Journalists who try to cover the life and teachings of Deepak Chopra always face the same question: How much ink should they dedicate to the debates about whether his fusion of Hinduism and science are secular or sacred? In other words, is this man a religious leader who is teaching specific doctrines or not?
The skeptics at Sceptic.com state the issue this way, coming from -- obviously -- a totally nonreligious perspective (as opposed to the views of Chopra critics within specific religious traditions):
The content of Chopra’s philosophy is often obscured by logical inconsistencies, but it is possible, nonetheless, to identify its key components. First, he views the body as a quantum mechanical system, and uses comparisons of quantum reality with Eastern thought to guide us away from our Western, Newtonian-based paradigms. Having accomplished that, he then sets out to convince us that we can alter reality through our perceptions, and admonishes us to appreciate the unity of the Universe. If we allow ourselves to fully grasp these lessons, Chopra assures us, we will then understand the force of Intelligence permeating all of existence -- guiding us ever closer to fulfillment. Each component of this philosophy has serious flaws. ...
So that is one side of the debate. There are also people who believe, in the end, that the heart of Chopra's work is best understood in terms of, well, marketing and the sound of ringing cash registers.
Is it possible to write about Chopra and issues related to his phenomenal popularity without even mentioning its religious content?
I would argue "no."
However, it appears that the editors of the USA Today business section would say that the answer is "yes," and that market trends ultimately trump religious concerns (either pro or con). Here is the opening of a long news feature about current sales trends in stress reduction:
Deepak Chopra says he never feels stress.
He wakes up at 4 a.m. daily and meditates for two hours. Then, he writes for an hour before going to the gym. The famed 66-year-old holistic health guru takes no medicine. He's never had surgery. And he's never been hospitalized.
"This is embarrassing," he says, "but I do not get stress."
Even then, he has made millions off the unrelenting stresses from which the rest of us suffer -- linking his name to everything from stress-busting techno gadgets to spiritual retreats. Few things, it seems, are more stressful, or expensive, than trying to shed stress.
This raises the obvious question: Does Chopra "meditate" for two hours in the morning or does he "pray" for two hours and, in his tradition, is it possible to draw an journalistically meaningful line between these two terms? More on that later.
The story does a fine job of establishing that stress has become a secular-level problem for our society, one that touches body, mind and, maybe, the soul. To make a long story short, stress is hot:
Savvy marketers have discovered that almost as much as the quest for eternal youth, consumers are in relentless pursuit of eternal calm. To thousands of marketers that sell everything from stress-reduction drinks to stress-reducing apps to noise-canceling headphones, stress is a six letter word spelled: p-r-o-f-i-t. ...
Little wonder in a nation that could be the world's poster child for stress. Last year, some seven in 10 Americans said they regularly suffered physical symptoms due to stress, and 67% said they regularly experienced psychological symptoms because of it, reports the American Psychological Association. In a still-recovering economy, it's no surprise that the top three causes of stress last year were related to money, work and the economy, reports the APA.
This side of the story is solid and fascinating.
However, I've been around the religion-news beat to know that serious researchers have studied stress and related health issues through a religious lens as well as a market-driven one. Does that reality need to be mentioned in this story? In other words, do prayer and scripture readings have the same impact as the secular or vaguely spiritual alternatives?
This is a multiple billion dollar question. The story never asks it or gives any sign that the question exists.
Stress is, you see, a strictly materialistic concern -- even when Chopra is talking it on with meditation-related products and programs.
Read the story for yourself.
Do you see the ghost now?