Last night I watched Kumaré: The True Story of a False Prophet. It had been on my Netflix list for ages, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to watch. I thought it would be a film deriding Seekers. To some extent, it started that way. In truth, Vikram Gandhi could have made just that film — people said enought cringeworthy stuff to him that he could easily have played this like a Sacha Baron Cohen film. I’m glad he didn’t.
The premise of the film is that the director wonders why we need gurus at all and decides to go “undercover” as the made-up guru Kumaré to see whether people believe him. [Note: Kumaré is very close to a real word in Sanskrit. Kumara means a young man — or even a prince — and is a title of Skanda, son of Shiva and Parvati. The Four Kumaras are four eternal youths from Puranic literature. The female form of the name, Kumari, is the Goddess in her form as a young girl.]
What could have been simple ridicule turned thought-provoking. These are my takeaways:
- It helped that he was young and vibrant. People were drawn to him because he is attractive. You can say it’s a shame people are so superficial, but it’s called attractiveness because it literally attracts people.
- It’s easy to see how so many gurus (and spiritual leaders from all religions) end up in sex scandals. People were very much hitting on him. It was awkward to watch. The scene that made me the most uncomfortable: a married couple had invited him into their home and were talking to him on their bed.
- People are lonely. There is probably no one in your life who has unlimited time to sit close, maintain eye contact, and listen to all of your thoughts, fears, insecurities, dreams, and goals for hours on end while asking nothing in return. Not only did Kumaré not have anyplace else to be (since his job was literally to sit there and let this unfold) but he wasn’t checking his Facebook or texting. He also didn’t do the exchange that most friendships are based on: listen for a time and then take his turn to talk about his own life. He just listened. I think listening to people and making them feel heard is the most powerful thing you can do.
- Faith communities are important. There is such an attack on faith in our postmodern world that people are throwing away their communities along with their faiths. What is arising in its place are fandoms, cosplay, LARPing, or — for one married couple I know who practice different religions — extreme devotion to a sports team. There’s nothing wrong with sports or gaming or fiction, but those communities are not set up to be there for you when bankruptcy or foreclosure are looming or when your child gets a diagnosis. I think that before we tear apart our support systems, we should give thought to what we’re replacing them with.
In the end, no human is perfect. If you’re expecting perfection from humans, you will always be disappointed. You have to find peace within yourself and release your desire for a perfect authority figure to give you all the answers. Which is exactly what Kumaré was teaching. So was he a fake guru or an accidental guru?