Many weeks ago, on a cold winter evening, as I walked to my usual spot outside Urban Edge Yoga, I saw it was taken already. By a lady named Victoria, who had just started on her little tryst with a cigarette. As I approached and greeted her, she started to get out of the way, thinking I was going to head into the building. So I bade her to stay where she was, but she graciously moved out of the way. I continued talking to her, explaining what I was trying to do. Smokers are great conversation partners, as I've observed before, until that cigarette is finished or their craving subsides, they ain't goin' nowhere. She listened attentively, telling me her daughter was interested in these things. Victoria was interested too, she took a copy of the Bhagavad Gita As It Is and flipped through the pages, looking at the pictures long and hard. I am sure she would've taken the book on another day, seems like she just didn't have any cash. We do need to start accepting credit cards! Then, cigarette having reached end-of-life, Victoria stepped inside Noah's.
The usual parade of the uninterested and otherwise-absorbed continued outside, some people gifted me very nice smiles. We are fortunate to be living in a country and city where most people we meet are very friendly. When we go out on the street, we realize we cannot take it for granted.
A lady passed me by a few times, smiling gently each time. I spoke to her, she didn't respond the first couple of times. Then she stopped and asked me if I was from the 'centre'. I pointed to the board and said, yes, I was. She asked me if anyone could come. "Yes" I replied, and she was happy, said she will come by some day, and was happy that it was open to all. Well, as long as a person isn't being uncivil, and isn't a disturbance to others or ourselves, we don't restrict admission.
Tut stopped by, I almost grabbed him in conversation. A student of Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Toronto, originally from Kenya, he explained how he'd already read the Gita, and liked the poetry in it. He also explained that it contained a lot of ideas, and that he always took ideas with a pinch of salt. So I started to tell him a little about my own education in mathematics and engineering and computer science, and what I did for a living, and talked about the content of the book, explaining that it was not speculation, but very true, and had borne out in the lives of millions of people as objective reality. I explained how I received my copy of the Gita over a decade ago on the street, how I initially read it to find faults and put it away, how I went back to it, and kept going back to it, and now, here I was, taking time off work standing out here trying to pass on what had been given to me freely. He complimented me for a good sales pitch, and said he had no money. In fact, earlier I saw him call a friend on his phone, to meet him for a coffee, and I suspected the friend may be paying... so I believed he had no money. Some day we will meet again, or maybe he will meet someone else and maybe delight them by just accepting a copy of the Bhagavad Gita from them, just as others have from me.
A young Jewish man stopped by, trademark little cap on the crown of his head, with a bright smile he took the book from my hand, and opened it, and I was pleasantly surprised to see him reading a couple of words in Sanskrit! Wasn't that something, to see that he'd somehow taught himself to read a little bit of Sanskrit. He didn't take a book home, he said he already had one. He wished me well, and I knew he meant it.
Carol breezed by straight to where I stood. As I called out to her and she saw the title of the book, she stopped, looked at me, and her eyes went big. Just a few days ago, her husband had expressed a desire to read the Bhagavad Gita, and she wondered where she could get a copy from. She was amazed to see me, I started talking about the book, but she was ready to buy even before I started. She pulled out her purse, had exactly the donation needed, took a copy and was about to rush off. Then she put the book in her bag, explained that her husband's birthday was coming around in a few days, and that he would never expect to find this book among his birthday gifts. I mentioned to her that when someone desires the knowledge in the Bhagavad Gita, the speaker of the Gita sees to it that they come in contact with it, and here we were. She was amazed, because really, what are the odds of meeting a book distributor holding out a book, in downtown Toronto, a couple of days after one's spouse expresses a desire to read that very book book? And to have exactly the right amount of money? On your way to work with not too much time to spare? These little miracles happen all the time, and they are too numerous and too precisely orchestrated to be mere coincidences. Some day soon, we may see this couple in Urban Edge Yoga.
Dimitri stopped. He had passed me once before, given me a little bow, turned towards me, and shook his head to say he was not interested. I was pleasantly taken aback at his extra politeness, and wished him well in my mind, smiling. Now, he stopped, and as I started to talk about the book, he got more and more interested, until he opened his wallet and took out a donation. He was concerned that this copy of the Bhagavad Gita may have been somehow damaged, as it was snowing lightly. I explained that I'd held this book for less than 5 minutes before he stopped by, and it was true, the lady Carol hadn't been gone long. He explained that he was quite finicky about his books, he didn't like the pages getting folded or the cover getting crumpled. I appreciated how carefully he placed the Bhagavad Gita into his bag, carefully rearranging everything else around it. I reflected how sometimes I was so careless with so precious a treasure, even after having such a good idea of its value! Dimitri was from Cyprus, he has always been interested in these topics, and is a sincere seeker. Maybe we will find him again at the Urban Edge Yoga or the temple even.
After a few more small books, I decided to head back to the car and go home for the evening, since I'd reached my cold limit threshold for that day. The flesh is indeed weak, from such experiences of cold and heat, we get an idea of how the soul must be transcendental to these things, but how it agrees to do things as convenient for the body, sometimes it is necessary to keep body and soul together, sometimes just pandering to its endless demands, I couldn't decide which it was in my case, though I'm sure I could have stuck out just a litte bit longer with more determination.
Monday, August 16, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
While we've always had a book tent at Ratha Yatra, we've always been either short-staffed, or with not enough titles. This year because of the very recent India order, we not only had additional books in other languages, but also many new and old titles that devotees would be interested in as well (Siksamrita, Lilamrita, Namamrta, Sloka book and more). Also because of the Monthly Sankirtan Festivals over the last one year, we were able to have a team of very dedicated 10-12 devotees with Sankirtan as their primary service.
As suggested by Vaisesika Prabhu, this year we were able to get more than 500 small books sponsored. We wanted these small books to be distributed during the harinama on the eve of Ratha Yatra and also during the Parade. Since the books were already sponsored, we encouraged devotees to be liberal in giving them out for any donations. Devotees were able to distribute more than 200 small books during this time, and the enthusiasm of the participating devotees spilled over others as more and more devotees wanted to do books during the harinama and parade.
At the festival site, we had a 20x20 feet tent for books and 8 tables. Our goal in terms of the layout was for maximum visibility, accessibility and mobility. Since we had many different titles in multiple languages, we decided to have table signs (much like table numbers at weddings) that would read out the language/category. These signs, handmade by Vrndavan Prabhu, really allowed books to be very well organized and visible. We also had a special sale table comprising of the remaining sponsored books, where we offered any 3 small books for $5. This was a major attraction for most people, and a great way to get them through the door (literally). We also ran a festival special discount on all other regular books, which encouraged both devotees and guests to buy more books (including most of us!). We also distributed 1x4 fliers promoting the Book Tent featuring the special sale table and the discounted prices.
At any time we had about 5-7 devotees managing various tables in the book tent. There was a constant flow of traffic, hardly leaving any time for the core team to take a break or go around the festival site, which was in itself ecstatic.
We also had 2 sandwich boards (again handmade by Vrndavan Prabhu) placed at two sides of the book tent, which had 4 collages (prepared by Mangal Arti dd, Nicole and Romey), on 4 different contemporary themes that are addressed in Srila Prabhupada's books with the hope of encouraging people to check out the books. The 4 themes were - Love and Relationships, Environmental Crises, Overcoming Stress, and Science & Sastra. These displays attracted passersby, we even saw some people making notes of the content!
In addition to the main tent, we also had 4-6 satellite tables setup around various exhibits each manned by 1-2 devotees (e.g. Vegetarianism, Bhagavad-gita, Q&A, Reincarnation, Simple Living High Thinking, Mantra-meditation etc). This increased our visibility and captured the attention of the guests from all possible means. Our dear Walking Bhagavad gita, who turned 1 year this Rath Yatra, won everyone's applaud again this year, and remained an amazing channel for increased BG distribution as people would stop to take pictures and gradually end up buying a book!
All these efforts designed and pursued under Vaisesika prabhu's model, brought tremendous success to the Sankirtan efforts! Not only were we able to distribute more than 1400 books (which is 3 times the number as last year) for very encouraging laxmi points, but all the participating devotees were enlivened and inspired beyond compare.
The two Ratha Yatra days and the week leading up to it was very long and intense, but the smiling faces of the devotees dedicatedly engaged in Sankirtan was a treat for everyone - we also had a muslim lady walk up to us and say - I really just want to be as happy as you, can you tell me how! Every single devotee was so inspired to just share whatever they had, their realizations, the books and knowledge, that they did not even care for any discomfort or lack of sleep. Serving together like this, increased the bonding between the devotees, actually enabling us to realize how Sankirtan is our very life and soul.