Distribution of ISKCON Founder Srila Prabhupada’s books in North America has made another dramatic increase for the third year in a row.
At this point, says Sankirtan Strategist Vaisesika Das, “It’s no fluke.”
With Vaisesika’s encouragement, temple presidents and leaders have assembled ISKCON North America’s centers together as one team with one common goal over the past three years. In 2012 they set a goal of a 20% increase, in 2013 a goal of another 20% increase on top of that, and in 2014 another 10% increase.
Despite the challenge of reaching percentage increases from higher and higher base numbers, North American devotees have smashed their goals each year. In 2012 they reached 26.5%, in 2013, 28%, and in 2014, 11.5%.
“We’ve almost doubled the amount coming into the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust [the publishers of Prabhupada’s books],” Vaisesika says, “From $800,000 to $1.5 million.”
And there’s no sign of stopping. At the North American GBC and Temple Presidents’ meetings in Dallas, Texas this past weekend, leaders again set a goal of another 10%. And Vaisesika is fully expecting to surpass it again… and again, leading to the highest book distribution income in decades.
“We’re shooting for $2 million remittance to the BBT for ISKCON’s 50th anniversary in 2016,” he says. “If we increase about 12.5% this year and next year, well be able to do it. That’s unprecedented.”
On top of this year’s percentage goal, North American centers have prioritized selling full sets of Srila Prabhupada’s books. They’ve pledged to distribute 500 sets of the multi-volume Sri Chaitanya Charitamrita, and 1,378 sets of Srimad-Bhagavatam.
“We’re finding that when people buy a full set of Prabhupada’s books and place them physically in their home, they start identifying themselves as devotees and become oriented towards the Krishna consciousness movement very quickly,” says Vaisesika. “And when they start reading the books, we see dramatic changes in their lives – they start coming to the temple, bringing their families, chanting Hare Krishna, and more.”
According to Vaisesika, the increase in book distribution has resulted not only in new people becoming devotees, but also in a renaissance of programs to care for these new devotees.
ISKCON Denver’s new devotee training center, for example, was started last year and is already home to fourteen celibate students. And there are plans to launch more new facilities in 2015.
What’s interesting is that these training centers pay it forward, putting a major emphasis on book distribution training, and thus creating a cycle of attracting new devotees through book distribution, who then become book distributors themselves.
ISKCON Denver, in fact, was one of the most successful centers in book distribution last year. And Gainesville’s Krishna House in Florida, another center that trains young new Western devotees, is an up-and-coming star.
Other standout centers last year included Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Toronto, Dallas, Chicago, and Kansas City’s Rupanuga Vedic College.
Meanwhile ISKCON Silicon Valley in San Jose, California is a story in and of itself, with a team comprising fully of householder working professionals who take time out of their weekends to distribute books and have never missed a goal since 2007.
Even more amazingly, 10% of ISV’s huge book distribution income in 2014 was made by children aged 5 to 15 distributing books along with their parents.
Children aged 5 to 15 made 10 per cent of ISKCON Silicon Valley’s huge book sales last year
So why is income from book distribution important? According to Vaisesika, apart from the obvious benefit of educating people in spiritual topics, Prabhupada wanted his society to fund its many projects through book distribution.
Historically, ISKCON’s flagship Mayapur, Vrindavana and Mumbai temples were all built primarily on book distribution income. And book distribution income supported the Radha-Damodar Traveling Sankirtan Party, the Bhaktivedanta Institute, Yadubara’s early ISKCON films, the First American Transcendental Exhibit museums, and Golden Avatar recording studios.
Today, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust continues to support important ISKCON projects, with the North American BBT contributing the most out of all the BBT’s worldwide branches to the upcoming Temple of the Vedic Planetarium in Mayapur, India.
Looking to the future, Vaisesika hopes that ISKCON centers all over North America will continue to cooperate to increase book distribution in innovative ways. His top two areas of focus this year are attracting new devotees and training them in how to distribute books.
“The real worship takes place when we go out and ignite the fire of knowledge in the heart of the conditioned souls,” he says. “That’s more pleasing to Krishna than even building new temples.”