Inner Peacekeeper

Spiritual guru DEEPAK CHOPRA is on a mission to bring tranquillity to the world, one person at a time.

April 29, 2005|By Tom Dunkel | Tom Dunkel,SUN STAFF

"There is a part of me that has a romantic notion to disappear," says Deepak Chopra.

He could step hard on the gas in his BMW and just keep going, going.

Yes, Chopra admits, sometimes even he longs to escape the responsibilities that come with being a best-selling author, New Age high priest and the human bridge spanning ancient Indian healing and high-tech Western medicine.

"I consider myself somebody who offers the tools for inspiration," the 58-year-old lapsed endocrinologist adds. "I'm just kind of a catalyst, you know?"

He's actually a much-in-demand, crossover-culture millionaire. And don't count on him disappearing anytime soon.

For somebody who preaches the virtues of living a balanced life, Chopra keeps an insanely busy schedule, spending about a third of his time on the road, managing to write most of his 30-plus books while sitting in the cramped confines of an airplane.

At the moment, he's talking by way of cell phone from his car, en route to his office in Carlsbad, Calif. He just returned from South America where, he says 16,000 fans in the drug-cartel-controlled town of Cali, Colombia, packed a bullring to hear him speak.

No doubt they left on a holistic high. Chopra is all about harnessing body, mind and spirit - the mule team of good health. Toss those prescription pills. Go herbal. Listen to the muffled voice of your soul. As he has said, "Understanding your body's natural rhythms and needs activates unbelievably powerful disease-fighting processes."

Marylanders get their chance to hear that message in person this weekend. Chopra and Dr. David Simon, co-founder of the Chopra Center at La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, will lead a three-day Mind-Body Conference in Ellicott City.

In 1999, Chopra made Time magazine's list of the Top 100 "heroes and icons" of the 20th century. His popularity and energy show no signs of waning in the new millennium.

Indeed, he just published his most thematically ambitious book, Peace Is the Way, an all-you-need-is-love-vibes foray into geopolitics. The goal is to create a "global community of peacemakers."

We've entered a period of epic change, Chopra says. You can practically wage war with a Palm Pilot. Either chaos or mutual cooperation will prevail.

"The world is a projection of our collective consciousness," he says. "Absolutely, there is a connection between the individual level of peace of mind and world peace."

This is a big leap forward for a guy who still sells Mystic Om Pillar Candles ($18.50 each) on his Web site and who only a few years ago wrote a decidedly more modest tome: Golf for Enlightenment.

Build a peaceful world, one nonviolent convert at a time? Just who does Deepak Chopra think he is?

"He's the public face of a huge movement," says Bob Duggan, president of Tai Sophia Institute for the Healing Arts in Laurel, which is sponsoring this weekend's conference.

Duggan notes that the "wellness industry" - which includes everything from nontraditional medical treatments like to upscale spas - is a $200-billion-a-year industry. Some estimates run as high as $400 billion.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 36 percent of Americans over age 18 have tried some type of nontraditional medicine.

Just as telling, however, are the big-name investors gravitating toward the action. For example, ex-America Online wonderboy Steve Case just sank $500 million into a company that owns a New Age cable TV channel and plans to operate 100 wellness centers.

Chopra, in Duggan's opinion, deserves credit for helping give birth to an East-meets-West sensibility that is transforming conventional medicine and our notions of what constitutes good health.

"Deepak is an extraordinary modern interpreter of an ancient healing tradition from India," says Duggan. "He happens to be a traditional doctor, happens to be charismatic, and happens to be a good writer."

Chopra was born in India and graduated medical school there, then emigrated to the United States in 1970 with his wife, Rita. He taught at Tufts University, became chief of staff at New England Memorial Hospital in Boston, and eventually opened a private practice.

But Fast Track Deepak picked up a lot of bad habits along the way. He smoked too much, drank too much, worked too much, and was a bundle of frayed nerves.

In 1980, Chopra bought a used book about transcendental meditation and, inadvertently, found his road map to happiness.

He began meditating and later delved into the ayurvedic folk medicine of his native land, which focuses on using herbs and oils in treating ailments. Like the Beatles before him, he journeyed to India and logged some time at the feet of the TM master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

His career subsequently veered off the beaten path. He returned to the states and worked in several alternative-medicine facilities. He began writing about the mind-body connection, a then-controversial notion that infused his first book, Creating Health.

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