CHOPRA, DEEPAK (Religious Movement)

Deepak Chopra was born in India c. 1947. Although brought up as a Hindu at home, he was educated at a Catholic school run by Irish missionaries. His father was a prominent cardiologist in India, and the young Chopra went into medicine himself. He graduated from medical school in 1968, and travelled to the United States in 1970 where he specialized in endocrinology. He had a successful career, working very hard and acquiring many patients, but eventually becoming very stressed. This led to him consulting with a leading ayurvedic practitioner in 1981. Ayurveda is the ancient Indian holistic medical system, based on herbalism, astrology and diverse spiritual practices particularly yoga. Chopra had a strong experience with the treatment, which in the USA was largely promoted by the followers of Transcendental Meditation (TM).

Chopra was diagnosed as suffering from the stresses and strains of Western life, and was advised to take up meditation and change his diet, amongst other things, which he did. He met the guru Maharishi in 1984, and became a leading figure in the TM movement in the West until 1990, when he left. Chopra complained of ‘being used’ by some senior members of the movement as a figurehead, against his wishes. Nevertheless, he maintained his belief in the importance and effectiveness of ayurvedic medicine, despite scepticism from some of his medical colleagues, and he founded several institutes of ayurveda in the US, including one in San Francisco for the treatment of AIDS patients. He also retained a firm belief in the therapeutic value of meditation.

Chopra then became an outspoken critic of both Western medicine and the Western way of life. Like other practitioners in the Holistic Health Movement, he disapproved of the preoccupation of Western medicine with using powerful drugs to change the manifestations of an illness, without looking into root causes. He saw the problems of Western lifestyle as stemming from its high stress levels, the dominance of material goals over spiritual ones, and the abuse of the mind and body by poor diet and low-grade cultural input. Chopra’s stated mission is ‘bridging the technological miracles of the West with the wisdom of the East’. His approach is extremely successful, and he is widely regarded as a guru figure. Of his many books, the best known is The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success’, which presents his ideas as a manual for self-development.

The ‘brand name’ for Chopra’s work is Quantum Healing. He argues, for example, that spontaneous remissions of cancer in advanced sufferers can be explained best in quantum terms, using the power of the mind, and correcting wrong ideas. In his own words, taken from an interview:

Quantum healing is healing the bodymind from a quantum level. That means from a level which is not manifest at a sensory level. Our bodies ultimately are fields of information, intelligence and energy. Quantum healing involves a shift in the fields of energy information, so as to bring about a correction in an idea that has gone wrong. So quantum healing involves healing one mode of consciousness, mind, to bring about changes in another mode of consciousness, body.

The creative power of consciousness in healing is seen as a non-dualistic approach, the ‘bodymind’ described above. Mind produces neuro-chemical brain events, which then transmit themselves to many other areas of the body, causing disease and discomfort. This in turns feeds back via the neuro-chemical system to the brain. Scientific support for this approach came from the work of Candace Pert, who demonstrated a link between brain and body through neuropeptides during the 1990s. This work was popularized by her in a best-selling book The Molecules of Emotion (1998), which was eagerly embraced by many prominent figures in the New Age Movement. Pert makes several (favourable) references to Chopra in her book. Of particular note is her account of the resistance and even hostility of many in the medical profession towards this new understanding, which Chopra himself must have encountered frequently.

Chopra runs the ‘Center For Well-Being’ in La Jolla, California, with its Director David Simon MD. Its stated aim is to integrate the best of Western medicine with natural healing traditions. He has written over twenty books, produced many audio and visual tapes, and gives talks to formal and informal events all over the world.

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