“Religious books revere India’s spiritual heritage and preserve the culture”
–says Brahmanathaswami, Kauai’s Hindu Monastery,
Himalayan Academy Publications, in conversation with Varsha Verma.
Kauai’s Hindu Monastery is located on the island of Kauai, Hawaii. Here, Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami and 20 monks carry on the tradition and mission of an ancient Hindu lineage. The center in Hawaii is the international head-quarters for those who are closely associated with this spiritual lineage. Here, Brahmanathaswami, Kauai’s Hindu Monastery, Himalayan Academy Publications, Kapaa, HI shares more on religious books and their impact on readers.
ABP: Why are books on the philosophies and meditation techniques of spiritual gurus, general religion, self-help guides and Indian mythology fetching brisk business these days?
Brahmanathaswami: Once the glamour of wealth, money and the things that money can buy wears off, at the end of the day the innate drive of the soul, the Atman is there regardless of a person’s circumstances. That drive is ever onward through the cycles of reincarnation to find and become one with Shiva, Para Brahmin. Whether you know this consciously or not, whatever terms or labels you may give, the path of San Marga, the straight path to God is something every soul tries to find, sooner or later.
In a newly emerging middle class India where Hindu philosophy is the underlying though process of a nation, where the fascination with technology and money is wearing off, then it is a short step onto the spiritual path/search. As a youth you may be very ambitious, but after one or two years in the technology sector, you may find it doesn’t bring the happiness you thought it would. Sure, you may have cash in your pocket now, but money doesn’t bring peace.
In other areas of the world where youth have not been exposed to affluence, the focus may be more on career. So the market is really not that big except in some sectors. For Himalayan Academy Publications, we don’t see a huge growth, but a steady sales year after year that reflects the niche market we serve that is pretty much always there in each new generation of readers.
ABP: How are new age gurus different from older ones?
Brahmanathaswami: There is one class of “new age gurus” who peddle themselves as “God Men” where they make a particular personality the center of focus for those who become “followers.” They try to be universalists and “transcend religion” but they are just re-packaging the ancient teachings of Hindu sages and scriptures in a new language.
Then there are books by the more traditional Gurus who put the perennial teachings into new packages so to speak, but do not promote themselves personally. Our own books are of this genre: we teach traditional Saivite Hinduism and Hindu Basics.
ABP: Tell us more about your publishing house?
Brahmanathaswami: Our work is solidly rooted in the Vedic tradition and Saiva Agamas as preserved by the Kailasa Paramapara. Himalayan Academy Publications bring the classic wisdom of Hinduism to the 21st century in modern English. The presentations are done in ways that make the ancient teachings of the Vedas and Agamas digestible. We do not present any new age philosophy as such. So for those who revere India’s spiritual heritage, want to preserve the culture, and yet find ways to understand and integrate this in your life today, our publications have a big appeal. Some of our bestsellers include Loving Ganesha, Dancing with Siva, Living with Siva, Merging with Siva. Lemurian Scrolls is also a popular book… but of a different genre.
Our authors include Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami (now deceased) and Satguru Bodhinatha Veylanswami (current Mathadeepati of our lineage).
ABP: In general who are the target audience?
Brahmanathaswami: Hindus who have left India, whose first language is now English, are the main buyers of these books. Western yoga practitioners who have finally woken up to the fact that yoga is, and always has been, a Hindu practice leading to God Realization and part of a larger religious and philosophical context. Sage Patanjali, for example, would go to the temple every day… So when these yoga practioners start to yearn for a more complete religious cultural life, family and community, our books provide a gate way for them to learn about and finally fully become Hindus.
ABP: How important is production quality for such books?
Brahmanathaswami: Production values are very important for Himalayan Academy Publications. Our books are top notch in quality. That said, “pulp paper” may also work for the publisher who has good avenues to markets where low prices are important. I don’t think it is an “either or” equation.
ABP: Are they gaining popularity amongst youngsters?
Brahmanathaswami: Not really at this time. While we offer free ebooks, youngsters are looking for a more novel form of presentation, video, audio, apps. We hope to start developing these as time goes on.
ABP: In today’s e-world, do you envisage a successful future for printed books? Why/Why not?
Brahmanathaswami: There will always be a place for printed books because not everyone, today, or tomorrow, wants to sit in front of a screen or read things on a little device. The success of the publisher who depends on print media will depend on his ability to manage capital investment for printing books, marketing and keeping cash equity locked up in unsold inventory as against the revenue stream for selling books to those who still want a physical printed volume. If you measure success by modern standards of continuing growth and volume then probably this kind of success is not an option. If you measure success by the ability to stay in business, then that is certainly possible, provided you have the capacity for continued production of a diversity of new titles while having the fiscal management skills to stay in the black.