Monday Morning Greetings 2018 #26 – Wild Wild Guru: A Bogus Guru Guide

June 25th, 2018

I don’t watch movies, but I had to see this one. While visiting my mother last month, I met my two brothers as they were leaving. We talked for a short while. They both were raving about a documentary that they had just watched called Wild Wild Country. I was surprised. It was not the type of subject I thought would interest them – a documentary about the cult of Rajneesh and their failure to establish their own city in wilderness of Oregon. I would have dropped the matter right there, but when I arrived at Shyam Ashram in Colombia, our ashram residents were also talking about the film. They weren’t at all impressed by Rajneesh, but the story and the quality of the presentation intrigued them. My interest was further piqued, at least enough to express some desire to see it.


Someone in the ashram suggested I could watch it on my long plane ride back to the USA and that all I had to do was just download it on Netflix. There was only one problem. What is Netflix?  I knew it was something about movies, but beyond that I had absolutely no idea what it offered or how to get or use it. One resident volunteered to download it on my computer. I decided to give it a look.


I was surprised that no one mentioned to me the few racy blips in the film that I had to fast forward, but in general what I saw impressed me—not the Rajneesh cult, but how well that cult and its story was documented. I was especially intrigued with how such an obvious shyster could fool and inspire so many seemingly intelligent people.


Shyster?  Wow, strong words. And isn’t such criticism like the pot calling the kettle black?  What about New Vrindavan and the other leadership scandals in ISKCON over the years? It is just not the same. Although some individuals in ISKCON may have at times faltered or even deviated over its long history, those leaders were a few out of many. They did not hold absolute autocratic power within ISKCON, nor did their actions represent the organization. Ultimately, they have been removed by the legitimate authority of ISKCON itself. In contrast, Rajneesh simply was his organization. And when ISKCON was guided in Prabhupāda’s living presence and he served as its ultimate authority, his character was and remained beyond suspicion. And that is what struck me most about the film, the basic principle of genuine guru in contrast to what I saw in the film.


Of course, this is a long subject and Monday Morning Greetings is limited in its scope, but at least we can briefly reflect on the most rudimentary standard of guru as a lens to view Wild Wild Country.


The primary standard of a bona-fide guru is that he himself has humbly served and studied under a guru. That is to say, one can only be a guru if one has already submitted him or herself to genuine disciplehood. This principle of learning is succinctly described in the first aphorism of the Yoga Sūtras: “Now the teachings of yoga are presented.”  The exact phrase in Sanskrit is anuśāsanam—following a tradition of teachings or discipleship. Allied to this, any legitimate spiritual teacher within the “Hindu” tradition follows and submits to a time-tested tradition or lineage based on the Vedas. They don’t manufacture their own teachings. There is an obvious reason for that.


Accepting the authority of a spiritual teacher means the acknowledgment that truth rests beyond our present purview and we therefore require the guidance of one who sees beyond our limits. Such submission to one who knows a subject is thus common to all learning and precisely why the term for teacher is often master. One who thus avoids submitting to a spiritual master is, by definition, limiting understanding to his or her own imperfect view of the world and therefore lacking the most basic foundation to be a guru—being a humble disciple first. Worse is that by human nature such a person is prone to mold one’s philosophy to suit one’s own desires, rather than mold one’s life to the truth, regardless of the magnitude of one’s intellectual prowess.


Rajneesh was a classic example of this. He was very intelligent and philosophically well-read and seemingly a master of conceptualizing and expressing concepts, but if you listened carefully to what he said you will not find any dignified metaphysics beyond pure hedonism. I shuttered as he drove up in what was described as one of his hundred Rolls Royces. What in the world does an explicit desire for such a huge fleet of personal luxury cars have to do with any genuine spiritual teachings? No matter which way you twist it, in terms of yogic principles such extravagance is pure gluttony, violating the basic yama of aparigraha, “non-acquisitiveness”. Last year, I saw the film Hare Krishna! The Mantra, the Movement and the Swami Who Started It All.  You couldn’t miss the solid spiritual principles Śrīla Prabhupāda stood for. They were repeated, backed by śāstra, and exemplified by his life.


Spiritual life begins with restraint or at least regulation, first in terms of how you control your mind in relation to others (yama or abstentions) and then how you control your mind in relationship to yourself (niyama or observances). You can call it what you want, but orgies and sipping champagne have nothing to do with spiritual or yogic life. A sincere person trained under a spiritual master can’t miss these simple facts. Rajaneesh did.


Of course, just accepting a genuine teacher and the tradition of teachings he represents is no guarantee one will sincerely accept that directive. One can still be a deviant, but without being a disciple first, one can’t be a guru. It is as simple as that. If anything, Wild Wild Country is a testimony to that.


So how did so many people become so dedicated to such an obvious fraud? I was also pondering that question while skimming through the film, so perhaps that is another article. Just a few thoughts: A charismatic leader who can unite people for a common goal does give a type of joy as the feeling of community is always uplifting, even if it’s only quasi spiritual. If you combine that with a philosophy that justifies hedonism and gives a sense of superiority in the guise of Eastern spirituality, then certainly lost souls seeking something better than humdrum modern life will feel a powerful rush, even if it is fleeting and ends in disaster. Anyway, despite its morbid subject, the film certainly successfully documents how one can be cheated in the name of spirituality.



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