The other night I was home alone and came across a film called Decoding Deepak on Netflix.
I had heard of the movie and was pretty intrigued by its premise. Deepak’s son, Gotham — who names their kid Gotham? — is an aspiring filmmaker. As a youngster little Gotham Chopra was groomed to follow in his father’s footsteps and presented to the world as the heir apparent to Deepak’s Guru-to-the-Stars mantle. But he grew disillusioned with that and decided to make his own way in the world.
While working with his dad on what was initially supposed to be something like Deepak’s version of What the Bleep Do We Know!?, Gotham instead decided to make a documentary about the difference between the Deepak the world either praises as a famous wise guru or derides as a New Age clown, and the Deepak he knew as his often-absent dad who never seemed to know when to just shut the heck up.
I’m kind of tired of the overuse of the word “brave” when it comes to things like this. But I think it’s at least ballsy on Deepak’s part to have allowed this film to come out. It’s given me reason to respect Deepak Chopra
even though I still think he often comes across as a kind of cartoony version of Eastern spirituality (usually when he lets himself go on too long). This movie, along with the extremely brilliant and important film Kumaré
and — dare I add it to the list? — Pirooz Kaleyah’s documentary about me
, seem to be part of a very positive change in the popular meditation movement. They dare to ask the question about who our meditation masters really are.
The next question is, And what are we gonna do about it?
In Decoding Deepak
, Gotham Chopra shows us the Deepak he knows as his dad. He’s a man Gotham describes as “obsessed with being relevant,” a guy who can’t leave his Twitter feed alone even when going off to spend a week in a Buddhist monastery, a dad who doesn’t really connect with his family all that well. In my favorite scene
Deepak and Gotham are discussing who will be the real director of the movie that Deepak still assumes is going to be his film. Deepak starts in on one of his typical “You and I are just one consciousness inhabiting different bodies” homilies. At the end of it Gotham says, “Does that mean I have final cut?” This stops Deepak dead in his tracks, and after a pause he says, “I don’t think that’s going to be the case.”
I see films like Decoding Deepak as the next step in our understanding of what meditation is and what happens to a person who follows the path to the degree of becoming able to teach it to others. At first, when various gurus, Zen masters, and suchlike began washing up on our Western shores in the sixties we were very credulous. We really believed these people might be supernatural entities, Gods on Earth, messiahs. There’s a funny scene in Woody Allen’s film Annie Hall in which Shelly Duvall plays a hippie bedazzled by a Maharishi Mahesh Yogi–like figure. “This man is God!” she gushes. Woody Allen points out that her guru is on his way to the toilet. “Oh look! God’s going to the men’s room!” he says.
The next phase, which is still going very strong these days, was and is a sense of betrayal and deep disillusionment that our gurus and masters turned out to be people after all. This led to great masses of juicy sex-scandal gossip that was for quite a while taking up an unfortunate amount of space on lots of websites that ought to be dealing with other things.
Everyone is shocked — SHOCKED! — to find that their teachers are quite capable of acting like total assholes sometimes. They still can’t seem to see how their insistence upon believing their teachers to be godlike and their teachers’ misguided belief that they had to pretend to be godlike created a weird feedback loop that was the actual cause of much of their teachers’ misbehavior.
Nobody wants to be God on Earth. You’ll never live up to that kind of hype. Nobody can! But if you’re surrounded by people who are demanding you be that for them, it’s hard not to want to at least try. At the same time, all of these “Gods on Earth” knew it wasn’t true. And so, to get out of it they often unconsciously but deliberately worked to destroy the illusion so that they could be free.
Now we’re at the very beginning of a new phase. Some of us are starting to understand that even if our gurus and masters are not Gods on Earth, they still might have something valuable to offer. In Decoding Deepak, Gotham Chopra has to admit that even though his dad is kind of a self-absorbed blowhard sometimes, a supposed anti-materialist who loves shopping for expensive glasses and shoes, what Deepak does and says has a positive effect on a lot of people. Something seems to be coming through even in spite of all the shortcomings of his dad as a human being.
The initial response many of us had to our disillusionment with our fallen gods was to reject them completely while still clinging to the belief that even if that guy turned out to be a jerk maybe somewhere out there somebody else was the real deal. Or else we’d get cynical and say the whole spirituality and meditation thing was a big lie since even those who meditated for decades on end could still grope their students or get obsessed with money, power, and the trappings of fame.
But what these movies are asking is, What if there is another way? What if we can allow our teachers to be real people with their own flaws and shortcomings and yet still be capable of bringing forth a wisdom that is somehow beyond all of that? Can we maintain the deep trust and respect for our teachers that is a necessary part of the relationship while still allowing them to be fully human?
I hope we can. It’s important that we do.
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