In more than 40 books, the Indian-born doctor-turned-guru Deepak Chopra has offered spiritual guidance to a large and devoted following. In his latest, Peace Is the Way (Harmony; 263 pages), he envisions a world in which citizens make peace a priority and show respect for their opponents. He spoke with TIME's Andrea Sachs about God, war and his own popularity.
A FAN OF YOURS TOLD A REPORTER, "HE'S RIGHT UP THERE WITH THE DALAI LAMA, THE BUDDHA AND JESUS." WHAT ABOUT THAT? I wish, I wish.
ON THE OTHER HAND, YOU'VE BEEN CALLED "THE SWAMI OF THE RICH, HIP AND FAMOUS." YOUR REACTION? I think the lesson in all of this is to be independent of both the good and bad opinions of others. Then you're free.
SHOULD THE DEATHS OF MORE THAN 150,000 PEOPLE FROM THE TSUNAMI AFFECT OUR IMAGE OF GOD? Actually, our image of God is outmoded anyway, whether the tsunami occurs or not. Religion has become divisive, quarrelsome and idiotic. Religion is the reason we have all this conflict in the world. We have squeezed God into the volume of a body and the span of a lifetime; given God a male identity, an ethnic background; made him a tribal chief and gone to war. Yet people are not ready to forsake their image of God.
WHY DO YOU BELIEVE GOD IS A WOMAN? I think God is more likely to be a woman because women are nurturing and caring and loving. The human male has become the most predatory animal on our planet. It's time that we embrace the feminine face of God.
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO WRITE ABOUT PEACE? If we continue to combine our ancient habits with our modern capacities, we risk totally destroying ourselves. The issue is not who's going to win the war on terrorism. The issue is either we all survive or no one survives.
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WAR IN IRAQ? I think it was a colossal mistake. It is sowing the seeds of distrust and hatred and the desire for retribution on the part of our perceived enemies. I said "perceived" because when you look at any enemy deeply enough, you'll find that they're a human being just like you. What did these poor Iraqis do to America? What did the children of Iraq do to America? Or for that matter, what did Saddam Hussein do to us? We went after the wrong country and the wrong people.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF MORE AS A SCIENTIST OR A PHILOSOPHER? I don't know what I see myself as. I'm just trying to decide what I'll do when I grow up, to be honest. My attempt is to bridge the scientific insights of today with the spiritual yearning that we all have.
IS IT EVER UNNERVING TO HAVE SO MANY PEOPLE FOLLOWING YOUR EVERY WORD? I always tell people not to create an image of me, because no matter what image you create, it never conforms to reality. When you create images, then sooner or later they're defiled. Be like my children and my wife, who never take me seriously.
IS IT TRUE THAT YOU MAKE $20 MILLION A YEAR? I generate that, but it's not what I take home. I have this huge institution to run. I also have two foundations. I'm like a bank teller: I generate huge amounts of income, and it all goes out. I'm not a hoarder or saver. My lifestyle is not extravagant at all, other than the fact that I travel first class. My lifestyle is simpler now than it was 25 or 30 years ago, when I was a practicing physician.