Book Distribution Stories
3 Days of Distribution – 3 Days of Reciprocation – Distributing Srila Prabhupada’s Original Books as a Married Man
These are a recollection of incidents which following the introduction, took place in less than a week. They are of learning Vaisnava ettiquete and accepting Krsna’s reciprocation.
Nearing the end of one month, I was in a difficult situation financially for getting more books, and I was struggling to find a way to keep stocked up. I began thinking on a regular basis, “Krishna, if You would simply arrange for some nice devotee to donate a case of original books, I would be completely taken care of,” yet whenever this thought came to mind I quickly brushed it aside, not wanting to make it into a prayer to “trouble” Him. Little more than a week after these thoughts had come to me, my wife and I went on a trip to another city to scout out the area. While we were there I ran into a harinam party while on distribution, and saw to my pleasure and surprise that within their book stand they had a number of original pocket Gita’s. I gasped and then smiled, pointing to them and asking if I could distribute them while the Harinam continued. The devotee who spoke with me seemed surprised and mildly uncomfortable at the attention I was giving to the pocket Gita’s, until, to their uncertain question if I was sure I wanted to distribute “these ones”, I smiled broadly and said “I only distribute these ones.” That Harinam was blissful, and before my wife and I left the next morning we drove by the devotee’s home to say goodbye, and ask if I could purchase a handful of pocket Gita’s. I was expecting to get a handful of them, perhaps at a generous price. I was unprepared for the reciprocation to come, for as we said our good byes and I asked if I could purchase a few small Gita’s, the smiling Vaisnava said “Oh, just take the whole case!” My wife looked at me to see how I would react, perhaps jumping up and down, giggling, or roaring with laughter, as I often so genuinely find myself doing when I receive a case of books. But I was too stunned. Krishna had just shown me, as a sankirtan buddy later told me, that “every thought is a prayer.” I had refrained from making an “actual” prayer. I hadn’t wanted to trouble or complain to Him. But He had so kindly shown me that He would take care of me.
Rain. Pouring Rain. That’s what came down from the skies about an hour after I stepped out of my car to distribute books at and near Boise State University just over a week after my wife and I had returned from our trip with a gifted case of original Bhagavad Gita’s As It Is. I smiled as I remembered the reciprocation, and then took a deep breath and raised my eyebrows thinking “oh boy” as I chugged further on into the torrents. I didn’t have any plastic wrapped books, and my first concern was that my softbound Isopanisad’s and Gita’s not become water damaged. Several persons had already taken books, but having been out for barely an hour, they were insignificant in what I hoped for and expected in a day. After approaching several more people walking by me in the rain though, I began considering heading back and making it a “japa day”. Everyone was in a rush to get out of the rain, and after trying to speak to three students unsuccessfully, two of my books were already clearly water damaged. But then I remembered the strong words of instruction received from my Uncle, a former book distributor, regarding the mindset I must have if I chose to be a full time book distributor as a grhastha. And I realized that excuses aside, I would either live with myself as a coward who renounced the battlefield, or I would know the joy of success or failure in service. Specifically though, more than anything, I wanted more reciprocation. As my fingertips went numb and I cradled my sidebag, I thought of Krishna’s promise to reciprocate with us as we surrender unto him, and that I could choose a relationship with Him in which I was His fair weathered servant, or an aspirant of his unalloyed devotional service. With these thoughts in my mind, I began mentally repeating ye yatha mam prapadyante, and prayed “My dear Lord Krishna, my books are being destroyed, and the rain is continuing, but I am a book distributor, and this is my service as a married man. Please kindly reciprocate with me, so that I may continue my service to You.” Approaching a slight shady spot below some trees, I saw a positive looking red haired gentleman, and approached him with the original Gita and pink Isopanisad. As I sparked conversation with him and described my service of preserving the books through distribution, he made a sound of interest, and paused to give me his time. After some discussion he gladly took both books, and then pausing briefly for thought, gave a donation just over what I had said would fully cover all costs. In the next 30 minutes I had several more identical interactions, in which I was able to meet students who were genuinely intrigued by and attracted towards the books, and who offered kind donations in turn. As this continued the rain went and then came again, and in bliss I continued thanking Krishna, and asking Him to continually allow me to distribute books in all situations, and to kindly reciprocate with me. Yet as the rain came down again and I walked through it with this prayer, I was unprepared for His reciprocation. Spotting a young man wearing an army camo Cubs hat, I walked up and exchanged pleasantries, and then asked him if I might show him the project I was engaged in. His interest was extremely surface level, yet he paused for just a moment and then said “sure”. I showed him the pictures within the Isopanisad, and described the philosophy of dehino smin yathe dehe, and the presence of an individual spirit soul within every body. Then showing him the Bhagavad Gita, I emphasized I wanted to preserve these books, and asked if he would take either or and give a donation. He was still looking at them slowly and remaining quiet in consideration, and when he asked how much I told him “Whatever you can is fine, if you can do about $4 it will cover my costs, but whatever you can is fine.” Right after I said that I realized I’d made a mistake in saying $4 would be all right for both books, as I had mean to say about that for each, but he seemed so withheld that I put that aside instantly, I just wanted him to take the books. He continued staring as if “hmmm-ing” over them in silence, and then said “Yeah, I’ll help you out.” He took out his wallet and found it empty. As I felt a sinking sensation he became still, and then slowly, moved to open a hidden compartment in his wallet, pulling out a bluish looking bill folded into a tiny piece. “Oh,” I thought, “must be Euros.” But then as he handed it to me quietly, I opened it up and to my shock, stared at the neon orange numbers of a $100 bill. I felt my mouth go dry and my entire spine felt paralyzed. I remember my first concern was to give him a good impression, and being scared that he might have made mistake. Wetting my mouth, I made eye contact with him and asked, “Do you know what this is?” For the first time I saw him smile, and then in a whisper and a nod, he said “Yeah.” I was stunned. He let me sign the date of both his books. I am guilty that I cannot remember his name, only that it was one of three, Cody, Cameron, or Caleb, and it remained burned into my mind the drive home. I had to go straight home. I was physically having difficulty walking, and my hand was shaking as I called my wife to tell her what happened. I had struggled to stay out on books in the rain, refusing to leave, praying to Krishna to send me some reciprocation. And then in a gentle loving way, He reciprocated with me in such magnitude that I was forced to go home, so shocked that I was physically incapable of approaching anyone else. The kindness of the young man He allowed me to meet covered the cost of both books he took, and then sponsored a large case of hardbound Gita’s.
In the past several months of distributing books in the downtown area I had run into a tattoo artist named Gomez, who had been intrigued with the books but then opened his wallet to find it empty and invited me to come by his office some time. We had seen each other briefly some weeks later, but I never went into his office. Now, as I was preparing to leave the State, I felt impelled to see our interaction through, and take him Srila Prabhupada’s books. Starting with the plan to go straight to his office before closing I began the walk, but soon ran into a college professor, a vegetarian Buddhist traveler who had no money but asked to be able to make me a strand of 108 beads with expensive semi-precious stones and high quality wire, and two young teenagers who gave me their last change for a pocket Gita. By the time I reached Gomez’s office the Tattoo shop was closed, but I knocked on the door and told the man who answered that I was leaving town and would like to say goodbye. He went ahead of me to ask Gomez, and then came back and told me to walk on down. He was in the middle of a tattoo, and he looked up to greet me Krishna allowed the immense and powerful realization to dawn on me, that this was not going to be a “quick” distribution exchange. Rather, this would either be an experience of genuinely building a relationship, or not doing anything at all. The situation came to life around me in an instant. It was the most inappropriate time to even mildly suggest the books, we hadn’t seen each other in weeks and he was in the middle of extremely focused work. And there was a leather seat vacant within the room. He nodded at me as I entered and to my asking, said I could take the seat. We were then silent for some minutes, before the conversation began. It was so real. It started with the simplicities of work and what we both enjoyed doing. He told me about his childhood and then thinking to myself “What would Srila Prabhupada do?” I was able to find a natural way to relate philosophy with what he had introduced, so that we began discussing philosophy based on matra sparsas tu kaunteya, and which I paraphrasingly quoted in English. All this time as he continued with his tattoo. He then asked me about my book distribution. I told him after 10 years of studying I had decided to devote myself full time to preserving these books of Sanskrit meditation and wisdom. He nodded and said “mmm…..” and then touching up the flower he was doing, paused to ask, “so preserving, what do you mean by that?” I told him that the Bhagavad Gita As It Is is an exact translation to be preserved for its accuracy, and then taking a moment to consider an example I asked him, “Are you familiar with the Bible, and with how many different editions there are?” He gave a pause, and then a slight output of breath through his nostrils, the kind that I would have expected to be accompanied with the rolling of his eyes were he not tattooing, and then said “Yeah.” I told him it was the same thing with the Bhagavad Gita, and that “There are even 2nd, and almost 3rd editions of this particular Bhagavad Gita As It Is, and the only way to tell them is by looking for fine print on the inside cover, so my goal is to preserve these originals.” He listened, and then continued his work. As we continued speaking a memory came to my mind from the days on the Sankirtan van. We had just finished a day at Bloomsburg Ohio, and we weren’t sure if we had pummeled the campus or the campus had pummeled us. It was a tough day and few books had gone out. Our sankirtan captain was grumbling, on rare instance, about how tough it had been to get the students to take any books, and then I had started cracking up. ‘I got one to take a book!’ I said enthusiastically. ‘She was hemming and hawing, but I told her even a penny, or twenty six cents, and she gave me exactly that, grumbling too! But I was like boom! Yes! She took a book! Devotional service begun! Human form of life guaranteed! Pow!’ Our sankirtan captain stared at me, and then with a smile said ‘You’re something else. If you stick with this you could do well. You have that personal touch.’” These words now came ringing back into my ears. I didn’t know how I was going to distribute these books to my tattoing friend, but I knew I would have to do it on a personal basis, no sales pitch involved. As he finished up the tattoo his client began paying him in hundreds, and then went out to her car to get the rest of the cash. I began thinking fast. I realized then, if I wanted to be personal, I needed to forego the Laxmi. It hit me just like that. I needed to focus on him taking the books in such a way that he was happy with them, and to hell if he gave a donation, he just needed to be satisfied with them. If he wanted to give a donation, he would. As he turned to clean up his instruments I began talking, “Man, I hate to be the fair weathered friend who sticks around just to give a sale pitch-” He cut me off. “Don’t worry about it man, I know it’s your thing.” I tried again, saying I genuinely only wanted him to consider looking at them and taking the books. He picked up the books and respectfully flipped through them, and then set them down, saying, “I’m a Christian bro, I believe in Jesus Christ.” I motioned to the Bhagavad Gita and said, “In the 11th chapter of that book, it’s described that the ideal mood of a preacher has been taught by Jesus. They’re not sectarian, they’re simply ancient books of theology aimed at dismantling atheism.” He paused to consider them, and then I felt, it was appropriate for the moment to ask if he would take them and give a donation. “Would you consider, if only for the purpose of helping to preserve them as books of theology, taking them for yourself or someone else, and if you have any small bills giving something small to cover the cost of the printing?” He leaned back with his hands in his pockets, then pulled them out and flipped through several fives and some one’s before saying, “Here, these are the only small bills I’ve got.” I was floored. He just covered the cost of his books and the free books I had given on the way there. A wordless soundtrack started playing on his radio, perfectly matching the emotions in the room, and I thought “Book distribution life is an epic journey, we even have our own soundtracks handpicked by Krishna to go with the scenes of Sankirtana.”
Following these two incidents of reciprocation there was something I needed to do, which I had been meditating on for some time. It was time for me to take care of my relationship with another devotee. Since I had begun distributing Srila Prabhupada’s original books I had felt tense in concern for my relationship with a devotee with whom I was close, and who trained me up on traveling book distribution. I knew this Vaisnava was unflinchingly loyal to purchasing and distributing books from BBT International, and as he had open strong opinions on this matter, I was concerned, and scared, that he would react harshly now that I was avidly supporting KBI for the purpose of Prabhupada’s original books. We had actually already spoken once since and he knew who’s printings I was supporting, yet even though we had touched lightly on the topic and he had personally assured me he was still my friend, I still felt cautious. In the light of Krishna’s being so overtly kind to me in allowing me to continue book distribution, I now felt a longing and desire to contact this devotee to open up my heart to him, and establish my desire for a strong relationship. I felt especially sad as he had found out that my wife was pregnant through a third party, since I had not contacted him personally due to being unfoundedly afraid, and so only caused my own self fulfilling prophecy. I picked up my phone, and called him. He answered cheerfully, and after we both offered our obeisances and glorified Srila Prabhupada, proceeded to congratulate me on our child in the womb. I thanked him, and then asking if he had a few more minutes (he was distributing books) told him there was something on my mind, which I requested to tell him. I then apologized for not having called him for such an amount of time, and expressed to him that I had been unfoundedly afraid that he would cross me out of his association for my determination to distribute the original books, rather than those from BBTI. He listened, and after assuring me that there was no reason to apologize and that he was grateful for my sharing with him, said that listening to me helped him to understand the situation with a new perspective. He then encouraged me in my service and told me if I ever needed any help, to call him so he could help me. Following this conversation I felt enlivened. This person was important to me, and having focused on treating our relationship with the value it deserved, I felt greater affection from Krishna. Yet there was still one more day of intense reciprocation and realization that Krishna was to give to my inside the short span of less than a week.
* * *
I pulled into my parking spot and got out of my vehicle as I prepared to walk downtown for several hours before heading back home to get ready for the move. As I moved in a rush I saw a large RV pull into the parking lot, and I looked eagerly to see if the driver was a traveling book distributor, since I could think of no other reason such a large vehicle would be pulling into the temple parking lot. Out of the window a smiling older face waved as the 60 some year old gentleman driving pulled into position. I did not recognize him, so I walked over to strike up a conversation with him and ask him about himself. Almost immediately my mind, which as a rascal I had allowed to grow uncontrolled, began forming opinions about him, and I myself began feeling disappointment. I had hoped to find a traveling book distributor, yet, as my ignorant mind told me, it was “just an old man recently come to Krishna Consciousness, with heavy influences from the modes, and an incredibly strong smell of intoxicants coming from his body.” Such sinful words did I think. I tried to make an excuse to finish the conversation, as I was in a rush and was now concerned that in the niceties I was losing time for book distribution, so I began making obvious movements of repacking my bags and walking towards the sidewalk as we spoke. He then asked me if he could come with me, to watch me distribute books. I immediately felt more down, as I thought “anyone I approach will instantly be distracted or intimidated if they are approached by the two of us, most notably with the strong odor coming from this man’s body,” but by Krishna’s kindness, I was permitted the knowledge to realize I would be making an apharadha if I turned him away with his enthusiasm, so I said “yes,” he could come. Enthusiastically he joined me, and we began walking along. As I had thought, the first few people I spoke with appeared distracted and uninterested in the books, but rather than attribute it to my own lack of Shakti, I felt concern it was due to the Jiva who’s association I was being blessed with. He himself was actually quite respectful, and I noticed he started waiting back a distance whenever I approached someone so that he could observe while being sensitive to giving space. Right as the fourth person I approached walked away without taking books, he looked back and forth between us with a torn expression on his face and said “I would have liked to have bought those books for him, … how much are they?” I told him the minimum donation I needed to cover the cost for the books, and reaching for his wallet, he handed me enough Laxmi to sponsor four stacks, saying “Here, please give the books to all the people who show any interest from here on out.” And again, I was floored. Krishna hammered into me right then and there, “You are not the doer. You are not the distributor. This man is a devotee, and these books are already distributed, you are just being allowed to go through the motions.” I took his donation gratefully, and from that point on, the books flew. Krishna sent multiple persons who were genuinely intrigued but did not have any Laxmi, and when I gestured to my new friend and inspiration standing at a respectful distance away and told them that he had just sponsored the books for them, they gladly took them. Yet Krishna still needed to hammer into me in all totality, that He was the doer, and that I must treat this special, and everyone, as a Vaisnava. As we returned to our vehicles in the temple parking lot, this kind man and new friend paused suddenly, and raising his finger, said “One minute” before turning and walking to his RV. As I waited I remembered that part way through our distribution he had mentioned that he would be interested in purchasing every book in my backpack so that I could distribute them all for free, and I thought he may have gone to get a $20 bill. As I saw him come out and walk towards me I felt a growing sense of gravity, until he came within arms distance and handed me his $100 bill, saying “For dispersing more books.” I hit the ground. No words could be spoken. I just put my head on the pavement as I offered him my obeisances on the spot, and then reached out my arms to hug him. He seemed surprised that I was bowing to him, and much more comfortable giving me a hug. It was then the twin realization penetrated me, Krishna was and is fully capable of anything, to Him, all the wealth in the Universe is but a spark of His splendor, and there is never any shortage of Laxmi when engaged in His book distribution. And second, this man who I had judged so harshly, who I’d thought of myself as better than, was a traveling book distributor, and very special soul. In the timespan of less than a few hours, he had donated over a hundred dollars for the distribution of Srila Prabhupada’s books, while he himself was living quite meagerly and clearly without excessive amount of Laxmi. It was humbling. And I was grateful. As I drove home and spoke with my wife on my earphones, I left out the details of what took place. Nor did I tell her when I arrived. I left the $100 in my book bag and asked her to count out the Laxmi for me the next morning, so she could experience first hand herself, the awe and surrender, of Krishna’s incredible reciprocation.Sri Arjuna Das