A few days ago I wrote a blog post called "Kumare: truthful movie about a fake guru." Here I want to do some additional pondering about what it means to be fake.
This is a subject of more than theoretical interest to me.
Back in my college years, 1969-70, I studied yoga and meditation with a long-haired, charismatic teacher who looked a lot like the movie's Kumare (even though my teacher was Greek, and Vikram Ghandi, who became "Kumare," is Indian.)
My weird story of how I switched from the first guru to another guru can be found here.
l changed gurus after discovering that the Greek guy was fake in various disturbing ways. I'm also no longer involved with the second guru, finding after he died that fakeness pervaded his teachings and organization in other sorts of ways.
But what does fake and true mean when it comes to gurus? This isn't an easy question to answer, one of the reasons Kumare is such a fascinating movie.
Kumare' students liked him a lot. Kumare was an excellent listener. Kumare was accepting and non-judgmental. Kumare stimulated his students to deal better with their problems and pursue their goals more avidly. Kumare created a warm, positive, energizing atmosphere in his yoga classes.
What of that is fake? Nothing.
My wife, a retired psychotherapist, was impressed with how Kumare/Ghandi utilized good counseling techniques in his one-on-one interactions with students. Clearly he served as a friend and shoulder to lean on for them.
Which also is how I viewed my first yoga teacher.
"Yogiraj," as he called himself, stabilized my scattered, psychedelic, hippie self of that time. I became a vegetarian. I stopped using drugs. I became adept at Hatha Yoga. I started meditating daily. None of that was fake. A few days a week I still do some of the yoga postures that I learned so many years ago.
My yoga teacher's fakeness came from him almost certainly not being who he claimed to be: someone with supernatural knowledge/power. (When he told me and other students that he communes with Christ in his basement, not figuratively but really, we all said "goodbye.")
Kumare's fakeness, on the other hand, was of a different variety. He never claimed to have any unique powers. In fact, his core guru-message was You don't need a guru; you are your own guru.
However, most or all of Kumare's students looked upon him as someone special. Well, in fact, he was. As noted above, Kumare/Ghandi came across as a kind, warm, gentle, understanding person. In that sense he indeed was special.
(At least to American eyes. I remember mentioning to a friend who had, like me, been to India, "I wonder how Indians manage to not be continually distracted by the amazing street scenes of colorful saris, flower clad animals, gaily decorated trucks, and all that, endlessly going by in a stream of buzzing confusion." He sensibly replied, "Hey Brian, to Indians that's normal. They would find our lifeless strip malls exotic.")
So the way I see it, Kumare was truthful when he told his yoga students, "You are your own guru." What they wanted, they already had.
It just took a guy with a fake Indian accent, pretending to be someone other than he was, to give them the feeling that they could lose weight, have a better romantic relationship, succeed in business, be more compassionate, or whatever.
This sort of fake truthfulness is akin to what someone feels when they go to a Lady Gaga concert. Uplifted by both the singer's message and stage presence, they might tell their friends, "Lady Gaga is amazing! I had the most wonderful experience watching her!"
Well, actually the concert-goer is the amazing one. As are we all.
Because whatever we feel, whatever we experience, whatever we believe, whatever we think -- those feelings, experiences, beliefs, and thoughts are all manifested by a human brain. Our own brain. Yours, mine, everybody else's; each of us fashions a world through the largely mysterious workings of human consciousness.
Truth and falsehood aren't really germane concepts within that inner world. What is, is. What is felt, is what I feel. This is the truth Kumare expressed to his students: no one else creates your reality. You do.
This morning I was browsing through Raymond Smullyan's "Who Knows? A Study of Religious Consciousness" and came across an apt passage.
I know a very remarkable lady who is a painter, poet, and playwright. She is devoutly religious and calls herself a Christian Buddhist. (She believes that Jesus was a Buddha.)
...To my great surprise, she once told me that God exists purely in the mind! (That reminds me of my fantasy that God exists purely as an ideal!) Sometime later, I asked her how her vision differs from atheism.
She replied, "Atheists also believe that God exists purely in the mind, but the atheists believe that God is therefore unreal, whereas I believe that things existing in the mind can be real."
Of course they are. Thoughts, feelings, beliefs, experiences, perceptions -- heck, everything that exists in the mind is real, since it is produced by a real brain.
However, not everything existing in the brain relates to something existing in the world outside the brain. This gets us into some deep philosophical/ espistemological waters that I'm not going to dive into this late at night, and this far into an already lengthy blog post.
I'll just end by saying that gurus are justifiably called "fake" if they claim to have some knowledge of a supernatural world, or even knowledge of the natural world, that they actually don't have.
Since Kumare never made such a claim, he was fake only in his presentation of himself as an esoteric Indian yogi, instead of the regular New Jersey guy he actually was. But insofar as he pointed his students toward an embrace of the reality existing within themselves, and as themselves, he was a truth-teller.