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:

http://www.libraryofamerica.org/volume.jsp?RequestID=43§ion=notes

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 objectionable."

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."

For example:

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-- restored.

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.

Why?

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 real self."

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 www.krishna.com/newsite/GitaRevsExplained.html.

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 wanted.

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 say.

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 editors"?

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,

Your servant,
Jayadvaita Swami