Hmmm.... I mentioned Deepak Chopra when we chatted last week didn't I, Ben? Maybe I could use this opportunity to elaborate on what I meant....
I've only read excerpts and commentaries of Chopra's work, but I do not really agree with his views too. Incidentally, my discomfort with Chopra's ideas is related to what I recently wrote in the thread on New Age Buddhists. I'm inclined to agree with the authors of the book Selling Spirituality
who present these arguments:
In Ageless Body, Timeless Wisdo
m, Chopra lists ten key steps to happiness:
1.) Listen to your body's wisdom.
2.) Live in the present, for it is the only moment you have.
3.) Take time to be silent, to meditate.
4.) Relinquish your need for external approval.
5.) When you find yourself reacting with anger or opposition to any person or circumstance, realise that you are only struggling with yourself.
6.) Know that the world 'out there' reflects your reality 'in here'.
7.) Shed the burden of judgement.
8.) Don't contaminate your body with toxins, either food, drink, or toxic emotions.
9.) Replace fear-motivated behaviour with love-motivated behaviour.
10.) Understand that the physical world is just a mirror of a deeper intelligence.
Some of these steps do resemble (superficially, at least) Dhammic ideas--e.g. steps 5 and 6. Step 7 appears to be similar to the idea of uppekha too. However, the book Selling Spirituality argues that although 'shedding the burden of judgment... might appear quite similar to the Buddhist ideal of equanimity and detachment... in Chopra's case this is linked to the promotion of self-love, not extending compassion to all beings' (p. 100). The book further adds:
There remains a crucial difference, however, between the New Age philosophies of Chopra and Russell [a prominent 'spirituality' expert in the UK] and those of the Buddhist tradition. Unlike the New Age emphasis upon cultivating the self and individualising responsibility, in Buddhist thought the idea of an autonomous individual self is precisely the problem to be overcome (p. 101).
The book points out how in Chopra's best-selling book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success
, he argues that actions motivated by love cause a multiplication of energy. This surplus energy can then be channeled (Chopra writes) 'to create anything that you want, including unlimited wealth
In an interview with Chopra for the New Age magazine What is Enlightement
, Susan Bridle writes that Chopra's success 'lies in his simultaneous appeal to the forces of materialism and narcissism that drive so many of us.'
Chopra promises that we can fulfil all our worldly desires, desires that the great wisdom traditions have repeatedly reminded us are the very source of endless suffering and ignorance -- desires for immortality, unlimited wealth and unending romance, all without having to struggle or make effort in any way... Rather than recognizing spiritual transformation as an ultimately demanding endeavor, as taught by the greatest sages, Chopra popularises the notion of an easy, feel-good spirituality, with no mention of the perennial spiritual imperatives of renunciation and one-pointed dedication. And rather than emphasizing that true spiritual life is and has always been about the death of the ego, Chopra teaches us to bend the power of the infinite to our own will... Chopra's brand of spirituality is like fast food; while it seems to satisfy, it actually numbs the very hunger that inspires the spiritual quest in the first place.
Bridle appears to be accusing Chopra of promoting consumerism and individualistic acquisitiveness. In the course of the interview, Chopra offers this reply:
... materialistic values are not bad. The idea that spirituality must be divorced from material success is one of the things that has kept India in poverty and dependent on the rest of the world throughout these centuries. It comes from that interpretation of spirituality... the spiritual path, if you consider it demanding, you will make it demanding. You will be very serious about it and you'll never get anywhere. I really think that what is required is easiness, comfort and not taking yourself too seriously.
The book writes: This of course begs the question as to why such figures devote so much time and energy to justifying the acquisition of that which they reputedly have no real interest in. Chopra's response also displays a myopic view of recent Indian history that completely ignores the economic exploitation of the subcontinent in an age of European colonialism. Such historical and political myopia is a key feature of what we are calling capitalist spirituality.
As I've said, I've only read excerpts and commentaries of Chopra's work. Therefore, it might be objected that I cannot adequately critique Chopra. However, what I am questioning is the modes of understanding and values that are reproduced through Chopra's work. What I am critical of, then, is not Chopra the 'person' but the 'position' he represents.
Anyway, I do not think it is skillful to be critical of others only by pointing a finger at them. A critical attitude should at the same time also turn on oneself to question one's own premises. I should then also explain how a critique of Chopra's idea of spirituality informs my own efforts to gain greater clarity on my Buddhist spiritual endeavours. I'll have to gather my thoughts before I do that. I've written too much anyway. Will post again.