Street Chanting in relation to Book distribution and in India
By Bhakta Nimesh
Please see below two letters. One from Prabhupada’s secretary, authorised by Prabhupada. It seems to address the topic of street chanting in India, as well as the comparative importance of street chanting and book distribution. The second letter is from Prabhupada himself to Ramesvara again regarding street chanting and book distribution.
You can read it all below, but mainly two things I got from it:
* street chanting in India met with mostly derogatory response, so mostly Life Membership preaching was used – but still on no account should street chanting be stopped.
* book distribution is more important than street chanting, but both should go on. Only when there are “not very many men available or if there is prohibition by the municipal authorities, something like that, we may assign everyone for distributing our literatures”, but otherwise, there are three recommendations from Prabhupada:
o Have them go on side by side (one or two devotees chanting while the book distribution is going on). Prabhupada says this will increase book sales.
o The chanting can go on for a little while and when a crowd is drawn books can be distributed.
o Do book distribution throughout the week and have street chanting on weekend evenings.
Letter to: Ramesvara
25 October, 1974
Dear Ramesvara Prabhu:
Please accept my humble obeisances. There have been two letters from GBC men to Srila Prabhupada regarding street chanting and book distribution, and there seems to be some discussion about the two. Srila Prabhupada has said that book distribution is more important that street chanting. Book distribution is brihat kirtana. It is literally kirtana in the sense that the books are spoken and therefore anyone who reads a book is hearing. Because his books are recorded and transcribed Srila Prabhupada calls his books spoken kirtanas, or recorded chanting. So book distribution is also kirtana and should not be considered less than kirtana.
The reason book distribution is greater than chanting is because the effect is wider. A purchased book goes into a person’s home and will be read by others, whereas street kirtana only benefits those in the vicinity who hear. Two cases are cited. In Portugal one boy, who is only 11 years old, has become a devotee. He offers prasadam and is translating Bhagavad-gita As It Is into Portuguese with the help of his mother. He got several of our books at a bookstore in Lisbon and has asked his father who is just now coming to USA to get him all available Srimad-Bhagavatams. Prabhupada remarks that our books went there to Portugal but we did not, but still he has become a devotee. Then in Tokyo airport Prabhupada tells how one Japanese youth approached Srila Prabhupada and asked if he could speak with Srila Prabhupada. When Prabhupada said yes, the boy asked, “Where do you get all the knowledge that is in your books?” So by comparative study book selling is more important.
Srila Prabhupada also pointed out that is the West sometimes the street chanting is considered as a farce. Also in India. At first street chanting was tried but was met with mostly derogatory reaction. Therefore there is mostly Life Membership preaching in India, which is of course book distribution.
But on no account should street chanting be stopped. Prabhupada has never said that street chanting should be stopped. The chanting can go on for a little while and when a crowd is drawn books can be distributed. When I mentioned to Srila Prabhupada that when in L.A. last, there was the system of book distribution all week long and on weekend nights full street kirtanas, he said that was a good system.
Regarding the claim that devotees have difficulties maintaining Krishna consciousness by only doing book selling with not enough street chanting, Prabhupada remarked that if things deteriorate that is another thing, but it is not the fault of book distribution. Book distribution must not be neglected.
… I hope this meets you in good health.
Seen: ACBS (initialed by hand)
Letter to: Ravindra Svarupa
5 January, 1973
[To Ravindra Svarupa]
…Regarding your question is it all right to assign the entire sankirtana party for distributing books so that no one will be free for street chanting? Of course we should not understanding the meaning of sankirtana very narrowly, that only chanting and dancing and playing instruments, no, sankirtana means to glorify the Lord in a congregational manner. So if many devotees are going out daily on the streets and public places for distributing our literature, that is also sankirtana, even if there is no one chanting. Hearing and chanting are essential processes for sankirtana. So if someone is hearing us singing on the street, or if he is purchasing one book and if he reads sincerely, these two activities are the same. So if there is any occasion of necessity, if there are not very many men available or if there is prohibition by the municipal authorities, something like that, we may assign everyone for distributing our literatures, there is no loss for that. But it is always better if there are also some devotees chanting loudly on the street. If there is even one man to two men or a small party who are chanting Hare Krishna, that will increase also the book sales. So if there are sufficient men, and if we have got sanction by the authorities, it is always better to have at least a small party chanting along with as many distributors of books as possible.
Hoping this meets you in good health,
Your ever well wisher,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami