If one can get past the ethics of fooling people into believing that New Jersey filmmaker Vikram Gandhi is ‘Guru Kumare’ from India, then Kumare is well worth watching. This original, witty, and gutsy 2011 documentary reveals how easy it is to convince people that they are getting real spirituality, when in fact they are not.
Gandhi set out to test his hypothesis with what he calls ‘The Spiritual Placebo Effect’, in a social experiment to see whether a fake religion can have the same effect as a real religion. After interviewing and documenting numerous so-called spiritual teachers in both the West and the East within the modern day New Age Movement, he found a blatant connection between them all in that they were false prophets. In his journey visiting the East he narrates that he, “felt that the gurus were all trying to out-guru each other,” but who all had a following of believers legitimizing the spiritual teacher’s apparent authoritative position. In the Western world, Gandhi criticizes how yoga has been imported from the East and has, “become the answer to Western problems,” in the form of a five billion dollar a year industry.
In order to prove his point about the illusions of these New Age ‘prophets,’ Gandhi decides to experiment with some fakery of his own and creates his alter ego, Guru Kumare. Gandhi also creates a fake philosophy derived from both his advertising and religious upbringing and education, of which he calls ‘Mirror Yoga.’ To accompany this ‘teaching’ to legitimize his deceit, he also creates a series of nonsense rituals, yoga moves, and mantras for students to follow. Derived from more specifically from his advertising background, Gandhi was able to create easily consumable symbols and slogans, (or ‘mantras’) that flowed along nicely with the his Eastern garb, long hair, beard, and fake Indian accent. In addition, as if to point the finger at our collective consumer appetite itself, these ‘mantras’ that ‘Kumare’ used are simply familiar recycled American slogans translated into Sanskrit in order to give them an air of mysticism and spiritual authenticity. The US Army slogan of “Be all you can be,” was translated into Sarvau Bhaav, and the Nike advertising slogan of “Just do it,” translates into Karam Yaivah Dikaarastha. This re-branding of popular sayings seemed to work well, as no one during the experiment even bothered to look up what these terms meant in English, which would have been a simple way to expose Kumare’s facade. What Gandhi had re-created, like other fake prophets of our time, is the particular brand of spirituality that consumers want and are willing to pay for; a marketable product that other false guru’s have been capitalizing on for years.What Gandhi as Kumare set out to prove with his film is that anything can be made into a religion when the power of belief is behind it. What he also discovered through his experiement is that the potential for personal growth resides within oneself and not these phony New Age spiritual leaders.
Ironically, while the viewer is still struggling with the ethics of people being deceived and confiding their personal problems to someone who is only acting as a guru, ‘Kumare’, through his ‘teachings’, is actually telling them that he is a fake. He is telling his followers that he is an illusion, that what they see is not his true self, (of which is a part of his Mirror Yoga). Still, people only see what they want to see: a mystical guru with a mysterious background who they believe can relieve them from their pain and suffering.
What Gandhi through his social experiment concludes is that, “spiritual teachers are illusions, and we are the ones who decide who and what is real.” He even starts to believe some of his made-up Mirror Yoga himself stating that it wasn’t ‘Kumare’ who helped these people, but the individual of whom was reflected off him. Unfortunately for Gandhi, his conclusions fall short in this regard as it serves to perpetuate the self-help movement, something which epitomizes the rugged individualism of modern Western society. The message of this film, and of the self-help movement, is that you don’t need any sort of spiritual authority because we already have all the answers within ourselves; all we need to do is unveil it. Therefore, the truth already lies within all of us, so it is up to us to find our true selves, not have someone else tell us what that truth is. This message may sound nice and self-empowering, but it is limiting because everyone does actually need a Guru; the problem is, how to find a real one who won’t exploit you.
Humans as subjective beings, are easily led and duped by impermanent thoughts that can be perceived to be real. Thoughts, which can be transformed into powerful, illusionary, beliefs are not a suitable tool in order to interpret the enigma of Life’s lessons on its own. The role of the a true Guru is to be a channel for Divine through the radical intuition of the Heart. This Teaching is beyond the limitations of the ego-mind and this Divine function is to interpret for the student of spirituality what Life (God) is trying to teach us. A real Guru can look just like anyone else, does not need to come from a far away land in the East, nor teach nonsense rituals or mantras. A real Guru is someone who is a spiritual friend, guide, and Father* figure, who is there to help dissolve ego and ultimately free one from suffering.
For Gandhi, it is apparent that he has never met a real Guru, but he definitely is able to recognize those who are fake, which is why this documentary provides an important function in revealing the falsities of the New Age Movement. However, as for the self-help movement, the film still seems to uphold limitations of rugged individualism where the documentary supports people to ‘do it on their own,’ and consequently, without the help of a real spiritual guide. Despite this however, Kumare is a film worth watching, as it rightly reveals the power of the mind in creating everyday illusions and can help one to recognize if they themselves are being duped by any false prophets in their own lives.
*The guru is not limited to a male body, and the Father figure is purely a symbolic representation of the energy modality and function that he/she serves.
You can watch the Kumare trailer here:
For more information on true spirituality (the kind that won’t exploit you), visit Siddha Warrior: