Books go through several stages of editing on their way from first draft to being ready to go to press. Usually, different editors with appropriate backgrounds, qualifications and skill levels perform these different stages of editorial work. The ‘original manuscripts’ excerpted on Jayadvaita Maharaja’s website defending his changes to Bhagavad-gita As It Is clearly have received spelling and grammatical edits. It is obvious to the trained eye of an experienced editor that they are ready for the next stage, the style edit. Srila Prabhupada engaged Hayagriva, a highly trained and qualified English writer, poet and editor, as a comprehension and style editor to give Bhagavad-gita As It Is a poetic, flowing, readable style acceptable to the widest audience as well as the most highly educated class of intelligent readers.
Srila Prabhupada came from Krsna-loka to “write some books.” He was happy with those books; he read and re-read them from cover to cover. His books were always kept within his reach in any room in which he stayed. When he received a new book from the press, he would sit and read it for hours, and when someone would enter the room, he would lift his eyes from the text, smile broadly and exclaim, “How wonderful these books are!”
Certainly, the few typos that slipped through needed Srila Prabhupada’s correction, but the scope of alterations in Jayadvaita Maharaja’s edited version is far broader. Jayadvaita Maharaja’s version of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita doesn’t just correct typos; it also succeeds in changing Srila Prabhupada’s mood, style and often, his meaning. Indeed, after Srila Prabhupada’s departure, the original Bhagavad-gita was rewritten to suit the taste of the editors, on the plea that it is closer to—in Jayadvaita Maharaja’s opinion—the ‘original manuscript.’ But Jayadvaita Maharaja stated in the second book changes meeting in Hawaii that there were many ‘original manuscripts’ of varying quality and content. There is no one ‘original manuscript.’
In this case, any changes are really unreasonable, when you consider that Srila Prabhupada had the original manuscripts in hand, but chose to sign off on the edited version. Why didn’t he just choose to print one of those manuscripts? Why did he, instead, spend hundreds of hours with Hayagriva, editing his manuscript to flow beautifully in the English language? Moreover, why would Srila Prabhupada sign it and gift it to the world, if he intended that future editors would dig up some so-called ‘original manuscripts’ and try to change it back to the ‘original.’ It is unreasonable to consider that Srila Prabhupada would intend to give up the results of two years of editing the book with Hayagriva and go backwards to the ‘original manuscripts.’
Srila Prabhupada’s books were transcendental when he wrote, edited and approved them, and they became the foundation of his International Society for Krishna Consciousness. So how can anyone say that they aren’t transcendental now? He spoke from the original 1972 edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is for over half a decade, giving hundreds of classes on nearly every verse and chapter. Srila Prabhupada infused his books with his pure bhakti. ‘Errors’ or no errors, they are, and continue to be, transcendental portals to the spiritual world. That is, unless someone views them with ‘mundane vision.’
When Jayadvaita Maharaja presents his rationale for editing Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is to the public, he quotes a few passages from Bhagavad-gita As It Is that are obviously confusing, and claims, “these need to be changed.” For example, he cites “planet of the trees” [Bg. 1972 edition 10.24 P] and “cattle raising” [Bg. 1972 edition 18.44 T]. He uses these isolated examples to justify his wholesale rewriting of the entire Gita. Perhaps no one would object if Jayadvaita Maharaja had noted those few changes authorized by Srila Prabhupada in footnotes or an addendum, instead of making sweeping, unauthorized editorial changes to virtually the entire book. If he feels there are confusing aspects, or as he himself is fond of putting it, “goofs” in Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is, then these portions can be selected and clarified in a published addendum or series of footnotes without changing the meaning of any other part of the book.
Krsna sent Srila Prabhupada an army—perhaps it was an army of monkeys and bears, but each and every one was sent to Srila Prabhupada for a specific task or purpose. Hayagriva’s task was editing Bhagavad-gita and other books. He began work in 1966 and worked closely with Srila Prabhupada through 1968. My tasks were different. I was in my fourth year of college when I met Srila Prabhupada, so perhaps I was materially qualified to edit Srila Prabhupada’s books, but that was not the job given to me. Srila Prabhupada had already chosen his Bhagavad-gita editor: Hayagriva. I was given other tasks, to illustrate the cover of the first Macmillan Gita, the early Back to Godhead magazines and Teachings of Lord Caitanya. In 1968 and 1969, I served Srila Prabhupada by transcribing Nectar of Devotion and Caitanya-caritamrta. I also served by taking daily dictation for his numerous letters during my time of being Srila Prabhupada’s servant and secretary from late 1967 to early 1969. It was not necessarily a question of mundane qualification. We were the army Krsna sent to Srila Prabhupada, and he, our General, used us according to his divine vision.
Jayadvaita Maharaja was later engaged as a BBT editor, along with others, and Srila Prabhupada much appreciated his editing work. But this fact does not give him blanket authority or license to rewrite Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is after his departure. Srila Prabhupada trusted me to transcribe and edit his letters daily, but I certainly don’t assume now that I have any right to go in and edit or change his letters!
Therefore, once Srila Prabhupada was satisfied, he signed the letter or book, and at that point it must be seen as a finished work. No one should touch it. You may ask, “Shall we leave the typos?” but that’s not the issue. Jayadvaita Maharaja has rewritten the whole book according to some manuscripts that he believes to be the original—and which Srila Prabhupada did not choose to print. Rather, in both 1968 and 1972 Srila Prabhupada chose to print the edited version, not a manuscript.
The overriding fact is that Srila Prabhupada never told Jayadvaita Maharaja or anyone else to edit his books after he left. I repeat, Srila Prabhupada never gave Jayadvaita Maharaja or anybody authority to edit or change his books after his departure. Instead, he said, “Print the books the original way.” By late 1976, he was acutely aware of the ‘American disease’ of compulsively changing things, so he chose the safest route to protect his books: “NO CHANGES.”
Not only was Jayadvaita Maharaja not given authority to edit Srila Prabhupada’s books, he also did not obtain the blessings of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples. Yes, the GBC did resolve by a one-vote margin to approve Jayadvaita Maharaja’s proposal to edit Bhagavad-gita As It Is. But what about the opinion of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples? The great majority of them either left or were pushed out of ISKCON in the years following Srila Prabhupada’s departure. Were they consulted? And when they discovered the massive changes to Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is, many complained, but their voices were not heard or acknowledged.
After Srila Prabhupada left in 1977, a decade of confusion ensued. Many mistakes were made and many wrongs committed. For all practical purposes, Srila Prabhupada was pushed aside. His books were then edited in this post-disappearance era, when the mood in ISKCON was, “We can do better than Srila Prabhupada.” Time has proven otherwise.
How will history view this era? They will likely see it as the ‘Dark Ages’ of ISKCON. Fifty years from now, all the players and characters will be dead and forgotten, even the ‘big, important leaders.’ But Srila Prabhupada and his original books will remain as a beacon to light the path of human society for the next 10,000 years.
Our duty as disciples of Srila Prabhupada is to see that his original words, his adi-vani, are not lost to time and to repeated changes by editors, as was the Bible. We must speak out—while we are still present in this world. For the future welfare of the world we must leave a wide mark so that historians will know for certain which of the editions of Bhagavad-gita As It Is was actually authorized by Srila Prabhupada.
If one unauthorized edition can reach such a wide audience, how many future versions can we expect to be printed bearing Srila Prabhupada’s signature? Surely in a few years, someone will want to improve on Jayadvaita Maharaja’s edition, and so on and on. Once we open the door to post-disappearance changes, the flood of changes will occur and reoccur indefinitely. There will be no end to it. We must close this door now—in our lifetime.
We who are inspired by Srila Prabhupada’s original books must speak out, so people in the future can clearly see what happened. Our greatest responsibility as disciples of Srila Prabhupada is to protect his original, authorized and approved books and ensure that they will be there to guide Humanity in this Kali Age. Either we correct this mess now, or history will correct it for us—with the loss of Srila Prabhupada’s original words, his adi-vani—forever. We have a duty to speak out for Srila Prabhupada’s books, for our guru. Like in the Battle of Kuruksetra, there are no neutral positions. This is no time for silence. Our silence indicates agreement. How can we, as disciples of Srila Prabhupada, agree with changing the very words that are Srila Prabhupada’s lasting presence on this earth? We must speak out, and we must be heard.
Yours in the service of Srila Prabhupada,