- Arsa Prayoga – Preserving Srila Prabhupada's legacy
– Arsa Prayoga –
Preserving Srila Prabhupada's legacy
compiled by Jagannatha Mishra dasa
Arsa prayoga, lit. “rishi's license,” means to honour the acarya by preserving his teachings in the originally published form, not changing what he has written to make it appear more effective or politically correct. There should be no confusion between the work written by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada and edited by Howard Wheeler and the posthumous cent per cent revised copy proposed by Bhaktivedanta Book Trust International. By changing Prabhupada's books without explicitly saying so, they do a discredit to Srila Prabhupada, devotees and scholars. At present it appears that the revisions were made by the original author. This book is meant to be the truth about the editing of Prabhupada's books carefully chronicled for future generations.
The purpose of this book is to keep the followers and well-wishers of Srila Prabhupada informed —as well as other interested parties among scholars, academicians, librarians, reviewers, students and the general public —that his original books, recorded lectures, conversations et al. *continue* to be altered, changed or interpolated, with no definitive evidence or record of his explicit authorization or approval to do so.
These revised literatures of His Divine Grace (1896-1977) are being distributed worldwide with his name as the original author, although as such they cannot be trusted to present his teachings as they are.
However, although published in smaller numbers, Srila Prabhupada’s unrevised books continue to be readily available. They remain the genuine basis of the Hare Krishna movement, introduced by Srila Prabhupada, as founded in 16th century in India by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu for the cause of universal spiritual brotherhood and the upliftment of mankind.
The teachings of Srila Prabhupada provide for millions a solace for the anxiety of daily affairs in life as well as guidance in pursuit of the highest spiritual achievements. His true legacy must be preserved for them and for the generations to come.
The contents herein represent but a fraction of the persons dedicated to doing so and mirror the opinions of many more who appreciate Srila Prabhupada’s teachings. (The Publishers)
The unrivalled perfection of a masterful translation
Now to let us see how a purely devoted disciple of His Divine Grace approached the translating and editing process. After Srila Prabhupada’s departure there is a little known pastime, that will not remain so after this letter goes in this book, where Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj helped to reveal the unrivalled perfection of Srila Prabhupada’s masterful translation of Bhagavad-gita.
Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj was given the service by Srila Prabhupada of translating all of his books into the Oriya language. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj was a great scholar who could write and speak in five languages, Oriya, Hindi, Bengali, English, and Sanskrit. He got his degree in English from the University with a minor in Sanskrit. I lived with Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj in the same room for nearly three years.
He translated Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita with the greatest love and devotion and attention for detail. Because of his vast command of languages He was able to notice little details that others may have overlooked. One thing that was a cause of great transcendental concern for him was the fact that when Srila Prabhupada translated a word from Sanskrit to English it would not be the same if Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj translated the Sanskrit word directly to Oriya.
In other words the English word that Srila Prabhupada used to explain the Sanskrit word had an entirely different meaning than the Oriya word that would normally be used as a translation of this same Sanskrit word. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj was concerned that in translating the literal English into Oriya, many Pandits and scholars would complain that this was not an accurate translation.
Since Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj did not want to change one single word of his beloved Spiritual Master’s books but at the same time be able to defend the scholarships of his Guru Maharaj beyond the shadow of a doubt, He devised a plan for writing down all of the so called contradictions in a list until he completed the entire work. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj then went to a small village to see the now retired Sanskrit professor who had taught him Sanskrit in college.
This man was considered one of the foremost authorities on the Sanskrit language in India having one of the largest personal libraries on the subject, including one of the best collections of Sanskrit to English Dictionaries. Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj knew that this Scholar’s grasp of Sanskrit to English translation would provide him with the evidence he needed to prove the authority of Srila Prabhupada’s work.
After about ten days, Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj returned to the little mud hut that we lived in with the Sanskrit professor in tow. The Sanskrit professor introduced himself (I apologize but unfortunately I cannot remember his name) and began glorifying His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada’s masterful translation work. The professor told me that he started studying Sanskrit when he was five years old, now in his late 70′s he had been studying the language for over 70 years.
He told me how on the first review of his dictionaries he could not find the translations that Srila Prabhupada had made from Sanskrit to English, but he said that Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj kept encouraging him to keep looking, assuring him that he would find the translation if he looked long and hard enough. The professor said he would have given up, if it were not for Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj’s insistence that his Guru Maharaj had been accurate and that if he looked hard enough he would find it.
Then the professor told me that he found each and every translation that Srila Prabhupada had made. The professor told me that these translations that your Guru has made are the most obscure and brilliant explanations of these words from Sanskrit to English that he had ever seen. The professor admitted that with all of his education and training he could not have thought of these obscure and brilliant meanings that so perfectly expressed the inner truths of the mysteries of the Bhagavad-gita.
The professor then said having seen this translation work of His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada he was convinced that Srila Prabhupada was the greatest Sanskrit scholar in the history of civilization and must have been directly enlightened by the Supreme Lord Krishna to accomplish this work.
There is so much to learn from this pastime. The first thing of course is that no one is qualified to edit one single word of Srila Prabhupada’s books! Unless he is on the same level as His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada and since it is pretty obvious Jayadvaita Swami is not, then he should leave the books alone!
Now some may say how do we know he is not and the answer to that is the second important lesson that we learn from this pastime. Unlike Jayadvaita Swami who has changed the words of his Spiritual master’s books in order to meet with the approval of scholars and professors. The pure devotional attitude of Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj was to elevate the professor by engaging him in devotional service and then bring him up to a spiritual platform so that he could get the mercy of Srila Prabhupada.
Instead of acting like editor and scholar Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj teaches us how to protect and defend the honor of the Spiritual Master through his pure devotional mood. Jayadvaita Swami’s erasing the words of our Divine Master Srila Prabhupada and replacing them with his mental speculations reminds me of the story when the Mayavadi scratched out the name of Krishna in the book and replaced it with the word Brahman.
Krishna eventually appears before him with scratches on His face, and the Mayavadi realizes his folly and surrenders to the Lord. Srila Prabhupada’s books are his transcendental body. How much longer are we going to sit back and let his books be abused? If Srila Prabhupada were here and some one was abusing him would we stand by idly and watch it happen? NO! Why do we continue to allow Jayadvaita Swami to abuse our Spiritual Master’s books?
Can we not stand up in the pure devotional mood of Srila Gour Govinda Maharaj and defend the Honor of our Spiritual Master? Let us all work together to restore Srila Prabhupada’s books to their pristine and uncontaminated glory. Then let us distribute those books again and preach the pure devotional service of the Lord to the innocent masses yearning to be free of the shackles of maya.
Let us enter the arena of the material world proclaiming the glories of the Lord with the absolute conviction that we can only benefit everyone we meet with the highest good. If any demoniac persons try to stop us then we should proudly proclaim like the Christians of old being attacked by the lions in the Roman coliseum that we are the servants of the Lord and our spiritual master and we are fearless. (Bhagavat dasa)
Once an author is no longer present in this world, his books cannot be changed without proper scholastic protocol. It they are changed, then they are no longer considered to be the authentic works of that author. This would certainly cause the most distress to Srila Prabhupada, as he wanted his books to be accepted by universities and colleges.
There are numerous points of accepted protocol for post-samadhi editing. One of them is that the editions printed post-samadhi, must have the clear statement that they are indeed abridged, edited, or condensed, and the name (names) of the editors must be clearly printed on the cover and/or title page, as well as the date of editing, and the number of the edition.
These things have not been done for Srila Prabhupada’s post-samadhi edited books. Instead, Prabhupada’s 1971 signature has been inserted into an edition he has never seen, as if it had been seen and approved by him. This is not only unprofessional, unacceptable to scholars, it is also unethical.
Thus, although there is no doubt that both sides of the issue can be discussed with excellent points, (and should certainly be discussed rationally and without offensiveness), the real issue is that Srila Prabhupada’s books have been post-samadhi edited and are therefore considered to be compromised so far as their authenticity.
The opinions and statements by scholars was something greatly appreciated by Srila Prabhupada. Now, his books are no longer respected by scholars in their present format. Without the proper protocol, they are considered improperly edited and no longer authentic.
The “scholarly reviews” printed by BBTI on the edited Gitas are actually reviews that were done for the original Bhagavad-gita published in 1972. The BBTI have no reviews for the post-samadhi edited Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
The BBTI is using reviews for a book that is completely revised and changed—yet presenting these reviews as if they were for this new edition. The fact is that these scholars never saw this new edition!
In order for both books to co-exist, which I consider acceptable, the edited Bhagavad-gita must follow the correct protocols, the most important of which is that the editors’ names must appear on the cover and title page, along with the date of the new edition. This is necessary for the post-samadhi edition to be acceptable in scholarly circles, and it will also be essential for all future editions of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is that may come later on.
The solution to the dilemma is to simply follow the proper protocol for editing. Once that is done, readers can clearly and immediately see which books are edited, and by whom, and when it was done. Then, and only then, will these post-samadhi edited books be accepted by universities.
To think this would not be important to Srila Prabhupada is incorrect. Srila Prabhupada wanted his books to be honoured for all posterity. This is the only way it can be done. (Govinda dasi)
Where angels fear to tread
The editors of the 1983 revised Gita did not believe that they actually interpolated philosophy or style. Their idea was to improve both translations and purports by transposing and clarifying portions of old manuscripts, etc. existing prior to the one finally submitted to Macmillan in 1972. Truly, many of the grammatical, spelling, format and historical inaccuracies corrected in the revision would have been approved by Srila Prabhupada himself had he been consulted.
Be that as it may, Srila Prabhupada never instructed anyone to use a procedure of re-visiting and researching old manuscripts or dictations to revise future printings of his first editions. On the other hand, recordings made from 1972 until 1977, six years, demonstrate how Srila Prabhupada often personally read excerpts from the Gita in classes, room conversations, engagements, etc. Many times he also instructed devotees present to read aloud as he listened. There is no evidence indicating that he ordered extensive revisions for the next printing. As the current chief editor wrote; “To my knowledge, Srila Prabhupada never asked us to re-edit the book.”
(Letter to Amogha lila, July, 1986.)
Interestingly enough, none of the scholars, educators, professors and other reviewers of the Gita called for it either. From 1972 until 1983 we don’t find requests from professionals for a revision to a higher standard. Nor do we hear any demand from devotees in general for such a thorough revision. In fact, the editors state in “A Note About the Second Edition” found in the BBT revised editions: “Yet their effort to publish Srila Prabhupada’s work was a success, and the Bhagavad-gita As It Is has become the standard edition for scholars and devotees around the world.” Still, after eleven years of documented success, the Gita was extensively re-worked. Why? What is the reason?
The editors continue their explanation: “For this second edition, however, Srila Prabhupada’s disciples had the benefit of having worked with his books for the last fifteen years. The English editors were familiar with his philosophy and language, and the Sanskrit editors were by now accomplished scholars. And now they were able to see their way through perplexities in the manuscript by consulting the same Sanskrit commentaries Srila Prabhupada consulted when writing Bhagavad-gita As It Is. The result is a work of even greater richness and authenticity… In places the translations, though already correct, have been revised to come closer to the original Sanskrit and Srila Prabhupada’s original dictations…”
The editors are claiming the benefit of 15 years work, which would mean 1968 until 1983, the year of the revision. However, the value of those benefits is uncertain, because in June, 1977 Srila Prabhupada severely chastised the editors for changes to his Isopanisad and Bhagavatam. He described the editors as rascals (a term he usually reserved for atheists, material scientists and politicians), and called them “dangerous” at least six times in ten minutes of discussion. Just five months before his disappearance, Srila Prabhupada made this a major issue for the Society.
The same basic issue came up in 1983 and has continued more or less for the last 25 years. But for us, now, who will decide who is right and who is wrong? One side says “responsible editing,” the other says “irresponsible, unauthorized, etc.” But who is right and who is wrong? Who will decide?
So now we must come to the point of reason. Is it reasonable to conclude that just five or six years after deserving that 1977 chastisement, editors could have emerged as “accomplished scholars” –by 1983? One editor escaped chastisement. Still, isn’t six years a short time for everyone to turn up as “accomplished scholars?” But even if all the editors had been studying Sanskrit for 30 years by 1983, is it plausible that such editors could be able to dive into the superexcellent depths of Sanskrit revelation, and come up with an understanding of it’s complexities—the same complexities—understood by previous acaryas? Was this the prerogative of such disciples, that they could be “able to see their way through perplexities in the manuscript by consulting the same Sanskrit commentaries Srila Prabhupada consulted when writing the Bhagavad-gita As It Is.” Is it possible?
And further, “In places the translations, though already correct, have been revised to come closer to the original Sanskrit…” Here the implication is that the editors in 1983, whoever they were, thought they could interpret the original Sanskrit texts comparatively as well as Srila Prabhupada himself, or at least well enough to put their new realizations in his book under his name. And, that they could understand the same complexities understood by previous acaryas (presumably Sridhar Swami et. al.) simply by using the same Sanskrit commentaries Srila Prabhupada used. Is this credible? Is it reasonable to conclude that such editors were capable of producing “a work of even greater richness and authenticity?” Or that translations “already correct” could have been revised to even more correctness by them? Was all this perfection really possible by 1983?
Maybe, if they had received authorizations and blessings from Srila Prabhupada in 1977 before he disappeared, but that didn’t happen. It is known from that recorded conversation of June, 1977, that when Tamal Krishna suggested to Srila Prabhupada Jayadvaita check any changes before reprinting, Srila Prabhupada countered: “But they are doing without any authority!” In other words, no need for Jayadvaita to become an inspector of changes because nobody was authorized to make such changes in the first place! Tamal had already said to Srila Prabhupada: “Your original work that you’re doing now, that is edited by Jayadvaita. That’s the first editing.” Srila Prabhupada had answered, “He is good.” So Srila Prabhupada, in the midst of all the turmoil, made it clear that he was satisfied with Jayadvaita’s work. Yet a “first editing” is entirely different from re-editing an already finished or printed work, which is what the others were doing. Srila Prabhupada never authorized anyone, including Jayadvaita or Pradyumna to do that with the Bhagavad-gita then or in the future.
The extent of Srila Prabhupada’s disappointment in this matter can not be underestimated. He said, after being informed of the changes in the Isopanisad, “I know what these rascals are doing. What can be done? How they can be relied on?” And later, “It is starting. What can I do? These cannot…These rascals cannot be educated. Dangerous. Little learning, dangerous… What can I do? Ultimate it goes for editorial…”
In the 3rd Canto (3.4.26), Srila Prabhupada writes, “Although one may be well versed in transcendental science, one should be careful about the offense of maryada-vyatikrama, or impertinently surpassing a greater personality. According to scriptural injunction one should be very careful of transgressing the law of maryada-vyatikrama because by so doing one loses his duration of life, his opulence, fame and piety and the blessings of all the world. To be well versed in the transcendental science necessitates awareness of the techniques of spiritual science.”
At this point the significant question emerges: Has maryada-vyatikrama, impertinently surpassing a greater personality, occurred in the process of editing and reprinting Srila Prabhupada’s books? It certainly had by 1977, according to the momentous June 22nd room conversation about changes to the Isopanisad and Srimad Bhagavatam. Six years later, considering the exaggerated claims in the “Note About the Second Edition” and the extreme content-editing of the text, it appears to have occurred again in the 1983 “Revised and Enlarged” version of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Vaishnava etiquette demands that Srila Prabhupad’s disciples, grand-disciples, et. al. always think themselves fools in front of Srila Prabhupada. But, unfortunately, sometimes some of them forget that, and dare to rush in where angels fear to tread. (Rupanuga dasa)
“Our editing is to correct grammar and spelling errors only, without interpolation of style or philosophy.” (Srila Prabhupada, February, 17, 1970.)
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Please also see:
Arsha Prayoga – the unholy practice of dishonoring the acharya