Controversies

Editing without direct approval violates the principle of “arsa prayoga,” or honoring the guru

Argument: 

Śrīla Prabhupāda struggled with the BBT staff to keep the final version of his books intact by resisting what he called the "American disease" of always wanting to change things. Śrīla Prabhupāda finally insisted on an "absolutely no change" policy based on the principle of "arsa prayoga," or giving the guru what he wants, not what you think he should have.

Response: 

Indeed, editors should not edit without approval. Of course, regarding Jayadvaita Swami, the BBT's chief editor, Srila Prabhupada wrote, "Concerning the editing of Jayadvaita Prabhu, whatever he does is approved by me. I have confidence in him." (letter to Radhavallabha, 7 September 1976) And in the conversation where Srila Prabhupada complained so strongly about "rascals editors," Srila Prabhupada said about Jayadvaita, "He is good."

In fact, in that same conversation Srila Prabhupada mentioned that in Easy Journey to Other Planets one editor had "changed so many things." "The next printing, Srila Prabhupada said, "should be again to the original way." And so Jayadvaita Swami undid that editor's changes and restored the original text. 

For the second edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Jayadvaita Swami did a similar service, restoring text the first edition had lost or changed. When Srila Prabhupada was present, he specifically approved of Jayadvaita Swami's doing this for other books. And after Srila Prabhupada's departure Jayadvaita Swami simply followed the same principle.

 By the way, the notion that Śrīla Prabhupāda "struggled with the BBT staff to keep the final version of his books intact"  and finally insisted on an "absolutely no change" policy is simply not historically true.

There were some Sanskrit editors whose editorial ideas he didn't like, and he strongly said so, and he expressed great displeasure when he found that an English editor had deleted a passage from Easy Journey to Other Planets and "changed so many things." 

On the other hand, he was greatly pleased by the Sanskrit editing of Pradyumna Dasa ("So your efforts in the matter of our Sanskrit editing are effectively improving our books more and more with scholarly standards." Letter to Pradyumna, 21 June 1970) . As noted above, he also expressed full approval of the editing done by Jayadvaita Swami. And far from declaring a policy of "absolutely no change," Srila Prabhupada on many occasions told his editors they should correct whatever errors they found.

For example: 

In a lecture in Hawaii on January 17, 1974, when Srila Prabhupada found an error in his published Srimad-Bhagavatam, he said, "You can have a notebook. . . Whenever there is some discrepancy, you note in the next [that is, fix it in the next printing]."

On September 19, 1972, Pradyumna wrote to Jayadvaita:

"Here's an important point: Srila Prabhupada was looking at the new edition of Second Canto the other day and he called me up because he had found some mistakes. The first mistake was in tihe first verse of the Third Chapter. There the first line of the Dvanagari script is placed last, and the last line is placed first. I don't know how this mistake has occurred; in the Second Canto chapter books there is no mistake, so this must have occurred during layout sometime. The second mistake is in the Second Canto, Fifth Chapter, 24th verse. There, in both the old edition and the new edition, the middle line of Devanagari script is missing. Prabhupada said that if there is one mistake in one book, then you spoil the whole book. Murder the whole book. So also besides Sanskrit errors, there have been many, many English errors also, which are very obvious, just like these two above-mentioned errors, so Prabhupada has been emphasizing lately about the great need for making our books free from errors. 'What's done has been done,'* [* Srila Prabhupada. (Pradyumna's footnote)] but now we should try to do two things: ;make sure that errors like these won't occur again, and start a listing of past mistakes in each book so that we can correct them when they are reprinted."

Pradyumna was simply restating the same policy Srila Prabhupada had told his editors to follow all along. On April 22, 1970, Srila Prabhupada had written to Brahmananda: "If the books are printed with spelling mistakes and other mistakes, that will be a discredit for our publication. So please see that editorial work is done very nicely." 

 Srila Prabhupada's BBT continues to honor these instructions. 

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Many of the editorial revisions significantly change the meaning of the text.

Argument: 

Many of the revisions go beyond spelling and grammar and significantly alter the meaning of the text. They actually change the philosophy. This is clearly unacceptable.

Response: 

Yes, many of the revisions do change the meaning—back to what Śrīla Prabhupāda originally said. The BBT believes this to be entirely acceptable.

For example, consider this line from the purport to 2.8:

“. . . they can achieve real happiness only if they consult Krsna, or the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam—which constitute the science of Krsna—or the bona fide representative of Krsna, the man in Krsna consciousness.”

The second edition changes that or to through, significantly changing the meaning.

As one critic writes, “It's only one word changed, but what a difference! In Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Bhagavad-gita we can understand Krsna by reading the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, after all the books are not different from Krsna!! But Jayadvaita has adjusted everything for us...”

The critic is right: That one word does make a difference.

In Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original manuscript, the word Śrīla Prabhupāda used was from. One is advised to consult Krsna or the scriptures from Krsna’s representative—that is, through him, or with his help. As Śrīla Prabhupāda writes in the purport to Chapter One, text 1, “One should read Bhagavad-gita very scrutinizingly with the help of a person who is a devotee of Sri Krsna. . .” In the first edition one is advised instead to consult Krsna and the scriptures or Krsna’s representative—an either/or proposition.

We leave it to you decide which advice better matches Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original manuscript and better gets across his intended meaning.

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Many changes were unnecessary

Argument: 

The editors have not merely fixed obvious mistakes. They made so many unnecessary changes that fix no errors and make no improvement to the book.

Response: 

Yes, the editors didn’t just fix obvious errors. They also fixed errors that weren’t obvious. Consider: In law, in music, in accounting, in sports—in just about every field of human endeavor—errors that an untrained person may not see should be obvious to a person suitably trained. And so it is with editing.
 
To assume “If I don’t see an error, it’s not there” is a sign of muddy thinking.

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Śrīla Prabhupāda heard and lectured from a verse and said nothing about a need for further editing

Argument: 

 

When Śrīla Prabhupāda heard a verse read in class (and maybe even commented on it) and said nothing about a need for further editing, doesn't that prove that the verse was perfectly good as published and should never have been revised? Isn't that just an obvious open-and-shut case?

 

Response: 

 

When Śrīla Prabhupāda was present, the definite answer was no.
 

Evidence:

We know that when Srila Prabhupada heard, in the translation of Bhagavad-gita 18.44, that one occupation of a vaisya is "cattle raising" he objected. Cattle raising, he said, means growing and killing. But did Srila Prabhupada object as soon as he heard it?

On June 11, 1974, while speaking in Paris with one Monsieur Misman, Srila Prabhupada hears the verse with "cattle raising" and raises no objection. On July 2 of the same year, while speaking with some scientiists, again Srila Prabhupada hears "cattle raising" and says nothing about it.

Not until a year later, on July 4, 1975, do we hear Srila Prabhupada say, "Cow protection. It has to be corrected. It is go-raksya, go. They take it [as] 'cattle-raising.' I think Hayagriva has translated like this."

And a year later: "One thing immediately inform Ramesvara. In the Bhagavad-gita yesterday they have edited "cattle-raising." But not cattle-raising. Cattle-raising means to grow and killing. That is the.... Means the rascals, they have edited. . . . It is mistranslation. It is go-raksya, 'giving protection to the cows." Especially mentioned, go-raksya, not otherwise."

More evidence:
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda many times gave class from the verses of the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He heard the verses read. He said nothing to indicate any need for further revision. Yet when Jayadvaita Swami personally undertook to revise many of those same verses, Śrīla Prabhupāda gave his blanket approval.
 
Examples:
 
(All the examples here are confirmed not only by the Folio VedaBase but also by widely available audio recordings.)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.2  (verse read, May 26, 1974)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.3  (verse read,May 27, 1974)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.4  (verse read, May 28, 1974)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.14 (verse read, August 17, 1972)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.15 (verse read, August 18, 1972)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.18 (verse read, September 26, 1974)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.22 (verse read, August 25, 1972)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.23 (verse read, November 3, 1972)
  • Bhagavatam 1.2.25 (verse read, August 28, 1972)
Enough examples?
 
For all those classes, the edition used was from 1972. Jayadvaita Swami re-edited them all for the second edition, published in 1976.
 
A full list of the verses Jayadvaita Swami edited for the first two chapters is online for you to see, with the text of the first edition and second edition and the original Indian edition shown side by side. See Bhagavatam Revisions Examined.
 
(At the top of that page, by the way, is a set of relevant parallels between those chapters and Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is.)
 
As Srutakirti Prabhu wrote in his memoir What Is the Difficulty? (p. 114), Śrīla Prabhupāda “did not read [his books] with the mind of an author looking for editing mistakes or grammatical errors.”
 
But when an editor he trusted undertook to revise the First Canto of the Bhagavatam (in the same way and for the same reasons that the same editor revised Bhagavad-gita As It Is), Śrīla Prabhupāda entirely approved.
 
Some devotees have suggested: When Śrīla Prabhupāda heard a verse and let it pass without objection, and sometimes even commented on it, the translation was permanently sealed, making revision of it out of the question.
 
The history of what Śrīla Prabhupāda did when physically with us demonstrates that the opposite is true: There were translations he had read and lectured on that Jayadvaita Swami later revised, and His Divine Grace fully approved.

 

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How can the editors be so arrogant as to presume to “correct” Śrīla Prabhupāda?

Argument: 

 

The BBT editors claim they have brought the translations closer to the original Sanskrit. And they say they could “see their way through perplexities in the manuscript” by consulting the same Sanskrit commentaries as Śrīla Prabhupāda. Here they imply they thought they could interpret the original Sanskrit texts as well as Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, or at least well enough to put their new realizations in his book under his name. And they thought they could understand the same complexities understood by previous acaryas simply by using the same Sanskrit commentaries Śrīla Prabhupāda used. What audacity!

 

Response: 

 

Such criticisms, apart from being deliberately insulting, sadly misconstrue what the editors did. The editors of the second edition never thought they were “better than Śrīla Prabhupāda,” only better informed than the editors of the first edition. A modest thought.
 
In most cases, the editors for the second edition brought the translations closer to the Sanskrit by bringing them closer to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original text. And consulting the commentaries of the previous acaryas wasn’t a way to outdo Śrīla Prabhupāda, only a way to understand more clearly what Śrīla Prabhupāda was saying, in order to make double sure that what finally got onto the page was what Śrīla Prabhupāda intended, not what a previous editor had misunderstood.

 

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Did Śrīla Prabhupāda ever order you to revise his books?

Argument: 

 

The BBT editors admit that Śrīla Prabhupāda never asked them to revise his already published books. Therefore, by revising the books anyway, the editors have acted without authority.

 

Response: 

 

First, note the loaded word “admit,” used to prejudice the argument. What we “admit” to, it’s implied, has something bad about it. (“He admitted to being a member of the Hare Krishna cult.”) The neutral word is “say.”
 
Apart from that: The editors also admit that their service during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lifetime was to edit his books and that he never asked them to stop.
 
Śrīla Prabhupāda knew there were mistakes in his books, and he wanted those mistakes fixed. Consider this excerpt from a class in Hawaii (January 1, 1974):
 
Prabhupada [interrupts the word-for-word reading]: Hm? Purusadaih—by men? Purusadaih. . .  purusadaih means raksasa, the cannibals. So there has been. . . ‘Cannibals,’ it should be. You [Pradyumna, presumably] can have a notebook. . .  Whenever there is some discrepancy, you note in the next [that is, for the next printing]. Purusadaih means ‘by the cannibals, raksasas.’ [word-for-word reading continues]
 
In September of 1972 Pradyumna wrote to Jayadvaita: 
 
 
Prabhupada said that if there is one mistake in one book, then you spoil the whole book. Murder the whole book. So also besides Sanskrit errors, there have been many, many English errors also, which are very obvious. . . , so Prabhupada has been emphasizing lately about the great need for making our books free from errors. “What's done has been done”  [Śrīla Prabhupāda said], but now we should try to do two things: make sure that errors like these won't occur again, and start a listing of past mistakes in each book so that we can correct them when they are reprinted.
 
The BBT editors admit to doing their best to continue following these instructions.

 

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Revised editions don’t have the spiritual potency of the originals.

Argument: 

Making changes to Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books interferes with their potency.

Response: 

 

We don’t see any “special potency” in typists’ errors, editorial errors, or missing words, missing verses, and missing purports. Rather, if anything, restoring Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original words has increased the potency of his books. The more Prabhupada, the more potency.

 

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The original books are fully authorized and approved by Śrīla Prabhupāda. Anything later is less authoritative, less authentic.

Argument: 

Whatever is in the original books, we can be sure, has Śrīla Prabhupāda’s personal approval. It is all fully reliable and fully authorized—every sacred word. The revised books just don’t have that same authenticity.

Response: 

Sounds good. But, unfortunately, if you hold to this argument you have to take it where it naturally leads you. If every word in the book has Śrīla Prabhupāda’s full approval, then

• He approved of all the spelling mistakes, Sanskrit and English.
• He approved of every error in English grammar.
• He approved of leaving out so many of his Sanskrit quotations.
• For 1.18, he approved of Abhimanyu’s being “greatly armed” (loaded up with weapons) instead of “mighty armed” (endowed with two strong arms).
• For 2.37, he approved of having niscayah mean “uncertainty” rather than “in certainty.”
• He approved of “the planet of the trees.”
• He approved of Queen Kunti’s speaking a verse that’s really from the Isopanisad.
• For 9.34 (man-mana bhava mad-bhaktah) he approved of leaving out “Become My devotee.”
• And so on.

Do such errors make the book more authentic? More reliable? Are blunders made by Śrīla Prabhupāda’s typists and editors sacred?

The book that more authentically, more reliably, more authoritatively represents Śrīla Prabhupāda is the second edition.

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Śrīla Prabhupāda’s voice and style

Argument: 

As one critic of the second edition eloquently wrote about Śrīla Prabhupāda’s writings, “His words, style, and presentation are all impeccable in the eyes of his disciples; and any change causes pain to their hearts. That is the real issue; and it cannot be avoided. It will not go away. And truly, until this correction is made, that is, the reversion to the original vani of Śrīla Prabhupāda, I do not think peace will come. Those who, by God’s grace, have been placed in a position to make these corrections and do not do so will never be peaceful or find pleasure in their spiritual connection because everything in our spiritual life depends on the grace-filled glance of Śrīla Prabhupāda.”

Response: 

Amen! That’s why, throughout the second edition, a person “placed in a position to make these corrections” so often restored Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original words.

For example, in 6.18 the first edition said that the yogi attains perfect happiness “in touch with the Supreme Consciousness.” The second edition restores Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original undiluted message: The yogi attains perfect happiness “in transcendental loving service to the Lord.”

Those who truly cherish Śrīla Prabhupāda’s words, style, and presentation will find them extensively restored in the second edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is.

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The Mona Lisa argument

Argument: 

If every year you were to change the Mona Lisa just one percent, in a hundred years you could end up with a picture of Alfred E. Neuman, the freaky kid who appears on the cover of MAD magazine.

Response: 

Śrīla Prabhupāda said that an analogy, to succeed, should closely parallel what it’s meant to illustrate. Yes, if every year you were to take the Mona Lisa one percent farther away from da Vinci’s original, in a hundred years you could have a monster. But what if instead of going farther away you went closer? That’s a more suitable analogy. That’s what the art of restoration is all about—bringing a work closer to what the artist originally gave.

restoration
Restored by Cecile Wendover Clover, www.restorationhelp.com

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