Deepak Chopra is becoming one of the most widely read teachers on spirituality in the Western world. Over the past two decades Chopra has produced more than 20 publications, whose teaching focuses primarily on holistic healing (physical, emotional and spiritual), historical religious figures (Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha) and even leadership. Chopra’s influence, however, does not stop at Barnes and Noble, he also frequents day-time TV (including the Ellen DeGeneres Show and Oprah) and hosts traveling seminars offering healing and renewal to participants. All this being the case, Deepak Chopra and his teaching is growing more and more influential in the Western world.
As Christians, how can we understand and respond to the popular wave of “Choprism” offering holistic human regeneration? Is Chopra’s teaching at odds with Christian doctrines (after all, he has written positively about Jesus), or is Chopra to be embraced as a valid “counselor” trained in medicine and spirituality? While Chopra could very well have good intentions of helping humanity, good intentions are not enough. When weighing Chopra’s teachings against scripture, it is not only found wanting, but fundamentally erroneous.
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Chopra’s teaching is rooted in a pantheistic worldview that is very much at odds with Christian doctrine.
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The fundamentally pantheistic nothings on which Chopra bases his teaching the Bible rejects. Chopra’s understanding of the world (physical and metaphysical), humanity and most importantly God, are diametrically opposed to the Christian worldview. If the teaching is erroneous in its core, and Chopra’s teaching is, then as Christians, we must be aware.
So, in what specific way or ways does Chopra’s worldview diverge from the Judeo-Christian worldview?
Foremost, Chopra rejects the Christian doctrine of transcendence which is a foundational pillar to the Christian worldview.
The Christian doctrine of transcendence “refers to God being beyond anything that is other than God. In Christian theology what’s other than God is, by definition, the creation” (Dembski, 2003). Essentially, Christians believe that there is a distinguishable difference between God and His creation. God is other than his creation. The creation, including human beings, is not divine and they do not have the divine substance. With the rejection of transcendence there comes the abandonment of a whole slew of other critical Christian doctrines founded on transcendence and creation doctrines.
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This in contrast with Chopra’s teaching. Chopra teaches that god is not transcendent; rather, god is the force that gives life to and is inall living things. Chopra’s teaching is a variation of Hindu pantheism. He goes on to argue that humans have an inherent “divinity” that must be cultivated by connecting with the life giving force that orders the universe. In his book, The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success(1994), Chopra makes the following statements:
In reality, we are divinity in disguise, and the gods and goddesses in embryo that are contained within us seek to be fully materialized. True success is therefore the experience of the miraculous. It is the unfolding of divinity within us (p. 68-69).
He says again in the same book, “We must find out for ourselves that inside us is a god or goddess in embryo that wants to be born so that we can express our divinity” (Chopra, 1994, p. 98 – emphasis mine). In response to this statement, Ravi Zacharias appropriately responds, “This is the heart of Hinduism―self-deification” (Zacharias, 2000, Kindle version).
Isaiah’s prophecy in 44:6 combats the notion of human deification/polytheism/pantheism with the following, “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god” (emphasis added). Also, Isaiah 44:8b “Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock, I know not any”. Also, Isaiah, 45:21b, which reads, “And there is no god besides me, a righteous God and Savior; there is non except Me”.
So, why is the doctrine of transcendence important? This doctrine is important because it is necessary to maintain that God is a free personal being, not bound by the governing principles of the creation orthe cosmos. If God is continuous with the universe, or identified with the cosmos, then he is no longer truly free to act nor truly omnipotent.Thus, it is extremely problematic for Chopra to imply that God is not transcendent, but rather a bound to the cosmos. Chopra writes the following:
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“Your body is not separate from the body of the universe because at quantum levels there are no well-defined edges. You are like a wiggle, a wave, a fluctuation, a convolution, a whirlpool, a localized disturbance in the larger quantum field. The larger quantum field ―the universe―is your extended body” (Chopra, 1994, p. 68-69).
In his book, Reinventing the Body, Resurrecting the Soul: How to Create a New You (2009),Chopra claims that the divine substances is inseparable from the universe:
“It [the soul] is the source of life, the spark that animates dead matter. It creates the mind and emotions. In other words, the soul is the very foundation of experience. It serves as the channel for creation as it unfolds in every second” (Kindle version).
Between these two quotes, Chopra’s dismantling of transcendence unfolds. In the first quote, he points out that the living body is an inseparable part of the universe. In quote two, he states that that the soul (that which gives the body life), “is the source of life,” and “the very foundation of experience”. In other words, the human soul is divine which is in turn inseparable from the universe. Christianity says, “NO!”.
Again, the forfeiture of the transcendence of God means he is bounded by and limited to the cosmos. If God is continuous with the universe, not truly free to act nor omnipotent, then as a divine being, bound to the rules of the universe, he is unable to deliver humanity from the human situation. A god who is bound by the universe who claims to be able to deliver humanity is analogous to one pulling oneself up by the bootstraps. Such a god has no true alternative reality to offer to humanity.
From Chopra’s angle, the God of Exodus 3:14 is the “I AM”, but in much the same way, so “AM I,” and “ARE You,” and “ARE They,” etc. The message of scripture, however, makes great effort to communicate the transcendence of God as a necessary attribute for human salvation (especially emphasized in Isaiah 40-66). By making God continuous with the created universe, Chopra irrevocably diverges from Christian doctrine by eliminating the freedom and omnipotence of God via his teaching on the deification of humanity. By elevating humanity to the divine, Chopra reduces divinity to the human level, which the Bible most ardently prohibits (also see Deuteronomy 6:4). While Christians maintain that the Person of the Holy Spirit, being of divine substance can cohabit with humans and be in intimate relationship with humans (created beings), there is a distinct difference between deification in the sense that people become like God in moral character(Christianity) and actually are god but do not realize it (Chopra).
To conclude, Christians must be attentive to the reality that Chopra often points to Jesus and his teachings to support his own doctrine. It is tempting to think that because Chopra presents Jesus in a positive light, that his teaching is harmonious with the Christian worldview. This is not true. For example, Chopra writes:
Connecting your soul is actually easier than whatever you are doing right now. It takes effort to keep your soul at a distance. When you stop struggling, the path to the soul is automatic. Everything you want to achieve will naturally unfold. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “Ask and you shall receive. Knock and the door will be opened”.
To start, it is important to identify exactly how Chopra is defining his terms, specifically, “soul”. Chopra maintains that “connecting with the soul” is the key to a better life. For Chopra, connecting with the soul means connecting with the divine substance inside of every human being that can redirect the human life away from demise and towards success. As mentioned above, the “soul”, according to Chopra, is the “spark that gives life,” and the basis for all reality and existence (Chopra, 2009). This definition of soul is extremely different than the Biblical understanding of soul. With all certainty, neither the Bible, nor Jesus, understood the human soul to be divine, the creative force of the universe, or the basis for all reality.Nevertheless, for Chopra to claim that, “This is what Jesus meant when he said…” is erroneous. Because Jesus maintained a Biblical worldview, in the above quote he most certainly did not mean, “If you just ask, the divine substance will be born in you and you will be in connection with the divine universe which means for a better life.”
Chopra’s scripture quote comes either from Matthew 7:7 or Luke 11:9. Both contexts underline essentially the same issue: God’s readiness to respond to our needs. While Chopra’s positive presentation of Jesus is in some sense relieving for Christians living in a world who’s hostility towards Jesus continually increases, his presentation is much more of a danger than the hostile presentation of Jesus because we can be enticed to lend authority to that which is relieving. We must be aware of the major divergence away from Christian doctrine in Chopra’s teaching and be prepared to respond properly.
All citations from Scripture come from the English Standard Version.