Calmness surrounds the magnificent dome structure around the Palace of Fine Arts auditorium on this unusually warm autumn day. But once inside the hall, a completely different scene unfolds. The foyer is teeming with an eclectic mix of people—there is the chic thirty something marketing communications director from Marin County, a group of health psychology majors from UCSF, an elderly retired local sports writer, and a middle aged venture capitalist from Palo Alto.
Finding commonality seems almost improbable, yet there is. The reason for this melting pot gathering is Deepak Chopra—the man, the celebrity, the brand, who in the last two decades has been catapulted to elevated levels of popularity especially in the psycho-spiritual zeitgeist.
Chopra is on a whirlwind tour across the United States to promote his latest book: “God: A story of Revelation.” In between he manages to squeeze in a meeting with Oprah Winfrey, which he describes as “my super soul Sunday event” and teaching the soul of leadership course at the Kellogg School of Management where he is adjunct professor. Heralded by Time magazine as one of the top 100 heroes of the century and “the poet-prophet of alternative medicine,” Chopra has been called a “new age super-sage” and “one-man-healing-machine”—more evidence of this man’s iconic status.
Dressed in a black overcoat, with a red and black silk shirt and dark blue denims with the single auditorium light focused on him, he looks more like a magician than a spiritual thinker or doctor. Chopra starts out by talking about the universe and the dark energy. He shares statistics about the age of the universe, the Anthropic principle, which states that whoever created the universe did that for us. Slowly he eases into the basis of his book that he describes as being about the “ten great people who were the Einsteins of consciousness.” He explains that if there ever was a way to understand the true meaning of life—you would find that through this book.
Suddenly he raises his hands and exclaims, “Listen to your soul not your mind.” Your mind is the one who says “I should have gone to the bathroom before I sat for this lecture” drawing laughter from all of us gathered there. He continues, “Your soul is the ground of your being, the reason for your existence.”
Born and raised in New Delhi, Chopra’s father was a doctor and mother was a homemaker—“they were parents who encouraged a childhood rich in story-telling, mythology, adventures, and imaginative experiences,” he shares. A physician himself, Chopra taught at the medical schools of Tufts University, Boston University and Harvard University. As a young man, Chopra’s desire was to become a journalist, but he declares that he was inspired by a character in the book “Arrowsmith” by Sinclair Lewis and decided instead to become a doctor.
Married to Rita, a homemaker since 1970, Chopra has two children—Gotham and Maalika. In the 80s, bogged down by endless hours of work, fighting fatigue and stress; Chopra was in a frustrated state of mind when he had a chance meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi—the proponent, leader, and guru of the “Transcendental Meditation” (TM) movement.
He describes these meetings as “life-changing” and “enlightening” and says it made him realize that his calling in life was much more than being a physician. In the late 80s, Chopra was awarded the title “Dhanvantari” (Lord of Immortality), “the keeper of perfect health for the world” by the Maharishi.
To the basic question, who or what is God, Chopra chuckles, “I am being asked, after years of reading, self discovery, and spiritual revelation, how would you answer the complex question that man has asked for eons of years: who or what is God?” Smiling confidently Chopra delivers, “When you achieve divine consciousness, God is not difficult to find, God is impossible to avoid because there is nowhere that God is not”
Chopra quotes freely from the works of Socrates, Gandhi, and J. Krishnamurthy, and has been influenced by them at various points in his life. His life has garnered such deep interest both from the media as well as the common man that Chopra agreed to have a documentary filmed on him. Decoding Deepak is a feature-length documentary film directed by his son Gotham Chopra released in October 2012. Chopra has written more than 65 books with 19 of them becoming New York Times bestsellers. His books have been translated into 35 languages and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide.
As a global leader and pioneer in the field of mind-body medicine, he started the Chopra Foundation whose sole mission is improving health and well being, cultivating spiritual knowledge, expanding consciousness, and promoting world peace for all members of the human family. He says Chopra Foundation is committed to creating a peaceful, just, sustainable and healthy world.
The Chopra Center was opened with his friend and colleague late Dr. David Simon in 1996 to help people experience physical healing, emotional freedom, and higher states of consciousness. Located in Carlsbad, California, this center offers a wide variety of programs, retreats, and teacher training programs that integrate the healing arts of the East with the best in modern Western medicine.
Talking about how we often judge ourselves continuously he states, “Take it easy! Be joyful, playful, and create impermanent patterns for happiness.” He further articulates by quoting Krishnamurthy, “The highest level of human intelligence is the ability to observe yourself without judging yourself!”
So how does one achieve happiness and contentment in life? Again Chopra delivers in his characteristic style by combining his excellent verbal abilities with his powerful thinking—“you have to do this through four levels; first: being through meditation, second: feeling through acts of love and compassion, third: thinking through creativity, and fourth: achieving satisfaction through service.”
Another age old question pops up. Is unconditional love a cliché? Chopra believes if you love your own self without conditions you will also be able to love someone else unconditionally but this is hard he says, “Very hard!”
This Indian American thinker has metamorphosed into a brand. Chopra can be described as a new age scientific spiritual thinker and guide. Deep understanding and intelligence as a physician coupled with the illumination derived out of his experiences with meditation, and alternative medicine makes for a winning combination.
His meteoric rise is due in part to his skill at leveraging the political game. Chopra maintains impeccable relationships with power names from a gamut of professions. Bill Clinton has described Deepak Chopra as “The pioneer of alternative medicine.” Jackie Kennedy regularly had breakfasts with him. Prince Charles personally invited Chopra to an academic forum. Oprah Winfrey, Naomi Judd, Demi Moore, Sarah Ferguson, David Lynch, and Donna Karan (just to name a few) devotedly express their profound esteem for his work. Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of him as “Undoubtedly one of the most lucid and inspired philosophers of our time.”
Of course, he did come in for a fair share of criticism following his spectacular rise. According to a 2008 article in Time magazine, Chopra is “a magnet for criticism,” primarily from those involved in science and medicine. Some critics say that Chopra creates a false sense of hope in sick individuals which may keep them away from effective medical care.
Chopra says he didn’t always handle criticism well. Then, he says, a quote from Nelson Mandela changed his approach forever. Mandela said having resentment against someone is like drinking poison and thinking it will kill your enemy. Chopra says he never forgot that.
So since our mind, body, and soul are so closely interconnected, how does our brain really function? “Your brain is the instrument through which you express yourself” states Chopra.
He also talks about the continuous conflict between art and science. “Art is an expression of spirit and soul. To be an artist is to be a very spiritual human being. Art comes from going inside your own self—whether you make music or write a screenplay. Science comes from going out there. Art is an expression of higher consciousness.”
“Tell me that ONE thing, the fastest way to improve the world?” he asks rhetorically. And his answer: through the empowerment of women. He explains that the financial, economic and psychological empowerment of women as healers is the fastest way to improve everything in the world.
He talks nonchalantly about death. “Karma is the software of our souls. Physical death is cutting lines of communications but the karmic software, the matrix, the probability clouds of thoughts are still there and are incubating before they take their next creative leap,” and finishes with, “death is the highest expression of our creativity. Without death we would all be doomed to eternal senility.” That last sentence made me laugh.
And all of a sudden, it all begins to make sense. I had just gained everything I had gone for; a sense of peace, wellbeing, and enlightenment through comprehending some of life’s most uncertain and intriguing questions.
Rujul Pathak Pota is a program manager for a computer networking company, an Indian classical vocalist, dancer, and freelance writer based in the San Francisco bay area, where she resides with her husband and two children.