Kūmāré is a documentary I recently came across on Netflix, and it is seriously amazing. It was made by a young New Jersey native named Vikram Gandhi, who sets out to expose the world of false Gurus by pretending to be one. He travels to India, studies yoga and joins ashrams, grows out his hair and beard, dons robes, and finally adopts a thick Indian accent and the name Sri Kūmāré. With the help of two lovely companions, Kristen and Purva, Kumare infiltrates the spiritual underground of Phoenix, AZ.
My expectation was that this would be Borat-meets-Religulous, and while that was what intrigued me in the first place, I became a little reluctant to see it through once he started to build a following.
His disciples were very sweet (albeit naïve) individuals, who were genuinely seeking a deeper spiritual sense of themselves and the world around them. I cringed as they opened up to him about their personal trauma, the failings they struggled to overcome, their hopes for a better life. While it was easy to mock them from afar for wrapping themselves in all the trappings of the “exotic east,” blissfully chanting nonsense mantras, and their willingness to buy into loopy ideas like coming from a planet called Solano—up close, they were vulnerable and desperate people. I didn’t want to see them mocked anymore; I dreaded their embarrassment and dashed hopes.
But a surprising thing happened—a beautiful thing—Vikram Gandhi found the deeper truth behind his own motivations, and a deeper purpose for his life. He realized that it wasn’t about showing people they were naïve, it was about showing people that they were wise, that they could be their own Gurus. If we stop looking for enlightenment by giving our minds over to the distant “other,” we’ll find that within each of us are all the answers, all the capacity for joy, and all the freedom to make our lives into what we know deep down they can be.