One more important holiday that happened during my absence here was Gītā Jayanti. I don’t think I’ve ever paid serious attention to it in my life and I missed it this time around, too. It’s big in India, sure, but ISKCON temple where I grew up had Prabhupāda marathon taking up all energy and focus on this day. It was never a time to celebrate anything, only work our socks off trying to distribute as many books as possible.
I also must admit that I have never been a Gītā man. I know devotees who read Bhagavad Gītā every day just as they chant their rounds. My daily requirement is to read something from Bhāgavatam, which I, personally, consider the book of all books. I also feel distance from Lord Caitanya if I don’t read something about him, but another must is something about Śrīla Prabhupāda, either his biographies or devotees reminiscing about him. Bhagavad Gītā, I’m sorry to say, comes last on the list. Apart from that I read other books, like that Mystic Universe. Recently I also got Rāmāyaṇa by Bhakti Vikasa Swami – never knew he had a translation and it’s not on vedabase website. I was told that it’s more Prabhupāda-like in its approach rather than general story telling. The book starts with discussing personality of Rāma as the Supreme Lord, for example. Other storytellers simply state it once and move along but Bhakti Vikasa Svami really dwells on the subject of tattva there. That’s as far as I have progressed so far, sorry.
Still, the importance of Bhagabad Gītā cannot be overestimated. I remember once, many many years ago, I opened it on a random page and it said that reading even a few words from it can free oneself from the burden of all his karma, and at that moment I really felt like my accumulated karma disappeared from the back of my consciousness. Like a heavy weight you carry on your shoulders for so long you don’t even realize it’s there anymore, and then it’s lifted and you suddenly feel so light you feel you are a different person now.
There was a time when I tried to memorize Gītā verses, got to the middle of the second chapter, and then abandoned the idea when I had to move to a new place for while. I “pirated” Gītā content from vedabase and tweaked it to show Sanskrit and translation and collapse purports – it’s easier to read for memorizing that way. During that time I used to recite the verses from the beginning several times a day but now they are all gone from my memory and it’s this memory loss that stops me from resuming it again. What can I do? I tried, but that approach was clearly not for me.
I’ve also got to participate in book distribution this year and I helped to sell two Gītās. Not much but I’ll remember it for much longer than verses themselves, that’s for sure. I’ve also attended Marathon evening program at my local temple where they encouraged devotees to distribute books. I still don’t understand how it’s supposed to work, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
They’ve asked everyone to make “pledges”, that is to take a certain amount of books and pledge to give money for them. Some gave money upfront, most had their names entered into a ledger. The books were immediately put into their custody and they transferred them to their cars. As far as I understand, the temple doesn’t care whether they sell these books or give them away, all the book distribution for that (this, actually) month was done in the space of half an hour it took them to take the pledges. Maybe someone would pledge more later but overall that was it. “I pledge fifty Bhagavad Gītās” – “Jaya!”
I really don’t know how this shift in book distribution happened. I understand in India they get businessmen to give huge amounts of money and then book count goes to a devotee who took it. The second part is then to go out and give the books away. I don’t know how it works – if they collect donations before December and only give the books away during the Marathon – should they be counted for December or for November, too? What if they only collect donations during the Marathon and give away actual books after New Year?
It used to be individual devotees going out with books, meeting individual people, taking their money and giving them books immediately. The end result might be the same – money comes into the treasury and books are going to people, but this change of method changed how benefits are distributed, too. I mean when Mahārāja Yudhiṣṭhira conducted sacrifices he was supposed to be the main beneficiary and he got all the credit. It was HIS rajāsūya sacrifice, not anybody else’s. Many people have helped to collect the money for it, there were priests who conducted it on his behalf, there were brāhmaṇas who got gifts at the end and they all got something out of it, but it was still Yudhiṣṭhira’s sacrifice, not theirs.
When we sell a book to an individual and he pays his own money it’s HIS sacrifice and we are more like priests assisting him. All the main benefit goes to him according to how much he gave in proportion to his abilities. Who is the main beneficiary when one man gives the money and another gets a book? Obviously the donor, but the recipient will get a benefit later if he reads it and takes its instructions to the heart. A devotee in this case benefits twice – first when he assists the donor and then again when he puts a book in someone’s hand, but then again – these might be different devotees working as a team. It would certainly make more sense because collecting thousands of dollars/rupees in donations requires different skills then finding thousands of people ready to take the books.
The main point to consider here, however, is whether the books will have the same effect or not. If people take them like they do with “lose fat” pamphlets given out on the streets – carry them until they find a nearest bin, then what is the benefit of the whole sacrifice from start to finish? Donor’s money will all be wasted because his sacrifice isn’t actually complete until people start reading and become devotees, even if for a minute of their lives. As far as I remember, Prabhupāda’s instructions on this were clear – do not give books away for free, people should value them and this will force them to treat them with respect and try to extract as much benefit from reading them as possible to recoup their “investment”.
Having paid for the books isn’t a requirement for becoming a devotee, of course, but I have another post in mind to discuss how this physical arrangement matters, too. So, tomorrow.