My dad once told me a story about a guru that he’d heard while he had been traveling around India. Dad is a Baby Boomer, and Baby Boomers have a special place in their hearts for India. The Beatles went to India, and then came back and recorded Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Steve Jobs also went to India, and then came back and founded Apple. This sort of thing makes Baby Boomers believe that if they go to India, they too might come back enlightened enough to create something visionary and world-changing.
Which doesn’t really ever work. Mostly they just come back with diarrhea.
But whatever the case may be, after dad retired, he bought a plane ticket to India (of course he had the money – he’s a Baby Boomer) to go on the grand adventure at 60 (of course he was retired by 60 – he’s a Baby Boomer) that he had wanted to go on at 25, but hadn’t been able to. Dad didn’t come back and record any chart-topping psychedelic albums or start up a Fortune 500 company (I certainly wish he had), though in fairness to him, while he did not find what he was looking for in India, he nevertheless came to have a real appreciation for what he did actually encounter there. (A few years later, after my sister died, he took a portion of the money he intended to leave her as his inheritance and used it to found a small medical clinic, which bears her name, in a remote Indian village in which he had stayed for a time.)
But if dad was able to find something worth embracing in India, others were not so fortunate. Which brings us to the story of the guru and the Englishman.
The Englishman was also a Baby Boomer, and the Englishman had also come to India on an extended quest to find enlightenment of the sort that the Maharishi had imparted upon George Harrison. This was a task to which the Englishman devoted himself tirelessly. At some point in his travels, he managed to hear about the guru, who had a reputation for great wisdom and spiritual understanding even among other gurus. Unlike the Maharishi, whose taste for fame and all that comes with it eventually caused even the Beatles to disavow him, the guru was a hermit and an ascetic who lived in a humble cabin in an isolated spot many miles from the nearest town. The Englishman became determined to meet the guru. He rented a Land Rover (he had been told that many of the roads that he would encounter would be difficult) and with no more than a few rumors as his guide, intrepidly set out to find him.
And find him the Englishman did. After weeks of driving from town to town searching for information, he finally found someone who both knew where the guru could be found and was willing to tell him. First thing the next morning, the Englishman loaded up his Land Rover and drove off to find the enlightenment he sought. Paved roads gave way to gravel roads, which gave way to dirt roads, which gave way to a narrow footpath, but the Land Rover was designed for such conditions and made its way through them without any trouble. As the Englishman drove along the footpath, he noticed faint but unmistakable tire tracks on either side of it – evidence that he was not the first to have made this journey. Finally, as the sun began to reach its height in the clear blue sky, the guru’s cabin came into view.
The guru lived not on a mountaintop, but in the middle of a wide field, his cabin surrounded by a large garden in which he grew his vegetables. As the Land Rover came to a stop outside, the guru, who had heard the noise of its approach, opened his door and walked out to meet its occupant. The guru was a man of some years, thin and small of stature, but sprightly and energetic. As the Englishman got out of the Land Rover, the guru walked up to him, shook his hand, and gave him a few warm words of welcome. Surprisingly – or perhaps not, considering India’s history of colonization – the guru spoke pretty decent English. After introductions were made there was a pause, as the Englishman prepared to tell the guru about his purpose in coming, the questions he had, and the wisdom he was seeking. But before he could begin speaking, the guru broke the silence:
“Hey, that’s a really nice Land Rover. A newer model, isn’t it?”
The Englishman was rather taken aback. “Well, yes, but…”
“I believe this one has a V8 engine instead of the old straight six?”
The Englishman had to admit that he didn’t know one way or the other.
“Well, why not open the bonnet then…” asked the guru, “and let’s have a look?”
The Englishman answered in a tone of surprise, with just a hint of dismay: “Well… you see… what I really came to talk to you about was of a more spiritual nature…”
The guru had already started a walkaround of the car, and was now standing by its rear gate.
“Yes, of course. There will be plenty of time for all of your questions. You are welcome to stay as long as you like.” Here the guru paused, and then, almost apologetically, continued: “But there is one small thing I would like to ask of you.”
Suddenly encouraged by the possibility that now they were getting somewhere, the Englishman answered that of course, he would do whatever the guru asked.
Delighted, the guru replied: “Is there any chance that sometime later you might let me try driving your Rover a little bit? Don’t worry – I know how to drive, and this is such a fine piece of machinery.”
The Englishman, though more than a bit crestfallen, promised that he would.
It was then that the guru noticed a large cooler in the back of the Land Rover. The Englishman had left it open, and a few bottles of soda poked out of the ice.
“Oh, and… could I possibly impose on you by asking for a Coke?”
The guru’s level of asceticism was most certainly not living up to the Englishman’s expectations, and by this time the traveler’s reaction had gone from surprise to dismay to the increasingly upsetting feeling of having been duped, but he agreed nonetheless, opened the back of the vehicle, and handed the guru a bottle. The guru accepted, took a long drink, and smiled widely.
“Now, this is nice. Many thanks to you.”
There was a silence as the guru sipped his Coke. The Englishman was no longer so eager to interrupt it with questions, so after a few moments had passed, it was the guru, again, who spoke first:
“So you are from England! Have you come from there recently?”
The Englishman said that he had.
“In that case, I have an important question for you.”
Mustering the final bit of hope within him, the Englishman asked what the question might be.
With an interested look on his face, the guru asked: “How is Arsenal doing this season?”
The Englishman had had enough. He quickly concocted some pretext, closed the gate of the Land Rover, and left. As he had promised, he allowed the guru to drive the first half-mile or so back down the footpath, and then left him on it as he drove away alone. The last he saw of the guru was in his rearview mirror, as the guru, after smiling and cheerfully waving goodbye, turned around to walk back to the solitude of his cabin.
* * *
The Englishman had, of course, completely missed the point of everything that had occurred during the encounter. He had expected the guru to ignore the Land Rover, to have no taste for anything as artificial as Coca Cola, and to have no interest in banalities like football. He expected the guru, in fact, to actively wish to avoid such things in the interest of spiritual self-denial. But the guru understood something that the Englishman did not – that spiritual self denial is a point along a path; that it is a means, not an end. Its end lies in the ability of the individual to prove to himself that he can live without luxuries, comforts, and distractions. Once that point has been proven, once that lesson has been internalized, it is then possible to reapproach those things without excessive attachment to them. This is important because it is the attachment, not the thing in and of itself, that is harmful. This sentiment is expressed in the Bible as well. As some libertarians have pointed out, the oft-quoted remark from Christ that money is the root of all evil is a case of misquote by omission, one that changes the meaning of what was said in a subtle but important way. What Christ actually said is that love of money is the root of all evil. Money is simply a tool of trade, necessary in economies above the scale of a small village. It is the love of money – the excessive attachment it – that causes problems.
(One could, in fact, say that herein lies the real reason why Marxism failed. Marxism attempted to abolish avarice, meanness, and envy – all artifacts of excessive attachment to property – by abolishing property. What Marx, whose understanding of human nature was woefully inadequate, could not understand was that property in and of itself was never the problem; excessive attachment to it was. Thus, when the Marxists did abolish property, the negative aspects of human nature that spring from excessive attachment to property simply attached themselves to different objects, like political power.)
The guru, having freed himself from excessive attachments to luxuries, comforts, and distractions, had been able to reapproach them with a proper perspective in mind. By doing so, he could once again allow himself to admit certain truths: for example that Land Rovers are nice machines, and fun to drive; that Coca Cola is delicious, and (as any southerner knows) does wonders to cut the heat and humidity of a noontime sun; and that there’s nothing wrong with a enjoying a bit of footie. To deny that nice things are nice is not enlightenment but only a denial of reality, and there is no evil in simply being happy to have something nice. What had changed in the guru was that now he understood that none of these things is worth the emotional and spiritual damage of getting angry about, much less worth hurting someone else over. If the Englishman had not let him drive the Land Rover or had refused him a Coke, the guru would have lived without these things and borne no resentment towards him. The guru’s smile and friendly wave as the Englishman left were genuine, and would have been genuine either way.
That was the lesson that dad had taken away from the story, and I think it is a good and valid one. But I also think there was something else to be learned from it.
This wasn’t the first time that some Baby Boomer westerner had come to find the guru, and by this time the guru knew perfectly well what they all wanted to see. And while he felt no ill will towards them, he also felt no obligation to stage a Mystical Maharishi Metaphysics Show for them. That would have been an act, and why should he put on an act? After all, the guru wasn’t an actor – he was the real thing. Back in New Delhi there were plenty of people (fakers rather than fakirs) who would put on a show that would make the westerners feel very spiritual indeed, and that they could tell all their friends about when they got back to London or New York or Vancouver. Perhaps they should have known that anyone who has to put on a show of being something isn’t really ever the genuine article. Then again, if a person prefers a show to the real thing, then they aren’t ready to truly understand or appreciate the real thing. This is one reason why the guru was willing to gently send such people away.
Beyond that, one of the attachments that the guru had let go of was attachment to the approval of others. He could have gained the approval of the Englishman – and doubtless many more like him – by giving them what they wanted to see. But for someone who’s the real thing, that is both completely unnecessary and rather unseemly. The guru wasn’t going to go out of his way to be off-putting to them or to hurt their feelings, but neither was he going to change who he was to suit their desires. He wasn’t there to impress the Englishman, nor was he going to accept the idea that the Englishman was qualified to set any standards regarding how a proper guru should conduct himself. So he simply acted naturally, without much concern for what anyone else thought about it. He talked about the Land Rover because he was interested in the Land Rover. He asked for a Coke because he wanted a Coke. If the Englishman had been able to deal with that, and had stayed, the guru would have eventually answered all of his spiritual questions, as promised. But if he couldn’t, the guru would smile and wave as he left, feeling no anger towards the man, but no desire to chase after him and promise to do whatever it might take to be liked, either.
In short, as the kids say, the guru was too legit to be frontin’. Not only that, but he was also too based to care if other people couldn’t handle it.
Which brings me to the title of this essay. Why do I talk about anime on Twitter? Because I like anime.
If some people out there are looking for a guy who will put on a Righteous Rectitude Reactionary Show for them – someone who will speak only of the manliest things that were ever manly, who will claim to have no vices, who will say that he enjoys none of Modernity’s comforts, and who will pretend to not like fun things on the principle that fun is for pussies – then I’m not who they’re looking for. I don’t feel the need to do any of that, because I’m the real deal, I don’t have to put on an act, and if there’s anyone who can’t handle that, I’m not interested in changing to suit them. They can pack up their truck and hit the trail.
But hey, no hard feelings: I’ll smile and wave as they go – hell, I’ll even drive them the first half mile down the road.