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.
Yet not unique. Lots of people have those qualities. But few here in the United States look as exotic as Kumare did.
(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.
Kumare and others like him are the psychological equivalent of a placebo. People swear by the healing powers of pills that are known to be duds or of dubious value, to say the least. It seems that the mind decides to do what must be done, but can't decide until authorized by Something or Somebody because it (the mind) is conditioned to submit to authority.
Posted by: cc | March 30, 2013 at 09:33 AM
Since the phrase placebo effect refers to an influence of change physically or mentally to a person most likely caused by the subtle power of persuasion, do you think that the character that you are CC might just be one big placebo effect? Hey, please don't think that I am singling you out. I am just using you as an example of just maybe what all of our personas are composed of; the influences of outside persuasions including reactions to experiences with their placebo effects on us. Maybe we are all a bunch of placebos in one big unifying placebo!
Posted by: Shawn | March 30, 2013 at 12:10 PM
"do you think that the character that you are CC might just be one big placebo effect?"
If I'm the effect, what's the placebo?
Posted by: cc | March 30, 2013 at 03:11 PM
CC said, If I'm the effect, what's the placebo?
That is a good question but don't you think you should be asking yourself that question? I do not know anything about you and life's influences on you.
Posted by: Shawn | March 30, 2013 at 09:59 PM
One thing interesting about finding out about our own personal placebos in life is that our reaction to finding out about the placebo can just become another placebo effect. You might find yourself ranting the rest of your life about the placebo that had you in its grips instead of getting over and past it. The thing about our living in the bubble of the placebo effect is that we typically are unaware of our placebo that presently has us. We with pride point at our past folly placebos without realizing we are just in another one. Pointing at other peoples placebo errors strengthens and brings about a false sense of solidification to our own placebo effect we are in. Pointing out errors has its place but one must look within and "find out" our placebo effect of what is motivation us.
Posted by: Shawn | March 31, 2013 at 10:05 AM
Great post. I've thought about this issue a lot. My ex-husband is a member of RSSB, i was active in Art of Living for some years. I also work at a psychiatric institution. I've thought about this topic in terms of political leaders too. It is us who give them power and it is us who are angry when they lead us astray. At the psychiatric institution many people walk around saying they are God or are speaking directly with God. We are not angry at them or write articles about them being fake. Why? Because they are powerless.
The AOL guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said, "you don't follow me because I am your Guru. I am your Guru because you follow me". I think this is a significant difference. Gurus can lose all there power very quickly if devotees turn on them.
What i like about this blog post is that in some ways it doesn't matter. If a psychiatric patient says something that for me is profound and changes my life, that experience is very real to me. It really doesn't make any difference whether or not that person was some kind of God. It is only my interpretation and ascribing of the source of my life change and my subsequent behaviour towards that person that distinguishes between a spiritual master and a psych patient.
I think this is how Gurus attain their power, either through yoga, mediation, pranayama or useful sermons. They make a difference to people's lives and people attribute that profound experience to something about these people. Of course this psychological phenom is especially powerful when there are huge crowds of likeminded devotees around.
Anyway, this is not to say they aren't very dangerous, just as Hitler was, so is anyone with the power to influence millions of people to do whatever they want. Just an dangerous is the power of the devotees, either within their families or in their communities, to wreak havoc in the name of their guru and his supposed teachings.
Posted by: Skeptic | March 31, 2013 at 11:08 AM
Skeptic:-Nice comment...welcome to the dawn :-)
Posted by: the9thGate | April 01, 2013 at 07:21 AM
"It is us who give them power and it is us who are angry when they lead us astray". So true Skeptic. Wonderful insight of taking ownership of the truth of the matter instead of ranting the root of the problem away.
Posted by: Shawn | April 01, 2013 at 09:19 AM
I watched the movie Kumare.
People desperately want to believe in someone and in doing so - they create their own experiences and attribute them to the Guru.
I know lots of people who said they saw light surrounding various R.S. or sant mat gurus - because they so desperately want to believe.
I watched the movie religulous. People believe the most ridiculous things - but each person thinks their own beliefs are sensible. We create our own reality and we judge our ridiculous beliefs to be true when they are clearly ridiculous.
For example the current R.S. master still does his ritual of 'drishti' - gazing over the sangat. What is this nonsense? It's playing on people's beliefs. People say they feel something and some of them believe their karmas are being wiped away when he gives them darshan.
What R.S. followers don't realise is that they have beliefs the same as all other religions - even though it's now called the science of the soul. It's a far cry from a science.
Posted by: Osho Robbins | April 12, 2013 at 12:10 PM
Gurinder and previous masters are still light years ahead of that hairy goof Osho, Osho looked like a drunken hobbit.
Posted by: Gaz | April 12, 2013 at 03:01 PM
Are you that guy that has got that DVD on how to be happy. That's pretty shrewd, is your target market ex satsangis?
I just viewed your youtube video you just look like you just seen a ghost, I guess you should really learn to be happy before you preach stuff to others.
Posted by: Gaz | April 12, 2013 at 03:04 PM