Five minutes, we are told, is all we will get with Dr Deepak Chopra, and there is a gaggle of journalists waiting to meet him, one by one, at the Michelangelo in Sandton, Johannesburg. The ballroom where he is seated, on a lone high-backed, jacquard-print chair at the far end, is somehow, unwittingly, reminiscent of the private durbar of an Indian guru. But the Los Angeles-based Chopra says he is no Indian mystic – “I do not buy into labels”. He is unassuming in a black shirt, jeans and red trainers, and has a calm, gentle voice:
The New York Times has called you ‘a controversial new age guru’. Why controversial?
I wouldn’t have a career without controversy. If nobody criticizes you, you go unnoticed. I owe my career to my critics, I think of them as my best friends.
People have accused you of selling false hopes and that your methods are unscientific. How do you react?
I used to react [at one time], but not anymore. Over the last 35 years, I have been in a way vindicated. There are newer sciences like neuroplasticity and epigenetics, and the mind-body connection is well-established. My courses are recognized by the American Medical Association. I have a faculty position at the Medical School in the University of California. I lecture once a year at Harvard, we have medical students coming for training, the Chopra Center University California is recognized…
You use quantum mechanics for healing. How has that been accepted?
It’s very controversial [and] very highly criticized, but I am rewriting and updating quantum healing now after 30 years because of the new science. Everything I said before is true but there is more science.
The brain seems to now be a focus in management discussions. Why?
Because of the findings that you can wire your brain for optimum wellbeing and leadership. You can learn through various techniques mindfulness, self-awareness, contemplation, meditation…you can rewire your brain in a way you feel more connected, but you can also harness intuition, insight, creativity, imagination and leadership skills.
What about prayer and spirituality in wellbeing?
When your mind is quiet, and with focused awareness, you can harness the power of intention. What people call prayer I would call focused awareness. There is a chapter in the Yoga Sutras (sacred Indian text) of Patanjali that deals with that. It’s called Dhyan, Dharna, Samadhi – dhyan is meditation, dharna is focused awareness and samadhi is transcendence.
When is emotional and financial wellbeing truly achieved?
Ten percent of your daily happiness experience comes from your bank account, 50% comes from your attitude to life and the remaining comes from the daily choices you make…People in Cuba are more happy than the people in the United States. Because when people focus on relationships, they are much happier.
Do you see more of that now?
No [shaking head]…less and less. On their dying day, they would say I wish I had worked one extra day and made more money.
What is your own net worth?
If you know your net worth, then you are not wealthy enough. Honestly, I don’t look at my bank statements, I have never seen one. My wife and accountant take care of everything, and they make sure all my taxes are paid. I only carry $300 in my pocket, one credit card and have $30,000 in my bank account. I don’t need more than that for my needs.
What do you have planned for the year ahead?
I have written 81 books, and the next is a book of fiction [released in March], called The 13th Disciple. I have done 12 fiction books, out of which four were New York Times bestsellers. I have a book [coming up] at the end of the year called Super Genes; it’s a book about how you activate your genes for optimum wellbeing.