Srila Prabhupada's Book Marathon

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We have again reached December, that most auspicious time of year when the book-distribution marathon takes place. To honor the occasion we shall read two verses from Srimad-Bhagavatam that embody the devotee’s mood in distributing Krsna consciousness.

naivodvije para duratyaya-vaitaranyas
tvad-virya-gayana-mahamrta-magna-cittah
soce tato vimukha-cetasa indriyartha-
maya-sukhaya bharam udvahato vimudhan

“O best of the great personalities, I am not at all afraid of material existence, for wherever I stay I am fully absorbed in thoughts of Your glories and activities. My concern is only for the fools and rascals who are making elaborate plans for material happiness and maintaining their families, societies, and countries. I am simply concerned with love for them.” (SB 7.9.43)

prayena deva munayah sva-vimukti-kama
maunam caranti vijane na parartha-nisthah
naitan vihaya krpanan vimumuksa eko
nanyam tvad asya saranam bhramato ’nupasye

“My dear Lord Nrsimhadeva, I see that there are many saintly persons indeed, but they are interested only in their own deliverance. Not caring for the big cities and towns, they go to the Himalayas or the forest to meditate with vows of silence [mauna-vrata]. They are not interested in delivering others. As for me, however, I do not wish to be liberated alone, leaving aside all these poor fools and rascals. I know that without Krsna consciousness, without taking shelter of Your lotus feet, one cannot be happy. Therefore I wish to bring them back to shelter at Your lotus feet.” (SB 7.9.44)

To distribute Krsna consciousness, we must have Krsna consciousness. These verses are about Prahlada Maharaja, and in a way they are also about Srila Prabhupada, who in his purport expressed his own mood—and about us, how Srila Prabhupada wants us to execute Krsna consciousness. Prahlada Maharaja and Srila Prabhupada were on a very high level of Krsna consciousness, but even on our own level we can experience something of what they experienced, that wherever we are we can get relief from material miseries and anxieties by taking shelter of the holy name. We can joyfully chant in the temple room, in the association of devotees, before the Deities, and in the presence of Tulasi-devi—but one can chant anywhere, even on traveling sankirtana. One can close one’s eyes and chant and hear and no longer be in the material world—actually be with Krsna.

Devotees need that connection with Krsna not just for their own sakes but also for the sake of others. Once, in a meeting with Srila Prabhupada in the Atlanta temple, Svavasa Prabhu asked, “How can we increase our devotion and our desire to distribute more books?” He and the other devotees were eagerly anticipating some special formula to expand their book distribution. Srila Prabhupada didn’t look at them; he looked upward, and they waited in suspense. Finally he said, “If you want to increase book distribution, if you really want, I have only one recommendation. . . . You must chant your rounds uninterrupted. After you begin your chanting, do not stop until you finish.” As Svavasa Prabhu explained, if you win that fight, you will win all day, but if you lose it and allow your mind to carry you to something else, you will have a difficult day.

Svavasa Prabhu still follows that policy. He gets up at two in the morning and chants all his rounds before even coming to the temple for mangala-arati. A while ago I stayed with Vaisesika Prabhu at his home in Burlingame, and his morning program was blissfully intense. He did things that we do every day—and some things that we may do only on occasion—but he did them with so much enthusiasm and so much relish that the practices came to life. I felt, “Wow, that’s what reciting these verses and prayers actually is.” We spoke later about the book he is writing on book distribution, and he said that one of the themes is that the energy to distribute books comes from the overflow of the ecstasy we feel from our spiritual practices, from our own Krsna consciousness.

I’ve also experienced that if you chant your rounds in the morning before going out you will get extra energy and intelligence for your service, and if you don’t, not only may you be a little depleted in your spiritual energy, but you may also be in anxiety about when you’re going to finish your rounds.

So this practice of rising early and chanting all your rounds is very much part of the process of sharing Krsna consciousness with others. In the earlier verse, Prahlada said that he has no anxiety for himself because wherever he is he can merge himself into the nectarean ocean of Krsna consciousness—and that’s true for us as well. Wherever we go we can have that experience of tasting the nectar of Krsna consciousness by chanting the holy names and by reading, studying, and discussing Srila Prabhupada’s books.

So the two—tasting and distributing—go together. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura said that the best gosthyanandi is a bhajananandi who likes to preach. Gosthyanandi means someone who takes pleasure in preaching and sharing Krsna consciousness with others, and a bhajananandi is someone who takes pleasure in his own bhajana, his own spiritual practices. Prahlada Maharaja exemplifies that principle, because personally he can experience pure bliss anywhere at any time just by chanting and hearing and remembering his Lord. Yet he is not content to go back home, back to Godhead, alone; he wants to bring the krpanan with him.

Krpana is a very significant word. It is discussed by Srila Prabhupada in the Bhagavad-gita, in relation to Arjuna’s admission that he was overcome by miserly weakness.

karpanya-dosopahata-svabhavah
prcchami tvam dharma-sammudha-cetah
yac chreyah syan niscitam bruhi tan me
sisyas te ’ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam

“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of miserly weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me for certain what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Bg 2.7)

Krpana means “miser.” But how does it apply? A miser is someone who has an asset but doesn’t use it. He may have a lot of money but not spend it for any good purpose; he will just hoard it. So, we have this human form of life, which is extremely rare and valuable—valuable because it can be used to realize God. And if we don’t use it for that purpose, we are krpanas, misers.

labdhva su-durlabham idam bahu-sambhavante
manusyam artha-dam anityam apiha dhirah
turnam yateta na pated anu-mrtyu yavan
nihsreyasaya visayah khalu sarvatah syat

“After many, many births one achieves the rare human form of life, which, although temporary, affords one the opportunity to attain the highest perfection. Thus a sober human being should quickly endeavor for the ultimate perfection of life before his body, which is always subject to death, falls away. After all, sense gratification is available even in the most abominable species of life, whereas Krsna consciousness is possible only for a human being.” (SB 11.9.29)

And not only do we have this form of life, but we have the knowledge of Krsna consciousness, which is most valuable, and we should not keep that knowledge to ourselves; we should distribute it.

Of course, preaching directly about Krsna can sometimes be an austerity. As Srila Prabhupada said, “If you tell people ‘Give up all your nonsense and just surrender to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead,’ they might not like it. A few might, but most probably won’t.” And the same applies to distributing books. It can be an austerity because people don’t like the message of Krsna consciousness. They came into the material world to be God, and they don’t want to hear that someone else is God and that they have to surrender to Him. But if we can get them to take a book, the book will tell them. Some time ago I was visiting a nice devotee family, and the mother’s mother, who was visiting from India, was a pious lady and was very respectful and appreciative of devotees but expressed some wild, impersonalist ideas. I thought, “What am I going to do?” We were having a nice visit, the fulfillment of a long-cherished desire, and everyone was very happy. If I contradicted her it could have lead to an argument and had a bad effect. But I couldn’t just let the comments stand.

So I prayed to Prabhupada in my heart, and I got the answer: “Just be polite and pleasant, and I’ll preach to her; I’ll correct her.” Without challenging anything the grandmother had said, I asked, “Have you read Srila Prabhupada’s books?” And we concluded that she would begin to study them regularly.

In these verses we find words that Srila Prabhupada uses quite frequently: “fools” and “rascals.” If you take the meaning of krpana to its deepest level, it comes to fool and rascal, and in the earlier verse vimudhan literally means “fool.” In many places Krsna uses these words—avajananti mam mudha, na mam duskrtino mudhah. They are in the scriptures, but it may not work well if we use them with the people we are trying to attract to Krsna consciousness. Again, here’s where the books come in. We don’t have to call people fools and rascals; we give them the books, and the books will call them fools and rascals. And they need to hear it, whether in those terms or not.

His Holiness Rtadhvaja Swami used to distribute books at Florida Welcome Centers. People would park and get out of their cars, and in one case the wife went into the welcome center and the husband stayed in the parking lot. Rtadhvaja Swami handed him a Bhagavatam. “What’s this about?” the man asked. “It has ancient teachings on yoga and meditation,” Maharaja replied. “Oh, that sounds interesting.” So, the man opened the book, and the first thing he read was, “persons . . . averse to the nectar of the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead . . . are compared to stool-eating hogs.” He asked Maharaja, “What does this have to do with yoga?” Just then, his wife came out and said, “Honey, what do you have there? What are you talking about?” “Oh, nothing, Honey,” he replied, and then he closed the book, handed Maharaja a donation, and walked away with the book, smiling. Although he didn’t want his wife to know he was being accused of being like a “stool-eating hog,” he wanted to hear it.

Once, Bhurijana Prabhu, knowing how some devotees can be sensitive to strong language, played a short excerpt in which Prabhupada used the word rascal seven times. And each time Prabhupada used the word, Bhurijana would say, “First time,” then “Second time,” then “Third time,” all the way through. He was aware of what Prabhupada had been doing, and in that little three- or four-minute excerpt Prabhupada had used the word rascal seven times—because pleasant or unpleasant, that’s what we need to hear.

Sometimes readers have noted that there is repetition in Prabhupada’s books. By ordinary literary standards, there shouldn’t be repetition, but Prabhupada himself said, “It is not enough to say that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in one purport; we will say that Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead in every purport.” So, there may be repetition, and there may be strong language, but the books have everything, and if someone is sincere he or she will get what he or she needs from them. The books have made so many devotees, they are making devotees now, and they will continue to make devotees in the future.

So yes, “Distribute books! Distribute books! Distribute books!” And to get the strength to do that, chant and hear and be steady in your spiritual practices—and read the books. As Srila Prabhupada said, “Distributing my books will keep them [the devotees] happy, and reading my books will keep them.” He has given us everything, but we have to take advantage, we have to do what he said, and if we do, we will get the results and everyone will be happy.

[A talk by Giriraj Swami, December 1, 2014, New Dvaraka, Los Angeles]