Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment
HarperSanFrancisco, May 2007
288 pp.; $24.95 (cloth)
Putting words in the Buddha’s mouth is risky business. I know; I’ve done it. Unless you’re faithful to the Pali canon—and maybe a Sanskrit text or two—let’s face it, you’re writing fiction. That brings us to the latest retelling of the life of the Buddha: Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment by Deepak Chopra.
Deepak, as his millions of fans call him, is an unlikely chronicler of the Buddha. In case you’re unfamiliar with him, Deepak is the wildly popular physician-turned-New-Age-guru and author of such bestsellers as Seven Spiritual Laws of Success, How to Know God, and Ageless Body, Timeless Mind. He first came on the scene in the 1980s as a proponent of mind-body medicine, introducing mainstream America to Ayurveda, India’s traditional healing system, through books like Quantum Healing and Perfect Health. Since then, he’s added books focusing on spirituality to the mix. It’s dubious whether Deepak is “the preeminent voice of Eastern philosophy in the West,” as his publicity materials claim, but he’s certainly one of the most prolific. In all, his forty-plus books have sold more than twenty million copies worldwide, invariably striking a collective nerve with topics ranging from love, family, prosperity, and consciousness to yoga, world peace, aging, and life after death. And now the Buddha.
Buddha biographies are nothing new, of course. The urge to set down the Buddha’s life and legend dates back several millennia to the Pali and Sanskrit canons, continuing through the centuries with various commentaries and histories, up to florid Victorian works like Sir Edwin Arnold’s epic poem, The Light of Asia.A rash of retellings in modern dress have attempted the more problematic task of filling in the gaps. That’s where Chopra’s Buddha comes in.
Deepak calls his book a “re-imagining” of the Buddha’s life—”fictional but psychologically true.” He based it not on any of the traditional sources but on tales he “heard over and over” as a child growing up in India. Rather than cracking the books to refresh his memory, Deepak “looked up everything on Google first,” then toured key places in the Buddha’s life, such as Bodh Gaya, where Siddhartha was enlightened. “That was more useful to me than reading,” he says.
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