I spent the weekend of the 9th and 10th of November in Indore, doing several house programs on both days, and meeting many enthusiastic devotees. Since they don't get many traveling preachers to visit their community, everybody was eager and excited to have a guest, and I was well taken care off by the devotees. I also distributed many copies of my books - everyone was eagerly accepting the knowledge into their lives.
On Sunday I was engaged in offering two temple programs for more regularly practising members of the congregation. All programs were very well attended and received, and devotees requested me to return again soon. On the last day of Kartik I was invited to lead the Damodarastaka and an evening kirtan. Also here in Ujjain my books were well received, and the leaders accepted them as handbooks for brahmacari training.
Everyone enjoys having their photo taken, no matter where we may go in this world. Our deep-rooted identification with our gross and subtle material body allows us to experience pleasure seeing our own picture and showing it to others. On my travels I often see people at airports taking pictures of themselves with their relatives and friends. Now, through the modern technology of smartphones, people can take selfies without needing another person to take the shot.
Many times I observe people taking selfies when sitting on the plane or train, or in many other situations. Often they travel alone and simply keep themselves occupied taking photos of themselves. Then, of course, such photos are eagerly posted on various social networks such as Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram, so that friends and relatives around the world can admire them. Such people eagerly wait to see how many ‘likes’ they receive!
It seems people like to be obsessed with vanity – an excessive pride and admiration of their own appearance. People like to fall in love with themselves, and their self-absorption and egotism knows no bounds. Such is the effect of material life, when feeding and boosting up our false ego becomes a main source of satisfaction, even though flickering.
It is not uncommon to read about people losing their lives while taking selfies: falling off a cliff, getting run over by a car or train, and so forth. Once when visiting Arizona in the United States, I heard of a person who had just fallen into the Grand Canyon while taking a selfie, falling to his death. As Krishna cautions us in the Bhagavad-gita (18.58), when acting under the false ego we will be lost – sometimes sooner rather than later.
Statistics show that the death rate while taking selfies is the highest in India. People get so enamoured and captivated by modern technology fueling their self-aggrandisement, that they are oblivious, even to imminent death.
Posting photos of ourselves on social media feeds our false ego immensely. I like to call Facebook ‘ego-book’. Just viewing people’s Facebook pages, how most people enjoy posting photos of themselves, is rather off-putting. It is contaminating for everyone involved – for those posting them and for those looking at them. It ignites a subtle yet intense competition of who can post better pictures of themselves. This phenomenon spreads the polluting energy
of desire for fame and adoration.
A devotee once shared with me how she attended a kirtan mela that was broadcast live around the world. On the big screen in the temple room she could follow where the camera was moving to capture the event. She became so distracted from the holy name, always looking at the screen and hoping that she would be in the picture. The thought that the whole world would see her became so prominent within her mind that she entirely lost her focus on the holy name, and thus she could not enter into the mood of the kirtan. She
was absorbed in self-admiration rather than glorifying Krishna by
chanting the holy name.
In his book Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava, Volume 2, His Holiness Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja expands on Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura’s attitude and instruction in this regard. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura did not approve of his own picture being printed on the covers of his publications. Nor did he want them included anywhere within them. An exception was the biographical Sarasvatijayasri, which featured photographs of him.
Furthermore, His Holiness Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja describes:
"Although in archana, worship of the guru must precede that of the Supreme Lord, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati did not want that pictures of himself be worshipped, at least not during his manifest presence. To a grihastha disciple who had written asking for permission to do so, he replied: ‘It is better that my picture not be kept in devotees’ homes. We should always remember that the desire for honor and prestige is like pig stool. After my passing away these might be required. If worship of such symbols is begun in my living presence it will be my downfall.’"
And further, Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja explains:
"As there is no question of fall-down for a devotee of the stature of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, this statement should be understood as both an expression of his own humility and as cautionary for less consummate devotees."
We can only imagine what Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s comment would be on selfies and Facebook…
In this way, modern technology facilitates people’s vanity and self-glorification. People boast of having thousands of followers and friends on Facebook, and their goal in life lies in merely increasing the numbers and thus becoming increasingly ‘famous’. With the help of modern technology, any fool can become world-famous overnight, just by becoming expert in the art of showing off and posting grotesque pictures or videos, which are clicked thousands of times.
Lately it has also become a common occurrence for people to film themselves while committing a heavy crime, such as murder, torture of another or even child abuse, and broadcasting these videos, testifying to such horrific acts over the Internet. This is the maddening effect of the false ego expanding its jurisdiction into a highly demoniac sphere. Maya has gone high-tech!
On the 19th of November I flew off to Dhaka/Bangladesh....
Your servant, Devaki dd