HH Jayadvaita Swami's VP offering 2003, about early publications
Posted on October 5, 2017
Lately I have been doing some research about the days in America when Srila Prabhupada had begun his preaching and was now trying to publish his books. It was 1966, and some young men had come to him and begun to take to Krsna consciousness. They had only the barest ideas of the philosophy. But the Swami was wonderful, prasadam was great, and chanting got you higher than LSD. And by hearing the transcendental sound of the Bhagavatam and the holy name, delivered in the line of pure devotees, these new American followers were becoming purified. Srila Prabhupada, as he had prayed to Krsna on the ship, was acting as Krsna's servant — and now, through Srila Prabhupada, Krsna was unfolding a strange and wonderful drama.
In a little storefront on the Lower East Side, in the midst of hippy dropout acidheads, in the East Coast venue for America's 1960's freak show — a psychedelic zoo — Srila Prabhupada was preaching Krsna's message of pure devotional service, and — Jharikhanda revisited! — creatures who'd been living like animals were dancing and chanting Hare Krsna.
There was kirtana, there were lectures, there was prasadam — but where were the books? He had three — the three volumes, reddish brown, of his original Bhagavatam. He had Easy Journey to Other Planets — a small booklet with a pale-green cover, brought over with the Bhagavatams from India. And with his usual persistence, determination, and faith in the words of his Guru Maharaja, Srila Prabhupada was working on more.
As his new followers "turned on" with the maha-mantra and "tuned in" to Krsna consciousness, Srila Prabhupada — authentically more "dropped out" than everyone — was writing Bhagavad-gita As It Is. On a vintage typewriter placed atop a yellow tin suitcase that served as a desk, Srila Prabhupada, in his apartment one flight up in the back, typed with two fingers — at night, during the day, whenever he wasn't leading kirtana, or giving class, or cooking and serving prasadam with his own hands to his new recruits, or preaching to them, or meeting new people, or writing letters, or taking his daily walk or honoring prasadam or accepting his astonishingly few hours of rest, or dealing with yet another crisis in the one little storefront that constituted his "International Society."
And if anyone were to ask, in his closet lay a bundle of manuscripts wrapped in saffron cloth — the next canto of the Bhagavatam.
Those were the days when $100 was nearly all ISKCON had. And Srila Prabhupada went up to Long Island with Gargamuni and for $150 bought two old mimeograph machines. (Asking price: $150 apiece.) Back to Godhead!
Gargamuni became the first printer, a professor-turned-seeker and a freelance writer for comic books became the first editors, and a hundred copies of BTG, cranked out on the greasy old machines, joined The East Village Other and the acid-is-the-answer underground papers in the East Village "head shops."
Meanwhile, Srila Prabhupada kept typing, and one day Gargamuni, looking in a shop window, saw a dictaphone. He didn't know what it was, but it looked like something maybe the Swami could use. Gargamuni bought it on the spot. He brought it back and presented it to Srila Prabhupada and started to explain how to use it (the man in the shop had taken an hour or so to explain all those buttons), but somehow — a dictaphone? — Srila Prabhupada already knew. And now Srila Prabhupada began writing his books by dictating.
But who could transcribe? No one. Brahmananda tried. Hayagriva tried. Others tried. But the work was tedious, Prabhupada's accent was hard to follow, everyone had other things to do. And the work started piling up.
And then Neal showed up, a college student from Antioch on a work-study program, ready to live with a religious group for some time and study it while doing some service.
"Can you type?" a devotee asked him.
"We have all this dictation..."
"Oh, I do that sort of thing at college."
Getting the book edited was another saga. Srila Prabhupada wrote to Rayarama, "Howard wants to do it but he has no time to finish it or to type it. You are also engaged in various ways and I do not know how to make it ready. Both you and Howard want to edit it but nobody takes charge to finish the job quickly say within a month."
But meanwhile he had Brahmananda looking for a publisher.
Allen Ginsberg's publishers weren't interested. Brahmananda wrote to others, and, publisher after publisher, they all turned him down.
And then one day a letter came from someone at the Macmillan Company, asking to buy some books. Srila Prabhupada told Brahmananda, "Deliver them personally. And tell him we have a Bhagavad-gita to publish." Which is how Brahmananda wound up in an office at Macmillan, face to face with — nobody, a mere clerk in the accounting department, a clerk who had sent that letter only to buy books for himself.
And while Brahmananda sat there, utterly frustrated, suddenly the chief editor walked in. The chief editor? "Mr. Wade," Brahmananda said, "we have a Bhagavad-gita to publish."
"A Bhagavad-gita? We need a Bhagavad-gita. Can you bring it tomorrow? We'll publish it." Sight unseen!
Shortly thereafter, Srila Prabhupada had a stroke, and went back to India. But "Although I am practically on the path of death, still I cannot forget about my publications."
Soon Srila Prabhupada was back in America, and then Bhagavad-gita As It Is was in print, then Teachings of Lord Caitanya. And the story goes on from there, the story of Srila Prabhupada's determination and persistence, his vision, his steadfast faith in the words of his spiritual master: "Print books." It becomes the story of thousands of books sitting on Second Avenue, no one able to sell them, and then the story of a few copies miraculously sold, and then hundreds and thousands and millions. The story becomes a wealth of stories, stories of Srila Prabhupada's followers, books in hand, getting books out to people, tens of thousands of people, millions of people, all over the world, the books working their wonder, bringing people to the lotus feet of Krsna and His devotees.
In 1972 Srila Prabhupada wrote to me personally, "These books and magazines are our most important propaganda weapons to defeat the ignorance of maya's army, and the more we produce such literature and sell them profusely all over the world, the more we shall deliver the world from the suicide course."
May remembering such instructions from Srila Prabhupada, and remembering his personal example, inspire us always.