A Doctor with a Heart
Doctors are heroes – they literally save lives. There is probably no job as noble or crucial as that of an individual whose duty is to preserve life. Like heroes, doctors are made, not born.
Deepak was not the first in his family to practice alternative medicine. He is the grandson of a British army lieutenant whose illness was worsened by Western medicine, forcing him to seek healing from Ayurveda out of desperation.
Deepak Chopra certainly worked hard to become a calibre doctor, and was quite ambitious. Because he felt that India was not the best place to practice his profession, Deepak left his country for the United States in search of new opportunities. It was not long before he secured residency at the New England Memorial Hospital, and quickly rose through the ranks to eventually become Chief of Medicine.
The higher the position he held, the less he liked what he saw. The way doctors relied solely on prescriptions to facilitate healing confused him; there must be something more to being a doctor than administering medicines, he thought. Despite his growing fame as a doctor, Deepak was terribly unhappy. He felt suffocated by the system; the law did very little to ease doctors’ burdens. For a time, Deepak simply went through the motions with his weariness increasing each day.
Things began to change when he was introduced to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, a transcendental meditation guru who offered him a glimpse into how alternative healing can be a sensible option. Everything that Deepak knew about medicine was challenged by both herbal supplements and the principles of transcendental meditation. How a doctor of his stature could be clueless about the human body was shocking to him; as a neuroendocrinologist, he should have known better.
He finally found answers to questions that Western medicine failed to address. He had to let go of the career he so painstakingly established to go back to the basics and learn what he was never taught in medical school. It was the beginning of a lifelong career; Dr. Deepak Chopra still practiced medicine, but cured people without resorting to traditional healing.
Instead of working for hospitals, Deepak found himself opening wellness clinics and gradually becoming a strong proponent of transcendental meditation. After letting go of his hospital residency, Deepak set up his own business to sell Ayurveda products. His teachings soon invaded the environment of alternative healing, and he struck a partnership with the Sharp Institute. After a falling-out, however, he founded the “Deepak Chopra Center for Wellbeing.”
Between speaking engagements, Deepak tapped a wider audience by writing numerous books about transcendental meditation and the power of the mind over the body. His books became equally popular as his alternative approach to healing, and he eventually cemented his reputation as a bestselling author. His books were endorsed by Oprah and his services were sought by celebrities like Michael Jackson.
As luck would have it, Deepak finally found what he had long been looking for: effective means of healing people without harmful side-effects. What could have gotten into the mind of this great New Age guru, who became a full-fledged doctor before realizing what he truly wanted to do for the rest of his life?
Deepak Chopra was born into a family of soldiers. Like Deepak’s grandfather, his father also served in the British army as a lieutenant, aside from holding a position at Mool Chand Khairati Ram Hospital for over 25 years. Deepak was born in New Delhi, British India, on 22 October 1946.
When he was young, a career in medicine did not particularly entice him. What he wanted, rather, was to be an actor or a journalist. He later changed his mind about his desired profession after reading Sinclair Lewis’s “Arrowsmith.”
He was inspired by the character of Martin Arrowsmith – a young doctor who lost his wife to the bubonic plague. Martin remarried a wealthy woman and had a promising career, but left both for an independent medical practice. Guess who gave him the book? Deepak’s father certainly influenced his son to pursue a career in medicine.
Who would have thought that the life of Martin Arrowsmith would draw so many parallels to his own (minus the death of a spouse, of course)? After completing his primary education at St. Columba's School, Deepak took a medical course at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. In 1968, he left New Delhi following his graduation.
With 25 dollars in his pocket, Deepak went to New Jersey. A residency awaited him at Muhlenberg Hospital in Plainfield for both his clinical internship and residency training. Upon completing his internship, Deepak went to Boston and earned residency at Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts. Around the same time, he also became a resident doctor at the University of Virginia Hospital.
Intent to save Lives
Five years later, Deepak officially became a professional doctor after earning his license to practice in Massachusetts. He chose to specialize in neuroendocrinology and soon became a member of the American Medical Association (AMA). During his residency, he taught medicine at prestigious universities, namely Tufts University, Boston University and Harvard University. He was eventually appointed as Chief of Medicine at the New England Memorial Hospital.
He was a sincere physician, and he truly wanted to help his patients in the best way he knew how. He was stumped by the many [mostly frustrating] realities he faced as he became more deeply involved in medicine. He did not like that doctors’ care extended only to prescribing what they believed would cure the patient. There seemed to be little heart or dedication in his profession, and the few who genuinely wanted to help their patients (as he did) grew so stressed that they gradually developed addictions to stimulants.
For Deepak, becoming a full-fledged doctor was a dream-come-true; however, he was simply unprepared for the politicking and capitalism of medical practice. He was not prepared to leave dying patients to the mercy of chemists and pharmacists. He had a responsibility to the people who entrusted him with their lives.
What he disliked most about Western medicine was that it made him feel threatened. He was constantly watching for errors and anything that could have led to accusations of medical malpractice. Deepak became uncomfortable, restricted and helpless.
It never crossed his mind to leave medicine altogether, despite his disillusionment and growing weariness. A part of him was certain that he was in the right profession; he just needed to discover the right environment for the medical approaches he would be taking.
Discovering Transcendental Meditation
In 1981, Deepak read about Transcendental Meditation, or “TM,” and tried it with his wife, Rita. It was Brihaspati Dev Triguna, an Ayurvedic physician, who first told Deepak about the practice and convinced him to explore it. It’s a 20-minute, twice-a-day (after meals) practice which involves repeating a mantra while sitting in a yoga position; the mantra is believed to elicit peace, renewal and balance from within. In two months’ time, Deepak and his wife began practicing the TM-Sidhi program, which is akin to a “TM level-up.”
Four years later, he met Mahesh Yogi, a Maharishi [“enlightened spiritual one”] who was best known for his contributions to the development of Transcendental Meditation. Mahesh Yogi persuaded Deepak to look into Ayurveda treatments (Ayurveda is simply the Indian term for alternative medicine). Let us not forget that Deepak Chopra is a doctor, and an accomplished one at that; to tell him to study Ayurveda was tantamount to telling him he was in the wrong profession. Perhaps Mahesh Yogi, being an “enlightened one,” should have been more respectful regarding the dilemma Deepak was going through.
Leaving the Hospital to Sell Ayurveda Products
Deepak heeded his advice, and, within just two months, he left the New England Memorial Hospital. It was all the time he needed to make up his mind about letting go of his Western practice and embracing Ayurveda treatments. With his Western medical career doing well, he had no reason to leave, and so his colleagues must have had the shock of their lives after hearing that he abandoned his career to start his own business selling Ayurveda products.
In 1985, the same year he abandoned his hospital residency, he became the President of the American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine. Forgetting about his past career in medicine, Deepak devoted his expertise to the Ayurvedic practice and was appointed Director of the “Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center for Stress Management and Behavioral Medicine” in that same year.
For three months, Deepak was the only investor at “Maharishi Ayurveda Products International.” Nevertheless, he did not waste time saturating the market with his “new-found cures” for common diseases.
Ayurveda was not yet popular at the time. It was practiced discreetly by people who, like Deepak’s grandfather, had lost confidence in Western medicine. Only when doctors gave up on patients did they turn to Ayurveda, but Deepak changed that mind-set. Unaware that he had a knack for business, Deepak aggressively pushed his products in the market.
Deepak commenced his campaign for alternative medicine and, with his medical background, was a convincing witness. He was not only on the posters of Ayurveda products, but also worked with marketing staff. Since Ayurveda is a practice to relieve stress, Deepak’s “target-market” was the segment of the population more prone to anxiety and depression.
His hard work soon paid off, and people began to see Ayurveda in a different light. Their biases concerning Eastern practices were debunked and Deepak made sure that questions about their products were addressed properly. Soon, his business venture picked up; customers started coming in, and they were not just ordinary customers. Ayurveda was starting to be patronized by celebrities like Madonna and Demi Moore.
Deepak proved to be a shrewd businessman after all, and Ayurveda soon became a household name. In 1989, the Maharishi awarded Deepak with the title of Dhanvantari, or “Lord of Immortality.”
Consequently, Deepak became an even more formidable figure in alternative medicine. When an ad hoc panel on alternative medicine was assembled, he served on the board of National Institutes of Health in 1992. The following year, the Office of Alternative Medicine in the National Institutes awarded him a grant of 30,000 dollars to conduct a more profound study on Ayurvedic medicine.
Publishing His First Book and Establishing the “Chopra Center”
After almost ten years of working with the Maharishi, Deepak and Mahesh Yogi parted ways, and Deepak has been writing books since 1987. “Creating Health” was the first book he published, and it was decently-received by the market. His dream of becoming a journalist finally materialized; on the other hand, the Maharishi felt subverted by Deepak’s growing popularity as both a prolific author and a strong proponent of Ayurveda.
As a result of his falling-out with the Maharishi, Deepak left the TM movement and ended his partnership with the Sharp Institute. Without an organization to lead, he thought it was best to start his own. Together with David Simon, Deepak co-founded the “Chopra Center for Wellbeing” in 1996. It was first situated in La Jolla, California.
The “Chopra Center” was an amalgam of all Deepak had learned in the realm of medicine, including his accumulated knowledge in neuroendocrinology. According to its website, the “Chopra Center” was founded to “help people experience physical healing, emotional freedom, and higher states of consciousness.”
Since 1996, the Center has been instrumental in helping people “coping with physical illness, emotional turmoil, career-related stress or loss.” Among the courses they offer is the “Primordial Sound Meditation,” in which Deepak fused Eastern and Western practices to optimize healing without putting vital organs at risk. Also, with the Center’s “New Age” teachings, clients are taught how to breathe properly, meditate effectively, and handle problems gracefully.
The “Chopra Center” operated in La Jolla for its first six years, but in 2002, Deepak and Simon moved their clinic to Carlsbad, California. There, it stayed at the grounds of La Costa Resort and Spa, where it remains today. In 2004, Deepak earned his medical license in California.
Deepak may have left the TM movement, but he remains an influential proponent of the Ayurvedic method. So great was his contribution to bringing Ayurveda into the mainstream that he was appointed as an Advisor of the National Ayurvedic Medical Association.
Other Business Ventures
The Gallup Association named Deepak a Senior Scientist in 2005. With his son, Gotham Chopra, and Richard Branson, he then established “Virgin Comics LLC.” In that same year, Deepak received the “Ellis Island Medal of Honor” from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations.
“1 a Minute,” a docudrama by UniGlobe Entertainment, featured his work when they touched “mind, body, spirit and the mystery of life and death” for their cancer campaign.
Authoring “Life After Death” and Other Books
Deepak was made a physician, but he was born to be a writer. Over 70 books were authored by this enthusiastic journalist, whose main recurring theme is the idea of having our minds work for our bodies. In 2006, he published a book titled “Life After Death.” The last book he wrote was published in 2012: “Super Brain: Unleashing the Explosive Power of Your Mind to Maximize Health, Happiness, and Spiritual Well-Being.” He co-authored the book with Rudolph E. Tanzi.
His career in journalism did not stop there: he writes weekly for the San Francisco Chronicle and is a contributor to the “On Faith” column of the Washington Post. He also writes for the Huffington Post and contributes to The Times of India Speaking Tree.
A Dynamic Motivational Speaker
Deepak was/is an eloquent motivational speaker. He received two awards from the Toastmasters: the “International Top Five Outstanding Speakers” in 1995 and the “Golden Gavel Award” in 1997. He was dubbed by Esquire as one of the “Top 10 Motivational Speakers” in the country.
Deepak is also an international figure; he received the “Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic,” awarded by the Pio Manzu International Scientific Committee.
Due to his unprecedented success in alternative medicine, Deepak felt it was time to share his accomplishments by starting a foundation in 2009. His foundation’s main aim is to sponsor events which promote mind-body wellness. The first project it undertook was the “Sages and Scientists Symposium” in 2010, which was held again in 2011 and 2012.
Releasing a Documentary Video
He even tried his hand at filmmaking, and managed to win the “Cinequest Life of a Maverick Award” in 2010, even though there was no doubt that Deepak had already made a fortune in his thirty-plus successful years in business. Despite his wealth and fame, Deepak’s pegs for success are neither his properties nor millions of dollars; for Deepak, success is all about making a significant contribution to society.
That kind of mentality is the reason why we see so much of Deepak in talks and symposia which blast myths about wellness and instead promote a free, easy way of ridding ourselves of diseases. His teachings boil down to living a life full of joy and making peace with ourselves.
Because of the many things Deepak taught us, we could even add “teacher” to his claims to fame. He may not sport a cape, but he is nonetheless a hero to those who want nothing but healing.
Organizations and Campaigns Supported
- 21st Century Leaders
- American India Foundation
- Born This Way Foundation
- Cinema For Peace
- Global Fund
- Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation
- Whatever It Takes
- Chopra Foundation
- American Medical Association
- American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine
- Maharishi Ayurveda Products International
- National Ayurvedic Medical Association
- National Institutes of Health
- Chopra Center for Wellbeing
- The Gallup Organization
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Virgin Comics LLC
- 1 a Minute
- Sages and Scientists Symposium
- Trident Media Group
- New England Memorial Hospital
- Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
- Muhlenberg Hospital, New Jersey
- National Institutes of Health ad hoc panel
- San Francisco Chronicle
- Washington Post
- The Huffington Post
- 1985: Founded the “American Association of Ayurvedic Medicine” and became the Medical Director of the “Maharishi Ayurveda Health Center for Stress Management and Behavioral Medicine”
- 1989: Awarded “Lord of Immortality” by the Maharishi Association
- 1992: Served on panel of the National Institutes of Health
- 1993: Became Executive Director of the Sharp Institute for Human Potential and Mind-Body Medicine
- 1995: Received the “International Top Five Outstanding Speakers Award” from Toastmasters
- 1996: Co-founded the “Chopra Center for Wellbeing”
- 1997: Received the “Golden Gavel Award” from Toastmasters
- 2000: Became an advisor for the National Ayurvedic Medical Association
- 2005: Became a Senior Scientist at The Gallup Organization
- 2006: Launched “Virgin Comics LLC” and received the “Ellis Island Medal of Honor” from the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations
- 2009: Founded the “Chopra Foundation” and received the “Oceana Award”
- 2010: Received the “Cinequest Life of a Maverick Award,” “Humanitarian Starlite Award” and “GOI Peace Award”
- 2010: The Chopra Foundation sponsored the “Sages and Scientists Symposium”
- 2011: His book “The Soul of Leadership” was touted by Wall Street Journal as one of the five best business books of 2011
- Received the “Medal of the Presidency of the Italian Republic” from the Pio Manzu International Scientific Committee
- Dubbed by Esquire Magazine as one of the “Top Ten Motivational Speakers” in the country
- Twenty-one of his books have become New York Times Bestsellers
- Received the “Quill Award” for his book “Peace is the Way”
- Received the “Nautilus Award” for his book “The Book of Secrets: Unlocking the Hidden Dimensions of Your Life”
- Selected by Time Magazine as one of the “Top 100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century”
- Written about 70 books, 55 CDs and audiobooks, 6 videos and 16 additional published works as an introduction or co-author.