New Age icon helps kids explore big questions

On his book tours, best-selling author and spiritual icon Deepak Chopra usually draws throngs of fans. But his most recent book tour through New York City drew just a few dozen readers to each store. He’s not worried, though.

Chopra is passionate about bringing his philosophy and spiritual ideas to a new audience. “Fire in the Heart: A Spiritual Guide for Teens” (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, $14.95), released earlier this month, targets children 12 and older.

“When I give my lectures and workshops, I see more and more kids coming up and asking me questions,” said Chopra. “I write about very complex things, and I wanted to make them simple — without making them simplistic. I hope I did it.”

Chopra has written more than 40 books on spirituality and alternative medicine, including the best-selling “Quantum Healing” and “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.” His books have sold more than 20 million copies in 20 years, but “Fire in the Heart” is his first book for teens.

The story revolves around two characters: Chopra at age 15 and a wise old teacher named Baba. Over four days of dialogue and adventure, Baba leads Chopra through an exploration of four questions: Do I have a soul? How do wishes come true? What is the supreme force in the universe? And how can I change the world?

Baba is a composite character drawn from two key spiritual teachers in his childhood: a Buddhist monk whom his mother consulted regularly for knowledge and his grandmother.

At age 15, Chopra said, he was full of “existential angst.” Baba teaches the young Chopra that every person has a soul that is connected to a supreme life force, sometimes called “spirit” or “God,” running throughout all creation.

Even as Chopra claims the vital spiritual questions are the same for teens in India in the 1950s and teens in the 21st century United States, he said American kids face special perils: the media, the advertising industry, and a culture of “instant gratification.”

“The affluence that we have does stand in the way of our exploring and our becoming intimate with the mystery of our existence,” he said.

For example, with video games “kids can basically exercise all of their impulses and fantasies very quickly, so they get bored very quickly.”

Chopra hopes that his book will reach kids before they become jaded.

“It’s really important to send those messages to our children,” he said, “before they get hypnotized by society.”

One of Baba’s central challenges to the young Chopra is a rethinking of the notion of evil. Evil, teaches Baba, is not an absolute or cosmic force; it’s a slippery concept that changes over time and place.

“I think if you’re a fundamentalist in any religion, then, yes, you’ll find this material threatening,” said Chopra. But not, he said, “if you have a good understanding of the wisdom in your religion and where that religion comes from.”

The author’s home base is the Chopra Center for Well Being in Carlsbad, Calif., which he founded in 1995 as a seminar and retreat center.

His travel schedule for book tours, speaking engagements and international retreats doesn’t disturb his spiritual practice, he says, because “I always know that I’m not moving anywhere; only my body is, so that’s not a big deal.”

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