A critique of Deepak Chopra

Last night I listened to an online talk organised by the Chopra Centre promoting his upcoming course with Eckhart Tolle called Beautiful Chaos — How to Find Meaning in a Messy World. I did so out of my innate/evolved curiosity to see if they had any new insights to contribute to complement those I had already heard from them in the past.

I have to say that when I read Eckhart Tolle’s “Power of Now” some years back now as I was first embarking on spiritual exploration, I found it illuminating and recommended it to friends who were struggling with their lives and particularly with their monkey minds. Listening to him speaking on his You Tube videos I find him soothing and in yesterday’s talk he sounded his usual humorous, wise and, indeed, caring self.

Deepak, on the other hand, I find has become rather formulaic. I respect his pioneering approach to integral thinking, though I find Ken Wilbur has gone much deeper in developing a coherent framework to sustain the mix of hard and soft elements (to put it simply) in integral philosophy. But I can’t help feeling that what Deepak is offering is the same-old of yesteryear and that he is rather lazily peddling a package of well-worn spiritual remedies which, despite token references to the impact of the internet and social media or to widely known developments in scientific discovery to show he is “up to date”, are no longer at the cutting edge of human consciousness.

What struck me most was the contradictory interplay between the form and content of what was being promoted. Now I ‘m a bit of a sucker for paradox and could even go the extreme of describing myself as a paradox junkie. But what was being presented here seemed to me unsustainable. Let me explain:

The premise of the Beautiful Chaos argument is that our life struggle (and the interviewer was at pains in her introduction to emphasise that life is a struggle — like it or lump it!) is given to us as a challenge to transcend and thus to evolve spiritually. The solution therefore (in synthesis) is to embrace that struggle and then all will be light and life will be lighter and the superhuman you will flourish and conquer the universe. Simples! You will have got your money’s worth and transformed your life just by flicking a switch in your mind to view the struggle, which they insist from the start life is, as something “good” rather than as something “bad”. That seems to be what they are promising.

Which is fine except, I think to myself, if struggle is there to spur you on in your spiritual development and you cease to struggle against the struggle because you accept it as a help rather than a hindrance, then that spur is gone and your personal evolution grinds to a halt. Know what I mean? And that’s what I think has happened to Deepak’s formula. He has come up with a neat little package that can be delivered as if from a production line as a solution to the consumer’s ills and it is ironically being marketed in the same way as any placebo in life, whether it’s a tropical beach holiday, a beauty product a fast car or a Martini on-the-rocks.

I have to say that this impression was in no small way prompted by the presenter/interviewer who seemed to be speaking from a script rather than the heart (even when she was being — as it struck me- sycophantic) and by the selling techniques of offering a deep discount if you signed up to the course by midnight that would make it accessible to “nearly all” (why the nearly?), plus this valuable bonus, plus that other bonus plus… (I’d been totally put off by that stage).

Now, I have no doubt that the Chopra Centre devotes the income it derives from its various commercial activities to a whole lot of worthy causes, but I can’t help thinking that Mr Chopra has fallen into the same habits as other gurus of offering an easy commercialised answer to spiritual quest and of concentrating on marketing himself to as many followers as possible rather than pushing the frontiers of enlightenment to a higher level. In other words, I think he needs a bit more struggle in his life — to set himself a few more challenges.

I also can’t help thinking that, if I were Eckhart Tolle, I would feel slightly embarrassed at being associated with the enterprise, however valuable the power of his message.