On New Year’s Day, devotees at ISKCON Baltimore in Maryland, USA set a group goal to read 100,000 pages of Srila Prabhupada’s books by the end of the year, as an offering to the ISKCON founder.
Within two weeks, they were already on track to beat their goal, and had set a new goal of nearly twice as much -- quite a start to the New Year!
It all began when around 25 devotees, including Director of Outreach and Education Lokadhyaksha Das and his wife Vidarbha Suta Dasi, decided to start the New Year by reading Srila Prabhupada’s books together.
They all gathered in their temple room on January 1st at 11am. Sitting in a circle, they first broke the ice by each sharing what they appreciated about Srila Prabhupada.
They then took one hour to read from the first canto, fifth chapter of Srimad Bhagavatam, “Narada’s Instructions to Vyasadeva.” Devotees recited the Sanskrit verses and translations together, then each took a turn to read Prabhupada’s purport.
Next, each devotee shared something that they liked about what they had just read.
“The experience of reading together was phenomenal,” Lokadhyaksha says. “We all felt that we could connect with each other on a deeper level than ever before.”
Loka then suggested that the group make a collective offering to Srila Prabhupada by reading 100,000 pages of his books by the end of 2014 -- or 275 pages per day. He called this program Nityam Bhagavata Sevaya, or “constantly serving the Bhagavatam.”
“Our inspiration came from our guru maharaja Mukunda Goswami, who requests all his disciples to read 30 pages of Prabhupada’s books every day,” he says.
Responding positively to Lokadhyaksha’s suggestion, each devotee pledged to read a certain amount of pages per day -- some one, some five, and others 10, 20 or more.
“We got 200 pages right there on the spot,” Loka says. “Then we asked everybody to get a pledge from someone they knew. Within a week, we reached 250 pages a day.”
As of now, ISKCON Baltimore has passed its 275-page-a-day goal and stands at a collective pledge of 350 per day.
“We are now shooting for 500 pages a day,” says Lokadhyaksha. “So far 50 devotees have made pledges, and we hope at least 108 will have by Gaura Purnima (March).”
That will mean an end-of-the-year goal of nearly 200,000 pages. But it could be more -- the goal will continue to evolve throughout the year.
Participants will have access to an online spreadsheet where they can update their numbers regularly. Statistics on what books they’re reading will also be recorded.
“We’ve also created a Facebook page, where devotees can enthuse each other by sharing their realizations,” says Lokadhyaksha.
“It has profound effects on many, especially me,” shares ISKCON Baltimore president Nila Madhava Das. “It has improved my devotional service and my chanting. It brings our congregation closer.”
“This vow has made me become very consistent and committed in my reading,” says Radhika Nama Dasi. “Even though I took a vow to read five pages every day, I end up reading more. In the beginning it seems like the same thing is repeated again and again in the purports. But very soon one comes to realize the importance of the repetition and the fine intricacies of the philosophy... It is a great feeling.”
On February 8th, devotees plan to reconvene to share more realizations in person, and go out on the street to distribute books together.
At this time, devotees who have not felt comfortable making a pledge will also be able to submit the number of pages they’ve read in the past month.
In a few months, at the groundbreaking for the new ISKCON Baltimore temple, participants who pledged will have their names engraved and laid in the foundations.
“This will indicate that the foundations of the temple are based on devotees reading Srila Prabhupada’s books,” says Lokadhyaksha.
At the end of the year, there will be a celebration in which devotees offer their reading.
“This idea is so simple, yet so powerful, that I think all temples can implement it,” Lokadhyaksha says. “It could be a powerful uniting force for devotees to come together, glorify Prabhupada and form bonds that will last for a long time.”
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