At the heart of The Book of Secrets is Advaita Vedanta, the Hindu philosophy of non-duality or wholeness. Drawing freely on the Vedantic palimpsest of commentaries, Deepak Chopra restates old wisdom in new words, using his own experiences to reshape ancient sacred philosophy for a modern profane world. However, if one wants to go to the original source, one is generally out of luck. Though Chopra does mention some ancient and modern philosophers (for example, Patanjali and Krishnamurti), he incorporates the thoughts of others who are central to Advaita Vedanta (most prominently, Shankaracharya and Ramanuja) into his own philosophical commentary without making their contribution explicit. The reader is thus left with the feeling that the philosophy of wholeness is Chopra’s little secret that he is sharing with the world.
This is a book of bullets that Microsoft would love: PowerPoint bullets built into paragraphs; Word paragraphs expanded into chapters; Visio chapters flowing into list of exercises; and these Excel list of exercises can become projects to unlock the secrets of life. The bullets are a kind of panacea —silver bullets, if you will—to solve life’s problems. My desire for a narrative pushes up against the sloppy “by the numbers” (Secrets 1-15) writing. But perhaps this anti-intellectualism makes difficult concepts accessible to a public accustomed to fast-food feelings and bite-size ideas.
The chapter on Secret #7 (“Everything is Spiritual”) is a wonderful example of how Chopra’s method works. He opens the chapter with poetic writing: “You can’t be fired from the job of creating a world, which is the essence of spirituality. And you can’t resign from the job even when you refuse to show up. The universe is living through you at this moment.” He then proceeds to compare and contrast the universal and the personal in a series of 10 principles. Without calling it Advaita Vedanta, Chopra creates his seventh principle. “UNIVERSAL: 7. Knowledge takes in more and more of the world. PERSONAL: 7. The direction of life is from duality to unity.” And then before giving a list of exercises for “Changing Your Reality to Accommodate the Seventh Secret,” Chopra pragmatically makes the ancient concepts relevant to a modern sensibility by framing them around a downsizing example.
While helpful, the above feels prescriptive. I can’t yield to the lists and exercises. Chopra writes, “Don’t strain for self-improvement.” But he has written a self-improvement book. The Book of Secrets would be more compelling if Chopra wrote from the heart as he does early on in retelling the family crisis that ensued after his father’s death. There is lovely language here that feels more real and relevant than all the pop biology, pop psychology, and pop spiritualism that pervade the rest of the book.
I fully agree with Chopra when he beseeches the reader: “You can create anything because you are in every atom of creation.” I only wish he had chosen to create a different book on the same topic. Rather than relying on a pseudoscience of soft references, unsupported conflations, and unsupportable inflations, he would find greater credibility— though probably a smaller readership—if he stayed true to the philosophy of the giants on whose shoulders he has climbed. But then perhaps Dr. Chopra would lose his medical imprimatur and become just another guru importing ancient sacred wisdom to the modern profane world, bringing Old Delhi to New Age. —Rajesh C. Oza