is to look out for yourself, because no one else will.
When bad things happen, they could be a punishment from God.
The world is unsafe. It's really important to be on your guard.
I like retreating into fantasy, such as seeing myself as a rich and famous rock star or a celebrity.
When you really look at life, it isn't fair.
When I think of the word powerful, it doesn't apply to me.
I often have a hard time getting motivated.
I'm not sure what I really believe in.
I don't think I really have a vision of my own life.
Secretly there are people I look down upon. I know that I am better than them.
If someone likes me, I like them back. If they don't like me, I dislike them, too.
I am afraid of death.
I get bored easily, especially if no one is paying attention to me.
I have to get what I want, and I make pretty sure that I do.
If you ask me what I am proudest of, it's all the cool things I have, like my PlayStation or my family's house and car.
You are spiritually mature for your age. Compared with most teens, you don't feel insecure and you don't depend so much on externals such as approval from others. You have a sense that outer things like money and popularity aren't all-important. Your sense of security will be an excellent foundation for the spiritual journey that lies ahead.
Spirit can do a lot to make you feel more secure and happy. Right now you depend a lot on conforming to the group and making sure that your life has comfortable things in it. Body image is important to you because you don't want to look different, and secretly you wish you were perfect. You look upon externals as important because almost everyone you know believes this too.
You are very hungry for spirit, even though you might not know this yet. What you do know is that you are frightened that you don't fit in. Group pressure hasn't helped, because you want to be approved of so much that any kind of negative reaction makes you miserable. In your fantasies you'd like to have as much money, fame, and success as possible because you don't really see any other route to happiness. For you, contact with your soul will bring much more security and peace of mind if you stick with the spiritual journey and don't get discouraged.
After taking this quiz, you might ask, "What was spiritual about these questions? You didn't even mention the soul, and God came up only once." I didn't mention spirit because, to me, being spiritual is about knowing yourself and finding the deep secrets of happiness. The more you look for happiness in external things, the farther you are from your soul. Being a teenager brings all kinds of peer pressure, and for most people, adapting to the group sets the stage for the rest of their adult life. However, this is also a great age to learn to turn inward and find out what's really going on inside you.
There was a famous medical study in which thousands of Harvard graduates were followed from college onward until they reached fifty and beyond. The study wanted to find out the reasons that men get so many premature heart attacks (the study began in the 1950s, when the epidemic of heart attacks was highest in this country).
You might think that heart attacks strike people who are the most stressed, who eat a bad diet, or who have a history of heart disease in their family. Those factors certainly do contribute. But the surprising fact is that in this study the number one risk was none of these. It was whether the person had taken time to really look at himself. Men who faced their inner conflicts and problems very early, in their twenties, were least likely to have a heart attack. Men who avoided looking inward had the most heart attacks.
This study made a big impression on me when I started out as a doctor, because I saw that something invisible made a huge difference in people's bodies. Thoughts were killing people, if you really come down to it, while changing those thoughts helped their hearts to remain alive. That's a big clue to why the spiritual life is actually the best life you can lead, even on the physical level.
God for a Day
Q: If you could be God for a day, would you?
A: When you live from your soul, you are coming as close as you can to being God. And not just for a day. Your soul is permanent. It is always with you, always urging you to become more than you think you can be. Of course no one can actually be God -- I have a hard time even imagining what it would be like to be God for a day. God is infinite, and I can't imagine being infinite. God knows everything at once. God is beyond time. God is in every atom of creation. I can't imagine those things either.
But I can imagine touching my soul with my mind and my heart. When I do that, my small speck of God is present with me. Then I don't have to fall back on imagining -- I can have a spiritual life for real. And so can you.
Most people don't realize this because they don't really know their own soul. First of all, your soul is invisible.
You know you have a face and hands and that they are attached to a body. No one has to tell you those things. You know you have feelings, even though they are invisible, and thoughts in your head. No one has to tell you about those, either.
Many people go through life as if they don't know they have a soul. Somebody told them they did, but it didn't sink in. Or not very deeply. In these cases, the soul grew sleepy; it drifted off into a kind of never-never land, where it still lives. You can't see it because it's too far away. You can't visit it or listen in on it, because wherever this never-never land is, nobody knows how to get there. So basically the soul is a nice story, and when things get really rough, you can always fall back on this strange, invisible thing called your soul, which is your connection to God. (And to be really honest, does he seem to be any closer? God, too, lives in an invisible place far away from Earth, although we all were told in childhood that when you die, you will go to that place to meet him. Or her. Let's be fair and give God a chance to be either a he or a she -- or maybe both.)
I want to clear up this mystery and bring the soul back down to Earth. If I could imagine changing the history of the world, that's the change I would have made long, long ago. (Although I must admit that half the fun is searching for your soul, so perhaps the world was created perfectly just the way it is.)
The fact that you are reading this book means that you are already searching for answers and seeking your soul. You are into the mystery. You are excited, I hope, by the chase. Let's chase together, because at your side I can show you how spirit works here and now.
If you know about that, you will have a huge advantage, not just in the spiritual chase, but in the game of life.
To me, that's always number one. If you ask me whether angels are real, for example, I will give you my personal opinion, but I will also step outside my personal opinion to give you an answer that will work for you.
These answers will make you think on your own.
These answers will be honest. If I don't know how to solve a problem, I will tell you so.
These answers will open a door.
An open door is what everyone really needs. Unless I open a door into your own life, what good is this book? Concerning angels, anybody can say, "Sure, angels exist." Or they can say the opposite: "Angels are a nice story that you can believe in if you want to, like the tooth fairy." One answer is yes, the other is no. But neither one will really do you much good. You already know in advance that some people believe in angels, while others don't.
However, if I can open a door in your mind, you might just meet an angel one day. Or you might explore your desire to meet one so deeply that it will bring you great peace. Or a vision. Or a road to heaven. I don't know exactly where your doors will lead to, but I do know that you need to have as many open doors as possible.
An angel story
I do have a good angel story, though. Right after World War I there was an old village priest in France. He was much beloved by all the villagers, who considered him very holy and very brave. You see, he had gone into the trenches with the common soldiers in the heat of battle so that he could pray with them. Sometimes he had to deliver the last rites to the young fighters, who were no older than teenagers, many of them.
One day the priest got caught in an attack of mustard gas, a poison that drifted through the air and did terrible damage to any part of the body that it touched. The gas touched the priest's eyes, and he lost much of his sight.
So now it's several years after the war, and the priest is walking down a dusty country road. Suddenly a bicycle comes speeding around the corner, moving very fast. There's no time for the priest to jump aside, and he can't see well enough to know that he's about to be hit.
All at once a stranger appears from nowhere and lifts the bicycle, rider and all, out of the road. He gently sets it down on the shoulder of the road and walks away. The cyclist can't believe what just happened, and he reports in the village that this was a genuine miracle: The stranger who appeared out of nowhere was an angel. But the old priest, who accepts the story of what happened, never gives an opinion one way or another. Was it an angel? Was it a miracle? The old priest never said.
But I think the priest would have smiled at a saying from Albert Einstein, who pointed out that there are only two ways to look at the world: Either nothing in the universe is a miracle, or everything is.
I want to show you how to see the second way.
The Greatest Miracle
Q: If everything is a miracle, why haven't I ever seen a real one?
A: You have; you just didn't notice it. A miracle is going on right before your eyes. In fact, it is the greatest miracle. It's you. You will never see any kind of miracle until you begin to see this one first. Let's take a short trip into outer space. Step out into your backyard any night and look up at the sky. The bright wash of stars that sweeps across the sky, looking like a broad ribbon, is the Milky Way, our galaxy. It contains billions of stars, and although they look close together to your naked eye, in fact each one is many light-years away from the other.
Copyright & © 2006 by Deepak Chopra