Imagine for a moment what it must be like to be Deepak Chopra's son.
You're lounging around with Dad, the two of you in modern white overstuffed chairs, dressed nearly identically in collarless black jackets, jeans and T-shirts. You're supposed to be having a conversation, some everyday give-and-take; you're supposed to be talking about dogs, as a matter of fact. But then somebody asks your father yet another Big Question — so, Deepak, what, really, should we know about human consciousness? — and Mr. Wellbeing, Mr. Mind-Body-Spirit, Mr. I Know All the Answers is off and running.
"Well, I use the word 'consciousness' synonymously with 'spirituality' or 'soul,'" he begins. "There are many ways that scientists today view consciousness."
For the next six minutes, he's rocketing through a guided asteroid-belt tour of the science of consciousness as understood by Deepak Chopra, guru to the stars. At first, it's simple enough, with talk about how the electrical activity in the brain allows us to visualize a sunset or a rainbow. But then it gets increasingly gnarly, delving into the theories of the late British astrophysicist Sir Arthur Eddington and his modern-day counterpart Stephen Hawking, into Planck scales and the space-time continuum, into Platonic values (truth and goodness) and divine qualities (love and compassion), then into the poetry of the Persian mystic Rumi (" ... do not think that the drop alone becomes the Ocean — the Ocean, too, becomes the drop") and winding up with the theology of Jesus, Muhammad, Buddha and Lao Tzu.
You can take it no more. "Ladies and gentlemen," you say, gesturing toward your father. "My childhood."
This actually happened one evening this week, onstage at USC's Bovard Auditorium, where Deepak and Gotham Chopra spoke about Gotham's new book, written with his father, "Walking Wisdom: Three Generations, Two Dogs, and the Search for a Happy Life."
The book's conceit is that Gotham is a dog guy, Deepak is not. As a child, Gotham and his sister successfully prevailed upon their father to get a dog, and now Gotham, 35, is himself a father, with a son and a dog named Cleo. In the book, he and Deepak walk the dog, travel the world and explore the meaning of life.
Gotham, it also becomes clear, keeps Deepak in the real world.
There's a hint of this in the invitation to the USC event, in which Gotham writes: "I have a confession to make: I eat meat. And I drink Coke. Daily. You'd be surprised just how much consternation this often generates with my famous father Deepak Chopra's millions of followers. 'Not vegan?' 'You cuss?' 'Use Advil?' 'Hate the Yankees?' Welcome to my world."
A journalist and documentary filmmaker who lives in Santa Monica, Gotham in public is down-to-earth, wryly trying to tether his father from slipping away into orbit. The two speak by phone eight to 10 times a day, Deepak said.
When the moderator of the USC panel, Dean of Religious Life Varun Soni, asked Deepak how he stays grounded, the 63-year-old physician, motivational speaker and mega-bestselling author turned toward his son.
"Gotham, his sister and my wife don't take me seriously," he said, a bit ruefully. "If your whole family doesn't take you seriously, it's hard to take yourself seriously."
For much of the evening, the Chopras followed what must be a well-worn script. Gotham listened attentively while students asked Deepak for advice (sometimes prefacing it by telling him what big fans their parents, or even grandparents, were). Deepak was happy to oblige, dishing out offerings such as:
"Don't take things too seriously. Enjoy them. … But don't ignore your rich inner life."
"Happiness is a continuum of moments that are not resisted. It means to live at the cusp ... of choiceless awareness and subtle intention."
"Seek the company of those who are seeking the truth, and run away from those who have found it."
Gotham bided his time but got in some nuggets of his own. He told the story of how, a couple of weeks ago, he was visiting his father in New York and returned home to the Chopra apartment late at night to find Deepak in the living room meditating with a neighbor: rapper and music producer Sean "Diddy" Combs.
"Do you know who that is?" Gotham said he asked his father later. "And my dad's like, 'Yeah, it's Sean.' 'Do you know what Sean does?' He's like, 'I don't know, he's in the music business, somebody told me.'"
It is, in a sense, the universal father-son story. You can be a bestselling, compulsively Twittering, hyper-connected, world-traveling, 21st century New Age guru, but in the end, you're just another slightly out-of-it middle-aged dad. Deepak Chopra may think he's on the cutting edge, but, Gotham said, he's just "not as up to speed" as he thinks.