Saturday, January 19, 2013

Vikram Gandhi's "Trickster Documentary," Kumaré - A Review

In 2011, Vikram Gandhi released a "trickster documentary" called Kumaré, in which he adopts the persona of a Hindu guru named Sri Kumaré, and gathering a small New Age flock. At the end of the film, he reveals the prank he has played on these earnest seekers of wisdom, the "Great Unveiling." Despite its moral and ethical problems, reviewer Erik Davis at Aeon, calls it "one of the more thought-provoking and unexpected takes on the dynamics of modern spirituality."

The review is very lengthy and well worth the read - here are a couple of snippet to pique your interest.

Trickster and tricked

All gurus try to undermine their followers' egos and expectations, so does it matter if the teacher is a real fraud?

Erik Davis
18 January 2013

Meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Photo by Ferdinando Scianna/Magnum Photos

~ Erik Davis is a writer, culture critic and independent scholar. His latest book is Nomad Codes: Adventures in Modern Esoterica. He lives in San Francisco.
Kumaré provides a number of easy yucks and painful gotcha moments. But in a manner that Gandhi himself did not seem to anticipate, his story winds up being more emotionally nuanced and even charming than its prankster précis implies. 
Rather than setting up an atheist’s honey-pot, Gandhi actually staged something more interesting, and more ambiguous: a theatre of awakening that transforms himself as well as his students. His sceptical and rather self-serving prank turns out, from a certain angle, to be weirdly spiritual, stirring up, at least for people familiar with modern gurus such as Gurdjieff or Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, the prickly conundrums of trickster spirituality. The irony is that it’s not clear that Gandhi himself really grokked the implications of his ruse, or the depths contained within his alter-ego’s self-reflexive teaching that ‘you are your own guru’. To do that, one needs to undo Gandhi’s origami fold of artifice and authenticity in a way that his documentary, with its refusal of real analysis, does not.
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Here, then, is the greatest irony of Kumaré: what appears on the surface to be a debunking of gurus winds up underscoring the ongoing resilience of seeker spirituality. Placing Gandhi’s experiment within the sort of informed historical context that Gandhi himself was not willing (or able) to provide, Kumaré might be seen as a goofy, low-calorie echo of crazy 20th-century gurus such as Aleister Crowley, Gurdjieff and Rajneesh, all of them mystical tricksters who aggressively played with the expectations and projections of their students. With his shadowy past and constantly shifting set of personas, Gurdjieff regularly booby-trapped the teaching environment with unexpected and sometimes outrageous behavior. He believed that authentic awakening required ‘shocks’ (not unlike the Great Unveiling), and would reportedly hire aggressively annoying people to show up at spiritual gatherings just to push people’s buttons. 
Though all these men were spiritual authoritarians whose very real excesses (and duplicities) have led some to reject categorically the idea of the guru, they were also influential pioneers of the ‘spiritual but not religious’ sensibility that has become so widespread in the contemporary world. One of the reasons the trickster plays an important role in this evolving spiritual culture is that an important current in that culture uses scepticism, disenchantment, and even pranks as opportunities for liberation — the swords that slaughter the Buddhas you meet on the road.

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