The Blessed Sankirtan Devotees

Manidhara Das
06 Jul 2021


Joining in 1972  a movement where going out and distributing Srila Prabhupada's books was a natural daily activity of everybody, who called himself a devotee, I received a blessing which I gradually learned to value and treasure increasingly. How grateful I am to all those devotees who preached to me, leaving me no other choice than to go out on sankirtan. Even the service of book distribution couldn't be more * opposing to my previous lifestyle, an absolutely secluded type of existence, the life of a silent introvert who believed to be somebody he was not, it saved me from being entirely victimized by my mind and my senses. *

As book distribution instantly requires sense control, mind control and full surrender to the mood of Lord Caitanya, the unconditional distribution of His unlimited mercy, which Srila Prabhupada gave form in His books, distribution of His literature constitutes the highest form of welfare activity available to the humankind.

No wonder Srila Prabhupada established this service to be the base of His movement, of course also declaring any form of authorized devotional service to be of the same transcendental quality.

But even on the spiritual platform, there is a gradation, and so those who joined at times I did, got the instant blessing to be part of something so wonderful, so valuable and so lasting as distribution of Srila Prabhupada's books is.

Over and over Srila Prabhupada stressed this service to be the priority as it automatically brings about the best in everybody, establishing all the qualifications of a vaisnava. All the qualities of a devotee must be established in the heart of a book distributor fast, as any material motivation becomes quickly exposed and rectified by dint of sankirtan.

One may argue that there are examples of sankirtan devotees abandoning this service or falling down, but this only proves the high level and the purity it demands.
Every day a sankirtan devotee looks into the mirror hold in front of him by the conditioned souls, and what he may see may not be* pretty. Lifetimes of contaminated existence, filled with greed, lust, envy and despair we had to live through before finally being rescued by Srila Prabhupada's mercy. Our hearts are filled with not yet identified material desires, which may be activated in the moments we least expect them to rise. Only those who are humble and introspective can survive the arrogance and the constant denial of Lord Caitanya's mercy on the part of the conditioned soul they approach.

Srila Prabhupada's mercy comes in the form of practical engagement in devotional service such as sankirtan, book distribution.

Unfortunately, much of this mood was forgotten and compromised by those who in the name of preaching established other priorities, and therefore much of the sankirtan mood was lost along with its naturally evoked ecstasy. Ecstatic kirtans became sadening „retreat meditation sessions“, advocated by those who claimed to „travel within“, establishing that there is „within and without“ in so called Krsna Consciousness. None of these „inside travelers“ could ever distribute a book on sankirtan. Such tormented fellows get never  out of the confinement of their mind, becoming vimukta maninah, „the ones who believe to be liberated by dint of their mind and false ego only". Social aspects of life began to dominate the preaching, moving the ecstasy, experienced by everybody who goes out and distributes Krsna Consciousness in the enthusiastic way, into the background. Some started to point more to themselves than to the mercy emanating from Srila Prabhupada's lotus feet, making themselves to the guardians of the gates of Vaikuntha while blocking the flow of mercy emanating from Srila Prabhupada Himself. Individuals appeared * for whom obviously their own prestige, fame and financial well-being became the priority.

In His letter to me, Srila Prabhupada writes that devotional service is absolute,
BUT those who preach are specifically favored by the Lord. This is also clearly stated in the Bhavagavad-gita. And so I discretely began to wonder why in the later days of * my being* in Srila Prabhupada's movement more and more my leaders abstained from book distribution and direct preaching as such. Surely, their lectures to devotees were presented with great erudition but the bliss of direct preaching more and more /*rather/* disappeared as they got burdened  by the  administration and management they got involved with.

Never delegating managerial responsibilities to others, especially the upcoming grhasta generations of devotees, I found that many, if not most of the sannyasis, became more of the institutional administrators, fierce money and disciple collectors, and the „inside-ISKCON  managers“ than the „outside preaching pioneers“ embarking on excursions into the new frontiers of Krsna Consciousness, as Srila Prabhupada envisioned them to be.

Finally, becoming „domesticated gurus“, simply blessing the dwellings of the growing grhasta congregations in order to collect money, many of them becoming obliged to their conditioned followers, lost the invigorating life of transcendental adventurers, the life of a „freedom lover“ as Srila Prabhupada defined Himself, the blissful life of a preacher. Such is the destiny of those who leave the fire of sankirtan in whatever form it may burn, becoming petrified images of themselves, ready just to be framed and put on the altar of the grhastas bhoga-offering, or becoming  bhajanandis Srila Prabhupada didn't want us to be.

Of course, not all of my godbrothers went this way and those, who still keep the fire of book distribution and direct preaching burning, still emanate much heat and invigorating bliss.

But sadly my suspicion that whoever leaves the mood of book distribution and direct preaching  will get petrified in his own mind and false ego got confirmed.

Being a temple president for 25 years myself, I feared to glide gradually into the shallow muddy waters of daily management, ending as one of my co-temple presidents who once shared a doubt with me, „is this what am I doing devotional service or just some work?“ After all, much of the administration in ISKCON could have been done easily by karmis who are often in many regards more qualified than devotees could ever be.

Besides that, whatever I managed in ISKCON as temple president got either stolen or destroyed by those who *took the position* came after me, and so I could be*come* a truly frustrated „manager“. No, I am not frustrated, as the beauty of devotional service is that it is ahaituky apratihata, it can never be stopped by material circumstances and is eternally recognized by the Supreme Lord. The physical assets we established may be destroyed, the service in itself is not.

My service as a temple president had its devotional base, but being fearful to become swallowed by daily administration needs, I kept always a stack of Srila Prabhupada's books next to my table and in times I felt overpowered by the never ending managerial intricacies of life, I simply run out on the street, distributed few books and returned much refreshed and satisfied, ready to dive again into the life of a troubled manager who can try to serve but never satisfy everybody everywhere.

As my  doubts about some of the ISKCON dignitaries due to the loss of their sankirtan spirit grew stronger I also became immune to the mood such non-sankirtan devotees established. I felt strong need to be disassociated from „leaders“ who dared to attack those who still did preach in the line of Srila Prabhupada, but who dared to question their „status of divinity“.
Always keeping the book distribution in forefront, even not being able to  go out every day myself and distribute, I felt safe and protected from such kanistha adhikari consciousness, where the institutional designations become the cherished goal of such individuals and not the distribution of Srila Prabhupada's mercy to the ignorant masses of people.

Preaching goes along the book distribution. Practically all new devotees joined because of Srila Prabhupada's books, even not necessarily understanding them.
That includes me, the bhakta Miroslav, who recited in 1972 his first Bhagavad-gita without hardly understanding one word. But what a wonderful book it was! And how demanding and simultaneously most attractive Srila Prabhupada was!
And how amazing were the living examples of those who FULLY surrendered their lives to Srila Prabhupada's mission, my preaching godbrothers!

Even joining at times where hardly anybody could give a decent lecture, we were all so overpowered by Srila Prabhupada's mercy that we had no other choice to do than what we never expected to do... To distribute His books on the basis of a simple motivation: IT WAS HIS MOST CHERISHED DESIRE.

Naturally, by dint of the destructive time and with the progress of Kali Yuga, the originally transcendental message gets in the process of establishing a religious institution compromised. This is the history of all religious movements. Although Srila Prabhupada's movement being in its essence far above religion and institutional dogmatism, is no exception due to the presence of materially motivated individuals.

That doesn't mean that the fire of sankirtan got extinguished. It is still here, often burning underground, ready to shoot out into the open and demonstrate its light and heat. Anybody can be warmed up and enthused in the presence of this sankirtan fire, if ready to allow it to become manifest. In whatever capacity, everybody can become part of Srila Prabhupada's Sankirtan Book Distribution Movement, and revive the original spirit He installed. It is just a question of personal desire.

I was blessed by literally being thrown into the streets with Srila Prabhupada's books in my hand, since EVERYBODY did that. I got no other choice and was simply pushed into the constant flow of nectar of book distribution. Today's the devotees have to make that choice on their own, often not receiving proper encouragement from their leaders.The areas where book distribution is maintained are invigorated, the areas where it is neglected gradually dry up .

Books are the basis and where the basis crumbles, whatever is built on top, however impressive initially, eventually collapses. Books being the basis don't mean just to read them (very good!), it means also to distribute them. Originally, Srila Prabhupada wanted book distribution to be the financial basis of ISKCON along the congregational support. He warned us „not to make preaching into business“.
However, as the vaisya type of consciousness became prominent and the brahminical type of consciousness had to retreat, naturally the money became a priority, and not the change of the consciousness of the conditioned souls, what to speak of „formation of character“.

As only a man who is alive can preach, and book distribution brings that kind of life, one can only pray that those few who are still surrendered to this service and see it as the priority for themselves an others become more prominent in Srila Prabhupada's movement and flourish. Only then one can say that Srila Prabhupada's movement got established and is expanding.

The books will stay. We, with our individual innovative ideas of „paradigm shifts“ and „new Krsna Consciousness“ will perish. There are so many innovators but not enough book distributors… may be the simple conclusion of this text.

One who failed to distribute sufficient amount of books in this life time,

Manidhara Das