Should editorial mistakes be held sacred?
by Jayadvaita Swami
Posted January 31, 2002
Should restoring Srila Prabhupada's words be condemned?
We're sorry to see yet another internet diatribe against the books
published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.
According to the most recent assault, "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."
Hard pressed? To find out that this is baloney, one need only browse
to, for example, the following web page:
There you'll find out why a very respected American publisher has
indeed published "the corrected text"--corrected posthumously--of
works by the great American novelist William Faulkner. The editors are
scholars with integrity, and their editions of Faulkner's works aim
(like the second edition of "Bhagavad-gita As It Is") at being more
faithful to what the author originally wrote and intended. Quite
likely, you'll find the sensible and reasonable notes by these
scholars more enlightening than the sensationalistic and uninformed
bashing of the second edition of "Bhagavad-gita As It Is."
By a fortunate coincidence, you'll find that those same scholarly
notes point out an example of "bowdlerization" that helps us
understand what the term properly means. To "bowdlerize" is not
merely to edit but "to expurgate (a play, novel, or other written
work) by removing or changing passages one considers vulgar or
It is ironic, then, to find this word so viciously hurled against the
edition that restores several words and passages bowdlerized out of
the first edition of "Bhagavad-gita As It Is."
1.40: In his original manuscript, Srila Prabhupada
said, "the women of the family become polluted." In the
first edition, Srila Prabhupada's strong word
"polluted" (vulgar? objectionable?) was tamed down to
"corrupt." In the second edition, his original vivid
word has been restored.
10.21: In his original dictation, Srila Prabhupada had
something definite to say about the relationship
between the moon and the stars. But perhaps it was
considered scientifically objectionable. In the first
edition, it was expurgated--entirely taken out. In the
second edition, you'll find it restored.
10.42: In his original dictation, Srila Prabhupada (at
the beginning of the second paragraph of his purport)
pointed his transcendental finger at a well-known
Indian mission: "There is a regular proponent of
mission to advertise that one can worship any form of
demigods and that will lead one to the Supreme
Personality of Godhead or the Supreme Goal." In the
first edition--expurgated. Second edition--restored.
11.52: In his original dictation, Srila Prabhupada ends
the first paragraph of his purport by blasting the
"foolish person" who offers respect not to Krsna but to
the impersonal "something" within Krsna. But in the
first edition, that blast (too strong?) has been
deleted. In the second edition, restored.
16.7: Here's one that deserves a kindly chuckle. In the
original text of the first paragraph, where Srila
Prabhupada talks about cleanliness, he mentioned not
only bathing, brushing teeth, and changing clothes but
also "shaving." But in the first edition the reference
to shaving (offensive to our then bearded editors?) was
expurgated--shaved off. In the second edition--
Restoring such expurgated words from our founder-acarya is what is now
vilified as "bastardization." You decide.
By the way, any modern edition of Shakespeare you might pick up (and
you won't be hard pressed to find one) is edited. Thomas Bowdler's
Shakespeare-aparadha was not that he edited but that he expurgated.
(Also by the way: If we're looking for an example in the Eastern
tradition of an editor who worked after the departure of his authors,
shall we start with Vyasadeva?)
The authors of diatribes would like us to believe that the principle
of "arsa-prayog" enjoins that the mistakes of an acarya's editors
should be held sacred. We find that assertion, well, weird.
For example, in the first edition (at the very end of the purport to
2.1) we find:
"This realization is made possible by working with the
fruitive being situated in the fixed conception of the
Ever had to explain that? The diatribe tells us that these are "the
sacred, memorialized realizations of an exalted Acarya." But go
ahead--try to make sense of it.
When we look in Srila Prabhupada's manuscript, we find that here's
what he intended:
"This realization is possible when one works without
attachment to fruitive results and is situated in the
fixed conception of the real self."
Sensible, no? But supposedly "arsa-prayog" obliges us to glorify the
acarya by preserving the goofs of his editors as if they were his own.
For numerous other examples, with the published editions and the
original manuscripts side by side, please see
The BBT, the Gita-bashing tells us, claims that the revisions and
restorations in the second edition "are authorized merely because
certain editors were permitted" to edit during Srila Prabhupada's
lifetime "and because, at that time, Srila Prabhupada expressed a
certain degree of confidence in their editorial ability."
"A certain degree," eh? How coy! The cagey wording surely reflects a
knowledge of what Srila Prabhupada actually said:
"Concerning the editing of Jayadvaita Prabhu, whatever
he does is approved by me. I have confidence in him."
(Letter to Radhavallabha, 7 September 76)
Like it or not, no "certain degree" is expressed. Rather, the
endorsement is full-hearted and unreserved. (It's not my fault. His
Divine Grace said what he said.) And editing, of course, is not
something Srila Prabhupada merely "permitted," it's what he told us he
Our critic tells us, "What really strikes me is how unfortunate it is
that there is need for this discussion at all."
And here we agree. The first edition of "Bhagavad-gita As It Is" is an
excellent book. For those who prefer it, it's available. We publish
it. And we would hope that those who prefer it would spend their
valuable time reading it, rather than fomenting internet flame wars.
Srila Prabhupada used to say, "These books are not just for
distributing, they're for reading." Perhaps in these days he might
say, "These books are not just for criticizing. . . ."
If you're with a group that has a license to publish the first
edition--if you're their lawyer, or whatever--publicize how great it
is. Fine with us. But bashing the second edition (especially when
you're someone who has promised us you won't) is--well, better I not
When we think about "sensitivity or knowledge of spiritual etiquette"
regarding how to honor our acarya's sacred instructions, we'd be hard
pressed to find evidence that what he'd want us doing is bickering in
the public media. Did he ever say, "The lawyers should criticize the
The instruction I remember is "Your love for me will be tested by how
you cooperate." And that's why, before publishing the second edition,
we first consulted senior devotees and the GBC. Srila Prabhupada
personally taught me what to do as his editor; he kindly expressed his
confidence in me; and his personal secretary, writing on his behalf
less than four months before Srila Prabhupada left, reconfirmed Srila
Prabhupada's desire that "in the future any mistakes which are found"
should be "rectified." Yet spiritual etiquette (and whatever spiritual
sensitivity I had) told me I should take humble consultation from
senior devotees around the movement, including the temple presidents,
the sannyasis, and the members of the GBC.
I worked on both the first edition and the second (many of the
first-edition blunders corrected in the second edition were my own),
and I don't claim to be more than a fallen conditioned soul. But my
small request would be this:
Whichever books you prefer, in a spirit of loving cooperation let us
read Srila Prabhupada's books, live Srila Prabhupada's books, and
distribute Srila Prabhupada's books, for our own benefit and the
benefit of others.
Thank you. Hare Krsna.
Hoping this finds you in good health,