Getting the Mercy

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.


Chapter 4: Improving our sankirtana

“A pure devotee becomes attached to Krsna by hearing the Lord’s glories. The Lord’s glories and the Lord Himself are identical. One has to be qualified to understand this absolute truth; therefore one should be given a chance to associate with a pure devotee. Our Krsna consciousness movement is meant for this purpose. We want to create pure devotees so that other people will benefit by their association. In this way the number of pure devotees increases. Professional preachers cannot create pure devotees. There are many professional preachers of Srimad-Bhagavatam who read this work to earn their livelihood. However, they cannot convert materialistic people to devotional service. Only a pure devotee can convert others to pure devotional service. It is therefore important for all the preachers in our Krsna consciousness movement to first become pure devotees and follow the regulative principles, refraining from illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling and intoxication. They should regularly chant the Hare Krsna maha-mantra on their beads, follow the devotional process, rise early in the morning, attend mangala-arati and recite Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Bhagavad-gita regularly. In this way, one can become purified and free from all material contamination.”

“To make a show of devotional service will not help one. One must be a pure devotee following the devotional process; then one can convert others to devotional service. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu practiced devotional service and preached (apani acari’ bhakti karila pracara). If a preacher behaves properly in devotional service, he will be able to convert others. Otherwise, his preaching will have no effect.” (CC Madhya 24.98 purport)

To become better sankirtana devotees, we need to become better devotees in general. Sankirtana is a manifestation of our overall spiritual practice, it is when we share with others what we are cultivating ourselves. If we are not cultivating our own spiritual life, what are we going to share? By giving a book to someone, one undoubtedly helps him to advance, but the decisive factor in making devotees is the attitude, sincerity and potency of the preacher himself. That’s what impresses people, convincing them to take this knowledge seriously and to adopt Krsna consciousness. As Srila Prabhupada explains, if a preacher doesn’t behave properly in his practice of devotional service, his preaching will have no effect.

Although we use the words “preaching” and “preacher”, these are English words that don't perfectly convey the meaning of the original Sanskrit terms. In sanskrit (and also in Bengali) is used the world “prachar”, that means to “broadcast” or to “spread” the glories of the Lord and of devotional service to Him. The word prachar has a slight different meaning than the English verb “to preach”, that although also means “to teach” or “to spread”, have also other means, including “to deliver a sermon” and “to give moral instructions in a pompously self-righteous way”. When we “preach”, we certainly should not try to give a sermon, much less to give moral instructions in a pompously self-righteous way. These negative connotations of the verb “to preach” are derived from pride, when one feels that he is better than others and thus “preaches” to them in a conceited way, just like is common in certain Christian sects.

Our prachar, or preaching, should be performed from a platform of humility. We should broadcast the glories of the Lord and the good news about the bliss of spiritual life in a friendly way, and through our own example, so people may be inspired to also adopt spiritual life and make their lives sublime. We should understand that we have something valuable and try to share it with others, understanding that it will bring them benefit. If someone is not interested, we may not insist, but we should at least give everyone a chance of hearing something about Krsna. Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura defines this mood in his song kabe habe bolo:

kabe jibe doya, hoibe udoya, nija-sukha bhuli' sudina-hrdoya

bhakativinoda, koriya binoya, sri-ajsa-tahala koribe pracar

“When will I feel compassion for all living beings? When will I forget my own pleasure in genuine humility? And when will I, Bhaktivinode, meekly go from door to door, preaching your message of love?”

Stability, discipline and empowerment

It’s important for us to cultivate a proper mentality, to understand that we are not going on book distribution to somehow enjoy the results, but that we are just servants, not only of Krsna, our spiritual master and all the Vaishnavas, but, in a profound sense, servants of everyone. All living entities are parts and parcels of Krsna, and He is residing in all bodies as the Supersoul, therefore everyone is worthy of respect. The Lord becomes satisfied with us when we meet people with tolerance, mercy, friendship and equality.

As book distributors, we should understand that we are simply servants of everyone, therefore we should be simple and humble, trying to develop compassion. On the other hand, we also need to act in knowledge, understanding what it means to do good for others, and how to act in a way that benefits each person who we encounter. Without such knowledge, we will just act in a sentimental way, and the results will not be so good.

Someone who can develop such an equipoised mentality can be very stable, not only in book distribution, but in his spiritual life in general. As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (6.18-19):

“When the yogi, by practice of yoga, disciplines his mental activities and becomes situated in transcendence – devoid of all material desires – he is said to be well established in yoga. As a lamp in a windless place does not waver, so the transcendentalist, whose mind is controlled, remains always steady in his meditation on the transcendent Self.”

A book distributor strongly influenced by the mode of passion may amass great determination and distribute a huge amount of books for some short period, but eventually he will have to deal with the other side of the mode of passion: lust, attachment, pride and so on, which will make it difficult for him to continue. Or, he may just use all his energy until he gets exhausted, and then fall victim of the mode of ignorance, developing laziness, becoming mental or even depressed, and so on.

Surely there is great merit in distributing books, even if for a short period, but it’s much better to be a moon than a shooting star. The best sankirtana devotees are not necessarily those who distribute more books, but those who can keep distributing and teaching others during all their lives. This is the example of great souls like Vaisesika Prabhu, Bhrigupati Prabhu, Vijaya Prabhu, Navina Nirada Prabhu, Bhakti Ratnakar Ambarisa Swami, Adhoksaja Prabhu and so many others.

To get stable results, it’s essential to be regulated, cultivating the mode of goodness. It’s about thinking in the long term. Much more important than the result of the day, is the result of the week, and yet more important is the total result of the month. More important than the result of the month, is the total of the year; and more important than the result of the year, is the total of our lives: how many books we distributed, how many devotees and how much spiritual advancement we made. That’s what determines how successful our human life is.

Someone who understands this point, will make his distribution a marathon race, instead of a 100-meters sprint. Such a book distributor needs to go to sleep early, so he can wake up early to chant his rounds and keep his sadhana, after having slept sufficiently. He needs to be regulated in his eating, not eating too much, especially heavy foods, fried preparations, sweets, and so on. As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (6.16-17):

There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough. He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation and work can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system.

One of the necessary steps is to create a routine, not just for our spiritual sadhana, but also for our book distribution and other activities. Once we get used to a particular routine, we tend to just do it without having to think so much about it, much less to battle our minds every morning. It becomes like a second nature: we wake-up, go to the morning program, chant our rounds, read, take prasadam, prepare our books, start book distribution at a certain time, finish at a certain time, go back, take shower, read and go to rest.

Of course, for a preacher there’s always demand for late programs, but for a dedicated book distributor these are not very good engagements, since they break the sadhana and lead to exhaustion (which in turn makes us vulnerable to the dark influence of the mode of ignorance), not to mention potential health problems. It’s better that other devotees go to these engagements, leaving the sankirtana devotees with book distribution and day programs. The rule of the thumb is that the early morning is good for spiritual development, the day is for work and preaching activities and the night to sleep.

The biggest secret for book distributors is exactly this, to have a very regulated life: to wake up early, to chant our rounds attentively, to study the books and develop deep faith in them and, ultimately, to surrender our lives to Krsna without reservation.

My observation is that devotees who reach this point, who really come to the conclusion that all material ambitions are futile and, therefore, decide to deeply surrender their lives to Krsna and thus try to benefit others through preaching work, without personal considerations, usually progress very fast. Because of their surrender, Krsna personally starts taking care of them and, because of their constant meditation on the Lord, they are empowered to touch people's lives and make devotees. As Queen Kunti prays:

“My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.” (SB 1.8.26)

While transmigrating through different species of animal life, the soul has the opportunity to enjoy all kinds of sense gratification. Then, when we get a human form, we have our choice: again serving our senses and getting entangled in material life, searching for temporary happiness, or controlling the senses and dedicating our existence to spiritual pursuits, which will bring us ultimate happiness and empowerment to also help others in attaining the same goal. As Srila Prabhupada explains, the soul can follow material life and try to be a material hero for his family, society or nation, or he can control his senses and thus become a spiritual hero. As sankirtan devotees, we should be interested in being the second type.

"It is said in the Prema-vivarta that when a living entity wants to enjoy material nature, he is immediately victimized by the material energy. A living entity is not forced to come into the material world. He makes his own choice, being attracted by beautiful women. Every living entity has the freedom to be attracted by material nature or to stand as a hero and resist that attraction. It is simply a question of the living entity’s being attracted or not being attracted. There is no question of his being forced to come into contact with material energy. One who can keep himself steady and resist the attraction of material nature is certainly a hero and deserves to be called a gosvami. Unless one is master of the senses, he cannot become a gosvami. The living entity can take one of two positions in this world. He may become a servant of his senses, or he may become master of them. By becoming a servant of the senses, one becomes a great material hero, and by becoming master of the senses, he becomes a gosvami, or spiritual hero." (SB 4.25.25 Purport)

As long as we are trying to hold on to so many material goals, making plans to be happy in this world and enjoy our senses, it’s very difficult to be really sincere in spiritual life.

HH Indradyumna Swami: Ragalekha’s apartment was just one room in an old building in the center of the city. As I walked in, I was struck by the spiritual atmosphere. There were few possessions – a chair, an old wooden bookshelf, an altar for her Deity – but the mood was rich with devotion. Her Govardhan-Sila, named Lala, was sitting on a little cushion, beautifully decorated with flowers and simple ornaments. A variety of sweets were on a plate before Him.

Ragalekha, dressed in an old sari, sat shyly in the corner. The whole situation reminded me of a small, bhajan kutir in Vrindavan.

“Do you live here alone?” I asked her. “I’m a guest here,” she said looking downwards. “This is Lala’s home.” “Oh I see,” I said. “That’s a nice realization,” I thought. Then I looked anxiously at my watch. My next appointment was in 30 minutes.

“Well what do you do each day?” I asked.”I distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books,” she said. “Do you do anything else?” I asked. “No,” she said. “That’s the instruction you gave me 13 years ago.”

I stopped looking at my watch. I could hardly believe my ears. “You’ve been distributing books for 13 years?” I asked. Jananivasa spoke up. “Srila Gurudeva,” he said, “all the devotees in Yekaterinburg know that Ragalekha’s been going out eight hours a day, six days a week, for thirteen years, distributing books, except when she’s sick.”

Ragalekha was looking at Lala. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked her. “She’s too shy and humble,” said Jananivasa.

I felt tears coming into my eyes. I sat there looking at her. “Thirteen years,” I thought, “every day on the streets of Yekaterinburg, distributing my spiritual master’s books. What austerities this woman must have endured!”

I suddenly thought of the previous day and how I had complained to Jananivasa about the inconvenience on the flight. I felt ashamed of myself. “She’s well known among the people in this city,” Jananivasa continued. You can just imagine, so many years on the street, in the heat, the rain, the wind, and the snow. She’s out there when it’s 20 below zero.” My tears started running down my face.

“And she doesn’t keep a ruble for herself,” he continued. “I’ve heard she keeps all the profit for you.”

Ragalekha reached under the altar, took out an old worn-out envelope, and shyly handed it to me. I opened it and saw US dollars inside. I handed it to Jananivasa.

Jananivasa took the money out of the envelope. His eyes started turning red and moist. “There’s 1,500 dollars here,” he said in a quivering voice. “It’s the equivalent of two years of wages for a working man in this country.”

I looked around at the chair and the simple bookshelf and into the small kitchen. Inside there was an old stove – and one pot. “She only has that one sari she’s wearing,” Jananivasa said. “I’ve never seen her dressed in anything else.”

I handed the laksmi back to Ragalekha. “Here,” I said. “You use this money for buying a ticket to India this fall. I will be taking devotees on parikrama in Vrindavan for the month of Kartika. I want you to join us.”

Her body tensed up. “No, Srila Gurudeva!” she said and pushed the envelope back. “Please! The people who gave that money will get much more benefit if it’s used in your service than mine. Think of their welfare.” I was speechless.

“Who is this woman?” I thought. “Living so simply, serving the sankirtan mission of Lord Caitanya faithfully for so many years, desiring no fame or recognition, and showing such concern for the conditioned souls!” I thought of something Tamal Krishna Goswami had once written. “Although some of us begin as gurus for our disciples, it seems that these disciples are sometimes more fortunate than we are… Actually many of them are elevated personalities.” (Diary of a Travelling Monk, vol. 5, ch. 27)

HG Jananivas Prabhu: I will tell you a story about the emotional state of consciousness of a book distributor. The sankirtana devotees went to Nepal this year, after the book marathon. They came back and a devotee, his name is Ramanuja dasa, he came and said: "Look, we went to Nepal, to Gandaki and I got this shaligram shila. Can you have a look and identify it for me?". I said, "Ok, come back tomorrow".

I was looking at the shaligram shila, and it had the calf footprint. It's indication of a Krsna shila. The idea is that for one who worships this shila his whole life, the whole material universe shrinks to the size of a calf footprint, and he just steps over, very easily. This is the benefit of worshiping this shaligram shila. I feel: "Wow! Krsna shila! I hope he doesn't want to keep it. I will keep it, put on a golden casket around my neck. For one who worships this shila, cross over the ocean of material existence is easy".

The next day he came: "Did you have a look?", I said "Yes, it's a Krsna shila. What you are going to do with it?". I had my fingers crossed. He said: "Well, I don't think I can worship it". I said: "Are ba! A shaligram with this lakshana, you worship this deity, you go back to Godhead! It's your ticket back to Godhead and you are saying that you don't want to worship?"

He said: "Well, if I worship it, I will need a lota and little plate or something, we don't have facilities on sankirtana. If I had a lota, a bell and a little plate, I think it would interfere with my sankirtana service. Therefore, I don't want to carry this shila".

I felt like this size... My consciousness was that I simply wanted to go back to Godhead, but the sankirtana devotee, he doesn't want to go back to Godhead by worshiping a shaligram shila if it will interfere with his sankirtana service. This is the emotional state of a sankirtana devotee. (Class on Mayapur, 15 February 2018)

As Srila Prabhupada explains:

“Devotees are not desirous of any material happiness, including the happiness derived from liberation. This is called anyabhilasita-sunyam jnana-karmady-anavrtam. Karmis desire material happiness, and jnanis desire liberation, but a devotee does not desire anything; he is simply satisfied by rendering transcendental loving service at the lotus feet of the Lord and glorifying Him everywhere by preaching, which is his life and soul." (SB 7.6.25 purport)

Transcendental equality

When we go out to distribute books, we are trying to distribute Krsna consciousness, therefore it’s essential that we remain Krsna conscious ourselves. Our true ability to distribute books resides in our consciousness. The more we are able to be connected with Krsna and have the proper mentality, understanding that we are just servants of our spiritual master, simply trying to humbly assist him in his mission to spread Krsna consciousness and purify ourselves, the more we can become fixed in book distribution, and be thus empowered to change people’s lives. It doesn’t matter what our social status is, educational level or even gender. As Srila Prabhupada used to point out, in the material platform there are so many temporary designations, but in the spiritual platform there is equality. Anyone who is sincere can do it, there is no real impediment.

“In India all the acaryas and their descendants later on acted only from the man's side. Their wives were at home because that is the system from old times that women are not required to go out. But in Bhagavad-gita we find that women are also equally competent like the men in the matter of Krishna Consciousness Movement. Please therefore carry on these missionary activities, and prove it by practical example that there is no bar for anyone in the matter of preaching work for Krishna Consciousness." (Srila Prabhupada, Letter to Himavati, 20 December 1969)

Nowadays we speak a lot about gender rules and so on, and many may get the impression that ladies should not preach. Once I spoke to one prabhu who even quoted a letter from Srila Prabhupada to try to prove that he was not favourable to his lady disciples going out to preach. This is a misunderstanding, a classical example of when someone takes a passage out of context and reaches an opposite conclusion than what is propounded by the acarya. This misunderstanding was present even when Srila Prabhupada was on the planet, and he was constantly correcting it.

“So far as the women distributors who have left New York and Boston temples and have gone to New Vrindavan, they should return immediately and resume their original service. In Chaitanya Mahaprabhu's movement, everyone is a preacher. Whether man or woman, it doesn't matter. I don't know why he is encouraging our women devotees not to go out on sankirtana for book distribution. Everyone should go out.” (Srila Prabhupada, Letter to Karandhara. 6 October 1973.)

Srila Prabhupada was extremely happy in seeing how his lady book distributors were doing tremendous service. Over the decades, there are cases of ladies who have been distributing more books and more consistently than most of their male counterparts. There are many examples of preaching ladies in the past, there are examples in the present and certainly, there will be examples in the future. This is an excellent way to serve the mission of Mahaprabhu and assist one’s spiritual master in his mission of spreading Krsna consciousness.

Srila Prabhupada always emphasized that despite different material considerations, there is equality on the level of the soul and in devotional service. Nowadays, much is spoken about gender equality, and this is true equality: to join the sankirtana army and spread Krsna consciousness. Ladies tend to be passionate, therefore to be involved in preaching activities is a positive engagement. That was definitely one of the strategies adopted by Srila Prabhupada.

Just like the men, every lady has a dual identity. One is that she is a lady, and as a lady she has a certain set of duties. Another is that she is a soul, part and parcel of Krsna, and as a soul she has a distinct set of duties. Normally, a sane person will try to reconcile both sets of duties, but the duties connected with the soul are higher than the duties connected with the gender, just like spirit is higher than matter. To glorify Krsna and spread His glories is the eternal constitutional position of the soul. Everyone has the right to do it. It transcends any kind of consideration about varnasrama, culture or gender roles. The only question is how to do it in a safe way. The Vedic injunction is that women should always be protected, therefore it’s recommended that ladies go on book distribution in groups, and avoid potentially dangerous places. The men should help in these arrangements, and not just let the ladies fend for themselves.

Apart from book distribution, ladies can be very effective in harinamas and prasadam distribution. These three activities should be the backbone of our preaching efforts, and they become especially effective when they are combined. Many people nowadays are not pious enough to appreciate the knowledge inside our books, but prasadam doesn’t require any previous qualification. Everyone eats, and when, due to good fortune, one eats prasadam, he automatically gets purified, regardless of his background, spiritual level, or any other factor. Even the most hateful atheist, who due to his offenses would never be able to read a book from Srila Prabhupada, will get benefit if he somehow takes some prasadam. Similarly, the loud chanting of the holy names purify even one who may become disturbed by the chanting. If even such difficult cases get benefit, what to say about the nice and innocent people? We can see practically that people become automatically more propense to take books during a harinama, especially after receiving some prasadam.

These two activities, harinama and prasadam distribution prepare the field for our book distribution, therefore we should find ways to do this on a huge scale. Harinamas allow all devotees and friends to get involved: men, woman, children, young, old, etc. they are a perfect example of transcendental equality. The main point is to do them in a way that is well organized and attractive to the audience. Devotees should be well dressed, the kirtana should be melodious, the prasadam that is distributed should be properly packaged, with a label with the ingredients. Another alternative is to distribute fruits like cherries and strawberries, that can be easily recognized by the public. We should invest the necessary effort and resources to make it well organized.

HG Navina Nirada Prabhu: "Book distribution, harinama and prasadam is the winning formula. If they can come together, is like nuclear fusion. It really blows people out of the water. It's super attractive. I remember one time, we were in Wimbledon, on the outskirts of London, it's a suburb, where they play the Tennis Tournament, and we had a book table, we had a sit-down harinama,  and we had bowls of cherries and bowls of strawberries. Practically speaking, everybody stopped and took a piece of fruit, appreciated the kirtana and many people took books. Even though there was lots of immigrants, lots of Muslins, lots of people of other cultures and traditions, but people just appreciated the combination. The more we can have an aesthetically pleasing presentation, the more people will be able to relate and appreciate.

I was just now in Radha Gopinath mandir in Chowpatty , they daily go out doing harinama just around the block, and distribute small books. They do fifty, or a hundred, or two hundred small books in a couple of hours, every day. Because once people get attracted to the kirtana, it becomes super-easy to give them a book. Same at the harinama asrama in New York, where Rama Raya and his devotees, they go to Union Square and into the subways, and they do kirtana, and people just become mesmerized by the beauty, and the energy, the enthusiasm that gets generated. And then, give them a book becomes very natural and very easy.

It's also a very non-confrontational and it is an easy way for newcomers to learn the art of book distribution. Because, just jumping into the main street, stopping people and selling them a book is a little challenging initially. So, these are good ways how to combine it. And then, if you have some nice prasadam, either a fruit or something packaged, with the ingredients, the address and an invitation stapled to it, people will feel super-happy. You can conquer a city in that way."

Molding our lives around book distribution

As spirit souls, our constitutional position is to serve Krsna. There is a variety of options when it comes to service, and, on the absolute platform, all services are good: the choice falls simply on personal preference. As ISKCON devotees, however, our main priority should be to preach, and everything in our lives should be centered around that: how to bring more and more souls to Krsna consciousness and how to train them to become pure devotees. For this, many different talents are needed; there is need of managers, cooks, pujaris, devotees doing cultivation and bridge-preaching, traveling preachers, teachers, housewives, mentors and so on. Regardless of our position, we should always reserve some time to distribute a few books and do some person to person preaching, not only for helping others, but to help ourselves, and never forget what our main mission is.

However, there will always be a class of fearless devotees who will want to stay on the front lines, distributing books on the streets and in other difficult places, accepting any risk or discomfort for the satisfaction of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Even if few, these devotees usually are responsible for a big chunk of the preaching, distributing an amazing number of books and bringing masses of people to Krsna consciousness, many times distributing single-handedly more books than entire yatras, like Madhusundara Prabhu (from India), Bhrigupati Prabhu and Paramesvara Prabhu (from USA), B.R. Ambarisa Maharaja and Adhoksaja Prabhu (from Russia), and so many others.

If we want to make book distribution a priority in our lives, we need to adjust our consciousness. We need to see ourselves as book distributors: this should be a part of our identity, our "profession". Even when doing other services, we should think that we are just taking a small break, a kind of "vacation", from our main activity, that is to distribute books. If we can adjust our minds in this way, it will be much easier to tolerate discomfort and continue to distribute even in difficult conditions, instead of getting easily discouraged when difficulties appear.

For example, in the ancient Greek culture, most soldiers were actually civilians who would take shields and spears and fight when there was war. The exception was Sparta, that had a permanent army composed of professional soldiers. Despite being much smaller, the spartan army was feared the most: the soldiers were not only well trained, but they were also the most determined and would not retreat even against overwhelming odds. An old saying by Plutarch resumes this spirit: “The Spartans do not ask how many the enemies are but where they are”. If we think about it, it makes sense: if someone would think himself an artisan, sculptor, blacksmith, etc. when the battle would start to become difficult, he would run: "Why do I need to stay here? I'm only a sculptor!". But someone who sees himself as a soldier would have a much better reason to stay. As the Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita (2.32): “O Partha, happy are the ksatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.”

Things are always a little difficult on book distribution: there is always some challenge or discomfort. People usually aren’t very eager to take books, we always start to feel tired after a little while and the mind takes the opportunity to preach to us. One of the main qualities of seasoned book distributors is that they are able to tolerate such difficulties and continue doing their duty. As Krsna instructs in the Bhagavad-gita:

"Do thou fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat – and by so doing you shall never incur sin." (Bg 2.38)

"Perform your duty equipoised, O Arjuna, abandoning all attachment to success or failure. Such equanimity is called yoga." (Bg 2.48)

"One who is not disturbed in mind even amidst the threefold miseries or elated when there is happiness, and who is free from attachment, fear and anger, is called a sage of steady mind." (Bg 2.56)

"In the material world, one who is unaffected by whatever good or evil he may obtain, neither praising it nor despising it, is firmly fixed in perfect knowledge." (Bg 2.57)

In the last days before His disappearance, Srila Prabhupada was lying in the bed, extremely weak and emaciated. Even in this condition, he was dictating purports for the 13th chapter of the 10th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam. Seeing how difficult it was for Srila Prabhupada to formulate and dictate new purports, HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja suggested that he already did so much, and therefore was unnecessary to continue working in such strenuous condition. Srila Prabhupada replied by telling the story of the “good soldier”. He said: "Even if a good soldier, who serves in the army of the king, is struck down on the battlefield and his head is severed from his shoulders, still, even if he is lying on the ground in such condition, if he is a good soldier he will try to wave his sword in the air with the hopes that he will somehow strike the enemy. Similarly, I am a servant in the army of my Guru Maharaja, and as long as I have life, I must preach. Even in my present condition."

As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say: “One who has life can preach". Regardless of our condition, there is always something that we can do, and by using this potential in Krsna’s service, we make advancement. If we just go back at the first sign of difficulties, we lose our chance.

The best balance

In addition to being determined, we need to be regulated and maintain a good sadhana as well, creating a routine that supports (instead of preventing) our book distribution. On the other hand, it’s also important not to over-endeavour, not fall into the mistake of trying to keep going out every day for unrealistically long periods, until we simply drop dead.

In my personal experience, the best balance is to go out six times a week, taking one day to rest, distributing our book distribution hours evenly on the six active days. If your plan is to distribute books for 36 hours a week, for example, you can distribute for 6 hours a day, 6 days a week; and then take one day to rest, take care of other activities and get ready for the next week.

If one just tries to go out every single day, usually he will end up distributing for fewer hours, instead of more. The mind gets very disturbed if we just go out every day without rest, and one will eventually end up just getting mental or extremely tired, being forced to take several days off to deal with the problem, instead of just one. Being tired and mental will also harm one’s japa, reading and other spiritual practices, endangering his spiritual life.

Keeping a strong (but not too difficult) pace in the six active days and then resting for one day creates a sustainable routine that is much healthier in the long term. This also helps to discipline the mind, since it will always have this perspective that after six days of book distribution there will be time to rest. It's much easier for the mind to accept this routine. Another reason is that there are always things that you accumulate when going out for several days in a row, and for that, you need to periodically take a day off. Since it's difficult to avoid, it's better to have a fixed day when you can do all the accumulated things in a planned way.

Also, having a day off every week is much safer for the body in the long run. That's why athletes also have a day off every week. If an athlete trains hard every day, without rest, he will eventually end up having some serious lesion. The reason is that during the day to day training, the body accumulates several small lesions on the muscles and articulations. Because they are small, they don't bother so much, yet if the body is forced to continue going on and on, and it never has the opportunity to heal, the lesions will accumulate, eventually resulting in some incapacitating problem. By having a day of rest every week, athletes give the body time to recover, sharply reducing the risk of serious lesions. For us, it’s not so different, since book distribution is also a physically demanding activity. Having planned rest days make it much safer for the body and will allow you to distribute for longer.

Of course, if you think that six days a week is too much, you can go only five, four, three or whatever works for you. But if you want to achieve the best possible results, usually six days is what works better in terms of hours you can realistically stay and the amount of books you can distribute. That’s what gives the best balance. Taking a goal of 36 hours per week, for example, six days a week means six hours per day, which is a strong but not impossible pace for most devotees. If you take a break in the middle, dividing the day into two turns of three hours each, it's not so hard and in the end you have a full day to recover, before starting again the next week.

If you would go out every day, you’d need to go out for a little more than five hours a day, but in the long term, it would be actually much harder to maintain, because you would not have any resting days. If, on the other hand, you would go for five days a week, then you’d need to stay for more than seven hours daily, which (even with two days of rest) would also be harder to maintain. Going for only four days would be even worse, since to achieve the same goal of 36 hours a week, you would have to distribute for nine hours daily.

Apart from this “normal” pace, you may have a stronger sankirtan routine on marathons. Then, you may go out for more hours, and take fewer days off. Usually, the more effort you put in, the more books you can distribute, but on the other hand, you become more tired and worn-out. We can see by the example of our acaryas that pure devotees can tolerate astonishing levels of bodily austerities without backing an inch from their determination in service. The Six Goswamis were doing unbelievable austerities, resting only one or two hours a day, sleeping under trees and barely eating, and they were still doing their service in a perfect way, without any effect on their enthusiasm. A neophyte trying to do something like that, however, would face serious problems. That’s why we have the instruction of not trying to imitate the austerities of great personalities.

Nonetheless, marathons offer us a chance of “going the extra mile”, doing some extra effort and seeing how we can tolerate this increased level of bodily discomfort. It’s an opportunity to test our own determination and advancement and try to do something extra for Krsna during the month. By doing that, we can get extra mercy, which will allow us to do even more in the next year.

Still, you should be aware that this extra effort may bring some adverse results, especially if one's consciousness is not completely pure, with tinges of attachment to the result or hankering for prestige. It’s common for devotees to complain about difficulties in chanting their rounds attentively, reading or keeping a proper devotional attitude during the marathon, for example. These are symptoms of over-endeavour, that we are attempting to act on a level of effort beyond our capacity. In such cases, you have the option of trying to just tolerate the difficulties and keep doing what you are doing until the end of the marathon, and just pray to Krsna, or reduce the pace a little bit, thinking more about the long run. Both choices are correct if done for Krsna.

Also, one time per year you should take a longer beak, spending one month in India, or some nice place where you can focus on chanting, studying and improving your spiritual practice. While doing book distribution for several months in a row, we have a tendency to slowly decline our general standards, which in the long term is dangerous for our spiritual life. By taking some time off to concentrate on our sadhana, we have an opportunity to return to proper practices, learn new things, associate with seniors, cement the advancement that we’ve made during the year and to prepare for the next.

These breaks are also important to allow the body to recover from the wear and tear accumulated during the year. Generally, our bodies are able to heal themselves from most problems, as long as we can stop for some time and allow it to recover (even most types of cancers can be cured by proper diet and rest, provided one does it soon enough). Most natural treatments are simply based on providing the body with proper diet and rest, allowing it to recover by itself. If we can do it by ourselves, we can save a lot of time and money on health treatments. To stay a month in a nice place, resting and following a simple diet based on fruits and vegetables, for example, can do miracles for one’s health.

Surpassing the mental platform

If we can forget about all bodily discomforts, mental disturbances and all the useless information and perceptions that are not directly connected to the service, book distribution can be quite an easy and straightforward process. My experience is that the tiredness that we feel after a few hours of book distribution comes more from our internal battles than from the book distribution itself. We are not only constantly battling our minds, but we are also paying attention and being concerned with all sorts of useless things. No wonder that our energy gets drained very quickly. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krsna explains:

brahma-bhutah prasannatma

na socati na kanksati

samah sarvesu bhutesu

mad-bhaktim labhate param

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments nor desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Bg 18.54)

If we can calm down our minds and become transcendentally situated, our service in book distribution becomes much easier and less tiring. If we take all mental agitation away, book distribution becomes just a matter of walking around and talking to people, which is not very tiring at all. In such a stage, we can go on for many hours without becoming tired.

We tend to get quickly tired when dealing with situations that demand that we play some role, pretending to be someone who we are not. In this kind of situation, we tend to become very nervous, tense and self-aware, which, of course, drains our energy very quickly. When we start on book distribution, we usually go through this phase, trying to play a role that is unnatural for us: trying to stop and interact with people when we actually don’t want to do that, trying to be compassionate when we actually don’t feel any compassion and trying to convince people about books that we are not really convinced about ourselves. At first, the only solution is to persevere and try to learn from other devotees, to practice more and more and to become purified. As soon as one becomes a real Vaishnava, he will not need to spend so much energy pretending to be one.

In the long run, it’s important to develop our own styles, which fit our individual personalities. Then we can simply use our natural qualities, being who we really are when we are distributing books, instead of trying to be someone else. This will make our sankirtana much more pleasant and less tiring. Any young devotee with a body in a healthy condition can physically distribute books for six or eight hours without much difficulty and be happy in the end. If that's not our case, the problem is probably connected to what we have been discussing in the previous paragraphs. We need to learn and practice the art, until we can get over the mental platform.

Inspiration and discipline

Another important point is the question of how to keep ourselves inspired to keep our regular book distribution. This is a common question. The main point is that there are two ways to achieve goals: through inspiration and through discipline. Naturally, it is always good when we are inspired to do service, but we can’t depend on it, because some days we are going to feel inspired and others not. That’s why discipline is so valuable: because it allows us to continue, even when inspiration fails.

We can observe that our vaidhi sadhana-bhakti process is more based on discipline than on inspiration. To be able to advance in spiritual life, we need to be stable, being able to chant, follow the principles and do our services every day, not only on the days we feel inspired. As long as we depend on inspiration to do service, we are going to remain in a capricious stage, not being able to advance much in spiritual life. Inspiration is the wrong mechanism to sustain us in spiritual life, because it’s connected with the mode of passion, therefore flickering in nature. Discipline, on the other hand, is more connected with the mode of goodness, and thereby much more stable.

Just like the promise that we make during initiation, to chant at least 16 rounds every day. Some days we may not feel inspired to chant at all, but still we chant, even if it’s difficult. That’s how we can advance in spiritual life: by being stable in our sadhana. The same applies to our service. We can just imagine if a pujari or a cook would want to do his service only on days when he would feel inspired... To be stable, we need to do our services out of discipline. Inspiration may be present or not, but discipline must be a constant. Is through this regulated practice, based on discipline, that we can ascend to higher spheres of devotional service.

This also applies to preaching. We are not forced to do it, but if we accept preaching and book distribution as our service, we should try to do it in a stable way, just like a pujari or a cook. That’s the way we can advance. Many days we are not going to feel inspired at all, but still, we should go and try our best. The amazing thing is that when we start doing things out of discipline, they just become a habit: we start to just do it without having to think too much about it.

Just like when we take prasada: nobody forgets to eat, we don’t depend on inspiration for that, we just do it out of habit. It should also be like that with our services. As the Lord explains in the Bhagavad-Gita (18.37): “That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.

Preaching is like that: happiness in the mode of goodness. In the begin, it is a little difficult, because we have to deal with our anarthas. The good news is that it’s just a one time process: once we get rid of a particular anartha, we are not going to have to deal with it again: we leave it behind. As we continue this process of getting rid of our anarthas one by one, we start to feel progressively lighter and happier. That’s the symptom of someone who is getting close to the spiritual energy. In the meantime, we need to keep following the process, that’s why discipline is so essential.

Improving our results

In one sense, Krsna is in control, therefore we should just do our job, and not be attached to the results. As He explains in Bg 2.47:

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.”

To expect some particular result from our sankirtana, to do it with the intention of enjoying the result, gaining fame, recognition, etc., is not the proper mentality. It’s a subtle contamination that pollutes our service, mixing it with fruitive hankering. Therefore, we usually say to new devotees to be detached. On the other hand, to desire more for Krsna, to desire to achieve some high goal as an offering to our spiritual master, is very positive.

We can see practically that pure devotees sometimes show unlimited ambition in spreading Krsna consciousness. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada narrate that sometimes he was speaking about grandiose plans, like buying all the land in the islands of Mayapur and declaring it an independent Vaishnava state, to implement varnasrama in the whole Indian sub-continent, to make Fiji the first Krsna conscious country in the world, and even to liberate the whole universe! According to HG Hari-sauri Prabhu, Srila Prabhupada once said, “That’s my disease, I simply can’t think small”. The difference is that a pure devotee wants to do all kinds of glorious things for Krsna. Everything is an offering to the Lord, there is no tinge of hankering for prestige.

If we can elevate ourselves to this mentality, abandoning our conditioned tendency of trying to enjoy the fruits, ambition can actually become a good quality that can help to improve our service. Krsna doesn’t impose some particular service on us. He will never force, but He tends to reciprocate when we have a desire to do something for Him, giving us the necessary sakti to do so. Krsna will never force us to stay long hours every day distributing books. Yet, if we have a strong desire to preach and help others and to offer some magnificent result to Srila Prabhupada, He tends to reciprocate, giving us the necessary potency to do so.

Naturally, if we are still in a contaminated platform, Krsna will need to first give us the necessary purification, so we can get rid of our anarthas and lingering desires. This phase is usually not easy, nor pleasant for our minds and false ego, but it’s necessary, and also acts as a test to confirm that we are worthy of receiving the gift. Even pure devotees need to go through this before they can do something spectacular.

Srila Prabhupada, for example, had to go through so many difficulties. He was trying to preach in India in many different ways and for many years, and still, nothing was working. His business failed, he had to abandon his family, he had numerous setbacks trying to establish the league of devotees. Then he became a penniless sadhu in Vrindavana, without money even to eat properly. He faced endless hardships to publish the first volumes of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, and then even more difficulties to get his visa and other documents to be able to go to the West. He then had to struggle alone for more than one year, without fixed income, or even a proper coat for the winter. Krsna took everything from him, even his health. Still, Srila Prabhupada persisted, and finally Krsna gave him the potency to conquer the whole world.

If we have a sincere desire to distribute many books, and are prepared to face the necessary hardships, Krsna probably will reciprocate, but how fast this will happen, depends only on Him. He is the controller, not you or me. Things happen at the speed that He desires, it’s not under our control. When HH Devamrita Maharaja started distributing books, for a long time he was distributing only a few books, many days he would distribute only one book. Then one day, without warning, he distributed more than sixty big books, and from there he started to get bigger and bigger results. The improvement can come gradually or suddenly, after many years of practice. One quality of a Vaishnava is that he’s patient, another one is that he firmly believes that the mercy of the Lord is coming.

"Then what's the use?"

Despite all the emphasis he was putting on book distribution, Srila Prabhupada always made it clear that these books are not only for distribution: we need to read and know them deeply, just like a lawyer knows the law books. It's an obvious point, but it’s one that we tend to forget: to be able to distribute Srila Prabhupada's books, we need to regularly study them, especially to continue to distribute for a long time.

Once, sankirtana leaders from Europe had a meeting with Srila Prabhupada. They gave reports on their distribution and Prabhupada was pleased with the numbers. He then asked if they were studying his books. A leader had to admit apologetically that because of the intense schedule, devotees in the group were almost not reading at all. Prabhupada then replied, "Then, what's the use?".

What's the use of distributing the books to the point that we don't have time even to read them? Without studying the books and understanding the philosophy, we are not going to stay for long, we are going to distribute a few books for a short period and bloop. Who is going to continue the distribution then? Srila Prabhupada was not only concerned about book distribution, his main concern was with our own spiritual lives.

HG Adisekar dasa: He had the sankirtan leaders of that time from Bhagavan's zone a little meeting with us. First he congratulated the devotees for the results. And he asked the first question, I think the only question he asked us, and he said, "Are you reading my books?" Then Brighupati said, "You know, Prabhupada, we don't have much time, we don't have time to read." Then I heard, I was near, Prabhupada said, "What is the use?" I could see he was deeply hurt. It was a major priority. Our life was to be used to investigate this message, these books, these thousands of hours of work. So, of course, we were distributing, but then Prabhupada was more interested whether we were reading his books. (Following Srila Prabhupada – A Chronological Series, DVD 6)

On another occasion, Srila Prabhupada said that if devotees distribute his books they will be happy, but if they study his books, they will stay. We can see this practically: devotees who distribute books, in a correct way, tend to be very happy and blissful. When we preach, Krsna gets satisfied and as a result, we also become blissful. By constantly trying to spread Krsna consciousness, we can remain always in contact with Krsna’s internal energy, and we can see that devotees who are able to do that are amongst the happiest souls in ISKCON.

Another meaning is that devotees who don't study the books generally end up not staying. This we can also see practically. To remain in Krsna consciousness, especially to remain in preaching activities, demands a certain level of sacrifice and detachment. We need to conduct our lives under certain rules and regulations and accept a lot of inconveniences. We can't enjoy in an unrestricted way and do whatever we want as most people do. To maintain this, we need to have a spirit of sacrifice towards a mission, towards a higher cause. This can be obtained only by studying, understanding and applying the philosophy. Without doing this, we tend to fall back into a hedonistic platform (my comfort, my satisfaction, my life, etc.) where we can start to deviate up to the point when we abandon association of devotees, or abandon any effort to follow spiritual life seriously.

On the other hand, we can also see that sometimes devotees study a lot and stay, but without being happy. They remain around in a kind of depressive state, without really enjoying much bliss in spiritual life. What is wrong in such cases? The knowledge enters, but it never goes out: they absorb a lot, yet without working to spread Krsna consciousness, this knowledge just accumulates inside the head, without giving the final fruit. It just becomes some kind of intellectual constipation.

In this way, we can distribute books and be happy, or we can study the books and stay. We can be happy and not stay, or we can stay and not be happy, but the best is if we stay and at the same time be happy. For this, we need to study the books and at the same time preach and distribute them, simultaneously. That's the formula. When one is young, he can spend most of his time distributing books. As he becomes older and less active physically, he can start spending less time doing direct distribution and more time training new distributors, so they can become his successors.

Usually, the best arrangement is to study Srila Prabhupada's books for one to two hours a day. If we study less than one hour it's too little, and if we just try to read the whole day it’s also not so beneficial because we can't absorb everything and end up not having time to preach. We can assume that to read one or two hours a day is just like chanting 16 rounds.

Of course, on some days we may have time to read a lot more (or chant much more than 16 rounds) but we should have this one or two hours a day as an absolute minimum, and incorporate it into our routine. Usually, the morning hours are better (since the brain is fresh and ready to absorb the knowledge), but if it is difficult to arrange time in the morning, then you may read at another time, whatever works for you. A good arrangement for full-time book distributors is to start sankirtana early, at 9:00 or 10:00 am, go on distributing for 3 or 4 hours, stop to read and take some light prasadam, and then go on for 3 or 4 hours more in the afternoon. To divide the day into two halves like this makes it a lot easier and at the same time you have your fixed time to read. It's easier to distribute from 3 to 4 hours twice per day, with a break in the middle than to try doing 6 or 8 hours straight.

Bringing the mind to our side

Another problem we have is our own mind. We may try to do something for Krsna, but the mind frequently tries to sabotage our endeavor, sapping our energy and trying to pull us back into sense gratification. But, like most things, the mind can be engaged in Krsna’s service. One way to do that is by creating goals.

The first step is to create some reasonable goals for our book distribution for the day, the week and the total for the month and for the year. Make a spreadsheet, with a line for each day and columns for the amount of books, number of hours, and the place where you are intending to distribute. This spreadsheet can be the same one used to record your results: you can just fill some of the fields in the planning stage, and then fill the rest with final information by the end of each day.

Use your intelligence to create some concrete plan, seeing the best opportunities, and then let the mind meditate on it. Once you let the mind meditate on something, automatically it starts developing attachment to it, but in this case it’s not a bad thing, since it will be meditating on your sankirtan plan.

Once the mind becomes attached to the idea, it will actually start to help, making sure you wake up on time, not complaining so much when you stay long hours on the field to attain the goal for the day and so on. The main point is that the goals should be realistic, not so easy, but also not too difficult. If you put unreasonable goals on the spreadsheet, it will have the opposite effect, since the mind will judge it as a lost cause, and will try to sabotage you from the start.

There is a physiological mechanism behind this, which is well known to sportsmen and trainers. When we have a goal and are about to achieve it, the brain liberates powerful hormones into the blood circulation, which makes us feel more energetic and forget about any kind of pain and discomfort. This gives the body extra energy and assures that he can indeed fulfil his goal. However, when we are trying to do something which the mind perceives as impossible, when we are losing, the opposite happens: the brain starts to liberate relaxant hormones, which drains our energy and make it seem even harder; the mind tries to make us give up. Certainly, this is just a physiological mechanism, which doesn’t have anything to do with the soul, but that if understood, can be used in Krsna’s service.

Another advantage of doing in-advance planning and having a spreadsheet is that the decision-making process (where to go, how many books to take, etc.) can be done using our intelligence, based on logical factors. If we don’t do that, then at the beginning of each day the mind will be engaged in making such decisions, which will drain a lot of energy, and bring us to worse decisions. The mind is indecisive by nature, therefore it’s not good at making decisions. Better to make the decisions beforehand, and then allow the mind to just follow day by day what is in the spreadsheet. Just like when we decide to fast on Ekadasi: we don’t agitate our minds about it, we just decide and keep firm, and the mind goes along.

You can offer your spreadsheet to Krsna, presenting your plan and begging for the necessary strength to accomplish it. Krsna is the Supreme Lord, and therefore He is not forced to make things go the way you planned, but still, if you create a plan and work hard to achieve it, for His satisfaction, He may agree. The important thing is to do our part, even if things look difficult in the beginning.

HG Vijaya dasa: One thing that Srila Prabhupada would do is that he would set goals. Just like he had this goal when he started this movement, to start 108 temples. So, he sent devotees all over the world opening temples, and he did it. And not only did he set goals for himself, he set goals for his disciples. There was at one point, in the early seventies, these Caitanya Caritamrta books that had not been printed. So, this very much disturbed Srila Prabhupada. They were doing two a year or something, and Rameshwara, who was in charge of the BBT, he told Srila Prabhupada that they would take a long time. So Prabhupada said: I think you can do it in two months, these 17 books in two months. And Rameshwara and the others just said, “this is impossible, I can't possibly do it.” And then Prabhupada made that famous statement: "Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary". So, if you set goals, this is something that you can focus on, for Krsna. I know Vaisesika Prabhu, he also tries to encourage the devotees at ISV to set goals, because goals are powerful. You focus on something you want to do for Krsna, and you sincerely try, and then Krsna, He reciprocates: "Yeah, I will help you to fulfil that goal". (Podcast to London devotees, 2017)

In my book distribution, I have so many experiences of difficult days when everything would go wrong, and it seemed impossible to finish my books. But then, at some point, some miracle happens, the books start going away one after another and, at the end of the day, the cart is completely empty. As I mentioned previously, often Krsna uses difficult days to teach us different lessons and make us more experienced. Other times He may just want to test our determination, making us cry before making us smile.

Being self-satisfied

Srimad-Bhagavatam (4.31.19) gives a very important instruction to sankirtana devotees:

dayaya sarva-bhutesu

santustya yena kena va

sarvendriyopasantya ca

tusyaty asu janardanah

“By showing mercy to all living entities, being satisfied somehow or other, and restricting the senses from sense enjoyment, one can very quickly satisfy the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Janardana”.

In the purport, Srila Prabhupada explains:

“These are some of the ways in which the Supreme Personality of Godhead can be satisfied by the devotee. The first item mentioned is dayaya sarva-bhutesu, showing mercy to all conditioned souls. The best way to show mercy is to spread Krsna consciousness. The entire world is suffering for want of this knowledge. People should know that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the original cause of everything. Knowing this, everyone should directly engage in His devotional service. Those who are actually learned, advanced in spiritual understanding, should preach Krsna consciousness all over the world so that people may take to it and make their lives successful.

The word sarva-bhutesu is significant because it applies not only to human beings but to all the living entities appearing in the 8,400,000 species of life. The devotee can do good not only to humanity but to all living entities as well. Everyone can benefit spiritually by the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. When the transcendental vibration of Hare Krsna is sounded, even the trees, animals and insects benefit. Thus when one chants the Hare Krsna maha-mantra loudly, he actually shows mercy to all living entities. To spread the Krsna consciousness movement throughout the world, the devotees should be satisfied in all conditions: narayana-parah sarve na kutascana bibhyati svargapavarga-narakesv api tulyartha-darsinah (Bhag. 6.17.28)

It does not matter to the pure devotee if he has to go to hell to preach. The Supreme Lord lives in the heart of a hog, although the Lord is in Vaikuntha. Even while preaching in hell, a pure devotee remains a pure devotee by his constant association with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To attain this state, one has to control his senses. The senses are automatically controlled when one’s mind is engaged in the service of the Lord”. (SB 4.31.19 purport)

When Srila Prabhupada says that “To spread the Krsna consciousness movement throughout the world, the devotees should be satisfied in all conditions”, he doesn’t mean that we should have luxurious lives and have all our desires for comfort fulfilled, quite the opposite. The verse explains: “being satisfied somehow or other, and restricting the senses from sense enjoyment”. It’s not that someone should satisfy our materialistic tendencies in all circumstances, but that we should be self-satisfied in whatever position we may be. That’s the symptom of an advanced devotee: he understands that Krsna is in control, therefore realizes that everything he is experiencing is coming from Krsna. Sometimes He sends pleasant situations, sometimes He sends unpleasant situations, but he can understand that both are coming from Krsna, for his own purification. It’s not that he just tolerates grudgingly: he’s self-satisfied, he already achieved spiritual realization, therefore he’s not dependent on some material condition to be satisfied. That’s what means self-satisfied: satisfied with the self. Whatever situation he’s in, he will be happy, and because he’s happy he’s able to preach and spread Krsna consciousness.

Without that, we will not be satisfied in any condition, quite the opposite. Just like the karmis: they are always unhappy, unsatisfied, regardless of their material condition. They may be rich, they may be poor, beautiful, ugly, tall, short, but they all have something in common: they are all dissatisfied. Both the rich and the poor are dissatisfied, and sometimes the rich is more dissatisfied than the poor, therefore he takes antidepressants, or even commits suicide. The statistics of suicide amongst rich people are usually higher than amongst the poor people, which defeats the general idea that money brings happiness.

When someone has his senses uncontrolled, he will be unsatisfied in any circumstance. Conversely, when someone is capable of controlling his senses, it’s the opposite: he’s satisfied in any condition. Therefore happiness is not dependant on how much material facility we have, but on how much we can control our senses, and ultimately on how Krsna conscious we are. Of course, until we are on a liberated platform, we will need a certain degree of material comfort to be able to operate, but we should understand what the real problem is. If we feel dissatisfied, the problem is not in the lack of material facilities, the problem is that we can’t control our senses sufficiently.  

There are two types of pure devotees, who differ in their external behavior. One type is like Kholaveca Sridhara, from Caitanya Lila. This type of pure devotee fears material opulence, thinking that if they would have a chance of becoming materially opulent, they would get attached and forget Krsna. Of course, there is no chance of them falling down, but because they are humble they feel this way. Kholaveca Sridhara, for example, had a very simple business, he was selling bananas, roots and cups made from banana leaves. He was living in a hut, didn’t have any furniture and the roof was full of holes, so when it was raining it would leak inside. Still, he was not doing anything to improve his material condition. He was just focussing all his energy on his spiritual practice.

"The Supreme Personality of Godhead is dependent on His pure devotees. He does not even accept the offerings of those who are not devotees. A pure devotee is one who feels He does not possess anything material. A devotee is always happy in possessing the devotional service of the Lord. Devotees may sometimes appear materially poor, but because they are spiritually advanced and enriched, they are most dear to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Such devotees are free from attachment to family, society, friendship, children and so on. They abandon affection for all these material possessions and are always happy in possessing the shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord." (SB 4.31.21 purport)

The second type are devotees like Pundarika Vidyanidhi or king Prataparudra. These devotees have all kinds of opulences, since it’s natural for Laksmi devi to favour pure devotees. Such Vaisnavas simply accept whatever comes naturally and use it for Krsna, without attachment. This way, the first type of devotees deliberately refuse any material comfort, therefore the Lord doesn’t force it. He allows them to live in the way they desire. The other type is indifferent, they neither hanker for, nor reject it, so Krsna sends them opulence and they simply accept and use it to serve the Lord.

For neophyte devotees, however, material opulence can be a double-edged sword, because in one sense it gives us resources that can be used in Krsna’s service, but on the other hand, also gives us facility for sense enjoyment that can distract us from spiritual life. Therefore, we should be very careful to use whatever we have for Krsna, because whatever is not used for Krsna will end up being used for sense gratification, which in turn can make us fall down. There are cases of sincere devotees who get some opulences due to past pious acts and become distracted in their execution of devotional service. In such cases, the Lord may show His special mercy by putting them in a difficult material position so they can be fully engaged in devotional service.

"Devotees like Dhruva Maharaja, who was given unlimited material opulence, have the special mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Once Kuvera wanted to give Dhruva Maharaja a benediction, but although Dhruva Maharaja could have asked him for any amount of material opulence, he instead begged Kuvera that he might continue his devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. When a devotee is fixed in his devotional service, there is no need for the Lord to deprive him of his material opulences. The Supreme Personality of Godhead never takes away material opulences achieved because of devotional service, although He sometimes takes away opulences achieved by pious activities. He does this to make a devotee prideless or put him in a better position in devotional service. If a special devotee is meant for preaching but does not give up his family life or material opulences to take to the service of the Lord, the Lord surely takes away his material opulences and establishes him in devotional service. Thus the pure devotee becomes fully engaged in propagating Krsna consciousness." (SB 8.22.27 purport)

If we have the opportunity of a privileged position in life, then whatever extra money we get, should be utilized to spread Krsna consciousness (printing and distribution of books, organization of different programs, prasadam distribution, service to Vaishnavas and to the holy dhama, etc.) If we use our incoming to spread Krsna consciousness, material wealth will not be an impediment for our devotional service.

Someone who doesn’t have material facilities, on the other hand, can simply use his energy and talents to distribute books and preach. His position is actually easier. He can simply surrender to Krsna and dedicate his life to spread the mission. If someone can live in a simple way, accepting only what comes naturally, without hankering or lamenting, he will, in due course of time, become very powerful spiritually:

"A brahmana who is satisfied with whatever is providentially obtained is increasingly enlightened with spiritual power, but the spiritual potency of a dissatisfied brahmana decreases, as fire diminishes in potency when water is sprinkled upon it." (SB 8.19.26)

In any case, we need to develop detachment and self-satisfaction as part of our advancement in spiritual life. As soon as we develop this mentality, it becomes easy to advance in Krsna consciousness: our service becomes stable and book distribution becomes a natural activity.

The hard way and the smart way

There are two ways to do anything in life: the hard way and the smart way. Many devotees, like myself, are addicted to distributing books the hard way, going to the street and distributing under the sun, rain, and snow. Of course, there’s nothing wrong in just going to the street and trying our best to spread Krsna consciousness, but devotees who have different occupation areas or special talents may find new and creative ways to distribute books, using their professional and personal skills.

For example, one may be able to put books in vending machines in the metro (this was done in Brazil for a short period) and thus distribute thousands of books, even without having to handle them personally. Others may get a similar result by placing smart boxes in different places, and just going periodically to refill the books and take out the donations. The smart boxes are an idea pioneered by devotees in North America. It consists of creating an exhibition bookshelf, with books placed in an attractive way along with instructions for people to take a book and leave a donation in a special recipient. These stands can be left in stores, restaurants, etc. with the cooperation of the owners, in a way that the smart box sells the books by itself, and the book distributor just needs to go periodically to fill it up with more books and take the donations.

In India, many devotees distribute books in bulk, by convincing important persons to sponsor books for the public. A big industrialist may agree to distribute ten thousand Bhagavad-gitas for his employees, or for school children, for example. This is also done to some extent in the United States with representatives of the Indian community, but there may be ways of achieving the same with other groups.

Sometimes, devotees are able to enter factories, or universities, getting permission of the person in charge to sell books to the employees or students. In such situations, you may get the opportunity to speak to thousands of people, a captive audience that is already there and therefore ready to listen to you. A devotee who gives courses or seminars in some specific area may find creative ways to present the philosophy and the books to his own students, who, after all, are already there to listen to him.

New sankirtana fields can be opened by contacting and cultivating the appropriate authorities. You can present our movement in a nice way, speaking about the importance of these books and the richness of Vedic culture, give them prasadam, etc. Ask permission to perform nonprofit work, making a cultural presentation of the ancient Vedic culture, distributing books and collecting donations from the public, or permission to perform harinamas. By contacting the right persons and presenting the idea in ingenious ways, it’s possible to open up new places, where yourself or other devotees can distribute. You can try both public and private locations, including touristic spots, shopping malls, parks, universities, busy streets and so on. The ideal format in such cases is to set-up a book table, including a folding tent for shadow, that works as a “base” and a central display. The book table may be populated by a few devotees, who can be supplemented by several others walking around and stopping the public, like we normally do on the street. Spots where you can get authorization for only one day per week can be used as bases for weekend-warrior programs, while other places (where you got authorization for more days) for regular sankirtana on week-days.

There are always new and creative ways to distribute books, therefore devotees who have special talents should not be discouraged. To distribute books using one's intelligence has even greater merit than to distribute by mere persistence. As Srila Prabhupada used to say, we should “tax our brains” to find new ways to distribute books and spread Krsna consciousness.

 

“I especially want that my books and literatures should be distributed profusely, but so far I understand this is not being done very perfectly. So I want that you all my students shall very vigorously try for this book distribution. Do not hesitate to use your American and European brains to increase, that is Krishna’s special gift to you, now use it. Any activity which will please Krishna should be accepted favorably, this is our guiding principle. Now apply it in this way, by doing everything and anything for spreading this Krishna Conscious literature, and this is really pleasing to Krishna, know it for certain”. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Kirtiraja, 27 November 1971)

“The mind is restless, always desiring something.... So the best policy to control the mind is to desire how to spread Krsna consciousness.... This brain taxation—how to spread Krsna consciousness, how to convince people about Krsna—if you go on making plans for spreading Krsna consciousness, then your mind is controlled.” (Srila Prabhupada, lecture on SB 3.26.27, 04 January 1975)

The difference between detachment and laziness

Sometimes, devotees justify their lack of impetus towards service by saying that they are being “detached”. This is especially true in book distribution, where we really need to work hard to distribute any reasonable quantity of books. According to the field and to one’s ability, he may distribute 5 books or 500 books, but in any case, he needs to put in effort.

HG Hari-sauri Prabhu: “Today is the tenth anniversary of the founding of ISKCON. Srila Prabhupada took his walk as usual and continued with his regular daily program.

In class he discussed love. Love, he said, is the basis for activity; if we love someone then naturally we want to do something for them. He said that in material life, we also perform all our work on the basis of love of family, friends and others, but we are always disappointed in that love. In love for Krsna though, we are never let down. Either way, the symptom of love is activity.

Srila Prabhupada offered two examples to illustrate this principle. The first was that of Sanatana Gosvami. "He said krpa kari’ yadi more kariyacha uddhara. 'I know that it is due to Your mercy that I have been able to give up such position, maya's position, as Your man. So now order me what is my duty.' This is devotee. Not that 'Now I am free from family life, I have no responsibility, now I shall take prasadam and sleep.' No. That is not. You must be hundred times more active than in your family life. That is devotional." (A Transcendental Diary, vol 3 - July 6th, 1976)

Detachment is a quality which comes from the mode of goodness. It means to execute our duty with all our will, but at the same time understand that the result is up to Krsna. Therefore, if the result does not come, one will not become demotivated, since he will not have the desire to enjoy the fruits. As Krsna says in Bg 2.47: “You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty”. This mentality brings stability and purity to our devotional lives, since we don’t become puffed-up when we get some grandiose result, nor do we feel morose when things are difficult. It assures that we are capable of working in perfect conscience in both circumstances.

Someone in the mode of passion will also execute his duty energetically, the problem is that he will be attached to the fruits, therefore when the expected result doesn’t come, he will become frustrated and angry. It’s not completely bad, since even on that level he will still be able to work for Krsna and thus execute devotional service in some capacity, but the quality of the service will be lower and it will not be very stable. The mode of passion is also very intimately connected to fruitive activity, therefore someone strongly influenced by the mode of passion will have great difficulty in doing devotional service for long periods in renounced positions, like in brahmacari life, for example.

Finally, someone influenced by the mode of ignorance will not have impetus to work at all, or, if he does, he will execute such work in a grudging mood, without really putting his energy there. Such a person will frequently try to come up with excuses for his laziness, and one of them may be “detachment”. Usually, the best solution in such cases is to try ascending at least to the mode of passion (doing something, even if with attachment), and then gradually to the mode of goodness, through regulated practice. Another trap for a neophyte devotee is to try to abandon his occupations and the association of devotees and go to some solitary place, trying to imitate Haridasa Thakura. The result in such cases is that he brings all his contaminations and desires with him, and thus ends up falling down after a short time.

“We don’t approve that go in a solitary place and chanting. My Guru maharaja did not approve! This is all nonsense. You cannot chant. Sir you’ll sleep only and think of all nonsense. You must be engaged for preaching work!” (Srila Prabhupada, Morning walk, 14 December 1973)

Another anarta is the tendency to relate spiritual life with impersonalistic ideas, which we may be carrying in the heart for many lifetimes:

HG Atma-tattva Prabhu: A widespread misunderstanding of spiritual life is that it means love, peace, harmony, and meditation in relaxing postures at a secluded camp near a river or lake in the country or mountains and that everyone has to find his own way to God, so no one should impose his view on others or try to convert them, because that's artificial and causes dissension and disharmony. Newcomers to ISKCON may expect that Krsna consciousness will correspond to their impersonal ideal of a divine cosmic consciousness, but they soon realize that Prabhupada's temples aren't places for eating, sleeping, and impersonal meditation. They hear the clanging of weapons and the striding of soldiers, and they realize that joining Krsnas camp means a declaration of war on maya. Peace and harmony are illusions without Krsna consciousness, empty promises maya makes to sentimentalists. In ISKCON new bhaktas meet the topmost transcendentalists, who are finished with material compromises, who want to cut the attachments of false ego, and who want to save as many others as possible. (Nectar of book distribution, p. 475)

Devotional life means to use our energy to please Krsna thorough service, to use our talents and energy to worship the Lord and to spread His instructions. Lack of impetus in this sense must be attributed to the influence of the mode of ignorance, or to vestiges of impersonalism.

“Endeavor executed with intelligence in Krsna consciousness is called utsaha, or enthusiasm. The devotees find the correct means by which everything can be utilized in the service of the Lord (nirbandhah krsna-sambandhe yuktam vairagyam ucyate). The execution of devotional service is not a matter of idle meditation but practical action in the foreground of spiritual life.” (Nectar of Instruction verse 3, purport)

At first, someone could confuse the symptoms of the modes of ignorance and goodness, but actually, the mode of goodness has more in common with the mode of passion than with tamas. In both passion and goodness, there is a tendency to act; the main difference is that in the mode of passion there is a tendency to act toward material achievements, with the idea of enjoying, while in the mode of goodness the tendency is to act towards spiritual activities, with the goal of self-realization. When there is a mixture of passion and goodness, there is a tendency towards karma-kanda and materialistic pious life; when there is a mixture of passion and ignorance, the tendency is towards sinful action.

On the other hand, the absence of impetus to act is nothing more than a manifestation of the mode of ignorance. Therefore, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna instructs Arjuna to direct his tendency to act towards Krsna consciousness, instead of going to the forest, as he was originally considering. This gives us a warning: if a neophyte doesn’t engage in activities in Krsna consciousness, he will end up just acting in material activities, or, worse, will just fall into laziness:

“If you become conscious of Me, you will pass over all the obstacles of conditioned life by My grace. If, however, you do not work in such consciousness but act through false ego, not hearing Me, you will be lost. If you do not act according to My direction and do not fight, then you will be falsely directed. By your nature, you will have to be engaged in warfare. Under illusion you are now declining to act according to My direction. But, compelled by the work born of your own nature, you will act all the same, O son of Kunti”. (Bg 18.58-60)

Transcendental competition

Another popular misconception is that all competition in spiritual life (including competition in book distribution) is always bad. Again, it comes from impersonalistic tendencies; someone only knows about the kind of competition that we have in this material world (which is full of envy and attachment), and without a positive alternative, thinks that all competition is bad and that the spiritual world must be devoid of any kind of competition. That’s the same idea of peaceful nirvana, where there is no form, no qualities and no activities kicking again.

The reality is that there is a lot of competition in the spiritual world, but there, competition manifests in its pure form. Even in Goloka, there is the group of Srimati Radharani and the group of Srimati Candravali, and they are always competing. Yet, it’s nothing like the kind of competition that we have in the material world: their competition is simply how to please Krsna more. There is no envy: if one group does something wonderful for Krsna, the other group appreciates and tries to do even better, so Krsna can become even more pleased. There is admiration instead of envy.

"In the material world, when someone surpasses us in some way we become angry and plan how to stop him, but in the spiritual world when someone does some better service we think "Oh, he has done so nicely. Let me help him to execute his service." So we should always endeavor to keep this attitude, and serve Lord Krishna to the best of our ability. That will make one advance in spiritual life." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Dharma, 22 April 1972)

By studying about Srila Prabhupada, we learn that he was actually encouraging this kind of competition amongst his disciples, using competition as a means to encourage devotees to put in extra effort, to give it all in the service of Krsna, especially in book distribution.

HH Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: Srila Prabhupada also inspired the society as a whole to compete with its previous years' efforts. "Somehow the book distribution must be doubled and tripled as far as possible. Do it." As soon as the BBT Library Party had been formed, Prabhupada had told the members to get fifty thousand orders. And he had asked the Radha Damodara party to get one hundred buses.

These were not careless boasts by Srila Prabhupada. He knew the determination and sacrifice required to achieve these nearly unattainable goals, but he wanted his devotees to work with total dedication, as he was doing. Ultimately, he simply wanted them to try their utmost to serve guru and Krsna sincerely. He called this logic shooting for the rhinoceros." If a man, attempting to kill a rhinoceros, failed, no one would criticize him. But if he succeeded, that would be very wonderful. (Distribute books - History of book distribution, page 57)

HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja: “Prabhupada's purpose was to encourage his disciples. Seeing that the presidents had each been trying to present him with the largest check, he encouraged their competitiveness by asking, "So, who has given the most?" Everyone laughed, wishing that they had been able to give Srila Prabhupada even more. His secretary brought in a letter from his sannyasa disciple Guru-krpa Swami, sent from Japan. Prabhupada carefully opened the letter and, finding that it contained a check, held it up to the light to read the amount. With a great smile Prabhupada declared, "Guru-krpa Maharaja is the winner! He has defeated all others put together!" And all of the devotees chanted "Jaya!" in appreciation of their Godbrother’s outstanding service.

The American devotees liked this challenge and competition, and I was no exception. Sitting as one of them, I would like to have entered the competition also. Guru-krpa Maharaja, while still a brahmacari, had assisted me when I had first taken sannyasa. Now he and his Nama Hatta party were achieving unparalleled success.” (Servant of the Servant, ch.13)

We all have a tendency to attempt to do great things, and therefore to compete. When such competitive spirit is directed towards sense gratification and personal aggrandizement, it’s material, but when the same spirit is directed towards pleasing Krsna and the spiritual master, it becomes spiritual. Once, a group of devotees went to Srila Prabhupada to complain about HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja, saying that he always wanted to compete. Srila Prabhupada smiled and said: “Yes, but he wants to compete for Krsna”. The devotees insisted, saying that he was always trying to control, and Prabhupada answered: “Yes, but he wants to control for Krsna”. This way the complaints were dismissed.

HH Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami: When devotees beheld the mighty efforts of the top leaders in book distribution, they sometimes became envious, or at least dispirited, thinking themselves useless and unable to please Srila Prabhupada. This problem also came before Srila Prabhupada, who replied, "There must always be competition. That gives life. That cannot be separated from life.” Prabhupada commented further that competition was built into the varnasrama-dharma social system of Vedic culture. In human society there were always the four classes, and the upper class, especially the ksatriyas or warriors, were always stronger. This competitive spirit contributed to making a society strong, not that a society should be composed only of weak men. But all men, whether strong or weak, should admit their weakness before Krsna's material energy. The material energy, present in the world as the goddess Durga-devi, is always piercing the materialist with her trident (the three material modes). Everyone, therefore, has to acknowledge their insignificance and Krsna's supremacy. In the Vedic society, therefore, the weak do not envy the strong; all classes work cooperatively, with Krsna in the center. "The perfectly society", Prabhupada said, "does not eliminate competition, but it eliminates envy, because everyone is weak before Krsna". (Distribute books - History of book distribution, pag. 59)

Our philosophy is about using everything for Krsna. Some particular propensities, like envy, don’t have any practical use in service, therefore needs to be abandoned, but most others can be engaged in Krsna’s service in one way or another. When it makes us more determined and increases our service, competition also finds her proper place at Krsna's lotus feet. When a book distributor sees another doing something wonderful for Krsna, he should sincerely appreciate, thinking, “such a wonderful Vaishnava, he is doing so much!”, but at the same time, he should think about ways to improve his own service.

HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja: I was amazed at Tripurari Maharaja's determination. While training and guiding not only his own distributors but those from the temples as well, he was personally distributing more books than any other man in the country. And yet now he proposed that somehow he would also run a traveling festival program. One had to be impressed. Srila Prabhupada had in no way exaggerated when he had described Tripurari Maharaja as "the incarnation of book distribution." Just by staying with him for a few days I felt my dedication to sankirtana considerably deepen.

The competition was on! There was little doubt that Tripurari was determined to unseat us from the top position we had occupied since February. Somehow we would have to increase our book distribution significantly to stay ahead of his party. I spoke to Adi-kesava and Dhrstadyumna by phone. Both confirmed that it was indeed possible, providing we made some basic changes. (Servant of the Servant, ch.16)

Just like a ksatriya warrior becomes even more enthusiastic about fighting after getting stuck by the blows of the opponent, a book distributor should get even more inspired when someone distributes more than him, using this as inspiration to distribute even more.

HH Tamal Krsna Maharaja: Though five of his men had "defected" to our side without a fight, the Los Angeles temple president, Tulasi dasa, was determined to humble the Radha-Damodara party. Mustering together the entire might of all their seven temples, the West Coast unseated us from the coveted first place by setting a new world's record for books distributed by a zone in a single month. Hearing this, Srila Prabhupada remarked, "If our Tamal Krishna Goswami is defeated again, his heart will crack!"

No one was more surprised than I. Tripurari Maharaja and I both agreed that we could not allow this to happen twice. After speaking with all our men, we decided to increase our November book distribution projection by fifty percent. But the West Coast was equally determined. Seeing the intensity with which the contest was being waged, Ramesvara decided to organize a special transcendental competition at the end of November. (Servant of the Servant, ch.16)

Sometimes, a senior book distributor, or the leader of a particular yatra, may challenge others for a transcendental duel. Someone with material consciousness could see that as an ego competition, motivated by hankering for prestige, but such exchanges have the goal of inspiring the other party to distribute even more. Sometimes a single devotee may challenge a whole yatra, or a small yatra may challenge a much bigger yatra, all to make the “blood boil in rage” in the other camp, so they can be inspired to really give it all and distribute an unprecedented amount of books. This is the type of competition where you feel actually happy when you lose, knowing that you did your best, but the other group did even more and therefore so many books were distributed.

A case history of a marathon competition: Prior to the 1989 Prabhupada Marathon, the North European BBT printed a newspaper called The Marathon Tribune, with photos of Srila Prabhupada and the book distributors and statements by Srila Prabhupada and the sankirtana leaders about their preparations and goals. One statement was a short article entitled “A bold declaration”: “There is no chance of the Swiss yatra taking home the victory of this year's marathon competition again," says Visvadeva dasa, temple president in Heidelberg. “We will mobilize all possible and impossible forces and all moving and nonmoving distributors to get back the trophy."

Responding to this statement, Harinamananda sent the following letter to the German sankirtana meeting held just before the marathon: “For your information, Switzerland will have thirty devotees out distributing. That means we are planning to double the results of our vyasa-puja marathon in October. This will be the biggest marathon in history. O sankirtana warriors of Germany, you seem to have forgotten your territorial dimensions. Your ksetra is ten times bigger than the Swiss and has ten times more inhabitants (GDR not included). That means ten times as many books should be distributed there.

That's your responsibility. Admittedly, in this marathon you are only sixty devotees, but you have ten times the bigger battlefield, where hardly anybody knows these books. All over the world the Germans are famous as the best experts, fanatics, and fighters. And this is also expected of you in this marathon. That means you have to DOUBLE us. [Until this point, while this letter was read at the meeting, the German sankirtana devotees were laughing. Now, no more laughter.]

It is very important that Germany blooms completely. Germany is the country in Europe that the whole world is watching and by which the whole world will become inspired. The Swiss are not taken seriously because “the Swiss are special", they say. When the German book distribution blasts the borders, then the other yatras will have no excuse. Therefore you have to be conscious that you have the greatest responsibility. No one within the three worlds will be able to stop the overwhelming advance of Germany's book distribution: no king, no law, no police, no demon, no raksasa, nothing and nobody, only the devotees themselves. So we hope that as a start, you will at least win the BATTLE of December, because this year you lost the WAR long ago [referring to both yatras' total yearly scores].

Visvadeva Dasa: It helps if the top book distributor in the world sends a letter and hurls a challenge that would make any self-respecting kshatriyas blood boil in rage. And it was nothing but a reminder to meet the actual challenge to double it. Interestingly enough, after this indirect blessing, Germany increased drastically and defeated Switzerland in the December marathon, never to be defeated again by Switzerland in December. (Nectar of book distribution, p. 445-446)

This same inspiration can be used to battle the material energy, the ignorance that covers the conditioned souls. Some particular days it may be extraordinarily difficult, but a very determined book distributor can attract the mercy of the Lord by being steadfast and not backing down an inch from his objective. It’s a little bit like when a boxer is battling a stronger opponent. In a boxing fight, even if the opponent is stronger, faster, etc. it’s still possible to win if you show some extraordinary determination. You just have to tolerate, keep your cool and keep pounding him until he goes down. Similarly, sometimes the covering of ignorance is extraordinarily thick, but if we keep battling it with determination, we may attract the mercy of the Lord, Who can give us the necessary potency to overcome the layers of nescience and bring the books to the local souls.

As we are informed by Srila Krsnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami in the Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta:

“Things that are very difficult to do become easy to execute if one somehow or other simply remembers Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But if one does not remember Him, even easy things become very difficult. To this Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu I offer my respectful obeisances.” (Adi-lila 14.1)

Don’t burn yourself out

Many times, after an intensive marathon, we come to a situation where we feel extremely exhausted, not very much inspired, facing difficulties even to chant our rounds, what to say about studying Srila Prabhupada's books. In a class, HH Mahadyuti Swami remembers that in the 1970s there was an interesting phenomenon, where temples would do very intensive marathons, but in the end of each marathon always some devotees would leave the temple and bloop, falling again into material life.  

If sankirtana is so purifying and so satisfying to Krsna, why then is the result of doing a lot of book distribution that many times we just fall into the mental platform?

The answer is that unless we become perfect devotees, there will always be a limit on how much physical and mental discomfort we will be able to take before breaking. We have our limits. For example, Srila Raghunatha dasa Goswami was almost not eating: he would take only a small cup of buttermilk, every two days. Not just that, he was sleeping very little and executing unthinkable austerities. Still, he was never complaining, nor getting tired or mental, he was always alert, doing his service perfectly. In our case, we need to be more careful, since we would surely not able to tolerate such austerities for long. In one sense, we need to always push ourselves to do a little more in devotional life, a little more austerity, a little less sense gratification, until we come to the perfect stage. On the other hand, we need to do this with the proper mentality, and with proper knowledge, otherwise the result will not be good.

To do more austerity than one’s capacity is actually risky, because the result is frequently an increase in the influence of the mode of ignorance. If one feels too tired or drained, he will have difficulty in chanting his rounds attentively, in reading, and so on. The intelligence becomes weaker and the mind wicked, which creates a dangerous situation.

One time, a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada confided to me that after Srila Prabhupada's disappearance, many problems started. To be able to survive these troubled times, he decided to start sleeping seven hours instead of six. He explained that his reasoning was that he needed to be on the peak of his mental and intellectual strength to be able to navigate these difficult times. This strategy paid off: until this day, he never left active service in ISKCON, despite all difficulties.

That’s something that I have been dealing with for years on my book distribution. Every time I try to increase my distribution, I face the same difficulties: the more tired I become, the stronger the mind manifests. If I reduce the peace, everything becomes easier, but as soon as I increase again, the same happens. Still, over the years, I feel that I have been able to increase my service little by little. It’s like jumping over a series of barriers: after we jump one barrier, frequently we need to go a few steps back to catch momentum and be able to jump the next.

Another important point about excess of austerity, that we should keep in mind, is that maya usually tests us when we are weak, and not when we are strong. Just like an experienced general will send the main attack when the enemy is weakened. The usual pattern is that she sends many difficulties in succession to make us waiver and when we are in our lowest she sends the final blow. By doing austerities that are beyond one’s level of advancement, he can actually put himself in a weakened position, and thus become more vulnerable to maya’s blows.

In 2017 for example, I was having a difficult time on book distribution. Many things went wrong during the year and there was a lot of pressure from different sides. In one particular city, sankirtana was harder than usual, it was hot, I was tired, people were rude, as difficult as it can get. In this situation, one interested young lady comes and buys a few books. Later she comes back to ask a few questions and talk a little more, and from there she starts to act strangely, passing by frequently, trying to attract attention. Eventually, she comes and asks if I would like to visit her studio. There are a lot of situations when interested people bring you to their workplace and present you to their friends, which usually allows you to distribute a number of books to very favorable persons. At first, I thought it could be the case. I asked: “Oh, how many people work with you?” She answered: “I work alone, I have my own studio. There is air conditioner, water, tea. You must be tired, you could just rest on the sofa, we could talk…

I don't know exactly what were her intentions, but such a situation presented some obvious dangers. I was laughing internally as to how maya waited until I was in my lowest state to send such opportunities. It’s when things are difficult that we should be especially careful.

In the Bhagavad-gita (17.14-19), Krsna explains about austerity according to the three modes of material nature:

Austerity in the mode of goodness consists in controlling the body, speech and mind, which is obtained through the worship of the Supreme Lord, the brahmanas, the spiritual master, and superiors, as well as cleanliness, simplicity, celibacy and nonviolence; speaking words that are truthful, pleasing, beneficial, and not agitating to others. By regularly reciting Vedic literature and cultivating self-satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self-control, and purification of one's existence.

Austerity in the mode of passion, on the other hand, is performed out of pride and for the sake of gaining respect, honor and worship. The Lord warns us that this kind of austerity is neither stable nor permanent. Sometimes we may want to distribute many books with the idea of gaining respect, becoming important or attracting the attention of others (mode of passion) just to become frustrated in the end. Another trap is using austerities (including sankirtana) as a kind of self-torture, fruit of a depressive tendency or the desire to make others feel bad (the "I'm the only one doing something here" mentality), which is contamination of the mode of darkness. As the Lord explains: "Penance performed out of foolishness, with self-torture or to destroy or injure others, is said to be in the mode of ignorance." (Bg. 17.19)

It's usually much better to focus on developing a humble and surrendered attitude, "fight for the sake of fighting, without considering happiness or distress, loss or gain, victory or defeat", and at the same time be attentive to our own limitations, following the steps of the acaryas, without trying to imitate them. When we see that we are getting too tired, we may just reduce a little bit for a few days, and try to increase again when feeling better. Until we come to a very advanced platform, we will be always oscillating between a little bit too much or a little bit too little, that's normal. The main priority is to continue, do whatever we can, according to our capacity.

"It is not so much important the quantity of books that we distribute, but that we serve Krishna as best we can, and depend on Him for the results. Transcendental competition is nice, but it should not come to the point of making us lose our Krishna consciousness." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Dharma, 22 April 1972)

In the Ramayana, we have the example of Hanuman and the spider. When Hanuman was carrying a huge mountain for the construction of the bridge over the ocean, he noticed a small spider throwing a few small pebbles in the water with his legs, in a minute attempt to assist the construction of the bridge. Hanuman was about to brush the spider aside, concerned about his own herculean work, when Lord Ramacandra chastised him saying: “Give up your pride. This spider’s devotional service is just as satisfying to Me as yours. You are serving Me according to your capacity, and he is serving Me according to his capacity.

Similarly, the Lord is not concerned about how many books we distribute, but about our endeavor and sincerity. How much we can surrender our heart and soul. The point is not about distributing some specific number of books, but to engage in the service to our fullest capacity. According to the circumstances, we may be able to distribute 5 books or 500 books. The Lord doesn't see the number, He sees our effort.

"Krishna is not as much concerned with what we give to Him as how much we are keeping back for ourselves. There is the story of Kholaveca Sridhara, a devotee of Lord Caitanya, who although he was a very poor man, gave half of his meager income for worshiping Mother Ganges, and by so doing, he greatly pleased the Lord. It is not so much important the quantity of books that we distribute, but that we serve Krishna as best we can, and depend on Him for the results." (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Dharma, 22 April 1972)

Another example in the same line is the history of Jatayu, who fought Ravana to protect Mother Sita. Even being defeated, he became glorious and Lord Ramacandra personally performed his funeral ceremony. Even if we can’t do much, if we sincerely try, Krsna accepts our service.

"So our this movement is based on practical activity. Whatever talent you have got, whatever little strength you have got, education you have got... You haven't got to learn anything. Whatever you have got, in whatever position you are, you can serve Krsna. Not that you have to learn something first and then you can serve. No. The service itself is learning. The more you try to render service, the more you become advanced how to become experienced servant. We don't require any extra intelligence. Otherwise…

The example is gaja-yutha-paya. The elephant, the king of the elephants, he satisfied. He's an animal. He's not a brahmana. He's not a Vedantist. Maybe very big, fatty animal, but after all, he's animal. Hanuman was animal. There are many such things. Jatayu was a bird. So how they satisfied? The Jatayu fought with Ravana. Yesterday you saw. Ravana was kidnapping Sita devi, and Jatayu, the bird, he was going, flying. Ravana knew how to fly without machine. He was very, very materially powerful. So the Jatayu attacked him on the sky: "Who are you? You are taking away Sita. I shall fight you." So Ravana was very powerful. He was defeated, Jatayu, but he fought. That is his service. Never mind defeated. Similarly, we have to fight. Those who are opposing Krsna consciousness movement, we have to fight with them to our best capacity. Never mind if we are defeated. That is also service.

Krsna sees the service. Defeated or victorious, depend on Krsna. But fighting must be there. Karmany evadhikaras te ma phalesu kadacana. That is the meaning. You have to work for Krsna sincerely, intelligently, and victory or defeat, it doesn't matter.” (Srila Prabhupada, Lecture on SB 7.9.9, 1 March 1977)

Book distribution in old age

A long time ago, I visited a farm with a friend. On this particular farm they had a lot of sheep and, like in many farms, they would use champion males from good lineages to get cobs with good genes. One of the males was a very old animal, that was doing this job for a long time, called Vovô (means "grandpa") and other was a young and vigorous youth that they recently had bought for a high price. I asked the owner which one was doing his job better and he laughing said that Vovô was still far better. I was intrigued on how this decrepit animal, that was already even losing his teeth and normally barely moved could do anything better than a younger and stronger animal, but I could understand when I saw how both used their energy.

When put with a female sheep, Vovô would get up, slowly get close and, within seconds, do his prescribed duty without fuzz, in a very energy-efficient way. After that, he would just sit again and resume his meditative stance, looking a little like a meditative sage. The younger one, on the other hand, would chase all around, and spend a lot a of energy trying to do his thing without success for a number of times. He would eventually also do his job, but only after wasting a lot of time and energy.

The realization that I got from this episode is that on book distribution we may face the same progression. When our bodies are younger, we may have a lot of energy to run around chasing people, to try, try, try, until we can have a book distributed. However, as the body gets older, this becomes harder and harder to do, it becomes simply impossible to maintain this level of energy. On the other hand, we have stories of exalted book distributors that can continue to distribute heaps of books in advanced age by using their energy in an effective way.

I got a glimpse of this at a time I became sick for a few days. Being sick, I had less energy and couldn’t do all the things that I would normally be able to do. I had to slow down and use my energy in a very efficient way to be able to do anything at all, just like in old age. So, instead of chasing people and trying to stop everyone, I was just trying to observe people and praying to Krsna to be able to say meaningful things to the right people. The result was very interesting. Doing this "slow sankirtana", I was able to keep the same amount of hours and distribute the same amount of books I would normally do, but using far less energy.

From there, I started to try to implement this principle of efficient energy use on my regular sankirtana, with good results. My realization is that as we get older, we can keep distributing books in an effective way by using our acquired experience to use our energy in a more effective way, so we can compensate the reduction in energy with experience, just like Vovô, the old ram. This requires a lot of practice, of course, but we have a lot of time to learn with the mercy of
guru and Krsna.

One thing that is essential in this process is to learn to be detached from the result. When one is young, there is a lot of energy, therefore frequently it’s possible to distribute for many hours, six days a week, and thus achieve impressive results. As he gets older, however, this becomes increasingly harder to maintain. If one is not wise enough to start this transition from quantity to quality, from raw determination to efficient use of energy, it’s easy to lose motivation when his energy starts to diminish and the obstacles presented by maya start to look harder and harder to surpass. It’s at this point that many give-up on book distribution. The ones who continue, however, frequently end up getting their most successful years of book distribution in their later years, like HG Bhrigupati Prabhu, for example.

Another point is that, as we get older, it’s strongly recommended that we start using part of our time to teach younger devotees, training them in preaching and book distribution and in spiritual life in general. To teach devotes is even more important than to distribute books on the street and, by Krsna’s natural arrangement, as we get older we become progressively less useful on street book distribution, and more useful on teaching and guiding new devotees. We can observe that many gurus and sannyasis were stable book distributors during most of their lives, but as they got older and more experienced, they gradually changed to a leadership and training role.

One can start by dedicating a few weeks per year to give some training to new devotes in his own yatra, or to travel to other places where there are opportunities to preach, and from there gradually start spending more time in these activities, increasing as his body gets older and it becomes increasingly difficult to do book distribution for eleven continuous months.

Naturally, there is a lot of temptation in this field, therefore many sincere devotees may not be attracted to this path. As soon as one starts to train other devotees, he may get some followers, and this can easily lead to pride, possessiveness, and so on which, if left untreated, can even make one fall down. The desire for honor, respect, and worship is something that we carry very deep in our hearts and it accompanies us pretty far into our spiritual lives. As Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura warns us, such desire can make even one on an advanced platform to fall down, therefore we should be very careful:

“You must endeavor to give this up, otherwise there is a serious danger that your bhakti will be eroded and you will have to descend to the kanistha platform again. Although the six enemies of lust, anger, greed, envy, pride and illusion may have departed, the desire for honor remains. This desire for fame is the most pernicious enemy of the Vaishnavas, and it does not easily agree to leave the sadhakas.” (Jaiva Dharma chapter 8)

Srila Prabhupada explains that there are three last attacks of maya upon the conditioned soul. The first is the opportunity of becoming a prominent religious leader. If one is not careful in this position, he may develop pride, which is the start of his falldown. Contaminated by pride, he may become a victim of the second attack, which is the opportunity of getting power, money and sense gratification as a consequence of his position. As his pride increases, he may become contaminated to the point of disobeying or even rejecting the instructions of his spiritual master, starting to replace them with his own concocted views. This opens the door to the last snare of maya, that is impersonalism: when the soul rejects his eternal position as a servant and becomes attracted to the idea of himself becoming the master, becoming God (if not in a literal, at least in a practical sense). If one ascends to a prestigious position prematurely, without having the necessary spiritual qualifications, he may fall victim of one of these snares of maya, or even all of them in succession. That’s why humility is so important: it protects us.

Still, as Srila Prabhupada explains, the highest perfection for us is to not just be concerned with our own advancement, but to accept risks and inconveniences to help others. That’s the concept of the gostianandi contrasted with the bhajananandi that he explained on different occasions. Early in life, we should dedicate ourselves to progress in spiritual life, distribute books and do other preaching activities. We should be attached to our service, but at the same time renounced enough to be able to accept a different position later in life if that’s what is needed to better serve the mission.

The tip of the iceberg

Sometimes we get morose, thinking that we are distributing so many books, but not so many people are coming to the temple and becoming devotees. However, we should understand that the people whom we see really coming to the temple and fully adopting the process, are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the effect of our preaching is below the surface: we can’t see it, but it’s there, creating a lot of change in people's lives and in the society at large. One of the reasons why Srila Prabhupada was pushing so much book distribution is because he saw that it’s the way a small group of devotees can create a big change in society. In the early days, devotees were few, and therefore the number of preachers were small. Nowadays, there are so many devotees, but most of them don’t become so much involved in preaching, therefore the number of preachers continues being small. Still, we already distributed more than half a billion books since the start of our movement. We can’t underestimate the effect that all these books had, are having and are going to have in society, and the number of persons who got, are getting, and are going to get benefited by them.

One day, in the 2015 marathon, I was carrying my stack of books as usual. Suddenly an old lady approached me and took the book on top (which had a photo of Srila Prabhupada on the cover) and exclaimed: “Hey, I know him!”. I jokingly said: “Oh! Prabhupada is very famous! From where you know him? From TV or from one of our books?” She answered: “No, no, my son had a few of these books, and he was always reading them recently, I remember that I saw this photo in one of his books”. I smilingly said: “Oh, and what does your son do? He’s a student?” She then made a very sad face and replied: “He was a student, but, he was assassinated a few weeks ago. But I remember that he was reading these books recently”.

My jaw dropped. I asked about which books he had, and she pointed to three books that I had on my stack. I could understand that this boy took books during the previous December marathon, since at that time I was distributing a lot of these three books in that city as a set. This boy’s karma was to be assassinated on that particular date, but somehow Krsna arranged for him to take the books and start reading them shortly before he was killed.

From there, I continued talking with the lady about the immortality of the soul, that her son actually did not die, but simply moved to some other place, just like when someone goes on a trip. I gave her “Coming Back” as a present, and she took a few other books and gave a donation. Somehow she connected the books with the memories about her son and thus became eager to hear. As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (7.16), “Four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me – the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute”. This lady was certainly distressed by the death of her son, therefore she became open to receive transcendental knowledge.  

As the Lord guarantees in the Bhagavad-gita (6.41): sucinam srimatam gehe yoga-bhrasto ’bhijayate. Someone who starts the process of devotional service in this life, gets a human body in his next birth in a rich or righteous family, and from there he has facility to continue his devotional service. Just by getting a book, reading and following something, this boy was saved from gliding down to the lower species and in his next life will have the opportunity to develop further, probably encountering devotees again and maybe this time becoming a devotee himself. His death also served as a catalyst for his mother, who also got interested in transcendental knowledge, and thus started the same path.

For every person who really comes to the temple and becomes a devotee, thousands more read our books and decide to adopt some parts of the process and therefore get benefit. As an institution, we should act as a “sukriti machine”, giving opportunity to everybody to do some devotional service, however small, and thus have a chance of starting on their path back home.

Once I met one well dressed, middle-aged man, to whom I had distributed a book previously, walking with two of his friends. He recognized me and said: “Hey! I took a book from you the other day, do you remember? I told you that I’m an atheist but somehow you convinced me to take the book. I read it, and I’m still an atheist! But after reading your book I decided to stop eating meat, I got convinced. No meat for me anymore!”. This guy was so rascal that he remained atheist even after reading Srila Prabhupada’s book, but still, it left such a powerful impression on him that he decided to stop eating meat. I naturally tried to convince him to take more books, but he was not interested. The first book was all that he could take. Maybe in his next life he will take another book and decide to start offering his food to Krsna or something. That’s how it works: people get purified gradually.

In another peculiar case, I meet a nice grandma, a very pious person. She took a few books and was interested. I took her contact and started trying to make her more involved, but it somehow or other she was not very interested, so eventually the conversation stopped and I forgot about it.

A few weeks later I meet her again. She told me that she had become vegetarian and was chanting the maha-mantra and trying to always meditate on Krsna. She showed me a small japa-mala that she made herself. She was now always carrying this japa-mala on her wrist and chanting during the day, whenever she had the opportunity. She said she was now feeling very happy.

What happened is that when we first met, I also put her on a whatsapp group where I was teaching the Bhagavad-gita to interested people I meet on the street. On the group, I was explaining the basic points of the Bhagavad-Gita and bhakti-yoga. Somehow she got the essence, that is to always chant and remember Krsna, and was practicing it. I again spoke something about the temple, but again she was not very interested. As is frequent in older people, she was attached to do things in a certain way and was not very enthusiastic about social interaction, but still, somehow she understood the essence of the process and was practicing it.

Another time, one of the devotees from the temple received an unexpected gift on sankirtana: an old lady approached him and gave him an old Bhagavad-gita:

“This book was from my sister. She died from cancer a few months ago. Somehow she was always reading this book, and I know that she got it from one of you. This book is not interesting to me, therefore I’m giving it back.”

This was a very old edition of the brazilian Bhagavad-gita, and it was very well used. The interesting thing is that the whole book was marked, as when someone reads it attentively and underscores particularly compelling sentences. Even more interesting was that it was not only marked by a single type of pen, but many different types and colors of pens, meaning that the person passed through the book multiple times, each time marking different words and sentences. Some particular sentences like “the soul does not die” and “surrender unto Me” were marked strongly.

From this, I could understand that this lady was really taking shelter in the Bhagavad-gita. During the most difficult phase of her life, she was reading it repeatedly and deeply meditating on particular passages. As Krsna declares on Bg. 18.70: “He who studies this sacred conversation of ours worships Me by his intelligence”.

It’s difficult to understand how much advancement someone can make by doing that. Draupadi called Govinda’s name only one time when she was in a desperate situation, and Krsna felt so indebted that He said it was impossible for Him to repay her. Who knows what happened to that lady. As Krsna explains:

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Bg. 4.9).

By stories like that, we can understand how Lord Caitanya is connecting the dots, bringing people in different situations to devotees and to the books, so they can get connected to the path of devotional service. His vision is not limited to this life: He can make perfect plans to bring people back to Godhead thorough as many lifetimes as needed.

HG Tara Prabhu: In regard to the complaint that “so many books have been distributed but who’s joining?”, we should see things from a broader perspective. Our vision is defective. Better to trust the version of Srila Prabhupada. He stated that every soul who comes in contact with these books is benefited. The fruit might come after one, five, or ten years, or even a hundred lifetimes. Certainly the fruit will mature. In The Nectar of Instruction Prabhupada states, “Devotional service is so pure and perfect that once having begun, one is forcibly dragged to ultimate success.” Only time is separating these souls from perfection. Contact with Krsna purifies the soul, period. “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.” We need to focus on doing our job with faith in Prabhupada’s words. Krsna knows how to do His job. (The Treasure of the Brhat Mrdanga, Ch. 2)

HH Badrinarayana Maharaja tells the amazing history of how the movement started in Burma, where devotees are making enormous progress by acquiring, restoring and converting old Hindu temples into ISKCON centers, publishing books into the local language, making thousands of devotees and even organizing Ratha yatras.

HH Badrinarayana Maharaja: It all came from one devotee. And how he became a devotee? Burmese doctors, on a medical retreat in Manhattan. An intelligent devotee showed them the Dashavatar picture, Buddha, and they bought a Bhagavad-Gita. They got home, and said, "What's this? We are buddhists, we don't want this thing, but we have a friend, who is a hindu doctor, so let's give to him back in Burma". They got back, gave to their burmese doctor friend. He's a sankaracarya, he's advaita, he looks at it and said "What's this? This is bhakti..." and puts it on a shelf.

The country was so oppressive, they machine-gunned their own monks. The whole thing was so oppressive and corrupt, with so much cronyism that university professors were fleeing across the mountains, through the jungles to become taxi drivers in Thailand. So, Srivasa Pandita -- I don't know what his legal name was, before he became a devotee -- was trying to learn English, so he could get out of the country. He was a college student, but there was no future in the country. But how to learn English? The government discouraged learning it. They wanted a working class and an elite.  

So he is visiting his father and sees a big and thick English book. He thought: "Well, I will get a dictionary and teach myself English". Literally, every second word he had to look at a dictionary, and the only reason he was doing it was to learn English. By the time he got through the fourth Chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita, he was a devotee. Now, from that Bhagavad-Gita, a card fell out: "You return this card, you get a free copy of Coming Back". He thought: “First of all, it will never get out of Burma, because the country is so dysfunctional. Even if it gets to America, they will not send a free book to Burma. If they do send it, someone is going to steal it, it’s never going to get out of the post office”. But hey! He filled it and sent off.

To get into Burma, you could get a business visa valid for 24 hours, so you could get in, do your business, and out, and you had to get out in 24 hours. That's how oppressive the country was. Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja, when he was a brahmacari he was preaching in Thailand and south-east Asia. He happened to be in LA. He asked: "Hey, I'm preaching in Thailand, I have some extra time, do you have any contacts, anything in Vietnam, anything in Cambodia, Laos..." He was not even thinking in Burma. But they just got this postcard, someone wanted a free book, in Burma. And to get a business visa, for 24 hours, he had to have a name and an address, so they applied for the visa using the information from the card, and he got an 24 hour visa!

So Srivasa Pandita, he is now a devotee, finished Bhagavad-Gita. He is all alone, he never met a devotee, he was never been with a devotee, he is all alone in the country. He comes home one day, to his house, which was the address, and his grandmother is rolling out rotis, and there is a nice brahmacari having lunch! In 24 hours, Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja, formally a brahmacari, was preaching to him, taught how to chant japa, how to offer prasadam, answered his questions. And gradually devotees were coming in and out, in these 24 hours visas.

There is more to the history. There was a man, his whole life was wrecked, his wife was going to leave him, he had become an alcoholic, his son was a womanizer, his daughter was going to marry some western guy in a beer factory, the whole thing was spoiled. Srivasa Pandita met him, preached to him and saved his family. The man become so indebted. This man had just purchased a ruby mine, it was completely mined out, there were only industry quality rubies. He pleaded: "The first ruby that I find, I will donate to you!" -- thinking that it would be worth one, two or three thousand dollars, maximum. But the first ruby they found was the size of a golf ball, jewel quality! That's how they got the money to renovate these temples. They bought a building downtown, they have their own publishing house now, it's a whole thing, all from one book, distributed in Mahatam, to uninterested people! Now we have a whole mission, a whole country has opened-up, thousands of devotees. When you distribute a book and the guy says “Ok, whatever…” and tucks it in his pocket, you have no idea where this book is going. (Video class: ISKCON World Review 2016)

Key points in this chapter

  1. More than mere erudition or argumentative capacity, our capacity to distribute books and spread Krsna consciousness is strongly tied to our sincerity and spiritual consciousness. The personal behavior of a preacher is his most powerful argument.
  2. Two important qualities for us are humility and compassion. A third is to act in knowledge, understanding how to act in a way that benefits each person we encounter.
  3. By developing an equipoised mentality, we can be stable in our service of book distribution. While the mode of passion can be used as a drive in the beginning, to continue our service long term we need to progress to the mode of goodness. For this, it is essential to be regulated in our habits. Our distribution should be like a marathon race, and not as a 100 meters sprint. The goal is to be able to preach and train others during our whole lives.
  4. Our ultimate goal is to be able to surrender our lives to Krsna without reservation. One who reaches this stage, becoming disgusted with material enjoyment, can progress very fast in spiritual life and become empowered to touch other people's lives. If we try to hold on to different material goals, it will be difficult to be fixed in book distribution.
  5. To be able to distribute many books, and make preaching a priority in our lives, we need to make it part of our identity, our "profession". This makes it easier to adjust our consciousness to make the necessary sacrifices and accept all inconveniences. Example of the Spartans and other city-states in ancient Greece.
  6. There are always difficulties in book distribution. The main quality of seasoned book distributors is that they are able to continue despite any impediments. Regardless of our situation, as long as we have life, there is always something we can do, and by doing it for Krsna we make advancement. Story of the “good soldier”. 
  7. For most devotees, the best balance is to go on book distribution six times per week, dividing equally the hours of book distribution. To take rest once a week is important, allowing the body and mind to recover. Similarly, it's recommended to take a longer break once a year, going to India or another place where you can focus on your spiritual practice.
  8. Marathons are an opportunity to go the extra mile, to do something special for Krsna. However, we need to be careful not to overdo it. To try to operate above one's capacity can have adverse consequences, especially if the motive is not pure.
  9. Much of the tiredness we feel on book distribution comes from our internal battles. Our minds tend to run wild and thus burn our energy. If we can forget all useless details, and focus all our attention on the person we are speaking to, or who we are going to speak with next, our energy will last much longer. If we take all mental agitation away, book distribution becomes just a matter of walking around and talking to people, which is not very tiring at all.
  10. We tend to get very tired when dealing with situations that demand that we play some role. The more we become real Vaishnavas, the less energy we will have to spend pretending to be one.
  11. It's essential to develop our own styles which suit our individual personalities, so we can just be ourselves while distributing books.  
  12. While it's good when we feel inspired to do service, it's a mistake to depend on inspiration alone. Discipline allows us to serve even when inspiration fails, it's connected with the mode of goodness and therefore much more stable.
  13. While a preacher should be careful to not hanker after personal gains, ambition helps us to improve our service when directed towards spreading Krsna consciousness and benefiting the conditioned souls. If we try to do something for Krsna, He tends to reciprocate, but how fast He does that is beyond our control.
  14. To remain in Krsna consciousness, especially to remain in preaching activities, demands a lot of sacrifice and detachment. To maintain this, we need a spirit of sacrifice towards a higher cause, that in turn can be maintained only by studying, understanding and applying the philosophy. To this end, studying Srila Prabhupada’s books regularly, reading each book not only once, but several times, is essential.
  15. To create goals is a good way to engage the mind in service. Once the mind starts to meditate on something, it automatically develops attachment to it, which is actually a tendency that can be engaged in Krsna's service. If the mind is attached to the idea of fulfilling a goal, it may actually help us instead of creating hindrances.
  16. As book distributors, we should try to be satisfied in whatever position we may be, understanding that all situations are under the control of Krsna and are ultimately for our purification. Happiness is not dependent on material facilities, but on how much we can control our senses and, ultimately, on how Krsna conscious we are. Being equipoised regardless of our material condition, we can preach Krsna consciousness without impediment.
  17. Srila Prabhupada said that we should tax our brains on how to spread Krsna consciousness. This means that as far as possible we should try to find new and creative ways to distribute books, opening new fields and new modalities of book distribution. To do this service using our brains has even greater merits than to just distribute using our muscles. When book distribution started in ISKCON, devotees didn't have any idea on how to do it. Book distribution started to grow when devotees started to find different ways to distribute, sharing the formulas with others. Devotees who are creative or have natural talents should be encouraged.
  18. Detachment is a quality that comes from the mode of goodness, while laziness comes from the mode of ignorance. While some can use "detachment" as an excuse to be lazy, these two things are radically different. As Srila Prabhupada mentions, the symptom of love is activity. Being detached means to work for Krsna, being at the same time detached from the result. Being connected to the mode of goodness, this is a stable platform for our devotional service. "The execution of devotional service is not a matter of idle meditation but practical action in the foreground of spiritual life.
  19. The idea that all competition in spiritual life is bad actually comes from impersonalism. Material competition is harmful because it's based on envy and attachment. In the spiritual world, competition exists in its pure form, based on admiration and a sincere desire to please Krsna. Srila Prabhupada encouraged competition amongst devotees, using competition as a means to help us put in extra effort, to give it all in the service of Krsna, especially in book distribution. The question is not how to eliminate competition, but how to purify our consciousness and have competition in its pure form. "There must always be competition. That gives life. That cannot be separated from life". "The perfect society does not eliminate competition, but it eliminates envy, because everyone is weak before Krsna".
  20. While austerities are an essential part of spiritual life, there is a limit according to our level of advancement. Too much austerity, above one's level of realization, can actually be detrimental to spiritual life, increasing the influence of the mode of ignorance. Austerity must be done with the proper mentality and with proper knowledge, otherwise the result will not be good.
  21. The main priority is to continue, do whatever we can in devotional service, according to our capacity. The Lord is not concerned about how many books we distribute, but about our endeavor and sincerity, like in the example of Hanuman and the spider. He doesn't see the number, He sees our effort. The main point is to engage in the service to our fullest capacity.
  22. As we get older, we don't have the same energy as before. Therefore,  we need to learn how to use our energy in an efficient way to be able to continue distributing books, compensating for the reduction in energy with experience, like in the example of Vovô, the old ram.
  23. As we become more experienced, it's also important that we dedicate part of our time to teaching, integrating our service with this training role. To teach devotees is even more important than to distribute books on the street, and by Krsna’s natural arrangement, as we get older we become progressively less useful in street book distribution, and more useful in teaching and guiding new devotees. We must, however, be careful with pride and desire for fame.
  24. Sometimes we distribute a lot of books and get disheartened in seeing that not so many people are becoming devotees. It is important to keep in mind that the ones we see coming to the temple and becoming devotees are just the tip of the iceberg. Most of the result of our preaching remains below the surface: people that read the books and adopt parts of the process without ever coming to a temple. We may never know about them, but they are making advancement, that is going to bring them to devotional life in their next lives. Some may even go back to Godhead. Book distribution is the way a small group of devotees can create a huge change in society.