By Suma Varughese
As an Indian doctor based in the us, Deepak Chopra is perfectly suited to the task of integrating allopathy and ayurveda, east and west, science and spirituality. in the process, he’s reconciled polarities, created a multi-million dollar empire for himself and influenced millions across the world
The large and ornate Jamshed Bhabha auditorium in Mumbai’s spiffy NCPA complex was crowded with the seriously rich and the seriously seeking. You had to be one of either, to cough up Rs 3000 for three hours of Deepak Chopra speak.
And yet in a city where discourses on spirituality by eminent sages are routine and free, people were champing at the bit to get in. Even the aisles were bestrewn with Chopra fans.
Why? Partly the glamour. Partly the big bucks. As an exclusive event it was desirable to be seen there. And finally, genuine appreciation of his work. Dr. Chopra holds potent connotations for us. An Indian who has made it amazingly big in the US. An Indian who has Demi Moore, Madonna and various other Hollywood celebrities among his following. An Indian who has written best-sellers that the world draws nourishment from. An Indian who has put Indian wisdom on the world map. He is, at one and the same time, every Indian’s role model and every Indian’s validation. We envy him and we are proud of him because he’s made us proud of who we are.
Onstage he exuded quiet composure. There was a naturalness and ease about the man that prevailed through the power, fame and money that swirled around him like a dazzling cloak. He ambled on to the stage without much ceremony, stood around casually while being introduced, and took over without conveying the impression that he was a Personage. In short, he was very much himself. No mean achievement, as any seeker will testify.
He is a riveting speaker with a soothing, mellifluous voice. He carried himself well onstage, standing with unstudied elegance, quite in control of his hand movements. His talk is laced with self-deprecating humour about his early days in the US. His status as doctor enabled him to pick up a colour TV and a car on credit shortly after setting foot in the US. “It was an amazing experience to buy things I didn’t need with money I didn’t have to impress people I didn’t like,” he observes wryly.
The subject of the talk was Synchronicity and The Power of Coincidence. The doctor vended his way rather leisurely towards it, stopping at his usual pit halts such as the information that we truly are different people every moment since we shed body cells continuously. “In less than one year we replace 98 per cent of our bodies,” he said, adding, “That’s scientific proof of life after death.”
Much of the Deepak Chopra magic revolves around his dazzling ability to wield scientific facts and figures to buttress his spiritual premises.
Indeed, his USP is that he is absolutely at the convergence point of several polarities. As an Indian doctor based in the US, he can communicate the wisdom of Indian ayurveda to a sophisticated western audience using allopathic language. As a man of science, he can talk about spirituality in concrete terms by explaining its parallels with quantum physics. As a thinker and writer, he can reduce the paradoxes of spiritual reality into principles and points as effortlessly as a logician. Though hailing from a tradition that has customarily favoured renunciation, he is one of the leading advocates of the New Age belief that money and spirituality go together. And of course, despite being Indian, he can market his books as smartly as any westerner!
He can straddle East and West, science and spirituality, left brain, right brain with practised ease, explaining one to another and blending them both.
Says Devika Bhojwani, Mumbai-based event manager and prominent socialite who has known Chopra for 12 years, “He is in the right place at the right time. He’s doing what he’s meant to be doing.”
It must, however, be noted that this attempt at reconciling what many would consider irreconcilable, has earned the ire of several sections of society such as right-wing Christians in the US who are not averse to dubbing him Satan. He has his fair share of critics in India as well, who perceive him as making money promoting common Indian wisdom.
Yet, it must be noted that his admirers are equally vocal in their support to him. Observes Ram Gandhi, a businessman and former president of the Indian Merchants Chamber who was instrumental in organising the only free lecture Chopra gave in Mumbai some years ago at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, “He has found the golden mean.”
Rashmi Uday Singh, Mumbai, popular food and health columnist, has recently returned from participating in a Deepak Chopra workshop in San Diego, US. Says she, “His real strong point is that he can deliver tried and tested wisdom in contemporary medical language. For instance, he can tell you which hormone is pumping in your blood when you pray.”
In thus straddling opposing mindsets and philosophies, Dr. Chopra today has become one of the most influential catalysts of New Age thinking. He is on to his 41st book, The Soul of Leadership even as two of his books, The Book of Secrets, a translation of the Yoga Vashisht, and Peace is the Way have just hit the market.
His most memorable books include Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, and The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. The latter, a slim book, is a marvellous example of Dr Chopra’s ability to reduce the vague and ephemeral world of spiritual reality into sharply defined principles that enable us to put them to use in our everyday life. Dimly seen perceptions become felt reality thanks to his laser-sharp clarity.
He has been featured in Time magazine ( June 1999) and on the cover of Newsweek (Oct 20, 1997). Time selected him as one of the ‘Top 100 Icons and Heroes of the Century’, describing him as the poet-prophet of alternative medicine. Newsweek described him as an “educator, lecturer, author, endocrinologist, and Hollywood guru”. His books have sold over 20 million copies in English alone and have been translated into 35 languages. He is author of over 100 audio, videotape and CD Rom series. Madonna and Demi Moore among others have lent their voices to his tapes.
He can be credited with the creation, or at least the popularisation of many terms that have become standard New Age terminology, such as quantum soup (the state of the universe) energy and information (as the nature of the universe), non-local reality (God to you and me), mind-body medicine, synchrodestiny (how coincidences and destiny are woven together), and field of infinite possibilities.
It would be impossible to gauge the level of his influence upon the world and to what extent he has changed the way we think, but despite shrugging off the role of guru time and again, there is no doubt that he has been that to thousands of his readers.
Devika Bhojwani, who first met him 12 years ago at a conference in Taipei where he was a speaker, says she was mesmerised by his words and credits him with having put her on the path. Says she, “Since childhood I have been asking questions about the nature of life and Deepak’s answers opened all the doors for me. He nudged me gently on the path and let me go. And in my journey, stumbling blocks have often been cleared by reading his books, speaking to him or attending his seminars.”
Ram Gandhi says, “The first thing I learnt from him was a story he narrated that we should always pursue Saraswati (goddess of knowledge) and Laxmi (goddess of wealth) will follow. And self-knowledge is the most valuable type of knowledge. He has launched me on a voyage of inquiry.”
Like all people on the path, Chopra is adept at reinventing himself, as he discovers new and interesting dimensions within. Golf, says Devika Bhojwani, is a new fascination, and as expected, has spawned a book as well, Golf for Enlightenment.
He is the Founding Director of the Alliance for the New Humanity, committed to creating a critical mass of consciousness in the world of social justice, economic freedom, ecological balance and conflict resolution. His latest book, Peace is the Way, is another attempt to facilitate change at the societal and not merely individual level.
There is also an ongoing effort to vindicate India and its spiritual heritage in the West. Chopra once sprang a $30 million law suit against the Journal of the American Medical Association. In response to an article on Maharishi Ayurveda which was critically received by its readers, the associate editor of the Journal wrote a piece in which he questioned among other things, the “Hindu belief in yogic flying”. In his lawsuit, Dr. Chopra accused the Journal of defamation and bigotry. Little wonder then that he almost displays personal zeal in ensuring India’s place in the sun.
Along with film-maker Shekhar Kapur, he plans to make a star-studded film on the life of the Buddha (for which he will write the script) which he claims will be a media event that will rival the Oscars. The duo plan other ventures as well, which include making comics of mythical figures, futuristic video games and others, all with a view to launching a reverse cultural colonisation.
Despite the flood of activity, one wonders if the Chopra mystique is as powerful as it was earlier. His best books are behind him. The present ones, even, The Path of Love, have not attracted the kind of attention that his earlier books have. Perhaps he has said his say and the baton of cutting-edge discovery has moved on to other hands. Or perhaps he is standing on the brink of a new dimension which will once again put him in the forefront. It would be dangerous to write Deepak Chopra off.
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