Larissa James was 20 when she first attended a two-hour discourse by Deepak Chopra in her hometown, Connecticut, US. “What is Spontaneous Fulfilment?” asked the flyers pasted across her town. “It had his photo, smiling into the camera. I don’t remember what else it said.” James is now a freelance journalist in New York City and, nine years after being introduced to the spiritual guru, she says Chopra still makes sense to her.
Why, when there’s no dearth of spiritual gurus in the US? Gurus who claim to be capable of catapulting your SQ to zen levels with just a little effort.
“That’s why,” says James, “he’s not asking you to make an effort. He’s just saying, live life, make money, be happy. There will be a time when you’ll be fed up and god is all that will matter. Listening to him, I feel assured that I don’t have to go through any kind of self-denial to be close to god, like my orthodox Catholic family believes.” What Chopra is actually saying is a sugar-coated capsule of the four progressive stages of human life that the Vedas enforce—sanyas being the stage when every human being seeks god and divinity.
Chopra’s it’s-all-good philosophy, known in New Age jargon as the transcendental meditation movement, came into vogue in the US in the early 1990s. The Indian doctor was one of the first exponents of the New Age movement all over the world and he continues to be a powerful force in this industry. His shrewdly crafted discourse is a winner, because post-1990s America accommodated and rewarded his ambition.
So how did the New Delhi boy, who went to the US to study medicine, tap into the ordinary American’s psyche? Is it his Indian upbringing? “Yes, sure,” he says, from The Chopra Center, located at the La Costa Resort & Spa in Carlsbad, California, “the values that I grew up with empowered me, especially when I came away from there.”
Chopra was born in New Delhi and grew up partly in the Capital and partly in Jabalpur, where his father was a doctor in the Indian Army. “My earliest memory of post-independence India was the visit of Jawaharlal Nehru to Jabalpur. I was seven. Hundreds of people thronged the streets to see his motorcade pass by. My mother wore her best sari. The atmosphere was electrifying,” he recalls. His parents were nationalists who were deeply involved with the activities of the Congress party, although his education was in missionary schools where “we read British history, read British novels and watched British plays”.
He graduated from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in 1968 and went to the US for a clinical internship at Burlington, Massachusetts, in 1970. He continued to teach and practise medicine in Boston until a chance meeting with an Ayurveda specialist and mystic, Dr Brihaspati Dev Triguna, in 1981. Chopra was inspired and imbibed his teachings, and started on the path that made him famous. Guru to Michael Jackson, Demi Moore and Bill Clinton, Chopra has written more than 40 books, of which The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide and been translated into more than 35 languages.
There’s been some criticism against him, a lot of it directed at his pet “quantum healing” concept which irked many rationalists and practitioners of the quantum physics discipline. They believe Chopra has neither published nor personally conducted any scientific studies to prove that the methods he promotes help people become healthier or live longer.
But he has repeatedly insisted and has been rewarded for the foundation of all his teachings: “No claim of the miraculous, the magical can be ruled out.”
And, he says he can attribute that conviction solely to his Indian roots. “I had said once that the world discovered India when it ran out of imagination. I still believe it. In the last decade, India has been teaching things to the world, I’m just an agent of that process. Our time has come. We have colonized the world without militarism.”