By Akruranatha dasa
On June 16 – 17, 2011, devotees from the Motel Gita Project (www.motelgita.org) attended the annual convention of the Asian American Hotel Owners Association (AAHOA) in Las Vegas, Nevada, requesting the owners of hotels and motels to include a copy of “Bhagavad-gita As It Is” in their guest rooms, as is commonly done with Gideon’s Bibles. The Motel Gita project previously had booths at AAHOA’s annual national conventions last year in Chicago and in 2009 in Washington, D.C., as well as in smaller, regional conventions throughout the year.
The word is gradually getting out among U.S. moteliers, roughly 65% of whom are Hindus of mostly Gujarati extraction, that ISKCON will provide Srila Prabhupada’s translation and commentary on Bhagavad-gita for the benefit of their English-speaking guests. Many of the moteliers are enthusiastically embracing the idea, and others are willing to be persuaded. In Las Vegas, devotees took orders for about 8,300 Gitas, with a potential for much more in the future, because many moteliers who own 5 to 10 motels comprising a total of 600 to 1,000 rooms agreed to try it out in one of their smaller motels first, placing orders for just 50 or 60 books for now and probably over ten times that number later.
Since 2009 Motel Gita has received orders for nearly 100,000 Gitas and seems well on its way to meeting its goal of placing Gitas in 1 million rooms by 2015 as the word spreads and it makes better use of the press and other means of advertisement. The main obstacle is finding the money to pay for the books, which with printing, shipping, handling and overhead cost the organization about $4 per book. The moteliers are accustomed to getting Bibles for free, and they are mostly willing to try putting the Gitas in their rooms if they are free, though some may be a little reluctant to try it. If we ask them to pay for the books, they hesitate, but if we promise to provide them free of charge (donations are gladly accepted of course), it is easy to overcome whatever misgivings they have. Even before taking these 8,300 additional orders, Motel Gita had a backlog of over 3,000 orders which could not be fulfilled because of insufficient funds. Therefore, right now it would take about $40,000 in donations just to fulfill all the orders we have taken. Our ability to do so quickly and efficiently will establish credibility and trust among our motel-owner partners. Donations have been rolling in, but to reach our goal for 1 million books, donations must come more quickly and profusely.
At this year’s convention in Las Vegas we met a number of moteliers who have already stocked their rooms with Gitas for a year or two, and they were brimming with stories of their experiences. They have not had any problems with the franchisers (like Econolodge, Days Inn, Holiday Inn or Motel 6), whose contracts with them typically require them to provide Bibles, but do not prohibit providing other books or scriptures. They have occasionally had complaints from evangelical Christian guests who distrust any other sacred scriptures besides the Bible and tend to regard the United States as an exclusively Christian domain, but favorable comments far outnumber such bigoted complaints, and many guests ask whether they can purchase their copy (the motels usually tell such guests to take a complimentary copy).
This is clearly an opportunity sent by Lord Caitanya which should not be lost. Other groups have desired to put other editions of Bhagavad Gita or books on Hinduism, sometimes filled with Mayavadi misconceptions, but so far ISKCON seems to be the only group with the organization and facility for publishing and distribution to launch a large-scale, established program. At this year’s convention a Taiwanese group was offering Buddhist literature for motel rooms, but so far ISKCON’s Motel Gita Project is the only visible supplier of Bhagavad-gitas at these conventions. If we do not raise the funds necessary to keep up with the demand we are generating, it is a distinct possibility that the moteliers will stock their rooms with non-devotional commentaries.
Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is has a proven track record of turning readers from all national backgrounds into devotees of Krishna. Christian missionary groups and Muslim groups spend money in India and elsewhere to actively seek converts and promote their sectarian ideologies, but it is time that the more universal and scientific message of Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam be promoted in an organized and effective way by mass book distribution all over the world. In order to further this end, the Lord has somehow arranged for the motel industry in the United States to become dominated by Hindus who have reverence for Bhagavad-gita and are easily persuaded to place them in their rooms where guests may read them and become devotees (or at least become more favorable and appreciative and informed about Krishna consciousness).
Please support this timely project by visiting www.motelgita.org and making a PayPal donation, or contacting the Motel Gita team to become more involved or informed about this exciting and important new venue for sastra-dan.