Are you participating in our family business, or do you find it challenging to approach strangers on the street to sell books that may not align with their interests? Allow me to share my journey; perhaps it will inspire you to try book distribution!
I must confess; it took me some time to really understand and appreciate the practice of book distribution in ISKCON. Perhaps it was a mix of my own conditioning and the way I was introduced to this service. As a new bhakta, I was quite shy, and the sankirtana leader was rather insistent.
Upon joining, the sankirtana devotees urged me, "You should get out on the streets!" and I responded, "But I just came in!" They insisted, "You must distribute Srila Prabhupada's books!" and I questioned, "Shouldn't I read them first?" They emphasized, "We have to save the two-legged animal out there!" I countered, "I thought I should save myself first before helping someone else! And by the way, what animals are you talking about?!“
They suggested, "You should join us on traveling sankirtana," and I replied, "But I am about to travel to India." They insisted, "Sankirtana Book Distribution is the only way! I" I wondered, "But I thought that chanting the Holy Names is the Yuga Dharma?!"
Yes, I was indeed a challenging case. I left and went to India for an entire year. Upon my return to Zurich, my devotional journey led me through various departments at the Hare Krishna Temple, from cook to pujari, Nama hatta Preacher, Bhakta Leader, and finally Temple President. In this way, I missed out on the traditional ISKCON training of traveling Sankirtana, becoming a temple devotee engaged in various services according to my nature.
However, when I became an official ISKCON Leader, it became apparent that distributing books and encouraging others to do so was my duty. It didn't take me long to realize that any temple or community becomes vibrant and attractive when the sharing of Krishna Consciousness is at the center. So, I gave myself a little push and ventured out onto the streets. Surprisingly, it was fun, and I met many interesting people. While I may not be a great or regular book distributor, I deeply appreciate anyone performing this service, understanding how pleasing it is to the entire parampara.
Here are some reasons that inspire me to, at least from time to time, engage in distributing Srila Prabhupada's books:
1.) Books are the Basis
Over the last few years, I've interviewed over fifty ISKCON leaders about the importance of reading Srila Prabhupada's books. (1) This service has been inspiring. Personally, I've always loved to read. Srila Prabhupada's books provide so much nourishment to the soul that I cannot imagine a spiritual life without regular reading. Hearing Vaishnavas glorify Srila Prabhupada's books has fueled my eagerness to read daily. The more you appreciate Srila Prabhupada's books, the more you naturally desire to share them with others.
2.) It's Our Family Business and Pleases the Entire Parampara
From a material standpoint, it's clear that an author likes it when many people read their books. In Srila Prabhupada's case, there's a much deeper purpose. His spiritual master, Bhakti Siddhanta Sarasvati Thakur, established the mission of sharing transcendental literature as a primary means to spread Krishna Consciousness. He referred to the printing press as "brihad mrdanga" and was pleased even if a few brahmacaris sold one magazine. He instructed his disciple, Abhaya Carana, to "Teach Krishna consciousness among the English-speaking public, especially in the Western countries," and "If you ever get money, print books.“
In this way, Srila Prabhupada's books fulfill the sacred order he received from his spiritual master. Naturally, Srila Prabhupada was pleased with anyone helping to distribute his books, as it aids in pleasing his spiritual master. Srila Prabhupada emphasized, "Print as many books in as many languages and distribute throughout the whole world. Then the Krishna consciousness movement will automatically increase." (2)
In his book, "Our Family Businesses" (a ‚must-read‘ for every member of the Hare Krishna Movement!) H.G. Vaisesika Prabhu elaborates on the power of ideas and the role books play. "Books are vessels that carry ideas. The word idea is defined as 'a thought or suggestion as to a possible course of action.' When a person reads a book, the ideas between the covers spill out into his or her mind, just as the seeds broadcast by a gardener find a home in the rich soil where they are strewn. These idea-seeds sprout and soon bear fruit within the reader.“ (3)
In this way, we understand that books can lead to an entire revolution, as Edward Bulwer-Lytton powerfully stated, "The pen is mightier than the sword.“
Srila Prabhupada's books carry transcendental information with the power to change anyone's life who reads even a single page. Srila Prabhupada wrote to Bali Mardana dasa: "What your lecture will do for three minutes, but if he reads one page, his life may be turned." (4) Srila Prabhupada often pointed out how his books have the potency to make devotees. "Bhagavad-gita has been well known all over the world for a very long time, especially in the Western world, but because the subject matter was not discussed by devotees, there was no effect. Not a single person in the West became Krishna conscious before the Krishna consciousness movement was founded.“ (5)
This understanding is very inspiring to me. If I can give one sincere person a book by Srila Prabhupada, I know that this person's life will never be the same. By accepting a transcendental book, they earn ajnata sukriti and perform devotional service, and who knows, their life might never be the same after reading Srila Prabhupada's books.
3.) Become an Ambassador of Good Will
"The entire universe is full of miseries, and therefore the inhabitants of this material universe are always shedding tears out of intense grief. There is a great ocean of water made from such tears, but for one who surrenders unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ocean of tears is at once dried up. One need only see the charming smile of the Supreme Lord. In other words, the bereavement of material existence immediately subsides when one sees the charming smile of the Lord.“ (6)
People in this world suffer due to avidya, ignorance. Therefore, the best way to help them is to share transcendental knowledge with them. Going out on the streets and giving people a chance to get in touch with eternal truths is a wonderful experience. We are truly ambassadors of the spiritual world. Everyone is searching for happiness, but unfortunately, they are looking for it in the wrong place. Whoever receives a transcendental book can understand where true happiness is available, in a relationship with the Supreme in the execution of devotional service. The reason most of us have become devotees is that someone else shared a book with us. How wonderful it is to become ourselves ambassadors of goodwill for others!
4.) Book Distribution is "Easy and Fun“
When I first heard the phrase "Book Distribution is Easy and Fun" from Navina Nirada Prabhu, I thought to myself, 'Well, not for everybody!' Book Distribution can be very challenging, especially for the false ego. Yet, herein lies another amazing advantage of this activity — it's very purifying! Out on the streets, you can truly learn humility, detachment, and the ability to remain equanimous in happiness and distress, praise and insult. When you enter the mystical flow of Book Distribution, you suddenly realize that it can be easy and certainly is a very blissful activity. Just observe your local Sankirtana devotees, how they return from a day of Book Distribution with enthusiastic smiles. This was another inspiration for me. If these devotees derive so much happiness from this service, it can't be so bad after all!
When I go out, I tell myself that the fact I am going out today is already my first success. If I can spend a couple of hours on the streets and remain equanimous, then that marks my second success. And if, by Guru and Krishna's mercy, I can even distribute only one book, I consider this my third success. By keeping expectations low, I usually have a positive experience on the streets, and sometimes I am amazed at what can happen when one becomes a simple instrument in the hands of the Lord.
If only one person finds inspiration in this blog and distributes only one book because of it, I consider my endeavor to write this article a great success. Transcendental Book Distribution ki jaya!
2 - Srila Prabhupada, Arrival Address, Los Angeles, June 20, 1975
3 - Page 139, Our Family Business, Vaisesika Dasa, BBT 2016
4 - Srila Prabhupada, September 30, 1972, Letter to Bali Mardana dasa
5 - Purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 4.22.19
6 - Purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 3.28.32