Chopra Brothers: Separate Paths But Common Bond
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE, from NPR News. If you are at all interested in issues pertaining to health and wellness, then you probably know Deepak Chopra from the many books he's written, more than 70, about the mind-body connection. But no one knows him quite like his brother Sanjiv, who's also an author himself.
And now the brothers have teamed up for a new, rather different kind of book. It's a co-memoir titled, "Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny, and the American Dream." The book describes the brothers' experiences growing up in India, training as doctors, emigrating to the United States, and the linked, but eventually separate paths they took in medicine.
Deepak Chopra is a leader in integrated medicine. Sanjiv Chopra is a professor of medicine and faculty dean for continuing education at Harvard Medical School, and they are both with us now. Welcome. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
DR. DEEPAK CHOPRA: We are with you in our physical damage.
MARTIN: That was Deepak.
DR. SANJIV CHOPRA: Thank you. Delighted to be here.
MARTIN: Sanjiv, I wanted to ask how this particular book came about, and the idea for this book. You each wrote separate chapters. You did not share them in the course of the process.
S. CHOPRA: That is correct. So, you know, we had an enchanting, absolutely enchanting childhood growing up in India. And our father was in the Indian army, in the medical corps, and every three years, he'd get posted. We have so many stories about our childhood, and then coming to America, where, for me, in Western medicine, many of my professors really packed my parachute, nurtured my career, altered the way I think, the way I write, the way I speak.
And so I called Deepak and I said, Deepak, what do you think about sort of an autobiography the two of us would write? You know, they say when you are - if you have a near-death experience, your life flashes back. Well, we could sort of achieve this without dying.
MARTIN: That's a lovely thought. Deepak, what about this idea?
D. CHOPRA: To that, I die every day, to yesterday.
MARTIN: But what about the idea of not sharing your thoughts? Was that just for practical reasons, because you're both so busy? Or is it that you really just wanted to see what each other would come up with?
D. CHOPRA: No, it was not to be influenced by each other, to authentically recall our own lives and our memories. But, surprisingly enough, we didn't have any disagreements about any memory that we had.
MARTIN: You do tell some wonderful - both of you tell some absolutely wonderful stories. And, in fact, I feel bad, because we're only going to be able to scratch the surface in our conversation today, and so many things we could talk about, like medicine, the course of medicine, what is wellness, what is healing. But I did want to start, Deepak, with your father, who sounded like just such a marvelous and special person, who was a physician, and influenced you both.
D. CHOPRA: Well, I like to say that Sanjiv took care of the body, and I took care of the soul, but our father took care of both. He was an amazing diagnostician, an amazing clinician, an amazing teacher, all of which are Sanjiv's qualities. But he also had huge interest in, you know, what we might call - today we call consciousness, or self-awareness. He was compassionate, empathetic, always full of joy, also at peace at all times. He, you know, he lived a life of great equanimity, and he died also in equanimity. He had a premonition; he told our mother, say goodbye to the kids, and that night, he passed on.
MARTIN: What do you think was his most important legacy to you?
D. CHOPRA: His most important legacy was healing. I mean, if I think, if I have one purpose in life, it would be summarized in that one word, heal, as in wholeness, you now. Healing is the return of the memory of wholeness. So it's not just physical. It's emotional. It's spiritual. It's environmental. It's in the broadest context, he was a healer.
MARTIN: Sanjiv, what about you?
S. CHOPRA: For me, his greatest legacy was unconditional love, totally nonjudgmental. Everyone who met him was touched by him. I remember, as a young person leaving Jabalpur, central India, after he'd been there for three years. And in those three years, he had seen thousands of patients. People were coming from all over India. They were coming in chauffeur-driven Mercedes cars, and they were coming barefoot, or in a bullock cart or on a bicycle, and our mother would watch the scene and say to the secretary: I don't think those people can afford the $2 fees.
Don't charge them a fee. Ask them where they came from. Did they come by train or bus? Give them the bus fare, the train fare and pack a sandwich for them and give - serve them hot tea. So three years later, he's posted to a different town in India and we are in the train, in the army cantonment on the platform and there must have been a thousand people at the platform to wish him goodbye. And many of them were crying. Dr. Chopra our savior is leaving us. What are we going to do? And that was the first time for me that the seed was planted, maybe I want to become a physician like him. But...
MARTIN: Well, you know, you also tell an interesting story in the book about how he diagnosed you. Was it, remember when you had...
S. CHOPRA: Right. Right.
MARTIN: And you suddenly lost your sight while you were....
S. CHOPRA: Right.
MARTIN: ...and it was terror - it had to be terrifying. And your father was not at home and someone described the symptoms over the phone and he was able to understand that you were having a reaction - an allergic reaction...
S. CHOPRA: Right. Right.
MARTIN: ...to something - a medicine that you had been given. And I'm thinking of this and I'm thinking on the one hand, how marvelous. On the other hand, for you to be in the same field, I do wonder what pressure that must have been for both of you to live up to this...
S. CHOPRA: Sure.
MARTIN: ...standard. I mean...
S. CHOPRA: Yeah. He was brilliant. He was compassionate. He was an amazing physician. He became a dean. He became a professor. He wrote books. He did clinical research. So you're absolutely right.
MARTIN: You wanted to become a rock star instead just to have a different...
S. CHOPRA: Yeah. For a second I wanted to be a cricketer, you know, and I played a lot of sports. But I think I chose not to go into cardiology for that very reason because he was a brilliant physician but his specialty was cardiology and I decided to embrace gastroenterology and then hepatology, which is liver disease.
MARTIN: Deepak, what about you? Did you ever have those feelings?
D. CHOPRA: As a young boy, I wanted to be a writer and I wanted to write fiction. In my mind, fiction is the truth and nonfiction is a lie because, you know, fiction is your deepest longings. You reveal yourself in your fictional characters. And my father, of course, wanted both of us to be doctors, so on my 14th birthday, he gifted me three books: Sinclair Lewis, Somerset Maugham and another book called "Magnificent Obsession." The protagonists in all these books were physicians. So he kind of fooled me into wanting to become a doctor as well as a writer.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm speaking with brothers Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra. They are both physicians. Sanjiv is a professor of medicine and faculty dean for continuing education at Harvard Medical School. Deepak specializes in the mind-body connection. He's the author of more than 70 books. Their co-memoir is titled "Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream."
Deepak, one of the things about the book I think will fascinate many people who follow your work is that you describe in part the process by which you followed the path that you have now chosen. And I think for people who are trained in Western medicine might be particularly interesting in that you describe kind of the push and pull and how you really changed your life and your worldview and...
D. CHOPRA: Well, the subjective part of the reason why I went this direction was my own experiences with meditation and coming into contact with the great teacher Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. That was the personal part. But the other part of me was my training in neuroendocrinology, where I was seeing the connection between events in the mind and events in the brain - if you want to term it like that. We were studying the molecules of emotion. And we started this whole idea that where ever a thought goes, a molecule follows. And the molecule is not just in the brain, it's everywhere in your body. There are receptors to these molecules in your immune system, in your gut, in your heart. So when you say have a gut feeling or my heart is sad or I'm bursting with joy, you're not speaking metaphorically, you're speaking literally. Your mind is not in your brain. It only speaks in English with an Indian accent in the brain.
D. CHOPRA: It's in every cell of your body. But as I explored this, I said, you know, so the mind and the body are inseparable, but what's the origin of both? You know, we talk about spirit. What is that? What is consciousness? And can we confine consciousness in the body at all? Can we squeeze our larger identity through the volume of a body in the span of a lifetime? And I came to the conclusion that there was a scientific paradigm here which was very consistent with the wisdom traditions.
MARTIN: Sanjiv, I wanted to ask, did you - it is true that people for centuries, really, have understood or tried to search for that connection between mind and body and that which we can see, that which we cannot see. And I think your brother - among others - has gone a very long way toward helping people to understand the importance of this. But there are still many people who are very skeptical about his body of work, his way of thinking. I wanted to ask you, as a person who has remained within the traditional practice of Western medicine - first of all, does it hurt you when people are criticizing your brother or think his work is woo-woo, or - and what do you think about it?
S. CHOPRA: So I think Deepak took a very daring step more than two decades ago when he embraced the Eastern traditions and the wisdom and Ayurvedic medicine. One of my favorite quotes is from Soren Kierkegaard, the great Danish philosopher and theologian, who once said: To dare is to lose one's footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose one's self. I think Deepak found himself. And initially I was concerned about him. And then what's happened over the last two decades is that the science is catching up with the subjective experience that people have had for 5,000 years.
Initially, I was a skeptic about learning meditation. Deepak had learned it, his wife had learned it, my wife learned it and the three of them were talking about it and saying how wonderful it is. And I said to all three of them, good for you.
S. CHOPRA: I don't need it. But a month later I...
MARTIN: Get me a beer.
S. CHOPRA: Yeah. Get me a beer and a single malt scotch. And then I learned meditation. And now I tell my students and colleagues, I say you should meditate once a day and if you don't have time to do that you should meditate twice a day.
D. CHOPRA: Actually, thanks to Sanjiv, now I lecture at the Harvard Medical School course Update in Internal Medicine that he directs, and I've been doing it for 11 years now.
S. CHOPRA: Yeah. And Deepak is one of the highlights and I have to be careful that there is no nepotism. And, you know, the chair of medicine at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Bob Glickman, said Sanjiv, we should invite your brother to give a keynote. And I said Bob, you invite him.
S. CHOPRA: And then I turned to my colleague, Martin Abrahamson, who co-directs the course with me, and I said Martin, you'll introduce him and I'll sit in the front row with a big smile, and I'm very proud of my brother but I don't even want an appearance that I'm somehow promoting him. So we do it very well. But it's really one of the highlights of a seven-day-long flagship course.
MARTIN: Does it hurt your feelings that your brother has to - feels that he must do this?
D. CHOPRA: No.
D. CHOPRA: We have a bond, emotional and spiritual. I don't think we ever hurt each other's feelings.
MARTIN: Well, what about that? I did want to ask that. Is that true? Sanjiv, is it true?
S. CHOPRA: You know, yeah, well, people ask me often, do you have any trace of jealousy, your brother is so famous? And I'm really fortunate. I'm not jealous of anyone on this planet. And I'm really proud of what he does. I can go anywhere in the world and if I'm wearing my badge, identification or hand my passport, people say, you're not related to Deepak? And this is true, it could be in Athens, Greece, at the airline counter, it could be at a Starbucks. And that actually happened about nine years ago and I get a cafe latte at a Starbucks and I'm wearing my badge, I go to pay and that young lady behind the counter says, you're not related to Deepak are you? I said, yeah, I am. He's my brother. We love him. My mother loves. We read every book. The cafe latte is on me.
MARTIN: Oh, well, OK.
D. CHOPRA: So I step outside...
MARTIN: I think I should try this.
S. CHOPRA: Yeah. I stepped outside...
MARTIN: We resemble each other. Our glasses are similar. I'm going to try that.
S. CHOPRA: So I stepped outside, I called him and I said Deepak, where are you? He said I'm in Sydney, Australia. I said it took you 52 years but you finally came through.
S. CHOPRA: Free coffee.
MARTIN: Free coffee. Well, as I mentioned, there are so many things that we could talk about with the book. I mean your experiences in medicine I think are fascinating, and including some of the humiliations that each of you suffered in the course of your training and the unfairnesses, the craziness, in some ways, also the - your experience as immigrants. I mean there are so many things that we could talk about. But because the title of the book is "Brotherhood," I was interested in if each of you had some lessons for people who might have troubling sibling relationships, relationships where there is conflict. It's interesting that our siblings are among our most enduring bonds. I mean they are the people who know us throughout our lives.
D. CHOPRA: Here's what I've discovered. If you want to do really important things in life and big things in life, you can't do anything by yourself. And your best teams are your friends and your siblings. We share a passion, which is healing. We have shared passion. We have shared vision. We complement each other as friends and we have an emotional bond. What more could you ask?
MARTIN: Sanjiv, what do you say?
S. CHOPRA: Well, I often think of, when I discuss it with friends and colleagues, is sort of broaden the question and ask the question: What leads to happiness? And there's some interesting research and it turns out that the happiest people on this planet, the number one attribute is that they have a lot of good friends. They have, you know, good family as well. And sometimes your family are your best friends. But your friends are your chosen family. So seize every opportunity to spend time and celebrate things small and big with your friends. That's the first attribute. The second attribute is the ability to forgive. And Nelson Mandela, 27 years in prison, when he's released he's asked the question, do you harbor resentment against your captives? And he said I have no bitterness. I have no resentment. Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. So friends and forgiveness. And the third attribute is from Albert Schweitzer, who was a physician, theologian, humanitarian, got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952. And when he got it he was so humble. He said, now I have to go earn it. But he once said, I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I'm certain of, the ones amongst you who will be truly happy are those who have sought and found how to serve. So I've distilled it into three Fs: friends, forgiveness and for others. And if anyone can do all those three things, they're bound to be happy. Albert Schweitzer also once said success is not the key to happiness, happiness is the key to success.
MARTIN: Interesting. I gave Sanjiv the first word. So Deepak, I shall give you the last word. I have a question but you can feel free to answer your own.
D. CHOPRA: No, ask your question.
MARTIN: Well, you've written so many books. Is there a particular message you would wish people to get from this one?
D. CHOPRA: From this one?
MARTIN: This book. Yeah.
D. CHOPRA: Oh yeah. Your family, your values, everything that conditioned you in your childhood will influence the rest of your life. So the greatest, biggest, best profession and the most sacred profession is parenthood and we learned that from our parents.
MARTIN: Deepak and Sanjiv Chopra are both widely respected physicians. Deepak specializes in integrated medicine. He's the author of many books - more than 70. Sanjiv is a professor at Harvard Medical School. Their dual memoir just out is "Brotherhood: Dharma, Destiny and the American Dream." And they were both kind enough to join us here in our Washington, D.C., studios. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
D. CHOPRA: Thanks, Michel.
S. CHOPRA: Thank you, Michel. What an honor.
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MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.
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