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Trevor Stone's Journal
Those who can, do. The rest hyperlink.
Religion as Placebo 
13th-Sep-2012 12:10 am
Taoist goddess Doumu
I watched Kūmāré at IFS tonight. It's a documentary about a raised-Hindu guy from New Jersey who decides to become a "fake" guru. He grew his hair and beard out, learned some yoga moves, started wearing billowy orange robes, and imitated his grandmother's accent. He moved to Phoenix, AZ (so nobody would recognize him) and started attracting followers.

Most of the film is documentary footage of group sessions and individual interactions. Some of them are silly (but not in a trolling Borat fashion). Most of the scenes involve serious personal growth for the people involved. What's fascinating is that being a fake guru is a lot more like being a fake author than a fake doctor&endash;if you talk and people listen, you're a teacher. This believability is compounded by the fact that what Kūmāré teaches&endash;the guru is in you&endash;isn't far from what many "real" eastern mystics teach: god is in everyone, but you need help to realize that. In the end, Kūmāré finds it very challenging to tell his students that he's just a guy named Vikram from Jersey because they've gotten so much actual value from his guru persona.

This film is a good example of what I like to think of as religion as a spiritual placebo. When someone like me or Kūmāré leads a ritual, we realize that the specific words that people say and gestures that they do don't cause a spiritual experience or personal growth. But like a sugar pill can trigger your body's natural healing processes, a good ritual can trigger your mind to go into "whoa mode."

You should definitely watch this film if you've spent time around new age or alt-religious communities. Even if just casually, like living in Boulder. Easily-offended religious people may get upset, but they should watch it too, because being frequently upset is the main pastime of easily-offended religious people. There's a trailer and other info on the Kūmāré movie site.
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