By Ananda Vidya das
Hare Krsna Prabhus. I distribute books in the United States, mainly traveling in a van. I am from New Vrindavan. There is not so much in that direct area, and so we travel a lot. During the school year, we go to college campuses. During the summer we follow the rock concert tours. That is a very ecstatic experience. Vijay Prabhu is one of my inspirations for doing these concert tours. I think he might have been the one who gave me my first book at one of those concerts in the summer of 1994. I had gone to a “Grateful Dead” concert in Washington DC, and one of my friends had gotten a book from one of the devotees, the “Journey to Self Discovery.” I borrowed that book from him. I had not met the devotees personally at that concert, but there was a big group of American fired up Sankirtan devotees there. I got this book, and from that book, even before even meeting devotees for several months, I started chanting Hare Krsna, and following the regulative principles. I became a vegaterian, and just got a lot of realizations about Krsna Consciousness, just from this one book. Gradually I came in contact with devotees near to where I was going to college. Eventually I joined. I have a lot of faith in these books, because although I hadn’t met the devotees, just this one book had the complete formula for awakening Krsna Consciousness. This book contained everything needed for giving one a complete start in this process of devotional service, of going back home, back to Godhead.
Of course, the books stress that one should associate with devotees. That is the next step. The point I am trying to make is that these books are complete in themselves to awaken Krsna Consciousness in the heart of the conditioned soul and lead him back to Godhead. Just like myself, I just had the book. But the books stress association with devotees. So I understood that I had to seek out the association of devotees. I met them at New Vrindavan, where His Holiness Danavir Maharaja, my spiritual master, was conducting the bhakta program. After 3 months, he recommended that I try book distribution. He had arranged for a couple of vans to come to the temple and take out a few devotees who graduated from the bhakta program. So I have been doing this for the last 10 years. It’s been my life. I’m really inspired, especially on these concert tours, because that is where I got my first book.
The last few years we’ve been following a particular tour called the “VANS WARP TOUR,’ which is a punk-rock festival in America. It is practically the most popular and successful music tour that I know of. There are different tours in America, like the “Ozzy fest,” or the “Lulla Pullooza,” which is an alternative rock tour, and there is this “VANS WARP tour,” which is the most successful. Last A few years back, one senior book distributor, Atmanivedana Prabhu, made contact with the head organizer of the tour. He made friends with him, and the man gave him legal permission to go inside these concerts with passes and be allowed to distribute books and collect donations without any problem. It has been a tradition ever since. Atmanivedana Prabhu did it for a few years, and passed it on to other sankirtan devotees. We’ve been doing it for the last 3 years. We have full access inside or outside the concert venue.
It is a very nice opportunity to distribute lots books to the best candidates, to people who are really open to something new, something spiritual. These kids at these rock concerts are totally ready. They have given up the normal way of thinking. They are pretty much sick of mainstream culture. They’ve given it up. They’re ready for something new. So they’re the best candidates.
The kids start coming in to the concert area before noon, at 10 or 11, depending on the venue. The devotees work the parking lot as they come in. As the cars park, the devotees approach them at the car window and distribute the books to them right there in their cars. Then you can also go inside the venue and work there until 9pm, amidst the blaringly loud music. It is a marathon. It is austere as well, the blazing hot sun in different parts of the country like Las Vegas, Nevada, or California, or Florida, where it gets quite hot in the summer. There is also a lot of driving. Everyday is a new city. We have to drive 6 hours, maybe 10 hours, every day, to get to the next show. It is really an intense program, one show after another. But we really feel that it is Lord Caitanya’s arrangement, because it brings together all the sweetest kids from one geographical area in one location. People from out in the country, small towns, they all come to this one city to see their favorite bands to play. It is one the biggest events for them during the entire summer. We feel it is Lord Caitanya’s arrangement to bring all these nice people in one place at one time to get the books. So we really try to give it all our energy and not miss the opportunity to reach as many people as we can.
During the school year, we distribute books in the colleges. That’s a bit more satvic, a bit more regulated. There is no staying up late and driving long hours. We have a regulated program. We chant all our rounds in the morning, and then we have a morning program, a Bhagavatam class where we listen to a lecture on CD, and then we go out for 6 or 7 hours on the campus. We meet the kids one on one. Sometimes we go door to door in the dormitories where the students stay. On the weekends we go to the shopping malls. This is one of my favorite engagements, because in these shopping centers people are in a good mood. Sometimes on the college campus the students may be stressed or worried about their exams and may be rushing to their respective classes. But in the malls, people are in a good mood. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, they are hanging out with their friends, shopping, and it is indoor also, so you don’t have to worry about the weather. There is the element of adventure as well, of danger, because you have to be undercover; the security guards are there. You have to pretend to be shopping. You’re there with your shopping bag from whatever store, and you put books in that shopping bag, and as you walk around as if you were shopping, you stop persons and show them the books. There is this element of suspense or danger that you are going to get caught. Most the time it is very light when they catch you. They don’t put you in jail or anything like that. They don’t even give you a ticket. They just ask you to stop. They say, “You can continue shopping in this mall, but don’t pass out anymore books, okay?” So it is very innocent. There is no major danger. But there is this element of being undercover, and that is kind of fun. The kids take a lot of books.
I would like to say that I am as liberal as, for example, Krsna Balarama Prabhu from Moscow, whom Vijay Prabhu was glorifying for his approaching every person walking by. However, on the other hand, we are more selective than him in approaching people. We try to look for those individuals who appear to be more open-minded. We really go for those who look like they would be good candidates for reading the books. But of course we are always surprised; people who we would never imagine take books; older people take books. Krsna sends all types of people.
So this is our program in New Vrindavan. We travel in vans all year long. We practically live in our van. We come back to the temple from time to time to get more books or go to festivals or take a little break. But mostly we live in our van; it is our life.
I have a few experiences that I wrote down recently. I’ll just read a couple of them which I found interesting.
This first particular experience took place in a Wallmart in Youngstown, Maryland. Does anyone know what a “Wallmart” is? It is the biggest chain of supermarkets, or ‘superstores,’ in America. They are big, successful stores. We work their parking lot sometimes, or inside also. I met two guys, and one of them told me he had gotten a ‘Journey to Self Discovery’ before. I continued showing his friend, and I asked if the one who had gotten it had read it. I asked, “Did you read it?” He replied, ‘Yeah; I read the whole thing.” He took the book and told his friend, “Look, I’ll show you a cool picture.” He turned to the picture depicting bad karma, wherein a man and the cow have switched faces, and the ax is coming down. He opened to that picture and told his friend, “This is the picture which made me become a vegetarian!”
Another time, I met Adam at the Sunday feast at the Detroit temple. He was one of the musicians in one of the bands in the WARP tour. His friend had gotten a “Dharma, the Way of Transcendence” from me at one of the shows. I had given it to him, knowing that he was interested in Eastern philosophy. He read it in one day. The next day, at the Atlanta show, he went out walking around with the intention of finding more books. I stopped him and he bought Bhagavad Gita. Later he bought Krsna Book part 1 from Bhakta Keith, one of our other distributors, at the Virginia Beach show. He really got into reading. Just recently he visited the Detroit temple and met Purusa Sukta, a nice brahmacari, and told his story. He has been coming every week and has been chanting one round of japa. He is doing substitute teaching, and has been bringing two of his 12 year old students to the temple.
This story is interesting: I met one boy on a college campus in Michigan. He showed some interest in the books. When he saw Srila Prabhupada’s pictures, he said, “I’ve seen that guy!” I said, “You saw this person in person?” He replied, ‘Yes; during a school trip to Florence, Italy, last year. There was a Hare Krsna parade. I joined in and I danced with them for 4 hours. I followed them back to the temple. And that guy, Srila Prabhupada, was sitting there, sitting completely still the whole time. He didn’t move the whole time. He didn’t even get up to use the bathroom.’ That boy was completely convinced that Srila Prabhupada was alive. I explained to him that Srila Prabhupada had passed away and that it was his statue that he had seen, but that according to the understanding of our tradition, Srila Prabhupada was present in his murti form. We talked a little more and he gave 5 dollars for a “Journey to self discovery.”
Lately we’ve been distributing the Srimad Bhagavatam. So we distribute individual parts. Some of the books are a little challenging to sell, but they are so attractive, and therefore people miraculously buy them. Since Krsna is non-different from the Bhagavatam, Krsna is all-attractive, and so His books are also all-attractive. For example, the 5th canto has the pictures of the hellish planets. The 7th canto also has the picture of Lord Nrisimhadeva destroying the armies of demons. But still people are attracted and buy the books. I’ll read a couple of more stories:
“I approached a group of 3 young people shopping in the mal, a lady and 2 guys. I showed them the Srimad Bhagavatam canto 7 with the picture of Lord Nrsimhadeva with thousands of arms, ferociously ripping apart the army of Hiranyakasipu. The soldiers were bleeding and screaming in horror. One of them was being thrown through the air by one of the Lord’s mighty arms. I said, ‘It’s for stress.” They thought for a second, and then the lady pulled out a twenty dollar bill and gave it to me.
In Florida, during the December marathon, I was showing a group of young people the 5th canto, and explaining briefly to them, and I asked for a donation. The guy with the book in his hand seemed slightly interested, but still he was apprehensive. I said, “It’s got some cool artwork; I’ll show you.’
I opened the book to the pictures of the hellish planets, the one which shows, in one picture, a young boy torturing an insect, and in the other picture showing a man being eaten alive by various creatures, including a lion. The guy looked at the picture and said, “Wao, he’s really eating him! I’ll give a donation for that!” He pulled out a five dollar bill and gave a donation.
So these books are all-attractive. We should not be afraid that there might be something in the books that might put the people off or might seem a little too extreme for them. We should have full faith in Srila Prabhupada that he knew exactly what he was doing. Srila Prabhupada was translating these books every day in the morning hours, giving his purports with the mood of reaching out to the public. And who is a better preacher than Srila Prabhupada? He knew exactly what he was doing. He said, “I did not write these books; Krsna actually wrote these books.” So we know that if we just present the books as they are and try to attract the people to the books as best we can and explain to them as much as they are able to take, and just glorify the books, then people will be attracted and will buy them.
It is amazing how it is really a miracle how even one book is distributed, especially in America. This may be different in India, because they know the Bhagavad Gita; they are a little familiar. But in America, it is a miracle that one person gives a donation to buy these books. Because what are they doing? They are giving money that they have to engage in sense gratification for the purchase of a book that will basically chastise them. Indeed, the books are telling them that they are doing everything wrong and that they should give up their bad habits and that they should completely change their lives. If they knew what they are getting, they probably would not give a donation. But because the books are attractive, Krsna is all-attractive, so many people are inspired, and they experience the bliss of Krsna Consciousness right there on the street, right there in the shopping mall. Why? Because they are associating with the devotees, they are surrendering to the devotee, they are giving a donation, they are doing devotional service right there, and they are getting Krsna, as if they are coming in front of the Deity in the temple and giving a donation or offering obeisances. It is just as potent. Just as Krsna is non-different from his Deity form, Krsna is just as non-different from His books. People are coming in contact with Krsna directly.
Book distribution is such a direct way to preach. A conditioned soul is completely wrapped up in ignorance; he couldn’t be further away from Krsna if he tried. He is completely in the ignorance of material illusion, and suddenly Krsna is right there before him. All of a sudden he has the opportunity to associate with a devotee, to please a devotee. Actually, I had a realization that this meeting with the devotee will help them to understand the books. Indeed, it is stated in so many places that without the mercy of a devotee, one cannot understand Krsna, one cannot understand this philosophy. So by pleasing the Sankirtan devotee, just by being nice to him and surrendering to what he says and giving a donation to him and just making friends with that devotee and pleasing him, Krsna is pleased, and therefore he will be able to actually understand the book.
It is a wonderful mission Srila Prabhupada has given us. In this age, not so many people are coming to the temples. The temples are there; that is also one of the aspects of the preaching. But so many people will never come to the temple. So what to do? We bring Krsna to them; we bring the temple to them. We practically force them. Just like it is said about Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the 11th Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam:
Dharmistha arya-vacasa yad agad aranyam
Maya-mrgam dayitayepsitam anvadhavad
Vande maha-purusa te caranaravindam.
This verse explains that He gave up the company of the goddess of fortune, referring to his wife Visnupriya, His happy home, He gave it up. Out of His great mercy, daya, He is running after the conditioned souls to give them love of Krsna. So that is practically what the Sankirtan movement is; we are running after the conditioned souls. We are not even waiting for them to come. We are practically forcing them. We are practically bringing them to the point where all they have to do is reach in their wallet and give a donation and they’ve made the connection. We stop them as aggressively as we are. We get them to stop. They are so busy, going to the office, or trying to get to their next college class, or they are trying to busily get to the place where they are going. We stop them and we engage them in some quick conversation, we make friends with them, we show them the books. The book is right there in their hand. We give our whole mantra, and we leave it at the point, “Now please give a donation.” And practically that is all they have to do.
We cannot force them. As the saying goes in America, “you can lead a horse to the water, but you cannot make him drink.’ The same principle; we do everything, we arrange the whole situation for this conditioned soul to connect with Krsna. But that one point, that is his free-will; he can decide whether to surrender to Krsna or not.
This mission is really the mercy of Lord Caitanya and Lord Nityananda. It is said that in order to get the mercy of Radha and Krsna, one has to approach Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu. But to get the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, one has to get the mercy of Lord Nityananda. And one step further, Srila Prabhupada said that in order to get the mercy of Lord Nityananda, one has to approach Jagai and Madhai. That is the mood. We are approaching the Jagais and Madhais in the mood of being representatives of Lord Nityananda, on the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu,
“Yare dekha tare kaha Krsna upadesa, ama ajnaya guru haya ei desa.”
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “On MY order, you go out and become guru by presenting the upadesa, the instructions, the Krsna upadesa, the instructions of Krsna, which means Bhagavad Gita, Krsna’s personal instructions, and Srimad Bhagavatam, which is instructions by Krsna as well as about Krsna and devotional service by Krsna’s devotees. But it is all absolute, Krsna upadesa, and this is the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. He said, “On My order, you become a guru, and you save all the people of your land, of your place.”
So He gave that order also to Nityananda and Haridas Thakura. One day He told them, “Now you go out and go door to door, and just as you are begging alms, like mendicants, you don’t ask for anything except that they chant the Names of Krsna. This is the alms that you should beg.” So they took the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. It was difficult; the pious people naturally fell at Their feet. They would ask them to chant, and the pious people would naturally take it, “Yes, yes; we will do. We will do; we will chant.”
But the rascals, they would blaspheme them and criticize them and throw things at them and try to get them in trouble in different ways. So They had to face so many problems also. But because it was the order of Lord Caitanya, they had to do it. Nityananda Prabhu was explaining that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is giving orders as if He was some king, “Where do we see that a sadhu is giving such orders?” He continued, “But if we disregard this order, then we are finished; we must follow His order. But if we do follow His order, this is our situation.”
Nityananda Prabhu and Haridas Thakura were running away from Jagai and Madhai when Lord Nityananda Prabhu said this, after the rogues were infuriated. They were running for their lives. Nityananda was explaining, while running away, “if we don’t follow Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s order, then we are finished, because we have to follow; we are His eternal servants. But if we do, the present situation is the result: we get so many problems.”
But the problems are the mercy. That is why Krsna says, “Na ca tasman manusyesu kascid me priya kritamah.”
Krsna says, “The preachers are the most dear to Me.” Why? Because it is a risk. They are risking so many pains. There are so many austerities they have to undergo, out of compassion, titiksava karunikah. They are tolerating so many problematic situations to give mercy. And therefore Krsna is so pleased with those who take up this mission. Therefore all of you who are pleasing Lord Caitanya in this way, in this Holy place today, please give me your mercy and pray for me that I can continue this service myself, and that we can all continue and please the Lord and go back to Godhead. Thank you very much.