Swami—Please Come In From The Cold!
Curious thing it is that Jayadwaita Swami continues to staunchly defend his position, rebuffing the alienation and anger of the many devotees, rather than admit any malfeasance in the matter and come in from the cold. Perhaps he hasn’t noticed the cold. After all, he probably gets respect wherever he goes. In fact, the last time I saw him, even though I strongly disagree with his position on the un-annotated posthumous editing of Srila Prabhupada’s books I showed him due respect (early training in Vaishnava etiquette? Wimp factor? I dunno). So perhaps the Maharaja isn’t aware of how many devotees are demoralized by what he has done. In fact, put yourself in Jayadwaita Swami shoes. He gets respect from the upper echelons for his life-long service. A few rank and file, or rapscallions even, can’t appreciate his work? What to do? You can’t please everyone. Do they even read enough to know the difference? The GBC are behind him anyway, and they are the leaders after all, and thus the persons who are fit to pass judgment on his service. What can be done about the rest?
For an editor that has labored hard for many years to make the work fit for public consumption is it possible to expect Jayadwaita Swami to respond in any other way? After all, we are souls conditioned by our experiences in this world and he must necessarily have become conditioned to working and thinking in the way of an editor. It really is unreasonable to expect him to see and act differently. If your a hammer the entire world looks like a nail. To an editor who has spent years making things better, everything written surely provokes the response of needing an edit. (I empathize. Since I have been writing I find myself helplessly correcting the grammar of others in spoken conversation!) And since he had been given carte blanche by Srila Prabhupada, he has stated his position to maintain the prerogative as he sees fit, and that such license continues unabated. (never to be revoked we presume. Interestingly, this would be applying the same argument the ritviks use regarding the July 9th letter. Was that in “Where the Ritviks Are Right”?).
So who can really blame the Maharaja for his way of seeing things? For the sake of good will can we say that we can understand how he would do so? Well, try. Now, can Jayadwaita Swami be so liberal as to reciprocate the effort? What does it look like from the other side for him?
Well, on the other side we have thousands of devotees who saw that as soon as their shelter, their very life and soul, wound up his manifest pastimes here in this world, those very persons to whom he had entrusted his life’s work were making mincemeat of it. Those who were supposed to be the trustees of his legacy began to devour it, all to the horror of those who had worked so hard by their service to His Divine Grace to make it the beautiful experience that it was. Abuses, manipulations, and every unfortunate experience that was not supposed to have taken place did. For many it was too much. They left by the thousands, broken-hearted and confused. And of all horrors, it was being undone by the trustees themselves! Was nothing hallowed enough, valued enough, to remain as it had been, and in the state it was successfully employed to create the greatly enthusiastic energy of the Hare Krishna Movement? Trustee means a to hold in trust for another—not to do what one damn well pleases with it. It is a fiduciary responsibility for the benefit of someone else. But that benefit—a strong and bona fide institution capable of giving shelter to the conditioned souls seeking refuge from the travails of Maya—was being subverted by those who were supposed to protect it!
We must remember that the book changes did not appear as an isolated event in an otherwise progressive continuation of the wonderful movement to save humankind. It was quite the opposite. To many it was abominably regressive. And it is absolutely necessary to understand the changes of the books in that context (and I believe if anything I have understated it significantly, not wanting to open those wounds too deeply yet again. You know of what I speak Maharaja—you have written about these wrongs yourself). And it was the context of those times that gave your efforts, although undoubtedly done with all good will and the purest of intentions, a sinister mark, becoming yet another confirmation that a systematic effort was being made to destroy what Srila Prabhupada created. (and the controversy lives on to this very day since it has been only an almost continuously employed rearguard action that would alter such a perception among the remainder of us who were there in 1983). To the rank and file devotees who gave their blissful gifts of devotional service, and in some cases their blood, sweat and tears, sacrificing the best years of their lives, it is difficult if not impossible to be seen in any other way.
In that context can Jayadwaita Swami be at all critical of their dismay, their sadness and their anger at his work, however well-intentioned he may have been? Can he step into their shoes long enough to understand that what he had done was all too symptomatic of the problems endemic in the society, and that his editing had done had nothing at all to do with any solution? After all, at the time the original grammatical or contextual errors were not seen as a very serious problem (and still aren’t by most). There was no grass-roots uprising calling on the responsible BBT trustees to do something! already, as there is now. Practically speaking, there was little problem with the books at all. The problems were everywhere else, and now comes Jayadwaita Swami adding immeasurably to them with the result of his service.
Seeing the revisions in that light can the good swami help but understand how these devotees feel, and does that not make him just a bit remorseful and a little chagrined? Do not the feelings and opinions of these many good souls mean something? And if so, wouldn’t it be appropriate to acknowledge the validity of their opinions by perhaps suggesting that it might just be a good thing, a healing thing, and a very gracious thing, to determine to restore the original text, in all future editions, sans the patently obviously needed corrections?
Can you Maharaja, imagine what good will such an act would create? Why, much of the internecine strife might just evaporate in the euphoria! The schisms melt away. What a demonstration of your personal value of Srila Prabhupada’s “devotional ecstasies”. Such an act might even be the springboard of a once-again united family, an army of spiritual soldiers ready to take the field once again armed with book bags and a renewed enthusiasm not seen in decades; an enthusiasm that would belie their wrinkles and now graying hair!
Well, although we can always wish for the best I don’t want to generate any false hopes simply to be dashed on the rocks of a different reality. And although my appeal to Jayadwaita Swami is genuine, as is my hope that the BBT will someday revert to the original text, I have become too cynical to expect such a demonstration of concern for the “common devotees” or even the legacy of Lord Caitanya’s senapati bhakta, our founder-acarya. (I would be happy though to be made to eat my words). But one could hope that if enough devotees made their heartfelt appeal to the good swami that such an effect would be the result. Failing that extreme good fortune, let me then call upon Jayadvaita Maharaja and the other BBT directors (on the web they are no longer called trustees for some reason) to at least create a definitive BBT policy regarding how editorial changes are to be made, under what conditions changes are permissible, how they are to be annotated, and for how long such “adjustments” will be allowed before an absolute freeze on all other changes is mandated. Can you at least give us this for hope? In her recent insightful and soulful account of the early days, Govinda Dasi makes the excellent point that successive ‘imperceptible’ edits may be made on into the future, ad infinitum. And why not? The standard has been set by the individual who was personally given Srila Prabhupada’s imprimatur, and as we know, what the leader does will be imitated by those who follow in his wake. Would it be that they would imitate your own unwavering and steadfast determination to value and defend His Divine Grace’s legacy as it was. Please come in from the cold Maharaja.
In Srila Prabhupada’s service, I am,
Evening Discussion -- May 6, 1975, Perth
Paramahaàsa: In some cases, in a more controversial case, the word chosen, or the meaning chosen for a particular Sanskrit word, may change the whole meaning of the verse, but because...
Prabhupäda: Therefore you have to take the paramparä meaning. Because we are foolish, we cannot understand properly. Tad vijïärthaà sa gurum eväbhigacchet. Therefore, one has to go to guru and understand the meaning by paramparä. You cannot make your own meaning. The meaning is already there. But if you cannot understand, then you should approach guru and understand the meaning by paramparä.
Paramahaàsa: Sometimes people ask where Swami Prabhupäda get his meanings for different words, because they would differ, they would disagree and pick some other word. But they don’t know that you are simply taking the verse and the meaning of the words word for word, as the previous äcäryas have done.
Prabhupäda: Kåñëa says. You take that meaning. Where is the difficulty? You do not know, and neither you accept Kåñëa’s words. Therefore you remain foolish. You foolishly... First of all you do not know, you are imperfect. And one who knows, you do not take his words. Then you remain foolish. What can we do? What is the answer? You are foolish. So you have to know from others. When we say that you take from others who are perfect, then you will not take. And you are foolish, so remain foolish. What can we do? Hmm?
Paramahaàsa: Sometimes people ask, though, they say, “Why is it that even among the äcäryas sometimes we find there is a difference of opinion?”
Prabhupäda: They are not äcäryas. They are not äcäryas. There is no difference of understanding between äcäryas. What Madhväcärya understands, we also understand. Suppose you are present also. So there is no difference. What Rämänujäcärya understands, we also understand. What Caitanya Mahäprabhu understand, we also understand. So where is the difference? Difference should be that the fact that he is not äcärya. As soon as he differs from the previous äcäryas, that means he is not äcärya. Otherwise there is full agreement between all the äcäryas.