Niranjana Swami on book distribution

8240125073?profile=RESIZE_400xBy Niranjana Swami

I was recently inspired. It was the 2nd day of our GBC meetings. I was completely absorbed the whole day, which for me is not something very easy. I am not so inclined to meetings, but on this 2nd day of our GBC meetings, there was only one subject, and that was book distribution. It was affirmed by other GBC members with whom I spoke that this was the most enlivening day ever spent in a GBC meeting because the subject matter was just about Srila Prabhupada’s books.

We got the opportunity to hear a presentation from one of our BBT trustees about books published and distributed, about the history of our distribution and its’ evolution over the years, about the number of languages in which Srila Prabhupada’s books are being translated. He provided us with a very wonderful presentation, filled with so many statistics which at least caught my attention. It awakened the memories of the days when I was distributing books.

I was actually starting to taste the nectar of some of those austerities once again, just by hearing about book distribution during the whole meeting. Many devotees were asked to speak and to give their realizations to the GBC members. His grace Svavas Prabhu told a very nice story about his association with Srila Prabhupada. Devamrta Maharaja also addressed the assembly, speaking about the importance of reading Srila Prabhupada’s books.

He is very exemplary. He is a devotee who puts book distribution as a priority for the management of his zone. He is always encouraging book distribution. I was very much inspired to hear him speaking. He places great emphasis on the necessity to focus our attention on Srila Prabhupada’s books, not only for distribution, but also for our own self realization, which is certainly an integral part in becoming a successful book distributor. One should gleam the depth and wisdom that is contained within Srila Prabhupada’s books. When we actually devote our lives to studying them and reading them, we see how Srila Prabhupada has given everything within his books.

Certainly this gives us a greater inspiration to give them to others. When we have something very valuable, and when the more we appreciate its’ value, the more we actually want others to experience it. When you have something very valuable, you want to share it with others. When Maharaja spoke, I was very enlivened and reminded again, and again, and again, as it took place throughout of day, of the importance of book distribution.

What was particularly inspiring for me was various audio and video clips of the words emanating from the lotus lips of my spiritual master. These same words that would literally drive me crazy in the 1970s’ to go out and distribute books like a madman, day after day, week after week month after month, sometimes spending 16 hours a day distributing books. Hearing these words again, seeing Srila Prabhupada speaking them, hearing his desire for distribution of his books, was very inspiring. Srila Prabhupada said that he would live forever in his books.

In the Lilamrita it was described how Tamal Krsna Maharaja was making the statement that when Srila Prabhupada hears the results of the book distribution, it is the only time when he doesn’t feel a headache. And Srila Prabhupada said, “No; hearing the book distribution scores gives me life.” This was a time when Srila Prabhupada was very ill. But he was placing the emphasis that to hear these book distribution scores was actually giving him so much life.

Certainly during those days, it was our center; it was our focus. At least for myself and for many other devotees in our society, there is no doubt that we felt pushed in so many ways with the need to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. It became the ultimate necessity of our lives to see that his books were being distributed.

There is an expression I often think of, namely “necessity of life.” We often tend to think that the meaning of necessity of life is something that sustains life in the body. We often think necessity of life to be food or shelter or maybe air. Water and air are necessities of life. They are necessities that sustain life in the body. But life is eternal, and Srila Prabhupada would often use this term, “necessity of life.” If life is eternal, if life exists outside and beyond the body, then what is the real necessity of life? Life also has a necessity, even without a material body.

Srila Prabhupada would say that this preaching, this book distribution, gave him life. Srila Prabhupada showed by his own example that this is what sustained his life and what continues to sustain his life. It is what he was so much absorbed in. It was his mission to give us this transcendental wisdom in the form of Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya Caritamrita, and to study these books ourselves, and by realizing the contents of these books, to go out and make others similarly fortunate to appreciate the great value of Srila Prabhupada’s books. This is life.

If we ask how to actually realize what is our necessity, how do we live, how we can be successful, what is real life, the answer is in preaching and spreading the message of Krsna Consciousness. Just like it was mentioned by Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja how the devotees in Slovenia put book distribution in the center and as a result everything came back to life. The same point is that we come to life when we remember how dear Srila Prabhupada’s books were, when we see pictures of Srila Prabhupada’s smile coming on his face when he would see a newly printed copy of the 5th canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam, when we see the smile from ear to ear on Srila Prabhupada’s face when he would hear the stories of devotees going out to distribute his books, when he would hear the results. The devotees were coming back and were selflessly offering the results of their hard labor.

This is Mahaprabhu’s mission. Just like it is explained that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu wanted Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakura to go out and to distribute the Holy Name of the Lord. When they would go out, He would say, “You bring back the result. Everyday you come back and you tell me how many living entities have chanted Hare Krsna today.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura describes that it is not a very high platform to go out to the streets simply to beg for some milk or for some rice. But when these two patrolmen, Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakura, would go out on the streets, they would beg, “Please, bolo Krsna, bhaja Krsna, koro Krsna siksa.” They are begging, “Please, make Krsna your life!” And what was the fruit that they offered to Lord Caitanya? The fruit is the result. It was not milk and rice. It was what was most pleasing to the Lord. The Lord wanted to hear who chanted Hare Krsna today, who became a devotee today. This is what gave Him great pleasure.

I remember in previous years, when we used to go out on book distribution marathons, we took all the empty boxes of the books that were distributed, and we put them in front of Srila Prabhupada’s Vyasasana. That was our offering to him. Everyday we would come back and place all the empty boxes in front of him. Once we filled up the whole temple room with empty boxes.


This was our offering to Srila Prabhupada. When devotees go out with a desire to somehow please Srila Prabhupada and distribute his books, there is certain special mercy that becomes manifest. Srila Prabhupada gives his extra special mercy. I remember in 1975, I was the Sankirtan leader. Srila Prabhupada said, I think in Atlanta, “The devotees who go out in vans and distribute my books, they get my extra special mercy.” I remember, I was going out everyday in a van, distributing books, and Srila Prabhupada said, “They get EXTRA special mercy.” I thought, “So much mercy I am already getting! But Srila Prabhupada is saying, “EXTRA special?” I remember making this my meditation. “I want it!! EXTRA special mercy? I gotta get it!!!” That day, when I got that quote from Srila Prabhupada, I actually made a vow. I prayed to Srila Prabhupada, “Please don’t ever let me do anything more than simply be the president of this white Dodge van so that I can go out distribute your books everyday.” Of course that didn’t continue in that way; Krsna had some other plans for me. But Srila Prabhupada will give that mercy.

I wanted to tell one more story from my own experience. Hopefully, as I said, it may inspire the devotees to make a similar attempt. Then I’ll consider that there is some success in my effort. By no way does this give any testimony of my own surrender to the lotus feet of my spiritual master. I believe that this experience simply shows testimony of how much mercy Srila Prabhupada is willing to give if we make sacrifice to do something that is so pleasing to him, such as going out and preaching and distributing books. How I became a book distributor,Vijay knows the story; I’ve told him before. Book distribution for me was always something that was very difficult.

Right from my very first day when I moved into the temple, the very first engagement that my temple president gave me was to go with a newspaper bag full of magazines to Providence, Rhodes Island to stand in the middle of the street and distribute magazines. It was so hard; I was so bewildered. But still I knew, because I had come to Krsna Consciousness as a result of getting one of Srila Prabhupada’s books, I knew it was something pleasing to Srila Prabhupada. For years I would struggle. Sometimes with tears in my eyes I would literally cry; it was so difficult. I would stand on the street corner; people would walk by and wonder, “What is going on with this person?”

I was not crying tears of ecstasy. Neither was I crying tears of compassion. I was crying because it was so difficult to face somebody on the street and try to convince him to take a book. But still I continued. Sometimes I would stop and I would sit there. I wasn’t producing many results on book distribution. Sometimes the temple president would bring me back, and he would give me some other engagement because it was just too difficult. Then I would say, “Let me try just one more time,” and he would send me out again. It was like this for a couple of years. And then I was out on traveling Sankirtana, and I got this realization that if I am going to stay a devotee, I just have to continue to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. I know it’s my only hope. If I ever want to become a devotee and not turn into a demon, it’s my only hope.

I was praying really hard, and all of a sudden, on that very day, I got a phone call from the temple president. He wanted me to come back to the temple to cook. I was thinking, “What is this? How is it possible? How can you do such a thing? I HAVE to distribute books; I HAVE to.” The temple president said, “No; you’re the only brahmana right now; we need a brahmana to cook for the Deities.” I protested. I explained to him, “I won’t live; I won’t be able to survive. I have to do this.” He said, “Well, you’re not getting so many results.” I said, “I know I’m not getting so many results. But still, you don’t understand, I HAVE to do this.” But the temple president forced me to surrender. So I had to go back to the temple and cook. I found out as soon as I got back that the idea that the temple president had was for me to cook about five offerings a day.

So I was in the kitchen for about 10 hours a day, cooking. I had to cook breakfast, lunch for all the devotees, milk sweets, then I had to cook the fruit offering. I would finish at around 4 in the afternoon. The temple president told me, “After you finish your duties in the kitchen, you should go out on harinam.” I was thinking, “How is it possible? How can I go out on Harinam?” I began to think, “If I have to go out, I have to go out to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books; forget harinam! He brought me back here to be a cook; so I’ll do my cooking, but instead of going out on harinam I’ll go out on book distribution!” So I used to go down to the kitchen every day, and after finishing cooking, I would bring my karmi clothes in the basement.

After finishing cooking, I would change downstairs and I would sneak out the back door so that he would not see me. I would go out and distribute books for just a couple of hours. I was in the most difficult place to distribute in all of Boston, a place called Harvard square. It is the place where all the Harvard University students and professors would go. They would be so puffed up. And so again I would find myself on the street, crying. It was so difficult. But I was forcing myself to do it. But one day, it was the most amazing experience; and I am sure that everybody who distributes books knows about these experiences. I am not telling you something new, or something unknown, some mystery.

Of course it is a mystery, how Srila Prabhupada gives so much mercy if we simply try to do something that is so pleasing to him. I got this most wonderful taste, like I had never experienced before. It was just so profound. His Holiness Bhakti Vikasa Maharaja used the word “profound” several times. It was the most profound experience. As I was standing in the middle of Harvard Square, I was feeling so blissful because I was having an opportunity to distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books. I came back to the temple every night after feeling so blissful every day. This was an experience I had not had for years. It was usually tears, misery, and suffering. Sometimes I used lay awake all night, not wanting to go to sleep, because I would have to wake up in the morning, and it would come so fast, and I would have to go out and distribute books again.

So to make it last long, I would lie wide awake, looking at the ceiling. So that is how difficult it was. But then I got this taste. And then the temple president, he used to see me walking through the temple in the evening, so blissful, and he would ask me, “Why are you so blissful?” I didn’t want to tell him what I was doing, because I was supposed to go out on Harinam. I told him, “It is very nice cooking for Radha Gopivallabha.” [laughter] Then after some time, he found out that I was actually sneaking out and going out on book distribution every day. This was after about four or five weeks of cooking and going out on book distribution. One day he called me up in his office and said, “I found out why you are so blissful.” He said, “Alright; I’ve decided to put somebody else in the kitchen. Here are the keys.” He gave me the keys to the van, and he gave me four devotees, and he said, “Now get out of here and go distribute books!” [applause] That was it. I was gone.

I was gone the same day. We used to load so many books in the van that when we would leave the temple, there was no room to sleep in the van at night. The only way we could sleep in the van was that you had to stop somewhere and distribute enough books to leave enough space for yourself to get into the van and sleep at night. We filled up that whole van, and we left and we distributed books. And I stayed out for years. And that was it. That was the white van I wanted to be president of for the rest of my life. Somehow Krsna at least gave it to me for a few more years.

This is just evidence that there is so much taste. It is our life. And Srila Prabhupada is willing to give it to anyone who simply makes some sacrifice, who shows that he wants to do something, who wants to give Srila Prabhupada life. So Srila Prabhupada says, “If you preach and distribute my books, you will give me life. I will live forever.” So if we simply meditate in that way and we try to make some personal sacrifice for Srila Prabhupada to give him life, then Srila Prabhupada is ready to bestow his mercy on each and every one of us if we simply remember that his books are so dear to him, that his book distribution mission is so dear to him, and that it will remain dear to him. As he said, “I will live forever in my books.”

So we should always feel that we have some hope to bring a smile to Srila Prabhupada, that we have some hope to make Srila Prabhupada happy by our efforts to take part in this wonderful movement, to distribute the Holy Name, and Srimad Bhagavatam, the Caitanya Caritamrita, and all of Srila Prabhupada’s books.

The devotees who are doing it, I take the dust of your feet on my head and I pray, “Please bless me so that I can remain somehow instrumental in giving Srila Prabhupada some life in this way for the rest of my life.” I want to thank you all who are doing this book distribution, and if anybody of you feels so inclined to go and try it now, then I thank you also for listening to me. Thank you. Hare Krsna.

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  • This is really a wonderful article. It has a potential to awake the desire of serving Krishna and his beautiful devotees. Thank you very much for sharing, it is really a heart touching. May Lord Krishna bless you. Special thanks to Iskcon Desire Tree for bringing such treasures to all of us. Jay Shreela Prabhupad.
  • Hare Kṛṣṇa!!! Thank you for sharing this beautiful article it touched my heart. I desire to serve Sri Krishna for the rest of eternity.
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