Don't Mess With Deepak

IN A LETTER TO THE NEW York Times last year, Deepak Chopra admitted to a dilemma. ""How does a public figure protect himself from slander without compromising his spiritual values?'' he asked. The answer, he decided, lay in an honored Western philosophy: sue 'em! He's used this hardball approach, including threatening to sue and writing tough letters, since the early 1990s. And when Chopra himself gets sued, he doesn't turn the other cheek, either. Any hypocrisy here? ""I'm not practicing what I preach, and I'm ready to admit it,'' he says.

In the temporal world, Chopra's tough tactics tend to work. He filed a $35 million libel suit last year against the Weekly Standard, the Rupert Murdoch-owned political magazine, for a story that claimed, among other things, that he had hired a San Francisco prostitute on three occasions in 1991. The prostitute later recanted her story. Last June the magazine printed an apology, saying the story was false, and agreed to pay Chopra's legal fees. Lecturing in London that week, Chopra gloated that the press described the retraction as ""abject''--a word he said he looked up in the Oxford English Dictionary. ""It was worth it just for that,'' he said.

In 1991 Chopra went after--of all publications--The Journal of the American Medical Association. JAMA had printed an article that he believed mocked his beliefs. The $30 million defamation suit was settled for an undisclosed amount, says his lawyer, Michael Flynn. Last year an article in Britain's Daily Mail raising questions about his medical license prompted another suit. Flynn says the suit is being settled; the Mail is apologizing.

Anyone suing Chopra will likewise meet fierce resistance. After he was accused of sexual harassment last year, he pre-emptively sued the plaintiff--and her lawyers--for allegedly threatening to file a ""meritless'' claim. The suits are being contested in San Diego. His lawyer is also fighting a claim by Stanford's Robert Sapolsky that a Chopra book plagiarized the professor's work. ""Completely frivolous,'' says Flynn. Two years ago he was sued for wrongful death by the wife of a man with leukemia who had allegedly adopted Chopra's practices and later died. The suit was dismissed. Sometimes Chopra drops the tough-guy approach and just writes a friendly letter, like this one to the New York Post: ""I have no problem with the fact that some of [your] articles are inane, trivial, sleazy, scandalous and stupid.'' He signed it, ""Love and warm regards.''