BY GITA GUPTA
“Monthly Sankirtan Festivals are a great way to engage the entire congregation in book distribution,” says Vaisesika dasa. “At our temple, we combine the festival with a holy day on the Vaisnava calendar. Our meditation during the Monthly Sankritan Festival is that the sankirtan results are our special offering to the Lord.”
Vaisesika dasa is the Temple President of the ISKCON Silicon Valley (ISV) temple as well as the North American Sankirtan Strategist. Over the last five years, he has used ISV as a testing ground for different book distribution strategies. The Monthly Sankirtan Festival has proven so successful that Vaisesika is now training other temples in this strategy. The Monthly Sankirtan Festivals have spread to Boston, Houston, New York City, and Washington, DC.
Vaisesika says that the Founder-Acharya of ISKCON, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, wanted everyone to conduct book distribution. He remembers that in the early days of ISKCON, the temples were managed so that even the cooks and pujaris had days when they went out on book distribution.
Why did Srila Prabhupada want all of his disciples to engage in book distribution? “Book distribution has so many benefits,” says Vaisesika. “The most important benefit is that it purifies the distributor. All service, including book distribution, should be performed in a way that purifies the servant. Then, the service expands to purify others who are able to take advantage of the sankirtan movement.”
At ISV, before a devotee is allowed to go out on book distribution, he must participate in a training seminar. The seminar focuses on how to perform book distribution in a way that is purifying. The most important principle is that we want to leave everyone with a good impression of devotees. This means that devotees must develop the intelligence to know who to approach and who to leave alone. Leaving everyone with a good impression also means freely distributing prasadam. Vaisesika says, “Book distribution is very purifying if we see ourselves as instruments. It forces us to see others as spirit souls and to treat them respectfully.”
A second benefit of book distribution is that it enlivens the devotees. Vaisesika quotes one of our previous acharyas, who said, “One who has life can preach, and one who preaches gets life.” One who “has life” does not identify with the body, which is dead matter. Instead, he identifies as a living, conscious spirit soul. The third-class devotee identifies with the body. The second-class devotee, however, identifies as a spirit soul. Book distribution is the best preaching for a third-class devotee. By engaging in book distribution, the third-class devotee can advance very quickly to the second-class level and “get life.”
A third benefit is that book distribution forces devotees to move out of their comfort zone. Vaisesika says, “Book distribution is good practice for the time of death, when many of us will be out of our comfort zones.”
At ISV, the leadership emphasizes Vaisnava holy days as special opportunities to receive the Lord’s mercy and purification. Thus, the congregation enjoys the Monthly Sankirtan Festival even more than the traditional feast, because the members know they are on the fast-track back home, back to Godhead. The majority of the congregation participates in the Monthly Sankirtan Festival. On large festival days such as Gaura Purnima, over 240 congregational members will be on the streets, performing sankirtan.
Vaisesika says that every member of ISKCON should have the opportunity to make advancement in Krishna consciousness by preaching. He says that he has tested the Monthly Sankirtan Festival concept at ISV, and it is now proving successful in other communities. If you are interested in organizing Monthly Sankirtan Festivals in your community, contact Vaisesika at firstname.lastname@example.org