Last week the Free Press was running ads for Deepak Chopra’s visit to Winnipeg among the movie ads in the entertainment section. The show is called “An Evening with Deepak Chopra”, it’s at the Concert Hall on April 21, and ticket prices are from $45.00 to $150.00. Chopra is a best-selling author, an inspirational speaker, and he is associated with a luxury retreat spa. This article by Guardian columnist and author Francis Wheen estimated his income at $20 million a year, including $8 million from the retreat center.
His promotional material often refers to him as a doctor or identifies him as an MD. He was a practicing doctor in America from 1968 until the mid 1980’s. He became involved with the Maharishi Mahesh Yoga and Transcendental Meditation in 1980, travelled to India and gave up practicing medicine by 1985. He broke with the Maharishi – the date varies a little in different versions of the story – between 1989 and 1991. He doesn’t mention the Maharishi in his promotional material but he does talk about his involvement with TM in interviews like this one. He also broke with the medical profession when some of his books and teachings were dismissed as quackery and he was involved in a lawsuit about that.
He started to write books offering his own teachings. He started out writing about Ayurvedic medicine and progressed through spiritual healing, the psychology of success, quantum physics and the nature of reality, the nature of God, the unity (or irrelevance) of all religions, and world peace. He brings together quantum physics and Ayurvedic medicine around these teachings (quotes from the University of Virginia Religious Studies web page, link below):
Overall, quantum healing is healing the body/mind from a quantum level. That means, according to Chopra, from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information in the body, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong. “So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body.”
Chopra has also emphasized the importance of a proper diet in order to maintain total health. Again, the Ayurvedic approach to nutrition is a consciousness- based approach, so that more important than any approach is “awareness of one’s interaction with food as part of conscious universe.” This awareness exists on many levels: the awareness one has when putting the food into one’s mouth, the awareness of the cook who has prepared the food, even the awareness of the farmer who has grown the product, all these influence the life energy or prana of the food. When one eats pre-packaged or canned foods, Chopra believes, it does not provide the eater with the utmost feeling of energy because it is missing the life force/life energy,
which is an expression of consciousness in Ayurveda.
Another important aspect of Ayurvedic nutrition is the emphasis on taste as an indicator. Knowledge about nutrition is obtained through taste and the effects of food in terms of awareness: whether particular foods make you feel heavy or light, congested or energized, hot or cold.
Chopra also maintains the importance of fasting and enemas as a vehicle for detoxification and purification.
He teaches that in his “Ten Keys of Happiness” and “Journey into Healing” that reality is an illusion:
Know that the world “out there” reflects your reality “in here.”
Shed the burden of judgement.
Understand that the physical world is just a mirror of a deeper intelligence.
Your mind gives you control.
Enchantment is our natural state.
To his fans, he is a deep spiritual master. This Religious Studies resource site at the University of Virginia suggests that Chopra’s relationship with his fans amounts to a diffuse religious movement that can be considered as a client cult. The Virginia site has links to anti-cult sites that criticize Chopra and his teachings more directly. It reports that Chopra fought off allegations that he was using a prostitute by launching a conspiracy lawsuit (not the same suit as I mentioned above) against his critics. The story of the conspiracy lawsuit is convoluted and hard to follow on the Web. He lost the suit at trial but he attacked the judges and made accusations of judicial bias and fraud. Several judges disqualified themselves after battles with Chopra’s lawyers. There was, according to some reports, an order from a single appellate judge for a new trial. The legal details are confused and confusing. Dr. Chopra has a healthy sense of the value of his reputation and has fought to protect it, although today his celebrity status may have grown to the point that critics are commecially irrelevant.
In some interviews, like the one noted above, he presents himself as a guy with the gift of the gab who could not endure the falsehood of TM. In others he talks about building his career after TM, starting with lecturing to audiences of 35 to 50 year old women and building that into a career lecturing at business schools and the Harvard Divinity school. In the same interview he answers his critics by pointing to his financial success. He has become a guru to celebrities. Demi Moore is one of his clients, and recent news stories say he is supporting Michael Jackson during his current legal problems.
Francis Wheen’s article is pretty good. It makes the connections I would make between his posture as a guru, the American personal growth industry, and the confidence of the American entrepreneur that anything can be sold if you have a positive attitude. I couldn’t find a direct link back to his column in the online Guardian Unlimited but the link above goes to a copy at a reliable site.
His teaching come down to an appeal to trust your feelings, to believe that you are right and the world is wrong. Feel good, and your problems will go away. All that unhappiness in your life can be made to go away if you wish hard. If you don’t accept the premise that reality is an illusion, this system starts to sound like a flight from reality. Without examination, criticism and reality checking, our feelings are not reliable guides to the nature of reality or to moral decision making. His system dresses up personal wants as needs of the heart and deep spiritual imperatives. It’s a system to sooth the spirit.
He believes in himself. Does he believe himself? Is he as deep as his followers think he is? As deep as the pool Narcissus gazed into.
As to his success in America, rent and watch “Network”, “Being There”, “The Mystic Masseur”.