Monday, November 12, 2012

Spirituality and Ego: Thoughts on Deepak Chopra

My wife Kathy and I recently saw “Decoding Deepak,” the new movie about Deepak Chopra, made by his son Gotham Chopra. It’s well known that most spiritual teachings tell us that we have to go beyond the personal ego. In the movie, Deepak denies that his many books and his constant appearances on TV have anything to do with his ego. Gotham responds with a disbelieving snort, but his father concedes nothing on the point. Deepak is evidently convinced that his life is in line with what he teaches in his books.

Kathy and I both have major doubts about Deepak’s supposed lack of ego-involvement. These doubts are encouraged by our experience with our own high-energy, charismatic fathers. Like Deepak though on a smaller scale, our fathers fascinated many of the people they knew and met. Both of our fathers also had major, but usually well-hidden insecurities, which they dealt with by developing the charismatic personalities that fascinated people. They had certainly not gotten beyond the ego.

If I myself were beyond ego, I doubt I would be a writer. I would feel no need to share my experiences with people I don’t know face-to-face. I would trust the divine in the world to bring illumination to everyone when it’s appropriate. 

I have no inside knowledge of Deepak Chopra’s life or his relationships. I have a lot of sympathy with the broad lines of his Vedanta-based teaching, and I’m happy that he has directed many readers to Buddhism, Vedanta, Sufi mysticism, and so forth. But because of my experience of other charismatic people and of myself, I’m deeply skeptical about his claims to have no ego investment in his activities. The ego can express itself in people’s lives in ways that they themselves have little or no awareness of.

Because of this tricky nature of the ego, spiritual and psychological teachings that don’t address the ego in some detail seem to be asking for trouble. I don’t think you can truly go “beyond” the ego without first having a healthy one, to go beyond. Judging from this movie and from some acquaintance with his books, I doubt that Deepak Chopra has shown us how to do this.