Kumaré Sutra
July 8, 2012 5:15 PM   Subscribe

"At PSFK Conference NYC, Vikram Gandhi spoke about his latest movie Kumaré - The True Story of A False Prophet. While he was born in New Jersey, the film director spoke about how he had been noticing how the Indian-heritage culture he had experienced as he grew up, was being used by Americans and other Westerners to help solve their emotional and spiritual issues. To explore this idea further he dressed up as a guru, created a backstory with YouTube video and website, spoke like his grandmother and recruited followers in Arizona. What's unique is that throughout the film is that he tells everyone he was an illusion and asks his followers to look in a mirror to solve their own problems."

Interview at SXSW 2011 - Part 1 and Part 2. He also did an AMA at Reddit.

Aussie MeFites can watch the documentary on ABC iView (available for the next 2 weeks).
posted by vidur (42 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Saw this at Hotdocs in Toronto. It's so hard to talk about it without spoilers!
posted by thecjm at 5:21 PM on July 8, 2012

This is honestly sort of cruel. I guess we can all get in our guffaws about idiot Americans now, but times are tough in this country and of course people will be more susceptible to this kind of thing.
posted by downing street memo at 5:22 PM on July 8, 2012

downing street memo - watch it if you can. Not cruel at all, not like a Borat movie anyways. Thats what I expected and it turned into a totally different film by the end.
posted by thecjm at 5:27 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Maybe he should call his movie The Oldest Story Ever Told. I mean, seriously--Life of Brian, L. Ron Hubbard, Henry Rollins' "Liar"--is this even a thing any more, or is the thesis that Americans are especially susceptible to the Hindu flavor? Somebody who's not considered all that in their home country/culture/town goes elsewhere and is praised as a holy man--where have I read that before? Oh, yeah.
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:27 PM on July 8, 2012

I don't get it. That's what a real guru does. I guess without the youtube.
posted by cmoj at 5:30 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Urgh, don't get me started on (Neo-)Tantra and assuming that South Asians have the answers to all your problems. I had people assume that I must have been a yogini from the age of 5!
posted by divabat at 5:31 PM on July 8, 2012

He didn't set out to troll people, if that's what some people are wondering. The documentary is as much about his own beliefs as it is about others'. Watch it if you can, and if you can't, the videos and text should give a good idea of how far away this is from a Borat-like treatment.
posted by vidur at 5:34 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

L. Ron Hubbard

Started Scientology as a bar bet with Robert A. Heinlein.
posted by Artw at 5:41 PM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Wasn't this an Eddie Murphy movie?
posted by dave78981 at 5:49 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

No, Mike Myers.
posted by likeso at 5:50 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

L. Ron Hubbard

Started Scientology as a bar bet with Robert A. Heinlein.
posted by Artw at 5:41 PM on July 8 [+] [!]

Just Googled this. Holy crap, I'd never heard of this before!
posted by ZenMasterThis at 6:24 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want to see the really crazy stuff start googling Jack Parsons.
posted by Artw at 6:33 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Ain't disenchantment a bitch.
posted by klanawa at 6:37 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Anyone read Gita Mehta's Karma Cola? On iPod can't link at the mo'.
posted by peacay at 6:58 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

Karma Cola on Amazon.
posted by divabat at 7:02 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

What's unique is that throughout the film is that he tells everyone he was an illusion and asks his followers to look in a mirror to solve their own problems.


A genuine guru.
posted by flabdablet at 8:24 PM on July 8, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just finished watching the movie (thanks, iView). So in case Vikram Gandhi ever reads this comment: well played, sir.
posted by flabdablet at 8:59 PM on July 8, 2012

Sentiments first explored in RK Narayan's beautifully evocative The Guide.
posted by the cydonian at 9:21 PM on July 8, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel the blue light!
posted by unliteral at 10:10 PM on July 8, 2012

Try the professional white background.
posted by flabdablet at 10:32 PM on July 8, 2012

See also: Reviews in NYT, and in The Hindu.
posted by vidur at 10:33 PM on July 8, 2012

I watched this last night, on abc sunday best

Although his voice is a little Borat, he actually makes a damn fine guru.

He's not trying to exploit his followers for cash or sex, he makes a sincere attempt to help people become happier. Although from one perspective his 'kumare' is a fabrication, vikram has actually prepared as well for the role of guru, as a any 'real' guru.

Because he seems to both acknowledge the placebo value of ritual and having a leader, while also pointing out that these things are just illusions that help followers bring the best out of themselves, he is also offering a spiritual perspective that is more useful and honest than someone who maintains their elevated position over their disciples, at the expense of their disciple's personal growth and well being.

If I was looking for a guru, I'd choose Kumare over any of the other 10,000+ one true manifestations of god currently shilling for business.
posted by compound eye at 11:01 PM on July 8, 2012 [4 favorites]

Then again, that very reasoning means that you probably wouldn't be among those looking for a guru in the first place.
posted by flabdablet at 12:17 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

I feel as though the only fitting punishment would be for a dedicated group of people to follow him around as disciples now.

Brian: I'm not the Messiah! Will you please listen? I am not the Messiah, do you understand? Honestly!
Girl: Only the true Messiah denies His divinity.
Brian: What? Well, what sort of chance does that give me? All right! I am the Messiah!
Followers: He is! He is the Messiah!
Brian: Now, fuck off!
Arthur: How shall we fuck off, O Lord?

posted by sebastienbailard at 12:22 AM on July 9, 2012 [3 favorites]

He also told his story on the The State We're In episode "Don't Shoot The Messenger."
posted by knile at 12:38 AM on July 9, 2012

You may kneel and ask for boons, peasants....
posted by infini at 1:27 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

you probably wouldn't be among those looking for a guru in the first place

based on the standard guru offering, no I wouldn't. There has been a bit of guru following in my family and I haven't been impressed.

but placebo value isn't zero value.

If the standard guru offering was more along the lines of:

"all this guru stuff is bullshit, but if it's done well it can work anyway because it taps into well established patterns of human behaviour, and I might not be the messiah but can help facilitate useful and transformative experiences based on thousands of years of human culture and what we now know about neurobiology, psychology and physical training.
then I don't know, maybe I could probably spare a few evenings a week.
I'm the first to admit I could be a better human being with a few small tweaks.

Cults also tend to be organised with medieval social structures. If someone can figure out how to organise a cult more like an anarchist fork of stackoverflow
then I'd be willing to add four hours of labour in the veggie garden each saturday to my three evenings a week
posted by compound eye at 1:32 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

but placebo value isn't zero value

And the only placebo you need is within yourself.
posted by flabdablet at 1:56 AM on July 9, 2012

Less facetiously, I'd like to add an observation. I was in Helsinki about a week ago and young man of my acquaintance was telling me why "India" was so popular among young Europeans for a long visit (3-6 months seemed to be average among the few I met who'd just been there). He said that what attracted the "Western" mind/youth was that quality they noticed in India that though there were people living lives of adversity in the direst of conditions, they seemed to be "at peace" with their role/status/situation far more fundamentally than was the case back in Europe. It was this secret, he said, that young people tended to want to go find out more about.

That's really what the guru's are selling, aren't they? Karma, Dharma and Artha

this just struck me because I don't even realize how much I take it for granted, never having to deal with the concept of original sin or an external angry and jealous god. Tat tvam asi.
posted by infini at 1:58 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

And the only placebo you need is within yourself.

And here's the delicious irony... this is the fundamental lesson I took away from my teenage explorations of Hindu philosophy. If you take the logic that you are a spark of the infinite fire, thus no different elementally than the "Life Force" (or godhood or whatever, banana...), then if you have faith in your self, you have faith in the "whatever" and vice versa. Placebo indeed.
posted by infini at 2:02 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

never having to deal with the concept of original sin

I was just saying to my local minister (lovely man) the other day that it seemed to me that language has all the characteristics ascribed to original sin: its enabling the ability to conceptualize things other than as they are makes it both a plausible "fruit" of a "tree of knowledge of good and evil" and a plausible root cause of disconnection with an original state of bliss, and it's passed down the generations and will be so passed down forever, making us all "sinners".

He loves language.

or an external angry and jealous god.

It seems to me that believing in things that are not real is a pretty reliable way to line oneself up for a severe arse-kicking from Spinoza's God.

if you have faith in your self, you have faith in the "whatever" and vice versa.

Well there's clearly something going on, and learning about its various aspects can be fun.

oo ah, eh?
posted by flabdablet at 2:26 AM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

oo ah, eh?

quite. [inserts emoticon, plans to return after dentist to blather further on this]
posted by infini at 3:28 AM on July 9, 2012 [1 favorite]

Rituals of arbitrary content and meaning are useful for lots of things. Take high school graduation for instance: you don't actually have to attend it in order to get a diploma--I for one did not--but a lot of people do it anyway, at considerable personal expense. Why? It varies; possible reasons include
  • convincing yourself you're not in high school anymore, ergo
    • now you have to take responsibility for stuff
    • now you have the choice of where to go next
  • convincing everyone in the room that your public school education was worth something
  • expressing appropriate gratitude to the people who put you through this shit
  • giving the old high school hierarchies one last hurrah, viz. the most successful students are the only ones who give speeches
People aren't very good at doing any of those things without having some kind of external visible referent for them. I hated high school, and did not want to express any gratitude for it nor acknowledge that it was worth anything, so I didn't go; but I also ended up treating my first attempt at college much like an extension of high school, so maybe I should have? Or found some other ritual to that effect? Instead I tried to run away from the problem, which was kind of a ritual in itself in that it convinced me I'd addressed the problem.

Now, I figure that if I need to do something arbitrary in order to create some experiential effect, it's better if it's a tightly controlled one, without such side effects as e.g. undying loyalty to an external agent of no special merit, strange unverifiable beliefs, etc. But the work of building a body of ritual that has the intended effects on my mental-emotional states comes with a lot of overhead that I don't like dealing with, so I understand why most people prefer to employ gurus for the purpose.

I most definitely understand why some people seek out gurus whose teachings are regarded as "false" by all extant belief systems. It's relatively easy to change your mind that way.
posted by LogicalDash at 4:11 AM on July 9, 2012

This movie sound fascinating, and I hope I get a chance to see it sooner or later.

As far as the concept of teachers and gurus go, I think for a lot of people the point is that there is something outside themselves which is helping provide guidance and direction, and somehow that externalization is what they need in order to make tough decisions and changes which they might feel they need to make (either consciously or unconsciously) but don't feel validated enough to make if they were simply making changes "because they want to" or whatever. The permission granted (by themselves, by society) by being Told What To Do and Told How To Be can be enough to overcome all the fears attached to making personal changes, etc.

As far as rituals go, I don't think enough people in US culture think enough in terms of rituals, except in things similar to graduation and weddings and such. I've been consciously developing personal rituals for a couple of decades now, since encountering Thomas Moore's The Care Of The Soul, which is the book which helped me find some kind of deeper expression in my daily life after rejecting the church following its rejection of me during my coming out process.

Most of the things I do for rituals have no deep meaning in any kind of outward cultural context. They're all largely developed for me, personally, in my own little hippie way. But I do them, and I vary them, and I kill them and create them at will in order to find what is the most appropriate and personally meaningful expression of whatever moment I'm needing to observe. It's all very Jungian on some level, or something.

But I know plenty of people who go through their lives without any deliberate ritual observation at all. And they participate in plenty of rituals but don't realize that is what they are doing. And pretty much universally, these people complain (each in their own way) about feeling like life is hollow and frustrating and that they don't find any meaning in their lives.

I'm not advocating for religion here, but I am saying that even the non-religious can help imbue the ebb and flow of the calendar (and even daily life) with a sense of purpose and meaning (even if there isn't one) by active pursuit of expression of existence through conscious rituals. It's an interesting concept, and one which I do recommend to others as a way out of their existential despair.
posted by hippybear at 4:52 AM on July 9, 2012 [4 favorites]

I haven't seen this documentary, but look forward to doing so. I hope vidur is right in saying that the filmmaker "didn't set out to troll people." If there's one type of documentary we absolutely don't need more of, it's the sort that allows us the perverted luxury of ridiculing people we know next to nothing about.

I just want to (hopefully) add another perspective to the guru conversation. (Thanks, btw, to LogicalDash and hippybear for sharing something personal and enlightening.)

One's reasons for seeking out a guru can be convoluted and are often fraught with the dangerous (if sometimes unconscious) desire to relinquish personal responsibility, but they don't have to be. A true guru is not a messiah or an incarnation. At best, a guru is a teacher motivated by the selfless desire to help others in the quest for happiness and personal fulfillment. Given this simple definition, a disciple is someone who humbly recognizes his or her lack of knowledge or experience and out of determination to progress along a given path decides to accept help from someone who has that knowledge or experience. I'm not sure why, but for some reason we (especially in the West) have the tendency to accept the idea of legitimate superior guidance when it comes to learning about things like quantum physics, foreign language, or auto repair, but categorically reject the same idea when it comes to spirituality. (Superior guidance, btw, doesn't have to come directly from a person but may come from a book or a web search or any other – one would hope – "authoritative source.")

Now, of course, there are hucksters out there who are more than happy to take advantage of others' naivete – and yes, in some cases, stupidity – but just because there's some counterfeit bills out there doesn't mean that we should stop using money all together. The concerns involved in choosing someone to take spiritual instruction from are much the same as those involved in choosing a teacher in any subject: what is his experience regarding the given subject, who did she study from, is he associated with some sort of time-honored or otherwise respected tradition? And if one hopes to have any success in that process, she will have to rely on her own intelligence to make that decision for herself.

It seems arrogant – if not absurd – to assume that we could alone and unaided somehow bring ourselves to a higher state of spiritual enlightenment when we don't even have faith in our own ability (or perhaps the humility) to determine whether or not we can trust another person and rely on his or her superior knowledge and experience to help us progress.
posted by eric1halfb at 5:32 AM on July 9, 2012 [2 favorites]

In the Fall of 2003, I was part of a classroom team who had selected "Enlightenment" as the underlying philosophical basis on which to develop a business model. We were six, and the topic of our project requires this ethnic breakdown of our team - 4 Jewish American white males, a Christian Korean woman and a Hindu woman (me). We discussed what Enlightenment meant to us (we had presentations every couple of weeks during this 7 week course) and what was interesting was that none of really ever touched upon the word in the context of Western Civ's rise in thinking a couple of centuries ago and tended towards deeper more personal meanings around "becoming enlightened" as human souls.

We finally selected Sanyaas as our conceptual framework for a precursor of Freecycle (you can say that Freecycle would be the same concept without all our philosophical additions and Karma points etc) - sanyaas being the final stage of Hinduism's ritualistic enlightenment, where you divest yourself of your worldly goods and move forward to greater oneness with the universe. None of this sounds like some mystical hoo doo... spring cleaning is always good for the soul.

I wonder though if what hippybear is saying may not have some more food for thought....
posted by infini at 5:57 AM on July 9, 2012

This kind of thing drives me nuts. WHY CAN'T I WATCH THIS MOVIE?! It's not coming to my town (Washington DC), it's not for sale for direct download, and the only release seems to be some kind of traveling roadshow where it's appearing for a few days at a time in a random selection of cities. This sounds like a great movie, I'd love to see it, and I have no idea how to get hold of it and when or if it will become available for some kind of download....by the time it does I might well have forgotten about it. Oh well. If I want to go to the movies, I can watch crap like Spiderman or the latest unbearably twee and precious 'independent' movie starring slumming Hollywood-ites.
posted by zipadee at 8:29 AM on July 9, 2012

I can't recommend Karma-Cola too highly. It takes apart a lot of hog-wash fake gurus.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 8:32 AM on July 9, 2012

I was part of a classroom team who had selected "Enlightenment" as the underlying philosophical basis on which to develop a business model

Selling enlightenment is a killer business model and has enriched more people than perhaps any other business concept in history. Actual enlightenment, on the other hand, is a horrible business model and may lead to impoverishment.
posted by zipadee at 8:34 AM on July 9, 2012

zipadee, do you mean the 'god men' a la Karma Cola and the Deepak whatsisnames or those like Maya Lin and Tadao Ando whose work manifests tangibly the philosophy of spiritual oneness?
posted by infini at 9:14 AM on July 9, 2012

Actual enlightenment, on the other hand, is a horrible business model and may lead to impoverishment.

This is true. I've made less this year than I did in 2002.
posted by infini at 9:16 AM on July 9, 2012


Because you have not yet mastered the appropriate asanas.
posted by flabdablet at 5:56 AM on July 11, 2012

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