“An old soul with a nasty baby psyche.”
Or at least that is Jeff Brown’s assessment of kirtan star and yogi Bhagavan Das half way through Karmageddon, a two-hour documentary that chronicles one man’s disenchantment with the skirt-chasing antics of a guru who claims his most potent enlightenment began in 1998 with a talking vagina.
“I heard the talking yoni. The yoni spoke to me…I surrendered to her feet and I didn’t mount her…I didn’t use her yoni that night. I worshipped her. She’d already come two or three times that night. I’d been eating her out for an hour and a half already.”
To give Brown credit, his disillusionment with Bhagavan Das (Lord of the Yoni) begins early in the story when the teacher (who stays as a houseguest in three visits over two years) prances naked in front of Brown’s girlfriend, and later makes lewd conversation with her in front of him. Even before this, 60-something Bhagavan clearly demonstrates an obession with women young enough to be his grand daughters. But it’s not until the lusty old guy hits too close to home that Brown begins to really dig in and ask this question—
Can a guru be enlightened at one level and yet a complete f*cking mess at another?
To figure this out, Brown travels far and wide to interview yoga and kirtan colleagues of Bhagavan, from recording artists Robert Gass and Deva Premal, to yoga teacher and spiritual activist Seane Corn. The musicians are far more tolerant (live and let live) than Corn, who, while clearly fond of Babaji, also states it’s a misuse of power to prey on vulnerable young women. She even jokes that Bhagavan’s karma will probably get him in his next life when he comes back as an 18-year-old girl.
The most compelling assessment of Bhagavan comes from Be Here Now author Ram Dass (Servant of God), who knew Bhagavan in India in the 1960s when he was still named Michael Riggs. In fact Bhagavan introduced Ram Dass (then Richard Alpert) to holy man Neem Karoli Baba, who initiated both men and gave them their Sanskrit names.
The Ram Dass interview reveals the Servant of God is not impressed by his former friend, Lord of the Yoni. Ram Dass describes Bhagavan as “shackled by his own desire,” and “living out his karma.” When pressed by Brown to justify Bhagavan’s sexually predacious nature as a chaos bringer that shakes people up to wake them up, Ram Dass is not buying it.
Brown: “Does how he behaves in his personal life really matter?”
Ram Dass: “Yes it matters…you have to be able to justify your actions on every plane.”
Perhaps the most interesting action that needs justifying in this story is Jeff Brown’s attraction to Bhagavan despite his increasing distaste for the man’s behaviors, from juvenile humor to kleptomania to hitting on nearly underage girls.
In one scene we are introduced to the surprisingly sanguine parents of a young woman who Bhagavan asks to tour with him and provide sex—she turns him down and he has a temper tantrum. Brown listens to this rant but only later reflects on his own anger with Bhagavan and his inability to express anything other than passive-aggressive comments to his teacher.
As the film progresses the focus moves from the investigative approach of asking everyone else if they are okay with this guru, to Brown digging inward to ask himself why he is both “revolted by and completely drawn to him.”
Realizing that Bhagavan is a “depth charge” for some kind for an emotional healing, Brown finally connects the dots. The tall, charismatic, economically irresponsible, delusional guru who imagines himself a high spiritual being is a replica of Brown’s own abusive father, to the point they even smell alike.
This punch line would be a predictable groaner (oh no, not father-transference) that might kill the movie if it weren’t for the quality of the narration. Brown’s literary language as he describes his inner process is eloquent and captivating, and with the added irony of Bhagavan’s chanting as a background score, often times haunting.
Ultimately this film is less an expose of a capricious guru with a Pan complex as it is an inner exploration of Brown’s spiritual journey, one where he pleads guilty to confusing his own self avoidance with enlightenment. Brown realizes that repressed emotions, especially anger, are the “karmic field for my soul’s expansion.”
In the end, Karmageddon’s real message is about remembering that our humanness must walk hand in hand with our divinity. Bhagavan Das, a man of contradictions, shows us all that in our imperfection is the possibility for perfection. And in our messy mortal selves lies the grist for transformation.
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