History of Book Publishing and Distribution – Part 1
[Excerpt from “The Art of Spiritual Life, 1969” by Syamarani dasi]
All of the devotees in the Boston temple felt that the purchase of this house was Krsna’s will, because a few days later, Prabhupada wrote us a letter saying that now that we had this big house, he wanted to set up “our printing department in Boston immediately.” He wrote us that one of the building’s big halls could accommodate a large printing machine, and he requested Advaita and Vaikunthanatha to leave New York and come to Boston to begin printing operations. The Boston Temple was set to expand greatly, and Prabhupada had already made it clear in his letters that we were not the causes of the expansion. Rather, we would be his instruments.
“Being Poetic Was One of The Twenty-six Qualities of a Pure Devotee…”
The Press devotees were aware that book publishing and distribution had played a key role in the expansion of the young Krishna consciousness movement in America, and we naturally expected that this would continue. Prabhupada had taught us that being poetic was one of the twenty-six qualities of a pure devotee, and that this does not simply refer to verse or rhyming poetry. He had said, “Poetic means literary man. They must give good literature.”
Five hundred years earlier, the associates of Lord Caitanya had written scriptures in Sanskrit or Bengali script on palm leaves. These piles of palm leaves, bound together, were both the final manuscript and final edition. In this way, the six Gosvamis, Lord Caitanya’s direct disciples, and other Vaisnavas in Vrndavana, wrote profuse transcendental literature. In turn, their books were hand-copied by scribes for wider distribution.
A few years later, Srila Jiva Gosvami inspired his students, Srila Srinivasa Acarya, Srila Narottama dasa Thakura and Srila Syamananda prabhu to collect as many manuscripts as they could and then bring them to Bengal for mass preaching of Krsna consciousness. Together, these three devotees amassed a large collection of scriptures and set off for Bengal. Somehow, after they had journeyed for several months, their worst fears came to be realized. In spite of an escort of ten armed guards, their manuscripts were stolen in the dead of night, near Visnupura in Bengal.
Srinivasa wrote to Jiva Gosvami, informing him of the incident. Meanwhile, some miles away, King Birhambit was about to inspect the treasure that had been plundered in his most recent raid. The court astrologer had told him that on this day several travelers would be carrying some ‘priceless treasure’ through his kingdom.
Now, in great excitement and anticipation, the king quickly removed the cloth covering the stolen trunk. On opening the trunk, he was dismayed to find that there were only manuscripts inside. Lifting out the top manuscript, he saw the signature ‘Sri Rupa Gosvami’ written on a palm leaf. When he examined the literature further, he felt something change deep within himself.
Soon after this, Srinivasa was searching for the missing books and he approached the king to request his help. When the king saw Srinivasa and spoke with him he was deeply impressed and moved. After some discussions on Krsna consciousness, he accepted Srinivasa as his spiritual master and thereafter became a staunch propagator of pure devotional service to Krsna. Such was the potency of the Gosvamis and their books and disciples.
In a purport to Lord Caitanya’s siksastakam prayers, Prabhupada stated: “Lord Caitanya instructed His disciples to write books on the science of Krsna Consciousness, a task which those who follow Him have continued to carry out down to the present day. The elaborations and expositions on the philosophy taught by Lord Caitanya are, in fact, the most voluminous, exacting and consistent, due to the unbreakable system of disciplic succession, of any religious culture in the world.”
The Seed of Krishna Consciousness
In 1896, seventy-three years before Prabhupada established his Press in Boston, the seed of Krishna consciousness was planted here in the West when Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura sent his small book, “Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts”, to McGill University in Montreal. Besides this book, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura had written and published over a hundred other titles in three Indian languages. Like his predecessors, Srila Narottama dasa Thakura and Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura wrote hundreds of poems and songs, full of spiritual sentiments and scriptural conclusions. His writings made the sacred teachings of Lord Caitanya fully accessible to every reader of Indian religion and spirituality in the modern age.
The renowned son of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada, expanded upon this sacred body of literature by writing many important translations, commentaries, and philosophical essays. He utilized the ancient Vedic traditions and conventions and harnessed the power of modern innovations so that, under the prevailing conditions of the early twentieth century, his preaching mission would have maximum effect. Following Srila Rupa Gosvami’s teaching of yukta-vairagya (practical renunciation), he understood perfectly that renunciation meant utilizing everything in the service of Krsna. In this regard, he considered the printing press to be a very effective means of spreading the transcendental message of Lord Caitanya throughout the world. Through his program of dynamic preaching, kirtana, and book distribution, he succeeded in re-establishing Gaudiya Vaisnavism as the leading spiritual force in Indian spiritual life. Following in his footsteps, his prominent disciples in India have continued with his preaching and publication work. One of his most intimate disciples was Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, a close god-brother of our Srila Prabhupada. In 1959, Prabhupada had accepted sannyasa, the renounced order of life from him at his temple in Mathura.
Wide And Rapid Dissemination of The Spiritual Knowledge
The wave of multi-lingual translation of ancient Vedic texts that appeared when Srila Prabhupada came to the West was an unprecedented event. By following the instruction of his Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada succeeded in planting the eternal Krsna consciousness movement all over the world. At that time, there began a very wide and rapid dissemination of the spiritual knowledge that had for so long been contained within the discrete boundaries of India’s Vedic culture.
At this same time, Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Gosvami Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual successor and siksa-disciple, was requested by his diksa Gurudeva, the same Srila Bhakti Prajnana Kesava Gosvami Maharaja, to translate the books of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura from Bengali into his native language, Hindi. He carried out this request by translating some of the Thakura’s most prominent books, such as Jaiva Dharma, Caitanya-siksamrta, Bhakti-tattva-viveka, Vaisnava-siddhanta-mala, to name only a few. All these books are also presently being translated into English by his followers. To date, he has translated and published about 40 books into Hindi, and about the same number in English. Just as Srila Prabhupada’s books have been translated and distributed in all the world’s prominent languages, many of Srila Narayana Maharaja’s English books have now been translated into other prominent languages of the world, including Spanish, French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, and several Indian languages as well.
He also continues to lecture in Hindi, Bengali, and English throughout India and the world. All of his discourses are recorded. Several Hindi lectures were transcribed as well as translated into English for publication. Now that he is extensively touring the West, his thousands of English lectures have been recorded and filmed, and, in addition to being translated in many of the World’s international languages, are being sent as transcriptions, audios, and videos over the internet to reach hundreds of thousands of fortunate souls.