Photo Credit : “The Love Guru”, film Mike Myers
Article written with Jeanne Pouget. I highly recommended you to follow her stories on Instagram.
Translation: Olivia Montadouin-Dorter
The West has lost its way
For the past few years, it seems that the remedy to all evil could be in Asia. Especially in a Western world that tends to rationalize everything via so-called “hard” science and discard all spiritual dimension from the “serious”.
So much so that people started traveling miles and crossing oceans just to put some distance between themselves and the everyday life they find monotonous, looking for echoes to the questions we challenge at home where we’d rather talk about productivity, efficiency and results.
When you’re looking for a change of scenery, change can be extreme.
Off the beaten track and outside your comfort zone lays a whole other world that you’re ready to embrace with open arms.
Folklore, culture, religion
& others amalgamations
You start glorifying a new philosophy you didn’t know about before, even if it means giving up your own culture or religion to welcome a new and more “tolerant” one like Buddhism, or a more “polytheist and colorful” one like Hinduism.
You only understand the folklore (“those colors are magnificent!”, “how beautiful those chants are!”) in your naïve and cliché enthusiasm for “The East”.
And indeed, the morning offerings to the Gods in Bali are soothing, the sparkling and golden temples in Thailand are enchanting, the elephant parades in India are enrapturing.
Compared to all of this, our churches smell stuffy and a simple innocent smile has become a rare commodity.
A Swede I met recently was telling me about how in his country you don’t sit next to someone on the bus if there are other empty seats, unless you want to be taken for a psycho. The sense of personal space disappears in a country like India where 1.3 billion people coexist, there’s no hope for peace and quiet.
Such a cultural clash will make you reconsider your beliefs and mindset, even to the point of losing your bearings altogether
the wise oriental icon who holds the Truth (or not)
And this is when you start looking up to spiritual leaders who supposedly have it all figured out. In Hindu tradition, the “guru” is a master who teaches and passes on the spiritual tradition by sharing his experience of the awakening. He’s a wise character that one should listen to religiously
We are ready to hear anything because we are so unwell that we don’t think we can address our own problems. We end up in a yoga training course and welcome the little yogi’s refreshing word, along with the dhoti and tilakam on his forehead. He knows Sanskrit and the vedic Scriptures, not that we understand but surely he must be right
Even if it means swallowing a medieval rhetoric that would have made us hit the roof in normal circumstances; here in a different context with people who share the same issues, we feel less alone, more vulnerable. We question our knowledge, our experiences and we completely surrender to the good word of the “guru” facing us.
After all, isn’t challenging yourself the way to wisdom?
The Upanishad (Hindu Scriptures) mention that the woman must be obedient and respect her husband. If her husband is unhappy, she is to blame; if the husband cries, she must cry too; if he laughs she must laugh. She will only answer him with humility, she cannot ask a direct question, she must eat only after her husband. If her husband beats her, she mustn’t react, but fall at his feet and ask for forgiveness, if her husband dies she must set herself on fire. – Sources Padma Purana –
As an example we hear sentences such as:
“If I beat my wife, she must be grateful”.
“If friends show up at 2am, I’ll wake up my wife so that she can cook for them”.
“A man cannot take care of his child because the wife has qualities that a man doesn’t”.
“The wife mustn’t go out at night.”
On a different note, in order to explain the concept of homosexuality, the teachers will talk about a defective Muladhara Chakra that didn’t develop normally during pregnancy.
To talk about Karma we’ll hear that Hitler actually wasn’t such a bad person, after all he diverted the auspicious symbol of the swastika.
Attending a Sastang
Sastang is Sanskrit for « sit down with a guru, with people who have the truth”. This is not a dialogue where you can question knowledge, it is a monologue where the audience is invited to listen only without participating or asking questions.
The guru is usually literally sitting on a pedestal.
In those speeches, it is not uncommon to hear ludicrous comments that question the existence of the human being, the origins of the world, who we are and what we do on Earth…
Outrageous revisionism, glorification of an unequal society where masses need to be enlightened, managed if not controlled… The path of Truth belongs to an educated elite that should show the way to the ignorant, the lost ones, the fools and the impure.
This type of rhetoric brings you back to the darkest hours of History, from the Third Reich to Daesh. But as we stay comfortably in a remote ashram with other peers, our common sense gets dull, incapable to sort through wisdom and violence, spirituality and extremism.
Of course it doesn’t happen in every Satsang – fortunately! – but the format (a one-way lecture delivered from above) is a fertile ground for the manipulation of gurus with bad intentions.
The ambiguous relationship to the body
On a very different scale, one might mention the excesses of yoga teachers, called “Gurus” by the students themselves, who are not used to touching and adjusting students in Indian culture but start abusing their power now that the excitement of yoga has crossed the borders.
Those teachers who only taught Indian men and women wearing a Sari or a Kurta during practice now end up teaching half clothed/naked Westerners.
Since the white woman is considered as a belonging to a sub-caste, adjustments turn into inappropriate touching, but because it’s a “Guru”, no one says anything. The #metoo concept has damaged several great names of yoga and long before that, the scandalous Bikram Choudoukry was finally brought to light
The problem comes from the West
Because we’re the ones who created those characters.
Since we’re always looking for a well-being that supposedly doesn’t exist in our homes or within ourselves, we find refuge in new concepts we don’t understand.
We are blinded by wise words that touch us, said by people wearing beautiful white or orange garments, depending on their status.
We address them with a deep respect that we would not have if they were the same origin or skin color as us, living next door. Or if it were the priest from the small town church or the imam from the nearby mosque (we don’t think twice about blaming those religious figures and associating them with pedophilia or terrorism).
So-called western gurus have it all figured out when it comes to mental manipulation. They change their name into a vedic name that sounds good, they wear the same clothes and “war paint” as the person they “follow”.
Indeed following is important. If you’re alone, you can’t do anything, you can’t think, you can’t move forward.
In the Western world, we live together but we are basically alone. We don’t even know our neighbors but here we are, halfway around the world, with benevolent people who open our eyes on the consumer society that ties us up to money and property.
However, they don’t live on love alone, they don’t deprive themselves, because they’re smart enough to know how to get to our wallet after they’ve touched our psyche. And their only goal is to get richer.
As long as we keep our eyes closed, as long as we don’t understand that the answer comes from within, that we are responsible for our own happiness and getting wiser, we will remain forever lost.
For what can we learn from someone who has never seen the world or the other end of their village, who doesn’t have a clue on how we live in our world.
Why is a speech with indignant overtones more acceptable in an isolated Ashram than at a party with friends that would end in a fist fight?
How can we tolerate such words from the mouth of barely thirty-year old men and women, with no other experience but their own culture, miles apart from our own?
How did we end up subjecting ourselves to beautifully dressed people, with countless malas, a ring on every finger, long beard and hair, undefined age who proclaim an impending rush of kundalini by simply speaking or touching?
The one and only reason those cults exists is that they thrive on the weak and easily influenced. Nobody’s safe.
At a yoga training course I was attending as a student, the teachers would say things such as “you have financial problems, your spouse left you, you lost a loved one, you’re unhappy in your work, life, this is the place to let yourself go” during shavasana.
If you list all the negatives, you’re bound to find one you share.
All the sessions would end with participants crying their eyes out, looking up to the teacher for answers, addicted to their phrases or mood swings. They would drink it all up without thinking twice.
I’ve seen other teachers preparing their philosophy lecture (meaning Indian nationalism) and proudly say “today, I’m gonna make them cry”.
Because the East has it all figured out when it comes to the melancholy of the West.
Family – we send our elders away, we don’t live with our parents, a lot of people only see their family at Christmas.
This is unthinkable in their society but it doesn’t mean they are “better” than us, far from it. We have nothing to learn from a man who loves his wife in front of his students but beats her under the pretext of male dominance, still his beautiful words move us.
Sex – we don’t have to be married to have sex.
According to these so-called spiritual guides, they make love only to have a child. When you listen to their philosophy, you tend to forget that women stay silent in their country.
Or at the other end of the spectrum, they will speak very crudely of western women while keeping them under their yoke.
Loneliness – same as family. A lot of people live alone which is unthinkable in India for instance. Only married couples can rent an apartment.
Let’s stop keeping our eyes closed to our problems and waiting for others to solve them for us.
Let’s stop thinking that the grass is greener somewhere else.
Let’s stop judging a book by its cover.
Let’s learn how to trust, respect and love ourselves instead of putting our happiness and hopes in the hands of others.
Let’s love ourselves before loving others.