By Syamarani dasi
Back in the late 1970s and early 1980s, although I was on one hand enthusiastic to distribute the books of our Srila Prabhupada Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja for the benefit of the suffering people, my karma and lack of Krsna consciousness was such that when, sometimes, I didn’t get a big enough donation for a big book, my smile would disappear. I would look disappointed and often take back the big book from the person’s hand and give him a small book instead. Sometimes I would subtly pressure a person into giving more than what he willingly wanted to give. The person would often walk away less than satisfied. I was also not satisfied, because I was not in touch with my Prabhupada’s mood.
Now if you cannot handle the matter nicely, that is your fault. But the success of your preaching will be substantiated by how many books are sold. Anything you want to sell, you have to a little canvass, so he gives some money for the service of Krsna. That is his good luck and he gets the chance to read some transcendental knowledge. But if you only irritate and he goes away, that is your less-intelligence. [Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Bali Mardana Los Angeles 30 September, 1972]
For a while, disappointed in myself but not knowing the positive alternative, I began to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’ – I did not want to see money or hear the word money.
I wanted to be satisfied, and I wanted my prospective god-brothers and god-sisters to be satisfied. Finally, by the mercy of Guru and Gauranga I was able to turn over a new leaf. Nowadays I distribute Srila Prabhupada’s books along with the books of our Srila Gurudeva Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja. By understanding Srila Gurudeva’s mood on this subject, I can more easily understand Srila Prabhupada’s mood – by their combined mercy.
Devotee (1) (Srila Prabhupada’s disciple): One of the problems that came out of our book distribution in ISKCON was that there was a profit motive, and through that profit motive devotees would be saying all kinds of bogus things to people on the streets.
Devotee (2): But now the whole idea of book distribution is changing.
Devotee (3): And there is no point in trying to regulate anything. Devotees live separately, all over the world. Whatever anyone is going to do, they are going to do.
Srila Gurudeva: We want to solve everything by love and affection alone. [Srila Gurudeva’s darsana in Badger, California, June, 2002]
Because of Srila Gurudeva’s GVP (Gaudiya Vedanta Publications) Book Sponsorship program, I am able to be a small part of a large team that sends thousands upon thousands of books free to prison libraries and individual prisoners – I do not know any more avid readers of these books than the prisoners. The program also sends books free of charge to regular libraries, mental hospitals, and other places of need.
The sponsorship program also allows me, and so many others, to distribute books without anxiety. We offer people the opportunity to donate, but without anxiety. I have asked my sisters Anita dasi and Vasanti dasi, who distribute books with teams of ladies in India, the United States, and other parts of the world, to share some of their experiences in this regard. You will find their exciting reports below my article. I have also included a few words from Yasodanandana Prabhu (below) regarding his experience as a sponsor in London, wherein he demonstrates an exemplary blueprint of distribution teamwork for the future.
You are invited to read the numerous book distribution reports on backtobhakti.com, gvpbookdistribution.com, World-wide Book Distribution facebook page, and prisonseva.org. Like hundreds of other happy devotees, I have tried to understand the instructions of Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva in the matter of book distribution – including the money side of it. By their mercy I am satisfied nowadays.
Both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva wanted world-wide book distribution.
Distribute my books. Read, take the essence of what you read, follow that, and distribute my mission. My mission is not different from that of Srila Rupa Gosvami and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. Please help me to preach throughout the world, as Mahaprabhu’s mission was preached at the time of Srila Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja. At that time his devotees would go to airports, railway stations, shop to shop, and door to door to fulfill his mission; and thus it spread all over the world. Again inspire all ‒ and first inspire yourselves. Be strong, and propagate my mission throughout the world. [Evening Discourse: Paderborn, Germany: April 9, 2007]
Śrīla Svāmī Mahārāja preached everywhere by his books. The words we speak in class may disappear into the sky, but what is written as a document, in books like Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, and the books of the Gosvāmīs, will remain forever and help for millions of years. [Oahu, Hawaii: May 11, 2002]
They wanted both grhastas (householders) and brahmacaris to sell books.
Thank you for sending the book reviews. They are very encouraging to me. As much as possible, we want our books to be accepted by all learned circles of men. Regarding sending books freely to any library. The system that you can adopt is to send the books and tell them to read them over for one weeks time. If they do not like the book, they should send it back at our cost. If they like it and want it, then they can send the amount of money to us. [Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Kirtiraja dasa, 28th May, 1975]
Regarding the free distribution of books, there is no need in this country. They have sufficient money and sometimes they pay more than the price.” [Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Dr. Naik, August 7, 1975, U.S.A, Toronto]
Anyway the best source of our income should be by accepting contributions from the sympathetic public, and selling our own books and literature. That is also a sort of business, but it doesn’t matter. [Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Brahmananda, June 28th, 1968]
Regarding spiritual business management, Prabhupada so much wanted integrity accounting for book sales and life membership income as well (which developed in a large way due to the life members receiving a full set of Prabhupada’s books), that he even personally trained his disciples in this, both in person and in letters. He wrote many letters to temple and BBT managers in this regard. He told them that accounting was essential in order for society in general to appreciate the stability and honesty of his movement. And he urged them again and again that is was essential in order to keep up the BBT publications coming and his big projects growing.
One such instructive letter was written to Damodara dasa, in July of 1970:
But Gargamuni informs me that the payments for BTGs and book sales are not being sent. So the best thing will be to keep a daily count of your stock and how many magazines and books sold. Then, regularly, on Sunday of each week the sales proceeds may be totaled for issuing a check to the amount owed to my book fund and to the BTG accounts. Then on each Monday the check may be sent to Los Angeles. So you do this regularly and it will be very nice.
Both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva offered householders an opportunity to maintain themselves by selling books.
[The specific details in Prabhupada’s first letter just below was obviously according to time, place, and circumstance.]
Householders can sell books and get 15% commission on the net income. The retail discount schedule will be as follows: 1-2 books, 33%; 3-24 books, 40%; 25-99 books, 42%; and 100 books and over, 50% (wholesale rate). [Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Bhagavan dasa, Los Angeles, 1971]
.…It is much more important that you utilize your valuable time and energy to distribute our magazines and books. That is real propaganda work. And the householders can earn their livelihood by distributing our books also. That is one of the points of our new book distribution program. [Srila Prabhupada’s Srila Prabhupada’s letter to Sri Govinda, Los Angeles, 1971]
Speaking to three sisters – Gayatri dasi, Gopali dasi and Nandini dasi – who were in their late teens and who lived with their devotee parents in Kuala Lampur:] You are all very qualified. You will have to be brahmacarinis. Preach my mission and engage in book distribution. We are going to make a preaching center here, and so many books will come there. You can distribute books, and you can take the profit to maintain yourselves. [Srila Gurudeva’s darsana of Feb 16, 2004 in Malaysia.]
But money will not be our center. We are spending for Krsna whatever is coming, so there is no problem. Also, book distribution will help devotees to maintain themselves. If they are sincere, nothing like this will happen. And if they are not sincere, then everything will happen.”[ Srila Gurudeva’s darsana of June 4, 2002 in Badger, California]
Both acaryas encouraged the selling of books in public venues, creating systems wherein the money donated would support the printing of future books, as well as other Krsna conscious projects.
Carol Jarvis: If you want your thoughts to be passed on to other people, why do you sell the books and make money out of them?
Prabhupada: Otherwise you’ll not read it. If I give you free, then you’ll think, “Ah, this is something nonsense. They are giving free.”
Carol Jarvis: Not necessarily give them free, but perhaps sell them for a price that pays for the cost of producing them.
Prabhupada: …we have to print these books, so who will pay for that? We have no money.
Carol Jarvis: Well, what happens to the rest of the money, though, that is collected in the streets?
Prabhupada: We are increasing our movement. We are opening centers. We are printing more books. This is my books. I have made a Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. That is my will, and I have given my will that fifty percent of the collection should be spent for reprinting the books and fifty percent should be spent for spreading the movement. So there is no question of material profit.” [Srila Prabhupada’s darsana of April 20, 1976 in Melbourne]
At the same time, both supported free distribution (as an option) when books were sponsored.
Siddha-svarupa: I just bought five thousand dollars’ worth of Bhagavad-gétäs.
Madhudvisa: And they give them away.
Prabhupada: No, no, even giving them away, what is the wrong?
Madhudvisa: Well, you said we should not give the books away. You said we should sell these books.
Prabhupada: (chuckles) No, no, he (Siddha-svarupa) has purchased. He has purchased. Then if you purchase from me and if you give free to others, so what is my loss?
Madhudvisa: No, there is no loss.
Siddha-svarupa: I’m not giving away his books.
Prabhupada: No, no, even if he gives away, this is not a fault, you see? Suppose there are… In South Africa many Indians are purchasing our books and giving to the library. So somebody will read it. So that is not a fault. If I purchase from you and give it, distribute it free to somebody else, that is not wrong thing. [Srila Prabhupada’s darsana of March 8, 1976 in Mayapura]
If there is a sponsor, the sponsor receives sukrti, those spiritual pious merits that later transform into bhakti, as does the seller, as does the buyer, as does anyone involved in the development of the book and its reaching its distributors.
Whether or not someone has sponsored the book (except for such places as the prisons), the distributor generally gives people the opportunity to make a payment and get extra sukrti. This sukrti opportunity is a great gift from Guru (through the preacher or book distributor) to the person receiving the sukrti. In other words, it seems like the person is giving a donation, in money or in kind; in fact, but the person who is giving is the one on the receiving end.
There once was a Vaiṣṇava saint who used to go door-to-door throughout Vṛndāvana, in Vraja-maṇḍala, begging for some capātīs, rice, or any other foodstuffs. He used to call out [the Lord’s names.] One day he approached the door of an old lady who was in a very angry mood. She didn’t want to hear “Rādhe, Rādhe” or “Hare Kṛṣṇa,” and she rebuked him, saying, “Don’t ever come to my door in the future, otherwise I will break this stick on your back!…
The Vaiṣṇava returned the next day at the same time, calling out again and again [the Lord’s names] Furious, that lady again rebuked him. He therefore left the place, but he returned again on the third day. The lady thought, “Why he’s coming, I don’t know. He must be coming just because he wants to eat something!”…She picked up the moldy ‘worn-and-torn’ cloth full with the cow-dung and water, and threw it at him. He gladly accepted the cloth and took it to the Yamunā River, where he washed off the clay and rinsed it until it became clean and smooth.…He made many small ghee wicks from this [now] ghee-soaked cloth, which he offered arāti to his Deity.
Then, on the fourth day, he went again to that lady’s house and called out very loudly, “Hare Kṛṣṇa Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa Hare Hare, Hare Rāma Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare.” Now completely changed, that lady said, “O Bābā (respectable sādhu), wait a minute, I am coming.” She gave him some capātīs and he gladly accepted them.
This is an example of sukṛti She had ‘given something’ to that saint, and he had utilized that in the service of Kṛṣṇa ‒ and thus she came nearer to bhakti. [Srila Gurudeva’s lecture in NYC, May 25, 1998]
This was a major thing for both Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva, who considered the asking of donations from the public to be a fundamental sukrti-generating transaction. For the purchaser, money means energy. This is because the money was made by expenditure of the person’s energy in his or her material pursuits, and it stands for an opportunity for future material pursuits. So, by giving his money, the purchaser gets sukrti and becomes free from sinful reactions.
Our policy is that his money which would have been used for purchasing cigarettes, liquor, sex literature, meat, will give him the opportunity to gradually become purified. So if by tactics we save that money from being spent on cigarette packets, that is good. If we can take some money and give some literature, that is a good service. [Srila Prabhupada’s letter of September 30, 1972]
Donating to the book distributor also gives the person an extra impetus to read the book.
Hari-sauri: He’s asking how does our sankirtana activities relate to God consciousness, the selling of books and collecting of donations.
Prabhupada: So if I sell a book to you, you read because you have paid for. Then you’ll get benefit. [July 14, 1976 New York]
Giving his hard-earned money for both receiving and spreading Krsna consciousness, a person builds extra sukrti, thus increasing the opportunity for his future pure bhakti experience and his freedom from the cycle of repeated birth and death, sorrows and suffering. At the same time, the act of asking for donations benefits the distributor (the asker).
It is not that asking for donations is a prerequisite to advancing in bhakti, but because it is with a mood of service to Guru and Krsna that the asker does so, it is a way to advance.
Ramesvara [explaining the question of the interviewer]: How is he (the book distributor) benefited by selling books to others?
Prabhupada: But he… He is giving service to Krsna. He’s not charging anything. If we appoint some bookseller, you have to pay, but we haven’t got to pay. Out of his love for Krsna he’s doing that.
Ramesvara: See, our men who distribute these books, they do not receive salary.
Bali-mardana: It’s like welfare work.
Prabhupada: That is the sign of love. That is in material field also. There are so many philosophers, scientists and artists, they have done out of love for their subject matter, not for payment. That is love.
Bali-mardana: But aren’t they also purified spiritually by doing this?
Prabhupada: Yes. This spiritual realization means the more you give service to God, you become spiritually profited, in any way. [July 14, 1976 New York]
Devotee (2): When we are distributing books, Srila Prabhupada, and we are not doing so good and we are in anxiety, that is also spiritual?
Prabhupada: For selling books, anxiety is Krsna anxiety. If you become very anxious how to sell more books, that is Krsna anxiety. That is not trade anxiety; that is Krsna anxiety.
Guru-krpa: So some people say that “When I go on sankirtana to sell books I become in too much anxiety if I’m not doing well, so I’d rather not do it.”
Prabhupada: No, that is Krsna anxiety. He does not know. Let him know that that is Krsna anxiety. Yasoda, Mother Yasoda, became mother of Krsna so that she would always remain in anxiety for Krsna, whether Krsna is safe. That is mother’s anxiety. Therefore she became mother. How to become in Krsna anxiety? This philosophy nobody knows.
Everyone takes Krsna as the father. Father means I’m anxiety-less: “Father, you supply my wants.” And to become father of Krsna means to purchase anxiety for Krsna. This philosophy they do not know.”[April 26, 1976 Melbourne]
At the same time, the distributor is free to give a book for free, according to time place and circumstance, and the receiver also gets sukrti by simply taking the book.
Devotee (2): We are giving these books to so many common men. Then the books will attract them to perhaps chanting and following the regulative principles?
Prabhupada: Yes, if they read. Even if they touch. That is the difference between this book and ordinary book. Even they touch and they read one line and says, “Oh, it is very nice,” he makes a step forward. If he simply says this word, “Oh, it is very nice,” that is sufficient to bring him. Therefore I am trying to push. [July, 1975 Room conversation]
Sripada Sajjana Maharaja purchases quantities books and then distributes them wherever he happens to be during his preaching travels throughout the globe. One small example: He recently gave $20 worth of books as a free gift to a doctor at the end of his $80 doctor’s appointment. The doctor, looking over those unlimitedly valuable books, happily and gratefully said to him, “I am not going to charge you for this visit.”
If the devotee has purchased the books from the GVP, as in the case of Sripada Sajjana Maharaja, for example, the books are his books, and he can decide to sell them for donations, as he sometimes does, or give them away for free, as he sometimes does. Yogesh Punja Prabhu, and also Nrhari Prabhu and his good wife Bhavatarini didi, used to purchase tons of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gitas and distribute them freely to hotel managers to place in each of their hotel rooms (as Vedic bibles).
As a special case, a wealthy devotee like Jahnava Jivana Prabhu of England purchases pallets of books and has them sent from India to England. His inclination is to distribute his books freely to his associates, and theirs is to distribute those books for free to the public. This is also laudible.
So sponsors either freely give them to the distributors or sell them at a wholesale price. The distributor then decides whether or not to ask for donations from the recipients of the books. This past week the Gaudiya Girls had a books-and-art-posters booth at a county fair in Oregon, where practically no one had ever heard the name of Krsna before. They did very well selling books to interested persons – but then there were those hundreds of other persons (like barbeque-loving cowboys wearing large cowboy hats) who didn’t realize that their souls were starving for lack of bhakti. The devotees had gotten a sponsorship of hundreds of Prabhupada’s books from Ramesvara Prabhu (Srila Prabhupada’s disciple), like “Perfection of Yoga,” and in their compassion they distributed many of those for free. Those cowboy-hat-clad souls are now also on the road to that full-fledged freedom for which the soul is always hankering.
At the same time, there are devotees, mostly brahmacaris and other single devotees around the world, who don’t work at regular jobs. They want to spend all their energy in preaching and distributing books. But how will they continue if they are not alive and well to do so? During Srila Prabhupada’s manifest stay there were large temples everywhere that maintained all the devotees living in them – but that is generally not the case nowadays. For such devotees, Gurudeva offered the option to maintain themselves by book selling and keeping the profits – not being absorbed in the money, but being absorbed in the lotus feet of Hari, guru, and Vaisnavas.
Syamarani dasi: I have a question regarding devotees selling books to maintain themselves. You just asked Radha-kanta Prabhu [at that time the coordinator for wholesaling Srila Gurudeva’s books in the U.S.] if the prices of the books will be low enough so that devotees can make profit and maintain themselves. How can a devotee know that, “I am maintaining myself by this book distribution,” and at the same time have a pure heart and compassion for the persons to whom he is selling books?
Srila Gurudeva: It is a very easy thing. If I have offered myself to my Gurudeva, then I am taking his remnants and thinking that Gurudeva will surely support and nourish me. What harm is there in that? Do you understand what I am telling you? If I am surrendered to Gurudeva and Krsna, there will be no question of having a separate interest, and there will be no anxiety.
If the service is performed in the right way, if it is performed in the right process, if the disciple has offered himself unto the lotus feet of Gurudeva, then he knows that Gurudeva must support and nourish him. Where else will he go? So, there is no harm in a devotee’s maintaining himself through book distribution, but he should be very surrendered.
Syamarani dasi: While speaking to someone to sell that person a book, he doesn’t need to think he is maintaining himself?
Srila Gurudeva: There is no question of that. When we were with Gurudeva, we never thought, “We are maintaining ourselves by serving.” We considered that we totally belong to Gurudeva. [Darsana of June, 2003 in Badger (New Vraja), California.]
In summary, Srila Prabhupada and Srila Gurudeva encourage us to distribute their books far and wide – to every house, they both said. They encourage us to ask for donations from recipients and, at the same time, if we wish to give books away for free, then, according to time and circumstance, we can do so – as Prabhupada himself did so. Donations generate sukrti, and that is why it is actually a great gift to the recipients of the books to request a donation from them. We can maintain ourselves through book distribution through surrender to Gurudeva, knowing that we have no separate interest from him. Excellent examples are the Ganga-matas, who purchase books wholesale, sell them to the planet, and thus maintain themselves, their temples, and their yearly trips to India.
From Yasodanandan dasa
I sponsored books for a team of book distributors in London. The team does the real seva, which is the tireless undertaking of offering bhakti-yoga books to the public. They have to battle with the weather, people’s disrespect, people’s disinterest, as well as the police and other obstructions. They do an amazing job. The core team is Yadubara dasa from Mexico, Balabhadra dasa from the UK, and Haridasa from Spain. Sometimes we have guests travel through and distributing books with us, such as Bhakta Adam from the United States and Venu Gopal dasa from Canada.
My experience is that it was excellent to provide the Anxiety-Free model to start with. We had to seed-fund the books. I clubbed together with Radha-kanta dasa of the United States, Gopinatha dasa of Holland, and Jagannatha dasa of Fiji. However, as soon as it was possible, the distributors were able, through endeavor and training, afford to purchase and distribute the books without the need for further sponsorship. I can see that this makes the team feel spiritually stronger and self-reliant. It also means I can donate to new distributors or new projects. This is what the London team has achieved.
By Vasanti dasi
A few years ago a kind devotee named Ranga-devi gave Syamarani didi and I a $300 donation for Radhastami. Syamarani didi said that she wanted to spend the donation on books for the devotees to distribute on their harinama through Vrndavana. That was the spontaneous beginning of the GVP Sponsorship Program. After that we decided to create a website and launch the sponsorship program to enthuse devotees to distribute Srila Gurudeva’s books, as he requested us to.
Over the years it has developed greatly and I feel honored to be able to be a part of it.
Here are some examples of some projects that the sponsorship program supports.
Someone from a group called Books Behind Bars wrote to us requesting a donation of books for inmates, which we supplied. We then got the inspiration to try and get Srila Gurudeva’s books in all the prison libraries throughout America (and the world), therefore the Prison Program began and is funded by kind donors of the GVP Sponsorship Program.
The Sponsorship Program has also funded books for all varieties of libraries – public libraries, hospital libraries, college libraries, temple and church libraries, etc. We always encourage devotees to put books in their local libraries of any sort.
In America, we have begun going to big kirtan/yoga festivals. At these festivals we distribute the books and art for any donation. We are sincere in our statement of giving whatever they can from their heart and taking as many books and posters as they want – and that their donations are going to help send these books to prisons and hospitals and other needy areas. This enables the devotees to not have anxiety when distributing and at the same time, their asking for donations is going back into the books. And usually, the donations that come in at the festivals covers all the costs of the books and the expenses getting to the festival and paying for the booth.
We never know how the book will affect someone as well. At Bhaktifest last year, I saw a young Indian man with neck-beads on walk by our booth. I mentioned to him to look at all the nice books we have available and he replied that he was ok and was about to keep walking. I then offered him “Our Eternal Nature,” and said that it was a gift. He took it (even though he didn’t look very interested) and walked on. The next day he came back to the booth and said it was one of the best books he has ever read and then spoke with Krsnamayi and I for a long time. It began to rain and he helped us protect all the books and art from getting wet. He took several books and gave a nice donation, and now attends programs in LA.
Last December after the typhoon wiped out almost all of the city of Tacloban, Philippines, kind devotees donated so when a group went there to distribute prasadam, the devotees were also able to bring 10,000 small books in Tagalog, and a variety of big English books. The people there were so grateful to receive these books on spirituality in their time of crisis.
The GVP Sponsorship Program has sponsored books for several devotees as a kick-start and then the donations they have received for those books, they use to buy more books.
The Sponsorship Program also sponsors a few devotees who maintain their lives by selling books. At the time of Srila Prabhupada, Bhaktivedanta Svami Maharaja, most devotees lived in temples. They also maintained themselves by distributing books, but it didn’t appear that individuals were doing that. It appeared that temples were maintained by distributing books. Devotees did not have to pay for their own books. The books were supplied by the temple management. They didn’t have to cook for themselves as the cooking was arranged by the temple management. Now most devotees are on their own in most regards, but it comes to the same thing as earlier years by the facility of the GVP Book Sponsorship. Now times have changed. Most devotees don’t live in temples. In fact, there are hardly any temples in the West. Therefore, these days, individual devotees are maintained by distributing books through the sponsorship program.
This report is being written in the middle of a two-week Gaudiya Girl sankirtana tour. The devotees are distributing on the streets and are applying the same principle as we do at festivals, that is, they ask people for any donation from their heart. Sometimes the devotees suggest a certain amount and encourage certain amounts, but they ultimately accept what people give (even if the person doesn’t give anything) as long as they really want to read the book. Even for those who don’t read the book and just leave the books on the table in McDonalds, we are confident that the books will find their place in some proper persons hands and heart. Once, we met a man in Hong Kong, who told us that he found a book at McDonalds and was so attracted to the art that he came to Srila Gurudeva’s festival.
By Anita dasi
The Book Sponsorship Program and Tension Free Book Distribution
“We don’t believe in God; we are atheists.” When two students from Gujarat told me this I was shocked. This is a new trend in India. Over the years I have found the youth in India generally respectful of their religious traditions. Of course these students declaration that they are atheists may just be a sign that they are thinking for themselves and in time they will find a spiritual path that they really accept as their own. But it reinforced for me how important it is for us to be out here with these potent books.
The next day another group of students came along. They were looking at the books and asked how much. I told them, “Any donation”. At first they spent some time looking through our books and then carefully selected what they wanted, several of them taking the Hindi pocket edition of the Bhagavad-gita. Then I was amazed as they told more of their friends (they came to Manali with their school group). One, two and three at a time, more students came and selected books all giving some donation. Their donations were usually less than the cost but I felt so happy that these youth were interested and taking these books.
The Hardest Part – Starting
Having been a part of the Book Sponsorship program since its start in 2009, I have seen my own journey as a book distributor grow with the program. One of the aspects I love about the program is the mood of “tension free” book distribution. One of the biggest obstacles many considering starting book distribution feel is how to ask for money and will the donations cover the costs. I remember our first big trip to Kumbamela in 2010. Most of us had not really distributed books much before. It was much easier to just get out and try knowing the book sponsorship program would cover our travel costs and make up the shortage if the donations did not cover the cost of the books. Another big obstacle for us was shyness to stand on the street and try to get strangers to stop and take a book. But knowing we had nothing to lose and everything to gain we just tried. Much to our amazement, once we got started we discovered not only was it not difficult, it was intoxicating! When we all came home after the first day, everyone was overflowing with the blissful energy that comes from trying to be an instrument of Srila Gurudeva and the Guruvarga. We all had stories of special people we meet and how the books were finding homes. Over the years I have seen how taking away the financial tension surrounding book distribution has helped many people make the most important and difficult step of starting.
A Mood of Giving
Yesterday I showed the books in my hand to someone on the Mall in Manali. They asked the cost, and I replied, “Any donation”. They thought for a moment and then replied, “You are right these books are priceless.”
Inside each of these books is transcendental wisdom and mercy with the potential to help jivas out of this burning forest fire of material existence. When my mind can forget about the material costs of the paper, ink, transport etc. then it is easier to develop the mood that I have a great treasure to share. When that mood develops people feel it. They sense that we are not taking something from them but offering them an immense gift.
Why Ask for Donations?
Krsna Consciousness teaches us that God is a person and that by deepening our relationship with Sri Hari, Guru and Vaisnavas we can come closer and closer. For many people this relationship starts with a book. When someone gives a donation it is an opportunity to build a relationship – with the book, with the Vaisnava, with Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and Sri Sri Radha and Krsna.
On a practical level if people give something they feel a connection and are more likely to read it. The other day someone took a book thinking it was free. When I asked for a donation they admitted actually they couldn’t read Hindi very well. In my experience, when I ask for a donation some people pass back the book, but some people stop and think more deeply, thumbing through the book or considering the different titles I am holding. When they finally take a book it is with some thought and with the plan to read it.
At times the book sponsorship program has given books for free, but at least in my experience, we noticed that the people generally don’t appreciate the books as much. Sometimes afterwards we find them lying here and there. We still give books for free but usually limit it to special cases. Special people we meet, for example here in Manali one family lets us store all our boxes of books in their place which is quite near to where we distribute the books. It is a huge help, so we like to gift them books. Also we give free books to libraries, prisons, and at special events.
Additionally, the book sponsorship program aims to get books to as many wandering jivas as possible. The program helps devotees get started by granting books or helping with travel or living expense while distributing books. The premise is that once devotees have a taste for book distribution they will want to keep going. If we only gave books for free then the initial donation is spent, but when donations come for the books the distributors can use them to get more books or give back to the program to help with future projects. Many of the projects the sponsorship program supports have lots of advance costs, for example transportation or booking a booth, but then the donations that come are recycled back into the program.
Very often when distributing books, I ask for “any donation” rather than setting a price for the book. In the material world of business, people are always on guard for being exploited. This simple system charms many people who can understand our motive is not to make money at all but to share this transcendental knowledge. Rather than haggling to get a lower price, most people give more because they like to support the book distribution. It also means someone with limited income can take even the biggest book if they are interested. I am always amazed how all the time when we distribute books for less than the printing cost to some, another person gives a donation that covers it all. But knowing the book sponsorship program will cover any shortage lets us focus on sharing the books and not thinking much about the money at all.
Money is a form energy and the most common form of donation, but I have accepted other forms of donations. The other day a man and his son brought up a bag of bananas. Once a naga baba gave a rudraksa (sacred bead). One beautiful moment that stands out in my mind was at Kumbamela in 2010 when one sadhu badly wanted the pocket edition of the Bhagavad-gita. We said it was by donation, so he stood near our book table for some time holding the Gita. Passersby gradually put small donations of a rupee or two on top of the Gita. After he felt enough was there, he gave the rupees to us and took the Gita with him.
The books are not some material knowledge to be absorbed, but realization comes by mercy and relationship. A donation is an opportunity for the person to gain sucriti, and build relationship. Similarly as a book distributor or donor to the book sponsorship program we also get the opportunity to increase our relationship and appeal for the mercy of Sri Hari, Guru and Vaisnava.