'Love Guru': Hindu Lions and Hollywood Lambs?

Deepak Chopra addresses the controversy over Mike Meyers' film, 'The Love Guru,' and why Hindus shouldn't take offense.

With some Hindu groups saying that the upcoming movie "The Love Guru" denigrates Hinduism, we offer this essay by Deepak Chopra. The renowned author and teacher is also a Beliefnet blogger who helped inspire the film.

No one knows if the flickering controversy over "The Love Guru" will fan into a flame. On one side we have a Mike Myers comedy that is likely to be raucous and nose-thumbing, on the other a blogosphere campaign about giving offense to Hindus. With a huge cadre of Hindu fundamentalists lurking in the background in India, Hollywood is walking on eggshells. The studio is moving quietly to placate the offended parties with early screenings. Politically correct murmurings are being made. I am reminded of a line from Woody Allen about the end of the world: On Judgment Day the lions will lie down with the lambs, but the lambs will be very, very nervous.

In this case we have Hindu lions attacking Hollywood lambs, but why? "The Love Guru" is a comedy, and comedies poke fun. Advocates for the mentally disabled didn't rise up over "Dumb and Dumber." Hasidic Jews resisted holding protests when Woody Allen hilariously appeared as one in "Annie Hall." (In the interests of full disclosure, I make a cameo appearance in Myers' film, and he and I have taped an hour of dialogue together for cable television as part of the "Iconoclasts" series.) As viewers will find out when the movie is released this summer, no one is more thoroughly skewered in it than I am--you could even say that I am made to seem preposterous. If I don't take offense and some Hindus do, that doesn't make me superior or more mature or even innately tolerant. I just know the difference between a belly laugh and a diatribe.

If "The Love Guru" were a sermon delivered in St. Patrick's Cathedral, comedy would turn into religious propaganda. The premature outcry against the movie is itself religious propaganda. Worse than that, the protestors expose the insecurity of Hindus who don't believe that their faith can stand on its own. Like the Christian right wing in America that ran to God's defense by trashing Martin Scorsese's "The Last Temptation of Christ," the fulmination of outraged Hindus masks a delight in gaining some free publicity. At least the director of "Last Temptation" intended to say something provocative about Jesus. But Scorsese can't be equated with Monty Python, whose "Life of Brian" was a lampoon of a messiah, not a pamphlet waved in our faces. Silliness often has wisdom hidden just beneath the surface--perhaps "The Love Guru" will, also, since Myers laced his Austin Powers farce with a message about tolerance--but if you can't accept silliness in the first place, you are likely to be immune to wisdom, too.

The deeper irony is that the phrase "Hindu fundamentalism" is a paradox to begin with. The more purely you follow Hinduism, the more you tolerate differences, because God is seen everywhere. The Atman or higher self not only transcends the turmoil of material life but is more real than material life. Hinduism also has the concept of Lila, the play of the goddess Shakti that creates the world out of sheer delight. Lila shocks Westerners because the purpose of the universe isn't goodness and reverence for God but a divine comedy. The universe is recreational, and the most devout believers are those who abandon care and woe to join the cosmic dance. I imagine that "The Love Guru" contains much more Lila than its grim critics. It might even contain enough to leave some of the audience dancing in the aisles.

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