Why You (Don’t) Need Kumaré

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Are you enough?

Is there such a thing as solitary spirituality? Documentary filmmaker Vikram Gandhi seems to think so and he goes to great lengths to make his point. Having encountered one too many so-called gurus who seem only interested in fame and fortune, Gandhi sets out to show that anyone can play the role of spiritual leader. Anyone, that is, with the right appearance, accent, and access to slightly gullible middle-class suburbanites. Gandhi possesses the first two and travels to Arizona to find the third.

To his great credit, what begins as point to be proven quickly becomes an opportunity for Gandhi to help his new followers discover the way out of their troubles. Some of their troubles are distinctly first-world – How can I make more money? Should I become a yoga instructor? – but others evoke more sympathy. The lawyer who defends prisoners on death row, for example, is desperate to find a center that will carry her through the daily disappointments of her job. Gandhi, posing as the guru Kumaré seems to offer a way for her and the others to navigate toward peace.

Kumaré does his best to teach his followers that they – the individual – contain within themselves all they need to experience fulfilling lives. Not only don’t the need religion, they don’t need him. Whether or not his followers will believe him is the trajectory and tension of this creative documentary. But lost among the meditations, conversations, and encounters with other self-proclaimed spiritual leaders is the question of solitariness. Despite Kumaré’s professed doctrine, the most beautiful moments of the film all happen when he or his followers are with others.

Despite his intentionally exotic-looking appearance and language, Kumaré ends up sounding very American. His is a vision for the strong and solitary individual who needs only herself to find spiritual satisfaction. The question remains: Is such a thing possible?