Cellular Secrets

A New Book from Deepak Chopra Looks for the Hidden Dimensions of Life

Deepak Chopra loves to fly, which is a good thing, since he spends a lot of time on airplanes. He’s mused over the design of an aircraft that would be ‘uncrashable’ (“perhaps some kind of glider with an airfoil that never stalls, no matter what angle of dive the plane goes into”). He finds flying to be a very relaxing experience, and uses it for writing, meditation and rest. This week, he’s flown into Savannah, Georgia and now sits overlooking the river from his hotel room. He’s been up since four a.m.—his daily habit in any time zone. He meditated until six, then spent two hours in the gym (a little yoga, a run on the treadmill and some weights) before enjoying a variety of salads, fruit and fish at the breakfast buffet.

As an Ayurvedic “pitta” constitutional type, dominated by the element of fire, it’s a wonder he could wait. But he’s a patient man, and says he lives in many dimensions at once, so food is something he appreciates but doesn’t crave. He’s here to give a seminar at the center he’s established in conjunction with the Memorial Health Hospital, a large institution that trains physicians in integrative medicine.

Formerly chief of staff at the Boston Regional Medical Center, Dr. Chopra had a successful endocrinology practice there and also taught at Tufts and Boston Universities’ Schools for Medicine. Training other physicians is one of the reasons he left a highly regarded position as chief of staff at The New England Memorial Hospital in Stoneham, Massachusetts in 1985. Desiring to expand the impact and effectiveness of conventional medicine, Chopra (who still holds medical licenses in both Massachusetts and California) rarely sees individual patients anymore, but feels he has enlarged his practice, made it more “all-encompassing.”

Hardly arguable: Anyone with even a passing interest in alternative medicine knows his name and is familiar with at least one of his best selling books, CDs or cassette programs, some of which have been published on every continent and in dozens of languages. Chopra’s presentations to world leaders, educational institutions and large public audiences have generated international recognition. Whether speaking or writing, he champions the human potential for outstanding physical, emotional, spiritual, mental and social health. In 1992, he served on the National Institutes of Health’s Panel on Alternative Medicine and established The Chopra Center for Well Being in La Jolla, California three years later. A non-profit organization, the Center has relocated to Carlsbad, California, where Chopra serves as educational director. Individual and group programs include mind/body medicine and personal development. Some find the costs of such programs prohibitive, but Chopra says the Center has lost money in the past and that he’s had to subsidize it. “It’s the only way we can pay our bills with the staff we have and the rent we pay,” he states. “We try to give 10% of our applicants scholarships another 10% come as volunteers.” Techniques emphasize Primordial Sound Meditation (based on an individual’s Vedic astrological chart), a balanced lifestyle, health-promoting foods and herbs, rejuvenating body therapies, and personal empowerment. Chopra sees the application of mind/body techniques as the cornerstone for a future of greater self-reliance and self-awareness. In his view, this enlightened self-knowledge will be embraced as a most valuable asset in our rapidly evolving, ever more challenging world.

Millions of people have been drawn to Deepak Chopra through The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and Creating Affluence. “Money is the energy we give to the things we value. It doesn’t exist on its own it’s a symbolic expression of energy and its exchange.” He suggests taking inventory of your unique abilities and asking yourself how you can put them to the service of the ecosystem. “You will have money and abundance,” he promises. “Abundance is the nature of the universe, which is extravagant and even wasteful.” Chopra says he taught his children (a son and a daughter) to visualize the kinds of experiences they would like on a daily basis. “They found, to their surprise, that was how the day turned out. I think you just extend that into your lifestyle.” He also thinks life should flow from passion and be easy, spontaneous, effortless and joyful. Though he works hard, he doesn’t find the driving work ethic particularly spiritual and (great news for messy desk types) thinks that order should come from embracing chaos and creativity, arising on its own as a ‘spontaneous emergent property.’ He likes to quote Oscar Wilde, who used to say “driving ambition is the hallmark of failure.”

Chopra’s latest written work, The Book of Secrets, was a response to the unexpected death of his father. A cardiologist, Dr. Kirshan Chopra was also, according to his son, a great healer and humanitarian. “He would treat the needy once a week, paying their bus fare to reach him, and my mother would cook for them.” Chopra remembers the call he got from her reporting that his father had come to tell her good-bye, kissed her, gone back to bed, called to God three times, then quietly passed away. As the elder of two sons (his brother is Dean of Medical Education at Harvard Medical School), Chopra returned to his native India to participate in the traditional Hindu cremation rites, culminating in crushing his parent’s skull to release his spirit. This would be an intense experience for any child, of any age, of whatever renown. Chopra needed to process. And to share the insights gathered. The book reflects an approach more personal even than that taken in his last book, The Spontaneous Fulfillment of All Desire, and contains 15 “secrets” to becoming creators instead of victims, resulting in transformation, the only goal he considers worth pursuing.

Ever the scientist, Chopra introduces Secrets by explaining the characteristics of cellular life, stating that “cells have been outthinking us for billions of years—the only wisdom more ancient than that of our cells is the wisdom of the cosmos itself. The universe wants to grow, expand, and create, as we do.” In doing so, he points out, “Selfishness is not an option.” Nor is refusing to communicate, living like an outcast, over-consumption, obsessive activity or aggression. If our cells know not to behave in these ways, he asks, why do we? Cellular life (and death) can be used as a metaphor for any system, but his background in medicine provides a natural focus: “If the medical model were living like a cell, we would look at things contextually and not use metaphors like ‘war on cancer,’ ‘war on drugs,’ ‘war on AIDS,’ ‘war on terrorism.’ That’s based on a linear, non-contextual, non-relational view of what we term reality.” In revealing the secrets to meeting your real self, using time wisely, feeling subtle levels of awareness, finding personal freedom and ending suffering, we’re reminded to live like a cell and to let our body’s wisdom point the way to understanding and unity. A second step also supports the other secrets—Chopra insists that, rather than our being in the world, it’s the other way around. The world is in each of us. Looking at it this way, we are co-creators in everything that happens to us.

In discussing suffering, Chopra has an interesting take on 9/11 terrorist attacks: “America’s national paroxysm after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center continues to play out a drama of “us” versus “them” on a mass scale. The sense of American invulnerability was exposed as an illusion. Yet at bottom this wasn’t a nation’s problem. It was an individual problem felt on a huge scale.” He feels that our political system and even our religions have become divisive and frequently “indulge in idiotic behavior” in the name of science, nationality or patriotism. “Every situation that arises in the human body or in the biological organism we call planet Earth or in a social system arises in a context and, unless we look at the world contextually, we’ll always be at war.”

Though he comes from a very crowded continent, he doesn’t feel we have a population problem, but thinks we’ve got a big one in the development of our own awareness. “We have enough resources to create peace and harmony and laughter and love and sustainability on our planet for thousands of years, if not more,” he states emphatically, acknowledging that we haven’t yet achieved the required emotional or spiritual development to make it happen. “We have very primitive instincts coupled with modern capacities, and technology is leveling the playing field. Some little kid sitting in some remote developing country will soon be able to mess with electrons on the computer, cut off electricity, poison the food chain and the water supply, interfere with air traffic controls and suffocate and devastate a city anywhere in the world.” He says this dispassionately, though he is deeply concerned. “Technology is neutral. The question is, how can we make this Garden of Eden a paradise again, for our children and our children’s children? People with resources and wealth will no longer be able to intimidate and control other people.”

How does he feel about ‘Third World’ poverty? “Everything goes in cycles. Group karma is collective imagination, experience and memory. There are times of abundance and cycles of impoverishment and domination. No empire is permanently dominant. As Americans we should recognize that the empire might crumble if we continue to be arrogant about our behavior in the rest of the world. My vision is that as we move into a more global society, things will be more equitable: 50% of the world won’t have to live on less than $2 a day and 15% of the population won’t be using 85% of the resources.” For his part, Chopra is part of the global network Alliance for the New Humanity, which works with Nobel Laureates in economics and peace. He was a keynote speaker at the State of the World Forum and the Peace and Human Progress Foundation’s inauguration (founded by the former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Winner, Oscar Arias and the Orient Foundation), and recently established the Global Youth Summit, a project reaching out to youth through MTV. He was awarded the Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic by the Pio Manzu Centre, chaired by Mikhail Gorbachev, for his efforts to further peace and international collaboration.

As a U.S. citizen born in India, Chopra says he’s always loved the free spirit, diversity, creativity and pioneering impulse of America, and the ancient wisdom traditions and strength of the Indian culture. “But where I am in my life right now, I think nationalism is the biggest problem in the world. Personally, I don’t want to be a nationalist of any kind.” Chopra’s had an eclectic spiritual background: he attended an Irish Christian Missionary school, his mother was a Hindu, his father a Sikh, his friends Muslim, Jewish and Zoroastrian. “I saw all kinds of faiths, beliefs and conflicts, yet an environment where everyone was friendly with each other despite their differences. I had a very thorough grounding in the tenets of Christianity, more so than many Christians,” he says, noting that he had a scholarly look at it through many perspectives, including the Gnostic gospels, Coptic traditions in India and Egypt and the Gospel of St. Thomas.” He can say the same thing about his understanding of Buddhism, Islam or Hinduism. “I’m not wedded to any particular belief, ideology, dogma or religion,” he states. “I look for the kernel of truth found in all religions.”

Chopra loves words and writing and is a walking encyclopedia of their derivations. In high school in India he studied Hindi and Sanskrit, “a language of vibration—the word echoes the sound. Sanskrit is full of onomatopoeia.” He also loves the sacred texts of all traditions and, speaking about the balance between acting spontaneously and from patterns learned over time, he points to the phrase from ancient Vedanta: ‘I use memories and I do not allow memories to use me.’ “That’s the difference between a victim and a creator—a victim is controlled by memories and a creator is selective about the use of memories.” He dictates his books, often writing on the road. Office assistants transcribe and e-mail them back to him, so he can still finish a project while he’s touring. He repeats that he loves what he’s doing and, though he mentions the importance of passion numerous times and is enthralled with poetry, his voice is even and he seems to have harnessed his emotions. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I can’t remember the last time a situation arose that got me so upset I had to walk away.” He does, however, admit that he and his wife were so devastated by the death of their Samoyed dog they haven’t gotten another pet, years later.

Chopra is saddened that the sacred “double thread” worn by the Indian Brahmin caste, “a legacy going back before memory began,” is no longer a common sight. The symbol of the promise of a second birth, it disappeared after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated by a religious fanatic. “There were many evils in the caste system,” he writes, “but in my mind, the double thread symbolized a deep truth—that enlightenment was possible. Today, enlightenment is no longer the goal of life, not even in India.” As a teacher, he feels the most he can do is to open the door again, and answer three questions in the age-old way:

Who am I? “You are the totality of the universe acting through a human nervous system.”

Where did I come from? “You came from a source that was never born and will never die.”

Why am I here? “To create the world in every moment.”

By Cynthia Logan