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Sankirtan Goldmine

Monday, 18 June 2007 / Published in Book distribution / 4,286 views

By Bhakta Corey

A couple of temples that I have visited in the past year, I noticed one similar theme among the book distribution leaders and devotees. The theme was that they felt they were having a hard time finding places to do book distribution. In this regard, I would like to share some experiene I have had.

You would never think of these spots, because they are right under our nose. We have had a lot of luck working in the parking lot of grocery stores, chain stores, mall parking lots, and even inside the mall! These places are very good, because they are always crowded.

To work in these parking lots, you have to have a short 2-3 sentence line that you can say in less than 15 seconds, and it usually works. A few Christian groups have caught on to this idea, as occasionally I notice certain Christian workers out in the parking lots working too. So if even the Christians can do it, then certainly the devotees can.

The only negative to working parking lots is there is sometimes security. He is generally always a person in a golf cart, with a yellow flashing light on top of the cart, so at night he is especially easy to see and evade. It takes a couple of weeks to get over the fear of getting caught, although the most they will say is “I’m sorry sir, we don’t allow people to pass out pamplets on our property”. They are always very polite.

I have a hard time containing my excitement when I think about the unlimited possibility for book distribution in America. Even if we had 10,000 sankirtan devotees traveling around selling books, we wouldn’t cover even a fourth of the country.

So this is a sankirtan gold mine, and whenever you start wondering where all the sankirtan spots are, look no further than your neighborhood Wal-mart or grocery store. I am simply praying that Krishna will send some nice young men to join the sankirtan mission, because there is unlimited opportunity right now for book distribution in America.


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    gopaldasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I just wanted to post a quick reminder that book distribution in many of the places advocated by Bhakta Corey is trespass. Although a devotee understands that everything is Krishna’s – the law in the United States operates with a different understanding. Depending on the locality trespass could result in a criminal or civil charge. Most “big chain” stores (including Wal-Mart) have posted solicitation policies that outline what behavior is or is not permitted on the property that the company owns. Malls generally have separate policies and are often required by law to permit a certain amount of solicitation/free speech. In order to conform behavior to the law it seems advisable to inquire at each privately owned location regarding the particular solicitation policy. Certainly ISKCON devotees should refrain from illegal activity and Dandavats should be careful not to participate in the encouragement of illegal conduct.

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    Praghosa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Gopal dasi,

    Thank you for your comment. You are correct Dandavats should not encourage any law breaking. When I read the article it struck me more as law bending than breaking, but for sure Dandavats does not condone ANY law-breaking.

    Just as with tax law, tax avoidance is acceptable but tax evasion is not. Tax avoidance and law bending are often instrumental in governments introducing reforms to those laws and taxes that are being challenged via avoidance and bending. In that sense such activities can be a good contribution to society, much in the same way as peaceful civil disobedience protests undertaken by the likes of Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela. And of course the inspiration and trail blazer for such protests was none other than Mahaprabhu Himself and the nagara-sankirtana protest against Chand Kazi, which resulted in the Kazi becoming a vaisnava.

    That said your point about law-breaking remains 100% valid.

    Your servant, Praghosa dasa.

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    Anadi108 says:

    I have done the lots for years. From my experience, I can say that as long as when the manager or security people come and ask you to leave, you are very polite and comply, then there is rarely a problem. Anyway, there are, as Bhakta Corey has mentioned, SOOO many lots. All you have to do is just hop in your vehicle and run to the next lot or mall. :-)

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    Anadi108 says:

    Also, if you’re asked to leave a particular place, you wait a minimum of two to three weeks before thinking about going back there, if the thought of going back happens to cross your mind. And if/when they say that the next time they see you they will call the police, you definitely do not go back there again.

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    Anadi108 says:

    I remember that even in one mall in New Zealand, I had accidentally approached the head of mall security. He was in plain clothes and didn’t reveal himself to me until the end of our nice conversation. He finally told me that he thought I was doing a great thing and that I could stay in the mall as much as I like. Even when sometimes the security guards who worked under him would ask me to leave, I would just tell them their boss said it was ok, and it would always be resolved that I could stay. (This is a very unusual case, of course, but it just goes to show that a little purity of purpose and exhibition of Vaisnava qualities go a long way in keeping you engaged in those malls and lots.)

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    In the ’70s we did a lot of book distribution (or just plain collecting, with paraphernalia like candy, flowers or flags) on parking lots and even inside shopping malls. (In Edmonton, Alberta, in the middle of winter, when it was 40 below zero and a stiff breeze was blowing, you wanted to be inside).

    We always had to be on the lookout so as not to get “booted”. Sometimes we were arrested. (I remember one Christmas marathon in Canada being taken to jail, where I was teaching the other prisoners to chant Hare Krishna, and then my sankirtan leader Dyutidhara, who had been arrested soon after, was put in my cell and gave me a nice class. Then we were soon released.)

    We even snuck into drive-in movies and went from car to car collecting donations! (Believe it or not, we could collect a lot of money that way, although many of the theatre patrons were understandably not too pleased.)

    While there was an element of fun and adventure in evading the dangerous authorities, this was also kind of contaminating. Even the lines we used when we asked for donations were not always completely truthful. There was a mood that we were being “outlaws for Krishna”, but some of us got a little too attached to being outlaws, beyond the ordinary rules of morality.

    We lost the habit of being “straightforward in ordinary dealings,” and for me at least it became an anartha. There was a certain kind of sense gratification in feeling I could manipulate people and get them to do what I wanted by lying to them, albeit for a higher cause. And if I rubbed some people the wrong way, it was their problem.

    People in general recognized it about us too. Of course, we do not have to conform to anyone’s preconceived notion of what a saintly person is supposed to act like, but common people do recognize it when the devotees are really conforming to the high standards of cleanliness, truthfulness, self-control, pridelessness, tolerance, humility, peacefulness, etc., which are naturally exhibited by Vaisnavas.

    The spotless character of devotees, which comes from the spiritual world, is super attractive. Many people feel let down when the Hare Krishna devotees they meet appear selfish, untruthful or immoral in any way.

    Of course, the book distribution must go on, somehow or another. If it is against the law in some country to distribute books, the devotees in that country will have to find ways to do it, even if that makes them “outlaws”. There may be real demons who hate the message of Krishna, and devotees have to get the message out in spite of such envious characters.

    But merchants who get complaints from their customers about being pressured to give donations in the parking lots are not necessarily “demons” for chasing us away. It would be unusual if they didn’t. We ought to recognize that and deal with them accordingly.

    In the U.S., our legal team in the ’70s got “sankirtan” recognized as a protected religious activity. It is entitled to a great deal of legal protection in public areas. We can find many legal spots to distribute, if we try.

    If we keep the preaching pure, we actually find we are welcomed in many areas by the authorities.

    On private property, we can often get permission of the owners if we learn the technique of asking correctly, and not disturbing the patrons. We need to be a little sensitive to the impression we are making. We should find the people who are ready to buy the books, and learn how to not disturb those who are not yet ready. Vaisesika’s “primary directive” is that we should leave everyone with a good impression.

    Here in the SF Bay Area, some of our book distributors (notably Malini devidasi) have gotten permission to put a book table in front of various stores, including several Wal Mart stores. We hear that Wal Mart is even going to start matching the contributions collected by the distributors!

    I do not mean to discourage any enthusiastic “geurilla” book distributors, but if we are more careful and sensitive to the concerns of the “karmis,” we may find in the long run we get the cooperation and respect of the authorities, enhance the reputation of ISKCON, and see the book scores keep going higher and higher.

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    Jivananda dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    My humble obeisances to all the Vaisnavas. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    To Mother Gopal Dasi I would respectfully like to say “Please get with the spirit of San Kirtan”. I say this because your assumption that distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books on these properties is illegal is completely wrong. Rather than speculating that we are in the wrong I called my attourney (a very good attourney at that) to get his educated opinion on this particlar point. His advice is as follows:

    Since Walmart, other retailers and malls, etc. spend tens of thousands of dollars monthly inviting the public (which includes the devotees of Lord Krishna) to come to their facilities it cannot be legally construed in anyway that we come there as trespassers. We are invited to come there and to exclude us would be discrimination.

    Once we get there, however, we are requird to abide by their rules. Therefore, if we are asked to refrain from solicitation we must comply. Up until this point no crime has been commited. At the point that we are discovered and asked to stop is the magic moment. At that point if we comply with thier request, NO CRIME HAS BEEN COMMITED. If, however, we do not comply we could be guilty of trespass and the security person could call the local authorities and turn the situation over to them.


    I am a full time book distributor and I have had first hand experience at this procedure. If discovered by security I have always been POLITELY asked to stop usually accompanied with an appology from the security officer for having to inform me to do so. I always respond in a gentlemanly fashion, shakes his (or her) hand and leave at once only to go on to another spot. That is how it works – it really is just that simple. This is the “real world” of book distribution.

    Please so not assume that simply because we are (as Srila Prabhupada has called us) the Hare Krishna People that we are doing something wrong by distributing the books that Srila Prabhupada has given us. When we are engaged in San Kirtan we are doing the right thing even if there is some test from Krishna to struggle to do so. The end result is truly Transcendental Bliss along with the feeling that we are pleasing Srila Prabhupada by following his instruction of “distribute my books, distribute my books, distribute my books”.

    Please rethink your response and please do not let this question of legality become another “I can’t go out on San Kirtan because…” excuse. Let us all work together to eliminate all excuses why we cannot do San Kirtan and explore reasons why we all should do so.

    Your servant,
    Jivananda dasa Vanacari ACBSP

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    gopaldasi ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    The main impetus for posting was to serve the devotees by: 1) Raising awareness of the legal implications of entering onto private property and engaging in activity that is not sanctioned by the private property owner and, 2) Suggesting that sankirtan devotees inquire regarding retailer’s solicitation policies in order to conform his or her activity to the law.

    I was rather alarmed by the advice given in Bhakta Corey’s article and wanted to provide devotees with information so that they can be better-informed decision-makers. I’m not implying that devotees cease from engaging in sankirtan – simply that they engage in sankirtan in a well-educated, thoughtful manner. If a devotee chooses to skirt or break the law that is his or her choice.

    In the United States trespass law varies from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, therefore it is possible to speak in only very general legal terms. My “assumptions” regarding the legality of trespass/solicitation on private property stem from my legal education – and are by no means exhaustive or applicable to every locality. Perhaps local Temple Presidents or GBC members are well versed in applicable local law and can provide on-point information to sankirtan devotees.

    Retailers and others that invite the public onto their property do so for specific purposes. Certainly devotees are not barred from entering property owned by private retailers but once they begin to solicit, in violation of the private retailers policy, the devotee’s presence becomes illegal. The presence is illegal once the non-sanctioned activity begins not once one is caught (just as theft is illegal as soon as an item is stolen – not just when a person is caught stealing).

    I am not implying that retailers with a no-solicitation policy will have a solicitor sanctioned for his or her conduct, I am simply pointing out the illegality of that conduct. Certainly even retailers with no-solicitation policies may provide exemptions to charities etc. However, just because one is affiliated with a charitable or religious organization his or her solicitation is not automatically exempted from the policy. Many well-known organizations such as the Salvation Army have been blocked from solicitation by many of the large chain stores. In order for solicitation to be exempted proper inquiry, application etc. must generally be made.

    I wish everyone the best in all their pursuits!

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    asprng_vaishnav ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krsna
    Grhstha/divorced/separated/single devotees can try to distribute books first to their extended families, friends, office/factory/farm-coworkers, neighbors, doctors/medical professionals, lawyers they come in contact with. Typically this list can have 50 people.
    If 1 million iskcon devotees follow above, 50 million books could be distributed quickly.
    Personally, i have distributed BhagavadGitas to my extended family, sold the same to some of my friends. I am working on coworkers, doctors etc. If i do not feel comfortable selling to a known person, i just give away “chant and be happy” free to that person.
    Those who have Karmi jobs can afford a small book distribution budget each month and give away books free.
    Hari Bol
    your servant

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    asprng_vaishnav ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Hare Krsna,
    We can regularly make announcement to our regular devotees about book distribution and envourage them to do so. This can be done at the end of the class as I feel that at the end of the program, people are less attentive as their focus is more on Prasadam.
    In my opinion, people who hold karmi jobsI, can afford to spend 5 to 10 dollars each month for book distribution and the temple’s donations will not be negatively impacted. Distriibuting books for money was essential when our temples’ maintenance was dependent on book distribution revenues. Christian and Muslim organizations give out their religous books for free. Our devotees can give small books away for free using their own funds.
    Hari Bol
    your servant

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