I used to try to keep in touch with “the world” by listening to the news on the radio. It amazed me to see how quickly I got caught up in trivia, and how easily I fell into the thought that, because I wanted news, if I waited another fifteen minutes, I might get to hear something even “newer.”
Thus, I found myself listening half the morning to such tidbits as what some senator thought of a foreign prime minister’s remarks on the economic situation in some part of the world that I’d probably never visit; or the inside story of how ecstatic some housewife was at finally, after fifteen disappointing years, winning a lottery.
Meanwhile, I was invited to rejoice at the superiority of a certain “very special” brand of diaper, or at the popularity of a certain kind of soft drink. I learned new, catchy melodies about soap or coffee that plagued me for days afterward.
Finally one day I awoke, as if from a long dream. I awoke to the realization that it all simply didn’t matter.
A slowly dripping faucet
Ours is not a “focused” age. For most people, if the mind is not actively engaged in the pursuit of outer fulfillments, it chugs on quietly like an idling motor.
People think absent-mindedly of events and situations in their lives, or they occupy their minds with “fillers”—leafing through magazines, turning on the TV, or gazing out the window at wherever is happening outdoors.
“Absent-mindedness and fillers”: Paramhansa Yogananda rated these two as among the most insidious influences in the aspirant’s life. Taken one instance at a time, they may seem inconsequential. Taken altogether, however, they are formidable. A slowly dripping faucet may, during the course of a single day, waste many gallons of water.
A preoccupation with the lives of others
Reading the newspapers or watching television is not much different from listening to gossip—it’s a preoccupation with other people’s lives, other people’s ways of thinking. If it’s profitable, fine, but how often is it profitable?
The same question applies to people’s fascination with such superficial questions, which we find in certain Bible passages, as who Jesus was in other incarnations. Too much of this kind of interest becomes mere gossip.
Discussions about which saint is the most advanced spiritually belong clearly in the realm of spiritual gossip. It is not useful knowledge. Nor is it wise to view anyone’s spiritual attainments in too personal a light.
Gossip—talking against people
On the spiritual path, people tend to get away from outward things such as the news. But they waste a great deal of time criticizing and judging other people’s lives.
Someone wrote a very negative article about my guru, and another disciple said, “Well, that seems kind of convincing to me.” I showed her all the reasons why the rumor was not only false but ridiculous, and when she heard my reasoning, she said, “Well, I see that you are right.”
But why waste time listening when people talk against others? This is often one of the downsides of living in an ashram.
At our Ananda communities, you don’t see much of that sort of thing. The people living there are trying to perfect themselves, to overcome their faults and weaknesses. When someone makes a mistake, they try to help him—to encourage him to put out more effort. This is what Yogananda taught.
We’re all in the same “hospital”
The usual motive behind gossip is self-affirmation: “Well, I’m not that way!” Concern for other’s mistakes is a way of pushing off the need to recognize our own. It is far better to work on getting out of the ego. You will not be perfect until you attain God. When you find Him and unite your soul with Him completely, then and then only are you free.
Until then it’s much safer to feel that we’re all in the same “hospital” together: I have this particular disease to overcome, and you have another disease, and in that bed over there is someone with another problem.
It would be of little use for doctors to sit around and say, “Oh, he’s got this tumor. Oh, he’s got that malignancy,” and so on. They don’t talk that way because their job is to help people.
Try to think in terms of what you can do to help other people. If a person has done something wrong, instead of gossiping, see what you can do to help him.
Our spiritual development is determined to a very large degree by the little things we do. The distractions, the “fillers”—these are the little things that make it impossible to listen to the divine voice within us.