There are 193 member countries recognized by the United Nations Organization (UNO). In each of these countries two things will always be sighted – An indigenous unique local culture & an ISKCON devotee distributing spiritual literature – however, the former might not always be true. In this article we will explore the roots of the widespread book distribution program of the International Society For Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON)
Why are books the basis of ISKCON?
Sruti smrti puranadi pancaratra-vidhim vina
Aikantiki harer bhakti utpatayaiva kalpate.
“Unless one refers to sastra (sruti. smrti and puranadi), one’s spiritual activity simply disturbs society.”
The path of spiritual realization is largely dependent upon compassion from God. This compassion can be received by an individual directly from God or through an authorized representative of God. Out of this compassion God and His devotees manifest Scriptures such as Bhagavad Gita As it is, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Chaitanya Charitamrita. Therefore, these scriptures are also called revealed scriptures. It is through these scriptures that human civilization receives guidance. Mental concoctions do not serve well in spiritual life. It is imperative that definitive knowledge and its practical application are taught to serious students of spirituality. Such infallible knowledge is made available to the human society through Vedic scriptures.
The books that are published, studied and distributed by ISKCON devotees are authorized by bona-fide representatives of God such as Vyasdeva, Lord Brahma, Vishnu Swami, Ramanuja Acharya, Madhva Acharya, Narad Muni, Lord Chaitanya, Thakur Bhakti Vinod, His Divine Grace Bhakti Siddhanta Swami Srila Prabhupada, and the Founder Acharya of ISKCON His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada. These books are a medium to receive mercy. They contain unadulterated spiritual knowledge. This purity in content as well as intent is maintained through unbroken disciplic succession, in fact, the Guru-Shishya Parampara or disciplic succession prevalent in ISKCON can be traced back to Lord Krishna through 32 generations of spiritual leaders.
Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura says,
“Sadhu sastra guru vakya.
Citte te kariya aikya.”
One should accept a thing as genuine by studying the words of saintly people, the spiritual master and shastra. The epicentre is the revealed scripture or Shastra. If the knowledge imparted by a spiritual master is not in accordance with the scripture, he is not to be accepted. Similarly, the litmus test of a saintly person is that he strictly propagates the knowledge received from authorized revealed scriptures only. Vedic scriptures are the storehouse of all knowledge required for spiritual realization, economic growth, social welfare and political stability. In fact, it would not be an understatement to say that the ISKCON functions according to the teachings of the Founder Acharya as mentioned in His authorized commentaries on Vedic Scriptures. A complete list of all books written by Srila Prabhupada can be found on this link.
How many books have been distributed by ISKCON up till 2020?
In 1972 the Founder Acharya of ISKCON His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada established The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) to emphasize the works of the Gaudiya Vaishnava Tradition. Presently, BBT is the world’s largest publisher of ancient and classic Vaishnava texts, epics, and contemporary works on the philosophy, theology, and culture of bhakti-yoga and personalist theology.
Since its foundation in 1966, ISKCON has distributed 5,16,00,00,000 (Five Hundred and Sixteen Crore) books. These books were written by Srila Prabhupada in English and since then they have been translated into more than 80 languages such as Hindi, Bengali, Russian, Spanish, French, German, etc. This effort of re-spiritualizing the world through spiritual literature has been perfectly summarized by novelist and poet Christopher Morley – “When you give someone a book, you don’t give him just paper, ink, and glue. You give him the possibility of a whole new life
Who is the author of the spiritual books that are distributed by ISKCON?
The International Society For Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was established by the Founder Acharya His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada in 1966 in New York, USA, with seven main goals. The goals of ISKCON can be read on this link. Interestingly, the seventh and final goal of ISKCON is, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books, and other writings of spirituality.
Srila Prabhupada was born in Kolkata in 1896. He met His spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Goswami Prabhupada in 1922. At that very first meeting He received the divine instruction – ‘You are educated boys, why don’t you preach the message of Krishna all over the world?’ This instruction has been the whole and soul of Srila Prabhupada. With this view Srila Prabhupada took up many initiatives.
In 1944, Srila Prabhupada started a magazine called Back to Godhead. The magazine was published from 1944 to 1960 as and when sufficient money was collected to cover the printing costs. Srila Prabhupada distributed this magazine door to door to educate people.
After 1947, as India lay down the foundation of a new nation, Srila Prabhupada approached many political leaders to assert the necessity of educating Indians in spirituality. He wrote letters to Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel, Pt. Nehru and Dr. Rajender Prasad amongst others. It seems that the leaders at that time were focused on ruling the country in an ‘As is where is’ condition rather than build a nation of citizens with spotless character.
During the same period Srila Prabhupada retired from family life and shifted to vrindavan. He was awarded the Sanayasa in 1959. In the final stage of life Srila Prabhupada in His own words felt ‘Completely ready to discharge the order of His spiritual master’. He started translating Srimad Bhagavatam to English to preach Krishna Consciousness.
In 1965, Srila Prabhupada managed to secure a passage to the US aboard a freight ship called the Jaladuta. He suffered two heart attacks along the voyage but survived the journey to reach the USA. Once in America, His journey dynamically changed the course of history. In a country that had until then not heard of Lord Krishna or His past times began to accept spirituality in its purest form. In the next ten years Srila Prabhupada established 108 temples of Lord Krishna all over the world in far off places such as Alaska, New Zealand, Australia, Africa, UK, Europe, and Japan.
Srila Prabhupada accredited all this development to the mercy of His Spiritual Master Thakur Bhakti Siddhanta. In fact, He greatly emphasized that His disciples were greatly elevated souls from the spiritual world sent by His Spiritual Master to assist the preaching of Krishna Consciousness, otherwise what is the probability of a meat eating, alcohol-guzzling, promiscuous citizen of a rich and developed country to take up the worship of Lord Krishna and consequently give up all bad habits.
Furthermore, Srila Prabhupada established ISKCON to continue the responsibility of scientifically educating people all over the world about Lord Krishna and book distribution is a vital tool to that end.
Where can we purchase ISKCON books?
A complete catalog of official ISKCON literature can be found on this Links. These books can also be purchased from any ISKCON centre in your city. To see a list of ISKCON centres in your city click here.
So ISKCON Devotees are not just selling books but are distributing the mercy of Lord Krishna?
Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18 verse 68-69
ya idaṁ paramaṁ guhyaṁ
bhaktiṁ mayi parāṁ kṛtvā
mām evaiṣyaty asaṁśayaḥ
na ca tasmān manuṣyeṣu
kaścin me priya-kṛttamaḥ
bhavitā na ca me tasmād
anyaḥ priyataro bhuvi
“For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.”
In the Bhagavad Gita it is clearly mentioned by Lord Krishna that out of all his devotees, He is particularly inclined towards the ones preaching Krishna Consciousness. When a person distributes the Bhagavad Gita he becomes a messenger on behalf of Lord Krishna because Bhagavad Gita contains Lord Krishna’s instructions for all humanity. Additionally, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada is an authorized representative of Lord Krishna and His life is a testimony of Lord Krishna’s mercy, opulence and miraculous power. While distributing books on behalf of Srila Prabhupada, ISKCON devotees invite one to partake in the same spiritual mercy and bliss. So next time a messenger of God knocks on the window pane be ready to welcome Lord Krishna in the form of a Book. God is so merciful that he takes unimaginable forms to touch one’s heart.