Post Disappearance Book Changes Discouraged
by Gupta das
Posted January 28, 2003
While an author might, during his or her lifetime, re-edit and then
a previously published book, we would be hard pressed to find anyone,
anywhere, who would entertain the idea that, once published, an author's
work may later be edited posthumously and then presented anew in a
and enlarged edition' as if it were the author's original work!
For those with sensitivity or knowledge of spiritual etiquette regarding
proper post-disappearance handling of an acarya's sacred adi-vani, or
original spiritual instructions, such a disturbing editorial scenario is
In the Western tradition, the posthumous bastardization process is
to as "bowdlerizing" a work (named after an English editor, Thomas
famously involved in an editorial scandal involving an expurgated edition
Shakespeare). In the Eastern tradition the principle of not changing an
acarya's work post-disappearance is enshrined in the sastric principle
referred to as arsa-prayoga.
Post-disappearance editorial revisions by conditioned jivas to the
memorialized realizations of an exalted acarya is crude, insulting and
offensive. Yet, this has taken place for two decades and continues to be
done by those who, ironically, have a special spiritual duty to preserve
Srila Prabhupada's literary legacy.
A threshold argument made is that continuing changes are authorized
because certain editors were permitted, during Srila Prabhupada's
presence, to make editorial adjustments to punctuation, spelling
and grammar, and because, at that time, Srila Prabhupada expressed a
degree of confidence in their editorial ability.
That pre-1978 service engagement was not a blank cheque, however, to
continue the editorial process unabated for all time. Just as you never
a barber if you need a haircut, you cannot reasonably expect an editor to
make an objective decision whether or not to continue editing a book!
is no written authority that Srila Prabhupada expected or wanted the
editorial process to continue post-disappearance on books that he already
approved and that were already published. In fact, the unequivocal
is inapposite -- Srila Prabhupada did not want his books continuously
changed and edited after they were published.
It is one thing for an understudy (an apprentice) to contribute to a
master's work, be it artistic or literary, during that master's lifetime
under the master's supervision and approval. However, once a master
approves the work as finished, it is unheard of in either the Western or
Eastern tradition that the apprentice would then take the liberty sua
to change the painting or book and publish it posthumously as if that
painting or book had been approved by the master during his or her
Using such logic, a one percent change per year to Da Vinci's enigmatic
Lisa could wind up being, in a short one hundred years, a picture of Madd
Magazine's demented Alfred E. Newman.
Moreover, Srila Prabhupada personally lectured on most every verse in the
1972 Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, other than perhaps the first chapter, and he
only asked that three words be changed. If those pre-1978 books were good
enough for the author and Founder/Acarya, they should certainly be good
enough for us! If those books were considered transcendental by the
and by the entire movement then, why should we not continue using those
If Srila Prabhupada had authorized continuing editorial changes, as is
intimated, then why was permission from the GBC sought in the early
for the 'revised' edition? The reason is that such post-disappearance
changes were never authorized by Srila Prabhupada and therefore
institutional approval was sought by the editors. The GBC agreed by only
one vote to allow the changed book -- not exactly a landslide.
The core argument being asserted for changing the books is as
it is subtle. The argument is that changes made to the 1983 edition of
Bhagavad-Gita As It Is brings the book closer to the manuscript (or
proofs) than was the original 1972 edition. However, this argument
completely fails to take into account the absolute prohibition, in
Western and Eastern tradition, against posthumous and post disappearance
The issue is not whether the first or second edition (or perhaps, in
years, the tenth edition) is closer to the manuscript. If that were the
issue we could then expect who knows how many more editors making who
how many more changes to Srila Prabhupada's books under the guise that
editorial changes were, in fact, closer to what Srila Prabhupada really
meant or really said. A misguided publishing policy which approves
post-disappearance changes to Srila Prabhupada's works will only
an unending series of changed books for many more years to come.
The actual issue is that once an author has personally approved his work
it is published, it cannot be changed posthumously or
a non-author and then presented as if it were the actual author's
approved work. As discussed, doing so runs directly afoul of both Western
and Eastern literary traditions.
Srila Prabhupada's literary legacy must be frozen in time so to speak, to
preserve its integrity and meaning. Continuing changes over the upcoming
decades and even centuries will only serve incrementally to denigrate the
potency of his gift. The world wants and needs to hear Srila Prabhupada's
transcendental voice as it is -- not the prissy sterility of an editorial
cottage industry run amok. Certainly, if the authorized and approved
pre-1978 books were good enough for Srila Prabhupada during his manifest
presence, they should be good enough for everyone right now!
The only way out of this editorial and publishing morass is firmly to
re-establish the 1972 edition of the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is as the
movement's literary standard, and then to publish the original manuscript
that scholars and spiritually-minded persons can study and comment as
see fit. A separate appendix can also be printed which catalogues
corrections. And, the editors are free, of course, to print their own
and to make a record as they want -- but not under the guise that the
original author approved their particular post disappearance word craft.
To continue along the "I know better what Srila Prabhupada really meant"
route, however, by allowing post-disappearance editorial changes to
authorized and approved pre-1978 editions can only be seen for what it is
an ongoing, blatant violation of the sastric principle of arsa-prayoga.
At bottom, it is Srila Prabhupada's transcendental vision the world wants
and needs -- not the conditioned viewpoint of some editor's temporal
of grammar or correctness.
Srila Prabhupada: "Why do they think? If I have written one book, my
are my meaning. Why you should give meaning? I shall kick on your face.
right you have got? You write another book. Why should you take my
give your meaning? What is this?"
-- Morning walk May 10,1975 Perth
Srila Prabhupada: "As soon as you interpret or change the Scripture, the
Scripture loses its authority. Then another man will come and interpret
things in his own way. Another will come and then another, and in this
the original purport of the Scripture is lost."
-- NQS: TQE6 Discussion on western philosophy and science
"So unless one is self-realized, there is practically no use writing
Krsna. This transcendental writing does not depend on material education.
depends on the spiritual realization. You'll find, therefore, in the
comments of Bhagavatam by different acaryas, even there are some
discrepancies, they are accepted as asat-patha. It should remain as it
--Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.23-24 March 31, 1976 Vrindaban