This article was orginally written in 1996.
World Enlightenment Day for ISKCON, signifies a thrust for radical social change. On this day, thousands of Hare Krishna devotees expect to achieve a world record by distributing the greatest number of Srila Prabhupada’s books ever in one day. But what exactly are these books, and what is their value to ISKCON and society at large?
Like everything else in the material world, books have only transitory value. Even the great classics will one day be reduced to footnotes and ultimately disappear from view.
Scripture has endured longer than any other type of writing. And among all scripture, the Vedas are the oldest and most voluminous. Of holy books, the most important, relevant, and practical, are those written by Srila Prabhupada, at least to Hare Krishnas. His works, we say, stand alone. But who will accept Srila Prabhupada’s own assertion that his books would act as the lawbooks for the future of humanity?
Can we say something more objective about his books beyond declaring that almost everyone who reads them will discover their ultimate worth? How do they influence our world and how will they affect its future?
Here are some facts: Srila Prabhupada’s books contribute to the world’s philosophical and theological body of knowledge; they enrich the literary heritage of the planet; they provide academics with a reference point to understand the true nature of the Vedic way; they bring personal fulfillment and satisfaction; they help convince us that ultimate knowledge dwells within the hearts and minds of the great sages; they act as an instruction manual by which one can live successfully in the material world; they present solutions to contemporary problems; they fulfill the desire of spiritual predecessors to spread the message of love of God; they provide an alternative to materialism; they clearly explain the nature the material existence; they answer the most probing philosophical questions such as “who am I?”, “who is God?”, “what is time, nature, and destiny?”, and “where I am going?”
From 1967 to 1977, despite advanced old age, Srila Prabhupada circled the globe almost continually, lecturing and managing the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Hare Krishna movement. Nonetheless, during all this travel, he wrote non-stop.
In his books and in his personal life, he advocated “simple living and high thinking”, voluntary simplicity, and a happy peaceful life with Krishna at the center. He wrote as a full-time practitioner and personally followed the philosophy he preached. In his books he teaches a complete science of life.
Introduced in the 1980s in many leading universities, his books are current in many of them, having found a true home in a large sector of academia.
Most members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) commit themselves to the philosophy, practice and spreading of Krsna consciousness because of knowledge gained from Srila Prabhupada’s books. Srila Prabhupada called ISKCON the “Hare Krishna movement”, because he had an agenda for social change. Those who read books come to understand this, and perceive a sense of urgency for propagating Vedic knowledge. Students of Srila Prabhupada’s books hope for such change and many work vigorously for it.
During his time with us, Srila Prabhupada constantly encouraged widespread distribution of books as the top priority. He indicated that these writings would gradually implement change. In the preface to his Srimad Bhagavatam he quotes from Canto 1, chapter 5, text 11, wherein it said that transcendental literature about Lord Krishna brings about “a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization.”
Thus, by distributing his books, one takes part in the process of social change, the revolutionary method of making the material world God-centered and therefore more livable. This, according to Srila Prabhupada, is the “highest welfare work.”
The publication and distribution of these books forms the basis of the Krishna consciousness movement. The knowledge contained therein brings about the thrust for positive social change. Although the soul can never be perfectly satisfied anywhere but in the spiritual world, the presence of the spiritual world can be felt in the here and now by acquiring transcendental knowledge and engaging in spiritual practices.
World Enlightenment Day, when ISKCON devotees will distribute more books than ever before on a single day, will emphasize the unique excellence and importance of Srila Prabhupada’s teachings and their relevance to the world.
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