Not only in the street: distributing books everywhere
"A devotee is pleased when there is difficulty, for in these difficulties he is forced to remember Krsna. We cannot expect that the people of Kali-yuga will welcome our attempt to spread Krsna consciousness. It is just like a lunatic asylum: The patients are running around madly and when the doctor tries to give them treatment, they insist that they are not crazy. Sometimes the patient even strikes the doctor. So our task is like that. We cannot stand to see people suffering due to ignorance. What is that ignorance? They do not know that they are not their body. This Krsna consciousness movement is meant to deliver people to the proper understanding that they are not their body, that they are pure spirit soul. We may or may not be appreciated, that is not our concern. We must execute the order of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu which is: "Yare dekha tare kaha krsna upadesa amara ajna guru haya tara ei desa." "Whomever you meet, instruct them to follow the orders of Sri Krsna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this way by My order become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land." So our business is to satisfy the acaryas and Krsna. If they are pleased then we know our work is successful. Go on spreading the sankirtana movement more and more.” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to German disciples, 6 May 1977)
Srila Prabhupada greatly emphasized book distribution, foreseeing that the vibrant distribution of books would always be the main factor behind the growth of our movement:
“Let everyone take these books. If he simply reads one page then he is getting something substantial, a real eternal benefit. Or if he hands it over to his friend and he reads one page the same result is there” (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Tamala Krsna, 28 December 1974).
Book distribution is not only essential for the growth of our movement and the most effective way to help others but is also very important for our own spiritual lives, being the quickest way to be noted by Krsna.
"One should endeavor for that which is never obtained by wandering up and down the universe as a result of the reactions of karma. What is that? One should endeavor to become Krsna conscious. If one tries to spread Krsna consciousness all over the world, he should be understood to be performing the best welfare activity. The Lord is automatically very pleased with him. If the Lord is pleased with him, what is left for him to achieve? If one has been recognized by the Lord, even if he does not ask the Lord for anything, the Lord, who is within everyone, supplies him whatever he wants. This is also confirmed in Bhagavad-gita (tesam nityabhiyuktanam yoga-ksemam vahamy aham). Again, as stated here, tapyante loka-tapena sadhavah prayaso janah. The best welfare activity is raising people to the platform of Krsna consciousness, since the conditioned souls are suffering only for want of Krsna consciousness. The Lord Himself also comes to mitigate the suffering of humanity.
yada yada hi dharmasya
glanir bhavati bharata
tadatmanam srjamy aham
vinasaya ca duskrtam
sambhavami yuge yuge
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion — at that time I descend Myself. To deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I Myself appear millennium after millennium.” (Bg. 4.7-8) All the sastras conclude, therefore, that spreading the Krsna consciousness movement is the best welfare activity in the world. Because of the ultimate benefit this bestows upon people in general, the Lord very quickly recognizes such service performed by a devotee." (SB 8.7.44 purport)
“You go on with book distribution. They will be benefited, and distributors also will be benefited. Krsna says, ‘ya idam paramam guhyam mad-bhaktesv abhidhasyati, na ca tasman manusyesu kascin me priya-krttamah’ [Bg. 18.68-69]. If you want to become quickly recognized by Krsna, then make propaganda, this Krsna consciousness movement. And once recognized by Krsna, then your going back to home, back to Godhead, guaranteed”. (Srila Prabhupada, Morning Walk, 5 July 1975)
“To be quickly recognized by Krsna, this is the short-cut process. He never says those who are sitting in a secluded place meditating or chanting, doing nothing. He never says that “They are My very dear devotees.” But those who are preaching – na ca tasman manusyesu kascin me [Bg. 18.69]. Just like government takes more care for the soldiers, especially when there is fighting. They are giving life for the state. So their comfort–first consideration. In the warfield, enough supplies. Anything the soldiers require. Enough supplies”. (Srila Prabhupada, Room Conversation, 22 August 1976)
“I am very pleased to see how nice the book distribution is increasing in Germany. Give those two boys who have done so nicely my thanks. Krishna will bless them: ye yatha mam prapdayante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham [Bg. 4.11]. Krsna becomes more and more pleased by seeing the increment of book distribution. Devotional service is absolute but one who preaches His message becomes very dear to Lord Krsna”. (Srila Prabhupada, letter to Jayatirtha, 27 October, 1976)
On the other hand, it’s a misunderstanding that book distribution means only to distribute in the street. Book distribution means to distribute books, by whatever means possible.
There are many different ways to distribute books. For example, in New Delhi, devotees distribute huge quantities of books by going to big businesses, convincing the boss to sponsor books for the employees, or for distribution in schools. In Mayapur, devotees travel on buses, going especially house-to-house. In different places, many devotees go to factories and offices, first speaking with the boss and then, with his support, going to the individual employees. In different countries, devotees go to universities; setting-up tables or using some excuse to get inside the classrooms and then distributing books to the students. In the 1970s, there was a lot of success in book distribution to professors and libraries in universities, especially by the devotees of the famous Library Party. In the 1980s and 1990s, distribution inside busses used to be very effective in Latin America, especially for small books. In Moscow, HH Bhakti Ananta Krsna Maharaja organizes his Goloka Fest festivals, attracting thousands of people, few of whom return home without taking a book. It’s also possible to distribute books at traffic lights (where the waiting drivers become a captive audience), by going to apartment blocks, stores and offices, distributing through the mail or over the internet, in trains or metro, distribute sets to favourable people or congregational members, and so on. We just need to tax our brains and pray to Krsna to give us the intelligence and inspiration for finding new and creative ways to get in contact with people and encourage them to get books: whatever may work.
Book distribution in the street is the most obvious, yet frequently one of the most difficult types of sankirtana. Sometimes we overemphasize street sankirtana and end up creating barriers for devotees who don't feel comfortable in this particular modality. In an ideal world, we would have senior devotees specializing in different styles of sankirtana in every yatra, and new devotees would be able to learn from them according to their particular talents and preferences. We can help by finding new ways to distribute books, developing new systems and then teaching others, so they don't have to start from scratch. We need to be adaptable, always finding new ways, otherwise, we may get addicted to only one particular modality or niche, which leads to discouragement when times change and book distribution in this particular way becomes difficult or is prevented by external factors. In Brazil, for example, many devotees (including me) were distributing books inside buses in the 1990s. We would ask the driver, and with his consent enter through the backdoor and offer books to the passengers. Later, however, stricter rules suppressed this. Some devotees switched to person to person, traffic lights or other styles, but many gave-up book distribution.
Another point is that, as much as possible, we should find ways to increase our effectiveness by working in a cooperative way, trying to see the big picture. For example, devotees who go to the street can make contact with a large number of people, in many cases talking to 300 or more people per day. Many of them are interested, and often we take their contacts, yet frequently these contacts end up in the garbage bin. It's a big waste, especially considering that many devotees who don't have time or don't feel inspired to go to the street, can be extremely effective in contacting these people, paying them a visit and "fanning the spark", spending some time preaching to them, distributing sets of books and trying to engage them. This is a much lighter and very fulfilling type of sankirtana, especially for older and more experienced devotees who are eager to preach but don't have the physical endurance for street sankirtana anymore. If someone is already doing the hard job, tolerating the heat and the cold, stopping people in the streets and getting contacts of the most favourable, why not take advantage and go to the next step?
Also, devotees who are shy or who preach in situations where it’s not possible or socially acceptable to ask for donations, can simply buy books from the local temple or the BBT and give them out as presents. This is also a good way to begin distributing books since one can start by giving away books to family members, friends, co-workers, etc. and gradually progress from there. This is called sastra-dhana (to give the sastra as a present), and nowadays it is done on a large scale in different places. Even devotees who don’t have time to present the books personally, but have some money to spare, can participate by sponsoring books for those who can do the distribution.
For those who have time, one simple and effective way to cultivate those who are receiving books is to just sit with them and read aloud some passages, sharing our own realizations and stimulating them to comment and ask. This simple process of hearing from a devotee and interacting with him is very powerful. By visiting favourable people, reading for them and bringing new books, we can make devotees.