The Unbounded DEEPAK CHOPRA
How does one introduce a man everyone already knows? What else can be said about an award-winning sage who is sought out as a keynote speaker by academic institutions, Fortune 100 companies, the World Health Organization, the United Nations, London's Royal Society of Medicine, and for Larry King interviews? Author of more than forty books translated into thirty-five languages, Deepak Chopra is perhaps best known as the major proponent of Ayurveda in the Western Hemisphere. He remains the West's foremost advocate of alternative healing techniques as a complement to mainstream medicine. He is also known as the founder and CEO of The Chopra Centre for Well Being in San Diego, California.
His is a very recognizable name in the psycho-spiritual zeitgeist. Bill Clinton has described Deepak Chopra as "The pioneer of alternative medicine." Time magazine heralds him as one of the top 100 heroes and icons of the century, and credits him as being "the poet-prophet of alternative medicine." Jackie Onassis regularly breakfasted with him. Prince Charles personally invited Dr. Chopra to an academic forum. Demi Moore, Oprah Winfrey, Naomi Judd, Sarah Ferguson, David Lynch, Martin Sheen, and Donna Karan (among many others) avidly express their admiration for his work. Mikhail Gorbachev spoke of him as "Undoubtedly one of the most lucid and inspired philosophers of our time."
Everyone knows Deepak Chopra, but there is even more to know about the man, his life, and his work. Did you know he mentors corporate and political leaders through his Soul of Leadership workshops? That as a child, Dr. Chopra wanted to be a journalist? Or that he could add "philanthropist" to his list of accolades? Amazingly, he keeps only the royalties he makes from his books. The profits from his seminars, products, treatments, and television projects are donated to the charity he created for people in need of funds for health care, and to the Chopra Centre For Well Being (www.chopra.com). Did you know he still practices and teaches medicine in addition to his work towards spiritual transformation and global peace? And that he meditates for two-and-a-half hours every day? Do you know about The Alliance for a New Humanity? You will.
We live in a world where "making waves" is frowned upon. Certainly it seems counter-cultural to speak one's mind against popular opinion. But Dr. Chopra remains a refreshingly honest person with convictions he is not afraid to share, even if those convictions are not generally popular. And he does it without a trace of antagonism or confrontation.
The title for Deepak Chopra's latest book was inspired by a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way." Perhaps a reaction to the current political state of affairs, or perhaps a vision of enlightened possibilities, Peace Is The Way explains how a global shift in consciousness will bring an end to war. It has received the praise of international luminaries including His Holiness the Dalai Lama, retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and former U.N. Secretary-General Boutros-Boutros Ghali. Peace Is The Way (Harmony Books) won the 2005 Quill Book Award in the Religion/Spirituality category. This book may represent a progression from Dr. Chopra's focus on the connection between spirituality and healing to the connection between spirituality and politics. It becomes evident the author who started a revolution in spirituality and healing now works on a revolution in world-affairs.
This revolution begins with simple things, like starting a dialogue with the "enemy" in order to remove confusion. In the June 21, 2006 issue of The Baltimore Sun, Dr. Chopra writes: "Since the number one grievance among members of the Islamic world? is America's disrespect for Islam, what better way to show respect than to talk as equals? ... Frankly, I'm tired of seeing a billion Muslims as one bogeyman. Isn't it time we asked them who they really are?"
Noting that fundamentalism is an expression of deep insecurity and fear, Dr. Chopra asserts that world peace will be achieved when enough individuals decide to make peace a part of their spiritual practice. With The Alliance for a New Humanity (www.anhglobal.org), he endeavors to move the global family towards that goal. Founded in 2003 by twelve concerned persons from all walks of life (including Dr. Chopra, and Nobel Peace Laureates Oscar Arias and Betty Williams), The Alliance seeks to create a "global community of peacemakers," and has many prominent business leaders, spiritual thinkers, celebrities, and artists among its supporters.
It was the Alliance's partnership with the Mythic Journeys Conference that brought Dr. Chopra to Atlanta. Mythic Journeys (www.mythicjourneys.org), an organization committed to celebrating the role of myth and storytelling in the modern world, gathered some of the world's leading scholars, psychologists, educators, business leaders, artists, authors, and filmmakers for a significant interdisciplinary dialogue on the key roles storytelling and imagination play in contemporary life. Dr. Chopra was there to swap poems of Rumi and Tagore, and to talk about the repairing of the world across cultures and traditions.
It was there that Khabar caught up with this revolutionary Indian-American thinker.
In Peace is the Way you declare war as inherently wrong—regardless of the rationalizations. Can you then comment on Lord Krishna's message in the Gita to Arjuna—encouraging him to fight a war?
My interpretation of Lord Krishna's message to Arjuna is the battle is all in your own consciousness, that the evil out there is a projection of our collective shadow. Every human being has a shadow. The shadow is dark, it's secretive, it's dangerous. It is shrouded as in the Bhagavad Gita and in mythology. It lies there repressed and hidden, and it comes out under certain conditions—those conditions are greed, too much self concern, poor leadership, degrading human conditions, ‘us vs. them' mentality, poor examples of peer behavior, passive bystanders. We see the collective shadow recently in the Haditha Massacre, the Abu Ghraib prison, and all the sad and tragic things happening in Guantanamo Bay. Nobody is free of the shadow.
So when Arjuna stands in the battlefield and he looks at all his cousins and uncles and all his relatives, to me it just says he is looking at his own shadows. They are his relatives—they're the dark side of the human soul. And Lord Krishna encourages him to go to battle. In eighteen chapters he talks not about violence but about yoga: Karma yoga, Bhakti yoga, Gyan yoga, and also Raj yoga. So the Bhagavad Gita is an example of how we vanquish our inner demons. I think it is greatly misunderstood. Unfortunately so many commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita say, "Go to battle." Yes, go to battle to vanquish your own demons. Don't throw stones at someone until you clean up your own house. So it's house cleaning. One must bring the light of awareness through yoga. That is what Krishna teaches us.
You are at the forefront of introducing the traditions of a glorious Indian heritage to the United States. On the other hand, it seems India is rapidly aping the West. Can you comment on the future of India, both materially and spiritually?
It is interesting that you used the word ‘glorious.' As human beings we have the tendency to romanticize our traditions. What we forget very frequently is even though we like to think they are our traditions, they are actually the contributions of a few luminaries. You cannot generalize a whole civilization's or a culture's behavior by looking at its luminaries. Yes we have given to the world the sages of the Upanishads. India gave to the world the wonderful knowledge of Vedanta, Advait philosophy, and Ayurveda. India gave to the world Mahatma Gandhi. But that's not India. India is also rampant racism, a caste system that can go totally out of hand, ethnocentrisms, bigotry, violence, and prejudice. The only difference between Indian violence and violence across other parts of the world is Indians are vegetarians. [Laughter] But there is no difference, okay? So let's be very cautious about how we project ourselves in our glory because there is a lot not to be feeling glorious about. It's just like when we think of Ancient Greece: we think of Parmenides, and Socrates, and Plato, and Pythagoras. But Ancient Greece is sexism. Ancient Greece is slavery. Ancient Greece is many things that are totally barbaric.
So, India now is in a very interesting phase of its evolution in that it is suddenly finding economic empowerment. And that economic empowerment is thanks to the vision of early founders of India like Nehru and his colleagues who had the foresight to create IIT's [Indian Institute of Technology], and medical schools, and colleges, and had the vision that even in their lifetime might not have brought any great difference, but two generations down the line India is suddenly becoming an economic power.
But India is making a mistake when it thinks economic power links to military power and that it will somehow find itself amongst the family of superpowers. That is a really a sad thing. We took great delight in our nuclear explosions. We took great delight in Mr. Bush admitting us into his little club of nuclear nations. I think if we had the ability to see into the future, we would see the superpowers like America becoming irrelevant, anyway. It's due to nothing else but Information Technology. Ten to fifteen years from now you won't need to hijack planes—you will take a little hand-held computer and interfere with air traffic signals or cut off electricity. So Information Technology is going to democratize the world and any superpower depending on military strength for supremacy in the world is going to be totally irrelevant.
If India is to move into the next generation as world leader, it should focus on good things about its culture, like art, music, dance, its imagination—India has a very rich mythical imagination, and artists are really the social conscience of the world. When you have tyrannical regimes, the first thing they do is go after the artists, because they speak with the rebel's voice. So India should nurture the good aspects of its culture, face those aspects of its culture that are not worthy of attention—admit to them and have the courage to say, "We have problems with our culture." At the same time India should feel good about its economic empowerment and recognize the future is not only economic but also cultural.
You have talked about your dissatisfaction with Western medicine as a factor in choosing to relinquish a thriving career in medicine and branch out into alternative healing and spirituality. How hard was that decision, and had you anticipated that you would become such an international phenomenon?
Well, first of all I have not relinquished the Western model at all. I still see patients and have a medical license in California and Massachusetts. I think the Western model is very useful in precision of diagnosis. The Western model is extremely useful with acute illness. If you have pneumonia, I am not going to teach you meditation; I am going to give you an antibiotic. If you break a leg you are going to need an orthopedic surgeon. Therefore the word ‘alternative' is really a misleading word. The word should be ‘integrated,' or ‘complementary.'
We do know the major epidemics of civilization today are linked to addictive behavior, and to stress. Cardiovascular illness, and cancer, and even accelerated forms of aging are all linked to our perception of physical and emotional threat, and to our addictive behaviors. Some of these addictions are to substances and alcohol, but also to things like work, sensation, power, control, and security. So I have focused on healing in a broader perspective. Healing is not about being a superb technician who knows everything about the human body. If you want to understand healing you have to look at human emotions, you have to look at human motivations, the human mind, the environments we create, the relationships we have. And ultimately, at the deeper wounds of our soul or our spirit.
I have extended my practice from the individual to society and even to the environment. But it is still the same thing. It's about healing. And did I realize I would become a huge phenomenon? No. I was singing in the bathroom, and certain people decided they liked to hear the song.
Usually, it is not that people don't know what to do for good health, but that they don't find the will within themselves to do those things. What is some specific and tangible advice you can share with our readers to overcome their most debilitating desires, such as food, alcohol, smoking, sex, drugs, etc.?
Take a little time for silent reflection everyday. Ask yourself: Who am I? What is my purpose? How do I want to contribute?
While inter-related, your work could be classified into two areas: Mind-body healing and Transcendence and Spirituality. Between the two, which do you think draws the larger following? Which one are you more aligned with?
I think right now the focus in the world, and my focus, is with the organization I co-founded and am the president of, which is The Alliance for a New Humanity. We are engaged almost full-time right now in a global effort of personal and social transformation. We see the problems of the world as inextricably interwoven, and you cannot address them one at a time as separate from each other. So our alliance is focused on global communities of what we call Satsang, Simran and Seva.
Satsang is the gathering together of people who are engaged in personal transformation. Simran is reflection, reflective self-inquiry, and engaging in dialogue and story telling. And finally Seva is some form of selfless service. We feel if we can create a critical mass of people engaged in these three activities throughout the world, then the old model will freeze out—the old model of militarism, arrogance, and belligerence of which the United States has unfortunately become the chief propagator in the world. My work is totally focused on that. We hope to change the world, to bring global healing, taking it one conversation at a time, one story at a time, one song at a time, one tree at a time. And we're doing it, one step at a time, engaging people at a grassroots level.
It took a few women to say drunk driving should be outlawed, and when it reached critical mass, it became a law. It took a few people to say, "Passive smoking is dangerous—you can't smoke in public places." and now it's a law. I think it takes a few people to get together to create a critical mass of consciousness so militarism in all its forms and violence in all its forms, as means to solving problems, become irrelevant. People will look at this age one hundred years from now and say this was a dark, medieval time.
Speaking of the grassroots level, integrative healing therapies such as Ayurveda seem to be gaining momentum. Yet, the mainstream medical establishment has not yet embraced them into the system of accreditations and insurance coverage. Do you see that changing in our lifetimes?
I see it is changing very rapidly. The Chopra Centre now offers training for doctors which is recognized by the American Medical Association. They get what are called CME (Continuing Medical Education) credits. I lecture at Harvard Medical School once a year, and we have medical students going through our programs for elective training. So I am seeing a very rapid shift in that direction.
You have written in favor of a non-dogmatic version of Intelligent Design, while exposing the weaknesses of Darwinian evolution. However, do you believe such a theory of Intelligent Design can be practically taught in schools without plunging students prematurely into esoteric realms of metaphysics?
I think the term ‘Intelligent Design' has unfortunately been hijacked by Christian Fundamentalists. So when the people think of ‘Intelligent Design,' which is an extremely good term, they do think of dogma, and ideology, and religious conviction of some kind or the other. On the other hand, I think there is an emerging paradigm in science which says consciousness is an inherent feature of the physical universe—that there is creativity in nature. And these leaps of creativity in nature are not algorithmic, in that you have certain patterns of intelligence in nature and then you have new patterns emerging that show no transition from old to the new.
For example, if you look at the fossil record you won't see a transition between amphibians and the birds. It's a jump. If you look at the fossil records you won't see a direct transition from primates to humans. Therefore, this implies some kind of creativity in nature. That creativity is an attribute of the forces of nature themselves. In other words, the laws of nature are creative. They are non-algorithmic. They are discontinuous. You cannot program them with any understanding as with computers. So when we talk of artificial intelligence systems, the best of them can't compete with human creativity because human creativity and the human nervous system is a pattern of behavior of nature. So, what I am proposing for this new kind of intelligent design is it has to be based on a very fundamental understanding in science of the principles of teleology, creativity and imagination. It's not religious. It's not dogmatic.
The answer to your question, "Can you do it without plunging people into deep metaphysics?" Probably not. At this stage, I think it is in its very formative stages. To think about introducing it into schools is very premature, because most people don't even know what the heck I am talking about.
One recurring criticism about your work is it is too abstract to be useful in pragmatic daily life. In other words, what bearing do phrases such as "the field of infinite potentiality" and "transcendental reality" have on paying bills, getting promotions, diffusing spousal conflicts, raising kids, and such everyday issues?
If you have the experience of transcendence, and indeed direct experience of your spirit as a field of pure potentiality, then you have insight, you have imagination, you have creativity, you recognize the power of intention, and all of that will help you pay your bills. The future of paying bills is not through hard labor, but through creativity and imagination.
Indian Americans form less than one percent of the American population. Yet our small numbers have produced successes in all spheres of life from academics to enterprise, from arts and entertainment to politics. Why do you think this is so?
I think this is so because Indian families have focused on the good things in their traditions, and among those are the two most important: Hanging in there together in crisis, and education. Family values are very important to Indians. In fractured families, most of their time and energy go into repairing the fracture instead of contributing to societal problems. Indians have been good at keeping the family intact.
Judging from the last presidential election, it may be safe to assume America is tilted, perhaps only marginally, in favor of conservatism characterized by a pro-war bent and Christian fundamentalism. You, on the other hand, seem to advocate "new age" philosophies with a revolutionary, liberal intent. How and why do you think, in spite of this incongruity, you have been so successful?
I think it must be my Indian accent. I have no idea why I have been so successful. I do believe as soon as Mr. Bush leaves the White House, even if we have a conservative government, Republican or right-wing, certain things will change. We will sign the Kyoto Protocol. We will learn to make friends with the rest of the world. And we will relinquish belligerence and arrogance as a trait. In the end evolution will prevail. This has been a dark time in the history of America.
--By Mickey Desai
Photos courtesy of the Mythic Imagination Institute; copyright 2006 Anne Parke.
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