"How do you know I'm not a fake? Maybe I just have the gift of gab."
There's a guru in India whom I'm familiar with, Gurinder Singh, who used to frequently say this. Maybe he still does.
At the time I was associated with the organization Gurinder Singh leads, his disciples would look upon those statements as a sign of some sort of humility/ Zen'ish koan/ anti-mystical mystic utterance.
Which, interestingly, is almost exactly what students who flocked to a genuinely fake guru, Kumare, a.k.a. New Jersey-born Vikram Ghandi, felt when at every yoga class he taught he told them "The only guru you need is inside yourself" and "I'm not a guru."
In the Nightline video embedded below, Ghandi says that when he told his students this, people thought it was a riddle. Ghandi also says:
If we wake up on a desert island with no scripture, we still could live perfectly happy lives.
A non-religious Amen to that, brother.
A few nights ago my wife and I watched "Kumare," the documentary Ghandi made. We streamed it via Netflix. Clicking on the link will reveal quite a few other online places the film can be watched.
Do it. It's inspiring. And fascinating.
"Kumare" reveals the power of belief in a unique fashion. The movie shows real people being drawn to embrace a fake guru who also is a real person. What Kumare teaches in the movie is similarly both false and true. He makes up rather absurd yoga postures and practices, yet his students benefit a lot from them.
This short (about five minutes) Nightline piece about Kumare and Vikram Ghandi will give you a good feel for the movie. [After embedding a You Tube link, I discovered that ABC news demands that the video be watched on You Tube; so you'll be led there if you click on the "play" arrow. Or click here.]
Ghandi is a convincing guru. Naturally he speaks perfect English, being born in the United States. He used his grandmother's accent as the model for his Kumare-talk, which he pulls off flawlessly.
A New York Times review of the movie captures the philosophical spirit of Kumare.
“Faith begins as an experiment and ends as an experience.” That quotation from the Anglican priest William Ralph Inge, which begins the documentary “Kumaré: The True Story of a False Prophet,”evokes the film’s ambiguous exploration of religion, teaching and spiritual leadership.
...Initially, Mr. Gandhi recalls, “I wanted to see how far I could push it.” He is shown presiding at one gathering with a picture of himself between portraits of Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden. But his earnest followers, including a death-row lawyer, a recovering cocaine addict and a morbidly obese young woman, are sympathetic, highly stressed Americans who pour out their troubles.
As Mr. Gandhi warms to these people, who demonstrate an unalloyed faith in his wisdom, the film becomes a deeper, more problematic exploration of identity and the power of suggestion, and its initially sour taste turns to honey. The meditations, mantras and yoga moves he invents, however bogus, transform lives, as his followers discover their inner gurus and gain a self-mastery.
For all his deceptiveness, Mr. Gandhi is not an egomaniacal prankster but a benign teacher whose “mirror” philosophy involves uniting the everyday self with the ideal self. A goal of this practical program of discipline and reflection is to cultivate an inner guru so that you don’t need someone like Kumaré.
“Kumaré” builds up to the big reveal, in which Mr. Gandhi, with great trepidation, presents himself to his flock as himself, without mystical trappings and speaking in his regular voice.
The film’s message lies in a paradox expressed early in the film. His impersonation was the biggest lie he’s ever told and the greatest truth he’s ever experienced. It is a thought worth pondering.