The Culture of Distraction

By Nagaraja Dasa - 7.9 2022

The phrase “culture of distraction” has been around for a while. I guess I was just too distracted to notice it.

We’re constantly bombarded with so much information that focusing on anything is extremely difficult. Economists wonder how that affects productivity in the workplace. Psychologists wonder what it’s doing to our minds.

Controlling one’s mind is the purpose of yoga, and Krishna consciousness is the yoga of bhakti, or service to Krishna with love. As with any type of yoga, practicing bhakti-yoga in an atmosphere where we’re deluged with information can be tough. The digital age seems to control us, as yesterday’s inventions become today’s necessities. When I compare my childhood to that of kids today, I wonder how they can concentrate on anything, their minds so easily disappearing into a virtual world that’s becoming more and more like the bricks and bats of the real world.

Srila Prabhupada championed the simple agrarian life as ideal for spiritual pursuits. We find, though, that most people today reject that kind of life. We’re just not accustomed to it. (I sometimes joke that even most devotees today would rather live in Dwaraka than Vrindavana.) Maybe we’re so used to the distractions of modern life that we feel lost without them. But we must beware the risk of getting swept away by the flood of technology. To stay secure, we need time for yoga. We need time to pause and think.

The Back to Godhead magazine is meant to help us slow down and gain perspective. Reading BTG, Srila Prabhupada’s books, and those of his followers makes us philosophers, people who can watch the flow of the times and not get drowned in it.

Praying to Lord Narsimha in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.28), Prahlada Maharaja praises his guru for having rescued him from materialistic life: “I was gradually falling into a blind well full of snakes, following the general populace. But Your servant Narada Muni kindly accepted me as his disciple and instructed me how to achieve this transcendental position [of Krishna consciousness]. Therefore, my first duty is to serve him. How could I leave his service?”

Throughout history, “following the general populace” has meant movement away from what’s ultimately for people’s true benefit. The general populace moves to the direction of Maya, Lord Krishna’s energy and the ruler of the material world. Srila Prabhupada writes, “The material world is an illusory energy to deviate the living entities from the path of self-realization.”

In Kali-yuga, the current age, Maya seems to be doing her best work, creating distractions at the speed of mind. What’s a yogi to do?

Rupa Gosvami, one of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s chief disciples, gave the solution: use the products of Maya in Krishna’s service. Instead of rejecting technology outright or letting it divert us from the most human of enterprises self-realization we can use it to connect with Krishna, thus spiritualizing both the technology and our lives.

Prabhupada wanted his disciples to use technology to spread Krishna consciousness. And he said that, along with chanting Hare Krishna and reading about Krishna, the ideal way to control the mind is to constantly think about how to give Krishna consciousness to others. Technology now allows us to do that while savoring the serenity of a simple life and watching the cows graze in the pasture outside our window. Now that’s a distraction even I can handle.