tampabay.com

New Age's elder statesman seeks a younger audience

Well-known author Deepak Chopra will make a Tampa appearance Sunday night.

By SHERRI DAY
Published March 24, 2007


For his 16th birthday, Marco Padilla-Rodriguez will get the gift he's wanted for years: to see Dr. Deepak Chopra in person.

Few, if any, of Marco's friends have heard of Chopra, a self-help guru at the forefront of the New Age movement for more than two decades. Fewer still, unlike Marco, have read any of Chopra's books.

But Marco doesn't mind. He considers himself an old soul.

"I love the study of different beliefs, religions or spirituality, and Deepak is really revolutionary in that sense," said Marco, a sophomore at Northside Christian School in St. Petersburg. "I just really feel a connection with him."

Marco likely will be among the youngest attendees when Chopra speaks Sunday night at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Chopra will touch on several topics, from understanding the nature of consciousness to finding creative solutions for AIDS, global warming and poverty.

Marco's presence should please Chopra, a star among baby boomers who has been trying to make inroads with young people. Last year, Chopra released two books aimed at teens and spirituality and teamed up with his son to launch Virgin Comics.

Still, baby boomers remain Chopra's core audience, keeping his book sales high well after his popularity peaked in the 1990s. The public's increasing interest in alternative and holistic medicine and its growing embrace of spirituality over religious dogma have helped establish Chopra as an elder statesman in the New Age movement.

"He's a healer for popular culture," said Dell deChant, associate chair of the religious studies department at the University of South Florida. "The professional credentials, holistic approach and spirituality without heavy religiosity is a package that sells in America."

Chopra's successes - he has sold more than 20 million copies of his books and CDs worldwide - translate into a multimillion-dollar income, much of which he says he gives to charity.

Chopra calls himself a student of all religions. He believes in God, but rails against organized religions, calling them hotbeds for power mongering, corruption, influence peddling and scandal.

"I'm very familiar with theology, and I selectively look at certain things that resonate with me," Chopra said in an interview. "Our planet is just a little speck of dust somewhere in the junkyard of infinity. We can't squeeze God into the body of a span of a lifetime or an ethnic background, for that matter."

His spiritual rituals embody the mind, body and soul doctrine he espouses. Every morning, he meditates for two hours and exercises for an hour and a half.

Raised in Delhi, Chopra says he grew up in a family evenly split between Sikhs and Hindus. His friends were Christians, Jews, Muslims and Buddhists. Chopra's father was a cardiologist, his mother, a great storyteller.

Both Chopra and his younger brother became physicians. It wasn't long before Chopra's studies crossed paths with faith.

"I was studying the molecules of emotions, and I saw that there was actually a scientific way to understand spirituality," said Chopra, an endocrinologist.

His ability to marry science with spirit and holistic medicine has attracted legions of supporters around the world. More than 3-million copies have been printed of his most popular book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.

"To me, he translates the new sciences of quantum theory into everyday language, and that is a huge gift," said Sharon Joy Kleitsch, a St. Petersburg resident.

But Chopra's critics, a mix of scientists, physicians and the religious, argue that he promotes alternative medicine to a public that sometimes might be better served by traditional medicine. It's a controversy stirred most recently by the popularity of The Secret, a DVD and book that promote the law of attraction, or positive thinking.

"Some of what Dr. Chopra is doing is practicing spirituality and not medicine," said James K. Walker, president of the Watchman Fellowship, an Arlington, Texas, evangelical Christian organization that evaluates alternative spirituality.

"We are coming from a traditional Christian perspective as well," Walker said, "so we would also hold that one cannot be a Protestant or Catholic and consistently hold to a number of those teachings. Reincarnations, pantheism, these are all incompatible with traditional Christian faith."

Chopra, known for fiercely debating his critics, sometimes taking the fight to court, tries to pay opposers little mind but admits he falls short.

"When I grow up, I'll stop reacting to my critics," he said.

Chopra currently splits his time between La Jolla, Calif., also home of the Chopra Center, a health and wellness retreat, and Manhattan.

From New York, Chopra regularly networks with agencies like Earthwatch and UNICEF on behalf of his 4-year-old foundation, the Alliance for a New Humanity, which tries to draw public attention to projects that aim to help people in need.

Chopra also lectures less, preferring instead to conduct retreats with a heavy focus on meditation and energy work.

His free time, he says, belongs to his wife of 35 years, Rita, and his two grandchildren, who fancy trips to the theater with their grandfather to see the Lion King and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

The trio have seen the productions three times each.

Not surprisingly, Chopra is working on a new book - he's written more than 40 - tentatively titled The Third Jesus, which Chopra understands as a state of mind or consciousness. His novel on the life of Buddha comes out in May.

His family keeps his life in perspective, Chopra says.

"My children, my grandchildren and my wife, none of them take me seriously, so I don't," he said.

Times Researcher Cathy Wos contributed to this report. Sherri Day can be reached at 813-226-3405 or sday@sptimes.com.


 

If you go

An "Evening with Dr. Deepak Chopra," Sunday, 7:30 p.m., Carol Morsani Hall, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. It will be Chopra's first appearance at the center since 1999.

Tickets: $35.50, $45.50 and $100, includes VIP pre-lecture reception.

For more information: Call 813-229-7827.