Kūmaré or “The Art of Faking-It-’til-You-Make-It”

Recently, I watched the documentary Kūmaré on Netflix (being that I’m in-between steady work at this point, the amount of movie-watching on Netflix has risen slightly from its norm) and my first impression, made about half-way through and re-affirmed by the end, was that director Vikram Gandhi was some strange form of Discordian chaote.Kumare_promotional_poster

    Gandhi starts the documentary talking about his childhood being raised as an Indian-American in New Jersey and how he never really felt comfortable with his community’s Hindu faith and practices; explaining that when he got to college, he studied religion in order to hopefully better understand faith and find some of his own, but came away even more skeptical. The genesis of Kūmaré came when Gandhi was making another film about yogis and their followers, looking both at self-styled yogis here in the United States and the more traditional type in India. Realizing that the yogis he was coming across – both in the U.S. and abroad – seemed exceedingly similar, that the ones he intuitively knew to…well, be full of shit looked and acted almost identically to the ones who had the weight and momentum of lineage and tradition to back them up, Gandhi asked himself if it would be possible for himself to become a yogi or guru and achieve a similar kind of following.

    Styling himself “Sri Kūmaré”, Gandhi grew out his hair and beard; practiced yoga and meditation daily; affected a voice that was akin to the one that his late, devoutly-Hindu grandmother had; and came up with a philosophy of teachings that implicitly announced the fact that he was a fraud. He traveled to Tucson, Arizona with two female friends (his first “followers” and co-conspirators) and began getting himself ingratiated into the community by teaching at various yoga schools until he began to develop some repeat students.

    I won’t go into the nitty-gritty (you’ll have to watch Kūmaré for that, and I highly recommend it), but at one point Gandhi comments that he realized that Kūmaré was, in fact, a manifestation of his own idealized self, and that he found that he connected more with other people and was a happier person himself when he was Kūmaré then he was before or after the experiment ended. At the core of Gandhi’s “fake” philosophy is communicating the teaching that his students don’t need a “guru” or a “master” to make them into better people, that they are already their own gurus, they just need to realize that. It seems that at some point during the “Kūmaré” experiment, Gandhi began to buy his own message – that one doesn’t need an external power, whether human or superhuman, to grow, change, and become a better person – and the experiment changed as he did.

    No longer was he trying to see if he could pull off the act of a “guru” and get others to believe that he was indeed some spiritual master from the exotic Orient.

    No, he became that guru (if only for himself) that he was pretending to be and opened his eyes to a new way of living, of being more fulfilled with life. In that way, whether Vikram Gandhi realizes it or not, I say he is some sort of kissing-cousin to a Discordian chaote:

    One of the oldest Chaos Magic maxims I know is “fake it ‘til you make it”, followed quickly by “if it works, it’s real.” Though Gandhi would probably argue otherwise, I look at Kūmaré and see a very long, slow Chaos Magic working playing out over the course of the documentary. Gandhi implies, if not admits, to having a love-hate relationship with spirituality and religion: wanting to understand religion/spirituality and find the fulfillment and peace that he witnessed his grandmother (to whom the film is dedicated) have when she would go about her morning devotionals, but also finding many of the purveyors of “enlightenment” and “salvation” (e.g. the yogis) to be more clay-footed than one hopes for in enlightened teachers. So, Gandhi makes himself into the kind of teacher he would hope to actually encounter, and in so doing, helps to actualize the spiritual change he seems to have so long desired.

    But the very fact that Kūmaré simultaneously lambastes some traditional aspects of organized religion/spirituality (showing that many of the big-name yogis are exceedingly human individuals, despite the image they and their followers might build up) while showing that there’s still something to all of it once you dig through the bullshit, smacks of an Erisian influence to me. Granted, it’s likely an unconscious influence, but an influence nonetheless. Showing that there is something to self-improvement and changing one’s life, to becoming a better person through philosophy and spirituality, all with a wink and a nod at the fact that one can be one’s own guru seems to sing of the creative strife and anarchy at the heart of Discordianism.

    In the end, some of Gandhi’s followers feel very betrayed by his “experiment.” Others seem to find a kind of satori when he reveals that Kūmaré was simply a mask and that he is, in the end, no different than his students. Others seem to find peace and wisdom in his teaching, even if they question the methods used to communicate it.

    I simply found Kūmaré to be a delightful and insightful piece about the journey of self-improvement and the search for enlightenment, and I highly recommend it.

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~ by crow365 on April 3, 2013.

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