(4 of 7)
Two decades into his own career, it looked as though Deepak was going his father's route. Privileged and smart, he had been accepted by the prestigious All India School of Medical Sciences at 17. At 23 he was an intern at a small hospital in New Jersey, recruited during the Vietnam-era doctor shortage. By 38 he was chief of staff at a Massachusetts hospital, a master of the "system" in its postcolonial incarnation. "My ambition," he writes, "was to equal or surpass my American colleagues."
And yet there were problems. Chopra, who now says he has an "addictive personality," was dismayed at the life-style that came with his job: pots of coffee, packs of cigarettes and Scotch each night to come down again. He also had increasingly grave reservations about modern health care. He had once seen medicine as heroic. But now "all I was doing was seeing patients one after another, prescribing medication like a legalized drug pusher." In Rishi he suggests that by purveying short-term cures but ignoring long-term prevention, the typical Western physician "was fostering a diseased system and beyond that, a diseased world, with himself at its center. Like a spider in its web, he gave off something sticky that entrapped his patients."
Chopra, of course, was familiar with another way, although he took an indirect course back to it. One day in 1980 he picked up a transcendental-meditation manual in a Boston used-book store. Meditation enabled him to quit smoking and drinking, and 1983 found him on what might be called a journey of spiritual rediscovery back in India, where he visited the headquarters of transcendental-meditation founder Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
TM, which Westerners know primarily as a relaxation exercise, is the stripped-down version of a meditation used in certain Hindu sects to detach from the here and now and attain ever greater identification with the truer consciousness that exists outside space and time and animates the universe. The Maharishi had had immense success popularizing it in the 1970s. Now he wanted to market Ayurvedic herbal cures, whose spiritual underpinnings hark back to the same metaphysics. By adding a hyphen, the Maharishi had even copyrighted a U.S. trade name: Ayur-Veda. And Chopra became its salesman.
"[The Maharishi] is a great sage," he wrote at the time; "his philosophy, the classic Indian view, rubbed free of encrustations...is wisdom made bright and simple." Chopra now says, "I was almost a fanatic, but not quite." He spent the next few years globe trotting on behalf of Ayur-Vedics and running an upscale Ayurvedic clinic in Lancaster, Massachusetts. Until 1987 he was chairman and sole stockholder of Maharishi Ayur-Veda Products International. He was a millionaire to whom, in 1989, the Maharishi awarded a title translatable as Lord of Immortality. Best of all, in 1991 Chopra and two co-authors placed their glowing assessment of Ayur-Veda in that redoubt of respectability, the Journal of the American Medical Association.