Chakra Announcements

Friends of the BBT Newsletter - February 08

by Madhava Smullen

Posted February 6, 2008

South American BBT

Spanish is the second most widely-spoken language in the Western World. And while many of the people of South America are poor, their piety and respect for religion is such that they will part with their last pennies in exchange for a spiritual book. On top of that, even staunch Catholics show a warm receptivity to yoga and Indian philosophy.

Yet rather than triumph, history only reveals a dark struggle for the Spanish BBT. Book distribution in Spain diminished in the late eighties and early nineties after the ISKCON leader there abandoned ship. The * Chaitanya-charitamrita*, on which translation had been completed, could not be printed. Production froze for the best part of ten years, and in 2004 the Spanish office finally closed, with Spanish language operations shifting to South America instead.

Things there were no better. Although hundreds of thousands of books had been distributed in Mexico over the past 35 years, now thousands of dollars were owed in debt. Bad management and dishonesty had fractured devotees' trust in the BBT. In Columbia, ISKCON had been devastated by splinter movements. Book distribution in Peru was difficult, with only a small BBT presence and devotees scattered throughout the country. And Argentina was a financial wreck.

Enter Hanuman Dasa, an assistant BBT Director from Barcelona assigned to the case. In 1978, he had left his university teaching job to join a commune with many other spiritual seekers. But when one of his closest friends joined the Hare Krishnas and sent him a *Bhagavad-gita*, his life was changed forever. "I know these books have the power to change the lives of others for the best too," he says. "And that's why I want to help bring them to the people of Latin America."

Hanuman has his work cut out for him. There are four BBT offices in South America: A Mexico City one that deals with Central America, Columbia and the Caribbean; a small office in Lima, Peru, that also serves Equador and Bolivia; an Argentinian office serving Chile, Uruguay and Paraguay; and finally, a Brazilian office for Portuguese-speaking countries. And they all need his attention.

"I spend at least four months of the year traveling," he says. "These offices are still finding their feet, and I have to spend time training them in accounting, legal systems and more. I also must mend broken relationships with the BBT, and re-establish our credibility and identity in Latin America. That's a challenge."

But Hanuman is taking to it well, and so are South American devotees and the 15-20 superhuman staff that somehow manage to handle all the BBT work for this huge continent.

"The facts speak for themselves," Hanuman says. "Devotees in Columbia distributed 3,000-4,000 books during the 2007 Prabhupada Marathon, and just bought 10,000 more. Not bad for a country in which ISKCON has been devastated for many years."

The pattern continues-in Chile, book distribution is also on the rise, with the Santiago temple relentlessly promoting sankirtana and the temple president himself a dedicated book distributor. Argentina is organizing a huge festival for congregational members across South America. And Peru, where the BBT office is the home of a dedicated householder couple, has purchased several thousand *Bhagavad-gitas* for university distribution. "The devotees in Peru are saints," Hanuman says. "With the financial state of the country, they can go out all day and return with less than four dollars at the most. But that never stops them."

Even the Spanish *Chaitanya-charitamrita*, translated over ten years ago, is now being resurrected. Madhusevita and his staff at the Mediterranean BBT are working hard on the huge job of indexing the epic scripture, and they expect it to be released in summer 2008. The handy four-volume format will be aimed at a devotee audience rather than mass distribution, and is eagerly awaited.

The BBT's greatest success in the Spanish-speaking world may be in Mexico, however, where under Aravinda Dasa's able management, book distribution increased 42% in the past year, and five sankirtana parties took part in the 2007 Prabhupada Marathon.

"We're also developing a relationship with the huge South American congregation, encouraging them to be BBT agents and book distributors," says Hanuman. "There are 1,000 congregational devotees in Mexico City, and at least 8,000 in Brazil. If every family distributed just one book a week, that would be 150,000 books a year."

Hanuman is adamant that the BBT is there to serve, help and inspire these devotees, and that they are the only way book distribution in South America will truly succeed. "I fall at the feet of those householder devotees who struggle to earn a livelihood distributing books, despite being able to get a higher paying job if they wanted," he says. "Sometimes the BBT has acted like the ones who know better and make the decisions-but we're definitely their servants."

With this refreshing outlook, things are finally looking up for the South American BBT. The year 2006 saw an impressive 350,000 books distributed, and they aim to increase this annual output, reaching their goal of one million books in the year 2012.

The marathon is on. Watch this space.