Books or kirtan

Book distribution, kirtan, or why not both and why?
« Reply #4 on: June 06, 2010, 08:16:32 PM »
from Aindra dasa

Dear prabhus,

I seldom if ever feel compelled to enter into the arena of preaching politics, as I more often than not prefer to simply go on with my humble attempt to cry out the Holy Name with a deepening sense of the need for much self improvement, hoping against hope that someone up there will condescend to show unprecedented mercy upon my withering and feeble insignificance. One of our 24 hour kirtana party members, however, brought your worthy dialogue to my attention, which has somehow prompted me to offer my two cents worth into the discussion. I hope you don’t mind. Here, as a matter of food for thought, are a few excerpted lines from something I had previously written along with a few end-notes. As it exceeds the per post character limit, I am posting it as two consecutive posts. Much more could and perhaps should be said from different angles of vision, but I am a very slow writer and so would hence much prefer to discuss at length when you will next trouble yourselves to come to Sri Dhama Vrndavana and personally sit with me.

It is an incontestable matter of fact that the mass distribution of transcendental literatures unfolding the principles of bhagavata-dharma for the propagation of raga-bhakti throughout the world is the number one missionary “business” of the Krsna consciousness movement. Only a dull-headed ecclesial anthropoid would speciously conclude otherwise. Still, it should be borne in mind that there is really no mundane dichotomy between the essential message of the scriptures so proliferated and the application of the primary methodology promoted by the scriptures themselves, the congregational chanting of the Holy Name. In fact, the main function of any scripture propagated by the Gaudiya Vaisnava sampradaya is to convincingly induce the fallen souls to take up the practice of the yuga-dharma, hari-nama-sankirtana, without doing which, one could hardly expect to make much tangible spiritual progress in this present age. We should always remember that Veda Vyasa compiled and wrote down the scriptures with a view to facilitate the less intelligent, fallen people of this Age of Kali, who have relatively short memories and therefore require books as reference material. In previous yugas, there was no pressing need for the written word. The sruti-dharas upon hearing only once could immediately memorize for life the knowledge disseminated through guru-parampara, which specifically emphasized the appropriate process of self-realization appurtenant to the respective yuga circumstantially in progress. Given that scriptural texts were presented specifically for this present Age of Kali, it would be ludicrous to surmise that Vyasadeva’s ultimate conclusion would be in any way divergent from the interest of the kali-yuga-avatara, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, in the matter of widespread propagation of the currently appropriate yuga-dharma, the congregational singing of the Holy Name. One who with great effort obsequiously goes out to bear the task of transcendental book distribution without recognizing this essential intention of the scriptures is like an ass that, lacking much good sense, simply carries the burden of heavy loads of paper and ink.

Distribute books. Distribute books. Distribute books. But who is reading the books? Read books. Read books. Read books – but not to be book-wormish. Book-worms go through page after page of a book (or perhaps many books), but to what avail? They superficially ingest mouthfuls only to witlessly defecate upon the very pages so ingested, remaining totally oblivious to the essential rasa-maya import of the sastras. Without practically implementing by sensibly dedicating a substantial portion of life’s time and energy to the direct performance of yuga-dharma hari-nama-sankirtana with a view to achieving the pinnacle of rupanuga-bhajana, what individual or group of individuals can claim to have rightly comprehended and applied the devotional science enunciated in the scriptures proliferated by the Gaudiya Vaisnava acaryas through disciplic succession?

The proliferation of transcendental literature is certainly the best advertising front of the Krsna consciousness movement. The idea is to canvass in such a way as to persuade human society’s literate intelligentsia to join the fold of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement on the basis of convincingly sound reason and philosophy. If there is an Absolute Truth and that Absolute Truth is an eternal, all-sentient, all-blissful, all-attractive Person possessed of infinite transcendental forms, qualities, and pastimes exhibiting His unlimited beauty, knowledge, wealth, power, fame, and supreme independence, as can be glimpsed through the scriptures – then certainly His absolute, self-same Holy Names should be deemed most sublime, venerable, and worthy of our individual and congregational total deference and loving surrender. Transcendental book distribution can be compared to a sakhi’s campaign to enlist new girls to become dedicated followers of Maha-bhava-svarupini, Sri Radhika. Certainly, no book distributor in the line of Rupa Gosvami would be caught dead canvassing on behalf of Candravali! Raga Manjari is perhaps the Lord’s best and most reliable messenger, having opted to become His vamsi flute. Knowing the purposes of her svamini’s inner heart, Raga Manjari serves, in the form of the flute, to mercifully break the resolve of Radha’s mana, or jealous pouting, forcefully facilitating the fruition of her mistress’s deepest desires to intimately satisfy Her beloved Syama. She similarly serves to satisfy Radha’s cupidity for expanding the sweet empire of Syama’s amorous diversions, by artfully calling all the new sadhana-siddha-gopis for maha-rasa at Vamsivata, near the Yamuna’s shore. The sadhana-siddha-gopis, possessed of their fully actuated sac-cid-ananda-siddha-deha and the adhikara for directly participating in Radha-Krsna’s prakata-lilas, having risen from the status of ordinary human beings, for the first time enter the sacrificial arena of confidential love dalliances with their beloved Lord through the Vamsivata “gateway” at the time of maha-rasa. It is said that Krsna’s flute, feeling acute pangs of separation from the Lord, manifested in Kali-yuga as Sri Mrdanga to participate in the Lord’s audarya-lilas. The mrdanga principle has expanded its influence by way of appearing as the brhat-mrdanga printing press, which facilitates mass production and proliferation of Vaisnava scriptures. Broadcasted bhagavata-katha by means of transcendental book distribution could, therefore, be suitably likened to the call of Krsna’s flute, which purposely serves to arouse intensified purva-raga, or preliminary attraction in the hearts of the damsels of Vraja. The mercifully extended flute-call (book distribution) magnetically allures the vraja-sundaris (fortunate souls) away from their so-called husbands (all superficially binding mundane considerations) to excitedly dash off to join the rasa dance festivities (hari-nama-sankirtana). Hence, they become progressively more and more qualified and inspired to enter deeply into the intimate nikunja-sevas of the Divine Couple (nama-japa). Again and again they anxiously hearken to the overtures of the flute (bhagavata-kathamrta) and become ever-more-irresistibly enchanted. Again and again they skillfully shake the shackles of household encumbrances to exuberantly sing and dance in rasa-lila delight (hari-nama-sankirtana) in order to transcendentally enrapture the Lord of all supra-mundane conjugal beatitude. Again and again they blissfully receive and personally serve the Divine Couple at their private pleasure groves within the all-enchanting forest of Vraja (hari-nama-japa).

What a disappointment! What a let-down! What a treachery! What a sham! If after so much canvassing, if after answering to so much flute-calling (transcendental book distribution), the excited vraja-sundaris (bhakta-gana) find, to their disillusionment, upon arriving at the rasa-mandala (the Hare Krsna movement), no rasa-lila festival (invigorating, publicly demonstrated hari-nama-sankirtana)! If, upon reading the advertisements (Vaisnava sastras) and expectantly joining Lord Caitanya’s hari-nama-sankirtana movement, having been philosophically persuaded [by reading the books] to faithfully surrender to the idea of prosecuting the yuga-dharma, hari-nama-sankirtana, one chances to notice a pitiful dearth of hari-nama-sankirtana painfully persisting among the vast majority of the movement’s members in most corners of the world, would one not wonder as to whether one had in fact actually found Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement of the Holy Name? Was it false advertising, or what? The vraja-gopis were not satiated by rasa dancing for the duration of an entire night of Brahma. Similarly, anyone who has gained a grain of regard for kali-yuga-dharma hari-nama-sankirtana would not very much appreciate the extent to which hari-nama-sankirtana has been side-lined and so irresponsibly de-emphasized over the years in Lord Caitanya’s hari-nama-sankirtana movement. Advertising and advertising . . . but what in the name of God are we advertising? Do we have any idea? Have we actually understood? Chanting, dancing, feasting, and philosophy. The philosophy in the books is basically to convince us to chant and dance. Feasting is to energize our chanting and dancing. Chanting and dancing is required for getting a taste for chanting and dancing. Chanting and dancing with a taste for chanting and dancing is actually required to progress to the position of ecstatically chanting and dancing on the stage of preliminary love of Godhead, bhava-siddhi. And chanting and dancing in spontaneous devotional ecstasy on the stage of bhava-siddhi is an absolute prerequisite for chanting and dancing in Lord Caitanya’s eternal prema-sankirtana-lilas in the spiritual sky.


The culture of hari-nama-japa-yajna is said to be a disciple’s first and foremost essential obligation at the feet of Sri Guru. Though apparently bearing a relatively small radius of para-upakara audibility, a disciple’s offenseless chanting of at least a fixed minimum number of Holy Names daily unquestionably constitutes the top-priority, most substantial service to Sri Guru and his institution. In fact, the guru imposes no more imperative order than to regularly complete one’s prescribed personal japa-vrata. Such is the incontrovertible status of nama-japa’s enormous significance. Personal absorption in nama-bhajana is well ascertained to be a far more weighty devotional responsibility than a devotee’s transcendental book distribution of any amount. Qualitative and quantitative increments in the chanting of nama-japa appreciably augments one’s personal purity. Moreover, suddha-nama-japa dynamically establishes one’s internal spiritual link with Krsna’s antaranga-saktis, through which alone one can ever hope to receive the empowerment required to effectually broadcast the Holy Name. In the same way, one should properly assess the collective value of congregational chanting. One must not witlessly underestimate, discount, or ignore the individual and communal spiritual worth and weightiness of earnestly executed prema-dharma hari-nama-sankirtana. It is not that because kirtana performances done with khol and karatala can be heard for only a relatively short distance (as is even more so the case with nama-japa) sri-hari-nama-sankirtana should be viewed dismissively or its concerted community performance should be in any way slighted or abandoned as if it were in some way outmoded. If such were the intention behind the instructions of any institutional founder in deference to the avail of the printing press, then perhaps, referring to the very scriptures so globally proliferated, we should by and large incisively question or even prudently decline the validity of such advice. Nama-japa is the vital force and invigorator for the Vaisnava individual. In the same way, hari-nama-sankirtana is the spiritual strength, sustenance, and inspiration for the collective Vaisnava community. Transcendental book distribution certainly boasts the capability of heroically broadcasting knowledge of pure devotional principles to the remotest corners of the world. It makes for a better mouse trap, so to speak, only in terms of the amplitude of the word’s propagability. This, however, does not in any way pose to overshadow or diminish the greater relative importance of community-stimulating nama-sankirtana in terms of the latter’s in-house value, any more than it would overshadow or diminish the spiritual worth and paramount consequence of the responsible completion of one’s individually honored nama-japa-vrata. Thus, when we say book distribution is “better” in terms of propagability, we should not misconstrue that to mean “better” or more important in terms of a clearly dissimilar reference point, namely the in-house value of communal sankirtana.

No doubt, the dissemination of Vaisnava philosophy via the medium of transcendental book distribution is for the classes (intelligentsia). Nonetheless, readily accessible Krsna-conscious involvement and direct spiritual experience by way of purely and powerfully performed congregational hearing and chanting of the Holy Name is markedly elevating and enlivening for both the classes and the masses. It is not that because hari-nama-sankirtana is said to be “for the masses” it is not also meant for the classes. If anything, those who are intellectually fit to discuss the values of life should be able to gain a more profound philosophical grasp of the sankirtana principle and quickly achieve nistha for its sublime application. Beyond that, the advanced inner circle, the rasika relishers of lila-katha, will most ably value the thing in the deepest manner. Direct, localized sankirtana performances with khol and karatala may not be so extensively audible in the world, having less potential global mobility than proliferated literatures. Still, on account of its special inspirational efficacy, far greater importance should be attached to the nourishing cultivation and maintenance of a strong individual and collective relishment and appreciation of eternally nectarous suddha-nama-sankirtana-rasa within the Vaisnava community (and beyond) than to the “business” of transcendental book distribution (brhat-kirtana), notwithstanding the latter’s useful, temporarily manifest far-extendable outreach. Hari-nama-sankirtana is not to be taken as a curiously quaint holiday novelty, a blast from the annals of Gaudiya Vaisnava history, something we anthropologically study about in the books. Sankirtana (the congregational chanting of the Holy Name) is forever the life and soul of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtana movement. Faith in the process of hari-nama-sankirtana is the fundamental root of the tree of Krsna consciousness, the strength of the Krsna consciousness movement – its essential foundation. If the foundation is weak – if the root is starved or rotten – then what outcome could we expect from the whole affair? The philosophy of half the hen . . . We want the golden eggs, but it’s more economical if we don’t have to feed the thing. And anyhow, hari-nama-sankirtana don’t make no money! We have our huge establishments with their enormous attendant overhead expenditures to agonize about. $o . . . just pick it to the bone and bring it on home!

Kindly see the thing from a slightly different angle. Krsna is undoubtedly the cause of all causes, the ultimate doer. So, it is He, the Supreme Autocrat, who is behind the call of His flute (transcendental book distribution). Picture this scenario and just try to grasp its absurdity: Krsna (as His [Gauranga’s] representative) is standing at Vamsivata (a designated distribution point) playing on His flute (distributing books) to call all the gopis (fortunate fallen souls) to come quickly to dance with Him in the rasa dance (hari-nama-sankirtana) festival. However, when the gopis (fortunate fallen souls) enthusiastically arrive at the rasa-mandala (the Hare Krsna Movement) with the hopes of actually dancing with Him, Krsna totally disheartens them by pontificating, “Oh no! I have no time to bother myself with such unimportant affairs as rasa dance (hari-nama-sankirtana) festivities; I have more important flute-playing (book distribution) business at hand. I only have time to lure the gopis (fortunate fallen souls) to join the rasa dance (hari-nama-sankirtana) festival by my flute-calling (transcendental book distribution). Please go back home.

Or how about this: The gopi messengers (book distributors) go out on behalf of Krsna to invite other gopis (fortunate fallen souls) to the wonderful rasa dance (hari-nama-sankirtana) festival. But when the other gopis (fortunate devotional candidates) come forward, in response to the invitation, they are politely informed by the gopi messengers, “Actually there is no time for rasa dancing (nama-sankirtana). It’s not really very important anyway! We should all engage ourselves exclusively as gopi messengers (book distributors) to spend our days and nights inviting newer and newer gopis (potential book distributors) to the ‘wonderful (but not very important) rasa dance (hari-nama-sankirtana) festival.’ ”. . . which rarely (if ever) happens to happen!

It is really a matter of spiritual common sense. Why cut off our nose in spite of our face? Yes, Srila Prabhubada’s preaching through his books is certainly more powerful than what any neophyte can do by his or her two or three minute semblance of spiritual speeches or namabhasa- sankirtana. Therefore, book distribution – while we get our act together. Yet, he never intended that his devotees should remain on the neophyte platform. Harboring and propagating a defeatist attitude never helped anyone advance in Krsna consciousness. If we haven’t done so already, let us give it up. Srila Prabhubada instructed that book distribution and nama-sankirtana should go on together, side by side. They go hand in hand. Nama-sankirtana is sadhana and sadhya. By practice of congregational chanting and dancing (the supreme sadhana) we perfect our congregational chanting and dancing to the highest perfection. The means and the end is the same. Yes, ultimately one’s kirtana and speeches are considered to be pure empowered sabdha-brahman when we come to the suddha-nama platform from the stage of ruci onward. As sadhakas, we must make every sincere effort to upgrade to that standard to become viably empowered representatives of our acaryas. Therefore, there are regulative principles etc. to help us advance in our spiritual practices. It is not, however, that because our chanting is not yet at the stage of suddha-nama we should not chant or speak. If that is our way of thinking, then perhaps it is best we don’t speak so much. What then is the meaning of ceto-darpana-marjanam? I’ve got a great idea. Why don’t the members of the Hare Krsna movement just not bother to go out for public chanting and dancing from now on? Don’t we have any more important things to do? That sounds very much like Srila Prabhupada’s mood and program. I’m sure he would be very pleased by our budding pragmatisms. Better still, since all of our much less than perfect chanting and dancing be far from very effective, let’s forget about chanting and dancing altogether! Why waste our time? When guests come to our Sunday feast programs as a result of all our week-long book distribution efforts, instead of the Sunday feast kirtana, we should just engage in distributing books to each other. Or, how about during mangala aratrika and guru-puja? We could have piles of books and while the aratrika is going on, instead of that old-fashion, out-moded and basically useless congregational chanting and dancing, we could engage ourselves in the more important brhat-kirtana by simply passing books back and forth among our community members. Then when the aratrika is over, put them back on the pile. Never mind reading them in order to actually understand our philosophy; simply by touching them there is so much benefit! Let anyone spin the “philosophy” in whatever lopsided way they please to serve their various purposes. It does not perplex me. I, however, prefer to understand things in this way: The B.B.T. (book publication) is compared to the heart of the Krsna consciousness movement. Transcendental book distribution, the out-going books and in-coming funds, can be likened to the blood-pumping heart’s beating business. But why? What is the purpose of the whole affair? What are the books all about? Shall we not acknowledge the importance of all the transcendental knowledge contained in the books? Shall we not acknowledge the life of all the transcendental knowledge found in the books (hari-nama-sankirtana), the living (inspirational) force ultimately sustaining the Krsna consciousness movement along with its important heart-beating business? No one here is saying that book distribution is not important. However, if we neglect the transcendental knowledge in the books, if we neglect to practically live the life of all transcendental knowledge in the books, mulishly thinking heart-muscle and heart-beating business are the only important aspects of our life of Krsna consciousness; then our heart-muscle\beating business will remain relatively superficial and artificially sustainable at best. How sustainably can a heart beat anyway without a will to live. Sankirtana of the Holy Name is life. How can one live – and think one is living – without it?

May the Lord grant you the spiritual guts to digest these few ideas, at least in principle, if not in practice.

Y. lowly S.

Copyright © 2008 - 2024 Krishna Balaram Mandir 24 Hour Kirtan Mandali, All Rights Reserved