Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #43 – Windows to the Material World

October 24th, 2022

My computer crashed for the third time in six months. I have noticed that every time that happens my japa meditation flourishes. We cannot underestimate the potency of modern technology to distract us. In the 1960s there was a famous social scientist named Marshall McLuhan who wrote The Medium is the Massage. He said that every communication medium has its own particular effect beyond the content you watch or hear through it. I can see that clearly. I notice that some of the devotees who are deepest into their internal spiritual life don’t use personal computers—although their secretaries may have one. Every week I read Satsvarūpa Mahārāja’s journal. I see how absorbed he is in hearing about Krishna. I know he doesn’t use a computer. I especially hold in high esteem for their internal spiritual life two friends, Sacinandana Swami and Partha Sarathi Goswami. They don’t have personal computers. Here in Vrindavana, two of the deepest sādhakas that I know are Jamuna Jivana das and Mother Srimati. They don’t have personal computers. I know several devotees who use their personal computers effectively for preaching and organizing Krishna consciousness who seem to maintain very deep spiritual lives without being distracted, but that seems increasingly rare.


Because I am dictating this on my iPhone it may not have the same standard of clarity that my writing usually has, but I think I’ve gotten across that modern technology can be distracting in spiritual life, and we have to be cautious of that fact.


For this week’s entry I’m choosing an entry that goes back to even before I started Monday Morning Greetings—something I wrote almost twenty years ago on the same subject called “Windows to the Material World”. I hope that you enjoy it, ironically, through the facility of social media—but sādhu beware!


Windows to the Material World

May 27, 2004

I just finished assembling my journals into book form for a final edit. Fortunately, I finished the work before my computer crashed. I knew it was on the blink, but I dreaded the day when it needed to be sent for repair. Leaving the shop on my way home, however, I felt a surprising relief, a sense of liberation. Even though I use the computer mostly for my writing and correspondence, it felt as if some shackle of illusion had been lifted.


I vaguely remember a popular book from my college days called The Medium is the Massage by Marshall McLuhan. His point was that the medium in which one receives information has a greater influence than the message it conveys. I recall him describing television as a cold medium because one generally learns passively from it. In contrast, he described the press as a hot medium because we have to activate our intellect in order to assimilate what we’ve read. McLuhan concluded that cold mediums, like television, make one lazy and dull the intelligence, while hot mediums have the opposite effect, regardless of the content one receives from either.


I am convinced that, like television, the medium of the computer also has insidious effects because it subtly injects one with the need for incessant distraction—an especially menacing prospect for those on a spiritual path where the mind needs to be calmed to touch one’s essence.


I lived in Vrindavana for 20 years without even a phone. I didn’t die of boredom; instead, I remained absorbed in scripture, nama (meditation on God’s names), and sevā (service). To be peaceful now, I require the world at my doorstep with the click of a button, even while living in Vrindavana. Something is wrong.


According to the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad, God sits within our heart to observe and advise us in the form of the Paramātmā, the Supersoul. It describes this by the analogy of two birds in a tree: one bird is eating the fruits of happiness and distress, while the other is watching, waiting for his friend to turn to him. The observant bird is compared to the Supersoul and the engrossed bird is compared to the individual living entity. The idea is that as long as we are externally absorbed in the chatter of the mind, we cannot hear the voice of God in the heart directing us.


Riding home, unshackled from my computer, it suddenly hit me how the medium of mass communication so strongly allures us to the platform of the mind, and how the effect is so pervasive that we usually mistake our bondage for normal life. I felt cheated of my innocence, a life unfettered by the unremitting dialogue of the mind that affords one the quietude to turn toward the Lord in the heart. Sadly we have been drawn in droves to the life of the engrossed bird. Perhaps it is more like lemmings to the sea.


Just to the right of the foot of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s (my guru’s) bed in Vrindavana hang two beautiful paintings: one of Krishna and the cowherd boys returning home from the forest of Vrindavana, the other of Radha and Krishna by the bank of the Yamuna under a kadamba tree. Śrīla Prabhupāda called such paintings of Krishna “windows to the spiritual world.” In my early Vrindavana days, I would gaze at these masterpieces during japa and think of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s “windows” analogy. It made so much sense. Today I thought of another “windows” analogy, and unfortunately, it made just as much sense: Computers are the windows to the material world.


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