You might not have heard of Jaya Chaitanya Das, the thirty-year-old who’s been the number one book distributor in the U.S. for the past two years.
Even if he sold 85,000 of Prabhupada’s books this year alone.
That’s because until recently, the young man was living at home with his parents in Orange County, California.
Jaya Chaitanya grew up in a Vaishnava Hindu family who were not ISKCON devotees but kept Krishna in the center of their lives.
During his teenage years, however, like most young men he had other interests and sought to forge his own path.
“Between 13 and 21, I was really into music, went to college to learn more, and became a hip-hop producer,” he says. “I found myself on tour with the famous eighties rapper KRS-One. I didn’t know at the time that “KRS” stands for Krishna.”
Jaya Chaitanya recalls: “In the middle of his rap performance, KRS-One would stop and give a talk quoting from the Bhagavad-gita. I was so impressed to see an influential performer in the industry quoting the Gita, that I went home and opened the Bhagavad-gita that had been there all along – and it made complete sense.”
Jaya Chaitanya started going to the Laguna Beach ISKCON temple, and then moved into the brahmachari ashram at the New Dwarka temple in Los Angeles, where he’s been living and doing full-time book distribution for the past three years.
A lively, bright and warm young man who talks in a hip, loose cadence, Jaya Chaitanya didn’t just distribute books, but created his own innovations.
Setting up an attractive book table to give a more authorized feel than simply approaching people on the streets, he says Krishna inspired him from within to also add a huge sign atop a pole reading, “YOGA; MEDITATION; BOOKS.”
Jaya Caitanya and his book table
“You can see it from forty to fifty feet away,” he says. “And all the people who are already interested, the ripened fruits, just come to the table and want to know what it’s all about. It has revolutionized my book distribution.”
Every evening, Jaya Chaitanya writes down his book distribution stories in a journal. And it’s getting packed with astonishing accounts.
Once, while set up with his table at the Griffith Observatory – one of the top tourist spots in California – a woman from Germany approached him. Shaken after a series of terrorist attacks in her country, she took a whole set of books, saying, “In times of desperation and need, you guys are the ones with the answers. I’m very fortunate to get these books.”
Another time, a young woman spotted Jaya Chaitanya’s book table and practically ran to it. “Wow, you’re really excited to get these books on yoga and meditation!” he observed. “Yes!” she replied. “Although a month ago, I wouldn’t have been interested in these books at all – I would have been out partying or something.”
“What happened?” Jaya Chaitanya asked. She said: “I was held up at gunpoint, and it changed my whole perspective on life. I realized how serious and precious life is. Now I’m so happy you’re here so I can get these books.”
While distributing books at a local college, Jaya Chaitanya met a student named Edward, who said he was a “Bhakti Buddhist,” and after chatting for a while, purchased a set of at least nine books and gave a substantial donation.
Jaya Chaitanya distributes carefully curated sets of books
“A few minutes later, he returned and asked if we could take a picture together,” Jaya Chaitanya says. “We exchanged numbers and become friends. Two days later, he met Vijaya Prabhu, ISKCON’s Minister of Book Distribution, and purchased more books from him. He then texted me nearly every day for the next month, asking me deep philosophical questions. Finally he came to the temple, stayed overnight, videotaped his experience and made a video blog out of it.”
“Before leaving to go back home, he told me the experience had changed his life,” Jaya Chaitanya concludes. “Now he refers to himself as Bhakta Edward and distributes Prabhupada’s books himself!”
Incredibly, this kind of thing is a common occurrence. Jaya Chaitanya says his sign filters people out, leaving only those who are very interested in spiritual knowledge. Often those who approach his table leave very grateful, carrying as many as fifteen or sixteen books with them. Many become devotees, regularly visiting the temple, chanting Hare Krishna, taking Bhakti Sastri courses and following the regulative principles.
I ask Jaya Chaitanya if he’s ever struggled or hasn’t felt like distributing books. At the beginning, it could be tough, he admits, but since he devised his table and sign idea, things have mostly flowed smoothly.
When they don’t, inspiration is never very far away.
“One time I was feeling a little down, and I was thinking, man, I don’t know if I can continue on,” he recalls. “I sat down, opened up the Bhagavad-gita, and the first thing I read was, ‘Get up and fight!’”
Jaya Chaitanya beneath his famous sign
It almost sounds too amazing to be true. But Jaya Chaitanya has a simple, innocent clarity and dedication that seems to connect him with support from previous acharyas – something we’ve seen with other book distributors too.
“I really feel an intimate connection with Srila Prabhupada,” he says. “I feel like he, and Lord Krishna himself, are there the whole time. And that’s what really inspires me to continue on.”
Jaya Chaitanya has another great inspiration: Bhrigupati Das, 64, a Prabhupada disciple who has been distributing books for the past forty-three years, is his sankirtan partner and coach.
Bhrigupati distributed 5,000 books in the month of December alone, and was the top marathon book distributor in 2016. His warm relationship with Jaya Chaitanya is an example of what different generations can do when they work together.
“He’s very friendly, happy, and upbeat,” says Jaya Chaitanya. “He’s also very down-to-earth – he doesn’t have the air of a senior devotee, but rather of a bhakta. You can ask him anything. We’re both into exercise, so we take long japa walks every morning from 5:30am to 7:00am, and have big philosophical discussions about consciousness, spiritual science and more. It’s amazing to see him continue for so many years. He’s the real inspiration behind my efforts.”
Jaya Chaitanya (left) with Bhrigupati Das
In February, Jaya Chaitanya will be receiving an award at the annual World Book Distribution Award Ceremony in Mayapur, India for the second year in a row. He’ll also be making a Powerpoint presentation on his techniques, which have revolutionized not only his own book distribution but also that of other temples who have implemented them like ISKCON Silicon Valley, ISKCON Arizona, and Bhaktivedanta Manor.
First among Jaya Chaitanya’s techniques, is of course a book table with a large, visible sign. “There’s a saying in business: ‘A business without a sign, is a sign of no business,” he says.
Along with the sign and book table, Jaya Chaitanya emphasizes the importance of an aesthetic presentation; distributing carefully curated sets of seven or eight books at once; and giving people a complete package that includes japa beads, tulasi beads, and devotional art calendars. He also has a follow-up system to keep in touch with people and send them email newsletters.
Most important, however, is genuinely caring for people. “It’s not so much the sales techniques as it is the kindness of the book distributor that really sells the books,” Jaya Chaitanya says.
He relates a story of one man who was simply flipping through books at his table, chatting idly, saying he was “just looking” and seemingly had no interest in buying. It was an extremely hot day, and as the man browsed, Jaya Chaitanya noticed that he was getting red in the face and sweating.
A happy Hong Kong family with their books
“So I took the large umbrella I have over me to protect me from the elements, and put it right over him,” Jaya Chaitanya says. “I was no longer protected, and he was. He looked up and said, ‘Wow, thank you so much! You didn’t have to do that!’ Then he said, ‘I’ll take all these,’ took eight books, and gave a really big donation.”
“My realization from that was that our philosophy is personalism, so we should be very personal with people, and foster loving exchanges,” Jaya Chaitanya concludes. “We should learn their names, shake their hands, and just be very kind with them. And that’s going to go a very long way.”
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To see more of Jaya Chaitanya, his techniques, and his interactions with people on book distribution, please visit his Youtube channel, Westcoastmonk, at: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC_-sdpfB_e1gF_xIzh7JYCQ[ book-distribution ] [ books ] [ hip-hop ]