Deepak Chopra - Telling Buddha's Story in Comics & More
Chopra Talks Virgin Comics
What would motivate a world-famous metaphysical thinker and author to venture into comics, first as a co-publisher and then as a writer? For the internationally acclaimed Deepak Chopra, it was all in the family...
According to Chopra, his move into comics “was actually a venture that was taken to Richard [Branson] and the Virgin group. My son Gotham and his business partners Sharad Devarajan and Suresh Seetharaman were—and continue to be—the real brains and visionaries behind this operation. They were the ones who came to me with the argument that India had too long been tapped as an outsourcer, but that they believed it was an untapped source of creativity and innovation. They had recruited talent—artists and writers—that very much proved their point. It was a privilege to be a part of their vision—and then subsequently to collaborate with another maverick and visionary like Richard.”
What started as a publishing venture, however, became more than that. Early on, Chopra offered guidance on some of Virgin Comics’ books. That input has grown to encompass one series, Deepak Chopra’s Buddha, based on his best-selling book; and another, Beyond, based on an original short story by Chopra.
Did Chopra’s original vision for Virgin involve a move from the business side of comics to the creative side, or was this something that developed as the comics venture expanded? “I don't plan too much in my own life and rather like to simply witness the spontaneous unfurling of events and opportunities,” Chopra explained. “In this case, I can specifically say that I never envisioned or planned on being a founder of a comic book company. But then again, I don't really think of it as just a comic book company; I see it as laboratory of creativity, story-telling, and mythology. I get to watch and witness as young creators tell their stories to the world—and that is something I certainly enjoy being a part of.”
Buddha is inspired by Chopra’s best-selling novel about the early life and transformation of Siddhartha; what led to the decision to reinterpret the work as a graphic novel? “The very first stories humans told were forms of comics—they were visual storyboard with hieroglyphics printed on the walls of caves,” Chopra said. “To that extent, I have long been a student of the art form and this way of storytelling, and an admirer of those who do it so skillfully. I remain an author and novelist and story-teller at heart. Now to have so many wonderful artists and other writers available to me to evolve my work in other forms is invigorating and thrilling.”
Chopra explained that the six-part series “explores Buddha's life in three phases: the Prince, the Monk, and the Enlightened Buddha. The first phase is full of mystery and adventure. The second focuses on Buddha's seeking the answers to his existential wonderings. And the third phase is about Buddha's enlightenment under the Bodhi tree and as well as his teaching.”
How do the series present the young Buddha? “I present the young Buddha as he was: as an energetic, curious, and friendly prince who for many years was protected from the realities of the world around him on the orders of his father the king. However, as he reached adolescence and was exposed to some of the harsher realities of the world—including old age, sickness, suffering, and death—young Buddha began a new search that, in my mind, would change the course of human history.”
“Readers will explore and discover the life of a prince surrounded with pleasure and everything that the world can offer to a human being. They will participate in his adventures and his learning of the martial arts and the evolution of his complex relationship with two other boys. As he grows up, they will experience through his eyes the anguish of existential dilemmas and the anxiety that comes into a young man's awareness as he becomes aware of old age, disease, suffering, and death. Through his experiences, they will also experience the transcendence that comes from authentic spiritual
Does Buddha fill in missing details of Buddha’s life—and if so, how does Chopra develop those details while remaining true to the Buddha’s essential nature? “There are a lot of missing details in Buddha's history. On the other hand, Buddha's life and his search for meaning and purpose in his life is the story that we all go through at certain points of our own lives. So when trying to understand Buddha's life, all I have to do is think of my own life, my own questions, and that is a good start.”
Will the series leave room for sequels? “Metaphorically, I think Buddha's search for meaning and existence in his life is the same journey many of us are on. And to that end, I see his journey in every aspect of my own, in every work that I write. Literally, I am not sure where else I might take Buddha. While it was easy to imagine and fill is some of the blanks in his life, I am not sure I have a sequel in me!”
Does Chopra think his audience will recognize the significance of Buddha in world faith? And how will this series increase awareness of that significance? “Americans are now familiar with Buddhism, thanks to his Holiness the Dalai Lama and many other heralds and teachers of the Tibetan tradition of Buddhism. Buddhism also represents not only a great philosophical movement, but also a practical approach to understanding consciousness and its applications to personal growth and even the body politic. The recent protests in Tibet have brought Buddhists even more into the world's awareness and are influencing the foreign policy of many nations as it pertains to China. Buddha and his philosophies are therefore more mainstream than ever.”
How has Chopra’s novel been received by Buddhist and Hindu readers? “No matter where I go in the world, and no matter what I write on, I always find that I have both supporters and those that are critical of my work,” Chopra said. “The same certainly holds true with people in the east, or with those who are practitioners of Hinduism and/or Buddhism. Those who agree with me that spiritual traditions are living, breathing organisms that apply and adapt to our contemporary societies are very supportive. Those who believe that religion is codified and should not be interpreted or looked at in context often find are bothered by my work.”
Comics have dealt with stories of personal transformation and the attainment of greatness before; in light of this, what makes Buddha stand out? Is it possible for the story of a real man to compete with fictional stories of supermen? “Buddha, although a real life figure, is also a mythical being,” Chopra said. “Over the last two millennia, many mythologies have evolved that contain magic, mystery, and adventure—most notably the modern mythologies of contemporary comic superheroes. Buddha's story, however, is especially attractive because readers will find that his journey is the stuff that all fiction can only dream of—that he was real and actually walked on this planet 2500 years ago and was not just the creation of someone's imagination.”
Since Chopra’s latest work, The Third Jesus, focuses on the life and teachings of another world-shaping spiritual figure, is it possible that Virgin might follow up Buddha with a series focusing on Jesus?
“The Third Jesus has been great to work on,” Chopra said, “and I have learned a great deal not only about one of the greatest seekers to ever walk the Earth, but also about myself—because like Buddha, Jesus' story and journey is implicitly our own. At this very moment, I am indeed writing another book based on the life of Jesus. It's a fictionalized account based on the myth and legend and evidence surrounding Jesus' actual life. It's called Jesus: A Story of the Man who Would Be Christ. Certainly it is something that has the potential to be a comic series—and that’s something I would be excited by.”
While Chopra is the author of the novel on which the series is based, he is not scripting the comic adaptation. “A wonderful and talented writer, Josh Dysart, is scripting the comic. Not only has he adapted the novel very effectively, he's also brought a pacing and tone to it that is uniquely his own and that has been very gratifying to watch. Likewise, the art of Harsh Kadam has really brought the story to life in a special way. One of the great advantages of a novel is that a lot is left to the imagination. Obviously that is not the case with comics, so there is something daunting about it. But in this case, I really believe Harsh has delivered something truly wonderful.”
As mentioned previously, Buddha isn’t the only comics project in which Chopra is involved. “At present, through Virgin Comics, I am participating in some other projects as well, including an original story I created called Beyond that Ron Marz is scripting. Then there is an ongoing series called India Authentic; every month, we retell one of the classic Indian myths of the great pantheon of Gods and Goddesses. Lastly, I am involved in our epic Ramayan 3392 series, a wonderful comic saga that is a re-imagination of the iconic myth of India called The Ramayan - best described as The Odyssey of India. Obviously, as a principal part of the company, I see my involvement in comics as lasting a very long time on all sorts of exciting projects.”
Deepak Chopra’s Buddha, a $2.99 comic, is currently available in comic shops, and Beyond #1 can be read for free on Virgin’s MySpace page; while the paperback edition of the novel and the hardcover of The Third Jesus are available in bookstores now.