Deepak Chopra presents a Buddha that is both more human and superhuman. His account of the transformation of the sheltered Siddharta to the wondering ascetic Gautama is simply epic. Never have I seen an account — as fictional as it is — of the Buddha’s life that is at once both real and fantastic.
As a prince in the palace, we see him spar with his best friend Channa, ward off the machinations of the scheming Devadatta, and fall in love with the mysterious Sujata. His first exposure to suffering was very gripping and real, leaving us readers with a real sense of the unease felt by the young man.
In the second half of the book we see him begin to grasp the true nature of his powers, wondering from teacher to teacher but ending up only in utter frustration. None of the doctrines on souls, higher selves and even gods seemed to show him the key to enlightenment. But when Gautama finally finds his answers, Deepak Chopra denies us the pleasurable image we often associate with the pursuit of enlightenment. He shows us how painful the denial of the self can be, and how powerful we would become once we live through it.
When he finally becomes the Buddha in the last seventy pages of the book, we are greeted by an awesome sight. After reading the spectacular scene where he heals the monster Angulimala, I couldn’t forget how he banished the demon Mara and his daughters. In the thrilling climax of their confrontation, Buddha announces that he has no soul for the demons to damn, thus robbing them of their purpose and sending them back to wherever it is they came.
The novel ends exactly where it begins, but by then it will be clear that the man who you read in the beginning is no longer the man venerated at the end. This is truly a story of enlightenment, but unlike you’ve ever seen before. There is fantasy, there is myth; there is superhero comic book action, there is real human drama.
The Buddha is one of us, and we are all Buddha. This is what the book is all about. And I welcome any of Deepak Chopra’s future attempts to make these universal stories speak to each of us anew.
P.S. Deepak Chopa also conceptualized this story with Shekhar Kapur. Together, they are the visionaries of Virgin Comics.