The Wisdom of the False Guru


Recently I watched a fascinating documentary – Kumare: The True Story of a False Prophet – by Vikram Gandhi.

It is about a man who, while making a documentary about gurus, was confronted by one of the gurus he was filming who said to him – “You want to know about gurus? All those big gurus you see, they are not spiritual people. All they want is money. It’s not that easy man… Living a spiritual life is very difficult.”

This comment, coupled with what he had witnessed for himself while filming, as well as the trendiness of the pursuit of spirituality in Western culture, and his own studies of many spiritual enlightenment practices and philosophies, ended up inspiring him with more questions than answers.

He decided to try out an experiment to answer some of his questions.

One of the most pressing ones being – Why do we look outside of ourselves for something which we all possess within us? Why do we seek a guru, when we have our own guru within?

So he donned the attire associated with Indian gurus, the long hair, beard, and robes. He spoke with an accent inspired by his grandmother, a woman who had instilled in him a deep interest in spirituality. He dressed the part, walked the walk, talked the talk, embodied the image which people expect of a guru. He created a teaching, with meditative practices, yoga postures, chants, and a philosophy. Then he went out into the world to see if anyone would believe that he was who he appeared to be and would follow him and his teachings.

Throughout the entire experiment he repeatedly told people that who he was was an illusion, that he was not who they thought he was.

Now if you haven’t seen this documentary you might think it is one in which some guy who thinks he’s very clever and everyone else is less intelligent than him, sets out to fool people and then as a denouement lets them in on the joke which he played on them, making them feel foolish while he laughs at them for believing his lies.

But it is not like that at all.

Because Vikram Gandhi is not that kind of a person.

If at any point he wondered if he was that kind of a person, his experiment taught him that he wasn’t.

Vikram Gandhi as Kumare became Kumare. In many ways the part he was playing was genuine, and he came to refer to the part as being his ideal self, the person he would like to be, whom he strives to be, whom he is inside. Playing the part allowed him to discover this side of himself by letting it be expressed rather than suppressed by all the other roles that being human and living in a complex world entails. He simplified himself, and found an inner truth through an external lie.

He was very aware of what he was doing, conscious of the possible consequences and ramifications of his actions, and this became intrinsic to his interactions as he sought to minimise the effect that the revelation he would make to those who believed him and followed him would have on them. His concern and sensitivity towards others was in everything he said and did.

This gave him something extra which those with whom he came into contact could feel. He was no ordinary guru.

He cared about them, and about his impact on their lives.

He was interested in them and why they were following him.

He related to what they were seeking.

He saw himself as being the same as them, a human searching for meaning, inspiration, purpose, and guidance.

He did not see himself as their teacher, their father figure, their guru, an authority telling them how to live and be. He knew he was learning more from them than they were learning from him. And most of all he realised that he was learning a lot from and about himself during the process.

This experiment was deeply personal, and meaningful to him. It was not just a cool idea for a documentary.

One of the things which struck the people who followed him the most about him was his personal touch. He asked them about themselves, and listened carefully to their stories. He spent time with each of them, and got to know them. And as he did, he showed them the guru that he saw in them.

When they asked him what they should do, he always turned the question back to them, and asked them what they truly wanted to do.

He did this partly because he knew that he was not a guru, that it was not his place to tell them what to do, how to be, or how to live their lives. He wanted to be responsible in the role he was playing. And because of this, people found him to be amazing. He encouraged them to find their own answers. He was not judgemental. He accepted them, and by doing that he showed them how to accept themselves. How to trust that they had wisdom within them. That they knew what was right for them. They just needed someone to help them be still enough to draw it out of their inner selves.

It was beautiful to watch, as each person he interacted with seemed to blossom, come out of their protective shells and allow themselves to see their own personal power, strength and knowledge.

At the end when he revealed his experiment to those who had been a part of it, when he showed them his ordinary self, without the guru attire, he did so with trepidation but also a willingness to face up to the consequences of what he had done. He also did it with great sensitivity, making every effort to make sure that the only fool in the room was him, but that the fool that he was had been made wise by being with such wonderful people.

After the initial shock, most of those who had been Kumare’s followers, applauded the experiment for showing them that they were indeed their own gurus and had personal power and wisdom within them. He kept in touch with them, and they with him long after the filming was over. A true bond and connection had been made between them through their shared experience and lesson in life.

It was a fascinating view of the human experience and all the complexities which it involves. Very thought-provoking on so many levels. A masterpiece of perception.

Kumare often referred to himself  and his teaching as The Mirror.

The wisdom people saw in him was their own reflected back at them. The guru was not him, but their own reflection.

vikram gandhi

But of course all of this is how I perceived what I saw. How I experienced Vikram Gandhi, Kumare, and what he was doing and did. I projected my own view onto the film and those within it, and it reflected me back at myself.

Just as I liked it, there are those who dislike it, and others who are indifferent to it.

We see… what we see.

And sometimes we share what we see.

But what we think we’re sharing and what others think we’re sharing may be very different.

Such is life and being human.


*for the DPWC: Student, Teacher


For more about the film and Vikram Gandhi:

The film’s website – Kumare Movie

Kumare’s website – Kumare org.

An article in the Huffington Post by Vikram Gandhi – Kumare: The Time I Became a Guru