Srila Giri Maharaja “Kīrtana is Not for Business”

Date: 6/10/22

Dear Sriman Gaura dasa,

Please accept my humble obeisances.

On Oct 25, 2018, after learning you had a practice of going out for book distribution during the winter holidays season, I sent you an email containing some quotations regarding the glories of book distribution, book distributors and our gurus’ high appreciation for both. Among them was this one from Srila Sridhara Maharaja.

Srila Sridhara Maharaja: By canvassers in Navadwīpa, then Calcutta, so many subscribers. When the preaching party moved from different parts of the country they also collected subscribers, in this way. And also in the Calcutta market, in the Navadwīpa area station, big stations also, they’re like hawker, the brāhmacārīns came to spread like hawkers. Red clad brāhmacārīns, they’re hawkers, “Nadīyā Prakāśa, eka paisa, Nadīyā Prakāśa, take, one paisa,” distributed.

And so many persons used to come to ridicule those boys.

“You have no parents to take care of you? You are let loose for this unnecessary activity? What are you doing? You are devouring, swallowing your own future, you boys go, go home. With red clad come to canvas newspaper, what is Nadīyā Prakāśa? You are faced with such adverse position and pushing Nadīyā Prakāśa.”

As you are doing something in a more civilised way, canvassing books and you want something, donation. And specially in the enemy camp, this Navadwīpa town was the enemy camp. The bābājī and the goswāmī, it is particularly meant for them. You bābājīs not against, writings are against bābājī and goswāmī and smārta paṇḍit, so Navadwīpa is a good place to circulate. Ha, ha, ha.

Prabhupāda’s attitude was, as I saw, totalitarian war against māyā. He used to say, “What backing, what support the māyā has got? It has got nothing to produce against Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is all blissful, all hopeful, all satisfying. What māyā has got instead to give, that is very small, scanty, and hateful things, māyā is coming to offer. Why that māyā cannot be disparate wholesale? With the help of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, why the people will be deceived with the charm of material civilisation? Demolish it with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. All must be full of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. How happy it is. What this māyā has got in her side to speak against Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Demolish it. Attack this, the higher agents of māyā, the civilisation, the generals of present civilisation, approach them, fight and finish them.

— Srila Sridhara Maharaja, Audio Transcript “Combined 83.05.04.A to 83.09.22.B”

I also asked you this.

“If you are continuing to do book distribution, will you distribute the books of Srila Sridhara Maharaja that were compiled from the audio and video files you asked about? Your [expressed] appreciation for the Krishna conception he expounds will be better realized through seva to His Divine Grace. We have a large supply of his books we can provide if you are so inclined. We also have some BBT books and “Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, His Life and Precepts.”

On Oct. 21, 2019, almost a year later to the day, you responded to my email. In your email to me you posed a question which you presented to me in the form of a statement. Your question was this:

“If there was a sponsor to provide me with books by Srila Sridhar Maharaja that you have in stock, I would distribute any that were sent”

“If there was a sponsor to provide me with books” was an indirect means of asking me to supply you with books at no cost to you. Either I should be the ‘sponsor’ or I was to find one to satisfy your request for free books.

It seemed odd to me that you were asking me, a sannyasi, or, perhaps, our mission, to supply you with books free of charge with the presumption that the funds you collected from their distribution would be kept and used by you.

It is now more than two years since I received your request that I find a means to cover the cost of books and shipping charges so that you would have free books to distribute for your livelihood.

In the intervening months and years since you made it, I have often thought about your request. Out of respect for you I have not replied until now due to mulling over your words and wondering if I, rather than you, were the one suffering from misunderstanding.

I assume you are a grhasta, or something like that, since you never mentioned living in a temple or ashrama as a brahmachari. But whether you are a brahmachari, grhasta or vanaprastha it seemed odd you would ask a sannyasi for a donation for your maintenance. Was I too rigid in holding such ideas? Should I instead disregard the long held distinction given to sannyasis as the guru of the other aforementioned spiritual classes and one who is to be supported by them, rather than the supporter of them? Srila Prabhupada spoke many times of these distinctions. Have they become passé? Are these some old fashioned ideas to be left aside and replaced by some newer “progressive” ones?

Or maybe I should see your request of me to help support you, and possibly your family, as one made by Godbrother to Godbrother. Such a request would not be easily dismissed and even as a sannyasi, we are to be the givers of charity, not just the receivers of it.

But your request did not seem to me to be one asking for charity. It seemed to be a request that I enter into a business deal with you. I would pay for the books and shipping costs, or find someone else to do so, and send them to you. In exchange, you would distribute them and keep any collections you received for your own use. Presumably my profit would be the sukrti I would gain on the spiritual side of the ledger. On your side of the ledger is the money you would keep and use for yourself while ostensibly performing a spiritual function.

I continued to mull over the pros and cons of your request, wondering if my thinking was too rigid or yours too unreasonable, until recently, when I received an email from Sripada Jayadvaita Swami regarding “Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Kīrtana Standards”, installment 6, titled “Kīrtana is not for business.” I present a portion of it herewith for your consideration.

And a generation earlier, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura wrote about making a living by doing kīrtana door to door:

There are many ways to make a living; it is one’s duty to engage in some activity to do that. If villagers voluntarily give some alms after hearing the Name of Hari, it is not wrong to accept that. But it is very unjust and opposed to bhakti to collect money by selling hari-nāma, considering it to be a livelihood. By doing this, both the giver of the Name and the listener will never have the possibility of obtaining the result of prema, and only pāpa [sin] will be accumulated. Hari-nāma cannot be bought with money, the only price is śraddhā [faith]. Thus, it is advised that everyone should hear and chant with śraddhā.((Ṭahala, article published in Sajjana Toṣanī, 1896.))

Book distribution is kirtana. It is the best form of kirtana. Therefore, the rules for performing kirtana are applicable to book distribution.

I have carefully considered the import of the above quotation, which is unambiguous, and conclude my thinking along those lines is correct. Yours, on the other hand, should be adjusted to come in line with that of Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura.

I have no apprehension about any person of any ashram or status of life distributing our books and even taking some profit for himself to maintain body and soul. This was approved by Srila Prabhupada. But such persons were to purchase the books from temples, not be given them free of charge. In this way all would be supported, the BBT, the temples, Deities, devotees and so forth.

If you disagree or have something further to add I will welcome your response.

I hope this finds you well in health and spirits.

Sincerely yours,

Swami B.K. Giri
(See also: Srila Giri Maharaja “Quid pro quo seva, asat sanga—other vital topics.”)