Kumare

Last night I saw the movie Kumare. (go to kumaremovie.com for the trailer & other info) It’s a tremendously important film that I really hope gets a lot of notice. But it’s a movie that will be widely misunderstood. Take, for example, the review in the June 29th issue of Entertainment Weekly. They say:

American filmmaker Vikram Gandhi adopted the singsong Indian accent of his elders, grew his hair long, posed as a guru, and found followers in Phoenix. And while he was at it, he kept cameras rolling to make this dubious Borat-esque documentary. Gandhi tries to dodge criticism of his mocking scam by rationalizing that even a phony wise man can offer real solace. Besides, he says, he learned something about sincerity — not to mention the value of film festivals as fertile ground for publicity stunts.

Now, I like Entertainment Weekly. I’m even a subscriber. But I’m not at all surprised that they were unable to grasp the point of this movie. As they say, this is a movie about a guy of Indian descent who posed as a guru and filmed it. But what Vikram Gandhi did was not in any way a “mocking scam” nor is this film at all “Borat-esque.” As Borat, Sasha Baron Cohen played his character and the reactions it got for laughs. And while there are plenty of funny moments in Kumare, Vikram Gandhi is dealing with a much more serious and important subject. But it’s a subject that I doubt the writers at Entertainment Weekly have much close contact with and so perhaps I can forgive them for completely missing the point.

As I’ve often written in this blog and in my books, I am highly uncomfortable in my Buddhist robes. Even though I am entitled to wear the golden colored sash (called an o-kesa) of a so-called “Zen Master,” I rarely take the damned thing out of the box it lives in, in the bottom of my closet. This is because as soon as you put something like that on a certain segment of the people you meet start reacting to you in ways that I find highly bizarre and off-putting.

Uniforms are powerful and significant. This is why the police, our “boys in blue,” dress in special clothes. It’s why the President of the United States always has a red tie. It’s why priests of all religions dress up in funny outfits. People really respond to that stuff.

Vikram Gandhi had a serious interest in why certain well-heeled middle-class Americans are so easily drawn to pretty much anyone with a funny accent who puts on a set of robes. His first idea was to make a documentary film about actual gurus. But what he found disgusted and deeply disturbed him. He uses a few of the interviews he conducted for this unfinished project in the early part of the movie. And some of them are really chilling.

The one that bugged me most was Bhagavan Das who says, “If I was a twenty year old girl, I would love hanging out with me. What could be more fabulous than having sex with a really spiritual mystical person?” Gandhi cuts this together with shots of a slightly spaced out but very attractive young blonde who says of Bhagavan Das, “He’s the new teacher of this age, of this world. He’s someone who has the answer, I believe.” Yep. And the answer is in his pants.

Bhagavan Das, in case you were wondering, is an old teacher of Ram Dass, the guy who wrote Be Here Now, and has been milking his association with Ram Dass for the past forty years (he even titled his own book It’s Here Now (Are You?)). He was a hippie who went to India and became a yogi then made a lot of famous friends including Jimi Hendrix. Which is fine. But I saw him in that video and it’s hard to imagine sex with a dude that hairy would be all that fabulous for a twenty year old girl.

I don’t want to draw this into yet another of my rants about the matter of spiritual teachers who sleep with their students. I wrote two books that go deeply into that subject (and you can find them both in the store section of this website. How’s that for a plug?). But it’s just one of the things that drove Gandhi to undertake the important social experiment he documents in this film.

By putting on some orange robes and imitating his grandmother’s Indian accent and mannerisms, Vkram Gandhi discovered that there are people out there who are willing to believe just about any damned thing as long as it’s spoken by someone who appears to represent some kind of mystical spiritual tradition from the mysterious East. He has them doing air guitar moves and getting little penises drawn on their foreheads. Not only that, he tells them straight up that the thing he’s drawing on their foreheads is a dick and they still let him do it.

These are not dumb people either. They are intelligent, educated and sincere. Nor does Gandhi try to make them look like fools. Over and over again he takes pains to point out that pretty much anyone could potentially fall for this kind of thing if they were seeking “The Answer” outside of themselves.

But as the guru Sri Kumare, Gandhi has a message. And his message is that the answer is always within each of us. That we do not need to seek it in someone else. He intends to prove that by first luring his followers in with the scam of the guru Sri Kumare and then revealing to them that he’s really just a guy from New Jersey. I won’t give away the ending. But suffice it to say, it’s pretty intense.

The thing is, though, as Entertainment Weekly failed to understand in spite of saying it in their review, “even a phony wise man can offer real solace.” Sri Kumare, phony as he is, ends up doing his followers some actual good. That’s because Vikram Gandhi, the man inside the Sri Kumare guise, is at heart a good guy who truly does want to help  — even if that wasn’t what he initially set out to do. He’s not trying to scam these people. He’s trying to make a very important point. Sure he’s also trying to get a hit movie out of it. And I really hope his movie is a hit because a lot of people need to see this film.

It’s going to upset a certain segment of the audience who will see themselves in Sri Kumare’s followers and feel that they’re being played for fools. And you know what? It ought to upset them. That is precisely the point. But this is going to make it tough for Gandhi to get the film seen by the people who most need to see it. It would be sad if the only people who get into the film are those who see Sri Kumare’s followers as a bunch of idiots and who mistakenly believe they’re above all that.

As for me, who very definitely is one of the people who needed to see this movie, it’s got me thinking again about the whole matter of spiritual uniforms and the role of the teacher in the spiritual quest. It’s true that the answer is within each and every one of us. But it’s also true that most of us need someone else to help us see that. The film Kumare demonstrates this in a very concrete — and highly entertaining — way.

The question it raises for me is this; Does it really even matter if the teacher has any sort of grounding? Can anyone at all put on some robes and, if he or she is at least a decent person, act as a guide for others? Why should I insist that anyone I would pass my lineage on to be extremely balanced before I give them the paperwork that lets them wear one of those silly golden colored sashes? My tentative answer is, on the one hand pretty much anyone who is even just a bit balanced can help others find balance. But such a person could only help their followers to a limited degree.

Also, as Vikram Gandhi in the guise of the guru Kumare discovered, putting on those robe can make you act differently. When people start to trust in you, as they trusted in the phony Sri Kumare, any decent person will feel the need to try and be worthy of that trust. This may be why Dogen extolled the virtues of wearing the o-kesa, calling it “the great robe of liberation.”

But those robes can also be a dangerous weapon. Putting on the robe may make a decent person inclined to act more decently. But a less decent person can use its mojo to get all kinds of things like money and sex and power. The movie Kumare only hints at the extent to which one can abuse such power. But the real world provides plenty of examples.

Yeah. I’m talking to you, Bhagavan Das.

***

I will be once again leading zazen with Dogen Sangha Los Angeles who meet at Hill Street Center tomorrow, and every Saturday, from 9:50 AM until Noon. The address is 237 Hill St., Santa Monica, CA 90405

And if that’s not enough, you can see me once again on Sunday July 29th at 11 AM at Against The Stream 4300 Melrose Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90029.

Also, as I mentioned in the article above, we now have a store on this site where you can purchase all of my books as well as some other items of interest (The posters are very cool and extremely limited. I think there are fewer than 20 left.) Sometimes people ask where’s the best place to buy my books if they want to make sure I get the money. Up till now the answer is that I get pretty much the same rate from every place (about $1 per book). Now that I’m operating as my own store, I’ll actually make quite a bit more per book — but only if people buy the ones I bought from my publishers.

Finally, if you like what you read here, feel free to donate. You don’t have to. But it helps. Thanks!

62 Responses

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  1. mika
    mika July 27, 2012 at 2:10 pm | |

    Haven’t seen the movie yet, but will definitely go when it comes around here. Or if it never makes this far, then I’ll get it somehow. :)

    But what I think would be interesting – and I don’t know if they reveal it in the movie or not – would be to know if the cult(s) Sri Kumare set up continue even after him exposing himself as “just another dude”. The history of religious cults is full of examples of cognitive dissonance at work, when people create a story to explain away even the most bizarre circumstances. Like all those doomsday cults; when the prophesied End of the World doesn’t come after all, instead of losing their faith they invent a story to explain what happened (or didn’t happen) and continue as before.

    Wouldn’t be at all surprised if some people refused to believe Kumare when he said he’s not a “real guru”. :)

  2. tysondav
    tysondav July 27, 2012 at 4:57 pm | |

    Brad, if you could choose any zen teacher outside of your lineage, who would you choose?

  3. Padma@MyBuddhistLife
    Padma@MyBuddhistLife July 27, 2012 at 5:14 pm | |

    That sounds like an interesting movie – I will hunt it down! I wrote something a little while ago on the pitfalls of Buddhist groups and how to avoid them (the pitfalls – not the groups). I’ve seen so much of this weird projection stuff in my time, and teachers believing their own hype (with harmful consequences). I’m looking forward to the day when Western Buddhism (and ‘spirituality’ in general) is a grounded, straightforward affair. I think it will come eventually – and blogs like this can only help bring that about.

  4. Jinzang
    Jinzang July 27, 2012 at 6:14 pm | |

    It’s the old chicken and egg problem. If you knew enough to evaluate a spiritual teacher properly, you wouldn’t need the teacher. I’ll just give the advice I gave before: talk to the teacher and make some criticism of them. Notice their reaction. If they get angry, defensive, or put you down, you should look somewhere else. If they accept the criticism with a smile, that is a sign they know something.

    1. Padma@MyBuddhistLife
      Padma@MyBuddhistLife July 28, 2012 at 2:00 am | |

      Hi Jinzang.

      For me, a good teacher is someone who knows the Dharma and can articulate it, and has been practicing for a good few years. I don’t care how personally mature they are (within limits!) so long as they aren’t trying to come off as a Buddha.

      I agree that a teacher should be able to handle a bit of criticism, though simply criticising someone to see if you can get a rise out of them in order to judge their credentials seems a bit head-trippy. Teachers are just humans with feelings, same as everyone else.

      The other potential problem with your advice is that its quite easy for a teacher to play the part of nice, compassionate, wise person who can take criticism, without actually being that person. I tend to trust people who give a standard human response.

  5. Hungry Ghost
    Hungry Ghost July 27, 2012 at 11:01 pm | |

    This is a subject that plagues me, I literally don’t practice zen because I don’t trust teachers and don’t trust myself around them either. I meditate and study books but have too much baggage to engage with groups or teachers, I have a feeling there are lots of people like that. I get the sense that deep down we all know the answers to our existential or spiritual questions, some questions are simply unanswerable or the answers are just not especially edifying and so we hold onto the hope that we’re wrong, that someone else has some kind of private, esoteric access to something that will prove us wrong. We allow them to pick pocket us and sell us our own watch ( apologies to Allan Watts for the crap paraphrase ) not because we’re stupid or credulous but because we want to be wrong about what we know and what can possibly be known.

  6. recurvata
    recurvata July 27, 2012 at 11:38 pm | |

    I’ve been reading an anthology of sutras from the Pali canon, and while there’s lots of good stuff there, the Buddha himself comes acros as pretty stuck on himself. Lots of self praise.

    I generally discount it as a literary formalization of translations of oral history, and/or somewhat metaphorical. And I haven’t studied such works widely or extensively. But there are many passages with either others describing Buddha as the great perfection above all, or the Buddha describing himself that way. Just kind of jarring with my conception of Buddhism; maybe it could use some jarring.

  7. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 28, 2012 at 1:12 am | |

    Philology has shown that very few suttas from the Pali canon actually date back to the Buddha’s lifetime. It would seem that the popularity of the Sangha, at the end, had attracted lots of brahmins and that they did not suffer lightly to be put on the same level as such low lifes as a horse groom or a woman. And they would have started to “straighten” things up right after the Master’s death…

  8. Sciamano Inglese
    Sciamano Inglese July 28, 2012 at 2:56 am | |

    Hi,
    I enjoyed the review and your comments about Guru worship. I find myself passionately riled when coming across such figures who believe in their own self-importance, especially when you hear the stories of sexual abuse and manipulation.
    My first experiences of Buddhism years back were in a cult-like manifestation of Tibetan Buddhism where the glorious leader was worshiped as a living saint and fully-enlightened super-man. That left a very sour taste in my mouth intellectually speaking.
    I think this film was great in its ability to be non-Boratesque, as you point out. There is a gentleness in the director’s treatment of the followers, which shows a real sense of humanity. I think this opens up the discussion on what it is that people are trying to get by investing their hope in an external source that is not just about ignorance and naivety.
    There’s a logic within the irrational suspension of suspicion that marks these people’s behaviour because as you rightly point out, they are not to be laughed at and they are not stupid. There has to be at some level though a particular expression of desire that runs deeper than the surface level seeking of a ‘wise guru’.
    Do you think the desire for a guru is is in great part a search for a father figure? I always thought it was,but perhaps there are nuances to the whole affair that would be worth bringing further out into the open and that I haven’t picked up on just yet. For sure there is convenience in handing over the reigns for your development to another.
    Matthew
    http://buddhatrieste.blogspot.it

  9. Fred
    Fred July 28, 2012 at 4:06 am | |

    You know it’s bullshit when you don’t see women in 50% of the leadership
    positions.

    Every revolution/process of change gets co-opted by the system and becomes
    a new means for encultured conditioning.

    So too, a religious practice can become your ” old hometown ” and not a settling
    down where there is no settling down.

  10. davesearbymason
    davesearbymason July 28, 2012 at 9:15 am | |

    hmmmm . . . . best to leave that o-kesa in the cupboard

  11. Ted
    Ted July 28, 2012 at 1:56 pm | |

    The Buddha supposedly attained enlightenment; what was praised about him was this, not that he was a great guy, or anointed by the gods, or anything like that. If you choose not to consider the Buddhist teachings on enlightenment to be legitimate, then everything associated with them is going to sound weird.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the film—it seems like it will be fun. Unfortunately it’s not playing anywhere in Vermont, so I probably won’t get to see it until it comes out on video.

    Brad, just out of curiosity, I saw a clip of Geshe Michael in the preview. Did that make it into the film? Was it horrible? (Just wondering if that’s going to wind up in Wikipedia next week.:)

  12. Jinzang
    Jinzang July 28, 2012 at 6:04 pm | |

    “The other potential problem with your advice is that its quite easy for a teacher to play the part of nice, compassionate, wise person who can take criticism, without actually being that person.”

    This is less common than you suppose. But you have to be a little subtle about it. “You suck and your tradition is awful.” won’t work, for the reason you describe.

    Of course, a person who can’t take criticism can still teach you many things.

  13. Jinzang
    Jinzang July 28, 2012 at 6:10 pm | |

    “I don’t trust teachers and don’t trust myself around them either.”

    For a lot of reasons I prefer the word coach to teacher, mainly because it emphasizes that you have to do the work yourself and the coach is just there to point out where you have problems or could do things better.

  14. NickPowell
    NickPowell July 28, 2012 at 8:42 pm | |

    I’m really looking forward to seeing Kumare!

    Also, there’s a documentary that came out a month or so ago about Bhagavan Das called “Karmageddon” that you might want to check out (http://karmageddonthemovie.com). The guy who made it originally set out to make a straight-forward film about Bhagavan Das as a teacher, but it ended up getting into much different territory once he started spending a lot of time around him and getting really freaked out by his actions. The film really questions the extent to which people will want to justify shitty behavior from people claiming to be spiritual teachers as “crazy wisdom,” and if there’s any benefit in doing so.

    What can be said about Bhagavan Das, however, is that he makes great music.

  15. Impactednurse
    Impactednurse July 28, 2012 at 9:41 pm | |

    I have seen this movie Brad, and I totally agree with you.
    Opens a whole ward-robe of Introspective questions.
    I also found it quite emotionally confronting. And yes the ending is very intense.
    I take my hat off to those followers that seemed to get it and embrace his final teaching unconditionally.
    I think I may have tracked out more like the female Yoga teacher.

    A great and important documentary.
    5 out of 5 chakras.

  16. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 28, 2012 at 10:43 pm | |

    “Philology has shown that very few suttas from the Pali canon actually date back to the Buddha’s lifetime.”

    Have you seen “Indian Buddhism”, by A. K. Warder, Professor Emeritus of Sanskrit in the University of Toronto?

    Near as I can tell, he and most other scholars consider the first four Nikayas of the Pali Canon as likely an accurate representation of the teachings of the historical Gautamid. They do so in part by comparing the books of the Canon held in Thailand/Southeast Asia with the books preserved in Tibet and in China.

    I’ve even read that the sermons that begin “Thus have I heard” in the Pali sermons are attributed to Ananda, the Gautamid’s companion who had a photographic memory for sound.

    The material concerned with consciousness, with the four truths, and with the meditative states seems pretty one-of-a-kind to me. The relevant sermons are scattered through the volumes, amid a lot of sermons about morality and the importance of the dharma.

    Many of the important sermons are missing from the online collections, as far as I can tell.

  17. Khru
    Khru July 29, 2012 at 12:36 am | |

    The worst…the absolute worst…in an embarrassing way…

  18. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 29, 2012 at 1:18 am | |

    I’ll give a single example of my take on the early canons (be they pali, or various agamas). The Parinirvana sutra in the Pali Canon describes the Buddha’s last moments (by the way, a recent medical study tends to show that he actually died of a mesenteric infarct). There, an 80 year old man, spent by days of walking, horrendous gut pains and dysentery dies telling his followers to strive for their salvation and to be lamps unto themselves. So far so good. But then, he launches in an extremely long discourse where, among other things, he tells them to throw away, after his death, Cunda, his former horse groom, who had accompanied him since his leaving home, and other prescriptions.

    To me, it feels wildly like some additions plastered upon authentic material by people with an agenda.

  19. bleadof
    bleadof July 29, 2012 at 7:36 am | |

    This reminds me of two things: The Guru (2002) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0280720/ and Derren Browns Miracles for Sale (2011) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Derren_Brown#Derren_Brown:_Miracles_for_Sale_.282011.29http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jYjgeayfYPI .

    The Guru is a cheesy romantic comedy about an indian guy who becomes a sex guru. Part of the charm is of course Heather Graham, but the issue is more or less related and the movie does have some of the moral journey. What does it entail to be a guru? What are the moral issues when you’re making money out of it? Are the wisdoms you’re benefiting from really yours? And so forth… It definitely doesn’t provide deep insight and is quite plain about the manner, but was funny and entertaining.

    The other one is a project taken on by Derren Brown to actually train someone into a spiritual healer. The journey of the guy chosen is interesting even though again the morale wasn’t really deeply studied, but at least you get to see the tricks of the spiritual healing trade and how easy it’s to get people behind you if you just know how to act and some basic tricks.

    And just to be clear, I’m not saying zen is a trick, but the message can be twisted so that it sort of becomes one when someone is providing the “answers” and there’s no real personal journey from the receiver to actually understand them.

    I’m not really big on the word teacher or master because both of the words come with baggage of authority. I don’t know who to credit, but I like the budo way of thinking about a teacher, where everyone you practice with is your teacher – if you pay attention you’re bound to learn something. Add not just hint of skepticism, but rather a handful of it, and you’re off to a good start. Test your own thoughts and try to keep an open mind. Eventually some things are bound to settle. In a way you have to be your own teacher.

    Anyway, see the Derren Brown thing, it’s interesting.


    //
    Tarmo

  20. boubi
    boubi July 29, 2012 at 7:40 am | |

    Brad

    Find a few bucks* and send some of your acquaintances, some Harley’s colleagues above 40 y.o, to check if Bhagavan Das is the real deal or if he’s just preying upon influencable young women in search for some daddy in the sky.

    It would be interesting to make a reverse check too, to make those Bhagavan Das’ groupies acquainted with some well endowed movie partners of madame Hartley.

    My impression is that we would be in for some really funny surprise, and it could be a block buster and money maker.

    * you could have a look at the male audience of SG.

    BTW you could also counsel that male audience about loosing inhibitions

  21. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 29, 2012 at 9:39 am | |

    @Proulx Michel,

    The Pali Text Society translators do point out at least one insertion in the footnotes. There’s a passage in a sermon where the Gautamid mentions the extremes to which he went in his search for enlightenment (I think that’s the one), and he mentions holding his breath; the point he’s making is that his mind was not impinged on, even in this extreme. The text then goes on to describe this kind of cessation of breath as the way of celestial beings or something. The footnote by the translator points out that this is an obvious insertion, by the editors or someone, in the original text.

    It’s interesting because the Gautamid speaks frequently of the cessations of the activities in the meditative states, and in the fourth meditative state the cessation is the cessation of “inhalation and exhalation”. Whoever inserted the lines about the way of celestial beings was clearly trying to make out that this cessation is a physical cessation of breath, a miraculous ability that places the Gautamid in a superhuman category. The sermons that make clear that the cessation of the activities is a cessation of volition in activity, of intent in activity, are in the first book of the Gradual Sayings, but the description of the cessation of inhalation and exhalation in the fourth meditative state is in a number of the middle-length sermon volumes and in the kindred sayings volumes as well.

    There’s also at least one instance of two sermons one after the other that say exactly the opposite thing. There’s a sermon where the Gautamid states that he likes walking on the highway with no one in front or behind him, and he says he likes it so much he prefers it even to answering the calls of nature. The very next sermon says he likes walking on the highway with no one in front or behind, but he prefers answering the calls of nature, which seems to me an obvious fabrication, probably because the editors were concerned about what might happen if monks attempted to practice based on the Gautamid’s sermon!

  22. boubi
    boubi July 29, 2012 at 11:04 am | |

    cessation of “inhalation and exhalation”

    Could it be that when you exhale completely you refrain from inhaling for a few moments, swallowing in order to help it? It helps to lower your breath rate and your thought rate too, no breath, no thoughts. You break the chain of self produced chatter/talkshow , and helps concentrate of your abdominal breathing.

    BEWARE: don’t try unless under supervision.

  23. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 29, 2012 at 11:46 am | |

    Mark Foote: you should probably take a look at KR Norman, “A Philological Approach to Buddhism”, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1997, where, among other things, he writes:
    ” It is most unlikely, to say the least, that within a very short time of the Buddha’s death suttas had already been collected and categorised by length and subject matter into the form in which we have them in the Theraviidin canon, and it is most unlikely that the Sutta-pitaka was in its present form at that time. It is obvious that if the Digha-nikiiya, Majjhima-nikiiya, etc., had not yet been formulated and named, there could hardly have been Digha-bhiinakas and Majjhima-bhiinakas, etc. ”
    http://ahandfulofleaves.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/a-philological-approach-to-buddhism_norman_tbf_1997.pdf

  24. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 29, 2012 at 12:22 pm | |

    I’m not hugely familiar with Bhagavan Das and his antics, but my impression is that he’s not so much preying on naive seekers looking for a sky-daddy, as he is just really into having sex with women who are into the whole tantric-yogic sexual thing. In other words, the only “promise” he is holding out is that of really great sex with a whole spiritual-energy thing going on. There’s a lot of women who are into that sort of thing, and I don’t really see anything wrong with it. If he isn’t delivering, I think it’s less likely that he’d going to get laid. But the general impression is that he’s sort of a stud in these matters, and the chicks dig him. Can’t really argue that such things are beyond the pale for spiritual folks, as long as there’s no abuse or financial exploitation involved.

  25. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 29, 2012 at 2:04 pm | |

    Thanks for the link Fred. Just watched the trailer. Looks like a good movie.

    One thing Bhagavan Das makes clear is that he’s in the aghora tradition. That pretty much explains everything, including the problem with people expecting a certain kind of religious teacher, which aghora is pretty much the opposite of.

    As aghoris go, he seem relatively benign. In fact, I’m not sure how genuine his practice of aghora really is, in that while aghoris certainly due partake of sex as a part of their practice, it’s often in a deliberately disgusting and unfulfilling manner. It’s not just about fucking cute 20 year olds, it’s about engaging in a non-dual sexual orientation that is just as likely to be fucking 80-year olds. It can involve eating rotten food or shit and drinking piss, doing all kinds of unpleasant things in order to shake oneself out of the dualistic mind and its preferences.

    Genuine aghoris are really something to behold. There’s some youtubes of them in India which are quite interesting and illuminating. They live in the charnel grounds and live quite ascetically. I don’t think Bhagavan Das is a genuine aghori, in other words. He’s just familiar enough with it to take what he likes and leaves the rest, which is the opposite of what a genuine aghori does.

    Part of the problem with westerners getting into this sort of thing is that they don’t know how to understand and use these traditions intelligently. They tend to make the mistake Jung warned against, of identifying with an archetype. The way to relate to an archetype like Kali is to treat her as a function within one’s own psyche, and not to use her as a way to seduce other people. I have some familiarity with this, having two statues of Kali on my own meditation altar. One has to recognize the power and place of these archetypes, and not use them as a means to exploit one’s psyche and that of others. Quite the opposite, they are means for disciplining oneself, and presenting that disciplined psyche to others.

    I don’t think, from that short trailer, that Bhagavan Das knows how to do this. If he did, he’d have a much more benign and less self-possessed presence. Kali cuts that kind of ego to shreds, if you let her anywhere near you. So I wouldn’t say that I think Bhagavan Das has anything remotely like an intimate relationship to Kali, or the aghora tradition as a whole.

  26. boubi
    boubi July 29, 2012 at 2:38 pm | |

    About Kumare

    I don’t know if someone already talked about this, but from the teaser it seems to me that Kumare was giving quite standard and positive teachings, love, relax, be oneself etc. The standard issue in “yoga-meditation thing”.

    Add to it the fact that he looked like the projection of an indian sage that people have of it and add also some placebo effect and you get what you get.

    I think that if the physician was receiving us in tongs, bermuda, unshaven, belly protuding from a tshirt, and a smashed can of beer on a shelf, we wouldn’t feel at ease to say the least, even though he would be the very same guy with a white frock and a stethoscope hanging round his neck.

    Now Kumare dressed and behaved like an indian yoga teacher, so people took him for what he looked like.

    Regarding the easiness for people to believe and to surrender themselves i have a very negative experience.

    Following a remark (misunderstood) made by my visiting teacher during a lecture, i found myself surrounded by people who nearly knelt asking me if i was teaching them. I felt such an uneasiness bordering disgust, i wanted to kick them from in front of me. I told them i didn’t know shit and that i was looking for was an apprentice at work (from here the teaching misunderstanding).

    I later commented with my teacher on how much they looked lost, but fucking bloody lost and ready to get ripped by the first SOB passing by.

    About the women looking for “tantric fucking” just listen to what that beautiful girl said. About the guy most probably he can control his ejaculation and stay hard for ages, which isn’t such an achievement, after a while you get high from it or in other words you access some higher level of consciousness. For me i just felt high, lacking yoga training. It works and you feel good, but the woman don’t need to look for such a swindle job. Of course with all the paraments of the case, projection, placebo it must have some effect on some groupies.

  27. boubi
    boubi July 29, 2012 at 2:47 pm | |

    The aghori thing works because they break taboos of their own culture, in order to liberate themselves from conditioning, going to extremes like eating dead people, living in charnel grounds and so on.

    That dude isn’t breaking any taboo of his own culture, he is simply fucking around, which is an accepted behavior in western civilisation.

  28. Fred
    Fred July 29, 2012 at 2:55 pm | |

    Eating shit to drop the attachment to pleasant things, is just replacing one
    object with another. It’s still in the world of duality. It’s a reaction on the level
    of ego.

    Why all the elaborate machinations and special posturing. Why not just use the
    mind to drop the mind?

  29. boubi
    boubi July 29, 2012 at 3:00 pm | |

    I don’t think it’s against “pleasant things”, it’s against structures in your mind, it’s about breaking taboos, dark side etc.

    It’s not my way, but so what? If it works for some why not?

  30. Ted
    Ted July 29, 2012 at 3:10 pm | |

    Thanks, Brad! Khru, don’t toy with me! :)

  31. boubi
    boubi July 29, 2012 at 3:15 pm | |

    Beyond all that has been said i would like see how this Baga Ras would get laid without all this yoga thing, not saying getting laid with such 20 yo buds.

    Take away his hairdo, his costume and what you get is someone that most women would avoid to the extend to go to the opposite sidewalk, or even lacing him with some mace spray in case he ventured to get too close.

  32. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm | |

    Everyone knows that rock stars wouldn’t get laid if you took away their guitars and theatrical settings, etc. Bhagavan Das is just trying to be a rock star of the spiritual scene. No big deal, really.

    As for the aghoris, it’s not my tradition, but there’s a sense to it, if done right under the guidance of a genuine aghori Guru. The idea is to train the mind in the context of real life, not just sitting staring at a wall thinking you’re transcending anything. What good does all that do, if after you stare at the wall, you are still filled with preferences and cravings you are trying to fulfill? The aghoris at least take the notion of non-dualism seriously, and actually try to overcome the dualistic mind in the context of its real sensory and bodily attachments and desires.

    What you find in many westerners, including apparently this Bhagavan Das, are people who like spiritual things, and also like a whole lot of worldly and sensual pleasures, and think that the way to resolve any conflict between those two is to find some way of calling them both “spiritual”, so that you can have your cake and eat it. So they look for traditions like tantra and aghora which seem to offer some kind of formula for doing both, without looking deeply enough to see how they don’t work that way. But in the west, not many people know the difference, so you can get away with a lot for a long time, because there are a lot of people who share that same impulse and would rather not find out the bad news that it just doesn’t work like that.

  33. Fred
    Fred July 29, 2012 at 4:39 pm | |

    But embracing/engaging the opposite of something is still giving that thing
    power over your existence. It reinforces an either/or position. It would be
    better to drop both sides of a duality.

    Sitting in a big vat of shit surrounded by remnants of dead people with a 24
    hour hardon and a 20 year old horny enlightenment- wannabe, isn’t spiritual
    practice.

    It’s much ado about nothing.

  34. Broken Yogi
    Broken Yogi July 29, 2012 at 5:05 pm | |

    “But embracing/engaging the opposite of something is still giving that thing
    power over your existence. It reinforces an either/or position. It would be
    better to drop both sides of a duality.”

    Fine in theory, but in practice it just doesn’t work that way.

    The aghora approach to practice is not to “embrace/engage” the opposites. That’s the Oprah/Wilber notion, where all you do is just get rich and soaked with glory all day long. There is no “embrace” going on. Aghoris are forcing themselves to confront the opposites, not just as conceptual categories, but in their direct meditative practice. They do things they would never choose in a million years, to feel just how strong their inner aversion/attachment tendencies are. In other words, it’s never about the “thing” itself, it’s about one’s own inner aversions and attachments and desires. The “thing” is just a mechanism for making us feel these parts of us that crave and desire and fear and attach. Once that is brought to the fore, the “thing” doesn’t matter anymore. It was never about that to begin with.

    So aghora practice is never about food or sex, say, it’s about our desires and aversions towards food and sex. The goal is to be free of such desires and aversions, not to embrace or engage them and become some kind of spiritual renaissance dude who can fuck all the young chicks and at the same time sing the praises of the Mother Kali, getting all “inclusive” on their asses.

    It’s certainly a different approach than Buddhism, but the goal is pretty much the same, to be free of craving, clinging, desire, attachment, and delusion. Whether it works or not, I don’t know. But you could ask the same question about Buddhism too.

  35. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 29, 2012 at 6:16 pm | |

    Proulx Michel,

    wow, I am knee-deep in that article and carried away.

    “It is only when the philologist examines the problem, analyses the relationship of the words, compares other versions of the noble truths found in Sanskrit, and establishes the syntax of each phrase that the correct translations “The noble truth that ‘this is suffering”‘, “The noble truth that ‘this is the cause of suffering”‘, etc., become possible.”

    I haven’t finished it by any means, but it looks to me like he is arguing that the translations that have been made weren’t made by individuals with a sound knowledge of grammer and useage in the languages of the period and of languages extant at the same time, and neither were they made with the many versions of the same text now available from different locations in Asia and Afganistan.

    As to the Pali Texts being the most accurate representation of the teachings of the Gautamid, here’s an article which I also haven’t finished reading from the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, which I believe will eventually assert that they are:

    http://www.ocbs.org/images/documents/Wynne.pdf

    Aside from which, as I said, I have found nothing like the descriptions in the first four Pali sutta volumes, as far as the consistency of the account of the truths about “this is suffering”, the consistency and extent of the description of meditative states, and the significance ascribed to those states, much less the descriptions of the nature of consciousness (the continuity of consciousness is an illusion, where else have you heard that?). This speaks to me of the teachings of one person, remembered by those with an amazing memory for sound, because they are complete with blemishes- the tale of the scores of monks taking the knife while trying to follow the Gautamid’s instructions, as one.

  36. AnneMH
    AnneMH July 29, 2012 at 8:22 pm | |

    Hmm, this article made me think a lot. I am looking forward to seeing the movie and so far it is not in my city. We get things a month or so after the west and east coast I think.

    So I had a good teacher for 5 years, totally unknown and probably a bit full of BS. Eventually he said I outgrew him and we could be more equals. That was fine, I respected him, just didn’t always agree with him. We pretty much lost touch but I could contact him and no hard feelings. He had faults but I didn’t expect him not to (that came with time, I admit to hoping he had answers for me at first). I just got an email from one of that group and realized I really miss the guy.

    So if teachers are a mixed bag, and it is pretty hard to evaluate them when you are hungry searching, then where do we put the independent people? Right now I figure I need to learn a fair amount to lead any meditation, I have a chance to do some in a small group here. So I want a teacher, I know I need the intellectual stuff filled in and my practice open to an outside opinion. There are enough home cooked teachers who really don’t have it solid IMHO. I have learned a lot being independent, not expecting anyone to do it for me or congratulate me, however there is a time for a teacher. And I do not have a clue how to find one,..

    I agree however with the basic good heart. My teacher had some points I could not agree with but I never doubted his care and the tremendous attention he gave. That continues to be very valuable.

  37. boubi
    boubi July 30, 2012 at 3:58 am | |

    There should be some in Colorado

    boulderzen.org

    Mountain Gazing Zen Center
    Seido Clark, Osho
    15975 CR30
    Dolores, CO 81321
    (970) 882-2530

    And IMO you don’t need many “intellectual things”, just enough not to believe in some fairy tales.

    The aforementioned centers may be not endorsed by the site owner.

    BTW, all people are people, and we are all, to some degree, full of it, but your teacher seemed to me as a very decent guy.

  38. boubi
    boubi July 30, 2012 at 4:04 am | |

    Try to avoid all TM or C(opyright) meditation business, “big minds”.

  39. boubi
    boubi July 30, 2012 at 4:05 am | |

    “Fred
    Why all the elaborate machinations and special posturing. Why not just use the
    mind to drop the mind?”

    Why don’t you go spreading the good gospel? LOL

  40. WendyR
    WendyR July 30, 2012 at 7:50 am | |

    Brad – You might enjoy the book ‘Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion’ by Robert Ciadini. It discusses the 6 principles of persuasion, or put another way, the 6 best ways to get other people to do what you want them to do. One of the 6 prinicples is authority, and he’s has a great discussion on the power of uniforms. While this book it not mainly about religion, he provides good commentary on everything from Hare Krishna’s handing out flowers at the airport to Jim Jones and Jonestown. A must read so you know how the scammers, fake gurus, and marketers of our day are trying to hijack our brains.

  41. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 30, 2012 at 9:14 am | |

    Mark Foote:
    I’m not saying that the Pali Canon is not an accurate source. I’m just exercising caution, seeing, from the very text you have indicated me, that the most ancient source (the Mahasanghika) is more or less lost, but even more so, that it has been observed that, even with the people involved still alive, History can be easily deformed according the various agendas. A good example, albeit fictional, is described in Kurt Vonnegut’s “Slaughterhouse 5″. I have heard University professors state things that are patently false, even by the scant documents extant, obviously because of their (Catholic in the latter case) agenda. So, what I’m mentioning of, for instance, the Parinirvana Sutta, does not need any huge historical delay before being implemented.
    I just think, like Brad has often stated, that caution must be exercised, even with the best sources.

  42. Proulx Michel
    Proulx Michel July 30, 2012 at 9:22 am | |

    And, aside from that, I might have criticised Norman for giving the lecture “this is suffering”. Because the word used doesn’t say “suffering” but more like “squeaking”. Indeed, dukkha means a wheel that doesn’t turn smoothly on its axle… Exactly what a French mechanic would say about a motor that doesn’t run smoothly: “Ça tourne carré” (it turns square, that is ‘it doesn’t turn round’). “Ne pas tourner rond” (not to turn round) is also applied in French to things of a more psychological or sociological stamp. So the metaphor is still alive, somewhere.

  43. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote July 30, 2012 at 10:31 am | |

    Love that, about “ne pas tourner rond”!

    My conclusion would be that the Gautamid describes something about well-being. Where I cease to experience well-being I am exactly out of round, in the sense that my conscious awareness is out of rhythm with my unconscious awareness, and that would be the ignorance that leads to a station of consciousness (as the Gautamid described it). My experience of it, today.

    Some days it’s really hard just to be where I am, while simultaneously it’s not really possible for me to be anywhere else; what’s a mother to do, as Khru would say, I’m sure.

    My concern with the Pali Canon is that the Gautamid considered himself qualified to make pronouncements on the order of society, the nature of womankind, and other matters outside of the truths about suffering. Have we come far enough to see that a person who is qualified to speak in one field or science might not be qualified to speak in another, much less to speak about politics and the social order of the day? Do we see now that a person’s ability to do something remarkable doesn’t guarantee they can explain how it’s done to another person, and the ability to explain how something is done must always be incomplete in order to be consistent?

    In the article you recommended, the guy quotes one of Lewis Carroll’s characters talking about the rule of three- if someone says it three times, it must be true. Buddhism suffers from the rule of three a lot!

  44. The Grand Canyon
    The Grand Canyon July 30, 2012 at 11:02 am | |

    Gautamid or Goat Amid? http://www.iwantagoat.com/video

    Is Boubi the con artist formerly known as Mysterion?

    Where have all the flowers gone?

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