An oxymoronic pursuit called Spiritual Journalism

29 June 2009

Shooting the messenger is the world’s favourite hobby. So, the media is roundly berated by media consumers as the harbinger of bad news. Media personnel have been termed by critics as the “nattering nabobs of negativism“.

We suck the warm, positive air out of this wonderful world the rest of humankind inhabits. We separate the wheat from the chaff, and print the chaff. We lead if it bleeds. We make up, we steal, we distort, we spin, we sin. Etcetera.

Well….

Well, it turns out, the criticism is not just not new but a lousy cliche.

At a seminar on the “Significance of Spiritual Journalism”, held under the auspices of Viveka Prabha, the monthly magazine published by the Sri Ramakrishna Mission, Mysore, the president of the Cuddapah mission, Swami Atmavidanandaji, showed just why.

Reports the English eveninger, Star of Mysore:

“Scribes tend to underplay the truth and highlight the negative aspects of the news to gain popularity. That creates a false picture of any incident giving wrong information to the readers.

“Once Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa visited a friend’s house and he was asked to sit on a bench where there was a newspaper lying on it.

“Paramahamsa asked his disciple to remove the newspaper and clean that bench with holy Ganga water.

“Asked for the reason, Paramahamsa said that the newspaper carried only bad and negative news. Therefore, it was necessary to clean the bench and then only sit on it.”

After narrating the incident, Swami Atmavidanandaji, reports the paper, called upon the journalists to imbibe spiritualism in their approach and writings to come out with “true-to-life” news.

***

Now, how “true-to-life” could this anecdote be?

Ramakrishna Paramahamsa lived from 1836-1886. None of the pictures show him holding or reading a newspaper. How likely is it that in the home of a devotee at least 120 years ago, a friend would have subscribed to a newspaper? Even if he did, were newspapers already in the sordid business of distorting the truth and spreading negative news?

Were all Bengali and English newspapers indulging in scurrilous journalism back then? On every page, every day, everywhere? Or was there a specific story that day that the Swami was aware of? If it was the latter, wasn’t Paramahamsa guilty of branding all newspapers as bad and negative?

And what precisely is “bad”?

How did Paramahamsa know that the disciple had holy Ganga water at home to be produced at that very moment? How was he sure that its miraculous powers extended to wiping the sins committed by newspapers and journalists? Would it work only for all-seeing him, or for the disciple too?

And did he get the holy water and did it work?

Encyclopaedia Britannica reports that “it was about this time [1880s] that Calcutta newspapers and journal articles first referred to Ramakrishna as the Hindu saint or as the Paramahamsa.” Did Paramahamsa express his scepticism of these labels being given to him by “bad and negative” newspapers?

All these are silly, trivial questions, of course, but that is the essence of journalism, asking silly questions and putting “the truth” to the test. As the old saying goes: there is nothing called a silly question, only silly answers. And “Spiritual Journalism” by its very definition is an oxymoron; either it can be spiritual or it can be journalism.

In other words, where specifically has this wondrous story of Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa on newspapers been recorded and reported? And by which journalist, writer, biographer?

Tell us another, O Spritual One, and stick to the facts.

Or shift to journalism.

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