Deepak Chopra, one of the earliest proponents of the now-ubiquitous Western meditation craze, is a controversial figure. To his millions of fans, he is a spiritual leader, a mindfulness prophet, and an enduring new-age guru. To others, he’s a charlatan, pseudoscientist, and—to be frank—a spouter of bullshit.
Indeed, Chopra has become so notorious in some circles that his tweets were used in a scientific study of “pseudo-profound bullshit” last year. There’s also a “Deepak Chopra quote generator,” that creates sentences out of randomly arranged “profound sounding words.”
So, can Deepak Chopra explain the meaning behind his questionable aphorisms? I asked Chopra about two of his actual quotes used in the study of bullshit and (sneakily) one false quote from the generator.
Real quote: “Attention and intention are the mechanics of manifestation.”
Chopra asks me to bring my attention to my right big toe, and then to wiggle it. “Was it wiggling before you had the intention?” he asks. No, of course not. “Attention and intention bring experience into awareness, manifest an experience that was not there into an experience right now,” he explains.
OK. It sounds like a convoluted way of saying that being aware of wanting to do something, and deciding to do something, then means that something takes place. But fair enough—Chopra certainly isn’t the only person to use unnecessarily complex language.
Real quote: “Nature is a self regulating ecosystem of awareness.”
Chopra says the “of” should be an “in,” but otherwise he stands by the statement. “My body is an ecosystem of cells and I know that it is because I’m an aware being. You look at a leaf or a tree, and it’s an ecosystem of bugs and bees and bacteria and sunshine and earth and water, and ultimately the infinite void and the whole universe is a self-regulating phenomenon,” he says.
I’m not entirely sure I follow, but at least he has an explanation.
Fake quote: “Wholeness heals intrinsic silence.”
Chopra isn’t taken in. “That’s not my quote,” he replies. “That must be from a random quote generator.”
He passed my bullshit test. Chopra’s explanations may be somewhat confusing but the mindfulness guru is no fool, and he’s not as easily dismissible as his critics would like to believe.
True, his scientific theories remain unconvincing. He turns quantum mechanics into a woo theory about how nothing objectively exists outside what your consciousness constructs, arguing, as the title of his latest book and upcoming tv special state, that You are the Universe. Most controversially, his Chopra Center has previously released advice on how meditation can heal cancer—though he denies personally making the claim.
In the course of our conversation, Chopra also tells me his two scientific studies on the benefits of meditating show ”that within one week of a meditation retreat, we changed the entire expression of the human genome.” If that were the case, it would provide strong evidence for Chopra being God. In fact, the studies show that meditation causes changes in the expression of a handful of 20,000 genes—similar to the level of change that comes from smoking a cigarette.
But Chopra, with his medical degree, professorship, and dozens of books, has tapped into a cultural need. The meditation and mindfulness practices he has advocated for decades are now popular across the US, and Chopra is a clear figurehead for the pseudo-Eastern-philosophy outlook that’s now so popular.
The multi-millionaire spiritual leader finds it fairly easy to brush aside the criticism he faces. Those who accuse him of bullshit are “frozen in an obsolete worldview,” or “professional skeptics,” he says. (In fact, some of those who criticize Chopra are world-renowned scientists, such as Brian Cox and Richard Dawkins.)
Overall, though, Chopra says he doesn’t mind being mocked. “There are lots of random quote generators that parody me, which I take as a compliment,” he says. “They wouldn’t be parodying some Joe on the street, right?”