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Book Review: Deepak Chopra’s Jesus – Christianity as a Path to Enlightenment

November 4, 2008

I have to admit, Deepak Chopra had me at the subtitle of his novel Jesus, officially out today. The subtitle is ‘A Story of Enlightenment’ – the same subtitle he used for his novel of the Buddha’s life, released last year. Since my entire approach to spirituality is cross-denominational, and I believe the mystic branches of all the world religions are paths to spiritual enlightenment, I was predisposed to like Chopra’s version of the lost years of Jesus’ life. And in his preface Chopra is very straightforward about his purpose in writing this book, saying “[there is] a Jesus left out of the New Testament – the enlightened Jesus. His absence, in my view, has profoundly crippled the Christian faith, for…making [Jesus] the one and only Son of God leaves the rest of humankind stranded…What if Jesus wanted his followers – and us – to reach the same unity with God that he had reached?”

‘Crippled’ is a strong word, and this book will undoubtedly anger many. Yet Chopra’s Jesus maintains the divinity at the heart of mainstream Christianity – he is not just some average Joe who happens upon God. Nor is he simply a spiritual teacher or ‘guru’, as other Eastern teachers have characterized him. From a young age others recognize a special quality in Chopra’s Jesus, and this separates him in a way that both fuels and challenges his spiritual faith. The novel mostly covers the years of Jesus’ life left out of the Bible – the years in which he transforms from a serious and insightful young man into the son of God – and throughout that period he is surrounded by signs of his future divinity.

Jesus himself is not comfortable with these signs, but they draw others to him. The early part of Jesus’ spiritual journey is dominated by his relationships with Mary Magdelene and Judas – both of whom of course feature prominently in the later part of his life, as told in the New Testament. Chopra’s earlier versions of these figures each have delusions about Jesus, and want to possess him for their own purposes. Judas wants to use Jesus to inspire his own band of Jewish followers in their rebel fight against the Romans, and Mary wants him for personal love and fulfillment. Jesus struggles to understand what each wants from him, and is tempted by what they have to offer. It is through them that he comes to understand the human condition, and the forces – both external and internal – that prevent many from pursuing a deeper relationship with God.

Ultimately, Jesus comes to see the spiritual power in ego surrender, telling Judas “We’ve both struggled to be first…Now we’ve been shown the way out…How can we discover God’s will unless we give up our own?” Soon after, Jesus leaves his early companions, and ventures to the Essenes, a mystic Jewish religious community now believed by many to have authored the Dead Sea Scrolls. Jesus stays with the Essenes for five years, revered by them as the Jewish Messiah. But ultimately Jesus disappoints them also, as he will not conform to their view of him. He insists that God wishes to save all, not just the Jews, and tells the Essenes “All you’ve ever wanted from me is to save the Jews. The Jews cannot be saved as long as the world is what it is. We need a new world, nothing less.”

After leaving the Essenes, Jesus travels to a mysterious holy man in distant mountains, also the story’s narrator. Although the teacher is left unnamed, he clearly calls to mind classic Himalayan spiritual masters and hermits, and it is here that the path of Chopra’s Jesus most closely resembles that of his Buddha. Both struggle with their concepts of good and evil, and both are tempted by demons with promises of greatness. They both come to understand they must abandon all concepts and personal identity to truly allow God to work through them. As Jesus’ mysterious teacher tells him, “Only someone who can see the demons as part of God is free. Good and evil dissolve. The veil drops away, and all you see is divine light – inside, outside, everywhere…Your soul is the world’s soul. In your resurrection will be the resurection of the world.”

Jesus’ awakening is powerfully told, and the new Jesus returns to his homeland as an agent of enlightenment. Encountering Judas and Mary once again, he transmits a grace that literally wipes away their past. Or, as Mary puts it when asked ‘what has he done to me’ by others who receive Jesus’ grace, “He killed who you were, so that who you are can be reborn.”

Chopra’s Jesus is not a perfect book. Scenes change rapidly, and many conversations seem stunted in a way that occasionally left me disoriented. But it conveys a profound message in an accessible and passionate voice (something I can’t always say about Chopra’s nonfiction.) If you are interested in considering a new vision of Christianity, and of all religions, give it a read, and consider reading Buddha as well.

You can purchase this book on Amazon, or for more book reviews, go to the Books page. To learn more about Deepak Chopra, try the Heroes of Healing site, an online directory of contemporary spiritual teachers, healers, and authors.

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