NEW YORK Before he became known for promoting holistic health and spirituality, Deepak Chopra adhered to traditional Western medicine as an endocrinologist in Boston. He eventually questioned this approach, returning to the centuries-old Indian system of Ayurveda to find a balance between faith and science.
"I wanted to extend my idea of healing," Chopra said in a recent interview. "If you don't understand spiritual experience, you'll never understand healing."
Now, at 61, the physician and best-selling author hopes to extend conventional thought again even more controversially in "The Third Jesus: The Christ We Cannot Ignore" (Harmony Books). Chopra challenges Christian doctrine while presenting an alternative: Jesus as a state of mind, rather than the historical rabbi of Nazareth or son of God.
The third perspective which Chopra calls "a cosmic Christ" looks at Jesus as a spiritual guide whose teaching embraces all humanity, not just the church built in his name. Chopra argues that Christ speaks to the individual who wants to find God as a personal experience.
"I said to myself, 'Why not write a book that takes Jesus' teachings and it doesn't matter if you're Christian or not and learn from this and improve your life,"' he told The Associated Press at the Chopra Center and Spa in midtown Manhattan.
Considered a pioneer of mind-body alternative medicine, Chopra is president of the Alliance for a New Humanity, and he has been listed among Time magazine's top 100 heroes and icons of the 20th century. His books have been translated into dozens of languages, with topics that range from aging and sexuality to golf and Buddha's path to enlightenment. In 1995, he co-founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing with Dr. David Simon, which officially opened the following year.
Fascination with Jesus' life began during his lessons while attending a Roman Catholic school in India, Chopra said. Though his parents were from Hindu and Sikh families, "if you were relatively affluent, education was always in the Christian school because of the missionaries."
He moved to the United States in 1970 after graduating from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences. Chopra did his internship in New Jersey, and residency and fellowship at various institutions, including Boston, Tufts and Harvard universities. He also was chief of staff at Boston Regional Medical Center for two years.
His interest in Hinduism and medicine evolved while observing a mind-body connection in his research, and a chance encounter in 1985 with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at a conference in Washington, D.C.
"I first leaned toward Ayurveda medicine and then actually went on to study other wisdom traditions of the world ... this happened during my training in neuro endocrinology where I saw what happened in consciousness in biology," Chopra explained.
"I was just extending my understanding of healing from physical to mental to social to environmental," he said. "That's what the 'Alliance' is all about ... healing the body politic, healing the world."
Chopra devotes substantial time to his own spiritual development. He meditates and exercises daily, though he occasionally enjoys a triple hazelnut latte.
During the interview, Chopra switches his Blackberry, covered in an orange case, to vibrate as he speaks on faith, politics and a list of projects like a new comic book launched with his son and Sir Richard Branson. The in-demand speaker is at ease quoting Scripture or talking quantum physics. He has studied the Bible closely, reading it hundreds of times.
Though "The Third Jesus" was on his mind for 25 years, it took him six months to complete once he began writing. The next book will be a fictional account of Jesus' missing years.
"Where else do you read a story of the Son of God being executed by their own?" he said. "It is dramatic. It's three years of his teaching, and it has shaped the world for 2,000 years."
In a review, Harvey Cox, Hollis professor of divinity at Harvard, said "The Third Christ" is "bound to provoke both admiration and condemnation." Chopra references the New Testament and Gnostic Gospels to deconstruct church doctrine and conservative Christianity on issues such as war, abortion, women's rights and homophobia.
"I see blogs every day that are negative and very nasty because this is not a literalist interpretation of Jesus," Chopra said. "My book is about Jesus as a state of consciousness. If I can aspire maybe not achieve but aspire to be in that state of mind and if a lot of people were aspiring to be in that state of mind this would be a better world.
"I emphasize this over and over again that whatever we do is about improving ourselves and improving the world."