Once when we were visiting Beijing, China my interpreter and I received a call from one of our friends. Mr. Hu was a successful real estate investor who had decided to put some of his gains into his private passion – Taoist and Chan Buddhist studies. He opened a lovely Zen meditation center in one of city’s many skyscrapers. The center hosted lectures and training sessions with some of the few remaining old masters.
Mr. Hu was excited when he called. He wanted us to come on over and meet Deepak Chopra. I asked what Deepak was doing in China, promoting a new book?
“No, selling his Indian herbal medicine” he replied.
“Are you joking? Deepak Chopra was in China selling Indian herbal medicine at your place!” Book sales must really be down.
“Yes, and he needs someone to translate from English to Chinese.”
“Okay, so let me get this straight, your friend, Deepak Chopra, is in China, selling Indian herbal medicine, and he doesn’t even have an interpreter.” I had my interpreter ask Mr. Hu.
“Yes,” he said.
“Does he have an entourage or at least an assistant or two?”
“No, I picked him up from the airport yesterday.”
So this is how Deepak rolls…? I thought.
“Okay, we’ll be right over.” It was going to be interesting.
We headed over to Mr. Hu’s place. We had to wade through a sea of people carrying live chickens under their arms to get into the building. Throngs of people are normal in China, but you don’t see live chickens that often in Beijing, at least in the lobbies of office buildings. This building was some sort of innovative live and work development, so I guess you get a little bit of everything. One of the three elevators was out of service, which meant we had to pack in even more tightly than usual.
Mr. Hu’s meditation garden is beautiful. He had Chen Yang, one of the best Feng Shui masters in the city and our Feng Shui teacher, consult on the design and layout. It was tranquil due to the second layer of windows he had installed – a sharp contrast to the sea of chaos at the entrance of the building.
When we arrived, Mr. Hu’s receptionist greeted us with tea and ushered us into a side room. We walked in and saw Mr. Hu and one of his assistants sitting on cushions. Across from him sat an Indian man smoking a Hookah who I assumed was Deepak. He certainly looked different in person.
Mr. Hu started with introductions. Then he told us that Deepak had been telling him about his Zen philosophy. It must have been a great discussion as Mr. Hu’s English is pretty bad.
Deepak started to tell us about his herbs. They were traditional Ayurvedic medicine and could be inhaled directly. We politely declined his offer to try them. Then he handed us a brochure with a price list. To say the design and layout were rough is a bit of a compliment.
Now, I had never met Deepak Chopra, but I was pretty certain he wasn’t pedaling herbs and smoking a hookah in China with a second rate brochure. Still, sometimes celebrities fall on hard times…
I leaned over and quietly told my interpreter “This guy is not the ‘real’ Deepak Chopra, but let’s try to avoid embarrassing him and Mr. Hu in front of his staff.”
“Deepak, it’s nice to meet you. Sorry we are late, but could you tell us about your Zen philosophy, my colleague will translate into Chinese for you.” I said.
Deepak said in a high pitched Indian accent “My philosophy is not Zen. It’s much deeper.”
“Really? Okay, what is it then?”
“It is my own unique creation. I invented it myself.”
“That is great, but can you tell us about it”
“My philosophy is so deep there is no way to describe it.”
“Okay, this is also true about direct experience with Tao and Zen. But they still have 10,000 books to point you in the right direction. You have even written a number of books. Couldn’t you at least expound a few words on your philosophy?”
“I am much deeper than that! My philosophy cannot be explained!”
My interpreter couldn’t take it anymore “If you cannot even outline a few basic points for us, how do you expect me to interpret for you? Unless you can give direct mind transmission you will have to use conventional methods to communicate to those less enlightened than yourself!”
At this point, I produced my card and handed it to Deepak. Deepak handed his back in return. At it turns out, his name was Deepak Chopra – Deepak Chopra XXXXXXX. The XXXXXXX part was in small font, under his first and middle name. It looked like some sort of title. Native Chinese could hardly be expected to tell the difference. He simply used his first and middle name to make people in China think that he was the ‘real’ Deepak Chopra!
Copping a famous Guru’s identity and throwing in a few inane comments about Zen probably greatly helped the herb sales. In the US, Chinese Fakirs arrive and pretend to be real Reincarnated Taoist Bodhisattva or Kung Fu Supreme Grand Masters. The wheel turns full circle when an Indian poser shows up in China pretending to be a popular American Guru.
Later, in private, we told Mr. Hu. Ever the good Zen adept, he had a hearty laugh at himself. At lunch he proceeded to use the Koan technique to give Deepak XXXXXXX a lesson in authentic Zen.
“If you speak of Deepak Chopra, then that is not the true Deepak Chopra.”
Tao and Zen, everyone needs a lesson.