Good Science, Bad Science

Śrīman Rūpānuga prabhu (ACBSP 1966) has recently distributed a short paper called “A Scientific Method for Evaluating Editorial Changes to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Books.” As I am sure many others were, I was intrigued by the title and the topic. The editing of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books since 1977 has been a hot topic in recent years, and the emotions roused have generated a fair amount of heat in the direction of the BBT.

I recall attending the Atlanta festival a couple of years ago and seeing a senior godbrother for the first time in a number of years. After some short discussion he asked me what I thought about the editing of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, and it was clear from his emotive tone he strongly disapproved. He was particularly objecting to the changes to the Bhagavad-gītā, but when I pointed to some of the specific changes, he took stock of himself and retreated a little. I asked him if he had actually studied what the changes were, and he admitted that he had not.

So I was very interested at the prospect of a ‘scientific method’ for evaluating the changes. A discussion based on real knowledge of the topic would be a welcome change.

Rūpānuga prabhu is a very senior disciple of Śrīla Prabhupāda, and I know that he studies Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and Prabhupāda’s books regularly. No one who knows our history can forget how he taught an accredited course on Bhagavad-gītā in the late 1960s at the university in Buffalo with tremendous success. A whole batch of students took up Kṛṣṇa consciousness full time, and many of them went on to become leaders in ISKCON and do significant service in establishing this movement.

In the book My Glorious Master Bhurijan prabhu recalls the atmosphere in the Buffalo temple when he joined:

Rūpānuga’s Buffalo preaching success was unique and outstanding. Our La Salle St. temple was lively, with university students dropping by for morning Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam classes, thrice-weekly evening Bhagavad-gītā classes, and our Sunday feast. (It was my service to telephone all the people listed in our guestbook and invite them to the feast.) On Tuesdays and Thursdays we held a Bhakti-Yoga Class at the student union.

Rūpānuga continued his program for years. By the time I left Buffalo, Trivikrama, Jagadīśa, and Prahlādānanda had joined. Rūpānuga’s accredited course on the Bhagavad-gītā attracted Bhagavān and Kṛṣṇa Bhāmini dāsī to join. Guṇagrāhi and Kuśakratha soon followed, and Romapāda had already received his first BTG. Ayodhyapati, Lakṣmimoni dāsī, Narottamānanda, Nityānanda, Tejīyas, Madira dāsī, Satyavrata, Muktakeśa, Lokavarṇottama, and many others joined the Buffalo temple after I left. In addition, two other successful temples—Detroit and Toronto—were the direct result of Rūpānuga’s Buffalo preaching success.

Apart from the kudos earned by his preaching, by using the title ‘scientific method for evaluation’ Rūpānuga predisposes the mind of his potential audience to the idea that the contents will contain a careful analysis and thoughtful qualitative comparison, a thorough rather than emotive review of the BBT editors’ work, all measured up against Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own efforts and stated desires. It was with some degree of positive expectancy, then, that I read Rūpānuga prabhu’s paper.

I have to say I am deeply disappointed. It simply does not live up to its billing.

At school I was taught that there is good science and bad science. To my reading, Rūpānuga prabhu’s paper falls firmly into the second category.

Here are some of my reservations about his approach and his analysis.

From Rūpānuga’s cover letter it is clear that he is critical of and objecting to the editorial work done on Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books:

Thank you very much for allowing my wife and I the opportunity to participate in your Petition to Rescind GBC Resolution 311 (see numbers 767 and 803).

The Petition provided a unique and encouraging forum for the right cause of passing on Śrīla Prabhupāda's teachings as they are.  In this connection, I am attaching an essay I've written regarding Śrīla Prabhupāda's books.

I presume this letter and the attached paper were sent to all those who supported the petition and possibly many others. I was one of the advocates for that petition, and that was why I received it. 

Teachings of Lord Caitanya comparisons


Rūpānuga describes his method as “factual quantification and comparative philosophical analysis.”

He first provides a comparison between the 1968 and the 1974 editions of Teachings of Lord Caitanya (TLC).

The first point that struck me is that the criticism concerns two editions which were both published during Prabhupāda’s presence. It is well known that no book could be edited or re-edited during Prabhupāda’s time without his express approval. So one has to assume that Śrīla Prabhupāda approved of the 1974 edition. And if he approved it, why then this criticism of the editors? Surely they were working with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s permission.

Śrīla Prabhupāda was aware that the early editions of his books needed re-editing. His men were inexperienced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, to say the least. Yet he was in a hurry to get as many books out as he could before he left. Consequently mistakes were made which were detected over the years.

Thus when I joined his party in late 1975 the re-editing was already underway. The second edition of TLC, from 1974, is evidence of that. The Śrīmad Bhāgavatam volumes were also under review:

[From TD 2] May 4 1976:

The only delays Radhaballabha reported were from India. "The Songbook reprint is awaiting the return of Jagannatha dasa from Radha Kunda. He decided to spend two months there, so we temporarily have to send your tapes to Nitai in Vrndavana until Jagannatha returns from his frivolous vacation. Nitai hasn't sent me any corrections for the reprints of First and Second Cantos, so I want to reprint them as they are."

Śrīla Prabhupāda was happy to hear how much work is going on. He approved Radhaballabha's request not to wait for Nitai and Jagannatha. "Once Pradyumna comes to join me here from India, then there will be no need for Nitai das or Jagannatha das to edit the Srimad-Bhagavatam.

So I have to wonder what Rūpānuga’s point is here. If a book was re-edited during Prabhupāda’s presence, with his approval, what is Rupanuga’s complaint?

Does Rūpānuga prabhu suggest that the BBT reprint the 1968 edition again even though Prabhupāda agreed to its being re-edited?

Or does he think the BBT should re-edit the 1968 edition again? Or does he think they should re-edit the approved 1974 re-edit?

Presumably, following any of these options would be in line with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions and example.
At any rate, if Rūpānuga wants to say that the first published edition of any of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books is automatically either (1) fault free or (2) the best one or (3) “the only approved one,” that is not borne out by the example of the TLC. 


The controversy surrounding the edits to the Gītā is more serious. The Gītā is our basic text, and for many of us it was our entry point into Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

Rūpānuga prabhu has analyzed the translations for about half the verses of the Gītā, those found in Chapters 1 through 3, and 6, 11 and 18. His main concern, or possibly accusation, is that of philosophical interpolation.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines ‘interpolate’ thus:

 1. To insert or introduce between other elements or parts. 2.a. To insert (material) into a text. b. To insert into a conversation. 3. To change or falsify (a text) by introducing new or incorrect material.

Definitions 1 and 2 make no value judgments. It is not necessarily a bad thing to introduce something else into an existing text. But 3 is a serious charge. Since Rūpānuga sent his paper as a follow-up to the petition to repeal GBC Resolution 311, I think it’s safe to say that he intends the third definition: “To change or falsify (a text) by introducing new or incorrect material.”

So is the BBT guilty as charged?

Let’s look at some of the elements of Rūpānuga’s complaint.

At the outset he says his analysis is preliminary; he has only looked at half of the verse translations. Nothing about the purports. This for me is a problem.

Hayagrīva prabhu, who did the editing of the 1972 Gītā, wrote: 

Although I write on the Lord Chaitanya play through the spring days, my primary service is helping Swamiji with Bhagavad-gita. He continues translating, hurrying to complete the manuscript but still annotating each verse thoroughly in his purports. Daily, I consult him to make certain that the translation of each verse precisely coincides with the meaning he wants to relate. “Edit for force and clarity,” he tells me. “By Krishna’s grace, you are a qualified English professor. You know how grammatical mistakes will discredit us with scholars. I want them to appreciate this Bhagavad-gita as the definitive edition. All the others try to take credit away from Krishna.

Śrīla Prabhupāda is again quoted by Hayagrīva thus:

Someone has told me that the purports are very lengthy, but that is the Vaishnava tradition—constantly expanding. The purports are intended to bring the meaning back to Krishna, to rectify the mischief done by these rascal commentators. Factually, this is the only authorized translation. So I am eager to see our Bhagavad-gita published complete.

* * *

Swamiji finally tires of my consulting him about Bhagavad-gita verses. “Just copy the verses from some other translation,” he tells me, discarding the whole matter with a wave of his hand. “The verses aren’t important. There are so many translations, more or less accurate, and the Sanskrit is always there. It’s my purports that are important. Concentrate on the purports. There are so many, nonsense purports like Radhakrishnan’s, and Gandhi’s, and Nikhilananda’s. What is lacking are these Vaishnava purports in the preaching line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. That is what is lacking in English. That is what is lacking in the world.”

“I can’t just copy others,” I say.

“There is no harm.”

“But that’s plagiarism.”

“How’s that? They are Krishna’s words. Krishna’s words are clear, like the sun. Just these rascal commentators have diverted the meaning by saying, ‘Not to Krishna.’ So my purports are saying, ‘To Krishna.’ That is the only difference.”

    – Hare Krishna Explosion Part 2, San Francisco 1967

From these comments one wonders what the value is of Rūpānuga’s having analyzed just translations, leaving aside the purports.

Nevertheless, because he has taken so much trouble to do it, I feel it deserves a response. I don’t claim to be any kind of scholar or scientist. I am a layman. I can’t even say that I know Bhagavad-gītā thoroughly. I can say though that I have some familiarity with the 1983 edits because I was involved with the group of GBCs that checked Jayādvaita Mahārāja’s proposed edits before they were published.

In 1982 a group of GBCs met with Jayādvaita Swami in Detroit to closely review the thorough revision he had proposed to do for the Gītā. Apart from some changes that Śrīla Prabhupāda had personally requested – ‘cow protection’ instead of ‘cattle raising’ is one that comes to mind – Mahārāja pointed out that the 1972 edition fell far short of Prabhupāda’s stated goal, i.e. to make it the definitive edition that scholars would accept as the standard.

I remember agonizing as Mahārāja went over some of the changes he proposed. For instance, verse 2.20. Hayagrīva prabhu’s chosen translation was “For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”

I had a bit of an attachment to this English rendering because Mangalānanda prabhu had put it to music and I used to sing along with it; I liked it. It had a poetic ring to it. It was an ISKCON classic.

Now Mahārāja was proposing to change it to something less poetic and more prosaic: “For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” Try singing that one!

Jayādvaita Mahārāja sympathized but called our attention to two important points:

First, the 1972 editor’s choice verse is not our philosophy. “Nor having once been does he ever cease to be” says that the soul comes into being at a certain point and then it is eternally existing. This is Christian philosophy at best. It’s certainly not what Lord Kṛṣṇa says in the text. In the text Kṛṣṇa says very clearly nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ. According to Śrīla Prabhupāda, bhūtvā, bhavitā and bhūyaḥ refer specifically to the three phases of time, past, future and present (in the order given in the Gītā). Kṛṣṇa says that the soul has nothing to do with time – he “has not come into being,” he “will not come into being,” he “does not come into being.”

I had to admit that from the first time I had read Bhagavad-gītā As It Is this translation had not rung true. But because of the lucid explanations in the purports it was clear what was meant and I had therefore dismissed the irregularity in the verse without much thought. But now I had to agree, it was clearly an error and not something which could be said to convince a serious student or scholar that it was ‘definitive’. So Mahārāja got my attention, and I put my inherent reservations about changing Prabhupāda’s books temporarily aside and gave him a hearing.

The second point that convinced me such a revision could and should be done was that Jayādvaita Mahārāja was not proposing the edits on the strength of his own realization or expertise as an editor. He was not simply taking a retrospective look at the Gītā and saying, “Well I think this is wrong and it sounds better like this.” The less poetic but philosophically accurate translation “He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being” came directly from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own words. This was the way he had originally translated it. Apparently Hayagrīva prabhu felt it was too clumsy so he opted for the poetically inaccurate version that appeared in the 1972 edition.

This poetic translation was taken from the version put out by the well-known māyāvādī Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, the former president of India. His translation reads: “He is never born, nor does he die at any time, nor having (once) come to be will he again cease to be.”

It is certainly an irony considering this comment from Hayagrīva’s Hare Krishna Explosion:

After evening kirtan, we request Swamiji to read from his new manuscript, and he sends Roy upstairs to bring down his translation of Bhagavad-gita. This, we feel, is a special event. At last we won’t have to hear the impersonalist Radhakrishnan translation! As in the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, the translations are supplemented with Swamiji’s elaborate purports explaining all aspects of the verse in the Vaishnava personalist tradition.

As Jayādvaita Mahārāja proceeded with his presentation I realized that there were many, many problems with the 1972 edited version.

  As Rūpānuga prabhu points out at the very beginning of his paper, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s standard was “Our editing is to correct grammatical and spelling errors only, without interpolation of style or philosophy.”  (Letter to Rupanuga, 2/17/70)

And again to Satsvarūpa in a letter dated January 25, 1970: “I wish that all copies, before finally going to the press, must be thoroughly revised and edited so that there may not be any mistakes especially of spelling and grammar or of the Sanskrit names.”

Despite these instructions, it seems Hayagrīva took a lot of liberties with the verses, and clearly the results weren’t always good.

The problems didn’t end with just the verses, however. Although Hayagrīva knew the value and importance of the purports, as evidenced by the quotes from Hare Krishna Explosion above, it seems he felt at liberty to do substantial editing of those. Not necessarily interpolating, but in some serious ways doing significant deletions.

One example is the chopping out of an entire paragraph of the purport to BG 10.21. There we find Kṛṣṇa saying “Among the stars I am the moon.” 

In the 1972 purport, Hayagrīva includes just one sentence of Prabhupāda’s comments:

“Among the stars, the moon is the most prominent at night, and thus the moon represents Kṛṣṇa.”

He cut out this: “It appears from this verse that the moon is one of the stars; therefore the stars that twinkle in the sky also reflect the light of the sun. The theory that there are many suns within the universe is not accepted by Vedic literature. The sun is one, and as by the reflection of the sun the moon illuminates, so also do the stars. Since Bhagavad-gītā indicates herein that the moon is one of the stars, the twinkling stars are not suns but are similar to the moon.”

Why did he do this? Because Hayagrīva prabhu, despite his expertise at English editing, was a new devotee who was still quite conditioned to his Western upbringing and world views. He couldn’t abide the second paragraph of the purport because it disagreed with modern cosmologists’ views of the universe. Hayagrīva either never really accepted the Vedic cosmography and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s explanation of it, or at least he felt it was his duty to protect Prabhupāda from the ridicule of readers he thought would see it as outlandish. Thus we could say that in his editing of the Gītā Hayagrīva prabhu was simply overreaching his authority.

Not convinced? I had good reason to be because of my personal experience with Hayagrīva in 1976 in Hawaii and his editing of Easy Journey to Other Planets:

[From TD 2] May 23rd, 1976

Early this morning, before going out for his walk, Prabhupāda questioned Hayagrīva about the editing of the first book Prabhupāda wrote in 1959, Easy Journey to Other Planets.

  Several days ago Prabhupāda was preaching to me about the defects of modern science. He spoke about the bluff of modern space travel, referring me to Easy Journey. “I have written there that the attempts to go to the moon are simply childish. You have read?” he asked. I could not recall it specifically and I excused myself by saying I had not read the book since I had first seen it in 1972. Prabhupāda looked thoughtfully at me for a second and then asked me to get him a copy. I did so, and he has read the whole book through himself in the last few days. He discovered that his statement was actually edited out.

So when Prabhupāda questioned him now, Hayagrīva admitted having omitted it. He tried to defend himself, “Well, that was written before they went there, and afterwards I left it out.”  

  Prabhupāda was very, very upset. He spent most of his morning walk criticizing Hayagrīva for thinking the spiritual master an ordinary man subject to mistakes, and for accepting the words of the scientists above the word of the guru. “This means I cannot trust you,” he told him.

  Later, back at the temple during breakfast I went into Hayagrīva's room. “What's he so angry at?”  he asked me sullenly, referring to Śrīla Prabhupāda. He was petulant, like a child, his ego stung by the chastisement of his father. I didn’t like it, and I told him so. We began to argue, me angrily berating him for his overly familiar attitude, and he sulkily defending his actions, declaring that no one would believe the statement that you can’t go to the moon. I condemned him for not relying on his spiritual master and for watering down the philosophy to suit the mentality of the nondevotee masses.

  “The masses won’t accept a book that declares it impossible to journey to the moon,”  he pouted testily. “They simply won’t accept Prabhupāda's statements. They're only going to believe the scientists."

  “We don’t care what people believe,” I snapped back. “People believe one thing now and in twenty years time they’ll believe exactly the opposite. We don’t care what they accept. We accept what Prabhupāda says, and our only business is to present Prabhupāda’s exact words without altering them or imposing our own concocted ideas about what is or is not acceptable. It is not our business to pander to the whims of the masses.”

  I left him to eat his breakfast and returned to my room next to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s. A few minutes later Hayagrīva went past in the corridor, entered Prabhupāda’s room, and with tears welling in his eyes apologized to His Divine Grace. 

Prabhupāda was pleased and accepted his penitent regrets. Still, the book needs to be changed. Prabhupāda gave instructions to inform the BBT that Easy Journey has to be re-edited to include the missing passage.   

Another substantial omission Hayagrīva made that stood out in my mind was in his treatment of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Introduction to the Gītā. Jayādvaita showed us that in its original form Śrīla Prabhupāda had included seven verses from the Gītā-māhātmya interspersed with his own comments. Hayagrīva simply chopped all those verses out and added in a verse that was not in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original

So I gave Jayādvaita Mahārāja a good hearing. Jayādvaita Mahārāja showed us that he had a solid basis for proposing the revisions. He had the original source material or close to it:

According to Mahārāja the basis for his revision work was this:

Roughly speaking (the divisions are not exact and some stuff overlaps):

    First six chapters: hand-typed manuscripts

    Middle six: Typed transcriptions of the original dictations

    Last six: Retyped versions of old edited manuscripts

  Because for the last six chapters we had only “secondary materials,” not the “original stuff,” the revisions I made for those chapters were *considerably* less extensive than in the rest of the book.

But those secondary manuscripts still had valuable stuff in them. Among other things, they had text that had been edited out that I was able to restore. For example, I was able to restore Śrīla Prabhupāda's gloss on tad-arthiyam in 17.27 and two entire paragraphs in his purport to 13.19.

Jayādvaita Mahārāja knew that a re-edit of the Gītā was going to be controversial, not so much because of the substance of it but because of the emotion that would be generated. Still he felt that it was necessary, given the serious problems with it. So at that Detroit meeting in 1982 the GBC formed a committee of six to check Mahārāja’s edits of all the translations before proceeding with publishing it.

I was one of those six. I spent a month or more going over every edit, discussing and sometimes challenging Mahārāja on various items. So although, as I say, I am not a scholar nor an expert in English or Sanskrit, nor of the Gītā, nor a brilliant scientific analyst, I have at least taken the time and trouble to go over every edit that Jayādvaita Mahārāja effected.

Now, back to Rūpānuga prabhu’s efforts.

If we accept his arguments, we have to say that the second edition of Teachings of Lord Caitanya is bad because, in his words, it was done by an editor who

“deleted information, standards, and philosophy,” “deleted logic and reasoning,” added “an undetermined number of interpolations of philosophy and style,” and “mix[ed] Śrīla Prabhupāda's teachings with different ideas without separating (or identifying) one from the other.” And the first edition of the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is was good because it was done by an editor who, presumably, preserved Śrīla Prabhupāda's information, standards and style, added no interpolations, and never mixed Śrīla Prabhupāda’s teachings with any different ideas.
But in both cases the editor was the same man: Hayagrīva prabhu.    

Another point:

Rūpānuga’s main method seems to be one of counting. Simply counting the number of changes is not in and of itself meaningful. It is the use you make of such counting or quantifying that gives it value.

  Let’s not forget that an editor’s job is to make changes. I will repeat that: an editor’s job is to make changes. Here’s Hayagrīva’s description of how he began his career as Prabhupāda’s editor:

The next morning, when I go alone to see the Swami, he seems to be expecting me. Directly and simply, he begins to explain that he needs help in spreading Krishna consciousness around the world. Noticing that he has been typing, I offer to type for him, and he hands me the manuscript of the First Chapter, Second Canto, of Vyasadeva’s Srimad-Bhagavatam.

“You can type this?”

“Oh yes,” I say.

He is delighted. We roll a small typewriter table out of the corner, and I begin work. His manuscript is single spaced without margins on flimsy, yellowing Indian paper. It appears that the Swami tried to squeeze every word possible onto the pages. I have to use a ruler to keep from losing my place.

The first words read: “O the king.” I naturally wonder whether “O” is the king’s name, and “the king” stands in apposition. After concluding that “O King” is intended instead, I consult the Swami.

“Yes,” he says. “Change it, then.”

As I retype another paragraph, I notice certain grammatical discrepancies, perhaps typical of Bengalis who learned English from British headmasters in the early 1900s. Considerable editing is required to get the text to conform with current American usage. After pointing out a few changes, I tell the Swami that if he so desired, I could make all the proper corrections.

“Very good,” he says, smiling. “Do it! Put it nicely.”

Thus my editorial services begin.

Rūpānuga prabhu states in the title of his piece that his scientific method will enable the reader to evaluate the editorial changes in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books. OK, let’s evaluate.

If we count the number of changes in the verse translation of 2.20 cited by me above, there are ten deletions and twenty-one additions. If we count the number of words changed in the purport to Bhagavad-gītā 10.21 also given as an example above, there are eighty-nine, all additions from the original manuscript. If we look at the text that was restored in the Introduction, there are far more. And what to speak of other purports and the other half of the verse translations. These would add thousands of changes to Rūpānuga’s list.

Are these changes bad? If we follow the spirit of Rūpānuga’s presentation, one would have to think so.

But which would the reader rather have— Hayagrīva prabhu’s chopped-down purports and poetic verses or the full versions of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own accurate prose-like originals?

Another very important point:

Rūpānuga seems to assume that most, if not all, of the words in the 1972 edition were in fact Śrīla Prabhupāda's and that by imputation any change of a word in the 1983 edition is bad. This is obviously not the case.

Rūpānuga prabhu has compared the two editions by counting the differences between them, but he has not referred back to the original source materials. To what end will that serve in determining the success of the editors’ efforts to present Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words? How is it possible to make a qualitative analysis without reference to the source materials?

Another point:

Rūpānuga prabhu’s opening statement says “Previous evaluations of the editorial changes focused on descriptions of the changes and references to pre-publication drafts rather than a factual quantification and comparative philosophical analysis.”

  This is very curious. “Pre-publication drafts”? Those “drafts” he is talking about are Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original manuscripts. Are we to understand that now by “quantification” we are going to be “more scientific” by ignoring those “drafts” and doing word counts? 

I agree that comparative philosophical analysis of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words against those of his editor should be done. In fact it was done. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original words were compared to the 1972 edited version, and the restorations appear in the 1983 edition.  

Another point:

Rūpānuga prabhu states, “Śrīla Prabhupāda's poetic, often epic, style was interpolated frequently and replaced by a conventional, news magazine style.”

I have already given the example of 2.20, where “Nor having once been, does he ever cease to be” is replaced by the less poetic “He has not come into being, does not come into being, and will not come into being.”

Let’s look at two examples that Rūpānuga cites (the text under complaint is bolded).

In the 1972 edition Bg 2.18 says “Only the material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is subject to destruction; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.” 

  In the 1983 edition this was changed to “The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end; therefore, fight, O descendant of Bharata.”

Here is the original manuscript version: “The material body of the industructible, immesurable and eternal living entity is subject to be ended ; therefore you fight oh the descendant of Bharata.”

The second example is 11.37.

1972 edition: “O great one, who stands above even Brahmā …”

1983 edition: “O great one, greater even than Brahmā …”

Original manuscript: “O the great, You are greater than Brahmā.”)

The phrase “stands above even Brahmā” is purely Hayagrīva’s. It does not appear even in Radhakrishnan’s version, which reads “And why should they not do Thee homage, O Excited One, who art greater than Brahma, the original creator?”

Apparently Rūpānuga is not aware that the “replacement text” in the 1983 edition is either directly Śrīla Prabhupāda’s own or far closer, and the “poetic, often epic style” is in fact Hayagrīva’s or someone else’s but not Śrīla Prabhupāda’s. 

And yet another point:

Rūpānuga also claims that “some revisions changed the meaning of the verses by replacing or rearranging many words.” This is a more serious charge than merely changing the style. He gives the example of 1.32-35: “though I may survive”(1972) changed to “though they might otherwise kill me” (1983).

Curiouser and curiouser. This is a very odd example to use to support his argument. Apparently Rūpānuga didn’t do enough research, otherwise he would have seen that the relevant Sanskrit word is ghnataḥ, which means “being killed.” It does not mean “I may survive.” “Being killed” is the way it appears in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original manuscript, and that’s why it appears as “might otherwise kill me” in the 1983 edition. It was Hayagrīva prabhu who changed the meaning, and Jayādvaita Mahārāja who restored it.

As an additional note on the translation of these four verses, the 1972 edition completely omits the translation for the final line of Sanskrit: kā prītiḥ syāj janārdana, ‘What pleasure will we derive from killing the sons of Dhṛtarāṣṭra?’ The 1983 edition puts this back in. Why does Rūpānuga not call our attention to that change?

One wonders just how much research Rūpānuga has actually done. Or how much realization he has of the materials he is dealing with.

I won’t go into every example that Rūpānuga has provided here, otherwise this response will become too weighted with technical analysis. I am concerned in this reply with pointing out some obvious problems in Rūpānuga’s approach and his mood of presentation.

For many of the changes Rūpānuga cites, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original text is online, so if anyone wants to examine in detail some of the changes made between the two editions by measuring them up against the original source material, please check these out:

Bg. 3.7 (see̮3.7)

Bg. 2.30 (̮2.30)

Bg. 2.13 (̮2.13)

Bg. 2.49 (̮2.49)

Bg. 3.22 (̮3.22)

Bg. 3.32 (̮3.22)

Bg. 1.32 (̮1.32)

Bg. 2.18 (̮2.18)

Bg. 2.48 (̮2.48)

Bg. 2.66 (̮2.66)

These are all examples Rūpānuga has referred to. All of these examples demonstrate--some more vividly than others—how backwards Rūpānuga has got it, because each of them shows that the text he complains about brings the book closer to the original manuscript--to Śrīla Prabhupāda's original words.


In my own analysis of Rūpānuga prabhu’s paper, I find serious problems with his approach, and with his methodology.

I have a problem with a so-called scientific analysis that only deals with half the verse translations but not all.

I have a problem with a so-called scientific analysis that does not touch the real substance, the purports.

I have a problem with a so-called scientific analysis that compares one edited edition with another edited edition but does not refer back to the original source material.

I have a problem with a so-called scientific analysis that does not take into account the comparative experience and editorial fidelity of the editors involved.

I have a problem with a so-called scientific analysis which is incomplete, which thus presents a skewed picture of the topic and which is clearly meant to appeal to the emotive rather than the rational nature of the reader.

  I will also add that I have a problem with the fact that, according to Jayādvaita Swami, Rūpānuga prabhu chose not to consult him, question him, or discuss these points with him before going public with his “findings.”  Since Jayādvaita Swami was the editor of the works in question, it would have at least been courteous to do so.

Again, as far as I know, real scholars and scientists, especially when challenging someone else’s work, submit their treatise to peer review before daring to publish. This is the scientific/scholarly system. It is designed to help an author to ensure the integrity of his work--and also to keep him from looking like an ass.

I wonder if Rūpānuga prabhu, given his sustained isolation from the main stream of devotees, has submitted his treatise to such peer review. It’s hard to imagine that any qualified scholar or serious scientist would have advised him to publish this tract.


Devotees have a right to question the guardians of our heritage. Śrīla Prabhupāda’s writings are his most important legacy to us. They are what we have based our lives and our entire future upon. Being the keeper of such monumental works demands the highest standard of vigilance and excellence. As a writer of some part of our history, I am constantly reminding myself, and being reminded by others, of the need for accuracy and honesty, so I have some sense of what is required.

At the same time, I would also like to take the liberty of mentioning here a growing trend amongst even some of our leading devotees to jump onto the emotional “don’t change Prabhupāda’s books!” bandwagon without first taking the time and trouble to go deeply into the works involved. It does no credit to themselves, it does no credit to the sincere efforts of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s editors who worked to present and preserve his works in the most accurate and creditable way possible, and it does no credit to the books themselves. It simply creates an aura of doubt about all Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books and encourages conditioned souls to approach them with a fault-finding mentality.

Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed his editors to present his books so that they are recognized as definitive. He wanted the books to be of the highest standard and he knew that his own Indian-idiosyncratic English was quite different from the western standard. So he established an organ that would serve his will. That is the BBT. I don’t advocate blind following, but I advocate support and understanding.

My own detailed study of the editorial revisions done in 1983 convinces me that a sincere and intelligent effort was made to bring the Gītā back as closely as possible to what Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote. It is a far, far better edition than the initial attempt from 1972. We all have our services to perform. We should attribute the same sincerity to others as we do to ourselves and we should be as forgiving of their deficiencies as we are of our own.

Of course there are bound to be mistakes. To err is human. Even on the transcendental platform there is a recognition that in the material world nothing can be perfect. As Śrīla Prabhupāda himself says in his introduction to the Srimad Bhagavatam:

“I must admit my frailties in presenting Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, but still I am hopeful of its good reception by the thinkers and leaders of society on the strength of the following statement of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.5.11):

tad-vāg-visargo janatāgha-viplavo
yasmin prati-ślokam abaddhavaty api
nāmāny anantasya yaśo 'ṅkitāni yac
chṛṇvanti gāyanti gṛṇanti sādhavaḥ

   “On the other hand, that literature which is full with descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, form and pastimes of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a transcendental creation meant to bring about a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though irregularly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.”

Debate is always welcome. It prevents sloppy workmanship or self-motivations from creeping in. What is not welcome are pseudo-scientific attempts which merely obfuscate rather than clarify the issue on hand. They simply create confusion and offense.

Rūpānuga prabhu states that he wants to support “the right cause of passing on Śrīla Prabhupāda's teachings as they are.” This is indeed laudable and I am sure every devotee would sympathize with his effort. But on the strength of his tract, I would say he will have to do a far better job than he has so far.

Rūpānuga prabhu unfortunately disappoints with this paper, and it would be wise of him to withdraw it. As I said at the beginning of this response, it’s just plain bad science.

Your humble servant,
Hari-śauri dāsa