17
Aug
10

Deciphering Deepak Chopra

Dr. Deepak Chopra, click to visit his website

Recently, I had an opportunity to conduct a freelance interview with acclaimed holistic medicine practitioner, Dr. Deepak Chopra, on his latest visit to Bangkok.  The interview will appear in Thai in next month’s LIPS Magazine, but I wanted to share it with anyone who is interested.  He is definitely a fascinating man to speak with, and as someone who has always felt meditation would be very useful in my life (if only I had the time, patience, and quiet surroundings to do it regularly) speaking with him gave me encouragement to take baby steps towards enlightenment.

My inner editor has cleaned up the text I submitted to LIPS for translation, because making it easy to read and easy to translate are sometimes incongruous.  This first version is clean copy, if I had to edit it for my own magazine (we focus on luxurious and romantic travel, so even though I have say over what to include, it would not fit with the rest of the content).  The second version is what I emailed for translation into Thai, for anyone who is curious about my writing process, has an appreciation for bridges spanning the nuances of Thai and English language (and syntactic culture) or simply likes to play “spot the differences.”

Deepak Chopra: The Spirit Guide

In the untamed fields of alternative medicine and holistic health treatment, the name Dr. Deepak Chopra stands out as one of the luminaries. Beginning his career as a board-certified endocrinologist, he later shifted his focus to alternative medicine, writing more than 56 books which have been translated into 35 languages (including Thai) and selling more than 20 million copies worldwide. Among the many awards he has garnered, his books Peace Is the Way won the Quill Awards and The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of your Life received the Nautilus Award.

My conversation with him took place at the Peninsula Plaza Hotel, and my first sighting of him was a bit of a shock; I had seen many photos of him with luxuriant hair, but here he was standing before me, hair close-cropped, almost bald.  He did radiate amazing calmness, however. My father, a skeptic who cares nothing of pop culture (and wouldn’t know a Gossip Girl from a Lady Gaga), has even read some of his work.  Dr. Chopra was kind enough to sign his book, recently translated into Thai, Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting The Soul, for my father.

While it may be hard for some to grasp some of his advanced conceptual notions of spirituality and the universe, his suggestions pertaining to our day-to-day life and small changes we can make to improve our quality of life made perfect sense.  I felt a sense not so much of a leader using cult of personality on the blindly devoted, but a teacher who lets others follow in his example.

Chopra had been in Thailand for almost two weeks, but had been here to visit many times.  The last occasion was about 5-6 years ago when he was participating in an Ayurvedic course at the famed Chiva-Som Resort in Hua Hin.

On this trip, along with visiting a forest monetary near Ayutthaya, Chopra was actually ordained as a Buddhist monk. For one week, in a remote Chiang Rai temple, his head was shaved (which explained his appearance), he chanted in Pali, and woke before dawn to go on alms rounds to surrounding villages with the other monks.

When asked of his impression of Thailand and Thai people, Chopra said he found people here “are generally happier, extremely polite, exceptionally friendly, and enormously generous.”  With much genuine feeling about Thailand, he added, “It is a beautiful culture.”  When asked if his ordination as a Buddhist monk was the highlight of this trip to Thailand, he said it was most definitely, and to be frank, it was the highlight of his trip anywhere.

Chopra started his foray in alternative medicine with Ayurvedic traditions, but has since expanded his field of knowledge to many other cultures, such as that of Native American Indians, holistic health movements all over the world, as well as Buddhism, which he describes as “possessing a very strong base for understanding human consciousness and how it relates to our physiology, and gives keys to self-regulating our healing systems.”  According to Chopra, Buddhism gives us the essential basis to understanding how the body can be affected by emotions, creativity, and what Buddhism calls the “divine attitudes:  loving-kindness-happiness.”  And it is not just our physical well-being; the benefits [of following Buddhist tenets] go towards our social, environmental, financial, and career well-beings, as he states they are all connected.

With regards to how holistic medicine can complement traditional medicine, Chopra explained that traditional medicine is very useful for acute situations.  “If you catch pneumonia, you need to take antibiotics.  If you break your leg very badly, you might have to go to an orthopedic surgeon.  But when you look at chronic problems like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, genetic diseases, or addiction, holistic treatment is much better.  But people need both [traditional and holistic medicine].”

For tips on what a layman could do right away to improve their overall health, Chopra immediately answered with “Vipassana meditation, regular exercise, good amount of sleep, and proper diet.”  Chopra also mentioned that Thai food is some of the very best in the world when it comes to healthy eating.  “You find a variety of flavors and colors, and research shows that the more rich a food is in flavors and colors, the more phytochemicals it contains.  These are chemicals that are derived from the energy of the sun, and are important for healing,” said Chopra.  It sounds so simple these important keys to health are summarized: diet, exercise, sleep, and Vipassana meditation.

When it comes to meditation, many people are interested in it but find it difficult to achieve the results they expect and find it frustrating that they cannot silence their ever-present inner dialogue.  I asked Chopra to give me an important early practice on the road to proper meditation.  He answered:

You should start with trying to simply be mindful of just one thing every day. For example, you may tell yourself, “Today, I will be mindful of sensations in my body.” or “Today, I will be mindful of my breath.” On another day, be mindful of speech, and another day, be mindful of movement.  If we just do this little bit every day, we will start to experience stillness.

“It will not happen like this,” he said as he snapped his fingers, “But you will feel better anyway.  You will not be so reactive.”

Chopra stated that the best part of Vipassana meditation is that, “It has an immediate effect on calming you down, not as likely to get angry and lose your temper or feel anxious.  That is a great bonus right away.  Stillness of the mind and enlightenment? That comes much later.”

As far as physical benefits that come with meditation, the immediate ones are: lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, and less likelihood of insomnia and anxiety.  According to Chopra, the long term benefits—strengthening the immune system and slowing down aging—are amazing. “There are about 15 biological indicators for aging, including blood pressure, bone density, body temperature regulation, and cholesterol level, all of them are affected positively by meditation.”

His grounding is in Ayurvedic medicine, which is based on meditation, specific diets for certain body types, mind-body techniques based on understanding of consciousness to regulate the body, and awareness of the five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing) along with the heart.  It is very natural, basically a way to activate and self-regulate your body “if you were not conditioned by society.”

One of the processes that Chopra deals with using holistic medicine is slowing the effects of aging.  Some would say these are radical notions that he preaches; I was curious as to his viewpoints regarding growing old and how we can have some measure of self control over the aging process.  Chopra again mentioned the fifteen biological markers, which include hormone levels, and said they can be slowed (or even reversed), by approximately 15 years following a shift in lifestyle.  He says the shift does not have to be dramatic; it includes the tips he mentioned: meditation, good sleep, exercise, and also good relationships. As an extension of that, he claims you can work on your perception of time, and of what he calls “the subtle self, or astrobody.”  This is a little more esoteric, and while he does teach these concepts, following the four tips he already mentioned would influence not only the biological markers of aging, but also the expression of some 300 genes which have influence on maladies like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and inflammation.

Chopra explains that while genes may be fixed, their expression is not, so one can turn on the good genes and turn off the bad ones.  “When you are stressed, it turns on the bad genes and turns off the good ones,” he said.  It sounds a little bit like science fiction, I think of the Frank Herbert classic novel “Dune” (the David Lynch film starring Kyle Maclachlan and singer Sting as his nemesis).  In the far-future universe of this series of books, computers have been outlawed when they become self-aware, and there are characters called Bene Gesserit, witches who can control their own body chemistry with their mind, getting rid of poisons, making themselves fertile for pregnancy, even speaking to their past lives whose memories live in their genes.

When I mention this to Chopra, asking if something like that is achievable for humans, he says that he believes such human advancements are possible, but does not accept as true that computers have the capacity to develop self-awareness, achieve a sense of purpose, nor true imagination.  “Computers are based on algorithms which are precise mathematical formulas.  True imagination is based on discontinuity which is attached to the consciousness,” said Chopra.

On the other hand, Chopra has worked with some very imaginative scientists who believe that in a few years there will be nanorobots the size of molecules (which can be controlled with something like a BlackBerry) that will be able to clean up arteries if cholesterol is too high, turn on neurotransmitters in the brain to improve mood in the depressed.  He said, “In ten to fifteen years, there may be desktop computers that can clone cells for any kind of food you want.  So if you want a medium rare steak, you can just program it into the computer and enjoy eating one without killing an animal.”

I wonder, with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, whether human spirituality is able to keep up.  Chopra says it is not, and when technology outpaces the evolution of our collective consciousness, we have “modern capacities combined with primitive habits, and that is a very dangerous situation.”  These same technologies in the wrong hands could be used to destabilize a nuclear power plant or hijack all the planes in the sky, so technology can become very diabolical if we don’t mature spiritually at the same time.

Chopra acknowledges that, “You cannot stop the evolution of technology, so it is even more important than ever that we focus on spiritual evolution.  These same technologies that can destroy can also be used to create global communities.”  Currently, one of Chopra’s projects is one such globally interconnected community called wellworld.org, which has as its slogan: “Change yourself, change the world” and is accessible from his website deepakchopra.com.  Chopra’s intention is to create online global communities for financial, career, social, community, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Deepak Chopra also has a twitter account, @deepakchopra (which has been silent during his ordainment as a monk). Having started only recently, he has become an avid user, with over 250,000 followers, growing at almost 1,000 new followers per day, indicating great interest in what he has to say.  Unlike most celebrities who seem to take pride in following only a handful of other people, usually celebrities like themselves or friends and family (or nobody at all), he is very interested in what others have to say, following over 4,000 other accounts himself.  If he sees something insightful posted on Twitter he will follow that account, no matter where they come from.

When asked how he addressed skeptics and critics, Chopra says he “just leaves them alone.”  He used to try to oppose and debate them, but does not anymore.  He points to a fascinating scientific study which showed that, “If you have you people with opposing worldviews, say one who is totally materialistic and atheist versus someone who is very spiritual and consciousness-based, and you give them the exact same information, they both go back more reinforced in their own worldview.”  His indifference to naysayers resembles a very Buddhist approach (that has not seemed to hurt his growing following at all).

The big question is then posed to Chopra:  what does he feel is the purpose of life?  He answers, “It begins with the expansion of consciousness, of happiness, and using the human nervous system to further the evolution of the universe.  We are the only beings who are self-aware, and it is becoming apparent that the universe itself is becoming self-aware through us.  This is a major responsibility.”

And death?  “It is the most creative process a human being can experience.  What he means by that is that it is an incubation period before the next leap of creativity…in the direction of enlightenment,” said Chopra.

I know it sounds corny, but speaking to Dr. Deepak Chopra for merely a half hour was truly an enlightening experience.  I felt privileged to have that short time, but felt like I learned things that could affect a lifetime.  It is no wonder that people flock to him to help them find personal meaning in the lives they live, and the ends which are inevitable for all us…an end that is yet another beginning.

—-

And the raw text submitted for translation:

Deepak Chopra: Spirit Guide

Among devotees of alternative medicine and holistic health treatment, the name Dr. Deepak Chopra stands out as one of the brightest. He began his career as an endocrinologist and later shifted his focus to alternative medicine.  Deepak has written more than 56 books  which have been translated into 35 languages including Thai and sold more than 20 million copies worldwide. His book, Peace Is the Way won the Quill Awards and The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of your Life received the Nautilus Award.

I met him at Peninsula Plaza Hotel, and first seeing him was a bit of a shock, I had seen photos but here he was close-cropped almost bald.  But he radiated amazing calmness. My father, a skeptic who cares nothing of pop culture and wouldn’t know a Gossip Girl from a Lady Gaga, has even read some of his work.  Dr. Deepak was kind enough to sign his book, Reinventing The Body, Resurrecting The Soul, recently translated into Thai for my father.

While it may be hard for some to grasp some of his advanced conceptual notions of spirituality and the universe, the things he says about our day-to-day life and small things we can do to improve our quality of life made perfect sense.  I felt the sense not so much of a cult, , but a teacher who lets others follow in his example.

He was visiting Thailand for two weeks, but has been here many times.  The last time was about 5-6 years ago at the famed Chiva-Som Resort in Hua Hin, where he was participating in an Ayurvedic course.

While here this time, he visited a forest monetary near Ayutthaya.  And for one week in a remote Chiang Rai temple, he was ordained as a Buddhist monk, shaving his head (which explained his appearance), chanting in Pali, and going on alms rounds at the break of dawn.

When asked his impression of Thailand and Thai people, Deepak said he finds people here are generally happier, extremely polite, exceptionally friendly, and enormously generous.  He said with much genuine feeling about Thailand, “It is a beautiful culture.”  When asked if his ordination as a Buddhist monk was the highlight of his trip to Thailand this time, he said most definitely, and, really, the highlight of his trip anywhere, that is how much of a special experience he found it.

Deepak started with Ayurvedic traditions, but then expanded his field of knowledge to many other cultures, such as that of American Indians, holistic health movements all over the world, and also Buddhism, which he describes as possessing a very strong base for understanding human consciousness and how it relates to our physiology, and gives keys to self-regulating our healing systems.  Buddhism gives us the essential basis to understanding how the body can be affected by emotions, creativity, and what Buddhism calls the “divine attitudes,” loving-kindness-happiness.  And it is not just our physical well-being.  The benefits go towards our social, environmental, financial, and career well-beings, as he states they are all connected.

With regards to how holistic medicine can complement or go with traditional medicine, Deepak says that traditional medicine is very useful for acute (or more severe) situations.  If you catch pneumonia, you take antibiotics.  If you break your leg very badly, you go to an orthopedic surgeon.  But when you look at chronic problems like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune disorders, genetic diseases, or addiction, holistic treatment is much better.  But people need both (traditional and holistic medicine).

For tips on what every person can do right away to improve their overall health, Deepak immediately answered with Vipassana meditation, regular exercise, good amount of sleep, and proper diet.  But Deepak mentioned that Thai food is some of the very best in the world when it comes to healthy eating.  You find a variety of flavors and colors, and research shows that the more rich a food is in flavors and colors, the more phytochemicals it contains.  These are chemicals that are derived from the energy of the sun, and are important for healing.  It sounds so simple when we sums up these important keys to health: diet, exercise, sleep, and Vipassana.

When it comes to meditation, many people are interested in it but find it difficult to achieve the results they expect and cannot silence the constant inner voice.  I asked Deepak what is an important early practice on the road to proper meditation.  He said we should start with trying to be mindful of just one thing every day.  For example, you may tell yourself, “today I will be mindful of sensations in my body” or “today I will be mindful of my breath.”  On another day, be mindful of speech, and another day, be mindful of movement.  If we just do this little bit every day, we will start to experience stillness.  “It will not happen like this,” as he snapped his fingers, “but you will feel better anyway.  You will not be so reactive.”

Deepak stated that the best part of Vipassana meditation is that it has an immediate effect on calming you down, not as likely to get angry and lose your temper or feel anxious.  That is a great bonus right away.  Stillness of the mind and enlightenment will come later.

As far as physical benefits that come with meditation, the immediate ones are lower blood pressure, lower heart rate, less likelihood of insomnia and anxiety.  The long term benefits are amazing, according to Deepak.  Strengthening the immune system and slowing down aging.  There are about 15 biological indicators for aging, including blood pressure, bone density, body temperature regulation, and cholesterol level, all of them are affected positively by meditation.

His basis is Ayurvedic medicine, which is based on meditation, specific diets for certain body types, mind-body techniques based on understanding of consciousness to regulate the body, and awareness of the five senses (sight, touch, smell, taste, and hearing) along with the heart.  It is very natural, basically a way to activate and self-regulate your body if you were not conditioned by society.

One of the processes that Deepak deal with in holistic medicine is slowing the effects of aging.  Some would say these are radical notions that he preaches, I was curious as to what he had to say about aging and how we can have some measure of self control over aging.  Deepak mentioned the 15 biological markers again, which include hormone levels, and said they can be slowed or even reversed, by about 15 years thanks to a shift in lifestyle.  He says the shift does not have to be dramatic, it includes the tips he mentioned: meditation, good sleep, exercise, and also good relationships. If you want to extend that, then you can work on your perception of time, and what he calls the subtle self, or astrobody.  This is a little more esoteric, and does teach these concepts, but the simple tips he already mentioned, he claims that within 4 months, they influence not only the biological markers of aging, they affect the expression of some 300 genes which have influence on things like heart disease, cancer, autoimmune diseases and inflammation.

Deepak explains that while genes may be fixed, their expression is not, so you can turn on the good genes and turn off the bad ones.  When you are stressed, it turns on the bad genes and turns off the good ones.  It sounds a little bit like science fiction, I think of the Frank Herbert classic novel “Dune” (the one David Lynch made with Kyle Maclachlan as the “phra ek” and the singer Sting as a bad guy).  In the far-future universe of this series of books, computers have been outlawed when they become self-aware, and there are characters called Bene Gesserit [sounds like Benny Jessy-rit] that are witches who can control their own body chemistry with their mind, getting rid of poisons, making themselves fertile for pregnancy, even speaking to their past lives whose memories live in their genes.

When I mention this to Deepak, asking if something like that is achievable for humans, he says believes such human advancements are possible, but does not believe computers have the capacity to develop self-awareness and achieve a sense of purpose and true imagination.  Computers are based on algorithms which are precise mathematical formulas.  True imagination is based on discontinuity which is attached to the consciousness.

On the other hand, Deepak has worked with some very imaginative scientists who believe that in a few years there will be nanorobots the size of molecules that you can control with something like your BlackBerry that will be able to clean up your arteries if cholesterol is too high, or if you are depressed they will turn on neurotransmitters in your brain to improve your mood.  In ten to fifteen years, there may be desktop computers that can clone cells for any kind of food you want.  So if you want a medium rare steak, you can just program it into the computer and enjoy eating one without killing an animal.

I wonder if with technology advancing at such a rapid pace, whether human spirituality is able to keep up.  Deepak says it is not, and when technology outpaces the evolution of our consciousness, we have modern capacities combined with primitive habits, and that is a very dangerous situation.  These same technologies in the wrong hands can be used to make a nuclear power plant leak, or hijack all the planes in the sky, so technology can become very diabolical if we don’t, at the same time mature spiritually.

Deepak acknowledges that you cannot stop the evolution of technology, so it is even more important than ever that we focus on spiritual evolution.  These same technologies that can destroy can also be used to create global communities.  Right now one of Deepak’s projects is one such globally interconnected community called wellworld.org, which has its slogan: “Change yourself, change the world” and can be also accessed from his website deepakchopra.com.  He is creating online global communities for financial, career, social, community, physical and spiritual wellbeing.

Deepak also has a twitter account, @deepakchopra, which has been silent while he was ordained as a monk. Having started only recently, he has become an avid user, with over 250,000 followers, growing at almost 1,000 people per day, showing there is a lot of interest in what he has to say.  Unlike most celebrities who seem to take pride in following a handful of other people, usually celebrities like themselves or friends and family, he is very interested in what others have to say, following over 4,000 other accounts himself, if he sees something insightful posted on Twitter he will follow that account, no matter where they come from.

When asked how he addresses skeptics and critics, Deepak says he just leaves them alone.  He used to try to oppose and debate them, but does not anymore.  He points to a fascinating scientific study which showed that if you have you people with opposing worldviews, say one who is totally materialistic and atheist versus someone who is very spiritual and consciousness-based, and you give them the exact same information, they both go back more reinforced in their own worldview.  It is a very Buddhist approach that has not seemed to hurt his growing following at all.

The big question is posed to Deepak:  what does he feel is the purpose of life?  He says it begins with the expansion of consciousness, of happiness, and using the human nervous system to further the evolution of the universe.  We are the only beings who are self-aware, and it is becoming apparent that the universe itself is becoming self-aware through us.  This is a major responsibility.

And death?  It is the most creative process a human being can experience.  What he means by that is that it is an incubation period before the next leap of creativity in the direction of enlightenment.

It sounds “nahm nao” but speaking to Dr. Deepak Chopra for only a half hour is truly an enlightening experience.  I was privileged to have only a half hour with him, but felt like I learned things that could affect a lifetime.  It is no wonder that people flock to him to help them find personal meaning in the life they live and the end which is inevitable for all us…and end that is another beginning.

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3 Responses to “Deciphering Deepak Chopra”


  1. 1 Sista Soulja
    August 26, 2010 at 3:04 am

    WOW! What an awesome opportunity to get to meet him and talk to him! I’m living the divine attitude! loving-kindness-happiness!

  2. 2 Mook V
    August 26, 2010 at 3:42 am

    Really enjoyed reading it. Today will be another happy and healthy day for me. 😀


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