I just watched Kumaré, a documentary about a man named Vikram Gandhi who decides to impersonate a guru to demonstrate how easily people are misled. I went into it not feeling sympathetic — I’m not a fan of the “make fun of people for their beliefs” crowd, even when those beliefs are odd. To my relief, it didn’t really take that route. And as I watched, I realized that this movie had a point, and it might even be a point that Mr. Gandhi missed:
He was, at some point, no longer impersonating a guru. He had become a guru.
Take the psychic who does a past life reading and talks about the long line of previous Kumarés who stand behind him. That’s all nonsense, of course: he made up the title and his yoga moves are often just air-guitar-like flailing around. But by the same token, she’s also right. There is something behind his teaching, because his teachings actually begin to help people. Why?
Because he teaches what he believes: You don’t need a guru. You can be your own guru. You can take charge of your life. You don’t need external validation.
Dude, this stuff works because it happens to be true.
It’s a nice example of postmodern spirituality, actually. The forms and rituals don’t matter (and he says as much. One of his confederates, toward the end of the movie, points out that they’re doing the ritual just because it makes things seem important and special, not because it really means anything).
At the same time, it’s a good example of realistic spirituality: the truth is real, even if spoken by a fake guru with a false Indian accent. And the truth is that you don’t need teachers, gurus, or guides to get where you’re going.
(By the way, the psychic at the end of the movie gets in a dig when she finds out his identity. “You do have psychic powers, though,” she said. The screen goes blank. “He doesn’t,” it says, in plain white type. Again, she’s right, and he’s wrong: he has charisma, which is a psychic power if there ever was one.)