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Book Review: Deepak Chopra’s Why is God Laughing?

August 21, 2008

I picked up Deepak Chopra’s latest fiction effort, Why is God Laughing?: The Path to Joy and Spiritual Optimism, with high hopes. I generally like Chopra’s work, although I am not a hard-core fan, and I love to laugh. I also believe humour is a key companion to spiritual growth – when you can laugh at yourself, you probably have hit on some self-truth. And Mike Myer’s Foreword seemed to be heading in the right direction, quoting Lenny Bruce’s  equation for comedy as “laughter = pain + time”, and noting that Chopra would call the ‘plus time’ detachment. Enlightenment and comedy share that in common.

Unfortunately Why is God Laughing? doesn’t quite follow-through on its promise, although it has some nice moments. The main problem for me is that the book seems more like an outline, and a derivative one at that. It doesn’t evoke any powerful emotions, because we don’t have enough time with the main character, Mickey, to feel invested in him. The entire book feels rushed, more like a premise for hitting certain spiritual points, chapter by chapter. These points, or lessons, drive the book’s progression more than the character’s inner growth. This is often a problem when non-fiction writers cross over to fiction, but I thought Chopra had solved it after his last fiction effort, Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment (recently released in paperback, and which I highly recommend.)

Why is God Laughing? revolves around Mickey Fellows, a famous, self-absorbed Los Angeles comedian whose father has recently died. As he struggles with his grief, a mysterious stranger appears in his life and starts providing him with boilerplate spiritual lessons – overcoming fear, seeing beyond ego, embracing humility, etc. In format the book seems to follow in the footsteps of Dan Millman’s Way of the Peaceful Warrior; in fact it is kind of a cross between Way of the Peaceful Warrior and Tuesdays with Morrie, which should be a winning combination, but it just falls short of both in emotional depth.

Chopra is at his best in this book when speaking through the mysterious teacher, as it gives him a chance to expound on his usual spiritual themes. There is no question that he is a master at communicating usually complex ideas in simple nuggets. Some of my favorites are:

“Either you’re a person wondering if you have a soul, or you’re a soul that knows being a person isn’t real.”

“Your soul and your ego are as invisibly mixed as white wine and water…[people] wander through life searching for their soul when it’s right there all the time. They talk about losing their soul when that’s totally impossible.”

“Before, what you experienced was personal happiness. It was based on having a reason to be happy and no reason to be sad. But happiness based on a reason can be snatched away from you at any moment. Now you are happy without a reason. That’s far more durable…”

Throughout his spiritual journey, Mickey experiments with humour. The state of his humour becomes symbolic of where he is in his process of awakening. When he is self-absorbed or self-pitying, his jokes are often crude or based on putting down others, and they fall flat. As he progresses, his jokes come from a lighter, more joyful place within himself, and become funnier. That’s the idea anyway, which I like in theory, but I didn’t personally find many of the jokes funny, at least not in print, so the whole humour aspect of the book didn’t quite work for me.

Chopra’s epilogue is interesting, as he lays out his own ideas on how to embrace joy and optimism while living in a scary, fear-based culture. If the story doesn’t grab you, you can always jump straight to the epilogue for a good Chopra fix. The bottom line is, the themes of this book are true to his usual message, and clearly presented – it just doesn’t work as a novel. So you probably won’t be deeply disappointed, but you won’t be deeply moved either. If you don’t want to risk it, just buy Buddha: A Story of Enlightenment instead.

For other book reviews on this blog, go to the Book category.

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