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Unfortunately, the J.A.M.A. editors were unclear about the authors' link to the commercial Ayurvedic venture. When they discovered it, they commissioned a second article, which, without addressing Ayur-Veda's medical claims, described "a widespread pattern of misinformation [and] deception" in its marketing. The article gleefully quoted Chopra and his co-authors describing one $95 herbal mix as "pure knowledge pressed into material form" and accused them of a number of small-bore misrepresentations that fell short of fraud but even shorter of scientific rigor. A suit by Chopra against J.A.M.A. for defamation was settled only in 1993.

The bad publicity played a role in Chopra's subsequent break with the Maharishi, who he claims tried to prohibit him from the speaking and writing that provided his income. After the rift, he says, "I felt like a free bird. I started writing." The result was Ageless Body, Timeless Mind.

A remarkable work, it is a hodgepodge of personal anecdote, unfootnoted references to scientific studies, literary allusion, commonsense wisdom and spiritual speculation; it features Dostoyevsky, the Rig Veda, bar graphs, German physicist Werner Heisenberg and exercises you can perform at home. At its core, and repeated in seemingly endless permutations, is a religio-philosophical thesis that runs something like this:

Our bodies, which seem so solid and finite, are not. For one thing, we replace most of our component cells regularly; thus, rather than collections of aging organs, we are works in constant progress. On the subatomic level, moreover, we are no denser than the air around us and indistinguishable from our surroundings. Finally, since quantum physics asserts that matter and energy are interchangeable, we are not individual beings at all but merely local expressions of an infinite, universal field of energy. A smart field of energy: "All of us are connected to patterns of intelligence that govern the whole cosmos. Our bodies are part of a universal body, our minds an aspect of a universal mind."

At an elementary level--which can as easily be called "reducing stress" or "listening to your body"--those who attain some harmony with that universal mind by meditating and following Ayurvedic practices could avoid various diseases. A greater mystical investment should allow the curing of diseases and reversal of tumors. Ultimately, Chopra claims, we could undo the effects of aging, happily and healthily attaining a life-span of 130. Death should hold little fear, since we understand that in our essential identity--as parts of that universal field--we are immortal.

As Chopra notes, "These are vast assumptions." And on an empirical basis, some of them may be shaky indeed. Many scientists consider Chopra's assertions about quantum physics perverse rubbish. Groups such as the Pennsylvania-based National Council Against Health Fraud find his claims about reversing illness potentially dangerous. Nevertheless, Chopra's argument is at least metaphorically consistent. With its cover photo of Chopra holding a stethoscope, Ageless Body camped at the top of the best-seller lists for nine months. One day in 1993, Oprah Winfrey had him on her TV show for an uninterrupted hour. The next day the book sold 137,000 copies.

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