It's a persistent image: Srila Prabhupada in Los Angeles in December of 1968, working side by side with Hayagriva Prabhu, carefully putting the finishing touches on Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
But a careful look at the history shows that this is out of the question.
Why? Because even though Hayagriva worked on the Gita manuscript until October of 1967, by November of ’67 he was off the job and Srila Prabhupada handed over the task of finishing the Gita to another editor, Rayarama Dasa (Raymond Marais). When Hayagriva came to Los Angeles in December of 1968, that first Gita—the abridged Macmillan edition—had already been published. And work on the next edition—the unabridged—didn't begin until 1970.
What Hayagriva was editing in December of 1968 was Srimad-Bhagavatam.
And so the image of Srila Prabhupada sitting with Hayagriva in December of 1968 carefully going over every verse of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, seeing to the finishing touches, is a persistent image of something that never took place.
That's the truth. Here's the timeline. See for yourself.
The Gita timeline: 1967–1969
Before October 1967: Hayagriva is working on the manuscript of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
September 1967: Kirtanananda Swami disobeys Srila Prabhupada by returning directly from India to New York instead of stopping and staying in London. (Letter to Janardana, September 30, 1967)
October–November 1967: Letters unfold the story of Kirtanananda's rebellion against Srila Prabhupada's teachings and instructions. Kirtanananda leaves the association of ISKCON, and by his influence so too does his friend Hayagriva. As of October 19, the manuscript for Bhagavad-gita As It Is still lies with Hayagriva (letter to Hayagriva, October 19, 1967).
November 2, 1967: Srila Prabhupada writes to Himavati Dasi: "The present feature of Kirtanananda and Hayagriva are temporary manifestation of maya. They will be corrected as soon as I return."
November 1967: Sometime during the month, Hayagriva returns the Gita manuscript to Brahmananda and Rayarama. A letter from Srila Prabhupada to Rayarama on November 2 and one to Brahmananda on November 5 confirm this. A letter to Rayarama on November 9 reflects some confusion over whether the manuscript has been returned or not, but a letter to him on November 15 is conclusive. Krishna, Srila Prabhupada tells Rayarama, has transferred "the whole thing into your hands."
November 18, 1967: Srila Prabhupada writes to Brahmananda, "Kirtanananda and Hayagriva's recent standing is being directly dealt by me; at least Hayagriva is not as fanatic as Kirtanananda. His latest letter reveals that he is not out of Krishna Consciousness as we understand. . . . I understand that Hayagriva and Kirtanananda are continuing to chant Hare Krishna is their center. I hope therefore they will not go astray and the misunderstanding may be cleared up in due course of time. . . ."
The letter mentions that Rayarama "is now engaged in finishing Gita Upanisad." Srila Prabhupada writes, "Now it must be finished within three weeks and hand it over to MacMillan Co. "
December 14, 1967: Srila Prabhupada writes Rayarama, "I have already sent you the purports of each and every sloka that you sent me for correction. . . . As soon as you finish the Gitopanisad business and the matter is handed over to the MacMillan Co. we begin on the Bhagavatam work without delay."
December 29, 1967: Srila Prabhupada writes to Brahmananda, "Regarding Hayagriva and Kirtanananda, if they come again we should accommodate them and should not continue the misunderstanding that has been engineered. I think Hayagriva is anxious in having his name printed in the publication of Gitopanisad. I do not have any objections that his name may be mentioned as one of the editors helping in the editing of Gitopanisad, just to encourage him and keep him in our camp, in case that he may come back and accept our philosophy and resume his editing talent. He has committed a blunder, but just so that he may be encouraged to come back you may mention his name also along with Rayarama's. He is not so convinced of his impersonalist philosophy. It is only due to Kirtanananda's influence that he has left us."
December 30, 1967: Srila Prabhupada writes to Satsvarupa, "You will be glad to know that yesterday I have signed the agreement with MacMillan for publishing Gitopanisad. . ."
January 8, 1968: The contract has been concluded between Srila Prabhupada and the Macmillan Company for publishing the abridged Bhagavad-gita As It Is. The contract stipulates that the author should deliver to the publisher the manuscript, ready for the printer, "on or before the first day of January 1968, time being of the essence." The contract is formally dated January 8, 1968.
January 15, 1968: Hayagriva last saw the edited Gita manuscript in October or November of 1967, and the editing was later completed by Rayarama. Now, it seems, Hayagriva has expressed concern about the quality of Rayarama's work, because Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "Regarding the manuscript: It is very difficult for me to see it again, but I inquired from Brahmananda whether the manuscript is already delivered to MacMillan Company or not. If it is not delivered then I shall try to see it again. Your fear that the entire society will be in danger by Raymond's editing of the Gita is not very suitable remark. Rayarama may not be as qualified as you are, but his one qualification that he is fully surrendered to Krishna and his Spiritual Master is the first class recommendation for his editing any one of our literatures, because editing of Vedic literatures does not depend on academic education. It is clearly stated in the Upanisads that one who has implicit faith in God as well as in the Spiritual Master, to him only the import of Vedic literature is revealed. I think Rayarama is doing work in that spirit and his recent publication of several booklets and Back to Godhead and a calendar are all first class proof of his sincerity of service."
January 18, 1968: The final manuscript for the Gita has apparently not yet been submitted to Macmillan. From Los Angeles Srila Prabhupada writes to Rayarama, "Bhagavad-gita is nearing completion-I heard this before I started from India. The editing has been too much delayed. Now I request you to come here for a week with the full manuscript so that I can see it personally, along with you, and finish the editorial work, within a week. Even after signing the contract, if the manuscript is not submitted, it is regrettable. If it is not inconvenient for you, somehow or other, it will be better if you come here for one week absolutely for this purpose so that we can finish this job without further delay. . . . I wish that you may come here for a week, suspending all other business and finish this Bhagavad-gita in my presence."
Late January, 1968: Rayarama flies to the West Coast to finish the work, as Srila Prabhupada requested. (And so Srila Prabhupada writes from Los Angeles to Madhusudana on January 24, "I thank you for your letter brought to me by Rayarama.")
Because the Macmillan Company wants the book severely abridged, Rayarama does the abridgment, for which he consults Srila Prabhupada while in Los Angeles. (Brahmananda to Jayadvaita Swami, personal interview.)
As Brahmananda Prabhu later wrote, "The trimming of the ms. was done solely by Rayarama, not Hayagriva. . . I know, because I handed the ms. to Rayarama from Macmillan and told him what he had to do for them to publish it." (Letter from Brahmananda to Jayadvaita Swami, February 18, 2003)
February 25, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Satsvarupa, "You will be glad to know that our arrangements with MacMillan for publishing Bhagavad-gita As It Is is already completed, and the manuscript is handed over to them."
March 18, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Satsvarupa, "Today I have received one letter from Hayagriva and it is understood that he is feeling our separation. I have replied him and have asked him to see me when I am in N.Y."
Late April 1968: Hayagriva visits Srila Prabhupada in New York City. Srila Prabhupada later writes to Mukunda (on May 6), "Please inform [Umapati] that his intimate friend, Hayagriva, came to see me in New York and we talked very frankly, and he is still my good disciple, and I have asked him to stay with me wherever I may be, and he has agreed. I understand also from him that Kirtanananda Swami is also eager to see me, and we shall be very glad if they come back and work with us conjointly. I am praying for this to Krishna."
April 28, 1968: Jayadvaita Swami (then Dasa Brahmachari) is initiated in New York City. He serves as a typist in Rayarama's office and so from then on is familiar with what work is going on in the editing and publishing of Srila Prabhupada's books.
July 14, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "Regarding Easy Journey to Other Planets: You can inquire from Mukunda das if he is going to print it or not. If not, then you can do it because you have now some money and spend for its publication. And regarding editorial work, I shall send you some manuscripts very soon."
July 29, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Brahmananda, "Let us forget about our past incidents with Hayagriva and Kirtanananda. Treat Kirtanananda as bona fide and address him as Kirtanananda Maharaja. He should be first offered obeisances and he will return the respect to his Godbrothers. . . . Please be brotherly with Hayagriva and Kirtanananda. They have come back with sincerity."
August 23, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "Regarding editing of Bhagavatam: Certainly it will be entrusted to you, because Rayarama is engaged in the Back to Godhead. Hardly he will get some time."
September 9, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "Now immediate task is that you revise the 1st, 2nd, 3rd volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam. As soon as they are revised, we shall immediately print in one volume."
October 7, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "So far Srimad-Bhagavatam is concerned, now Pradyumna and yourself immediately revise the 3 volumes already published. My next attempt will be to get them in 1 volume, as I have already suggested."
Fall, 1968: The abridged Gita is published. An introductory note called "Setting the Scene" is signed "Rayarama Dasa Brahmachary (Raymond Marais), Editor" and dated 16 August 1968, Janmastami. In the note, Rayarama writes, "My special thanks are due to my God-brothers Sri Hayagriva Das Brahmachary (Howard Wheeler, M.A.) for his assistance in polishing the manuscript and to Sri Brahmananda Das Brahmachary (Bruce Scharf) for arranging publication. . ."
November 18, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva:
"Regarding Srimad-Bhagavatam, please send me the chapters which you have already revised. I want to see it, how it is being done. I am glad that you are not omitting anything, but just making grammatical correction, and phrasing for force and clarity, and adding Pradyumna's transliteration, that is very nice.
"Yes, henceforward, as I have already told you, that Srimad-Bhagavatam will be ultimately seen by you, before being printed. That will keep consistency, I quite agree with you."
November 23, 1968: In a handwritten postscript to a letter, Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "Please try to finish up 1st and 2nd Cantos of Bhagavatam as soon as possible."
November 25, 1968: Srila Prabhupada writes from Los Angeles to Krishna Dasa, "Our Bhagavad-gita as it is, is now published, and I have got copies of it here."
Dec 13–30, 1968 (give or take a few days at the end): Hayagriva visits Srila Prabhupada in Los Angeles. Govinda Dasi is serving as Srila Prabhupada's cook and secretary. Srila Prabhupada's later writes, "Recently, Hayagriva came from Columbus, and he remained with me for more than a fortnight. He was assisting me in editing Srimad-Bhagavatam."(Letter to Rupanuga, January 15, 1969)
December 25, 1968: Srila Prabhupada conducts the marriage ceremony of Shyama Dasi and Hayagriva. Srila Prabhupada tells them, in the course of his lecture, "You have got nice business now, both of you, conjointly working for editing my Srimad-Bhagavatam."
January 31, 1969: Srila Prabhupada writes to Hayagriva, "I am very pleased to learn that the entire first canto should be completely edited by March 8th. . ."
August–November 1969: Rayarama leaves Srila Prabhupada's service. (Letter to Satsvarupa, August 27, 1969, and letter to Brahmananda, November 25, 1969)
December 24, 1969: In a discussion with the staff of BTG, Srila Prabhupada directs that work begin on a new, unabridged edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.