I want to talk a little more about life in temples which were focused solely on book distribution. They were “ekeha” in their consciousness, having only one goal in this world. Actually it’s two words “eka” and “iha”, hence the title.
In one word – it was very simple, like Kṛṣṇa consciousness itself. Spiritual progress is not easy, our path is full of turns, twists, and dangers, but it’s simple – just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, follow orders of the guru, carry on the mission of Lord Caitanya. Sometimes it’s very hard but it’s never complicated.
Everything a temple like that does is to promote book distribution. Every decision, every investment, every expenditure is judged by its effect on saṅkīrtana and nothing else. When this focus isn’t there we run into all sorts of contradictions and everything suddenly becomes complicated because we have to juggle so many interests.
Just off the top of my head, not in a particular order – how the congregation will be affected? How the financial position will be affected? How the GBC will react? How will senior devotees react? How will it affect temple morale? How it will affect relationships with outsiders or neighbors? How will our critics react? How will neophytes react? How is it supported by śāstra? How is it supported by precedents? How is it done in other temples? How does it comply with laws? How does it help our mission? How does it please the Lord? How does it please Śrīla Prabhupāda? How will the women be affected? How will the children be affected? What will our well-wishers say? How does it fit with overall ISKCON strategy? How does it affect spiritual masters who are not managerial authorities?
You can’t please all and trying to do so will exhaust you. You are also likely to make enemies along the way, and not necessarily among non-devotees. What’s worse than having a serious disagreement with fellow vaiṣṇavas?
Temple presidents who make all day-to-day decisions in our society have to juggle all these interests, some need to be sacrificed, some can’t be avoided, it’s politics, even if on a small scale. None of it matters, however, when saṅkīrtana is our one and only goal.
To give a historical example. Germans are very fond of bread but bread isn’t on the Vedic menu. We are supposed to eat chapatis and puris instead, but they are no good for saṅkirtana. Puris are oily and chapaties require too much time and preparation, you can’t make them on the road, and you can’t keep them because they’ll become tasteless. When German saṅkīrtana devotees demanded that temples bake bread for their traveling parties it was a no-brainer – easy to make, lasts long, full of energy and easy to satiate the appetites, it was a perfect solution. All other considerations had to step aside – if saṅkīrtana works better on bread then so be it.
Anyway, by pushing the mission of Lord Caitanya we satisfy the entire universe, so what if benefits are not immediately obvious? It also helps us see the reality of the world – there’s only one boss here – Kṛṣṇa. When we forget about it we see all those entities I listed above as separate and demanding separate attention. Needless to say, such vision is illusory and it will bring nothing but trouble. Well, not “nothing but” – because it will also feed us hopes of success to keep us going.
Another effect of having a singular focus is that it keeps everyone in their proper, humble consciousness. Ordinarily a temple president is the ultimate authority but if saṅkīrtana is temple’s only goal then it’s actually book distributors who do the most important job. Temple presidents are there not to boss them around but to provide service and facilities. If they get in their heads that they are big and important they can pick up a few books, go on the street, fail miserably, and realize that in the eyes of Lord Caitanya they are basically worthless.
All the other services and activities in the temple are for those who can’t distribute books, as simple as that, and everyone knows it, too. This understanding does wonders to devotees’ egos and always keeps them on their toes. Inability to succeed in book distribution doesn’t excuse them from trying, though, because everyone is obliged to regularly go and try again, maybe once a week or once a month. This way they will never forget their real place in the big scheme of things.
Personal egos of book distributors are kept in check, too. Partly it’s because in the social hierarchy they are not at the top – they are still under the control of temple management, the president and usually a saṅkīrtana leader. They have to follow their orders, not their own whims. The best check, however, is the Lord Himself.
No one can succeed at saṅkīrtana without necessary humility, Lord Caitanya would simply withdraw His favor. The only key to success is taking full shelter at the feet one’s guru, Śrīla Prabhupāda, Lord Nityānanda, and Lord Caitanya, in that order. If one gets into his head that he is somehow superior to his fellow devotees his mercy gets cut off, too.
Another feature of such a temple is that only the best devotees get to distribute books. Saṅkīrtana devotees are the ones who never miss morning programs, never miss reading books, never miss cleaning their quarters, never engage in unnecessary talk, never distract themselves from their service. They must be absolutely perfect in their sādhana. It’s not a guarantee of earning Lord Caitanya’s favor but it’s the least we can do, so we better do it right. “Saṅkīrtana devotee” is also the only truly spiritual position in the temple.
Everyone else is engaged according to their material abilities. Someone trustworthy and good with Excel becomes an accountant, someone with an eye for management becomes a president, someone can be a driver or a mechanic, someone with a peaceful and quiet nature can be a pūjārī. Cooks are also special people, it’s a kind of a gift. There’s no such qualification for saṅkīrtana, though, one must be a perfect devotee in perfect Kṛṣṇa consciousness, material qualifications don’t matter.
Of course one should be in good health and being able to carry books but in those days it was practically given, everyone was physically qualified, but only very few were spiritually up to the standard.
If this organization was so perfect then why didn’t it last? Good question, the short answer would be that māyā got us first. Or maybe we realized the need to build a varṇāśrama and accommodate all kinds of material aspirations. Or maybe it’s just that people stopped buying our books, they had enough. Or maybe we overlook some worrying signs and then caught up with our karma. Or maybe we weren’t strict enough, lost our focus, and Lord Caitanya withdrew His mercy. Or maybe our society grew up and matured. Or maybe we have to pay tributes to our previously accumulated karma by getting married and trying to build a life on our own. Or maybe that particular mission wasn’t supposed to last longer than a decade or two. Or maybe it’s just the age and physical form – we can’t haul books in our thirties and forties and once we stop doing that we start investing out consciousness into something else.
Perhaps the question should be – does this universe have anything else in store for us or maybe we should follow the Lord and take birth in some other universe where these same pastimes are just about to start? We don’t have to stay in this universe forever, you know, it can go on rolling by itself, maybe our job here is done.