College and university libraries in North America are getting an irresistible opportunity to put Srila Prabhupada's books on their shelves.
RECENTLY A couple of my friends have launched a creative method of placing Srila Prabhupada's books in libraries. They call their project "The Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust"—with Rasamrita (rasamrta) referring to the "immortal nectar" found in these books. Their efforts reminded me of my own experiences with Srila Prabhupada's writings.
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The admissions officer smiled at my father and me. Clearing his throat, he leaned forward slightly over his tidy desk and said with a hint of condescension, "St. John's has a unique curriculum. Rather than conventional liberal arts courses, our students study the great books. Plato, Aristotle, Shakespeare, Kant, Hegel, Thoreau—all the classics. The St. John's experience allows a student to grow by associating with the greatest minds the world has ever known."
I was seventeen and interested in higher knowledge. But my heart grew uncertain as Dad and I toured the campus, meeting students and professors. The books might have been great, but the people seemed ordinary. "Are these people really enlightened?" I wondered. With high school graduation just a few months off, I disappointed my college-educated parents and decided not to go to St. Johns.
A few months later I received a copy of Sri Isopanisad, with Srila Prabhupada's translation and commentary. It managed to fascinate while remaining incomprehensible. I visited the local Krsna center to ask about it. The devotees answered with reason and conviction. Moreover, they seemed to swim effortlessly upstream against the prevailing culture and counterculture of '60s and '70s America. I was impressed. Before long I enrolled to study the great books of Vedic India, presented through an ancient line of brilliant teachers culminating in the modern world in Srila Prabhupada.
In the late 1950s, when Srila Prabhupada was struggling in India to publish Back to Godhead magazine, a friend suggested he publish Krsna conscious books instead of magazines. "Magazines come and go, but books stay in homes and libraries," the friend said. Srila Prabhupada agreed and turned his attention to a daunting task: an English translation, with comments, of the 18,000-verse Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Canto One—the first of twelve—required three hefty volumes and several years to complete. In 1965, shortly after publishing the third volume of the First Canto, Srila Prabhupada left for America. His primary luggage: trunks full of Srimad-Bhagavatams.
Srila Prabhupada soon saw that Americans needed an authentic translation of the most basic Vaisnava text, Bhagavad-gita. His Bhagavad-gita As It Is attracted MacMillan publishers, who printed the popular book in abridged and later unabridged editions. Gita in hand, over the next twelve years Srila Prabhupada opened more than a hundred ISKCON centers around the world. Remarkably, during the same years, Srila Prabhupada completed over thirty volumes of the Srimad-Bhagavatam—Cantos One through Nine—and began work on the famous and particularly lengthy Tenth Canto. During one two-year span he also completed the first English translation of the Bengali classic Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. With his commentary, that work extended to seventeen volumes.
Srila Prabhupada's prodigious literary output—one of his numerous major accomplishments—amounted to a small library of distinguished texts on devotion (bhakti) and Vedic culture. Abandoning commercial publishers, Prabhupada established the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) to produce his three major works (Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Sri Caitanya-caritamrta). Some of Prabhupada's disciples produced and illustrated the gor-geous books. Others translated them into dozens of languages. Still others sold millions of copies around the world.
A Tempting Invitation
Two years into my study of Krsna consciousness a senior disciple of Srila Prabhupada, Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, sent me a tempting invitation.
"The BBT is organizing a team to sell Srila Prabhupada's books to libraries," he said, "and you're welcome to join us."
That began, for me, a wonderful four-year adventure on the BBT Library Party. My service took me to the offices and classrooms of hundreds of college professors. I enjoyed the chance to meet these scholars—in some cases nationally and internationally famous in their fields—and enter into deep discussions on many topics. My older and college-educated colleagues took me under their wings as we visited college campuses throughout America and, later, Europe. Nearly everywhere, we met professors who were pleased and impressed with Srila Prabhupada's books. Many ordered Bhagavad-gita As It Is as textbooks for their classes in religion and philosophy. Most of the colleges ordered Srila Prabhupada's major works as reference sets for their libraries. Dozens of professors wrote glowing reviews, praising Srila Prabhupada's scholarship and clarity.
Sales were good, and Srila Prabhupada was pleased. He wrote to Satsvarupa Goswami: "I am always very much pleased with our Library Party's preaching. Their work is most important. The BBT office has sent me some recent review from professors, and there is no doubt that these intelligent men are deriving benefit from reading my books. These reviews make me very encouraged."
When we would occasionally meet Srila Prabhupada, he encouraged us to read the books as well as sell them. One colleague admitted that he found it hard to study systematically while traveling.
"Never mind," Prabhupada said. "Just pick up any of my books and open it to any page. Sugar tasted on any side is sweet."
By the time we were through, nearly every major academic library in America and Europe had at least some of Srila Prabhupada's books. The Library Party's focus shifted to India, and most of us original members went on to other services. I earned a Bhakti-sastri theology degree and began teaching Krsna consciousness to new students in ISKCON Los Angeles. Over the years I would occasionally be reminded of my old service by people who had first learned about bhakti-yoga through one of Srila Prabhupada's books they picked up in a library.
A New Approach
Recently Visvaretah Dasa, a disciple of Srila Prabhupada, has joined with Baladeva Vidyabhusana Dasa, a disciple of Satsvarupa Goswami, to establish the Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust (PRT). Their approach is different, but their purpose in the same as that of the old Library Party: to place Srila Prabhupada's books in libraries around the world. Unlike our constant traveling sales—much better suited for the young—they are raising funds from Srila Prabhupada's many admirers to sponsor sets of his books for libraries. The devotional community in New Vrindavan, West Virginia, has graciously hosted their project. One of their main sponsors, Muktavandya Dasa, found his first Krsna conscious book in the library at the University of Massachusetts.
These enthusiastic and dedicated devotees have already distributed thousands of Srila Prabhupada's books. In return, they have received many letters of appreciation, such as this from the librarian of a liberal arts college: "Our students and professors will value these translations and commentaries. They will become the centerpiece of our collection on Indian religion and philosophy."
Academic as well as public libraries have expressed interest in PRT- sponsored books. The PRT is efficient; one hundred percent of the money they receive goes to buy and ship the books. This is a way to turn hard-earned cash into pleasure for Srila Prabhupada while helping people better their lives for years to come.
The Trust also sells Srila Prabhupada's books. On receiving a set ordered from the Trust, a doctor in California thanked them with a sentiment shared by me and countless others: "I will treasure these books until the day I die."
Kalakantha Dasa is the author of The Song Divine (a poetic rendition of Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita As It Is) and a forthcoming edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam in the same format. He is the resource development director for the Mayapur Project and lives with his family in La Crosse, Florida.
Donations can be sent to The Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust, RD 1, NBU 44, Moundsville, WV 26041, USA. Phone: (304) 843-4880; email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Librarians Value Srila Prabhupada's books
More than 150 college and university libraries have received sets of Srila Prabhupada's books through the Prabhupada Rasamrita Trust. Here are excerpts from some of the many letters of gratitude the Trust has received.
New York University
"I am certain that this wonderful collection will enhance the study of one of the world's great religious cultures by students at New York University for years to come."
St. Mary's College of Maryland
"The books are very beautifully produced, and will be of interest to students in many academic departments. The faculty member who specializes in Vedic philosophy is particularly grateful for the gift. Now he can direct students to a broader range of primary Vedic literature, which until now has been represented in our collection by excerpts and commentaries. Thank you for your generous contribution to the intellectual life of our college. We look forward to seeing the books well used by generations of students and faculty."
Louisiana State University
"Thank you on behalf of LSU Libraries for the splendid collection provided by the Trust. This is a very scholarly edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam. . . . It should be valuable to Western scholars. We are delighted to have the opportunity to add A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada's works to our collection."
"I am writing to express our appreciation for your donation of an excellent collection on the culture of India. These volumes, including Srimad-Bhagavatam, are valuable additions to the religious, philosophical, and cultural collections of the Humanities, Social Science, and Education Library. . . . We will be more capable of achieving our mission, and serving the students and faculty of the Purdue community."
University of Cincinnati
"These volumes are truly remarkable—beautifully bound and illustrated. I know that our students, faculty, and other scholars and researchers will treasure these volumes for many years to come."
"Our Religious Studies department has a strong Asian religions component, and the members of that department seem quite excited about [the books]. One professor in particular plans on using some of these volumes in the upcoming semester."
St. Ambrose University
"Having Srila Bhaktivedanta Prabhupada's definitive and scholarly translations and purports to the major scriptures of India is essential to our student's understanding of India's spiritual heritage and practices."
University of California, Santa Cruz
"It is our ambition to provide students with as wide a ranging exposure to religious and philosophical ideas as possible, and your generous donation has aided us in that effort. We will use this well."