“When the human being gives up the process of hearing about the all-pervading Personality of Godhead, he becomes a victim of hearing rubbish transmitted by man-made machines.” (Bhagavatam 2.2.36, Purport)
When Srila Prabhupada wrote these words, around 1970, the man-made machines delivering the “rubbish” were televisions, radios, and record players. The range of viewing and listening options was nothing like the endless variety we have today. Most people are happy for today’s technological progress, but Prabhupada’s words should serve as a warning to us all. Our danger today is not just instant access to an array of vices; it’s the easy access to any topic that distracts us from the most important activity of human life: hearing about Krishna.
The verse Srila Prabhupada is commenting on appears in Canto Two, chapter two, of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. The speaker is Shukadeva Goswami, the main narrator of the work. Speaking thousands of years ago, when according to the Vedic scriptures a godly culture predominated, Shukadeva begins his instructions to King Parikshit by saying, “Those persons who are materially engrossed, being blind to the knowledge of ultimate truth, have many subject matters for hearing in human society, O Emperor.” (Bhagavatam 2.1.2) Even during the mostly agrarian life of those times, people found plenty to talk about that had nothing to do with “knowledge of ultimate truth.” They had village talk.
Among Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s short list of instructions to Raghunatha Dasa Goswami was gramya-katha na shunibe: “Don’t listen to village talk.” Raghunatha had just renounced his opulent home to accept a life of renunciation, so Lord Chaitanya’s words were especially relevant for him. But they’re valuable for us as well. It’s often said that we live in a global village now. So instead of hearing only local gossip, we can indulge ourselves in the private details of the lives of the famous and infamous all over the world.
When Srila Prabhupada founded this magazine in 1944, he wanted to draw the reader’s mind away from the continuous din of mundane topics that sap the human energy, meant for spiritual purposes. The Bhagavatam compares words detached from God consciousness to filthy places that attract crows. Godly topics are said to be for swanlike persons drawn to areas of pristine cleanliness and goodness.
A principle in the science of God consciousness is that with goodness comes happiness. The competitors to goodness – namely passion and ignorance – dominate what we can hear and see today. But our natural desire for happiness will never be fulfilled if we seek shelter in those lower modes.
Articles like those in Back to Godhead face strong competition for people’s attention. Not only do readers have thousands of options in books and magazines, but they also have innumerable offerings in the digital media. Though the great spiritual teachers in the tradition of Krishna consciousness taught before the digital age, we can easily see how their instructions apply today: Life is too valuable to waste in succumbing to the allure of village talk packaged by masters at grabbing our attention.
We don’t have to accept maya’s soul-killing propaganda in its current forms. By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and his predecessors, we can turn off the village talk of this world and turn on the village talk of Goloka Vrindavana, Lord Krishna’s eternal home.
– Nagaraja Dasa