I have not read newspapers in the last five months or so. I have been too busy with Krsna conscious activities, trying to read and write, preach and travel.

When occasionally I became aware that I was not reading the daily news, I considered whether this was irresponsible not to be tuned in to others' sufferings and the political events that externally shape our lives. Of course, I hear things from others. I know at least who is president of the United States; I heard of the earthquake in Armenia, the explosion of the Pan Am jet, and many other things: but I didn't read the daily newspapers to follow up on what I heard in conversations.

Every secular society, from the neighborhood to the state to the world as a whole, values the news of its own activities. In this context, an enlightened person is aware of all that seems to affect his life. To remain contentedly oblivious might smack of irresponsibility.

But I don't think it's irresponsible. What is reported daily is often very repetitious and is produced by writers whose viewpoint is limited and motivated. It's not just "the news" you get when you read a so-called factual report; you get a whole set of prejudices and a complete omission of transcendental knowledge. Without the insight of transcendental writing, the story of yesterday's events is meaningless and merely deadens the human sensibility with constant depressing proof that we are living in the dark age of Kali.

One time in India, a devotee entered Srila Prabhupada's room with a daily newspaper, since at that time Prabhupada was occasionally hearing from it. "What's the news?" Prabhupada asked, "What are all the rascals saying? Newspapers means all the statements of the rascals."

Today I spent forty minutes with a copy of the San Juan Star. Am I better for it? It helped me realize that my life is sheltered in many ways, and that I am "not doing anything" about the race riots in Miami. Seeing a picture of four muscular men handcuffed and arrested for looting, I became aware of my own physical frailty and the need for police protection.

But I didn't read a single mention of God or God consciousness in the paper. There were no direct references. and not even indirect ones. Just to be sure of this, I went through the paper a second time. Instead of finding God, I stumbled for a second time on the story of thirty-year-old Patrick Purdy, who fired an assault rifle into a California school yard, killing five children and injuring thirty, and then shot himself dead. It's not the newspapers' fault that these things happen. And one might say it's not the journalists' responsibility to moralize events or attempt to explain them.

As Patrick Purdy's grandmother said, "It's just horrible. I don't understand why, and I probably won't ever know why."

Why are one out of five pregnant women in inner-city Boston using cocaine? Why is former president Marcos dying? Why did South African president Botha suffer a mild stroke? Why did eighty-four-year-old Salvador Dali get a heart attack? Maybe it's too much to expect daily explanations of these things, but explanations are available in the sastra, the holy scripture.

Therefore, if we read the sastra, wherein all the causes and effects are explained, and where we are offered ultimate relief from all miseries, aren't we doing ourselves a better favor than by gorging on unexplained "news" from all over the world? And isn't distribution of sastra a better service than the distribution of newspapers?

Srila Prabhupada noticed how those who read newspapers soon throw them away an indication of the journal's value. If one is fortunate to get a copy of the Srimad-Bhagavatam and to realize its value even a little bit, he will not throw it away but treasure it, and read it throughout his life. For one who is "tuned in" to higher understandings, the business of this world reinforces the teachings of the sastra the misery, the flickering fortunes, the encroachment of old age and death. To hear again and again how these things occur becomes tiresome to one attuned to the eternal nature of the soul.

But as they say in America, "It's a free country"; you can read whatever you like. So there will always be people inclined to different kinds of reading.

As the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.10)

Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there.

Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to this "swans and crows" verse,

Spiritually advanced men who are compared to the swans do not take pleasure in such dead literatures, which are sources of pleasure for men who are spiritually dead.. .. Social literary men, scientists, mundane poets, theoretical philosophers, and politicians who arc completely absorbed in material advancement of sense pleasure are all dolls of the material energy. They take pleasure in a place where rejected subject matters are thrown. According to Swami Sridhara, this is the pleasure of the prostitute hunters.

The United States alone boasts 1,657 daily newspapers, with an aggregate circulation of 62,502,036 annually (and this neglects the Sunday papers!). So there is a vast market of curious persons eager to know "what's going on." Unfortunately, the only side of the story they hear further agitates the desire to understand, since the simple recitation of events without deep sastric knowledge leaves the reader more befuddled than ever about the nature of the world. Things simply happen, and tomorrow more things will happen, and somewhere in all this lies the meaning of life.

I'll probably never entirely stop reading newspapers. After all, newspapers do keep us in touch with the real world. Or do they? SDG