There’s something deeply cynical bout Deepak Chopra’s The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes.
It’s not merely that it’s the latest of Chopra’s many Seven Spiritual Laws books, which began with the publication of 1994’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success and include …for Parents, …of Yoga and …of Love.
Certainly it seems like a new coat of paint applied to a pre-written book in order to cash in on the emerging cultural popularity and importance of superheroes, and Chopra’s late career has intersected with superhero media of late thanks to his son Gotham Chopra’s involvement in the failed publisher Virgin Comics (now Liquid Comics) and some high-profile appearances at Comic-Con (including sharing panels with Grant Morrison). But Chopra doesn’t just repeat the same seven spiritual laws—for example, Superheroes and Success only share a single law; Superheroes and Yoga another—although ultimately the philosophies behind those laws, and the recommendations for fulfilling them, are the same.
No, more problematic is Chopra’s bluntly and repeatedly confessed ignorance of superheroes, at least of the comic book and movie variety he cites as examples to illustrate the laws (Batman, Storm, Iron Man, Dr. Strange and even The Beyonder are among them).
Son Gotham, who gets a “with” byline under his father’s name on the cover, is a constant presence in the book, penning the foreword and figuring prominently as his father’s gateway into the world of pop culture superheroes (as opposed to the religious and mythic superheroes Deepak is familiar with). Each chapter opens with Deepak recounting a conversation between the two.
These will usually start with Deepak talking about the connectivity of the individual with the universe, and Gotham saying, “I get it. You’re talking about Storm from the X-Men.” Then Deepak through Gotham will relate a storyline from a comic book series to illustrate the law.
Each chapter, however, includes an awkward transition where Deepak will go from the curious student of superheroes to making definitive statements about them. The second half of each chapter consists of Deepak Chopra saying things like, “Superheroes don’t waste time or energy in self-righteous morality or judgment of the moral actions of others.”
Superheroes do, superheroes don’t, over and over, so that he shifts from playing dumb to playing authoritative, which is supremely unconvincing (Especially if you’ve read a lot of comics; much of what he says superheroes do or don’t do will fall apart in your head as you read, and you remember all the times Batman or Superman did this or that, or if you think over-much about the morally flawed Marvel superheroes or the post-Punisher antiheroes or the post-Geoff Johns Hal Jordan and “New 52” heroes).
Chopra’s expertise on superheroes is further challenged by his statements early on, in which he calls Stan Lee “the creator of the Marvel Universe” instead of the “co-creator,” or a head-scratching reference to Grant Morrison, who has only written one, maybe two books a month for the past five years, “The most prolific writer in the comic-book industry today” (something the 3-6 books-per-month Brian Michael Bendis might have something to say about). These are little, even petty things, of course, but little things at which superhero fans—the presumed intended audience—tend to think of as big things, and will catch and glom onto in ways a general audience might not.
If the presentation is often highly dubious, however, the advice itself is good.
The superheroes Chopra is actually talking about in the latter half of each chapter aren’t the ones from comics or films, of the sorts he and Gotham cite or that artist Jeevan Kang creates to illustrate the cover and each chapter—but ideal ones of his own imagination.
They are essentially morally, ethically and emotionally perfected examples that act in the world to better it. If they have superpowers, they are the same all of us have—or have the potential to unlock—and these are the heroes who actually thoroughly embody the laws Chopra discusses.
I think he could have saved a lot of readers, particularly those most likely to be interested in such a work, a great deal of cognitive dissonance by making this clear, but Chopra’s writing isn’t exactly challenging or complicated, rhetorically or otherwise. His voice is clear, simple and engaging, but that simplicity often comes at the cost of accuracy and more compelling, forceful argumentation.
You’ll have to read the book to get a full view of Chopra’s idea of the superhero and our ability to embody superheroics as a broad metaphor, but it stems from Chopra’s belief in the connectivity of all existence, expressed in a way that is general enough that it fits in with any religion—even made-up comic book ones, I imagine—and even atheism. You can call this The Universe, or God, or Allah, The Force, The Source, The Matrix or, as Chopra puts it for those “uncomfortable with the idea of God entirely,” “acausal, non-local, quantum-mechanical interrelatedness.”
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes is a sort inf instruction manual on how to become more aware of and then live in peace with that interrelatedness and, by doing so, better your life. Much of this is common sense—be mindful, eat well, meditate and/or pray, exercise, avoid toxic substances and relationships and emotions—but these simple things can be hard to accomplish when thought of in a general way, and Chopra provides specific instructions for various ways to go about achieving established goals.
And what’s a toxic emotion? Well, I suppose cynicism is probably one of them, huh? But for my cynicism regarding aspects of this book, and for detecting cynicism in its creation, I blame Chopra’s rhetorical efforts in constructing it. And maybe Gotham for not insisting he make some changes to make it a bit more palatable to superhero indoctrinated world.
Although blame is probably a toxic emotion too, huh?
Hey, pretty clever way to critic-proof your book, Chopra! That’s as good an example of a person who has activated his superhero brain as any, I suppose.
The Seven Spiritual Laws of Superheroes: Harnessing Our Power to Change the World by Deepak Chopra, HarperCollins, 165 pages, $26