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On the Occasion of the Middle of the Sankirtana M.arathon, December 1995
"Books are the basis Preaching is the essence Utility is the principle Purity is the force"
— Shrila Prabhupada
These words stand as a tribute to Shrila Prabhupada's genius. Prabhupada understood the meaning of words in a very deep manner, and he knew how to convey these meanings in well-considered and well-constructed sentences. I remember when Prabhupada once told me, "My writing is not like your typing, simply moving your fingers here and there. I have to choose every word carefully, for these books will last for the next 10,000 years." I had often listened to Prabhupada dictating his books in the middle of the night when I would wake up from sleep in the room, next to his. Usually his words came flowing out, but sometimes he would stop and think about the exact word that would represent his intention best. Prabhupada was always in the mood of presenting his books for the understanding of the people of this world, and therefore he always endeavored to pick the proper words to convey the deep concepts that make up our Gaudiya Vaisnava philosophy. The most amazing thing is that although most of the people who buy these books and appreciate them have little or no understanding of their deep philosophical content, the devotees, wno understand the philosophy, are also fully satisfied by reading his books. How could he have written in such a way that both the neophytes (or less) and the adepts could appreciate what he was saying? Certainly this indicates his remarkable genius, such as is hardly found in modern society.
Let us therefore examine the four lines beginning with the words "Books are the basis." Although these lines are short, they are powerful like the Vedanta-sutras of Vedavyasa. Everything one needs to know to participate in this Krsna consciousness movement according to Shrila Prabhupada's desire is included in these four lines. 1 thought it helpful to seek out die uieiiuiidiy meanings of the essential words in these four principles and examine these meanings in the light of what Shrila Prabhupada has taught us.
Books Are the Basis
Everyone knows what books are. In all the different languages of the world, millions of books are produced every year. Almost one hundred percent of these books are gramya-katha, or subject matters dealing with family, society, nation, or mundane love. Sukadeva Gosvami has said that a materialist has thousands of subject matters to speak about, all of them dealing with the home and family, directly or indirectly. We have practical experience that the local bookstore rarely has anything to offer to a devotee, outside of some relevant technical manuals.
But Prabhupada's books are a different creation. They are translations of the most important books in the universe. Vyasadeva himself has said of Srlmad-Bhagavatam that there is no need of any other book, for Srlmad-Bhagavatam presents the essence of spiritual philosophy. And we all know the importance of the Bhagavad-gita, since it was directly spoken by Lord Shri Krsna Himself. All of Shrila Prabhupada's books represent the quintessence of spiritual philosophy and can thus offer the greatest benediction to the people of this world. How could we live without Shrila Prabhupada's books? What would there be to read? What would we have to think about? What would we sav in class? We would certainlv be lost in the whirlpool ot mental speculation were we not to have these most beautiful renditions of the greatest literature known to man. Therefore we can do nothing else than glorify these books and the most merciful personality who has taken the time and trouble to present them to us. Shrila Prabhupada will be known as long as the glories of the Lord are known, for he was the first and most important person to bring Krsna consciousness to the fallen souls outside of India. Without his kindness, we would all still be wallowing in the darkness of ignorance, suffering the threefold miseries of material nature. Therefore, when Prabhupada says "Books are the basis," he means his books are the spiritual, transcendental books meant to create a revolution in the hard hearts of materialistic men who have lost their vision in the Kali-yuga.
And what are we supposed to do with his books? The first thing we should do with Shrila Prabhupada's books is read them, regularly, every day, without fail. I remember in Johannesburg in 1975, Shrila Prabhupada was lamenting. He said, "They think that these books are just for selling. But I have written them for my disciples to read. Therefore you are authorized by me to read twenty-four hours a day!" Our first duty is to understand what these books are, then we can proceed to the next duty, which is to distribute them to the people of this world. If we can come to understand what a grand gift these books are, then we will be able to present this gift to others in the proper mood of awe and reverence. When the people see our mood and our attachment to these books, they will then accept them into their homes and their hearts with enthusiasm.
When people meet a devotee for the first time in the street or at their homes, they do not know how wonderful these books are. After all, there are many books on the market. How can they know the specific importance of these books as opposed to any other book? Furthermore, they are all familiar with salesmen and their famous enthusiasm to sell anyone anything to make money. Therefore one immediately has to overcome two formidable hurdles to sell a book: the similarity of the basic form of these books to other books and the similarity of occLipation between a no-mal snl'^rnrm •"- ! the devotee on the street or at the door.
There are two significant differences in this transaction as compared to an ordinary one. First, the books are not ordinary books but are spiritual and filled with eternal knowledge of the highest category. Second, the distributor is not an ordinary person. He is a person who studies the books regularly and lives according to the principles in them. He is a representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. But how are the people to understand this? It is therefore essential that the devotee present the books in a wav that the people can understand the immediate difference between these books and the ordinary literature meant for crows. Who inhabit lakes filled with clear water and lotus flowers, and ordinary-books are attractive to crows, who inhabit heaps of filthy garbage. The prime duty of the devotee distributing books is to instill within the prospective purchaser the idea that these books are special. If the person can understand somehow or other that these books are completely different from the material variety, and that the purchase of these books marks a turning point in one's humdrum life of material, so-called pleasures, then he will purchase them without delay. It is clear that Shrila Prabhupada's books are the most important books in the world and that distribution of these books is the most important service one can perform in ISKCON today. Shrila Prabhupada said that "Books are the basis." What did he mean by "basis"?
Here is what the Compton's Dictionary has to say about the word:
ba-sis n., pi. ba-ses 1. the base, foundation, or chief supporting factor of anything; 2. the principal constituent of anything; 3. the fundamental principle or theory, as of a system of knowledge.These three primary definitions of the word "basis" clearly indicate what Prabhupada meant when he said, "Books are the hasN " Rooks are the hair rhc fotinTirion -ip.1 h\*-' supporting factor of ISKCON, and distributing these books is the fundamental principle in ISKCON. This is very clear. We do not need to speculate to understand what he meant, for the mukhya-vrtti, or the direct dictionary definitions of the words used, clearly determine the import of his statement. Simply speaking, books are the very base upon which ISKCON is built. We often speak about ISKCON as a house. But do we really understand the foundation of this house? Sometimes a foundation is overlooked by people enamored by the way the upper stones of a house appear, tven a flag hanging outside the front entrance draws more attention and discussion than the foundation, which is factually the support of the existence of the house. If the flag were not there, would it matter so much? But if the foundation were not there, the house could not exist. Of course, a house is a combination of many elements, all of them important in their own way. But every engineer knows that a house is only so solid as the foundation upon which it is built. One may have a beautiful house, complete with all the decorations and fanfare, but if the foundation is rotten, the house is worthless and will soon come tumbling down.
Some devotees do not appreciate the function of book distribution in ISKCON. Granted that many do, there are some who take it lightly and do not care about this essential activity. Then again, there are some devotees who only care about this activity and do not care about other forms of devotional service. Neither attitude is healthy, nor is such a lack of understanding of the complete picture in ISKCON good for the preaching mission. One should appreciate all the devotees' services and understand how they work together to advance the preaching mission. But one should never forget that basis upon which the whole of ISKCON stands, without which we would be lost — the books. Whenever someone asked Shrila Prabhupada where he got the money to do his various projects, he would immediately answer, "We are selling lakhs [hundreds of thousands] of our books every day!" He was very pleased to say that to doubters. He was proud of his books sales figures and his booksellers.That is not to say he didn't appreciate the other services the devotees performed, not at all, but he would emphasize the book distribution because he knew that it was essential to the development of his movement. Indeed, all the projects constructed in India would not have been possible without the help of the BBT, which gets its money through the distribution of Shrila Prabhupada's books. So it is clear that books are certainly important, and we should never forget this in our devotional lives. All managers of all temples should see to it that book distribution is going on in their areas, at least t<~> «nme degree, and they should he eager, at least within their hearts, to expand that distribution more and more according to their means. And we should pray regularly to the Deities and orila Prabhupada 10 send us moie sankirtana warriors, so that we can increase the distribution of these wonderful books more and more.
Sankirtana devotees understand the importance of their mission. They so much desire to hear about this mission that they speak about it and read about it regularly. Sometimes devotees think that they are missing something by not taking part in all the other aspects of Krsna consciousness and just distributing books, but we have seen that sankirtana devotees have no trouble learning any art required for preaching and management later on when it is desired. If the basis is there, everything else comes automatically. Therefore one should go on distributing these books with great enthusiasm, for this will support the ISKCON society with everything it needs to expand, grow, and become more and more influential in the world.
Preaching Is the Essence
The next sutra of Shrila Prabhupada's is "Preaching is the essence." We all know what it means to preach. As Shrila Prabhupada himself said to the German devotees in 1976, "Know it for certain that there is no better way to preach Krsna con-iousness than trough the distributin of my books ,’’ this immediately tells us what the best means of preaching is. Therefore the book distributors are always engaged in the topmost preaching mission. Shrila Prabhupada also said, "What is the use of your two minutes of preaching? The person will hear and go away. But if he takes a book he is eternally benefited." Therefore every book distributor should know that when he distributes one of Shrila Prabhupada's books, he is bringing Prabhupada directly into the homes of the people. Prabhupada is directly preaching to these fallen conditioned souls. And who is a better preacher than Prabhupada? Therefore book distribution is rhe hest way to preach. But there are other ways to preach as well. Prabhupada was not small-minded and narrow. He wanted all forms of preaching to go on, for he saw that different devotees have differer"-inclinations to preach, and he encouraged all of them according to their desires. Once, in South Africa, I mentioned to Shrila Prabhupada that I liked to do large programs of chanting and distributing prasddam. Prabhupada immediately replied, "Then do it all over the world!" I was very pleased to hear that instruction. Prabhupada always wanted to encourage everyone in their particular desire to preach. All kinds of preaching are required, for this is a big world and there are many fallen souls. Let all the preaching programs go on simultaneously, for they will benefit each other and ultimately ISKCON will benefit.
Prabhupada states in the purport to Madhya-llld, Chapter Twenty-four, text 205 of the Chaitanya-caritdmrta, "Everyone is eligible to become Krsna's devotee. One simply has to be trained according to the approved process. It is the work of Krsna's confidential devotees to turn everyone into a krsna-bhakta. If the confidential devotees do not take up the task of elevating everyone to Krsna consciousness, then who will do it? Those who claim to be devotees but do not engage in Krsna's service to elevate all living creatures to Krsna consciousness are to be considered kanistha-adhikdrls (people in the lowest stage of devotional service). When one rises to the second platform of devotional service, his business is to propagate Krsna consciousness all over the world. Those who are active in the Krsna consciousness movement should not leinain in the neophyte stage but should rise to the platform of preachers, the second platform of devotional service. Devotional service is so enchanting that even the first-class devotees (uttama-adhikdrls) also come down to the second platform to preach and render service to the Lord for the benefit of the whole world."
Preaching can be done through distributing books or by lecturing in the temples. Preaching can be done in schools, through printed materials, on the radio or TV, or through harindmas. You can preach to a guest who visits the temple or even ro people vou meet on the street. You iust have ro follow Lord Chaitanya's advice:
yare dekha. Tare kaha 'krsnn'-upadesa amara ajnaya guru hana tara' ei desa
"Wherever you go, whoever you meet, tell them about Krsna. In this way become a guru and deliver your country." It is not difficult to become a guru. All you have to do is speak exactly what Krsna has spoken, as you have heard it from your spiritual master. Then you are instructing people in Krsna consciousness, and thus you are their teacher.
Everyone understands how important preaching is. As Prabhupada used to say, "One who has life, he can preach." Once he said, "Without this preaching, there will be no more 'Hari Hari bol.'" Preaching puts you on the transcendental platform. It brings you beyond the influence of the miserable conditions of material life. It is the life of all knowledge. One cannot even remember what he has read in Shrila Prabhupada's books unless he preaches it to others. When we read and preach then the knowledge becomes quickly realized and we remember it better. But Prabhupada said more than this. Although everything we have mentioned so far is correct, Prabhupada has used the word "essence." This word has very deep meanings and should be examined further. The dictionary has the following to say about the word:
es-sence n. 1. something that is, or exists; entity; 2. that which make< - diinu wh u it iv intrinsic, fundamental nature or most important quality (of something); essential being; 3. a) a substance that keeps, in concentrated form, the flavor, fragrance, or other properties of the plant, drug, food, etc. from which it is extracted; essential oil; 4. Philos. a) the inward nature of anything, underlying its manifestations; true substance; b) the indispensable conceptual characteristics and relations of anything.
Just see how these dictionary definitions clearly expand the meaning of the phrase "Preaching is the essence." First of all, by preaching one exists. This could be defined as existing in the vision of Krsna; in other words, one who preaches becomes recognized by guru and Krsna and receives their mercy. Further when you preach you can also remain a devotee. It is hard to stay fixed up in Krsna consciousness unless you have some connection to preaching. Preaching is what makes Krsna consciousness what it is, that is to say, it brings the life of Krsna consciousness to a devotee, who then becomes absorbed in transcendental devotional service. It is the fundamental principle of ISKCON, the essential element that distinguishes ISKCON from the other societies in the world today. The specific quality of Prabhupada's ISKCON is that it is above and beyond anything else a preaching movement. We are not interested in being a movement of idle armchair speculators who are unconcerned with the sufferings of the people of the world. Therefore the essential ingredient in ISKCON that makes it what it is, is the preaching that we do by the very nature and structure of ISKCON. In other words, ISKCON is meant to be a preaching movement, and therefore all managerial arrangements should be directed toward preaching and supporting the preaching.
Utility Is the Principle
u-til'i-ty n. 1. the quality or property of being useful; usefulness; 2. something useful; adj. 1. serving or designed for practical use with little or no attention to beauty 2. useful or used in a number of ways.
Prabhupada used to say, "Do the needful." Whatever was required to spread the Krsna consciousness movement was considered needful and something that should be done. Shrila Rupa Gosvaml also said that things favorable to Krsna consciousness are to be accepted while things unfavorable are to be rejected. When Prabhupada used the word "utility," he referred to the quality of a thing or action useful to the spreading of the preaching mission. Prabhupada was a very practical person. He had the most extraordinary sense of what was relevant at a particular time, niace. and circumstance. Therefore, he utilized everything according to its usefulness for the preaching. And this was the principle he followed.
prhvci-ple n. 1. the ultimate source, origin, or cause of something; 2. a natural or original tendency, faculty, or endowment; 3. a fundamental truth, law, doctrine, or motivating force, upon which others are based [moral principles]; 4- a) a rule of conduct, esp. of right conduct; b) such rules collectively; c) adherence to them; integrity; uprightness [a man of principle]; 5. an essential element, constituent, or quality, esp. one that produces a specific effect [the active principle of a medicine].
Prabhupada considered utility so important that he called it our "principle." Therefore it is a fundamental truth in our movement that we do whatever is required to spread Krsna consciousness. One vivid example of this is something that happened when we were in Mauritius with Shrila Prabhupada in the southern hemisphere winter of 1975, trying to secure visas and a means to enter South Africa, which was then following the policy of apartheid. We were discussing how to enter the country. At that time Shrila Prabhupada said that if it were necessary to enter the country in civilian clothes, he would be willing to do that. I had never seen Shrila Prabhupada wearing anything but a dhoti, but he was so eager to preach to the fallen souls of South Africa that he was willing to wear karml clothes to enter the country. Although he ultimately did not have to do that and thev accepted him in his sddhu dress while we entered separately in karml clothes, still he made clear the point that preaching was the essence and utility the principle, and therefore he was ready to do something unusual for the sake of the mission.
Prabhupada often showed this in his early days of establishing ISKCON. For example, never before were women allowed to live in the asramas of the Gaudlya Vaisnavas. Generally they would live at home with their husbands and family, or if they were to have an dsrama, it would be separated physically from the male asramas. Prabhupada knew that in the Western world, men and women were accustomed to intermingle without restriction, so he considered that he would also have to let them join and live within the temple, although this thus we have yhe famous brahmacarinl-asrama, which so disturbed some persons in India. Prabhupada explained in his books that one cannot change the social customs of a country overnight, and therefore to keep pace with the so-called culture of the West, he allowed the ladies, who he considered valuable members of the society, to live in ISKCON.
So it is forever established in ISKCON, because of Prabhu-pada's third sutra, that utility, or doing the needful, is our principle of action. We can see this manifested today in our usage of computers, electronic communication, and all types of machines in the service of the Lord. Although sannyasis generally had nothing in the way of material possessions and didn't even wear shoes, what to speak of a watch, Prabhupada engaged his sannyasis in preaching with all paraphernalia considered required. Sometimes he would be very happy to hear how they were making traveling buses that would take the Deities on tour and allow the people to see Them in their own lands. Prabhupada was very happy to see high technology used to produce his books to the acceptable standards of the modern times. He encouraged us in every way to utilize the facilities of the material world to spread Krsna consciousness. He even once stated that were we to have nationwide TV programs regularly appearing, Krsna consciousness would become popular within a very short time. Although coming from the conservative Prabhupad was always ready to do whatever was required to spread Krsna consciousness. Therefore this movement has become what it is today.
Purity is the force
If one wishes to have spiritual potency, he has to be pure. Although this statement is axiomatic, sometimes it is forgotten by devotees temporarily bewildered by the influence of lust, anger, and greed. It is very difficult to become Krsna conscious it one is not following the regulative principles. We must always be on guard to make sure that we do not eat meat, fish, eggs, or anything not offered properly to Krsna; that we avoid all forms of illicit sex, real or artiticiai; that we do not take intoxication of any kind; and that we do not gamble. One who strictly follows these rules is strong in devotional life, but those who break these rules are always weak and full of doubts. Purity does not only mean following the regulative principles, for one must become pure in mind as well. If one externally follows the principles, yet within always dwells on the objects of sense gratification, he is called a pretender. Such a person will have a hard time to ultimately maintain the principles; when the opportunity arises, he may fall down. Therefore one has to be pure both in body and mind.
To do this, one should make sure that he follows the programs in the temple, or makes programs in the sankirtana van. One should follow the schedules of the programs, at least from mangala-arati until prasddam time, for this will help one attain spiritual power and energy. The most important activity of the day is chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, at least sixteen rounds, with attention and enthusiasm. If one can hear while chanting his rounds, he will have a beneficial, favorable day in devotional life. Krsna is pleased with the person who can hear His holy name with attention. Chanting carelessly will not help one advance very quickly in devotional life. One requires the spiritual energy that comes from associating with Krsna's holy name, and when one can do •"his proper!; ' .'an accomplish remarkable things for the satisfaction of the Lord.
Purity also means intellectual purity. Krsna states at the end of the Bhagavad-gltd that anyone who studies this sacred conversation worships Him with his intelligence. Therefore it is the duty of everyone to read Shrila Prabhupada's books every day for a fixed duration of time. If one reads the Vedic scriptures for one or two hours a day, his intelligence will develop and he will become free from doubts and anxiety for gain and safety. One can become completely free from all oiinUi rca^LiOiia vvncii uicst; leduuuns aie uuniL lo aslies in tile fire of devotional knowledge.
The dictionary defines "force" as either strength and power, or action beaing taken physically against other:
force n. 1. strength; energy; vigor; power; 2. the intensity of power; impetus [the force of a blow]; 3. a) physical power or strength exerted against a person or thing [to use force in opening a door]; b) the use of physical power to overcome or restrain a person; physical coercion; violence [to resort to force in dispersing a mob]; 4- the power of a person to act effectively and vigorously; moral or intellectual strength [force of character].
All these definitions fit one who is pure. Purity is the force from all these different points of view. Purity means strength and power, as well as the ability to exert his will over others and conquer them, for one who is pure can, by his spiritual strength, capture the hearts of those who take shelter of him. By his spiritual strength, he can deliver the conditioned souls from the grips of mdyd. Maya is so powerful that she can capture everyone, but the devotee is so powerful that he can break mdyd's hold over the conditioned soul and deliver him back to Godhead.It takes vast armies of men, well equipped with all forms of weapons, to conquer a nation. But we can see from the examples of Lord Chaitanya and Shrila Prabhupada that from the force of purity, numberless living entities can be delivered from the clutches of mdyd and return home, back to Godhead. Loid Cdilanya aavcd all ui Inula by His preaching purity. This purity makes one the most potent preacher. Because of this purity, Shrila Prabhupada was able to attract so many young people who ordinarily had no attraction to religious activities.
Although Prabhupada was externally an old man who had no physical resources or strength, he was the most powerful because he had Krsna, and thus he had the spiritual force required to melt our stonelike hearts and minds. If we want to become successful preachers, we must always remember that it is not only a function of endeavor. Endeavor is good, and endeavor iuf lvisiui is puinyui^, uui one uiusi have spiritual purity to get the strength required to save the fallen souls. Those who go on sankirtana must always remember that without t-iijrit-ir ther? ic "^ ctrer.™th nr.J v.'ithn:t strength, there is no potency. Everyone has the experience of being useless on the street. This is because of impurity. If one can always remain pure, he will always have the potency to distribute books and attract people to Krsna. Books are the basis, but purity is the force. It is not possible to go on distributing books for a longer period of time unless one is pure. Therefore we can see how the older sankirtana devotees have developed such nice, clean hearts through their intense endeavor to distribute Shrila Prabhupada's books.
Even if one is not distributing books but is supporting the book distribution by raising funds to allow the book distributors to be free from the worries of making laksml, or if one is supporting the distributors by carrying their books, cleaning their clothes, or cooking for them, one can become pure solely by serving this sankirtana mission. And then, regardless of one's service, he will have the spiritual strength to go on with his service for his entire life, always advancing toward the goal of love of Godhead as a personal servitor of Shri Shri Radha and Krsna in the spiritual world. Therefore, let us develop purity of heart through this preaching mission, and while delivering the people of this world, let us move forward together on the path of devotional service.