History of ISKCON Press
By Swarup Das
My first close encounter with ISKCON Press was when I visited the Boston ISKCON temple in December of 1969. At the time I was living as a brahmacari at the 61 Second Avenue temple in New York City’s lower east side. Srila Prabhupada was in London at the time but his travel plans were to return to the U.S. on December 21st with his first stop being the Boston center. The day before his arrival all of us New York ISKCON devotees (there were approximately 12 of us brahmacaries living there) headed up to Boston. Some of us rode in our little red VW beetle rented from Mar-U-Drive on The Bowery, a few took the bus and some even hitchhiked. Somehow or other we fit 6 of us, including myself, into the VW bug for the 220 mile drive. I ended up hitchhiking back home from Boston to New York on a snowy night in late December after volunteering my seat in the VW to a godbrother.
Devotees from other centers such as Buffalo, Columbus, New Vrindaban, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. were also coming to Boston to see Srila Prabhupada. On the day he was due to arrive a school bus was rented to transport everyone to the airport from the temple at 38 N. Beacon Street to greet him. The wonderful reception scene was documented in a series of photographs in which can be seen a banner saying “ISKCON New York Welcomes Prabhupada.” I’m holding one end and Rohini Kumar the other. Notice in the photo that “Prabhupada” was spelled wrong. We were still getting used to calling him Prabhupada rather than Swamiji. .
The highlight of Prabhupada’s visit to Boston was when he was given a tour of the Press facilities. As he watched Advaita demonstrate how the printing press worked Prabhupada commented, “This is the heart of our movement.” Brahmananda spoke up and said, “You are the heart of our movement, Srila Prabhupada.” After all the shouts of “Jaya Srila Prabhupada” and “Haribol” died down Prabhupada then motioned toward the press and said, “Ah .. but this is my heart.” He also explained to us how his guru maharaja called the printing press “the big mrdanga.” For spreading the Sankirtan Movement the mrdanga drum could be heard for some distance, but the printing press could be heard around the world.
Srila Prabhupada left Boston for Los Angeles a few days after we got back to New York. While we were in Boston we got to be with Prabhupada for Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur’s disappearance day on December 26th.. On that day he personally made urad dal which was the favorite of his guru maharaja and several people received first and second initiations on that auspicious day as well. We New York devotees returned home just in time to go out on Sankirtan at Times Square on New Year’s Eve as 1969 turned to 1970. We took the subway uptown around 9 PM and in the midst of all the turmoil of drunken revelry we managed to perform Sankirtan right up until midnight when the ball came down on top of the Allied Chemical Building as is the tradition every New Years Eve in New York City.
A few days after returning to New York from Boston Brahmananda called a special Ishtagosti and announced that Srila Prabhupada wanted him to move to Boston permanently and take charge of managing ISKCON Press. None of us could believe what we were hearing. Brahmananda had been a part of the New York scene since the very early days and in the course of time he was, for all intents and purposes, managing not just the New York center … but all of ISKCON … from his New York office. As the shock of his announcement began to subside Brahmananda then looked over at me, smiled his “Big B” ear to ear grin, and added, “Oh yeah … and Swarup is coming with me.”
Since the very first day I joined the temple in the summer of ‘69 I had been serving as Brahmananda’s secretary (working at the “office” which was a rented basement apartment on East 10th Street). I was also handling whatever BTG subscriptions were coming in and processing whatever orders were coming for the few books we had back then. We had the abridged Gita, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya and the three volumes of First Canto Srimad-Bhagavatam that Prabhupada brought over from India.
About a week after New Year’s day a brahmacari named Karunamoya drove the dark blue ISKCON Press van (Chevy 108 model) to New York to pick up Brahmananda and me and take us to our new home at ISKCON Boston. I was very happy and excited about moving up to Boston. First of all, my sister had joined the movement a few months after me but because we had no facility in New York for brahmacarinis we sent her and another new girl up to our Boston center. I knew that my sister Michelle was having a little difficulty adjusting to life in the ashram so I thought it would be a good thing for me to be living in the same temple as her. She was greatly relieved and happy when she found out I would be coming there to live and work with the Press. It was a very sweet reunion. A few months later she was initiated and given the name Manmohini Devi Dasi.
As soon as we arrived Brahmananda set up his (our) office in the front room. We brought our desks and other office equipment including my typewriter and filing cabinet from New York and so the first order of business was to set everything up so we could get down to business right away. The Big B (as we called Brahmananda at the time) put his big desk by the bay window looking out onto the front yard and street and I had my smaller desk by the door (that Brahmananda insisted be kept locked most of the time). The Big B rarely left that office. He’d even wait until the last-minute to go to the bathroom at which time he’d walk quickly through the hall with his blue janitor pants and large set of keys dangling and jangling while every devotee he passed would bow down offering obeisances — making him very uncomfortable since he couldn’t stop to return the gesture.
Here are the names of devotees I recall living in that big house on North Beacon Street. Some were there when Brahmananda and I arrived and some came during the months that followed. These are just the folks who were connected with ISKCON Press back then. There were, of course, other devotees in Boston who did not work with the books but were engaged in the typical types of day to day service done at any and all other ISKCON temples:
Advaita and Balai
Uddhava and Lilasuka
Sacisuta and Indumati
Vaikunthanatha and Saradia
Pradyumna and Arundhati
Bharadvaja and Rukmini
Satsvarupa and Jadurani
Chandan Acarya and Kasturika
Nara Narayana and Dina Dayadri
Madhusudana and Kanchanbala
Among the others who didn’t work with the Press but were “regular” Boston temple devotees were Giriraja, Soma Das, Manmohini, Sridam, Hrdayananda (he stayed there when we moved to Brooklyn) and some uninitiated new people … et al… Dinesh (was into putting together the “Bande ‘ham LP at that time) and his wife Krishna Devi ……
At first our offset printing press was used to print pamphlets such as Krishna, the Reservoir of Pleasure and Two Essays (The Peace Formula and Who is Crazy). In November of ’69, two months before Brahmananda and I moved to Boston, there was a huge peace rally in Washington D.C. at the Washington Monument. Devotees from all the centers on the East Coast flocked to our D.C. center which, at the time, was being managed by Damodara and Madhusudana. The newly printed pamphlets were brought there for distribution and also in New York we prepared lots and lots of little cellophane wrapped packages of halava and simply wonderfuls (with mantra cards stapled onto them). I do believe it was the first (or one of the first) mass distributions of literature & prasadam and throughout the day devotees were bringing bags of money (mostly change) back to where we set up shop in the grass along with the throngs of protesters. Allen Ginsberg was there and with his harmonium he performed his weird style chanting on the makeshift stage which sort of legitimized our presence there and thus helped our cause. We had a large trunk that held all the pamphlets and throughout the day the pamphlets continued to disappear and be replaced with money.
By the end of the day the trunk was so heavy it took three of us to pick it up and carry it to the van parked a few blocks away. As we were getting ready to leave, the crowd started to become unruly and the cops began tossing tear gas to break it up. It was quite a scene with Brahmananda, Rishi Kumar and myself trying to make our way through the cloud of tear gas to the van with our trunk filled with money. Hayagriva, who was walking along with us trying to get away from the tear gas, started freaking out yelling that his eyes were burning and he couldn’t breathe. The collections amounted to a few thousand dollars (I think it was a little under four grand if I remember correctly). What was more important was that thousands of pieces of literature were passed out and to this day I still hear about people having become devotees after first reading “Krishna, the Reservoir of Pleasure” which is still in print..
We never got to hand out all the packs of halvah and simply wonderfuls so we brought the leftovers back to New York. For weeks after the Washington D.C. peace rally — each morning when I would leave the ashram and walk to the office on East 10th Street I’d grab some halvah packages, put them in the pocket of my winter coat and snack throughout the day. I’d often stop on my way at the Krishna Store on St. Marks Place that Alan and Carol Kallman used as a retail store and wholesale showroom for their clothing line called Krishna Fashions. All day long they would play the Happening LP that they helped to produce (after which Allen tried to copyright the mantra to no avail). I’d hang around shooting the breeze with the Kallmans and listen to the magical mystical chanting on the album with Srila Prabhupada and a group of his early disciples from 26 Second Avenue days.
As Brahmananda’s secretary (first in New York and then in Boston) I would mostly type all his correspondences which were more often than not to and from Srila Prabhupada. Toward the end of ’69 the topic in most of those correspondences centered around the ongoing establishment of ISKCON Press in Boston. Following Srila Prabhupada’s example, Brahmananda used a Dictaphone and gave me the tape when he was done which I transcribed using a machine with a foot pedal and earphones. Whenever he, or any other devotee in the temple, would receive a letter/aerogram from Prabhupada we would all gather around the recipient and it would be read aloud (unless something in it was very private and personal, of course).
By the time I got to Boston in early January of ’70 ISKCON Press was geared up and ready to print and publish … with the departments and manpower in place to perform every function and task. That included transcribing, editing, typesetting, proofreading, layout, plate burning, plate opaquing, offset printing, cutting, signature folding, stapling, binding … and when it was decided that our Chief 29 wasn’t up to the job … camera ready copy was sent off to Dai Nippon in Japan.
With Prabhupada’s approval and encouragement Advaita, who had some little printing experience before joining the movement, had taken some additional vocational training at the New York School of Printing on West 49th Street (Hell’s Kitchen) and so when the time came he was as skilled and energetic as any printer press operator could be. The editing and proofreading (English and Sanskrit) was handled by Satsvarupa, Jayadvaita and Pradyumna; Uddhava and Madhusudhana handled the camera work. Chandan and Aravinda were up in layout. Jadurani, Pariksit, Muralidhara and also mother Devahuti were the artists. Others who worked on binding, folding, typesetting, etc. were Vaikunthanatha and Saradia, Sacisuta, Patita Uddharan, Palika, Arundhati, Peter (who later became Kusakrata) and myself. Brahmananda was the on site manager. A call went out to all ISKCON temples everywhere for anyone and everyone who had any experience with any aspect of printing or painting. Kulashekhara was sent from London and over the course of time … while in Boston and later in Brooklyn … others came as well. After Sai (later known as Siddhasvarupa) joined with his followers from Hawaii, some of them also ended up coming to Boston to work with the Press. Two whom I recall were Kathy (now Nara Devi) and Bo Schnepf.
As soon as Brahmananda and I arrived in Boston he told me that there had been a problem with the typesetting and that department was slowing down production. Srila Prabhupada kept asking what was taking so long for completing KRSNA Book and the bottleneck was in the composing department. The very next day Palika showed me how the composing machine worked and I was off to the races. I found myself working double shifts and very often right through the night. That winter of ’70 was the coldest Boston winter since the early 1920’s. The composing room was no bigger than a closet and a small space heater was put in there to help. I recall sitting there at night typesetting the Krishna Book while everyone in the house was sleeping and I’d think to myself, “Here I am … 17 years old … should be in my senior year of High School … but instead I’m engaged in some of the most important work in the universe.” Srila Prabhupada was very eager to present to the world a summary study of the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam in such a way that the reader would have no doubt that God is a Person and everything about Him and His interaction with liberated souls in the spiritual world were completely transcendental and free from any mundane material impurities. George Harrison donated $19,000 for the first printing and wrote some Words (From Apple) in the front part of the book and Srila Prabhupada dedicated it to his father, Gour Mohan De.
The Boston temple at 38 North Beacon Street in Allston was, for a period of time, well suited for ISKCON Press. The previous tenant made caskets and installed a small lift that went from the basement up to the ground floor in the back of the house where there was a loading dock big enough for a truck to pull up whenever I would ship out consignments to the various temples. In December of ’69 when Srila Prabhupada toured the Press facilities in Boston he told us not to wear dhotis when working anywhere around the machinery and so we eventually made up a simple ISKCON Press uniform consisting of green pants and a green button down shirt.
As it turned out I did the majority of typesetting on Krishna Book and Nectar of Devotion and I also worked on the unabridged Gita, Sri Isopanisad, the ten paperbacks for each of the chapters in the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam as well as the rest of the Bhagavatam volumes as the tapes arrived, along with other paperbacks such as Topmost Yoga, Sri Isopanisad, etc. To say the least I was kept very busy as were all of us. After all, Srila Prabhupada was determined to save the world from godlessness and as such there was much to do using whatever resources we had.
(In this segment I’m going to describe some of the whacky wonderful people who worked with ISKCON Press back in the day. I’ve changed some of the names to protect their identities and anonymity and in those cases I put quotation marks around the pseudonym.
I’ll begin with “Painting Dasi” who was trying to be a good Vedic wife to “Employed Das”. Since he had an outside job and returned to the temple every day around 6 pm she would save lunch prasadam ready for him. I watched one day as she heated up his food when he got back. Taking the “path of least resistance” her idea was to just throw everything on the plate (rice, chapatis, dal, subji, salad … whatever was served at lunch) into a pot and light the stove. When she thought the contents were warm enough she’d dump it all back onto the same paper plate and place it in front of him. She’d say, “Haribol prabhu .. here’s your lunch .. I have to get back to my service” and off she’d go back to her painting. Sometimes I’d steal a glimpse of the poor fellow sitting alone in the prasadam room, still wearing his dark blue knit hat, and doing his best to honor the mixed together hodge podge heated up lunch prasadam that his wife saved and served to him. I marveled at his humility and tolerance.
Then there were my two godbrothers “Jaya Das” and “Haribol Das” who seemed at times determined to annihilate each other. Tensions usually rose in the prasadam room. Haribol Das liked to serve the prasadam which meant sitting behind the large pots that came out from the kitchen. I’m not sure which he relished more …. serving his fellow devotees or getting the chance to refuse Jai Das a second helping. It never failed. Jai Das had a big appetite and he’d always want seconds but Haribol Das would tell him he had to wait until it was certain that everyone had come and gotten their first helping. Of course there was really no way of knowing whether everyone had eaten since people came and went all day long and unless they specifically asked someone to save them a plate they missed that meal. I recall two times when a physical fight broke out between those two. They were wrestling on the floor, rolling around on top of plates of prasadam, knocking over pots and dueling with ladles & serving spoons.
Pradyumna Das Prabhu! Very brilliant and devoted in addition to also being capable of some eccentric behavior. He was always asking me if a trip to New York for shipping books to overseas temples was coming up soon or if I had any plans to go out on a Spiritual Sky incense sales trip. One time Satsvarupa who was the temple president called an Ishtagosti and informed everyone that we were short a thousand dollars that month and had less than a week to come up with the monthly payment for the house. He asked if anyone had any ideas and I mentioned that there were some old dusty boxes of Spiritual Sky incense in the corner of the basement as well as a few display stands and that maybe I could sort through it all and see if I could salvage anything for selling. Sure enough – After wiping off all the dust and inventorying what we had I was able to put together enough product to hit the road. Well, let’s just say that Pradyumna loved getting out and taking rides. It didn’t matter where or when or why. He just liked being in a vehicle going somewhere. And so he rode shotgun with me on that and subsequent incense-selling road trips. Turned out that he was a great help since he was born and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts and knew well the central part of the State from whence the Sherbow family hailed. During that first trip I learned from Pradyumna that Springfield was the home town of Timothy Leary and Dr. Seuss and the only place in the U.S. where Rolls Royces were made.
The trip was a success and I brought back almost $1400 in cash as well as another $500 of receivables on consignment. During that sales trip and other trips taken over the next few months Pradyumna was right there riding shotgun and giving me an earful of Dylan music — Pradyumna style. At times he’d sit there in the passenger seat with his arms raised up high, his huge blue eyes wide open and singing, “Oh Krishna … I want you …. I want you … I want you … so baaad …. yes, I want you …” or he’d turn to me and say, “Oh Swarup — one should not be where one does not belong ….” Another favorite Dylan quote of his was “When you see your neighbor, help him with his load; and don’t go mistaking paradise for that house down the road.” One time when Pradyumna was giving class in the temple he was talking about the temporary nature of the material energy. He quoted Donovan: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”
There was Peter Viggiani who later became the wise and wonderful Kusakrata Prabhu when his head cleared of the effects of LSD and he was initiated. When he first arrived in Boston he’d sit for hours and hours, day after day at the industrial stapling machine, wearing the same white shirt and black pants and having not bathed since the last time Satsvarupa pleaded with him to take a shower. Someone had the brilliant idea of engaging him in the simple task of stapling together the pamphlets we printed. He’d guide the pamphlets along and chant Hare Krishna as he worked. His chanting was very different from the norm. It would take him close to five minutes to get through one mantra ….. drawing out each syllable as long as he could hold his breath. So all day every day — coming up from the basement where he worked, we’d hear “Haaaaaaaaaaa…raaaaaaaaaaay Kriiiiiiiiiiiiiiish…naaaaaaaaaaaa …”
Oh I could go on and on but that’s for another time and place.
Devotees are not like “regular” people and those who had come together back then to work on Srila Prabhupada’s books were not like “regular” devotees. Many, if not most artists are eccentric and the ISKCON Press devotees were all artists in one way or another. Of course those who painted pictures were artists in the traditional sense but so were those who were plying their trades, skills and talents to print books in the service of Guru and Gauranga. We came together at that particular time and place for a special purpose and it was my privilege to have been there.
My very first experience with electronic word processing came in 1982 in San Francisco. There was an ad in the S.F. Chronicle offering free training and experience in exchange for volunteer work. It was the Hunger Project. At the time they had Wang Word Processors and having a typing speed of over 100wpm they were happy to have me aboard. As I learned how to electronically delete, insert, format, page number, etc. I continued to have flashbacks of the IBM composing machine that we used to typeset in ISKCON Press some 12 years back.
The composing machine wasn’t that different from an IBM Self-Correcting typewriter except it didn’t self correct. We used typing fonts just like the typewriter and in our case we had to have a special one made to insert diacritic marks. We had a font for bold and italic type as well. In order to flush/justify the right margins one had to first type a rough draft of the page. There were two wheels that dialed in colors and numbers so when typing the rough draft after each and every line the wheels would show a setting (e.g. Orange 4 or Red 2, etc.) and we’d tab over a few spaces to the right at the end of the line and type the reading that was shown. So at the end of the page … if there were 40 lines there would be 40 settings in a column down the right edge. Then it was time for the final draft which meant before typing each and every line … manually setting the wheels to the color/number for that line and by doing so the machine would space the words out perfectly thus making the stopping point at right margin uniform throughout. (I never would have made it writing tech manuals).
Typesetting back then, compared to modern day desk top publishing computer technologically was, for all intents and purposes, stone age primitive laborious and tedious work. However …. if the typesetter is working on transcendental literature such as KRSNA, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nectar of Devotion, Sri Isopanisad, the unabridged Bhagavad-gita As It Is, etc. …. the fact that one had to type everything twice was, in devotee parlance, “extra mercy” and “more nectar.”
We typeset on special paper. One side was glossy where the type went and the other side was a matte surface that got sprayed with a pasty type substance in the layout department when it came to mounting the pages onto galleys using a light table. The galleys were carefully proofread and if there were mistakes they would go back down to us in typesetting where sometimes just a few words or lines and sometimes entire sections had to be retyped and sent back to layout to paste in the corrections.
The rush was on to finish up the Krishna Book and get the camera ready copy off to Dai Nippon in Japan. As early as February/March of ’70 Srila Prabhupada was inquiring what was holding it up. Finally in June of ’70 Brahmananda took it personally to Tokyo. It was to be printed in two hardbound volumes. We anxiously awaited its arrival. We anxiously awaited Brahmananda’s return. The Krishna Book volumes finally did arrive. Brahmananda didn’t. He never came back to Boston. A funny thing happened to him, his brother Gargamuni, as well as Vishnujana and Subal, when Brahmananda stopped in Los Angeles to see Srila Prabhupada on his way back from Japan. One day they were brahmacarys, the next day they were sannyasis. Aside from Kirtanananda Swami, they were the first to be given sannyas by Srila Prabhupada.
In August of ’70 ISKCON was traumatized. A big festival was being planned at New Vrindaban to celebrate Janmastami and Vyasa Puja. The four godbrothers who were recently awarded sannyas were invited to come and speak. It would be the first opportunity for all of us on the East Coast to see and hear them since their sannyas initiations in L.A. a few months prior to the festival in West Virgnia. Especially those of us who had been close to Brahmananda were eager and excited to offer our respects to Brahmananda SWAMI. For me personally — well, I was still trying to adjust to the fact that I would no longer be working with and living with (we not only worked together in our office but that’s where we slept and often ate together) my big brother, my mentor, my boss, my friend — Brahmananda.
I planned to catch a ride from Boston to New Vrindabana with Sridam and my sister, Manmohini. They purchased a van after they were married in Boston in May of 1970 and they first tried to open a center in Provincetown and then Providence, Rhode Island. Their small preaching center in Providence was right near Brown University and was doing well at the time but they decided to take a few days off and drive down to New Vrindaban for Janmastami. Sridam agreed to first swing by the Boston center to pick up a bunch of us who wanted to go and needed a ride. Unfortunately I began to feel ill the night before and by the time they arrived I was running a fever and had all the symptoms of a bad flu and so I stayed behind.
Janmastami and Vyasa Puja came and went and the sannyasis all gave lectures; however, what they were saying in those lectures were causing major concern among the Society’s philosophical stalwarts. They were so disturbed by what they were hearing that they felt the need to contact Srila Prabhupada in India to tell him what they were preaching to the assembled devotees at the festival.
As the dust finally cleared after frantic phone calls and telegrams went scrambling around the globe … it was decided by Srila Prabhupada that the four new sannyasis could no longer preach in ISKCON and unless they agreed to immediately stop what they were doing and saying they were no longer welcome in any ISKCON center. Their fate (for the time being) was sealed. They were in Detroit at the time when their conviction came down and their sentence was carried out by the newly established GBC. The four were taken out onto the porch of the Jefferson Street temple, given maps of the United States, told which way was North, South, East and West and bid farewell.
In a letter to Hansadutta a few days later Srila Prabhupada referred to the “poison” that had entered into our Society and said that just like Prahlada Maharaja wasn’t harmed by the poison his demon father administered, similarly if there were Prahlada like devotees in ISKCON then no harm could come. He relied on the GBC to make sure the disturbance was over and everything would get back on track by dint of following strictly the principles that Srila Prabhupada gave us both orally and in his books and that they travel from center to center making sure everyone understood and followed the philosophy and principles of Krishna consciousness.
Apparently they (the GBC godbrothers) made it a priority to visit the Boston temple and ISKCON Press since it was pretty much assumed that Brahmananda was the leader of the exiled four and if there was a place that needed decontamination it was 38 North Beacon Street — and starting with those who were most intimately associated with Brahmananda.
Despite the fact Brahmananda never returned to manage ISKCON Press in Boston … nothing really changed as far as our day-to-day functioning. Satsvarupa became the main link between the Press and Srila Prabhupada, Advaita handled all the details of purchasing supplies and overseeing production and I was handling all the orders coming in from the temples and with the shipping records accounts were kept concerning the centers paying for the books and magazines they received on credit. Sometimes Srila Prabhupada would have to intervene if a particular center became remiss in their BBT payments. Certain temple presidents had to eventually be warned “No more money … no more books.”
So .. along comes a GBC contingent and imagine my surprise when they came into the office that Brahmananda was using and I still worked in … and began having our desks hauled out to the backyard. When I asked what was going on I was told that Srila Prabhupada didn’t use desks like that .. he sat on the floor with a small table in front of him and that should be good enough. I protested that such an arrangement doesn’t go well when it comes to typing but my words fell on deaf ears as did my pleas for keeping the filing cabinets alone. Nothing doing! They were determined to get rid of any and all traces and reminders of “The Big B.” Once the decor was redone they told me that many changes were about to take place as far as our (ISKCON Press workers) daily schedules were concerned. Working would be scaled down to a minimum and Press personnel would now be spending more time out on Sankirtan, going to both morning and evening classes as well as kirtans and artiks. They had special plans for me. I was told that Srila Prabhupada very much wanted his books placed in public libraries and also the libraries of colleges and universities and I was going to give it a try there in the Boston area. That’s just what I did beginning that very day. I found an old attaché case … lined it with velvet …. got some brand new shiny samples of Srila Prabhupada’s books (the few available at that time) … found a bunch of blank Order Forms and began calling around to make appointments.
Advaita, on the other hand, didn’t take the changes as lightly and refused to go along with all these new rules being brought to us by our godbrothers who were now deputized GBC men. He respected the authority vested in them by Srila Prabhupada but he wasn’t going to cooperate without first making sure they were, in this situation, representing Prabhupada’s wishes. When he asked them how he was supposed to keep deadlines and print books when only working a few hours a day and that there was no way he could run ISKCON Press under those conditions they told him “ISKCON Press is in Japan.” Well, that’s all he needed to hear. That night he came to me saying he was ready to pack up and leave. I never saw my friend Advaita that angry. He was always so jolly and happy. I convinced him to first draft a letter to Srila Prabhupada telling him what was happening and wait for the answer. That’s just what he did and as always, Srila Prabhupada saved the day.
To make a short story longer …. Srila Prabhupada chastised the GBC men for meddling in the affairs of ISKCON Press and told them that their business was to see that all his disciples living in ISKCON centers followed the regulative principles, chanted their rounds and washed their hands after they ate. Prabhupada reassured Advaita that his work was very important and valuable and that he never intended such changes and cutbacks. As far as ISKCON Press being in Japan .. although Dai Nippon continued to print our hardbound large volumes … there was plenty of printing to keep the Chief 29 humming day after day. And so our work went on without outside disturbance. 1970 turned to 1971 and the tapes kept coming from Srila Prabhupada and we all kept on working — on Nectar of Devotion, Sri Isopanisad, Nectar of Instruction, the unabridged Gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam volumes, paperbacks like Perfection of Yoga, Topmost Yoga, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, etc. etc.
The Move to Brooklyn:
ISKCON Press was expanding so quickly with manpower and machinery that we needed our own larger space to work and grow and it was quickly becoming apparent that for us to continue sharing the same facility as the Boston temple was creating many problems. We were all living in the same place yet some of us were “Press devotees” and others were “Temple devotees.”
There was also another reason why we felt an urgent need to move out of Boston and relocate to Brooklyn … as near as possible to the Henry Street center. Whether it was due to a shortage of money or kitchen workers the prasadam situation in Boston had turned very austere. Even the Sunday feasts left much to be desired. The ISKCON Press householders especially were upset and dissatisfied. Advaita and Uddhava refused to eat the temple lunches and began having their wives prepare their meals separately. At the same time in the Brooklyn temple, as observed by those of us who had need to sometimes go to New York for various reasons, Bhavananda who was then president there, made sure that the prasadam was excellent and plentiful. Those of us who were periodically traveling back and forth were spreading the word around and the discontent continued to increase. Finally in the springtime of ’71 it became official — ISKCON Press was to move from Boston to a facility found in an old building on Tiffany Place in Brooklyn which was very close to Henry Street where the temple was located.
Imagine a town in the middle of nowhere that suddenly grows and develops at a rapid rate and not because the Railroad stops there and not because it’s situated on some waterway or seaport but because the government decided to place a military installation there. Most of the townsfolk are employed at the base, the businesses in town all depend on the presence of the military personnel and their families and they even get their own little airport courtesy of the U.S. government. Then one day it’s decided that the base is to be shut down … relocated. Overnight the once prosperous bustling town turns into a ghost town and its survival depends on the willpower of the few who remain. Well, that’s pretty much what happened to the Boston ISKCON temple when ISKCON Press moved all its people and machinery … resources and assets … out of Boston to Brooklyn. But we didn’t just vanish quietly one day. It took almost six weeks to transfer everyone and everything connected to the Press from Boston to 32 Tiffany Place in Brooklyn. Trips were made back and forth every other day carrying people and equipment. We even had to knock down a few walls to get some of the heavier machinery out of the building and onto the truck.
In March of ’71 Satsvarupa wrote to Prabhupada requesting that he be replaced as the President of the Boston center. Hrdayananda took over in the aftermath of the move and he did a great job of keeping the center going. His enthusiasm for Sankirtan and his great talent for giving inspiring classes kept everyone there enlivened.
On a personal note … just before moving out of Boston a new brahmacarini arrived there. She seemed to be a very sincere and humble devotee and hard worker. I had been considering the possibility of getting married at the time and since Hrdayananda (who had recently gotten married himself) had just become the temple president I thought it appropriate to first consult with him since she was under his care. Hrdayananda told me that there was no way he was going to let her leave Boston and so his offer was that if I remain there and help him manage the center then yes, I could marry her. Well, there was no way I was going to leave ISKCON Press and stay in Boston so that was the end of that idea.
Our new location .. 32 Tiffany Place .. was in the Cobble Hill section of Brooklyn (between Red Hook and Brooklyn Heights). Tiffany Place was one block over and ran parallel to Columbia Street which ran along the Brooklyn Harbor docks. I was familiar with the area because I sometimes drove down from Boston to load consignments onto cargo vessels there for overseas temples. In fact that’s how we originally came upon the Tiffany Place location. On one of the trips Advaita came with me and we drove around looking at industrial lofts near the Henry Street temple. We noticed a “For Lease” sign in front of a building on Tiffany Place which led to contacting the owner — a man named Aaron Kahane.
My first impression of the facility was thinking that the place needed the Army Corps of Engineers to get it ready for us to move in. I mean .. there wasn’t even a floor … no walls … a few broken overhead fluorescent lights … no garage door in front … no loading dock …. dilapidated staircase leading to a second floor where we planned to put the artist studios … and I noticed a few rats running around the dirt floor on my first walk through of the place. The good news was that there was sufficient space for our printing press (and a smaller multilith printer we had just gotten), the camera and binding equipment, folding and cutting machines … typesetting and layout departments as well as offices for editing and my growing mail order department.
Nara Narayana became the self-appointed foreman and to his credit, with a lot of help from other devotees who assisted with carpentry, electrical and plumbing work, etc. Tiffany Place was gotten ready in record time. When it came to pouring cement for the floor … we recruited every able bodied devotee we could find and turned it into a festive occasion with prasadam being catered by the Henry Street temple devotees. One time .. after a long hard day up in Boston with myself, Chandan and Nara Narayana moving some of the heavier machinery and then driving down to Brooklyn … we arrived around 8 p.m. When we finished unloading Chandan and I were ready to drive the few blocks over to the temple, hopefully find some leftover prasadam and then go to sleep. Nara Narayana, on the other hand, decided that he wanted to install the garage door that night and somehow convinced us to stay up with him and help.
To recap what was happening as far as progress in printing the books –. after KRSNA Book was published we began concentrating heavily on Nectar of Devotion, the unabridged Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Srimad-Bhagavatam. It was decided by Srila Prabhupada that each of the ten chapters of the Second Canto would be separately printed in paperback and so we produced ten books with the titles:
The First Step in God Realization
The Lord in the Heart
Pure Devotional Service, the Change of Heart
The Process of Creation
The Cause of All Causes
Scheduled Incarnations with Special Functions
Questions by King Pariksit
Answers by Citing the Lord’s Version
Bhagavatam is the Answer to All Questions
We were printing other paperbacks as well such as Sri Isopanisad, Nectar of Instruction, Elevation to Krsna Consciousness, Krsna Consciousness, Topmost Yoga, The Perfection of Yoga and of course, our monthly Back to Godhead magazine required continuous effort to make sure every thirty days a new issue was ready to go to press.
Soon after our move to Brooklyn Srila Prabhupada ordered that all money matters concerning ISKCON Press would be handled in Los Angeles by Karandhara. At first Advaita didn’t like the idea but when Karandhara came from L.A. for a visit and we all met him for the first time we could understand why Prabhupada was impressed with his managerial skills. Besides .. who needed all the aggravation that came with money management. With this set up all we had to do was keep track of purchases, submit bids and cost projections and save receipts. Although at first Prabhupada rejected the idea, eventually he agreed to allow Advaita to do some outside jobs for extra income for the Press. We ended up printing a few pamphlets and booklets for the Integral Yoga Society on West 13th Street in N.Y.C. They were very nice folks and their guru, Swami Satchidananda was very respectful toward Srila Prabhupada.
For the most part ISKCON Press workers were very happy working at 32 Tiffany Place and living at the 439 Henry Street center. Both Satsvarupa and Bhavananda were sincere disciples of Srila Prabhupada and both were mature and competent leaders but their styles and personalities were like night and day. Bhavananda’s flamboyance and sense of humor permeated the Brooklyn temple where it seemed like new people were showing up daily. There were many new uninitiated brahmacarys and brahmacarinis and they were all bubbly and enthusiastic. To add color to the already party atmosphere along came a bunch of people from the Sai camp. Sai (later initiated as Siddhaswarup) had joined ISKCON along with scores of followers. Their first port of entry was our San Francisco center but eventually they were sent off to other ISKCON centers and many ended up in Brooklyn. They were experiencing quite a culture shock having come from their Hawaii paradise to Brooklyn, New York in the dead of winter but their desire to follow their leader to the lotus feet of Prabhupada kept them going. A few of them were even recruited by ISKCON Press.
Even before moving to Brooklyn ISKCON Press began to fall short of Prabhupada’s expectations (the actual printing with our own offset printing press). Our attempt to print and bind Nectar of Devotion turned out to be a disaster. We tried to print an issue of BTG rather than Dai Nippon (the one with Devahuti’s painting of Radha and Krishna on a swing) didn’t work all that well either. Although he trusted Advaita’s decision to move the Press to New York Prabhupada continually questioned why it was taking so long to get going on Bhagavad-gita As It Is unabridged. He questioned the wisdom of paying to maintain ISKCON Press at a cost of 1500/month and yet aside from the Bhagavatam chapters there wasn’t that much output from the printing press. Of course all the departments that went into producing “camera ready copy” were busier than ever but when it came to the actual printing — we were in over our heads and it became painfully apparent. Part of the reason for this was the rapidly increase in quality and quantities of books Prabhupada was having us produce.
Even the binding of softbound books which we were able to do were sometimes farmed out to professional binderies especially when we couldn’t handle the volume. Advaita and I made many trips from Brooklyn up to Nashua, New Hampshire and to Salem, Massachusetts where we did business with outside bindery houses.
In July of ’71 Srila Prabhupada arrived in Brooklyn and he visited our facilities at Tiffany Place. He was pleased to see how everything was going on but at that point in time there were major concerns that had to be addressed.
In October of ’71 I took a leave of absence from the Press and,after training a godbrother to take charge of my services I went to Miami, Florida to help run the temple there that was started by my sister and her husband. By that time my friend and godbrother and one of the great pioneers of ISKCON Press left the movement. As I drove out of Brooklyn headed for Florida I wondered what would become of ISKCON Press over the next few months. I stayed in Miami only five months and then returned to Brooklyn in March of ’72 and by then ISKCON Press had moved to Los Angeles and nobody was calling it ISKCON Press anymore but rather The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
In March of ’73 I moved to L.A. and again took up my service at the Mail Order Dept. and as corresponding secretary of ISKCON. I no longer had anything to do with the actual book production and concentrated only on developing Mail Order. The book production part of BBT was located in a building near the Watseka temple and the warehousing and shipping was in a facility shared with Spiritual Sky Incense at Landmark Place in Culver City. Not long after I arrived BBT warehousing and shipping moved to our own location on Washington Blvd. We acquired our own 18 wheeler with large lettering on the side of the cab saying Bhaktivedanta Book Trust and when the volumes of Bhagavatam began being printed by Kingsport Press in Tennessee the truck was used to transport the books from there back to L.A., dropping off shipments to ISKCON centers along the way.
Eventually the warehousing, shipping and Mail Order Dept. became situated in a warehouse built to our own specs on Higuera Street in Culver City. It was a wonderful modern facility which remained in operation for many years. It’s not there anymore.
Thus ends my recollections of the History of ISKCON Press (the early days)