Trickster and Tricked


“All gurus try to undermine their followers' egos and expectations, so does it matter if the teacher is a real fraud?” Erik Davis tries to answer the question in Aeon:

To say that we live in a post-secular era does not mean that we are done with the disenchantments of modernity, or that religion – goddess forbid – will regain its previous hold over human affairs. True, many of the convictions and clarities that once undergirded modern secular society have dissolved, leaving many things — including our rational selves — up for grabs. But while radical atheists can rant all they want, the resonant claims of religion and the insistent calls of the spirit remain far from ‘behind’ us.The major religions are not leaving the world stage anytime soon, and what is more the largely secular zone that the global elites now inhabit plays host to a wide array of spiritual identities and transformative practices, of which yoga, meditation, and some manner of Buddhism are only the most visible.

Religion (and its shadowy ally, the occult) has always managed the boundaries between things — life and death, order and chaos, self and world, novelty and tradition, the knowable and the infinite. It is absurd to imagine that the force of such preoccupations should dissipate at a time of cultural crisis and confusion such as ours. Many of those ever-fluctuating boundaries, once patrolled by religion, have erupted into border wars, just as the very notion of a border has been dissolving. It's easy to take up a simplistic position when we try to appreciate how spirituality and the secular, belief and scepticism, dance their tango, but surely it's far better to pay attention to how and when these boundaries get drawn — and what happens when they dissolve, or turn out to be not what they seem.

This is what makes Vikram Gandhi’s trickster documentary Kumaré(2011) — for all its considerable problems — one of the more thought-provoking and unexpected takes on the dynamics of modern spirituality I’ve come across in many a moon. I’m happy that the film is now available for digital download after a year or so of touring the festival circuit to rather mixed — and sometimes puzzled — reception.