“If such money is utilized by unqualified spiritual masters to live comfortably in costly temples without actually doing any preaching work, this is not acceptable. In other words, a spiritual master needn’t be very enthusiastic for constructing temple buildings simply in the name of so-called spiritual advancement. Rather, his first and foremost activity should be to preach. In this connection, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaj recommended that a spiritual master print books. If one has money, instead of constructing costly temples, one should spend his money for the publication of authorized books in different languages for propagating the Krishna consciousness movement.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 7)
Friend1: There is an interesting anecdote from the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States of America that serves as an ideal candidate for philosophical discussion.
Friend2: Which founding father? On what grounds? They were quite philosophical, from what I’ve read. It seems they tried their best to come up with an ideal form of government, one that was free from the pitfalls and dangers that they had personally experienced.
Friend1: Such as taxation without representation.
Friend2: Where a foreign government tells you how to live. An autocratic ruler who doesn’t value the input of the citizens in any way.
Friend1: Before we continue, do you think they succeeded?
Friend2: In creating the ideal government?
Friend2: Well, are people happy? Is there no corruption? Are innocent people kept out of jail? Are the most dishonest in society kept out of leadership positions? Last I checked, there is a growing movement to get rid of police. Of what other purpose is there for government if not to protect the innocent from injury?
Friend1: It’s a failure, then.
Friend2: A noble effort, indeed. You want to give power to the people instead of concentrating it in one person. But if the people are corrupt, if they don’t know right from wrong, if they are like thieves, then the result of the voting process can be worse than if you had a single person in control of everything.
Friend1: Yeah, that’s true. You’re ending up with the same situation you tried to avoid. The exercise of the freedom you desperately wanted codified ended up creating tyranny.
Friend2: What was that incident with the founding father?
Friend1: Oh, from the life of Benjamin Franklin. I forget the exact details, but there was some local government that wanted to build a church in his honor. I guess to be named after him or something.
Friend2: I see.
Friend1: Benjamin Franklin asked that a library be built instead. He thought it would better serve the people in the future.
Friend2: That is interesting. Because he was against religion?
Friend1: To me, that is an incorrect assessment. I think he was very religious. He tried vegetarianism in his youth. He believed in the individual having multiple lives. But these ideas were revolutionary at the time, where he lived. He didn’t like the hypocrisy of the religious leaders around him.
Friend2: Seems like those issues never go away.
Friend1: It’s a thought experiment, though. What is better? Temples or books? If we have some money, which path is better for pleasing the Supreme Personality of Godhead?
Friend2: Devotion is devotion. Not every person will exercise it in the same way. It is God’s assessment which matters most. The temple does offer a place for people to congregate. Like a meeting house for a club or association. A home-base for activities to be devised, for schemes to take birth and be enacted.
Friend1: Obviously, those are the benefits of a temple. But then you have the downside. People living there for free. Just light a few lamps a day, wear the right clothing, and then be set for life. No more working. No more pressures of the real world.
Friend2: Sure. The unqualified spiritual leaders.
Friend1: Whereas the published book can reach so many people. If it just sits in a bookshelf somewhere, you never know who might read it.
Friend2: This was the opinion of His Divine Grace Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Keep in mind that in his preaching work there were so many temples built. But he preferred book publication. The Sanskrit term was brihad-mridanga. The large drum.
Friend1: Because of the reach?
Friend2: You play a concert somewhere and the sound might reach the neighbors. If you publish a book, it could reach across the entire world. The effect is lasting. It is like taking the association of the saintly person, whose focus is describing and serving the Supreme Lord, and replicating it to every person in need.
Friend1: That is a nice way of putting it.
Friend2: You could say the Vedas themselves are the first form of book publication. It was through sound, the shrutis, passed on in a continuing tradition. The written volumes which came later are too many to count. This is because Krishna’s glories are endless. We can always find something authorized to add to the content, which can be shared with others and help rescue those in need, who are mired in illusion.
Maybe with temple to build,
Daily on Sunday filled.
With people wanting more,
Praying heavenly life for.
Or publishing book to read,
And fulfilling greater need.
Like larger drum with further reach,
Superior way Vedanta to preach.