The television, a relatively recent 20th century invention, is a powerful form of entertainment and escape from the travails of life. By identifying with someone else’s life, we momentarily forget the ennui of our own life. TV also provides excitement in the form of sports programs or crime dramas (not to mention the absurd reality shows). But watching TV also has some subtle negative consequences on the consciousness of the spiritual aspirant which are seldom mentioned. In his poem Savitri (all of which was composed before 1950), Sri Aurobindo seems to have anticipated what the advent of television would bring to humanity. He wrote in his poem…
On the dark background of a soulless world
She staged between a lurid light and shade
Her dramas of the sorrow of the depths
Written on the agonised nerves of living things:
Epics of horror and grim majesty,
Wry statues spat and stiffened in life’s mud,
A glut of hideous forms and hideous deeds
Paralysed pity in the hardened breast.
In booths of sin and night-repairs of vice
Styled infamies of the body’s concupiscence
And sordid imaginations etched in flesh,
Turned lust into a decorative art:
Abusing Nature’s gift her pervert skill
Immortalised the sown grain of living death,
In a mud goblet poured the bacchic wine,
To a satyr gave the thyrsus of a god.
Impure, sadistic, with grimacing mouths,
Grey foul inventions gruesome and macabre
Came televisioned from the gulfs of Night.
Sri Aurobindo, Savitri – I: The Descent into Night
The reasons for the ill-effects of TV on our consciousness are grounded in our perception process and our subconscious. In the Upanishads, it is said that the “one part of the mind takes the form of the object it concentrates on” – referred to as determinate apprehension (See Epistemology of Perception) . The images beamed forth from the television tend to be so enthralling that they hold the mind captive. They swamp our brain and also invade our subconscious. The images which invade the brain lead to loss of memory (the same phenomenon is observed temporarily after we exit a movie theatre) and once these images descend into our subconscious, they begin to rise up in sleep producing all kinds of horrific incoherent dreams.
Secondly, the sensory overload drowns out the action of the Purusha (executive power or spirit within) and consequently we experience listlessness, depression and lack of will-power coupled with a reflexive desire to emulate the behavior seen on TV. Once the will has been weakened, we begin to unconsciously and thoughtlessly emulate the mannerisms of the actors and actresses that we observe on television. We internalize their behaviour and delude ourselves in hoping that our life will fit the same narrative that we have observed on screen.
There is also a third ill-effect (which will certainly make a positivist incredulous) and this is related to the fact that every room, home, city, country sustains its own vital atmosphere. Have you ever noticed the difference between the atmosphere in a place of worship, a library and a bar?. This vital atmosphere becomes tainted or poisoned when gory scenes from the TV are beamed into the room. It is difficult to concentrate or meditate in a room which has retains such an atmosphere.
Watch less TV!
For the spiritual aspirant, the short-term solution is really to live as much as possible without watching television. In the long-term, the consciousness needs to be cleansed completely of all past images and this can only occur after various spiritual experiences. As Sri Aurobindo states, (see here) “The descent of Peace (Sat), the descent of Force or Power(Chit), the descent of Light, the descent of Ananda, these are the four things that transform the nature.” The result of constant spiritual practice is the cleansing of the Chitta. As Patanjali states “tatha klesha karma nivritti” (Yoga Sutras 4.30) – the colorings (kleshas) in the mind (chitta) are purged once the inner being is awakened.
See Also: Article on People who live without TV
- All thoughts come from outside
- Triple movement of Integral Yoga (Witness, Consenter, Enjoyer)
- Subtle forms of the ego – (transcending suffocation)
- Ethical, logical and aesthetic mind
- Gita Chapter 18, Verse 60-61: The illusion of free-will
- Aspects of Karma-Yoga
- Self-control over speech
- How to cultivate the state of witness consciousness(Saksi-bhava)
- Types of meditation
- Illustrating Integral Psychology using the Gita