Director Vikram Gandhi recently came to Bali to screen his movie, Kumaré – A True Story of a False Prophet.
In the film, he impersonates a guru named Kumaré in order to test the limitations and find the origins surrounding the cultivation of positive personal growth.
Vikram began this process as an average artist, then became a fake leader, and then exposed himself as just an average artist.
In doing so, he created a work of art that gained him great notoriety and influence as a leader.
After his artistic and spiritual journey brought him full circle. Who better to sit down with and talk about leadership in the spiritual community?
Q: Who were your leaders growing up, people you looked up to?
A: I think my father was the main leader I saw in my life, but my mother was also very much a leader.
Q: What about spiritual leaders?
A: The first real guru or spiritual leader I was exposed to in a major way was in an ashram in Pennsylvania.
There was a Swami there called Swami Dayananda [Dayananda Saraswati, founder of Arsha Vidya Gurukulam] that teaches Vedanta.
I probably started going when I was seven. He was like a grandfather figure. He was the leader but you never actually saw him leading.
He was just the person in charge who kind of had spiritual authority, but it wasn’t dogmatic or anything.
I had no objections with the way he acted; there was kind of a family vibe.
Q: What are your thoughts on political leaders?
A: I’ve been skeptical of political leaders my whole life. I haven’t had really too much interest [in politics] until Obama.
That was a really big deal for anyone who’s not white in America. I mean – to have somebody who’s a brown man become President?
That changes your whole perspective on the world in a major way… Then after a few years it’s like, “Oh well, it’s just politics again…”
Q: Have your opinions about leadership roles changed since making your film? A: Being a film director and being a spiritual leader are very similar in a lot of ways, especially when you are
making an independent film. Part of it was leading people by example, even if it didn’t make any sense.
If I didn’t have producers who believed in the project, no one was going to show up. They were like, “I believe in this guy.”
Then, when the assistants came to audition, they were like, “Well, it’s a crazy fucking idea, but if those guys believe in it…” It’s really the first people who believe that get the other people on board.
Once that happens, at least in the spiritual leadership sense, that’s how it takes off.
It’s like the Dalai Lama – if he just calls himself “The Dalai Lama,” he would be just a dude who dressed in a robe.
But, because there is a system that says, “ This guy’s the Dude,” then all of a sudden he can play that role.
It’s not about the person who is leading; it’s about the first person who decides to follow.
Q: Is it easier to see the relationship between authority and corruption after having made this film?
A: I think if you are a spiritual leader, you have absolutely NO motivation or ambition that’s justifiable other than to help other people.
The majority of people in the “spiritual industry” have to make a living and that’s honestly what’s going on.
I think that’s what’s funny about spiritual leaders to me: it’s about them leading, not about where they are leading people to. It’s supposed to be about where…
Q: After being Kumaré, did it seem like it would be easier for someone in an authority position to take advantage of people?
A: I couldn’t because I was making a movie. I was documenting everything. If Kumaré was real, he could do
whatever he wanted. But I’m Vikram so I couldn’t break any rules because I’m not the person they think I am.
The point was, I’m put in a situation where all these things are at my fingertips in this movie and the audience feels uncomfortable because they know.
These people feel a certain weight of his [Kumaré’s] authority or his presence that has nothing to do with anything he said.
It’s just that he is in a position and looks the part, and that has created the opinion of so many different people, including the audience.
Q: Didn’t you talk about those boundaries in an interview with Stephen Colbert?
A: Yes, I told him that the rules of a fake guru are a lot more strict than the rules of a real guru.
Q: Were there different reactions between men and women to the Kumaré film?
A: Men might be excited to be that spiritual leader that I’m playing – that’s their excitement about the movie.
Perhaps the excitement for women is how it has exposed spiritual leaders as frauds.
I had a great reception from a very strong women’s group called Off The Mat, run by Seane Corn and some other people from L.A.
They showed it in a Yoga Teacher Training and the feedback was that it was about not giving your power up to gurus and other people [or] to men in positions of power.
Some women have interpreted [the movie] as a way of exposing male spiritual teachers who take advantage of women, which is totally accurate.
Q: Do you still practice yoga?
A: Yeah, I do. I’m just not as obsessed with it as I was for the movie. I think modern yoga is an invention, a complete fabrication.
Very much like Zumba, maybe more than people want to admit.
You may say that this teacher has the answer to my problems. If I can catch something he is giving, maybe I will find happiness. You see, this is an illusion.
You do not need anyone outside yourself to be happy. But that does not mean you should not seek happiness, and that does not mean you should not find teachers.
Often, it is through illusion that we create our greatest truth.Sri Kumaré
VIKRAM ON OSHO
On creating a fictional guru
I watched YouTube videos of Osho speaking when I was preparing for this part.
He was a fashion inspiration as well because basically he said, “You can dress however you want.
Dress like an alien, like Sun Ra Arkestra, like Parliament-Funkadelic if you want.” Osho dressed like a fucking crazy person and people were like, “Oh, he’s from outer space or something. Cool.” Beyond that when he spoke – he didn’t blink.
I watched a fifteen minute lecture – he doesn’t blink once. His focus is so ON. I don’t think he’s a charlatan; he’s just a trickster. He’s an interesting and smart person and he’s playing with it.
People expected him to be magic. Everyone wanted him to be magic so he was like, “Cool.
I know that you think I’m magic, so I’m just going to play on that.” With Osho, it’s like, “You’re so wise, but are you fucking with me?” Everything is a joke, but it’s also deeply serious.
On Osho’s popularity in the Spiritual Community
Well, Osho is made up. The word Osho is nonsense. He just made up his name. His name was Bhagwan Rajneesh.
Nobody in India was ever practicing Zen, so he incorporated Zen.
Then, he put Ecstatic Dance and Twirling and all this kind of thing, and he opened the door to saying anything is valid.
Anything could become “spirituality” and that was something slightly new. Also, he didn’t take things too seriously so he was able to constantly contradict himself.
In fact, he always talked about contradicting yourself and how important that is.
The beginning of Autobiography of a Spiritually Incorrect Mystic starts off with him saying that he runs a circus.
What has appealed in America has often been performance oriented.
The first cult leaders in America – yogis with Ashrams – the first [leader] was a complete charlatan named Pierre Bernard who had an ashram in upstate New York… and it was like a circus.
He pretended he was from France but really he was from Middle America.
Don’t confuse information with wisdom. Don’t confuse interaction with connection. Don’t confuse disorder with flexibility. Don’t confuse confidence with strength. Don’t confuse what you think you are with what you are becoming.Kumare
Suki Zoe ran away to NYC after finishing art school in London.