Dr. Deepak Chopra is a spiritual guru and one of the world’s most famous practitioners of alternative medicine. The best-selling author of more than 70 books, including Super Brain, The Soul of Leadership and War of the Worldviews, Chopra is also the founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing in California and the Chopra Foundation, a nonprofit aimed at advancing holistic healing and education. A supporter of President Obama, Chopra has recently waded into New York City politics by endorsing Reshma Saujani for public advocate. City & State Editor Morgan Pehme spoke with Chopra about why he has decided to support Saujani and asked him whether politics can be a means to achieving happiness.
The following is an edited transcript.
City & State: How did you get to know Reshma Saujani?
Deepak Chopra: I met her first 10 years ago [when] she was working on John Kerry’s campaign. And then she was working later on President Obama’s campaign—and actually she helped me do a major fundraiser for President Obama’s second term, so I’ve been following her for a long time now.
C&S: What makes you think she is going to be a good public advocate for New York City?
DC: In many ways I’ve been partially coaching her, too—I teach a course on leadership at the Kellogg School of Management. She is a good listener, she knows how to emotionally bond with people, she’s very specific in her goals that she wants to achieve, she’s responsible, she takes initiative and she’s done already, I think, some really good work with her nonprofit, Girls Who Code. I go to the inner city in urban New York, to Queens and other places, to teach African-American youths skills in self-awareness—and she has been going there with me [as part of her] program Girls Who Code, which is basically [aimed at] getting disadvantaged youths to learn skills that will give them jobs. So I think she comes from a place of service more than a place of ego, and I really believe in her. She has enjoyed the support of President Obama, and she has already worked as a deputy public advocate, so I think she is the right candidate.
C&S: You have supported President Obama and other national candidates. Is this the first time you have ever endorsed a candidate for local office?
DC: Yes, it is the first time I have ever [done so], and it’s taken me a while to do that. I’ve gotten to know her over a period of time.
C&S: Does it make a difference to you that she is an Indian American or a South Asian American?
DC: It does make a difference that her parents are immigrants. Immigration is a big issue and an important issue for a lot of people, locally and nationally. Her parents are actually from Africa, from East Africa, of Indian origin, but immigrants, so it does make a difference, yes.
C&S: In 2011 you did an interview with Playboy in which you said President Obama should be a one-term president—I believe you’ve since come back to feeling positive about him—but I was wondering if there is something inherently disillusioning and difficult for people to stomach about politics?
DC: That article was a little misinterpreted. What I was saying was he would be a better world leader than a political leader, but the headline was “Why [Obama] Shouldn’t Run for Office a Second Time,” and so it was misinterpreted, in my view. I think what happens is when you’re running for office, you have to compromise, and that’s the nature of politics. I think there comes a time when great leaders have to relinquish politics if they really want to be leaders.
C&S: Do you think that politics is something that everyone should participate in? Most of our readers’ lives revolve around the field in some capacity, and I was curious if you think that engaging in politics can be a means of achieving happiness.
DC: It’s a means to become wiser and [more] realistic, and a means to maneuver your way to leadership by actually looking at all of the power mongering and influence peddling and, in many ways, corruption that happens when people are not mature enough to be leaders. It’s a great learning experience.
C&S: It seems as if it is a great challenge to one’s character as well.
DC: Definitely. [Laughs] It’s the biggest challenge to one’s character.
C&S: What would you hope that Saujani achieves as public advocate? Where would you like her to concentrate her energies?
DC: The people who need her help most: the disenfranchised, the disadvantaged and the poor.
C&S: Who are the politicians you think we should look to as a model of virtue, as a model for us to follow?
DC: I look at international politicians like Nelson Mandela, like the former president of Costa Rica Óscar Arias [Sánchez]. There are a few who are really stellar examples of how you can be an amazing political leader, as well as an amazing leader for the rest of the world; we have very few of those. I do admire President Obama a lot as a great example of somebody who offers hope, trust, stability and compassion, and who manages to do very well given the opposition that he has to deal with. I think Nancy Pelosi is a very smart and elegant leader as well.
C&S: So many people around the world revere your lessons and look to you for wisdom. Would you ever run for office yourself?
DC: No, I would not. Never.
C&S: Why is that?
DC: First of all, I’m not the right age. Secondly, I’ve spent my life in a place where I can speak my truths without having to ever defend or compromise or do deals with people, and the nature of politics is that you have to compromise. The best leaders do that—even our president right now. [He] has to deal with a very strident, polarized opposition in Congress, and in order to do anything it’s like he [has] to fight the Mafia.