Incoming: Guru seeks Jesus

At 61, Deepak Chopra - arguably one of the most famous modern spiritual gurus - has experienced fame and fortune, but also lawsuits and harsh criticism.

deepak chopra book image (photo credit: )
deepak chopra book image
(photo credit: )
I've never met Deepak Chopra, but his voice sounds as charismatic as I would expect. Even on an international phone conversation, speaking just hours after he arrived in Bahrain for a one-day visit, he sounds well composed, peaceful and calm. At 61, Chopra - arguably one of the most famous modern spiritual gurus - has experienced fame and fortune, but also lawsuits and harsh criticism. I had expected him to sound more cautious, but his pleasant manner did not change throughout the interview, even when faced with some difficult questions. Israel visit, and two books on Jesus If all goes as planned, by the time this article is printed, Chopra will be in Israel, on his first visit here. He says he was supposed to visit on several occasions, but it somehow did not materialize. His wife and two children, on the other hand, have visited several times. While this is considered a private visit, with his family, it is also mixed with some business aspects. Chopra will be giving two seminars at the David Intercontinental Hotel in Tel Aviv: one for the general public, and one mainly for the business community. He is also "feeling the environment" for his new book - a novel he will begin writing upon his return to the US. "It's about the missing years of Jesus - from the age of 12 to the age of 32," Chopra explains. Coincidentally or not, Chopra recently completed his newest book, The Third Jesus, which will be released in February. Why this interest in Jesus from a man who is known to be involved in Eastern philosophies? "I've been very struck by the right-wing fundamentalism in the US. Everyone has seemingly hijacked Jesus for his own purposes, particularly Christians. So the reason it's called The Third Jesus is the first Jesus is historical, of whom we know very little. The second Jesus is the one that has been hijacked by the Christian church for political [reasons] and has created so much divisiveness and war in the world. And the third Jesus, I believe, is a state of consciousness. So basically my book is about the state of consciousness represented in this person that we call Jesus. "I basically look at higher states of consciousness and explain that Jesus is one of the figures who must have been in that higher state of consciousness, and that it's only possible to understand his teachings if you endeavor to reach those states of consciousness." Chopra describes his area of interest as "consciousness and the evolution of human consciousness," and says that the book does not treat Jesus "as necessarily more divine than you and me... I just talk about Jesus as a higher state of consciousness to which we can all aspire." There is also a political element, as exemplified in a new blog entry, titled "Are you running with me, Jesus." In this piece, he expresses strong criticism of "politicians in the US using Jesus to get votes." Throughout the interview, political examples and opinions intertwine with the expected philosophical ideas. When he is asked about the responsibility for Jesus's death, Chopra says: "I have a view that explicit enemies are always implicit allies. They co-create each other. So Jesus and Judas co-create each other; without Judas we wouldn't have a Jesus." Chopra quickly adds: "Just like right now the Arabs and Israelis are co-creating each other. In a sense, they keep each other going. Like George Bush and Osama bin Laden are explicit enemies, but implicit allies. They keep each other's identity going. George Bush would not be in the position he is today [if it were not for bin Laden]... He becomes the protector of the United States; he should thank Osama bin Laden every day." On Kabbala, spirituality and money Chopra's interest in religions extends to Kabbala. In 2006 he published, along with Kabbala scholar Michael Zapolin, a series of 22 Kabbala cards, titled "Ask the Kabbala Oracle Cards." Chopra says he became interested in Kabbala through a friend who was doing a thesis on Judaic cognition at Harvard University. He says he was most interested in "the archetypal figures, like Moses, like Jacob, like Sarah, like Abraham, like Isaac. They all represent, in many ways, archetypal higher states of consciousness." He believes if we can understand that state of consciousness, "we can also aspire to that particular expression." Chopra also uses this direction in his leadership course. He says he helps people identify their archetypes "by seeing what creates the most emotional response in them when they look at a particular archetypal figure." He then helps them "create a relationship with that particular energy or particular state of consciousness, and they suddenly realize that they are capable of doing much more than they were, in terms of making a difference in the world." Kabbala and other spiritual movements have enjoyed rising popularity in recent years, boosted in no small part by famed followers such as Madonna and Demi Moore. At the same time, there has also been sharp criticism of movements that advocate or allow harnessing of spiritual tools for material gain. What does Chopra think of this? "I don't think there's any harm. I started my own interest in spirituality because I wanted to give up smoking, and see where I am now... It doesn't matter how you start." When I point out that quitting cigarettes is about health, not about becoming rich, Chopra says: "Being rich doesn't make you happy, but being poor makes you definitely miserable, so there's nothing wrong with starting with that... It doesn't matter what takes you into spirituality, ultimately if you're serious about it you move forward; if you're not, you drop out. It's just that simple." He is also not apologetic about his wealth. "I've given up ownership of all my commercial interests," he says, "and I either write books or give workshops or work with the Alliance [for New Humanity]. Those are my total activities. I do volunteer my time at the Chopra Center, but I don't draw any personal income from [it]." As for the broader issue of spiritual leaders becoming wealthy, he says, "As a concept, it's better than making money from selling cigarettes or weapons or alcohol or drugs or sleazy entertainment - which is the main source of income of affluent countries." He further explains that this is part of an evolutionary social perspective on money: "The state of consciousness determines what's considered good and what's considered bad. In the age of agriculture, it was agricultural products which were the source of income; in the age of technology it's microchips... When there is war [it's] weapons... During the Iraq war, people were actually being told what rich companies to invest in - in the US - so they could actually make some money off the war. Society is strange in the way it decides what's good and what's bad. I think that as we move into wisdom-based economy, then these will become the more legitimate sources of income rather than weapons and drugs and cigarettes and sleaze." On religious fundamentalism, and the state of the world Chopra expresses grave concern about the rise of religious fundamentalism, saying, "The cause of all our problems in the world right now is religious fundamentalism. Whether it's Hindus or Muslims or Christians, it doesn't matter. Look at all the violence in India right now, from Hindus. I mean, they're as fundamentalist as anybody else, they just happen to be vegetarians. But they'll kill other human beings in the name of God. It's crazy." Asked whether any society is less violent than another, he says, "It's not better in any society. There are 35 wars going on in the world, and they're all religious wars... The outlook is not good. We have religion that has become divisive, quarrelsome, in many cases very idiotic; we have now modern capacities and ancient tribal habits, and the combination is devastating. In the past, two tribes could at the most harm each other. Now it's global. In a few years the technologies are going to get even worse. You won't need to hijack a plane, you can hijack several planes by interfering with air-traffic signals and computers. Or you can cut off electricity in the city; you can interfere with pacemakers, or respirators, or poison the food chain. There are so many creative, diabolical ways in which our technology can be used." Chopra seems to be increasingly active in expressing his views on politics and religion. Of the 14 categories of entries in his blog, "Politics" is the third largest, topped only by "Spirituality" and "General Discussion." His blog entries present surprisingly tough criticism of American involvement in the Iraq war, lack of government action on a variety of domestic social issues and much more. On December 18, he spoke at the United Nations for the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management, giving a lecture titled "Consciousness and the Pursuit of Peace." In recent years, he joined forces with Sarah Ozacky-Lazar, former co-director of the Jewish-Arab Center for Peace at Givat Haviva, who founded a global organization called Alliance for New Humanity. "We are trying to create a global movement of expanded consciousness that sees that war, terrorism, poverty, social injustice - all these problems, even the ecological problems, are the result of any constricted consciousness that comes from fear and from greed and a very limited sense of identity," he says. Chopra believes consciousness is a field, and that "every unit of peace consciousness adds to the peace in the world... We feel that every single human being who's at peace with himself adds to the peace of the world. You can't have peace in the world if you're not peaceful."