The Kumaré effect

Despite its mixed reviews, the 2012 documentary Kumaré is, I believe, one of the best spiritual movies ever made. (Stop reading and watch the film if you hate spoilers.)

Filmmaker Vikram Ghandi decided to test whether or not he could pass himself off as an authentic guru from India. He had the genes and family history for it despite his first generation American heritage. With a little help from his friends, and a desire to prove that some holy men are complete charlatans, he packaged himself as the guru Kumaré.

Ultimately, the film is an unintended study in seeing what we choose to see. People predisposed to being enchanted by a guru are suitably charmed by the Kumaré character. Being witness to how these people give in to the illusion is highly educational.

Many appeared to accept without much if any reservation that Kumaré was a bona fide holy man. They would sing his praises to the camera. Many were metaphysicians who had their own spiritual businesses to tend. Some treated Kumaré to their New Age services.

I have never been much of a guru chaser, but I could easily transfer the message to my curiosity and at times my ga-ga response to psychic mediums. I often think of them as having access to heaven through their clairvoyance and clairaudience. I envy their skills and talents when I see what appears to be evidence that they are having “real” conversations  with the so-called dead. I swoon pondering all the enlightening conversations they could have with luminaries on the other side.


I call myself an optimistic skeptic. I love thinking about the afterlife and imagining the possibilities inherent in a cosmic system of multiple lifetimes and wide open opportunities. I get very excited thinking about what a wonderful world this would be if we could talk with Louis Armstrong.

Yet dreading my own potential for when-you-wish-upon-a-star gullibility, I double down on questions. I expect channels and mediums to produce credible evidence to back up their claims. Until then, I’m just window shopping, intrigued, perhaps, but not totally buying. Whereas many debunking-style skeptics deeply desire to prove them bogus, I deeply want the mediums to get it right. That makes me extra skeptical—skeptical in the sense of always searching for alternative explanations and asking many questions.

Mediums and channels arouse suspicion when they suggest cosmic principles that seem to betray common sense. For example, just about all physical mediumship is done in the dark. It’s explained that ectoplasm is so highly light-sensitive that it cannot tolerate anything but darkness. Like dark room photography, you need to avoid all but the safest of lights. It’s also explained that physical mediumship can be very dangerous work. Sudden bright lights or other jarring disturbances pose plenty of health risks for the mediums, I often hear it said.

Debunker-skeptics claim that darkness creates opportunities for fraud. They point to cases where fraud was suspected and eventually exposed. They take a one-size-fits-all mentality; if one medium is exposed as a fraud, the others must be committing fraud, too.

One comic principle often taught in New Age circles involves the ever-popular law of attraction—that you attract to you what you think and believe. Trough the LOA you’ll get what you expect. If you expect to be cheated, you will be. If you believe with all your heart, whatever it is you want will happen. It’s the law. (When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are.)

To me this sounds very self-serving to mediums. They can so easily retort, “You must not have believed strongly enough. You need to do some inner work. You need to attend my seminar.”

This logic can be twisted to apply to whatever objection a client may make. If deceased Uncle Donald does not come through in a reading, a shady medium can invoke the LOA. “You didn’t believe enough, and he can’t get through the great wall of resistance you’ve built.”

Research has developed evidence to suggest that mediums do, in fact, work better when they are not subject to hostile confrontation and overtly expressed negative expectations. Generally speaking, a friendly environment and positive expectations will yield a better result.


Just like how Kumaré followers became goo-goo eyed when they thought they were in the presence of a holy messenger, the celebrity medium culture caters to the show business approach. Notice the proliferation of luxury spiritual cruises, headliner events in fancy venues, afterlife conferences as marketing opportunities, and even afterlife interviews on YouTube ultimately geared to sell a medium’s services to the public. “Step right this way! Get your readings here!”

What emerges is a whole culture of people who have become conditioned not to question the validity of much of anything that comes out of a medium’s mouth. If the spirit of Adolph Hitler says he came to Earth on a divine mission, a sacred contract intimately aimed at teaching humanity lessons, nod, nod, nod, good enough.

I think people fear offending the universe. If they voice one critical yeah, but to something a medium saysthe law of attraction will kick their butt. If they offend the medium, they’ve lost their chance to communicate with the dead. Something bad will happen—it’s the law!

I say this because I am vulnerable to doing it myself. I project onto the mediums what I want to hear or believe. I want mediums to validate my hopes and dreams. I ascribe to mediums powers I believe I don’t have (like clairvoyance or clairaudience) to reassure myself that I’m on the right spiritual track. I can’t hear my mom and dad talking to me, but if I believe the medium can, it helps validate for me that they are still around.

Followers of Guru Kumaré projected onto him all the qualities they believed a guru should possess. Essentially, they made him up. Whatever he said, they tried to make sense of it from the tapestry of their cosmic beliefs. In his exercises and sayings, they interpreted their truth. When the hoax was revealed, they had to make the leap to being their own guru. Some could, some couldn’t.

We learn as young drivers to drive defensively. I think that truth-seekers have to listen defensively. This isn’t so much a defense against fraud as it is defense against our own prejudices, beliefs, and hopes that could color any messages. Most of us have preconceived ideas of what we hope to hear from the other side. We hope to validate our preconceptions more than hearing anything brand new and potentially disturbing.

When you look at the fees the more popular mediums command, you’d think that via the you-get-what-you-pay-for dictum, like $800 an hour, that you could expect validity. But mediums are just human beings, and they want to please their paying clients. I often hear that “true” spirits will only say feel-good stuff. Not-so-nice spirits are prone to taunt with anxiety-producing messages. This seems more about amplifying the Kumaré effect and fostering sales than communicating tough messages like don’t be such a dork.

The SoulPhone is posed to make some dramatic changes in this situation. Talking directly to Uncle Charlie will be a lot different than having a medium interpret what Uncle Charlie has to say. There will be nothing for the medium to interpret when you can ask Uncle Charlie yourself where he hid the treasure map.

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Excellent review of Kumaré with reflections by Josh Hall.

My reflections of Kumaré from a previous post.