Dharini Devi Dasi (ACBSP): The Mystery of the Fear of Editing

Over the years, some opinions against the Bhagavad-gita revisions have been well reasoned and may have some merit, such as perhaps a reduced poetic flow in the verses. However, I believe that too many opinions and articles arguing against the changes rest on a fear-based premise. The fear is that any editing jeopardizes the original meaning. Emotions run high as we envision treasures in Srila Prabhupada's legacy pillaged by BBT editors and lost forever to humankind, much like the looting of the National Iraqi Museum during the US invasion.

I have seen little discussion from the devotee community about the accuracy or inaccuracy of the actual amended words. It seems that the opposition is largely against the concept of editing rather than against the revisions themselves, and many would rather we keep the mistakes. On the other hand, we want Srila Prabhupada to be respected as an prominent Vedic scholar, and thus we need our Bhagavad-gita to be worded accurately and convey Srila Prabhupada's intended meaning.

Many devotees complain that our Bhagavad-gita was changed unilaterally. Yet the proposed Gita revisions were sent out to all ISKCON leaders in the early 1980's for their input. I know this to be true because I remember that the Towaco temple received a BBT package with a cover letter asking all the temples for comments on the proposed revisions. Visnugada dasa, the TP and my husband at the time, asked me to look over the revisions.

Armed with a dictionary, we found it fascinating to examine the changes and word connotations against the word-for-word Sanskrit-English translations. At the time, I tried to discuss the proposed revisions with many devotees who'd had an opportunity to go over them, but to my surprise I did not find anyone else who had seriously read them.

After Visnugada dasa mailed his comments, someone from the BBT told him that he was the only one thus far to respond. I thought that devotees either agreed with the revisions or agreed to let the editors make the changes they believed appropriate. Once the new version was published, I was shocked to see the uproar against the changes. Ever since, I have been telling devotees that the protest makes no sense, given that so few cared to go over the revisions when they had the chance.

We should seriously consider the alternatives regarding mistakes and odd word choices, keeping in mind that Srila Prabhupada instructed that his words be edited and mistakes be corrected before the original version went to press. Why would Srila Prabhupada want the mistakes discovered before publication corrected, but not the ones discovered after publication? The mistakes in the original version may be charming to us, but they conflict with the concept that the sastras are absolute truth.

I think it boils down to this: If Srila Prabhupada's books are to be regarded as a relic or merely as literature, then no changes should be made. But if they are to be accepted as scripture, then it is absolutely necessary to ensure accuracy. This is what we have to decide.

Meanwhile, I am looking at my French-version Gita in a new light, for every single word from Srila Prabhupada's original English version was altered by translators and French editors. With translations in over 60 languages, the stance against word changes could have a significant impact.

[An active devotee since 1974, Dharini Dasi has obtained a master's in sociology and a law degree. She currently has a law practice based in Oregon and is licensed in four US states.]