Is it reasonable to hate Deepak Chopra?

Two films have been shown in Swiss cinemas these days, which document the tragedy of large guru communities in an exemplary and impressive manner. Film teams have set out on the trail of the Transcendental Meditation and the Bhagwan Movement, which grew up in the 1970s and still have a considerable number of followers.

The films show that the members are exposed for better or worse to the whims and personal developments of the gurus. And: life as a guru is hell. Initially, the spiritual guides float along with their devotees on a gigantic supernatural wave. For the guru, the devotion and devotion of his followers are an endless kick, he swims in a sea of ​​adrenaline. And the students take off believing that they have found their master who will lead them to enlightenment on the express train.

In doing so, all actors move in illusory worlds. Over the years and decades, gurus have come to realize that worship is torture. It is no good either as a stimulus or as a purpose in life. Over time, gurus hate permanent submission. You are trapped in a golden cage. Presumably, they also begin to despise their followers for it. Over time, they mutate into obnoxious despots. (Bhagwan took refuge in drugs.) And the followers became dependent puppets.

These sect syndromes make the two films transparent in an impressive way. I wrote the following film reviews about the works in the “Tages-Anzeiger”:

It may be that it is a coincidence that two films about guru movements that electrified many young people from the West in the hippie era are now being released. “David Wants to Fly” and “Guru” both show, however, that in this case film language is better suited than the written word to make the sect phenomenon tangible. The two gurus Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and Bhagwan fall synchronously from the spiritual throne on the screen.

In their urgency and immediacy, the documentaries expose the two deceased Indian gurus as power-hungry and despotic. In “David Wants to Fly” star director and Maharishi fanatic David Lynch (“Lost Highway”) is also demystified. The young German filmmaker David Sieveking takes his audience on a journey to see David Lynch. He is following the master and wants to learn how to find the human abyss and how to become a successful director. The director enthuses to his young colleague that he owes his creative potential and higher consciousness to his guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.

The film student scrapes together the last bit of money to complete the course in Transcendental Meditation (TM), which costs around CHF 4,000. He is amazed at the Yogic Flying, a strange hopping in the lotus position, during which the TM followers believe that they can overcome gravity with supernatural forces. When Sieveking did not experience any awakening even during meditation and experienced the authoritarian structures, he wanted to speak to Lynch again.

The great David is shrinking

In the second interview, the successful director no longer gushes away from enlightenment and higher consciousness, but reacts indignantly to the critical questions. Little David grows beyond himself, big David shrinks more and more. The young filmmaker wants to explore the world his idol has moved in since Lynch became an ambassador for the global TM movement after the death of his guru in 2008.

The young filmmaker mutates from a silent observer to a persistent researcher. The TM princes, called Rajas, still believe Sieveking is making a PR film about TM starring Lynch. So he can film internal meetings and interview the Rajas. Behind the stereotypical smile of the enlightened cult princes, Sieveking discovers a bigoted world in which money and power are the dominant themes. The Swiss Raja Felix Kägi confesses that he paid a million francs to become TM prince. The young filmmaker documents that the guru has built a billion-dollar empire and a totalitarian movement with such bargaining methods.

In the last interview, little David tears the mask off the big one. First Lynch refuses to speak, then he wants the film to be banned. The master's beam gives way to furrows of anger, Lynch forbids critical questions. Before the film premiered in Berlin, Lynch even threatened legal action. Sieveking was not intimidated. You thank him for it. The only style break in his film: Sieveking interweaves the eventful story with his girlfriend. It has nothing to do with Lynch, TM, or the movie.

While Sieveking makes his own search (and disappointment) the topic in his filmic experience report, Sabine Gisiger (“Do It”) and Beat Häner forego any comment in their film “Guru” and only allow images and witnesses to speak. The Zurich and Basel resident investigate the sex guru Bhagwan by concentrating on interviews with two contemporary witnesses who closely followed Bhagwan. The Englishman Hugh Milne was the bodyguard of the guru, the Indian Sheela Birnstiel, who now runs two homes for the elderly and disabled in the canton of Baselland, was his personal secretary.

With the camera still, the two filmmakers hold onto the faces of their witnesses and let them tell the story of Bhagwan and the huge movement. They underpin the accounts of the two eyewitnesses with extensive archive material. The findings are similar to those of Sieveking: The Bhagwan movement is being dismantled as a sect, Bhagwan himself as a domineering guru who needed the crowd as a backdrop for his self-portrayal. In recent years he has degraded his students to workhorses who also donated millions: Bhagwan wanted to be immortalized in the “Guinness Book of Records” as the person who owns the most Rolls-Royces.

When Sheela Birnstiel tells that she would have died as a young devotee for a look from Bhagwan, her eyes shine like 40 years ago. And horror is written on her face when she describes the totalitarian phase of the movement in Oregon: how the own security forces guarded the sect's premises with submachine guns and wiretapped the followers' phones.

The guru becomes a junkie

Sheela's high wire act is also thrilling. She is not only a victim of a sect, but also a perpetrator, as she pulled the strings in the center of power. Although she glosses over the undesirable developments and her own role, her statements contain enough facts to document the horror. The internal paranoia was imposed from outside and the dictatorial regime was a consequence of it, she claims. Now her facial expression is petrified.

Hugh Milne, who also watched Bhagwan with the camera, describes how the guru withered from a mentally lively provocateur to a lethargic junkie who pumps himself full of drugs and vegetates in silence for several years. His followers will not be deterred and will continue to glorify their guru as the Messiah. But the film is a document of the times that raises the discussion about Bhagwan to a new level.

Maharishi's Transcendental Meditation

Maharishi founded the Transcendental Meditation (TM) in 1958 and inspired the hippie movement of the 1960s with his spiritual theories. He owed his fame to artists such as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Clint Eastwood and Deepak Chopra, who meditated at the feet of the guru. Today, film director David Lynch and singer Donovan are among his disciples. TM has spread all over the western world, at times the movement is said to have had up to five million followers. In the 1970s and 1980s, Maharishi resided in Seelisberg UR.

The guru tried to scientifically prove the effect of spiritual energy on consciousness. Maharishi claimed that through collective meditation, his disciples could create an energetic force field that would ensure world peace. To this end, he trained so-called yogic pilots who should learn to overcome gravity with the help of meditation. In addition, Maharishi brought the ancient Indian art of healing Ayurveda to Europe and made a fortune with it.

Filmmaker David Lynch claims he has $ 7 billion to save the planet through meditation. TM wants to completely tear down the big cities in Switzerland and rebuild them according to Vedic principles. This should prevent hardship and misfortune in the future.

The guru lured his disciples with sex

Bhagwan Rajneesh ("the Divine", last known as Osho) attracted followers from all over Europe in the 1970s with a synthesis of Far Eastern spirituality and free sex. His ashram in Poona, India became a huge meeting place for old hippies and dropouts. Later they set up centers in Europe and founded discos, restaurants and other small businesses. Hundreds of thousands dressed in red robes and wore necklaces with the image of their master, the malas.

After conflicts with the authorities, Bhagwan fled to the Oregon desert (USA), where his supporters built a town for 10,000 people. During this time the large spiritual community mutated into a totalitarian sect. Bhagwan was silent for years, the scepter was swung by the Indian Ma Anand Sheela, who became militant, planned attacks and was sentenced to ten years in prison in 1986. She later married a Swiss Bhagwan follower. Since then she has had the Swiss passport and is called Sheela Birnstiel.

After problems with immigration authorities, Bhagwan tried to flee the United States, but was arrested in 1985. After his death in 1990 the center in Oregon disintegrated and his followers reactivated the ashram in Poona, which they transformed into a spiritual wellness oasis. Today tens of thousands still profess Bhagwan's supporters around the world. There are also smaller municipalities in Switzerland.

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