Deepak Chopra (seated) at Barnes & Noble, Del Mar. “I came here tonight because somehow I’m on a trip too. I’m searching too."
Mother Teresa went East to give succor to the poorest of the poor. Deepak Chopra came West to give succor to...the North County set.
He’s here in Del Mar tonight, publicizing his latest book, The Return Of Merlin, a philosophy-of-living book disguised in timetripping fiction. But his speech sounds more like an encounter with an encounter group.
“The 13th chapter is about discontent. And how discontent is a divine force. Without divine discontent there will be no creative impulse. It would just be a life of complete boredom, if you’re totally contented all the time.”
I’m late. I’ve missed 12 chapter summaries already. The adoring hordes are already well under the spell, cramming the aisles, peeking over bookshelves. I squeeze into the Astrology/Tarot Cards/New Age/Magic/Religion/Spirituality/Shamanism section, next to a teenager sprawled on the carpet and a middle-aged woman holding a paper cup of white wine.
No doubt about it: Deepak Chopra has the New Age set enthralled. This is Wayne Dyerland. Past-Lives Therapyland. Verging on the spiritual turf of Linda Evans and Ramptha, her 5th-century revived adviser (the one who growls through some female guru in exchange for a thoroughbred racehorse or two). This is the land of the facile philosophical fix, infallible — as long as you have the money and the leisure to pursue it.
Or is it? Maybe Del Mar needs Chopra as much as Calcutta needs Mother Teresa.
“The 14th chapter is called ‘Ashes To Ashes,’ about how in the rubble of devastation there are seeds for opportunity for growth, for evolution, that in every adversity there is the seed of a greater benefice.
“The 15th chapter, ‘Lonely House,’ is about this lonely house, where you have to make a decision between the known and the unknown. The known is a prison, a prison of past conditioning. And the unknown is an inn of infinite possibilities....”
Of course, Chopra is well on the way to realizing his own infinite possibilities. He sold a million copies of his book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind and that’s just the hardback figure. His run of a dozen other “howto” mind-body books has made him very rich and his mind-body centers are an international phenomenon, including Sharp HealthCare’s own Institute for Human Potential and Mind Body Medicine. He told one journalist he has a “patient base of 60,000.” He makes housecalls to the rich and famous all over the world, from London to Tokyo to New York. He’s about to open a mind-body center in India this year, “probably the largest in the world.”
The velvet-voiced guru, in other words, is doing okay.
“The 16th chapter is called ‘Dreaming Time,’ and it’s about the nature of time itself. For example, this space-time event: we’re all together in this room.... This has been in the making for...mi!lions of years! The entire universe has to conspire to the next moment in your life. That in itself is an insight that brings exaltation.”
“There’s just something in me that responds to this,” says Rose Maria Scozzaro, the lady with the paper cup. “It coincides with a lot of things I have thought most of my life but never said because I thought everybody would say I was nuts! His idea that each of us has a path that we’re meant to follow. Somehow I was born knowing that. That I had to do certain things.... I’m a musician. I was a concert pianist, and I had to fight everyone, including my family. This just wasn’t a thing you did. Especially for an Italian immigrant family. You were supposed to get married and have lots of kids and make lots of pasta!” Ms. Scozzaro has had her share of problems — Carpal Tunnel Syndrome for instance, death for a pianist.
“I came here tonight because somehow I’m on a trip too. I’m searching too. This has been a dreadful year for me. Absolutely everything that could have gone wrong did. I kept thinking, as he was talking about the chaos, the bad things that (contain the seeds of) some 'great creative endeavor,’ that if he’s right, next year I’m destined to do something really spectacular!”
Chopra finally makes it through all 30 chapters.
“Somebody asked me the other day, ‘What do you see yourself as?’ I see myself, these days anyway, as a 'spiritual vagabond,’ a gypsy. We are all gypsies on this planet, here for a short time to meet each other, and then our caravans go to different places and different times. These are precious moments to be together here, to bond with each other, and then to move on.”
The audience applauds. A woman takes the mike. “There are lots of you who want lots of books signed; it’s going to take some patience and organization. He’ll do all of your books, he’s here for you. Please form one orderly line....
“I think they have between five and six hundred people,” the woman says to Chopra. “Deepak, have you ever had more than five or six hundred in a bookstore?”
“Yeah, in Denver. I’ve had up to a thousand.”
The lady’s disappointed. “In a bookstore, huh?”
“Yes, what’s that famous bookstore — ‘The Tattered Cover’?”
The line reaches 50 yards back, right through the Barnes & Noble megastore. Jonas, a young man with a poetic face and black clothes, is near the front. “I want you to know that you move me very much,” he tells Chopra when his turn comes.
“Oh, thank you,” says Chopra. “The only level you can communicate on is through the emotions.”
He signs Jonas’s book.
“Dr. Chopra, can I shake your hand?”
Chopra puts down his signing pen. “Pleasure to meet you.” “I connect with this man more than I connect with my own father,” says Jonas afterwards. “He has so much to say to me on levels that are pure of the soul. He’s kind, he’s harmonious, he’s not pushing anything on anybody, he’s giving you a philosophy about love, life, how to clean up the inside.... He’s one of the great masters of our time, living, right now. And he happens to be in our part of the world....”
“I came,” a woman behind him is saying to Chopra, “because I’m in total chaos and you helped me.”
“I find his voice is very soothing,” says the woman in line behind her. “That’s why I buy his audios. Because I want to hear him telling every story. I want his words, his voice...”
“My name is Skip,” a 40-ish guy says to Chopra. “I just want to mention that I teach computer programming and creative writing, and I’m often using different sections of your book to show how people should try to add spirituality to computer programming — to consider what a computer would be like if it was a live animal, if it had its own spirituality, had behavior, if it had...a bigger perspective. It changes their programming attitude.”
A kid arrives with his father and mother and a stack of Deepak Chopra books. He’s also opening an electronic gift his dad’s just bought him. “What are we going to do about batteries now?” says the father. “Batteries are not included in that....” He turns to Chopra. “Do you have some words of wisdom when batteries are not included?” “Who’s this for?”
“Oh that book is to…Jack. This one is to Jody.”
“What about me?” says the kid.
“You want one. Okay, we’ll do this one to you.”
“I wanted that one....”
“ ‘To Grant, Batteries are not included.’ That’s what I want you to say.”
Chopra breaks in.
“My kids, when they were young, they gave me a present. Just batteries. And they said, ‘Gift not included.’ ”
The woman who’s next in line comes up and hands Chopra a cassette tape and a little vial of oil. “The man who gave me this oil, he’s like a prophet,” she tells him. “He had all these extraordinary gifts much as yourself. It’s anointing oil. And I have carried it with me...for 23 years. And now I want you to have it. You pray for people, and you anoint them with this oil. It’s a blessing.”
Chopra hands the gifts to his wife, sitting in her sari behind the table.
“I’ve shared something that was given to me by an evangelist who recently passed away,” the woman, Judy Sooter, says later, “I feel you have to give love away. I do hope this man has time to listen to the tape frequently. It’ll help inspire more truth coming forth.”
Yes, says Chopra, a lot of people want to give him things that are meaningful to them.
“Why is it? Must be my Indian accent. I don’t know. No idea. It’s fun, though. It’s good. It’s a connection. I enjoy it. And I mean, I don’t take myself too seriously. My attitude is, I want to sing like birds sing, not worry ‘ who hears or what they think.”
Maybe he sees some surprise on my face. “You heard my lecture, didn’t you? If you’ve come here to learn something, you’re in the wrong place. I don’t take myself seriously. I’m just like them.” He signals toward the waiting line. “I’m exploring, groping, struggling, confused.”
Also giving answers that sell books.
On the other hand, The Return Of Merlin hasn’t made it to the New York Times best-seller list yet. It’s had mixed reviews. Perhaps things have been too good for the Guru of Del Mar. Maybe he needs a shot of that “divine discontent” he was talking about. Perhaps a temporary swap with Mother Teresa would do it.