Thursday, March 21, 2013

Hindu Book Rivals Hotel Bibles

Looking for something to read next time you are in your hotel room?  Sure, you can reach for a Gideon Bible.  After all, the evangelical group has sprinkled them in hotels around the world – 1.6 billion books in 90 languages so far, according to the group‘s website. 

On the other hand, maybe you are looking for something different.  How about the sacred Hindu text called the Bhagavad-Gita?

It’s not exactly the usual reading material, but it’s short – just 700 verses in 18 chapters – which definitely gives it an advantage over the 39 books in the Jewish Bible and the 27 books in the New Testament.

The books really have nothing in common.  Besides being relatively brief, Bhagavad-Gita is the account of a god, Krishna, talking to an Indian prince on the eve of a great battle.   Prince Arjuna may have had the reputation as a great warrior -- he is the only ancient Indian hero who supposedly never lost a battle – but he is concerned because he is waging war against friends and relatives.  Krishna provides guidance toward wisdom, devotion and selfless action.

At least some of that sounds somewhat biblical, although the Bible accounts usually call for complete massacres of opponents, such as King Saul with the Amalekites.  When he failed to annihilate everyone, Saul lost God’s support.

But you can read that for yourself.  So far, a group called Motel Gita has handed out 150,000 copies in a reported 1,100 motels and hotels in the last year.  Admittedly that’s far behind the Gideons, but the evangelicals have had a head start.  They began in 1899.  Besides, Motel Gita has more modest aims. The group isn’t trying to stuff holy books into every available hotel drawer.

Vaisesika Dasa
Vaisesika Dasa (right), founder and president of the Motel Gita project, said their goal is to place at least 1 million books to “provide solace to traveling souls by giving them spiritual knowledge.”

He got the idea from the Gideons and recently joined with two colleagues to start distributing books in the San Francisco area.

The trio was a bit concerned at first how hoteliers would react. However, Dasa said, there were no problems.  “We quickly found that prominent motel owners whole-heartedly welcomed and supported this program and that their guests were appreciating finding the Gita.”

Hare Krishna in London
They got some help from the Hare Krishnas, the drum pounding, robe-clad Hindu evangelists often found at airports and other public buildings.  Formally known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKC) with branches around the United States, Canada and Britain, the group was founded based on the philosophy in the Bhagavad-Gita, and members happily delivered the books to interested hotels.

In addition, an estimated 20,000 hotels in this country are owned by Indian-Americans, many of whom are Hindus.  That means a lot of doors opened up for the Bhagavad-Gita.

Others just think it’s a grand idea.   “Bhagavad-Gita provides depth of knowledge not easily accessible to people in the Western countries. The concept of spiritualism, nature and God described in this holy book should be shared for the benefit of all humanity,” one hotel owner told reporters.

Gideon Bible in its natural habitat
The entry of the Bhagavad-Gita into the hotel reader sweepstakes also reflects a growing trend in this country to move away from conventional religions, such as Christianity and Judaism, toward either an alternative faith or nothing.  Several recent surveys show that the rising tide of nonbelievers is swamping the one-time bastions of faith.

The Gideon Bible isn’t turning out to be much of a wall against disbelief.

Nevertheless, in the past, when new ideas threaten the traditional faiths, religious leaders have reacted in force by throwing the Bible at the problem.  The various revivals have echoed through the country, but none have been the least bit successful.  If anything, they have led to results that the older organized religions could not have been happy with.

For example, one revival in the mid-1700s changed this country completely by launching several Protestant sects, forcing changes in established churches and spreading the idea of religious equality.  The Great Awakening, as it was known, also spread the ideas of racial equality that would culminate in the Civil War.

Another revival in the early 1800s was partially responsible for the birth of the Mormon faith as well as additional Protestant sects.

The process is continuing these days.  The attempts by conservative Christians to push their beliefs on the public has led to a move away from the traditional faith.  In some ways, this time period resembles an era 2,000 years ago when the faith in the traditional gods like Jupiter, Hera and Mars was slowly fading.  That eventually led to Christianity.

Lord knows what a little philosophical Hindu reading in a hotel will lead to now.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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