Ordinary men join the monks at Worth Abbey in BBC 2’s ‘The Monastery’
I almost became a guru recently.
Not a GBC-listed guru, but a BBC-listed guru.
I was selected by our British Broadcasting Corporation television programme makers as being the contemporary spiritual teacher most likely to be the central figure on a new reality show: The Guru of Suburbia. They wanted someone who had experience in teaching a spiritual, transformational message, who was accessible, humorous and able to cope with around 30 or 40 new students. They examined many other Buddhist, Hindu and New Age teachers and made their choice.
The idea was that a house was to be purchased in the middle of a neighbourhood; the Guru of Suburbia would come in with his team, and then had a month to prove that the message he was offering was capable of changing hearts and minds. Naturally, all this was to be done on camera. The laughter, tears and possible transformation would make up the drama of the show, together, of course, with the feelings of anyone who made an outright rejection of what I had to offer. Could Krishna consciousness be the solution for some of Britain’s troubled youth? Could the process of bhakti touch the hearts of the English middle classes? The Guru of Suburbia would find out.
The idea for this programme, as well as it being a further permutation of all the other reality-TV shows, came from two other recent surprising successes of the format. The Monastery and The Convent, programmes where six men and six women lived for several weeks with monks and nuns, following their daily routines, turned out to be winners that attracted large audience figures. The subjects actually did have some of their problems solved and their hearts changed as a result of living with sensible religious people in tranquil surroundings. So it was hoped that the The Guru of Suburbia would similarly reveal the process of personal transformation but through the process of eastern wisdom and practise.
A short pilot film was made but weeks later I learned that the BBC had come up with a slightly different idea for an audience-winning format and I would regrettably no longer be required. I wondered what the winning spiritual format could be. Who was it? Who had pipped me to the post?
Last week I learned the answer. I discovered that the BBC had chosen to send their subjects in need of spiritual therapy to an Islamic retreat centre in Morocco. Of course; that was a much better idea. With the present political climate in the world, and the desire of many intelligent people to learn more about a religion that seems confrontational in so many ways, there are many extra dimensions in the Muslim tradition which make for good television. Then there’s the weather down in Morocco, the sunshine, the local culture and food. There are many facets you might not have had in a four-bedroomed house on a grey estate in Surrey, England!
Still, it was nice to be the guru of suburbia – at least for a week or two!
My other devotee friends are doing quite well with occasional media spots. Akhandadhi Das has been a regular on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day for a number of years; Krishna Dharma Das now has a short run on Radio 2’s Pause for Thought, last week with Johnny Walker, more normally with Terry Wogan; then there’s Shaunaka Rishi Das who recently offered an early morning Prayer for the Day on Radio 4 and who has featured several times on Beyond Belief. He and his staff at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies have now been asked to rework the Hinduism section of the BBC’s website.
In many ways, and for many different audiences, the information and life skills that Srila Prabhupada gave us is proving of great educational worth. Not simply for his disciples but for a much wider audience. It is natural that people in the media should want to share it with others once we share it with them. They know the value of ideas and how important it is to be able to see life from different angles of vision.
So my dear readers, this is my last post for a few days. Tomorrow I will go to hospital for my prostatectomy operation on Wednesday morning. It will last around two hours. If all goes well then I will be four days there, returning home for a further three weeks recuperation. After three weeks the catheter tube will be removed and I move around as normal. Please wish me well. Hare Krishna!