Preaching, Book Distribution, and the Ultimate Goal
Caitanya Chandra dasa
First edition: 2019
This is a free e-book, a humble offering to all the exalted Vaishnavas in Srila Prabhupada's movement.
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We gratefully acknowledge the BBT for the use of verses and purports from Srila Prabhupada’s books. All such verses and purports are copyright of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International, Inc.
In the first chapter, I made the point that despite the popularization of e-books and new medias, there’s still a great potential for the distribution of printed books. If anything, the demand for printed books is increasing. One could argue that in many of the “developed” countries, people are so engrossed in materialism that the task of making them read a spiritual book seems daunting, but even if, for the sake of argument, we would accept this view, there are 195 countries in the world, with the most varied cultures. If one is having difficulties to distribute books in one place, he can just go to a different place, where people are more receptive.
Book distribution tends to happen in waves. Places that are bitter today may become sweet tomorrow: the mentality of people changes, new approaches are found, etc. We just have to continue doing our part and opportunities are going to appear. In the 1970s, book distribution was very difficult in India, but now India is the top country in book distribution, distributing more than the rest of the world combined. Similarly, book distribution is now booming in Africa and many Asian countries. One can choose where to go, the opportunities are limitless.
Here is a graphic of the yearly totals of book distribution. We can see that despite all difficulties, book distribution is expanding. The year of 2015 was the biggest year in book distribution in ISKCON (highest score in book points), and 2018 was the second. In some of the previous years, the total number of books were higher, but when taken into consideration the point value, 2015 was the highest score, with 9,493,095 books and 9,857,134.70 points.
Book distribution is one of the strongest indicators of the health of our movement. We can see in the chart that book distribution dramatically decreases in periods of crysis (like the end of the zonal acarya period, and the problems in the early 2000s). It shows that despite all problems, our movement is progressing.
Many people are just waiting to receive a book to start their spiritual life, souls that due to their accumulated spiritual sukriti are propense to follow spiritual life, but without the proper knowledge frequently take shelter in intoxication, illicit sex or other vices. They are like sleeping agents. As soon as they receive a book, they very quickly adopt spiritual life and start to distribute this knowledge to others. This is the boy I mentioned in chapter 3. He was leading a quite unregulated lifestyle, selling crafts in the street, but despite the appearance, he was seeking for spiritual knowledge. He took a Bhagavad Gita and next time I heard about him, he was already living in the temple. From the photos you can see the extent of the change:
The sankirtana movement will last for 10.000 years. In this period, there will be not only those who are starting now. Devotees from other eras, as well as inhabitants of the celestial planets are taking birth to improve their devotional service and go back to Godhead. Some of them may take birth in devotees’ families, but many are just taking birth in regular families. Someone have to bring them a book so they can find us and join our movement.
This Santa Claus, for example was working, entertaining the children, but after getting a set of books he just sat down and started reading. When I came back to the same spot a few hours later, he was already halfway through the book. Apparently he forgot about his work.
One important aspect of book distribution is organization. Another is to set goals. By keeping spreadsheets, we can solve both problems simultaneously. This is an example of the spreadsheet for taking account of the results that I mentioned in chapter 4. It have space for the books, laksmi, hours of book distribution, expenditures, and also observations about the weather, difficulty, and hours of driving.
Our preaching is just like an iceberg, most of its mass is under the surface. For every person that appears in the temple and becomes a devotee, countless others read our books and make spiritual progress by meditating on the spiritual knowledge and applying it in their lives. The effect of our preaching is cumulative. People that take a book today and disappear, have every chance of becoming devotees in their next life or a few generations down the road. This is a photo of the Bhagavad Gita mentioned in chapter 4, of the lady that died out of cancer:
Just on these two pages, we can see markings in 6 different colors. This shows how, during the most difficult period of her life, this lady was repeatedly reading and deeply meditating on the meaning of the verses. Each of our books is an installed deity, and this deity is worshipped by using our intelligence when we read. By keeping a book and studying it, a person gets the benefit of keeping and worshiping a deity of the Lord. As Krsna says: “And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence.” (BG 18.70)
These are a few photos of my first sankirtana van, that I used for many years. The car was old and the arrangement was primitive, but it was what could be organized with the resources available.
I started doing traveling sankirtana because I saw that there was a great potential in it, but I had to learn by myself how to do it. That's one of the reasons I started writing this book, so others don't have to start from zero and make the same mistakes.
My point of view is that it’s much better to start with what is available and progress from there, than to wait a long time trying to start from something elaborate. Don't get discouraged if you don't have a hundred thousand dollars to buy a motorhome. Start with what you have. Krsna is going to preserve what you have and give what you lack.
This is an historical photo, with devotees (and vans) from the legendary Zurich temple (Switzerland), in the 1990s. They had a much more elaborate arrangement, with seven well equipped vans and many devotees, organized in teams. They had a small sankirtana field and would visit the same houses regularly. Still, in just two decades they distributed almost 4 million books (in a country that, at the time, had only 6.7 million inhabitants). This is an example of how a small team of devotees can cause a great change in society simply by distributing books.
One of the priorities while doing traveling sankirtana is to have regular and nutritious meals. For this, we have to learn the art of cooking simple preparations quickly, so we can maintain body and soul together. Srila Prabhupada himself was teaching this by his personal example: he found a way to cook the meals that he was habituated to (rice, dhal, sabji and chapatis) quickly and in only one burner using a special three-tiered brass cooker that he invented himself. There are even instances where he would cook a whole feast for dozens of devotees in less than one hour! Similarly, we have to learn how to cook simple meals quickly, even in simple conditions. This is essential for any traveling preacher.
These are a few books that I was distributing in Brazil in recent years. Usually I prefer to distribute big books (like Science of Self Realization, Veda, etc.), combined with small books. I offer sets of two big books combined with one or two smaller books, or sometimes sets of three big books. When distributing sets, it's essential to find the “sweet spot”, the number and sizes of books that people accept without much resistance. In Brazil, these sizes of books are what works best. In some places, bigger books may work better, while in others, small books may be the key.
As I mentioned in chapter 3, in Brazil most cities follow the European model, with cities build around a busy downtown area. Even relatively small cities have at least one street with a strong flux of people, which is an obvious spot for book distribution. Like this one, for example:
Most devotees don’t like to distribute on crowded streets like this one, because there are a lot of busy and impolite people, but by being able to distinguish between the visitors and the regulars, and by using appropriate approaches for different types of persons, it’s not so difficult to achieve good results. That’s why I ended specializing on this type of book distribution. The idea on such busy streets is not to try to frenectically approach everyone, but to select people that may take books. If we can approach the right persons, “pick the ripe fruits”, the books can go very fast.
In many other countries, however, cities are more spread-out and most people move everywhere by car. In this case, we have to be more balanced, exploring different styles of book distribution and being able to use all opportunities.
HG Jaya Caitanya Prabhu, from the United States, for example, created a very effective way to distribute books from tables. His approach is almost the complete opposite of person to person. Instead of trying to stop people, he just sets-up his table in an attractive way, and talks to people that get attracted. He compares his style to a spider, that assembles the web and waits.
He uses signs with simple and attractive messages in huge letters, that can be seen from far away. As he phrases, “A business without a sign, is a sign of no business”. He deals with people in a very friendly way, uses simple sentences, speaks in a very understandable way. Whenever possible, he tries to give sets to people, who many times give him generous donations. Apart from universities, he sets up his table in public places where a lot of people gather (like parks), visit book fairs, etc.
Actually, It’s possible to distribute a lot of books without even going out of the temple. If one is invited to give a Sunday class, he can organize a table with books arranged in an attractive way besides the vyasa-asana, and conduct the class in such a way that the devotes and visitors are going to be inspired to buy books after the class. This style is suitable especially to distribute sets. It’s impressive how many devotees in our society have never read more than one or two of Srila Prabhupada’s books, and don’t even have them at home. As Srila Prabhupada used to say, “charity starts at home”. A good way to distribute books is to convince our own devotees to buy and read them.
Sometimes, the most unexpected persons take books. This is the man that was collecting discarded aluminum cans that I mentioned in chapter 3. Not a person we would imagine that would be interested in books about self-realization. Still, since there was nobody else in the street, I gave it a try, and he ended up taking three books.
While traveling, we have two priorities, one is to distribute books, the other is to make local devotees. While distributing books, we often meet interested persons, that with a little cultivation can help to organize programs in their cities. There are opportunities to held programs in yoga schools, in the houses of local devotees and favourable people, sometimes even with school children!
Even if one is visiting alone, it is still possible to engage local people in helping with the organization and thus arrange successful programs. In such cases, it’s essential to be able to depend on Krsna’s help, since things tend to happen in very spontaneous ways.
This is one example of such a program in a small city. I met a very favourable yoga teacher who invited me for a program on his academy. A few boys and girls that I met in the street helped with the organization and decoration, one visitor that was a musician was playing karatalas and the owner of the school helped by selling books and collecting contacts. People that attended got the impression that there was a group of devotees visiting their city, but it was only me.
On one of the first lectures Srila Prabhupada gave in the west, he came alone to the auditorium, accompanied by just a few of his books. Noticing an indian boy seated in the first row, he greeted him, did a little bit of small talk and asked if he could hold his books, to which the boy agreed. He talked a little more and asked if the boy could help him to sell the books after the lecture, the boy again agreed. After the lecture, Srila Prabhupada pointed to the boy and said that whoever was interested, could buy books from his secretary. The boy got thus engaged in helping Srila Prabhupada to sell his books. In the end, people got books, the lecture was a success and the boy was happy.
As mentioned before, our books are themselves deities. We don’t even have to ask the Lord to come through an installation ceremony, because they are His direct expansions. We can offer bhoga to the books, we can offer aratik to the books, we can do kirtana for the books, and we can of course study and distribute the books. Actually, our sankirtana vans have the highest concentration of installed deities per square feet, much more than even in Vrindavana! In Kirov, Russia, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai dance with books!
These are a few more photos of book distribution and travelings:
This book is being concluded on 15 March 2019, in Sri Dham Mayapur. Long ago, my Guru Maharaja gave me the instruction of distributing books and teaching others about how to distribute books. This work was started about five years ago and today, by his grace, it's being completed.
I beg all the Vaishnavas who may find this work useful to bless me, so I may become Krsna conscious.
“I think that His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura is always seeing my activities and guiding me within my heart by his words. As it is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam, tene brahma hrda ya adi-kavaye [SB 1.1.1]. Spiritual inspiration comes from within the heart, wherein the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His Paramatma feature, is always sitting with all His devotees and associates. It is to be admitted that whatever translation work I have done is through the inspiration of my spiritual master, because personally I am most insignificant and incompetent to do this materially impossible work. I do not think myself a very learned scholar, but I have full faith in the service of my spiritual master, His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. If there is any credit to my activities of translating, it is all due to His Divine Grace. Certainly if His Divine Grace were physically present at this time, it would have been a great occasion for jubilation, but even though he is not physically present, I am confident that he is very much pleased by this work of translation. He was very fond of seeing many books published to spread the Krsna consciousness movement. Therefore our society, the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, has been formed to execute the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His Divine Grace Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura.” (Srila Prabhupada, CC Antya, concluding words)