Global Village Talk

mobile-phones-rural-india2

By Nitaisundara dasa

In the 1960s, literary and media critic Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase “global village” to describe the extension of people’s frames of reference and sense of responsibility beyond their immediate surroundings, or “village.” This growing sense of connectedness, McLuhan proposed, is the natural result of a world in which electronics enable our senses (at least the senses of sight and hearing—for now) to immediately experience that which is taking place across the globe, just as we would in our village.

McLuhan had high hopes for such a global community: “The aspiration of our time for wholeness, empathy, and depth of awareness is a natural adjunct of electric technology.”

Apparently not natural enough.

McLuhan passed away in 1980 as the precursors to the Internet were being formulated, implemented, and refined, but still nine years before the start-up of the first commercial Internet Service Provider. With the Internet now in full swing, it is apparent to all that the global village finds its most relevant discussion there. Indeed, in its most common usage, “global village” has come to refer to the Internet alone.

Everybody has found their way to the Internet; practically every belief, interest, desire, and product has some representation on the Web. It is therefore not surprising that Gaudiya Vaishnavas have also made their way into the online village. After all, with a spiritual aspiration culminating in a bucolic life, one would expect us to gravitate towards village settings, and in this case—for better or for worse—we have.

The prospect of Gaudiya Vedanta circulating throughout the global village and thereby reaching people of every background is wonderful. Such an opportunity would no doubt make Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati’s brhat-mrdunga reverberate with sounds of joy. But as with any medium one might employ in promoting spiritual life, the Internet is a double-edged sword, and unfortunately, many of those who have a hand on the hilt are swinging—and thinking—in the wrong direction.

Fortunately, within the Gaudiya tradition one need not look hard for examples of how to properly conduct him or herself in a village (even a global one). Perhaps the most relevant example is that which took place as Caitanya Mahaprabhu was putting Raghunatha dasa Goswami under the care of Svarupa Damodara, first leaving Raghunatha with a few practical instructions:

gramya-katha na sunibe, gramya-varta na kahibe
bhala na khaibe ara bhala na paribe

Don’t indulge in village talk, don’t hear village talk. Try your best to avoid mundane matters. Don’t eat delicious dishes, but take whatever ordinary food may come of its own accord; and don’t dress luxuriously.

Such seemingly unexceptional instructions are not to be overlooked, and their significance is magnified when we consider the person of Raghunatha dasa Goswami. Dasa Goswami is considered the prayojana-tattva acarya of the entire Gaudiya tradition. That is to say, he is the foremost teacher (acarya) of the truths (tattva) regarding the ultimate goal (prayojana) of the prema-bhakti marga (the path of pure devotion). Furthermore, these instructions came as Raghunatha dasa was being handed into the care of Svarupa Damodara, who is Lalita-sakhi herself, and is therefore privy to the most esoteric aspects of Mahaprabhu and Radha-Krishna. Thus Raghunatha dasa was fully qualified for a life in which such instructions are irrelevant.

Nevertheless, the very first directive Mahaprabhu gave to Raghunatha dasa Goswami was that one should not partake in village talk (gramya-katha) nor (one can safely assume), by extension, global village talk—and village type.

Obviously the Internet did not introduce gossip (nor is it reasonable to expect exclusively spiritual discussions), but what is alarming is that via the Internet, devotees seem far more likely to advance the malicious, spiritually detrimental variety of gossip. Just how spiritually dangerous such behavior is depends on a number of factors, one of which being the environment in which one makes the attack. For better or worse, the global village has a liberal publishing policy, and as such, every opinion, no matter how outlandish or downright tasteless, has the potential to reach everybody. The widespread dissemination of slanderous comments and malevolent attitudes, which are inevitably met with the support of some, is truly toxic, and the effects can be observed throughout the Internet community. A prime example is the overabundance of conjectured “siddhantas” appearing daily on the Web.

A digital community is largely reflective of its physical counterpart, for people’s natures manifest through whatever medium they use. Unfortunately, the present nature of the international Gaudiya community is that many are unable to interact with each other in a healthy, respectful manner, and as such there are many fractured factions. Much of the negative attitudes underlying these divisions are the direct results of years of one group or another espousing their exclusive validity and the simultaneous inferiority of people and groups who may actually be worthy of their adoration. This infighting has been notably amplified by the Internet, which instantly provides each user with a more public voice than was previously available to actual public figures.

The virtual nature of relationships on the Internet lends itself to an environment wherein criticism, rumors, personal attacks, and outright lies flourish. This is aided by the fact that the Internet provides the anonymity to both produce and digest these vitriolic discussions without being subject to any of the scrutiny which the participants themselves liberally employ in their assessment of everyone else. Such unaccountability and hypocrisy stands in the way of even basic morality, what to speak of the type of character by which one becomes attractive to those of spiritual substance.

It would be naive to think that fanatics and those with envious hearts will ever fall silent (especially on the Internet), but that fact merely underscores the responsibility of the rest of us to engage each other in thoughtful, substantial, humble, and generous dialogue. It is the generosity and user-friendly nature of the bhakti-marga that not only acknowledges the positive contributions of worldly progress, but enables us to actually use such contributions in the context of spiritual progress. Perhaps we should respond in kind.

Marshall McLuhan was able to see the potential of technology to function as a source of positive change in the world, while Bhaktisiddhanta and other acaryas take technology’s worth even further: acknowledging its potential to take one beyond the world. Just as McLuhan proposed, the internet can be a way to extend our frame of reference and sense of responsibility, both materially and spiritually. It is our duty to recognize the opportunity and responsibility sitting on our desks, and strive to act accordingly.

9cfaf916-8201-4dba-a5cb-ff567dc2cdee3


About the Author

23 Responses to Global Village Talk

  1. Great article Nitai. It’s too bad that so many people put good sense and conscience aside in their efforts to make their opinions known. They seem to have no sense of generosity or dignity yet are often self righteous and deem themselves the sole arbiters of Truth since everyone else is flawed in some way. A sad state of affairs indeed. Unfortunately those who need to hear this message won’t, and the ones who don’t need it will agree with it directly.

  2. It’s always very important to choose your association wisely and the Internet is no exception. While there is a lot of prajalpa and blasphemy in cyberspace, it is very easy to block or delete these. At the same time, I’ve found incredible Vaishnava association, friendship, support and knowledge online. The greatest drawback in my opinion is the lack of direct physical association with online friends and Vaishnavas. That renders everything somewhat incomplete, it seems.

    • I think a large part of your positive experience online is probably a result of your good intentions. But for many the Internet provides a venue where they are comfortable “vocalizing” ideas that they might not articulate in normal interactions. If the ideas are offensive to Vaishnavas or generally negative, then they are further entangling themselves in a bad situation.

      So while it may be easy to block negative content if you have no interest in it (though I do not think it is always entirely that easy, like in the case of some of the Gaudiya sites that result from an innocent Google search), those who may have some inclination towards that type discussion may find themselves worse off then if they were not online.

  3. Bravo! This is the by far the best article I’ve read on the vitriol masquerading on the internet as Krsna consciousness.

    There really are some great lines here:

    “The Internet is a double-edged sword, and unfortunately, many of those who have a hand on the hilt are swinging—and thinking—in the wrong direction.”

    “The widespread dissemination of slanderous comments and malevolent attitudes, which are inevitably met with the support of some, is truly toxic, and the effects can be observed throughout the Internet community.”

    “The overabundance of conjectured “siddhantas” appearing daily on the Web.”

    The Internet provides the anonymity to both produce and digest these vitriolic discussions without being subject to any of the scrutiny which the participants themselves liberally employ in their assessment of everyone else.

    In my opinion this article should be more widely published. In the least it should be sent to The SUN, Dandavats, and Chakra. It would be interesting to see who rejected and who posted it. What do you think?

    • Well said. However, I do believe that it would be largely unfair to lump chakra.org with the others. My personal opinion is that the Vaisnava community would be in an impoverished state without it.

      But with the rest of your post, I can only concur, Brahma Prabhu. As I said in a comment to another thread on this very website, if Rocana dasa epitomises the qualities of a faithful, realised soul, frankly I do not want spiritual advancement.

  4. I agree with the previous poster, and would add PlanetIskcon.com to that list. I doubt it would get published, but much vitriol comes from some of the people who post articles on that site. Many times the articles come from “devotees'” own personal blogs, where more hateful, angry and discriminatory posts can be found. All of this is espoused as truth, and has, sadly, poisoned my mind against ISKCON.

  5. Thank you for the encouraging words. I suppose I could send it in to those sites. Regarding PlanetIskcon, I believe that they can only post from blogs that they set up a feed from. In other words, they can either post everything from a given blog, or nothing. I believe I read somewhere that that is the way the coding works. Anyway, we will see what happens.

  6. I agree with the premise of the article and all sincere devotees should certainly strive to present Krsna consciousness on the Internet in the best way possible. Nevertheless, our writings reflect our minds and reveal our state of Krsna consciousness. The negative Krishna sites you mention exist because those types of devotees exist. It is a reality we may not like but shouldn’t forget either.

    The phenomena of negative, uncivil websites is in no way limited to the Krsna faith. Christian sites, for example, fall all across the spectrum from groups like godhatesfags.com to dignityUSA.org. It is good to remind devotees how to behave properly on the Internet but not everyone will listen, and eliminating offensive ideology itself, of course, just isn’t possible.

  7. The verbal war going on over the internet concerning the Hare Krishna movement is simply the typical over-reaction that always occurs when a class or section of organizational members rise to elite status with religious titles or organizational administrative authority and abuse their positions for personal aggrandizement.
    When such organizational authorities abuse their positions and refuse to deal with challenges openly, address the grievances and resolve the discrepancies, the lay community uses whatever resources available to push a media campaign for reform.

    This sort of checks and balances system in modern American society has certainly been useful for bringing down many corrupt politicians and bringing about reform wherever it was needed within the greater social paradigm.

    Sure, it’s ugly. It’s not for the faint of heart. The internet is a place where people can put aside all inhibitions, speak their mind and heart and debate and argue with anyone comfortably from the comfort of home.

    I don’t see that as a bad thing. Undoubtedly. there is the abuse of this free press system, but the good it does bringing about reform where there is corruption is great.

    Rule #1.
    If you want to be a religious leader or organizational power broker you had better be ready to go under the microscope and hope that nobody can dig up the skeletons in your closet.

    ISKCON was primed for explosion at the passing of Srila Prabhupada.
    Srila Prabhupada never issued any order to cease his GBC administrated diksa system at any time or upon his passing, so now there is a section of disciple who believe that the traditional old school ISKCON initiation system is best for ISKCON.
    That will never go away.
    As ugly as it is, the media campaign against ISKCON corruption is about the only thing these dissenters feel they have at their disposal to try and force reform from outside the organizational power structure.

    It’s a good thing, as ugly as it might be.

    Obviously, amidst all such madness, Tripurari Maharaja’s move to establish his own mission and organization after the passing of Srila Prabhupada is the ideal example of how an empowered disciple moves on with his preaching instead of getting caught up in a cesspool of political intrigue trying to salvage a defunct institution.

    • It is not just a matter of checks and balances and keeping leaders in line. That is very shortsighted. There is enviousness and aparadha and people develop samskaras for such behavior and they act them out on the internet. My point is that they might even be more inclined to act them out online because, as you say, they can remain in their comfort zone.

      Just about all of the so-called efforts to “reform” that I see amount to prajalpa or worse. Additionally, the reformers are all-to-often acting only on their own opinion of what ought to be, rather than asserting themselves on behalf of a sadhu.

      As far as I am concerned, the Harmonist is an attempt to reform Gaudiya Vaishnavism in healthy, siddhantically sound way, and we practically never name specific people or institutions.

      • Harmonist definitely sets a great example in this regard, as do several other websites and discussion forums. Facebook also seems to lend itself to positive discussion, mostly by limiting comments as well as participants or “friends.” It seems to me people are learning to use the Internet better as time goes on. In the beginning it was a real free-for-all but now people seem to know a little more about how and where they should express their opinions.

      • I am not so sure it is about all this enviousness and aparadha. I think that is a very simplistic explanation of the inner dissension that occurred in the organization due to internal corruption.

        It doesn’t appear that the second generation of HK movement devotees appreciate very well the personal pain, loss and grief that many devotees felt from having given the best years of their life to an institution that became corrupt and forced them out.

        The next generation of devotees that came along and filled the positions in the “organization” seemed to be quite callous and uncaring about the plight of the first generation devotees who got ousted to make room for the disciples of the “new generation” of gurus in the organization.

        It’s just a little too convenient for the second generation of HK movement devotees to come along and say that the first generation devotees are simply envious as they dissent against blatant corruption that has driven them from the organization.

        • While I understand your emphasis on the validity of 1st generation devotees’ justified grievances (yes I agree that “envious” is too convenient a term to quell disagreement), I still don’t feel that you are recognizing the crux of the matter related to this article.

          First of all, 1st generation devotees aren’t the only people with complaints. Big drama still happens in the lives of sincere aspiring devotees, just like it did 25-30 years ago. Go hang out with some 2nd generation devotees and you’ll find PLENTY that voice the same (possibly more severe) grievances and express the same emotions you have here. 2nd generation devotees have also given the best parts of their lives and many have left K.C. altogether feeling empty and unfulfilled due to disappointment with devotee relationships, suffering under a mean temple president, a guru with problems or a management system that did not serve them.

          But what do we do with this karma? If nothing is done in the pursuit of a real spiritual goal, it becomes apparent that some people have not understood or tasted what bhakti is all about. I would expect at least this much from 3rd, 2nd or 1st generation devotees. Time in the human form of life is flying by. Would it not just be “maya” (sorry for the Hare Krsna phraseology, but if the shoe fits…) to let this institutional village talk steal our precious time? Yet that is at least 1/2 the GV content on the internet.

          The Harmonist is re-prioritizing. Anyone who has stuck around through a crisis of faith (some material situation testing one’s spiritual resolve) knows what we’re here for. It is not for sitting around as old men and women trading war stories and reminiscing about our battle scars.
          Yes, it’s inviting to gossip but only if you’ve tasted nothing better.

        • Being driven out of an institution can be seen as an opportunity to either start anew, or support someone who successfully models what you believe to be the forgotten intent of the institution that left you behind. Dissent is only useful to those who are still members. If one is not offered any recognition as a member and is for all intents and purposes not included, one’s complaining will only be ridiculed as drunken ranting anyway.

    • I don’t see that as a bad thing. Undoubtedly. there is the abuse of this free press system, but the good it does bringing about reform where there is corruption is great.

      I don’t buy into the propaganda that much of the stuff passing as “free press” assists in any type of reform. Airing one’s grievances through the medium of internet “free press” is only valuable if the individual with the complaint feels heard and can then move on to more substantial topics. This individual need to be heard, understood and validated is not fulfilled through public ranting.
      In a current example, the majority of one site’s content for the past month has been around 90% criticism (not in anyway constructive in nature) of an Iskcon sannyasi. I understand people have their complaints, their stories of being hurt, etc. But I just don’t see any benefit for the rest of us in terms of progressing towards suddha-bhakti. Really, this is what village talk is all about. Sitting around with the locals and gossiping, while important daily life responsibilities get put off. And if me and my buddies think we’re onto something really big, we develop this illusion of over-importance like we’re the seed of the real revolution! “We’re protecting the innocent from being cheated!” Nonsense. People will have their crises of faith according to their adhikara, no assistance is required.

      I think one should ask oneself a simple question when reading such tabloid trash. Say all the gossip is true. Does it help me move one inch towards my goal???

      Prabhupada Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur: “Be indifferent to bazaar gossip, stick firmly to your cherished goals, no lack or impediments of the world will ever stand in your way.”

      • I’ve been trying to find a way to express my appreciation for Nitaisundara’s article. It goes right to the heart of the matter, it is brilliantly framed, and sets just the right tone. The Bengali proverb that true eloquence is essential truth spoken concisely (mitam ca saram ca vaco hi vagmitah) describes well what I see in this article.

        I also have many times posed the question Madan Gopal asks so appropriately here:

        Say all the gossip is true. Does it help me move one inch towards my goal???

        This is indeed the point. One of my main concerns for at least a couple of decades is the way Gaudiya vaishnavas discuss the issues we face, especially when there’s divergance of opinion. Far too often what we see is what Nitaisundara and Madan Gopal, and the other commenters here, point out: easy excuses for finding fault with others, and creating opportunities for promoting ourselves.

        Our movement–in all its manifestations, all the different missions which express it–would be the spiritual dynamo it should if as much time as is spent in finger pointing, name calling, and all varieties of vilification were spent in introspection, seeking the ways and means to deepen and improve our own bhajan life and outreach. The Harmonist is a shining example of what vaishnava news sites could be, what they should all aspire to be.

        E. B. White’s children’s classic Charlotte’s Web ends with an observation about how rare it is to find someone who is both a good writer and a good friend. Of Charlotte the spider, White says she was both. We might say the same of Nitaisundara, adding a nod to his clear thinking and good heart.

  8. I rescued from cassette this talk that Marshall McLuhan gave at Johns Hopkins University in the mid 1970s. I have not found an audio file of this talk anywhere online. So far as I know it’s an original contribution to the archive of McLuhan audio. Enjoy. Rare McLuhan Audio

  9. It’s not people speaking on behalf of any leader that come online and spew hateful rhetoric (at least in my limited experience). These are people who have left ISKCON in some cases, who are angry with everyone, it seems. They are angry at ISCKON for not being what they think it should be; and they are angry with anyone who questions or challenges their ideas on their public blogs. These blogs are really not a good venue for valuable discussion, because any challenge, any question, no matter how small, is taken as an offense against the individual blogger and against Prabhupada, who they seem to think they can channel. When chellenged, these bloggers seem to think they are doing Prabhupada justice when they call people names, which aren’t fit to be repeated here. I’ve even been threatened with physical violence.

    I have learned a valuable lesson in all this. I need to read and respond to people who will understand my question or my issue with particular ideas or statements. I steer clear of the blogs I have been talking about, because I always come away angry and feeling like I’m being told to not even bother with ISKCON if I have these ideas. I’m thankful for this site and for devotees who really are interested in participating in respectful dialogue instead of hateful, angry fanaticism.

  10. Nitaisundara:
    “Unfortunately, the present nature of the international Gaudiya community is that many are unable to interact with each other in a healthy, respectful manner, and as such there are many fractured factions. Much of the negative attitudes underlying these divisions are the direct results of years of one group or another espousing their exclusive validity and the simultaneous inferiority of people and groups who may actually be worthy of their adoration.”

    Gaudiya community became fractured not very long after the passing of Mahaprabhu. It seems like an unavoidable process in this world, because we are dealing with individuals who all have their idea of what is right and wrong, of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘better’.

    One could quote quite a few examples of modern GV acharyas “espousing their exclusive validity and the simultaneous inferiority of people and groups who may actually be worthy of their adoration”. Sometimes they even used stories very much from the gossip category to ‘prove their point’… just about anything that could further their cause, in the name of ‘end justifies the means’ maxime. There may be some justification to act that way as well, or at least it can be argued that such actions were ‘required by the circumstances’. Thus it is hardly surprising that their disciples act in a similar fashion, altough usually with much less justification.

    What you write about the ‘global village talk’ is mostly very much correct, even as IMO you oversimplify the underlying causes.

    Life in this world is never all about the spiritual welfare or all about the material ‘contamination’. These things are usually mixed and hard to separate. Devotees often complain for a good reason and dissent can sometimes be both healthy and useful – otherwise you are bound to have an unrealistic picture of the situation. Leaders who do not like to hear critical voices are bound to become deluded.
    Criticism can be constructive and those who criticize others should not be surprised when scrutiny is applied to them as well.

    • Certainly, I was by no means suggesting that there is no place for criticism, I dont think that was implied either. But show me the plethora of constructive criticism online… I know of much garbage and few meaningful critiques. And I also acknowledge, as I did in the article, that it is not reasonable or realistic to think devotees will use the internet for only spiritual purposes.

      Additionally, being able to recognize valid issues and articulate and explore them in the online community should never be an end unto itself, but it very often is. Look at the Sampradaya Sun, they are not actually doing anything, just spewing out whatever random (often trivial) tidbits they can get their hands on.

      • I would certainly agree that the “Sun” is nothing more than tabloid sensationalism. The kind of smear campaign that the “Sun” is known for is most certainly non-Vaishnava behavior that is foolish and childish. While enjoying an appreciable readership, the “Sun” has become the “Sampradaya Sin”.
        The quality of dissent we see on the Sun does nothing to improve the condition of the KC movement. It is simply bitter diatribe that cannot help anyone. There needs to be balance in the discussion, but that is not possible when you have extremists willing to slander anyone for perceived discrepancies.
        Some devotees are just having a hard time accepting that the KC society they devoted so much to has turned on them and become a club of elites who have intervened to divert worship to themselves.
        I understand their grief, but we all have to move on from the organizational structure we came to know and love to specialized sanga that fills our needs.
        Vaishnavism is supposed to be sweet and blissful. The nasty, ugly bitterness we see around the KC movement is clear evidence that obviously many of us could not grasp the true tenets of Gaudiya Vaishnavism.

  11. Kula — Yes, dissent is a good and healthy thing. Verbal abuse, however, is not. When the dissent turns into name calling, threats of phycical violence, etc, it is not healthy anymore.

    • I certainly agree with that, Uplander. The way we express our dissent and disagreement with others is truly the measure of both our culture and our spiritual advancement. It is sometimes painful to watch what happens among the devotees, and Sampradaya Sun is often a repository of articles which are nothing but a pain to read.

Leave a Reply to Amara dasa Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Top ↑