Book Distribution – Falling Off The Horse

Not a real one. A big, high, mental one with a beautiful shiny saddle and a braided tail. Yes, yesterday I did the first book distribution I have done since I was four years old (yes, I have the pictures to prove it).

The ambition to contribute in some way to the Christmas book marathon had been building in my mind for the past few months. The closer it got to December, the more determined I felt that I was actually going to do it this year. No more sitting at the marathon closing festival,listening to the scores, feeling guilty (and eating extra curd subji to compensate). This was my year to make some kind of difference. Only yesterday, I realised the odds had been somewhat stacked against me in terms of having a realistic view of the difficulty of book distribution. In my dreamy reveries, I stood on sunlit corners, enthralling passersby with my captivating descriptions of the wonderful books I held in my hands. They listened in rapt attention with tears in their eyes, thanking me for bringing their lives meaning. I should’ve realised I was setting myself up for a disappointment.

The first sign came in big, freezing gusts of wind. Yesterday was icy cold, as many days have been recently. I emerged from the tube station at Leicester Square, already shivering, holding one copy of Higher Taste in my slightly sweaty hand. Me and my mum had taken ten copies each, and had two hours to distribute what we could. We took a few minutes picking a spot, then she jumped right in, using the line we’d been told worked for a hook ‘Excuse me, are you from London? Yes? Well, we’re handing out these books to all Londoners today…’

I wandered up and down my little patch trying not to glance over at my mum who always seemed to be talking to someone animatedly. I tentatively stopped a few people, smiling enthusiastically. No one was interested. Hm, this was actually kind of hard. I shrugged it off and asked a couple more people. Really. No one wanted to know. So many people walked off as soon as they saw what we were holding, many even calling back at us ‘I love my meat!’ Me and my mum had a quick regroup and decided to go to Covent Garden where they might be more of a mix of people. A short walk. My fingers felt like they would fall off and I felt a lump beginning to rise in my throat. This wasn’t what was supposed to happen!

Covent Garden was busy, throngs of people walking from shop to shop, carrying armfuls of bags. On the corner near the Royal Opera House we saw a devotee stopping people to give out big, hardback cookbooks. My heart sunk at her determination. She actually looked really happy! Again, we picked a spot and carried on stopping people. I found it harder and harder to get used to people’s rejection. I felt like I was getting a desperate look in my eyes as I tried to keep a smile on my face every time someone walked away. I felt like the rejections were personal. This Krishna consciousness, the only thing I have ever known and the only true meaning in my life, did not interest these people in the slightest. By this time my mum had sold five books. I didn’t think my heart could sink so low. My only consolation was that she used to be one of the biggest book distributors in the world.

Finally! An elderly couple stopped. I babbled my lines I had come up with, riffling the book’s pages, praying to Krsna – please let them want it! Yes! They wanted it! I could’ve hugged them. So, forty minutes in, one book sold. This was it, I could feel it. After a rough start, they were going to flow out of my hands.

Ok, so it was my mind still. People stopped and asked me questions I wasn’t prepared for. Who is the money going to? Where is your ID badge? I got tongue tied and hurt – couldn’t they see I was sincere? Didn’t they know I was a gurukuli? We hardly ever distribute books! Ten minutes later I had fallen off the horse again. This time it was too much. I burst into tears (I might as well be honest here) , frustrated and disheartened. My mum was encouraging and tried to make me feel better but I didnt want to hear it. I felt like a total failure – one, for distributing only one book, and two, for giving up. My bag of nine books weighed down on my shoulder. My mum offered to carry them and I snapped at her that if I couldn’t give them out at least I could carry them myself.

It was hard. I thought that this was going to be my moment to share Lord Krishna with the world. I had, but not as I had expected. Still, feeling teary, I got on the tube back to Soho Street temple. In the temple room upstairs, Radha Londonisvara stood, beautifully dressed, the backdrop behind them embroidered with a mango grove and a star filled sky. I looked at them, wondering what this all meant. Was this to be my last foray into the world of preaching? They smiled happily back.

In some ways it’s so hard to realise that spiritual life is not complete without sharing this knowledge with others. I am so comfortable just living the life of a (sort of) devotee. Superficially at least, I have prasadam, my friends, festivals, clothes, travelling to India and other places, music, inspiration, art, opportunities – spiritual fulfilment. Realising that the final piece of the puzzle, to preach, is not a walk in the park is a bit of a rude awakening. My mind screams – you’re shy! You’re not a good speaker! You don’t perform well under pressure! You don’t know enough! You’re young! No one even expects it of you! But I know this is what I have to do. Without it, I cannot ever claim to be part of Lord Caitanya’s movement.

So – I have nine copies of Higher Taste left. If nothing else, I will at least distribute these for now. I have been suitably humbled. Maybe this was Krishna’s way of getting me ready for the real test. Oh well, shakily and very ungracefully I am getting back on the horse.

I sincerely pray to Lord Balarama to give me strength to complete this challenge and continue to challenge myself forever. I pray that with his golden plough he breaks the through the hard, stony soil of my ego, exposing the healthy fertile ground in which I can plant my devotional seeds. On my own, my heart is a barren landscape, but with the mercy of Srila Prabhupada and all of the devotees, perhaps these seedlings can be coaxed into becoming beautiful creepers. Please pray for me.

10 Comments

Filed under Krishna Consciousness, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Book Distribution – Falling Off The Horse

  1. Haribol, I have/am in that same situation! Books was very hard first time, believe it or not, i had a nightmare about it that night, haha. I give so much credit to the devotees who do it day in and day out. It was so true about what you said about we are fine living in our comfortable spiritual lives. Our real spiritual advancement comes when we come out of our comfort zone, thats what a mentor told me. thanks for sharing that, it was very brave of you!

  2. Hare Krishna.

    I enjoyed reading this article because I know the feeling you are going through. I have experienced rejection at sales very badly when I first jumped into it. Below are some tips that helped me in being one of the best in my line of work:

    FIRST – Have the following
    1. Commitment
    2. Attitude
    3. Patience
    4. Performance
    5. Enthusiasm

    SECOND – Prepare the following
    1. Set goals for 6 months and don’t change it no matter what.

    2. Focus on 1-3 product range that you will focus on for the next 6 months. Prepare 10 key features and benefits for these selections. This is what you will share with people. Nothing more, nothing less.

    3. Prepare a list of people you personally know to whom you can start talking to. This might seem the toughest at first. But trust me. It’s the best way to start and grow.

    THIRD – Do the following
    1. Always remember this forever – Give everyone a chance to know about Krishna. Whether you sell or not is not important at the end of the conversation. Has this person been introduced to some form of Krishna knowledge?

    2) Collect all the questions from your customers everyday and prepare answers with your friends. It’s fun. Sometime it’s easier to get the right answers when we are not selling. But eventually your answers will appear on the streets too as second nature.

    3) Say something simple about Krishna or your books in a short sentence. People are in a hurry and it throws people off balance when you stop them in their tracks and overwhelm them with all our deep philosophy.

    4) Tell them something that will have an impact in their life. They have to remember what you said and not you. The truth we speak will always linger in their mind and the curiosity will increase day by day. They will search out the answer with time. Let them have a journey too in their new spiritual quest.

    5) Ask permission. People don’t like being sold to. When I sold stuff, I boldly declared to the customer that I was there to sell and if I could continue. That puts them at ease. They like that honesty. And once that is removed, they listen to everything you have to say.

    6) Be genuinely nice. Make sure that the customer has had a great few minutes with you. Make a friend, then a sale.

    7) Don’t change your chosen spot of selling. It’s like a phone number. Passers-by have to know where to find you when tip 4 starts taking shape in their minds. That familiarity of the spot will assist both of you in the future.

    8) Be serious about your work and take it easy with the results.

    That’s it. Hope I have been of help. I think this is the platform to start with. I can assure you that by the same time next year, you will be one of the best book distributors. And to get better, you have to keep doing it regularly.

  3. Govinda

    I think you got the mercy of Lord Caitanya, even just by distributing one book, because it made You think of insignificance of our services to the Lord. And it benfitted us by u writing this nice article. I think u should keep trying, until u find ur heart into it (conduit of mercy of Lord Caitanya).

  4. Elfreda

    I identified with this article in many ways! I used to go on book distribution, but never had much of a ‘knack’ for it. Like yourself, I would often go an hour without even selling one book. But I always thought that if I just kept at my post, someone really desperate for meaning and happiness in their lives might come along, and I would be there ready for them, with a book. And really, it doesn’t matter in the least whether we sell any or not – the important thing is that we try. That sacrifice for Lord Caitanya will be accepted and distributed to all bewildered souls, whether we see it or not.

    Thanks for writing about this so honestly, and for taking the good out of an upsetting experience!

  5. jehovasanctusunus

    It seems to me that the kuli book ditribution methods seems to be changed.
    You may insist that you do make a diference selling books to the public – but I would seriously doubt it (except perhaps to people “really desperate”).
    I’d hazard a guess that the solution to your problem of finding it difficult to spread krsna consciousness is that you are surrounded by gurukulis all the time. No stranger is ever going to get me to read a book they have sold me on the street – but if I truly befriended a gurukuli then he/she is probably going to convince me the read the Bhagvadgita for example.
    You’re all just jumping in at the deep end by standing in public trying to identify with people. Try the shallow end – make friends with non-kulis. Go to the pub with them, have a drink with them, go clubbing with them. Admit the failings of the krsna movement to them; let them mock your stories of the creation of the universe.
    My point is that you need to challenge your own assumptions before you can challenge others.

  6. You have a good point – I think that befriending people without having an ulterior motive can definitely be a better way of preaching sometimes. Everyone is more inclined to listen to someone that they know and trust as a friend already. But what you say about going out for a drink or clubbing with them – to do that for me would not make sense. If the whole point is to be sincere, surely I should present myself as I am and not try to be like someone else, just to get them to listen to me? I wouldn’t do those things anyway, so to do them in the name of preaching seems somewhat counterintuitive.

    Also I’m not sure what you’re considering the ‘kuli book distribution method’? How does it differ from the way non gurukulis distribute books?

    Finally, I’m not insisting that I’m making a difference by distributing books – I may be trying to, but ultimately all I can do is give my best effort. I’ve realised that even if no one takes a book, it can only make me more humble – I am a total novice at preaching to others and I can’t claim to be anything more.

  7. jehovasanctusunus

    Fair enough.
    Although I would say that people will always be more receptive to you if you have some real understanding of their life experience.
    We all have our boundaries in life and these need to be tested if we are to truly experience.
    After all, you are suggesting to others that they should consider experiencing something that maybe alien to them (god-consciousness, meditation etc), so it seems that they may be disappointed to learn that you have never experienced what you are ultimately suggesting they renounce.
    If considered as a means to an end (spreading krsna consciousness), could a small amount of rule-breaking experience be justified? Your individual karma may suffer a little (balanced out by the good karma from the rest of your life), but the impact on the god-consciousness levels in the world may outweigh this?

  8. Pingback: Transcendental Trucker « Trying to reach a state of equilibrium….

  9. Elfreda

    Jehovasanctusunus

    You make some interesting points. But I think the crux of the matter is to do that which is pleasing to God, understanding that it is He who attracts people to Him and not me.

    If we were to go to pubs, relax our principles, etc. how could we then encourage people to follow those principles which will help them to have steady, peaceful minds for the understanding of spiritual truths? We’d immediately be deemed hypocrites for not practising what we preach.

    And until we are pure lovers of God, we’re all in the process of having to renounce false ego, material desires, etc. We all have experience of that, whatever our personal principles; I think that gives us the understanding and sympathy to know how difficult it is for someone else.

  10. Prema (from PV, NC)

    Haribol Jahnavi,

    Just wanted to say that I loved this post. It brought to mind all of my book distribution experiences, and how they changed me. As everyone else says, it makes me have insane respect toward people who do it regularly. And I think the funniest thing about it is that it has no rhythm or ‘method’ to it. With each person you approach, I guess because each person has their own karma and relationship with Krsna, it’s a whole new experience.
    I think it’s probably the most gutsy service anyone could do. Not to minimize any other service, but you know what I mean. I used to come back to the temple with the ashram after another day of Christmas marathon and just flop onto the floor in a drained daze. Definitely a lot of mixed feelings toward the whole business. But hey, without that depth of the emotional experiences we have, Krsna consciousness wouldn’t be what it is!

    Keep up the awesome posts, and I hope you’re doing well (and I hope I get to see you again sometime 🙂
    love, Prema

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