To every age, it's guru. And Deepak Chopra is the guru of the
moment, spanning the Great Divide between the Establishment and the
Alternative. For those who want a touch of the New Age, he is
director of the Sharp Institute for Human Potential and Mind/Body
Medicine under the aegis of the largest health-care consortium in
California. For those who want respectable validation, he's had a
typically successful career in allopathy, an endocrinologist by
training who's risen to chief of staff at the New England Memorial
Hospital and teaching assignments at Tufts and Boston Universities.
Quitting allopathy in favour of a spiritual approach to healing was
a wise career move. He could never have made that much money even
in private practice. He would never have been guru to Demi Moore,
Donna Karan and Michael Jackson. His books, Ageless Body, Timeless
Mind and The Return of Merlin would not have been in all American
bookstores, in cyberspace and on a host of Public Broadcasting
Service programmes. And the more recent Seven Spiritual Laws of
Success would not have been as rocksteady on the bestseller lists
both in America and India as it is today.
Though doctors in the West have ridiculed his approach to medicine,
going to the extent of describing him as "the greatest medical
salesman in history,' Chopra is undeterred. "They may paint me as a
carpetbagger out to make money. What is wrong with making money?'
Nothing, it would appear, as Chopra explains in this interview,
conducted when he was in New Delhi recently.
Why is it that middle and upper-middle class yuppies comprise a
large segment of your following?
People get interested in philosophical thought only when their
material needs are satisfied. Those who seek philosophical
explanations for the meaning of life are either desperately poor or
reasonably well-off - the latter seek it out of Intellectual
So you're saying that the yuppies come to you out of curiosity?
They come out of a feeling of discontent. During the last 15 years
my work has evolved. I started with mind-body medicine drawn from
ayurveda and the Vedic framework. Now my main interest is in the
evolution of the thinking process. Those who come to me are likely
to be interested in going beyond the usual reactive, linear model
of thinking to a more creative, intuitive, visionary mode of
What do you mean by an intuitive/creative mode of thinking?
Anthropologists inform us that human beings have existed for
thousands of years. For most of this time, human thinking has been
based on two predominant responses, which comprised fighting a
situation or running away from it. We were living in a dangerous
environment surrounded by ferocious animals and the only way to
survive was either to fight or to run.
But a few thousand years ago, a group of sages appeared, including
Confucius, Moses, the Upanishadic sages, and Christ and Buddha, who
advocated more contextual, relational, intuitive and nourishing
modes of thought.
During the last 6,000 years, there has been an evolution of
consciousness. We need this both politically, sociologically and at
the corporate level.
You believe that money is important and essential?
Money in a sense is energy that we exchange in order to acknowledge
what is valuable to us. The way I have related to money in my life
- and I have plenty of it - is that I have always had wealth
consciousness. There is no such thing as being wealthy or poor,
either we have wealth consciousness or poverty consciousness.
Wealth consciousness is when you don't worry about money. You know
deep down you have the ability to create it any time you want.
Poverty consciousness is when you constantly worry about money
because you are insecure about your ability to create it. I should
be able to create wealth in my life because of all the things I can
do with it. I am planning to write a book on the Seven Laws of
Successful Parenting to help parents create a feeling of wealth
consciousness in their children.
Two great friends I used to advise were Sam Walton, chairman of
Walmart, who died the richest man in the world, and Sieve Ross,
chairman of Time Warner. As far as I am concerned, Walton was a
very poor man because he worried about money all the time, Ross, on
the other hand, took Time and Warner Brothers and merged them to
create a huge entertainment empire. Ross talked about ideas,
whereas Walton only worried about his money.
So what is a healthy attitude to have towards money?
I should be able to create wealth in my life because of all the
things I can do with it. Oscar Wilde said the only class of people
who think more about money than the rich are the poor. They think
of nothing else.
In India, we have a long tradition of renunciation. How would you
reconcile this with wealth consciousness?
In India, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about our
traditions. Our spiritual traditions evolved when India was very
affluent. The word 'spiritual' has many different connotations. I
am beginning to get away from that word and prefer to use
'visionary', 'contextual' or 'sacred'. If you can use these forms
of thinking, they would directly transform into material success.
Poverty is actually spiritual impoverishment. Poverty is not
understanding the creative process. The only way to solve material
poverty is by making people more creative.
To be successful is to realise worthy goals and also to expand
happiness. The Bhagavad Gita advocates a process-orientation to
karma. If a person's actions are guided by process-orientation
instead of outcome-orientation, the outcome is sure to be good. In
the past, Indian culture showed an amazing amount of tolerance and
understanding. There was no apology for being successful. All our
mythical heroes were extremely successful.
What has led Americans to discover spiritualism?
Even though they have achieved a certain degree of material
success, they found it did not guarantee them happiness or a good
family life. In fact, material success does not guarantee even
good health. There is divorce, alcoholism. drug addiction, heart
attacks, cancer and now AIDS. All these diseases are linked to
human behaviour. Human behaviour affects everything, including
environmental pollution and ecological balance. Everyone says, if
you educate people, it will help. But people don't listen. They
listen only when they go through a crisis. Everyone has to go
through a personal crisis to find more meaning in their life.
India is where the US was 40 years ago. It has to go through Its
own learning process.
The US could not take over the world through arms and so they are
doing it through entertainment. The wealthiest nations are those
that control the flow of information. What is the microchip but a
piece of information in a silicon chip -- a piece of dust. The key
is how to Influence this critical mass of people, If Malboro and
Calvin Klein can do It through cigarettes and underwear, why can't
we do the same?
Why has the Indian community in the US stayed away from you?
They did for a long time. Indians think they know everything,
especially if it has a historical Indian background. But this has
undergone a drastic change during the last seven years. My public
television broadcasts have proved very successful and the Indian
community has watched these talks in large numbers. The Bharatiya
Vidya Bhavan in the US gave me an award. I was flattered.
Recently, I jointed the board of Columbia University for the
Department of Indian Studies. Finally, the Indian community is
responding to me in a very enthusiastic way.
What are the areas you cover in your workshops for corporations?
I take corporations through a week of contextual thinking where we
take their current dilemmas and what they perceive as threatening
situations to their financial well-being in order to help them
arrive at a different thought process. The major corporations for
which I have conducted workshops include Boeing, the Atlanta
Richfield Oil Company and Coca Cola.
In a corporation, the bottomline is earning profits. Statistics
show that the bottomline is influenced by three factors - loyalty
from employees, investors and customers. Of these three, the most
important is employee satisfaction and employee loyalty. How do
you measure these? If you look at the New York stock exchange,
most companies have a 50 per cent employee turnover. That's huge.
Statistics show that it takes five times the amount of money to
recruit a new customer than to maintain an old one. It takes five
to 10 times more money to train a new employee than to keep an old
You seem to keep going back to the wisdom of the Upanishads and the
Yes, they are a goldmine for me. I get these rusty translations
from India and reinterpret them for the Western mind. My book Seven
Spiritual Laws of Success has been on the New York Times bestseller
lists for the last one-and-a-half years and has sold five million
copies. It has been divided into seven chapters which are the Law
of Pure Potentiality, Law of Giving, Law of Karma, Law of Least
Effort, Law of Intention and Desire and Law of Dharma.
I believe you can create anything you want to in your life. When I
say 'you', I mean the spirit. The mind is conditioned, the spirit
is beyond conditioning. People have to develop what J
Krishnamurthy described as an unconditioned mind. I believe in
reincarnation and information surviving death. I do not believe In
an Individual identity. Your identity today is different from your
identity 20 years ago. Your body. and your intellectual and
emotional states are constantly evolving. A person is a field of
intelligence posing as an individual. Adishankara says that in the
Vedanta. Karma has no beginning or end. Nor does the universe which
is eternal, unbounded and without beginning. Lord Krishna says the
universe was never born and will never die. That is what Stephen
Hawking says too: "No beginning in time, no ending in time, no
edges in space" - it's pretty close to what the Vedanta says.