The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, which publishes the spiritual literature of ISKCON founder Srila Prabhupada, has reached a new watermark of success.
Thanks to the efforts of book distributors around the world, it has sold over half a billion books -- 503,385,383 to be exact -- since Srila Prabhupada began ISKCON in 1965.
The BBT achieved this after an exciting year -- 8 million books were sold around the world in 2013, the highest total since 1995.
Heading the charge was India, where the majority of BBT books are currently sold.
In the country’s capital New Delhi, using the international ISKCON book distribution point system, devotees surpassed one million book points -- a first for any ISKCON temple. (Small books garner a quarter of a point, medium books half a point, big books one point, and extra large books two points.)
Over half of these points -- 641,898 -- were gathered during the month of December alone, when devotees in most temples around the world embark on a book distribution “marathon.”
“New Delhi is in their own class, they've been the number one temple in the world for at least the past five years,” says international sankirtan minister Vijaya Das. “Gopal Krsna Goswami is a great inspiration for the devotees there and around the world, as he is constantly emphasizing the importance of book distribution.
Vijaya explains that many of the New Delhi book distributors distribute right on the streets of the city -- a great austerity, as it is said to be the most polluted city in the world. Some, dressed in suits, approach businesses and get books sponsored, which they then distributed very cheaply or for free.
Other temples throughout India also struck gold last year, with ISKCON’s headquarters in Mayapur, West Bengal reaching 652,368 book points, and Juhu, Mumbai achieving 648,957.
Again, large chunks of these totals were gathered in December, with both temples increasing their monthly averages by a phenomenal 999% during that month.
“Mayapur has been second in the world for the past four years,” says Vijaya. “They also have a great inspiration in their midst in Jayapataka Swami. Most of their distribution is done by about one hundred brahmacharis (celibate monks) traveling around the local area in eight buses. Some distribute from the bus with a table, and others go around the village person to person and door to door.”
Chowpatty’s Sri Sri Radha-Gopinath Mandir, Punjabi Bagh in Delhi and Chandigarh in Punjab also had exceptionally successful December months.
The temple to see the largest increase for the whole year, meanwhile, was Krishna Balarama Mandir in Vrindavana, Lord Krishna’s birthplace, with an increase of 42%.
“I’m sure Srila Prabhupada is very pleased with the increased enthusiasm coming out of the holy dham,” says Vijaya.
Elsewhere in the world, devotees have also experienced a huge upswing in enthusiasm and books sold.
In North America, book distribution has seen an annual average growth of 26% per year since 2008. At their annual meetings in January this year, temple presidents from across the continent joined forces to pledge a further 10% increase for 2014.
North American devotees have many methods of distribution. Full-time sankirtan devotees distribute books at universities during the school year, and at music concerts during the summer, with Rupanuga Vedic College’s Traveling Sankirtan Party, based in Kansas, leading the charge.
Devotees in Silicon Valley (San Francisco), Philadelphia, Denver, Gainesville, Laguna Beach, Toronto, Washington DC, San Diego, Baltimore, Chicago, and Boston have also seen major increases. Meanwhile the Motel Gita project has so far placed over 200,000 Bhagavad-gitas in motel rooms throughout North America.
Much of this is due to the efforts of Sankirtan Strategist Vaisesika Das, who has come up with a variety of ingenious ways for the modern-day ISKCON devotee -- most of whom live outside the temple and hold full-time jobs -- to maximize their book distribution.
These include the Monthly Sankirtan Festival, the Weekend Warrior program, and the smart box -- an attractive display of Prabhupada's books kept in stores, which people can take a book from if they leave a donation.
“Srila Prabhupada said, "Tax your brain on how to distribute more books,’” says Vijaya Das. “Vaisesika Prabhu is the personification of that.”
Devotees in England have also reached an all-time high.
“In December the Soho St Radha-Krishna Temple in London had the best month I’ve seen in a long time, with 15,859 book points and a 968% increase above its monthly average,” says Vijaya.
In Australia, South America and Europe, meanwhile, devotees have had success distributing books in city centers and door to door.
Innovative new technologies are also being used, with the BBT releasing e-books that readers can view on their iPhones and Androids. It’s a type of book distribution Vijaya is sure will only increase.
But according to Vijaya, “old-school” methods of book distribution are still the most effective, and are still reaching young people -- in the US, 90% of those who purchase Prabhupada’s books are youth whom devotees meet at universities and concerts.
“The best way to distribute is still person to person, where the devotees show the book to the people, explain something about it, and ask for a donation,” says Vijaya. “It is also the most beneficial for the book distributor, as it is very purifying and the person receiving the book benefits because of the personal contact with the devotee.”
ISKCON is not only focusing on how to increase the number of books distributed. Pancharatna Das of ISKCON Outreach is also working on how to bring the people that get books gradually closer to Krishna
Vijaya, who has visited over fifty countries in the past twelve years giving talks on book distribution, thinks book distribution is only likely to keep increasing, but cautions that devotees shouldn’t become complacent.
“With more and more gurus expressing to their disciples the importance of book distribution, and Vaisesika Prabhu revealing his innovative ways of distribution, we're evolving quite nicely,” he says. “So I think we can look forward to another year of increase in 2014 by the mercy of Lord Sri Krsna.”
Asked how he feels about the consistent increases, he comments, “I feel really good about this. So many temples that we never heard of are now reporting scores. The leaders and devotees in general are understanding the importance of getting this valuable knowledge out to the people. Srila Prabhupada's mood was ‘Double it.’ Then he said, ‘If you can't do that, at least maintain.’ We're not doubling it, but at least we are more than maintaining it -- we're increasing every year.”
“I think Srila Prabhupada is pleased,” he concludes.[ bhaktivedanta-book-trust ] [ book-distribution ] [ book-review ]