By Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi

How to protect our spiritual lives from the constant allure of mundane topics.

Srila Prabhupada a few times repeated a story he had heard from a friend about a preacher trying to persuade coalminers in Sheffield, England.

“Do you know Jesus?” the preacher asked.

All the miners wore a number on their shirt, so they asked the preacher, “What is Jesus’ number?”

“I am referring to Jesus the Savior,” the preacher said. “He doesn’t wear a number.”

“Then we don’t know him,” they replied.

“Well, if you don’t know Jesus, then you must go to hell.”

”What is hell?” asked the miners.

“Hell is a very dark and damp place,” replied the preacher.

The miners were silent, unimpressed; they worked in such a place. The preacher had to consider how to impress them.

After a few moments he said, “Hell is very dangerous.”


“There are no newspapers.”

“Oh! Horrible!”

Srila Prabhupada told this amusing story to portray the irony of conditioned human nature. And he liked to poke fun at people’s acute interest in topics that are, from the spiritual perspective, banal. It’s the miners’ mentality – enthrallment with mundane topics, especially the news.

Srila Prabhupada did not closely follow current events, although he was often aware of top news stories and even included references to such in his writing and lectures. For example, on a flight he saw the Time magazine cover story “Crime: Why – and What to do?” He commented on it several times. He also addressed other issues, such as the assassination of President Kennedy, the Vietnam War, and the Watergate political conspiracy.

But he was not interested in getting a newspaper subscription. I learned this from a man I met about twenty years ago. He told me that as a boy, he used to deliver the Los Angeles Times to the minister’s quarters of the church that is now the ISKCON temple in Los Angeles. When ISKCON bought the property and Prabhupada moved into the residence, the boy kept delivering the papers until the subscription ran out. The man told me he had met Prabhupada, who seemed to like receiving the paper. But when the subscription soon ran out, Prabhupada declined the paperboy’s request to subscribe.

Regarding the wholesale proliferation of the news, Srila Prabhupada later spoke to a gathering of people in India:

You don’t see it here, but in America they actually have a big paper shortage. They cut down so many trees to produce newspapers. How many, many pages it is, with so many advertisements, and it is thrown onto the street. And sometimes for days and days it lies there. No one picks it up. It is neglected.

In my childhood the newspaper weighed four to five pounds. My mother and her father were newspaper editors. My father was a reporter and photographer, and his father was a typesetter for sixty years. My aunt drew pictures for newspaper advertisements.

At family or social gatherings, they would often complain or tell stories about their work. The news and their roles in the news business seemed to have stolen their weary minds. I admired their courage and dedication, but after some years of practicing Krishna consciousness, I came to see that my beloved, hardworking family were victims of the miners’ mentality.

How to See

Srila Prabhupada’s often disparaging remarks about newspapers might suggest that, for the sake of strictly observing spiritual practice, devotees of Krishna should disregard what is happening in the world around them. But the Vedic literature teaches that devotees must observe the world around them and see things correctly. Spiritual authorities throughout the ages repeatedly warn us not to observe this world (and the news of it) with our naked eye alone. In his purport to Sri Ishopanishad, Mantra 6, Srila Prabhupada writes:

The naked eye cannot see anything properly, due to its material defectiveness. One cannot see properly unless he has heard from a superior source. And the highest source is the Vedic wisdom spoken by the Lord Himself. This truth is coming in disciplic succession from the Lord to Brahma, from Brahma to Narada, from Narada to Vyasa, and from Vyasa to many of his disciples.

With the naked eye we may see a miner or a preacher, a newspaper editor or a movie star, but in fact we have not seen the persons at all, not as the acharyas see them. For that matter we may visit a news website but in fact not learn about the news at all, not from the spiritual perspective. So it becomes the devotee’s duty, as well as pleasure, to ask himself, “How to see this? How would my spiritual master process this information?”

By reading Srila Prabhupada’s books and hearing recorded conversations with him, we can get excellent examples of this. Srila Prabhupada artfully included references to the top news of his day in his writings and lectures. For example, in a lecture to his young audience in New York in 1966, Prabhupada poignantly addressed their well-meaning proclivity to march and protest against the Vietnam War:

This world is full of danger. At any moment things may become chaotic. Why, you young people, are you waging these war protests? Because you can perceive that there will be danger. This war is danger. But although you may protest this war, still you must go on fighting. From the very moment of our birth, we are fighting with material nature. From the moment of our birth we are dying. So why do you want to stop war? Why stop war if life and death are not at all within your hands? This cannot at all satisfy you young boys and girls. It will be better to make a spiritual solution to this birth and death.

Srila Prabhupada well knew that his listeners were constantly hearing about the war in Vietnam. They had a certain way of looking at the situation, but he had Krishna’s perspective.

The Power of Hearing

Most people want to communicate with others, and this often involves hearing, reading, or discussing information. We want the latest breaking news, the relevant and the sensational.

Srila Rupa Goswami has poetically put forth instructions on this topic in his short, powerful treatise The Nectar of Instruction. He labels the tendency to discuss mundane subjects “the urge to speak.”

A sober person who can tolerate the urge to speak, the mind’s demands, the actions of anger, and the urges of the tongue, belly, and genitals is qualified to make disciples all over the world. (The Nectar of Instruction, Text 1)

In lieu of making material topics one’s focus, a sober person will tolerate the urge to speak about mundane affairs and instead choose to engage his mind in self-realization by studying and discussing spiritual topics. Devotees do not wish to hear from people surrendered to the material urges Rupa Goswami mentions. Anything less than hearing from a sober devotee of the Lord can distract us from the goal of focus on Krishna.

Newspapers, magazines, television, the Internet – all are a grand intriguing production of people’s urge to speak. The minute we put ourselves in contact with them, we access a Pandora’s box. Srila Prabhupada writes, “A toad in a field speaks by croaking, and similarly everyone who has a tongue wants to speak, even if all he has to say is nonsense. The croaking of the toad, however, simply invites the snake: ‘Please come here and eat me.’ Nevertheless, although it is inviting death, the toad goes on croaking.” (The Nectar of Instruction, Text 1, Purport)

To talk and listen is our natural urge. If gagged for only one hour, we may find the situation intolerable. An illness that takes away our speaking or hearing makes us feel helpless. Srila Rupa Goswami questions the quality of our speech. Do we have time to uselessly croak? We have a human life with which to perfect our spiritual understanding, and the way we use our power of hearing and speaking very much determines just how our mentality evolves as the years go by.

Murder, war, terrorism, the stock market, natural catastrophes – these are all products of the incredible deluding power of Krishna’s material energy, and we can learn from studying them. But focusing on these topics alone is dangerous. It increases our association with the ignorant nature of this world and conditions us to it. Should we hear about these dry, banal, pitiful topics as our daily fare?

Electronic Miners’ Mentality

My newspaper family has passed on. The Los Angeles Times, with its smaller dimensions and only thirty-some pages, seems like a shrunken head to me. Commentators say it shrank because it cannot compete with electronic media. Some studies say that modern generations do not care to read as deeply as previous ones; they are blogging, surfing, Googling, i-Tuning, streaming, YouTubing.

The miners’ mentality carries on in a glittering electronic version. Instead of “No newspapers?” we hear, “Is the Internet down?”

What is being dispersed through cyberspace to billions of screens is basically the same fodder that was offered in the newspapers of Srila Prabhupada’s time. Meanwhile, the devotee’s task remains how to see. As a welder dons a protective mask before igniting a torch, the devotee dons a spiritual eye before opening a laptop. Our naked eye must be equipped with the corrective lens of shastra-cakshuh – “the eye of scripture” – to observe this world like our previous acharyas.

The eye of a pure devotee is the eye of the pure spiritual self. The clarity with which we see the form of this material world in news reports corresponds to our degree of purification by our practice of devotional service to the pure devotee. What we see with material eyeballs is an illusion. Actual seeing takes place in the heart of a pure Vaishnava.

Krishna’s Media

One of the great acharyas, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the spiritual master of Srila Prabhupada, published a daily newspaper in India called Nadiya Prakasha. It was full of information about Krishna consciousness as well as spiritual observation of current topics. A politician once asked him how he could come up with enough material to fill a newspaper with spiritual topics every day. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati replied that the information coming from the spiritual world is so dynamic that a spiritual newspaper could be published every minute.

Computer software and the Internet have become powerful instruments in devotional service to the Lord. Krishna’s images and the immense treasure of Vedic knowledge were formerly not as portable or researchable as they are now. Many valuable Krishna conscious websites are helping to prove the truth of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s remark that news of the spiritual world can be published at every moment.

Still, the Internet is rife with material that can harm our spiritual lives. But if we stick to Krishna’s message, we can be like the swan, which can separate milk from a mixture of milk and water. We can be enlivened by nectarous messages on the Internet and avoid the trash that is the pilgrimage site for crows.

If we do this, someday the mundane world coming to us through our glowing screen will fade to dark in the realization of Sri Krishna’s illumination. What is a glowworm in the daylight? What is a candle to the sun? The narrow miners’ mentality will gradually fade. Krishna’s handsome, bold radiance will put the forms, names, sounds, and illuminations of this world in their proper perspective.