Tips & Techniques For Book Distribution

By Vaisesika Dasa

Corporate Sankirtana

New Delhi ISKCON has become a world leader in distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books. On my way home from Vrndavana, I stopped in New Delhi specifically to find out from the devotees there how they are doing it.

According to them . . .

The foremost reason is that HH Gopal Krsna Maharaja, their spiritual leader and G.B.C, is dedicated to book distribution and preaches strongly about it.

Consequently, ISKCON New Delhi has developed a multi-faceted approach to distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books.

First of all, they have a robust team of brahmacari book distributors who go out in pairs every day to various spots in the city to distribute books at traffic lights.

Next, the opulent New Delhi temple attracts thousands of visitors every day who come to experience the temple’s animated Bhagavad gita show, first class restaurant, bakery, gift shop and to have darshan of their gorgeous Deities, Sri Sri Gaura Nitai, Sri Sri Radha Partha Sarathi and Sri Sri Sita Rama, Laxman and Hanuman. Incidentally, I noticed that at every venue throughout the large temple grounds, the devotees have strategically placed display of Srila Prabhupada’s books.

To gather valuable insider information, I personally approached Gopal Krsna Maharaja to ask his secrets behind the huge success of the New Delhi program. At that time, he specifically mentioned “Corporate Sankirtana,” giving all credit to a young devotee named Rakesh (A.K.A. Hanuman) who is the leader of the program. He informed me that through Corporate Sankirtana they are distributing hundreds of thousands of Bhagavad gitas in New Delhi each year. During December this year, their goal is 350,000 Bhagavad gitas.

Following Maharaja’s advice, I met with the lead man, Rakesh to find out how to do it.

Rakesh is a young, affable devotee from a local family, who has dedicated his life to finding the richest people in New Delhi and engaging them in distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books.
He and his staff (one other devotee) constantly scan lists generated by the local Chamber of Commerce, Export Association, Manufacturing Association, The Financial Times and other local newspapers to find out who is making huge profits. They also uncover useful information from government organizations that publish reports disclosing how much money various corporations are giving to charity.

Rakesh humbly gives all credit to HH Gopal Krsna Maharja for the success of the program. He told me that his main goal is simply to bring people to meet with Maharaja. “After that, it’s all Maharaja’s potency that induces them to help with book distribution,” says Rakesh with a smile.

What follows is the free advice that Rakesha gave me about Corporate Sankirtana.

Mood in dealing with potential donors

“We want your money, but we also want to give you something extremely valuable that you don’t have.”

Practical Tips

• Find out where the qualified people are and then phone them and tell them you want to see them.
• Be tenacious and do not give up until you get the appointment.
• The easiest appointments come from referrals.
• Large, nicely framed picture of Krsna
• Prasadam (pera is Rakesh’s choice)
• Flower garland
• Donation forms (available as a PDF)
• Flip book (shows various ISKCON programs)
• Out of etiquette, the host usually asks, “Can I get you anything.” Answer, “Yes, please.” Then ask for lukewarm water or fresh juice because both of these take longer to prepare and bring, giving you extra time with your host.
• “We are ISKCON.”
• “Our message is about happiness and peace.”
• “We are international beggars.”
• “We use resources in a way that will benefit you.”
• “We are recognized all over the world.”

Explain each. For example:
• “We distribute/teach spiritual knowledge.”
• ”We educate young people in moral values.”
• ”We distribute more vegetarian food worldwide (ISKCON Food For Life) than any other organization in the world.”

(Note: Rakesh mentions three corresponding programs that the devotees have developed at ISKCON New Delhi):

ISKCON (Spiritual)
VAST (Cultural)
Food for Life (Charitable)

• Ask for their “input.” Wealthy people know that you want money. But, asking for their input is more palatable and compelling and evokes their goodwill.
• When they ask how much to donate, reply:
“We know our requirement; you know your pocket.”
• Encourage them, “When you give Krsna to others, you get Krsna.” (Quote Krsna from Bhagavad gita: Na ca tasman manusyesu tasmin mam priya krtamah . . . “No one is more dear to Me than he who distributes the message of Bhagavad gita.”)
• Give them a hug. (Rakesh says this creates a lasting, friendly connection.)

• “Thank you for your first installment” (then smile).
• “Please keep on giving your whole life.”
• Ask them to give you names and numbers of five friends who might also help. (If they are enthusiastic, ask them to call them to make the appointments for you.)
• If their donation seems too small, say in a friendly tone:
“This is not matching your status.”
• After your first meeting, send a monthly plate of maha prasadam to their home.
• Call after each delivery of prasadam to ask, “Did you like the prasadam?”
• Find out their birthday and send a cake on that day.
• Invite them to come to the temple or to a house program.
• When you invite an influential person to a program, invite other influential people too so that no one feels alienated or proud.
• Dress opulently. Wealthy people appreciate a well-groomed presenter with first class accoutrements. (Rakesh wears expensive secular clothes to meetings; not devotional garb.)
• Keep trying! You never know when you’re going to have a major breakthrough.

College Preaching

“Please continue your program in the universities. They are the best places for propagation of our philosophy and the students are very eager for this crucial information. They are not aware of the futility of material education, which gives a paper degree only, because it is a common observation that the graduates are unable to find good employment and the students are becoming hippies, etc. So they are wanting something good and that best thing is Krishna consciousness.” —Srila Prabhupada Letter, January 10th, 1971

Time and time again Srila Prabupada emphasized the importance of preaching Krishna consciousness in the schools and universities. The students, he said, are the “best prospects” to receive this philosophy. Not only because youth is the time for education, but students are considered to be “the intelligent class of men” and future leaders of society. If only a few could be affected then the impact could be very vast upon society in general.

Therefore it is imperative that we try our best to follow Prabhupada’s instructions in this regard. We have practical experience that simply by making the attempt, the reciprocation is tremendous. Lord Krishna sees our endeavor and from within gives us the intelligence to make it work (Bg. 10.10).

I have long been attracted to “college preaching” for it was in college that I had my “spiritual awakening”. After becoming disillusioned with the pursuit of material success and also experiencing so many of the other things that college had to offer—drugs, parties, girls, etc., Krishna came to me and I was ready to hear. There are many out there who also have sensed that something is not right with the world. That what the media, our educational institutions, the government and society in general, are telling us is not the whole truth. They want us to believe that if we simply work hard, pay our dues, consume, consume, consume, then everything will be alright. And if it’s not? Well then something is wrong with us and there are many legal and illegal drugs on the market that will “fix” that. Cover us over. Make us forget.

Therefore the Krishna conscious devotees must be there to show the positive alternative; that there is another way. Anyone can do it, too. All we have to do is go there and try. My program is pretty simple. I travel to various colleges and universities throughout California (from San Diego in the south to as far north as Santa Rosa). All together it comes to about 12-15 schools. Usually I spend 2-3 days to a full week at the bigger ones and attempt to set up a book table on the main thoroughfare. I say: “attempt” because some schools do not allow me to do so unless I am affiliated with a student organization. Even then some schools say that a student from that organization must be present with me at all times. At these schools I usually settle for walking around and meeting people and distributing books in that way.

The table consists of mostly Prabhupada’s books, a couple of Sataputa Prabhu’s books and some cookbooks, incense and neck-beads/japa beads. Recently I have added kirtan and bhajan c.d.s (which I bring a cd player to give people who are interested a sample hearing) and Krishna Art posters, which add color and decoration to the table. It is also nice to keep some prasadam to give out. Something simple like cookies or simply wonderfuls will do. Put in an attractive basket and noting that you made them yourself, the students will not be able to resist.

1) It gives us an air of authorization. In other words, people will respect that we are a recognized group with something valuable to offer.

2) People come up to us rather than us to them. It’s so much easier to talk to someone who has made the initial contact. They are interested and all we have to do is explain who we are, what we are doing and what we have to offer, and then wait to answer their questions.

3) If someone wants to come back later you are easy to find. Many times people say that they don’t have enough money or time now but would like to come back when they do. “We will be here all week,” you tell them.

4) Visibility. With the colorful table and posters, and if you ever have the chance to do kirtan as well, people will notice you as they walk by and become curious as to what you are all about. Word sometimes spreads around campus that you are there and others that are interested come up as well.

As people approach the table [1] I will usually say hello and then ask them a question like: “Have you seen these books before?” or “Have you heard of the Bhagavad-gita?” Then I will proceed to show them the books (particularly the pictures), explaining some basics of the philosophy and then asking them more questions about themselves (“What’s your major?” “Where are you from?” etc.), and tell them more about me. I then answer any questions they have and try to encourage them to take a book.

If they are interested and decide to take a book and give a donation I always like to answer any more questions they may have. (Another nice thing about the table that was not mentioned in the previous list is that you can talk to someone for a long time and it will not take away from the book distribution. In fact, it often increases it, for the psychology of people is that when they see that someone else is interested, they also take interest. When we see a crowd we think, “What’s going on there? Let me go see.” So we have experienced that the more people who are at the table, the more others are attracted to stop. The only challenge is how to engage them all at the same time. It’s nice if you have a partner who can help you, but if you don’t then I usually will excuse myself from the person who I am talking to in order to briefly describe the books to the newcomer. Be careful not to spend too much time with this person as you may lose the other one in the process. If it is a whole group approaching then it can be even more difficult. In this case, try to talk to them all at the same time showing the pictures around and making eye contact with all. Be direct and to the point as usually they are in between their classes and thus do not have much time.) Many open up and share deep hopes, frustrations, life difficulties, spiritual yearnings, etc. I feel a lot like a spiritual counselor as somehow or other these students feel confident to open up to me. Through this experience I learn many important lessons about the nature of this world, without having to necessarily experience it for myself. Also I see how the teachings of Krishna consciousness can truly help people deal with the so many varieties of sufferings we are facing in this world.

Finally, I will ask them if they would like to put their name on my email list. For me this is one of, if not the most important part. I am very interested in the cultivation aspect of preaching and therefore love being able to stay in touch with these interested people and watch as they come closer to Krishna. Even if they don’t take a book, if they put their name on the list then it gives them a better opportunity of doing so in the future. The email list serves many practical purposes as well. It lets the students know when I will be coming next to their campus and if there will be any special programs or gatherings in the area. They can write to me with questions and share problems or realizations. I also have another list which they have the option to sign up for wherein I send weekly quotes from the scriptures and occasional personal writings of my own. This allows me to keep them regularly connected to the spiritual path in an unobtrusive way—everyone likes a good quote. Sometimes they share the quotes with friends, forwarding it to their whole address book! I recently found one student who puts them on her web-log and gets lots of feedback from readers.

I have also started a web-log of my own, an online journal to be exact. I write about different experiences, realizations and difficulties that I am experiencing along my spiritual journey and can receive feedback from readers. It encourages me to write more often as I know that what I am writing may help someone else. Not just for myself.

In this program it is important to go back to the same places regularly. In this way you can meet the same people again and encourage them and help them with whatever problems they be encountering. Gradually, a friendship can develop which can be very powerful in helping another soul. People don’t respond necessarily to good philosophy. But if you become someone’s friend then they will listen to you. Then they will appreciate what Krishna consciousness has done for you in your life and will also want to take it up for themselves. And even if they never take up the process entirely, the seed has been planted, something they will never forget. Eventually it will grow and fructify when the time is right. At least for the time being they have become our friends and allies and as before mentioned, the students are the future leaders of society. To have leaders as allies can be very beneficial for the Krishna consciousness movement.

So I look at this as a very long-term program. Even after the interested students have graduated I hope to keep in touch with them, and even visit them in their homes, watch their family grow, be there as a spiritual friend. We’ll see how it goes. I am still in the beginning stages but am optimistic about the future. There really are so many interested people out there who are looking for this, something genuine. I realized that all we have to do is be there to receive them. Srila Prabhupada explains that everyone is looking for Krishna for it is our constitutional position to serve Him and our only source of real happiness. Unfortunately, however, in our misguided society we are looking in all of the wrong places—through money and material advancement, material love and companionship, and even altruistic or humanitarian endeavors. It is only when we find Krishna that the love within will be truly reposed. It is only then that the true happiness of the soul will awaken.

[1] People don’t always approach completely on their own volition. Sometimes they need a little coaxing. Therefore H.H. Ganapati Swami (the veteran college preacher, who much of my program is modeled after) has devised a strategy of passing out leaflets with quotes by famous people about Bhagavad-gita, reincarnation, vegetarianism and the science of consciousness. When they come over to receive the leaflet, one then strikes up a conversation.