Self-help guru goes with flow

By Chloe Johnson

Chloe Johnson listened for an hour to celebrity spiritual healer Deepak Chopra, who painted a picture of an idealistic life.

He's perhaps the most sought after, yet highly criticised, celebrity spiritual healer in the world, and Deepak Chopra certainly comes across as relaxed as a hippy from the 70s.

The Indian-born doctor has spent the past 25 years creating an empire reportedly worth millions aimed at changing the perceptions surrounding alternative medicine through public speaking and writing 56 self-help books. Not that you'll get him to admit he's rolling in it.

Hollywood stars such as Lady Gaga and the late Michael Jackson have reached out to Chopra, who runs US$2000 ($2300) workshops at The Chopra Centre of Wellbeing in Southern California.

Next week the spiritual guru will be at Auckland's Civic Theatre for one show, speaking to an audience of 180. Tickets cost up to $250 for a VIP, three-hour session.

Despite having rubbed shoulders regularly with the likes of Madonna, former US President Bill Clinton and New Zealand's largest clothing exporter, Jeremy Moon, Chopra tells the Herald on Sunday he lives a simple life, one which represents the modern-day hippy.

He featured in the 2009 Forbes Celebrity 100 list and was tagged with a worth of $22 million, but claims to have no savings.

He says he earns US$3 million each year (depending on book sales) but says it doesn't affect the way he lives.

"I don't keep any money around because I don't believe in savings," Chopra says.

"I put it in my foundation [The Chopra Foundation] and straight into all these charities.

"I'm healthy and I intend to stay healthy. I will probably die on the road giving a lecture. I don't intend to stop working."

Chopra does, however, own a two-bedroom apartment on the Broadway strip in New York, as well as a family home in the San Diego town of La Jolla.

"We are not a pretentious family," he says about his wife Rita and three adult children. "I don't have any luxurious habits so I don't have an extravagant lifestyle, nor does my wife."

Asked where he will stay while in New Zealand, he responds in a way that would do any ageing hippy proud.

"When I wake up I look at my BlackBerry and what I'm doing that day, so if you ask me what I'm doing tomorrow, I don't know.

"I feel it's such a waste of time to look at the future, it's an unnecessary waste of energy."

Chopra says one of his close friends is Mike Myers, who produced the highly criticised film The Love Guru based on Chopra's book, Kama Sutra: Including the Seven Spiritual Laws of Love.

The book explores the connection between sex and spirituality and he says people must get rid of their expectations to enjoy sex more.

The Love Guru was released in 2008 but failed to gain momentum in the film industry.

"The movie didn't do very well and not many people related to it, but Mike is a very good friend of mine so I was happy to oblige him," Chopra says.

The 64-year-old grandfather of three takes criticism in his stride - his work has been labelled "hocus-pocus" and he has been called a charlatan, but Chopra says he's not offended.

"I am grateful I have critics. It's a learning curve. I use that as feedback to see how we can improve what we are doing."

When Chopra isn't giving lectures or writing self-help books, he's challenging himself in ways most of us couldn't imagine. He takes a week-long vow of silence each year and had an unforgettable experience at a Thai monastery when he spent a month begging for his food on the streets.

"You go as a group, go on the streets, you have a begging bowl. There is a tradition in Thailand that when you see a monk you give them food, it's a part of the way monks are fed. It's a lesson in humility and it's wonderful."

He jokes that his wife doesn't join him unless there is a Four Seasons Hotel nearby. "Only if there's a luxury hotel nearby in case they get panicked by the rats or mosquitoes, but it doesn't matter to me," he says.

Clearly, the guru must have some money.

- Herald on Sunday

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