The Importance of Publishing and Distributing Books
BY: RUDRA DWIPA DAS
May 11, MEDELLIN, COLOMBIA (SUN) From the new book by Swami BA Paramadvaiti, "Sato Vrtten - Following in the Footsteps of Previous Acaryas".
Srila Prabhupada had very little personal association with his own spiritual master. But even in one letter from the spiritual master there can be enough instruction and enthusiasm to inspire you for the rest of your life. Srila Prabhupada often used to quote to us what his spiritual master remarked when there was quarreling among his disciples over usage of the rooms in Bagh Bazaar Gaudiya Matha. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura would say, “I want to break all the marble from this temple, sell it, print books and distribute them.”
Srila Prabhupada personally told me, “Whenever you get money, print transcendental books and distribute them.” Srila Prabhupada took this instruction from his spiritual master so much to heart, that even in the position of a grhasta, he started to print the magazine Back to Godhead. The magazine contained the divine teachings of his spiritual master in the English language. He single-handedly wrote it, printed it and distributed it wherever he could.
Incredibly, his wonderful efforts were later increased, as he wrote the book “In Search of the Ultimate Goal of Life” and many others to follow. Many of these titles were authored by him while he was busy editing and preparing Back to Godhead. Later, at the Radha Damodara temple in his bhajana-kutir, he performed his valuable service of presenting these Vaisnava teachings to the whole world. Actually you could say that he wanted to publish the entire Gosvami-grantha and the commentaries of the great acaryas, for the benefit of the whole world. He made the Sri Isopanisad and the Bhagavad-gita available. After that he embarked on the Srimad Bhagavatam, the science of love for Krsna. He also translated and gave commentaries on the Sri Upadesamrta of Srila Rupa Gosvami. This book shows us with great detail, how the transcendental rasa or loving relationship develops and coordinates all the divine plans of the Lord in relation to His devotees.
Srila Prabhupada had a very unique quality. He would take the transcendental teachings, translate sloka which had been written hundreds or even thousands of years ago and explain them in a way that made them accessible to all, including people who have had very little experience in this area. One of his most wonderful works is his publication of the famous translation of the Krsna Book. In this book he relates the stories of the Bhagavatam, Krsna's personal lila in Vrndavana, Mathura and Dwaraka. He does this with such great care and love, describing everything in detail, so that these very intimate lilas, rather than being misconstrued, will be correctly understood in the context of these pastimes.
Srila Prabhupada brought us all these books, and he inspired us to dedicate our lives to the distribution of these books. This he did in a very sweet way. He mentioned to us that his own spiritual master would be extremely satisfied if a brahmacari distributed only two or three copies of The Harmonist or the Gaudiya. He also told us that he would stay in that place where the devotees distributed the most books. He enthused us to translate most of his beautiful books into many different languages. He inspired his artistically talented disciples to decorate his books with the most wonderful art, even though initially, they were not so expert. Over the years some of Prabhupada’s artist disciples gained such expertise that they painted the most astonishing pieces of Krsna-lila art. Right from the start though, Srila Prabhupada immediately inspired the love in them to paint the beautiful Sri Krsna. These paintings went into the books making them so attractive and colorful. They were like windows to the spiritual world.
Srila Prabhupada completed the books of Srimad Bhagavatam one after another, and the devotees didn’t know what to do with them. Book distribution on a large scale was totally unknown to us then. When I joined the movement in 1971, we were distributing pamphlets, asking people for anything they would like to give us to help maintain our temple and continue spreading these pamphlets. There was no concept of giving a book to a person, what to speak of the later days, when Srila Prabhupada inspired his disciples to sell entire sets of Srimad Bhagavatam and Caitanya-Caritamrta, about 50 large hardbound volumes, in one shot to a person. In the beginning this was absolutely inconceivable to us. Srila Prabhupada sent pallets of books to the different temples and the devotees stored these books somewhere in the temple. They started to wonder what they should do with these books. Then some of the pioneer disciples of Srila Prabhupada started to distribute them. They offered them to people as they went out preaching, on harinama sanikrtana or when they were just visiting people. Very slowly the devotees realized that one could make a concentrated effort to distribute this transcendental literature.
I remember feeling a sense of revolution when the Sri Isopanisad came out in German, giving us a book of our spiritual master. We would sell one or two a day. When someone gave a large donation for the pamphlet, we would show them the book and ask them if they wanted the book too. This went on until one devotee went out and instead of giving pamphlets to the people, he put the Isopanisad straight into their hands and asked for a donation. Late at night we were really surprised to hear that he had distributed fifteen Isopanisads in one day. Everybody was flabbergasted, completely shocked. How was that possible? Fifteen people in one day getting the holy teachings from the Isopanisad in their hands. Amazing! From then on, the revolution of book distribution started to manifest, and it created an explosion of transcendental literature. At the height of book distribution, Srila Prabhupada had one million Back to Godhead magazines printed and distributed, in addition to countless books.
As part of this revolution, Srila Prabhupada’s disciples in different countries desired to have these books translated in all the different languages of the world. In this way, one of the biggest book translation campaigns started all over the world. I was personally involved in translating and publishing Srila Prabhupada’s books in Swedish, Danish, Finnish, Portuguese and Spanish (and German for a short while). I remember how powerful the spirit of book publication was in those days. We not only wanted to have a great number of Prabhupada’s books translated and published, but we also had the desire that all of these books be found in everyone's home. That was the heartfelt desire of Prabhupada’s disciples and Prabhupada kept encouraging us. He kept pushing us with so much love. He used to say, “Double it.” If a devotee came to him and said he had distributed fifty books, Prabhupada had a very sweet smile and simply said, “Double it.”
Sometimes a devotee would say, “But Prabhupada, this will not be possible.”
He responded, “Impossible is a word from a fool’s dictionary. Never say it is impossible.”
Just imagine that within a few days the devotee had doubled it and came back to Prabhupada saying “Prabhupada, you were right. I’ve distributed one hundred books in one day.”
Prabhupada again, with the same sweet smile, looked at him and said, “Double it!”
In this way, Srila Prabhupada pushed us with so much love. Nobody was obligated to do anything for Srila Prabhupada. Everything was done out of love and inspiration because we saw our spiritual master working so hard, day and night, for all of humanity. He was translating the books at night. In the beginning I doubted it. I heard from every devotee that my spiritual master was translating these books late at night, but I wanted to know it for sure. So one day, I stayed up when Srila Prabhupada visited Schloss Rettershof in Germany and I slept in front of his door. I was so amazed that, even at one o’clock in the middle of the night, I could still hear his voice coming out of the room, dictating his publications into the dictaphone. I was so ashamed of even having possibly imagined that there had been some exaggeration of his dedicated work. For me, that feeling turned into the great desire to become an instrument of Srila Prabhupada’s book distribution.
Srila Prabhupada went to Los Angeles. He was ahead of the book publication by about twenty-two big books. He translated and prepared the books so incredibly fast, but the devotees were far behind with typesetting, making the lay-out, the picture preparation and the printing. The Los Angeles BBT department had been producing one book every three months. The publication of many of Prabhupada’s books was delayed, so Srila Prabhupada went to Los Angeles and called the devotees to him. He said, “I want to publish all the books that are delayed within the next two months.”
Again the devotees said, “Impossible, Srila Prabhupada.”
Srila Prabhupada smiled and suggested, “Let’s start a marathon.” Srila Prabhupada personally supervised us as we conquered the illusion of ignorance in this world with his knowledge. Devotees would get up for mangala-arati, listen to a few words of Srila Prabhupada and run to their offices. They would even eat in their offices. The painters were preparing paintings on an assembly line. The experts would paint the faces while others who were not so expert would paint the landscapes. In the spirit of completely unselfish teamwork, these paintings were produced, one even more beautiful than the other.
It was truly amazing to watch how these books which had been prepared by Srila Prabhupada were being published at such a rapid rate. All the devotees cooperated with each other. Even the printers went into marathon and started printing books twenty-four hours a day. Within a period of two months, twenty-two large, hard-bound volumes were published through this incredible effort. All of a sudden we were inundated by books which we hadn’t even read yet! Getting them distributed was the next step. Then translating these books into every language of the world was the next important step. This of course takes more than a few months time, and in fact it is still going on.
Srila Prabhupada himself supervised the English, Bengali, Hindi and many other publications. Whenever he saw a new book publication, Srila Prabhupada said, “This gives me life. This preaching, book publication and book distribution, this gives me the will to live.” He used to call his books transcendental time bombs. He once remarked, “When you distribute books, you don’t know if people will read them immediately or if they will understand what they read. But at some point they will start to understand that these books are the truth.”
Srila Prabhupada was very confident that book distribution was one of the nicest services to please Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada. Of course his guru had been the pioneer of book publishing in the line of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, as he had the printing presses working full speed. This spirit of printing was deeply imbibed by Bhakti Raksaka Sridhara Maharaja. Even in his asrama, a very humble setting on the banks of the Ganges, there was a big letter press. Devotees worked hard to have the transcendental messages printed and published. And then there was Srila Bhakti Pramode Puri Maharaja. He had been the editor of transcendental literature from the beginning of the Gaudiya Matha. He had written so many articles and books and kept a diary of all the activities of the Gaudiya Matha. This diary was given to him, and by divine arrangement, at the end of his life, through his disciples, he was able to publish one of the most beautiful books ever seen in the Vaisnava world: a book about his own gurudeva, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Prabhupada. This book really shows the glories of this empowered person and the transcendental spirit in which he expanded Krsna-consciousness.