The beginning

From Mitra das conversation with Jambavan das

Jambavan was in SF when book distribution started.

The temple was broke, the rent took all the money they had, there was nothing left for food or anything else. Keshava, the temple president got some wooden begging bowls and cheap rose incense sticks and sent us to Market and Powell. We’d collect a little out there to keep us going a little longer. We ran out of Back To Godhead magazines. We had nothing else to sell.

Meanwhile, this shipment of Krishna books sat in our basement. They’d been shipped to India from Japan. For some reason they couldn’t be accepted in India so they were sent to us in these big wooden crates.

We’d sell a couple here and there on Sunday at the temple, but nobody knew what to do with them. One day Buddhi Manta asked if he could take them out while begging on Market and Powell. “Buddhi,” Keshava said, “Nobody can stop you. Go ahead. Take ‘em out, see what happens.” When he came back, Buddhi Manta was glowing. He’d sold a few. He went out the next day, he started going door to door. We all started going door to door.

Keshava told Karanadar, “We’re selling Krishna books in the streets.” They started doing it in LA. Word got out, and Prabhupada wrote a letter to Keshava. I don’t remember exactly what it said, but Keshava read it to us in the temple, in front of all the devotees, he said, “I get it. Prabhupada wants these books sold in mass quantities.” he wiped a tear, I remember that, “We’ve got it figured out. We know how to please him.”

After that we all went out, door to door, traveling sankirtan, living in a van. We’d go visit LA for weeks while Prabhupada was there. We’d go for his class, then leave, on our own so we wouldn’t be tied down at the temple.

In those days no one would lock their doors at home. We’d knock on a door and they’d shout, “COME IN.” They’d welcome us in, offer us water, milk and snacks. We were always trying to hurry, to not stay so long because we wanted to sell a lot of books. That was the challenge, people being too nice.

Nanda Kumar was Prabhupada’s servant at that time. He’d come out to see us when we were at the temple. He’d ask, “What are you eating?” We’d tell him, “Dates and sour cream.” “Oh, that sounds good. I’ll offer that to Prabhupada for his breakfast. He’d get dates and sour cream then offer them the next day and tell us how Prabhupada liked it, “This is what the sankirtan devotees are eating.”

We’d live in the van. Every night we’d find a field a farm or something close to a river. When it was light enough to see, we’d bathe in the river then have a class out there in the field. We’d pick apples or whatever was in season and add that to a big pot of oats. Sometimes we’d get run off, “You guys can’t camp here.” Mostly people were nice. We never went to campgrounds, we’d just find a space and stay a few hours.

Some temples got into this weird program of light eating. They said you should have no more than 5 chickpeas and six ounces of dal or milk. Jayananda didn’t approve of that. Neither did Keshava. Keshava said “If you’re hungry, if you’re going out on the streets selling books and you come back hungry, just let me know. I’ll cook for you, just let me know. I’ll make you puris and sabji or puris and halava.” Buddhi Manta would come back late in the day and Keshava would ask, “What do you want Buddhi?”

Buddhi would ask for sabji and puris and Keshava would go cook for him. Some devotees would criticize for eating late at night, but we were all there for mangal aroti the next morning.

That was their policy, eat as much as you want, as much as you need to do your service. Just don’t let me find you sleeping somewhere.

Some temples were starving devotees in those days. We’d invite them to San Francisco.

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