First of all, thank you to all the people who attended last night’s screening of Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen in Los Angeles. I couldn’t be there in person. But I stayed up till 2 AM Eastern time to do a phone-in Q&A. This actually worked far better than I expected. So we’ll be doing it again for the San Francisco screening on April 20th.
Second of all, if you’d like to host a screening of the movie scroll down to the bottom of this post to learn how! I’m also available for public talks and to host daylong, three-day or other longer Zen events. All you gotta do is ask!
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The other night I was home alone and decided to take advantage of Whitney’s Netflix account. When scrolling around for something decent among the low-rent horror movies and gut-wrenching documentaries designed to make middle class people feel like their lives are at least better than whatever sad cases the doc is about, I came across a film called Decoding Deepak.
I had heard of the movie and was pretty intrigued by its premise. Deepak’s son, Gotham – who names their kid Gotham? – is an aspiring filmmaker. As a youngster little Gotham Chopra was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps and presented to the world as the heir apparent to Deepak’s Guru-to-the-Stars mantle. But he grew disillusioned with that and decided to make his own way in the world.
While working with his dad on what was initially supposed to be something like Deepak’s version of What the Bleep Do We Know, Gotham instead decided to make a documentary about the difference between the Deepak the world either praises as a famous wise guru or derides as a New Age clown, and the Deepak he knew as his often-absent dad who never seemed to know when to just shut the heck up.
I’m kind of tired of the overuse of the word “brave” when it comes to things like this. But I think it’s at least ballsy on Deepak’s part to have allowed this film to come out. It’s given me reason to respect Deepak Chopra even though I still think he often comes across as a kind of cartoony version of eastern spirituality (usually when he lets himself go on too long). This movie, along with the extremely brilliant and important film KumarÃ© and – dare I add it to the list? – Pirooz Kaleyah’s documentary about me, seem to be part of a very positive change in the popular meditation movement. They dare to ask the question about who our meditation masters really are.
The next question is; And what are we gonna do about it?
In Decoding Deepak, Gotham Chopra shows us the Deepak he knows as his dad. He’s a man Gotham describes as “obsessed with being relevant,” a guy who can’t leave his Twitter feed alone even when going off to spend a week in a Buddhist monastery, a dad who doesn’t really connect with his family all that well. In my favorite scene Deepak and Gotham are discussing who will be the real director of the movie that Deepak still assumes is going to be his film. Deepak starts in on one of his typical, “You and I are just one consciousness inhabiting different bodies” homilies. At the end of it Gotham says, “Does that mean I have final cut?” This stops Deepak dead in his tracks and after a pause he says, “I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
I see films like Decoding Deepak as the next step in our understanding of what mediation is and what happens to a person who follows the path to the degree of becoming able to teach it to others. At first, when various gurus, Zen masters and suchlike began washing up on our Western shores in the Sixties we were very credulous. We really believed these people might be supernatural entities, Gods on Earth, Messiahs. There’s a funny scene in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall in which Shelly Duvall plays a hippie bedazzled by a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi-like figure. “This man is God!” she gushes. Woody Allen points out that her guru is on his way to the toilet. “Oh look! God’s going to the men’s room!” he says.
The next phase, which is still going very strong these days, was and is a sense of betrayal and deep disillusionment when our gurus and masters turn out to be people after all. This lead to great masses of juicy sex scandal gossip that was for quite a while taking up an unfortunate amount of space on lots of websites that ought to be dealing with other things.
Everyone is shocked – SHOCKED! – to find that their teachers are quite capable of acting like total assholes sometimes. They still can’t seem to see how their insistence upon believing their teachers to be Godlike and their teacher’s misguided belief that they had to pretend to be Godlike created a weird feedback loop that was the actual cause of much of their teachers’ misbehavior.
Nobody wants to be God on Earth. You’ll never live up to that kind of hype. Nobody can! But if you’re surrounded by people who are demanding you be that for them, it’s hard not to want to at least try. At the same time, all of these “Gods on Earth” knew it wasn’t true. And so, to get out of it they often unconsciously but deliberately worked to destroy the illusion so that they could be free.
Now we’re at the very beginning of a new phase. Some of us are starting to understand that even if our gurus and masters are not Gods on Earth, they still might yet have something valuable to offer. In Decoding Deepak, Gotham Chopra has to admit that even though his dad is kind of a self-absorbed blowhard sometimes, a supposed anti-materialist who loves shopping for expensive glasses and shoes, what Deepak does and says has a positive effect on a lot of people. Something seems to be coming through even in spite of all the shortcomings of his dad as a human being.
The initial response many of us had to our disillusionment with our fallen Gods was to reject them completely while still clinging to the belief that even if that guy turned out to be a jerk maybe somewhere out there somebody else was the real deal. Or else we’d get cynical and say the whole spirituality and meditation thing was a big lie since even those who meditated for decades on end could still grope their students or get obsessed with money, power and the trappings of fame.
But what these movies are asking is; What if there is another way? What if we can allow our teachers to be real people with their own flaws and shortcomings and yet still be capable of bringing forth a wisdom that is somehow beyond all of that?* Can we maintain the deep trust and respect for our teachers that is a necessary part of the relationship while still allowing them to be fully human?
I hope we can. It’s important that we do.
(*Yes I’m aware that sometimes it goes well beyond just “being human” even sometimes to criminal behavior. I’m not advocating we just look the other way when it gets really ugly. Yet I wonder if sometimes the reasons it got so bad in such cases was due almost as much to the students heaping unreasonable demands upon their teachers as it was due to the teachers being bad people.)
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I ain’t Deepak Chopra. I don’t have a closet full of diamond studded glasses and Oprah doesn’t know me from a hole in the wall. Your kind donations make this blog happen and pay my rent (once again last year I earned more from blog donations than book sales). Thank you for your support!
Registration is now open for our Zen & Yoga Retreat at Mt. Baldy Zen Center May 9-11, 2014. Sign up now! Seats are going fast!
The events page is now updated! Take a look at where I’m gonna be!
You can see the documentary about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen:
– April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA
Sometimes a movie is made to tour.
Are you interested in seeing HARDCORE ZEN with your local community? Would you like Brad Warner to speak at your university, meditation group, or personal guests?
Now you can have both. The film will screen at a location at your discretion. Simply contact email@example.com the following specifics: your location, contact info, and potential date for the event.