By Dayananda Das
Most of us are familiar with Prabhupada‚Äôs statements about the importance of book distribution: ‚ÄúIt is my foremost desire.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúIt is your duty; try your best.‚ÄĚ ‚ÄúIt is pleasing and inspiring to me.‚ÄĚ
Interestingly, in Melbourne, he also said, ‚ÄúSelling books is ‚ÄėKrishna anxiety‚Äô‚ÄĒspiritual anxiety.‚ÄĚ Regarding a society without sankirtana yajna, he commented that there will be ‚Äúscarcity‚ÄĚ and ‚Äúno happiness.‚ÄĚ He wrote that varnasrama-dharma (the duty of varnasrama society) is sankirtana yajna or Vishnu aradhana. Without this dharma, people become like animals. Yet, unfortunately, ‚Äúsankirtana‚ÄĚ has strange connotations for some devotees.
For example, sankirtana has been called ‚Äúscam-kirtan.‚ÄĚ Moreover, many are conflicted about ISKCON‚Äôs book distribution methods, both past and present. The grand efforts of the past now languish while old Christian women still flog their pamphlets and brochures on the streets.
Enter a white knight–Vaisesika Prabhu (Vaish), North American Book Distribution Coordinator. In San Jose he has set up the perfect model community centered on sankirtana. His website, www.distributebooks.com, has considerable ‚Äúhow to‚ÄĚ information about new types of distribution that involve members of the community. When asked how he had been so successful, Vaish answered, ‚ÄúThe Monthly Sankirtana Festival‚ÄĒit‚Äôs a fun way to do book distribution that gets everyone, including the congregation, involved. Our philosophy is that it‚Äôs best to have a lot of devotees each doing a little bit.‚ÄĚ Vaish has a penchant for acronyms, so in his terms, each ISV (ISKCON Silicon Valley) MSF (Monthly Sankirtana Festival) distributes about 500 books and collects over $3,000. Just two and a half years ago they were sending nothing to the BBT.
ISV now has thirty devotees and congregational members who volunteer time for the MSF. Vaish explains, ‚ÄúThe MSF lasts three days, Friday to Sunday. Devotees chant near each book table, which features a professional display of books and is accompanied by several devotees who are specially trained to meet and greet people and to distribute cookies, invitations, and books. Incidentally, every cookie or book that we distribute is labeled with the temple‚Äôs contact information. The Hari Nama performance draws lots of people over who naturally want to find out more about what we‚Äôre doing. These people happily buy books and go away with prasadam and an invitation to the temple.‚ÄĚ
This MSF itself is fairly straight forward, but it depends heavily on preparation. Team members put stickers on books, bake a few thousand cookies, and obtain permits for distribution spots; they also send out postcard reminders to the congregation, hand out flyers at temple functions, organize book inventories, educate new members, and many other things. Moreover, to keep everyone enthused, Vaish says, ‚Äúevery three months, we hold a Devotee Appreciation Day (DAD) to which we invite everyone who has participated in the Sankirtana Festival in any way. Each devotee gets a chance to express his or her appreciation for the service or the other devotees and team members. We also have kirtana and super nice prasadam together.‚ÄĚ
When asked about his vision for this type of distribution, Vaish answers sagely, ‚ÄúI see this taking off everywhere. It‚Äôs the future, because many temples now have fewer temple devotees but more congregational members. This encourages the masses to participate. Even those who can‚Äôt go out for book distribution directly can help by offering service or donating Laxmi for the cause.‚ÄĚ