Govinda dasi: When we had the meetings here [Honolulu Temple], one of the things that Jayadvaita Maharaja said was that they [the BBT trustees] did not ever prevent devotees from printing the books. But we had a letter from Dhanistha dasi, she’s an old book distributor. I don’t know her personally, but she wrote a letter saying that she had approached, she called Jayadvaita in 1996 or 95, to print the books, 5,000, she had the money to do it, and she approached in as simple and stupid a way as possible, just like “Please, just for sentiment,” and so forth, and she was refused.
There’s some reason going on, that they don’t want Srila Prabhupada’s books. You have these books available, but the BBT newsletter in the temple lobby states clearly that the temples cannot buy from Krishna Books Inc.
Devotee: They can buy them from the BBT, but at higher prices than the changed books. But just for the record, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
Govinda dasi: OK, I’ll just go over the notes from the meetings. As you know, we had a series of meetings with Jayadvaita Maharaja: two meetings, actually. And one of the things that we had to make very clear is that this is not a personal issue—that we don’t like Jayadvaita’s writing, or we don’t like his editing work. That really isn’t the issue at all. It’s not how the books were edited; it’s the fact that they were edited.
The issue is not—and of course, he took it a bit personally but I think he did understand eventually that that wasn’t our point—that we think he’s a great writer, and he should write and edit many books—but not Srila Prabhupada’s books. They should be left as they are. So that’s the main issue, actually, the main issue.
He feels that the 1972 edition is not in keeping with manuscript, which he only has access to, and is not available to anyone else that he knows about. And that’s just not the issue. The issue is that when you write something, even if you have an original manuscript—I’m a writer, and I may have three [versions] in the trash before I print something—but whatever I sign my name to and I print, that is the final edition. That’s what I approve for the world to see. And that’s really the issue here.
Srila Prabhupada approved of his Gita. He not only approved of it; he spent ten years lecturing from it. Every verse of the Bhagavad-gita, except for a few verses in the First Chapter, Srila Prabhupada spoke on over a period of ten years. He had ample opportunity to say, “Change this, change this, change this.” But he only requested a couple of changes. There was ‘cattle raising’ he wanted changed to ‘cow protection,’ and I believe there was one other, dhyana-yoga or something like that. Those were very small changes.
Bhaktisiddhartha Prabhu: He wrote that book twice, because the original Bhagavad-gita manuscript was stolen during his household life. It must have said exactly what he wanted it to say, because he wrote it twice.
Govinda dasi: It was mysteriously, that was before, in the early times. Personally, being a writer and an artist, it has always amazed me that somebody could start over from scratch. I think about that sometimes, when I start getting discouraged with some work. Srila Prabhupada started over from scratch: no Xerox copy, no computer. That’s dedication. So anyway, he knew what he was doing.
And somehow or other, anyway the issue is that you can’t change books post-disappearance or posthumously. And as we discussed, Keli, Satyahit’s wife, did a lot of research on the word ‘bowdlerizing.’ Bowdler was a fellow that lived in the 16th century or 18th century—it was after Shakespeare—and he was the fellow that changed all the books. The original meaning was expurgated, meaning that he went over Shakespeare’s books, and he changed any passages for English schoolgirls, if they had any risqué parts, he took them out. So when a book is changed posthumously, among the scholarly community it’s called bowdlerizing. It’s sort of like bastardizing, it has that connotation. I have information from a Ph.D., Hari-kanta, she sent me an email stating that it has a bad connotation.
And also Dr. John Trimble, the professor of English that I took a course from in 1998. I was unaware in 1998 that the books had been bowdlerized, because I had my own set. I’m like so may other Srila Prabhupada disciples sitting at home with their own sets of books. But unknown to me, my spiritual master’s books had all been completely changed. So when I was in Texas, I went out and got myself a Gita at the local temple. And I opened it up, and I said, “What the hell happened to this book!?” [laughter] Excuse me; I was in Texas. It didn’t even sound anything like Srila Prabhupada’s Gita. So I went to Professor Trimble, and he explained that it had been bowdlerized. And so, Dr. Trimble was the first person to tell me this word; I’d never heard of it before.
So Keli contacted him, and Dr. Trimble wrote a letter back, which is a very interesting letter. Bear in mind that Dr. Trimble wrote Writing With Style. There’s not a writer on earth that doesn’t have this book. There are two [main reference books for writers]—Elements of Style, by Strunk and White, and Writing With Style.
Devotee: Without getting into that debate, because then we could be here for quite some time… I don’t want to get into that debate, because by going into that debate, I am violating Srila Prabhupada’s order not to change one word. Srila Prabhupada didn’t care… In other words, to say that we haven’t changed the philosophy… well, we were told that about so many things. To say that “We haven’t changed the philosophy, so that’s alright,” is really a slap in the face to Srila Prabhupada, who specifically said, “Don’t change it.” So what part about, ‘Don’t change it,’ or the word ‘no,’ don’t they understand? In other words, you can come up with all kinds of rationalizations—‘it’s closer to the manuscript,’ ‘we didn’t change the meaning’—you can go on and on. But we have our spiritual master pounding his desk, saying, “Don’t change one word; this is your American disease.” And even now, there’s a discussion that we should start taking out some of the passages that are not politically correct.
So in other words, you may come up with so many disingenuous arguments—‘Well, it doesn’t change the meaning,’ or ‘It’s closer to the original manuscript’—and this is only 25 years after Srila Prabhupada is gone that this has come to pass, that all the books have been changed. What’s going to happen in another 25 years, another 25 years, another 25 years? We will be just like the Christian Bible! Whatever an institution decides is politically correct or economically viable will then become the standard. So we’re going, “No! No changes. That’s what Srila Prabhupada said, that’s what the scholarly community says, and that’s what the sastra says.” So we don’t even want to go into the manuscript (which of course, nobody is allowed to see), and we don’t need to go into whether they changed the meaning or not. I just come back to, “What part about ‘no’ don’t you understand?”
Satyahit Prabhu: Jayadvaita Swami said that the intention for the future is to write new books adapted from Srila Prabhupada’s teaching. In other words, their plan is not to go on distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books but to adapt the philosophy and write new ones.
Devotee: In other words, “We don’t like this, we’ll take out this, we’ll change this, we’ll do that.” So, people can do as they like, just don’t put Srila Prabhupada’s name on it. Srila Prabhupada didn’t write it, Srila Prabhupada didn’t authorize it, Srila Prabhupada didn’t approve it; don’t put his name on it. Put your name on it, and go get your own scholarly reviews, and go get your own devotees to distribute them. As for us, what Srila Prabhupada did is good enough for me, it’s good enough for all the other acaryas, it’s good enough for all the Vaisnava sampradayas on the planet—I’m personally going to stick with that. And if somebody wants to do something different, be my guest. I just don’t want to be there when the Yamadutas show up.
Govinda dasi: Bowdlerizing is what happened to the Bible, and Bowdler was responsible for a great deal of what happened to the Bible. I’m not an authority on this, but Keli, Satyahit’s wife, has done a great deal of research on this, and the changes to the Bible—there were many of them made—basically, it’s been bowdlerized.
Now, this is from a PhD named Dr. Holly Ogren, regarding the definition and usage of the word ‘bowdlerizing:’ “Generally, the word has a negative connotation for the person doing the bowdlerizing. If you can access the Oxford Dictionary, you can find more information to support this position.”
Now hear what Dr. Trimble has to say. Keli wrote Dr. Trimble:
Dear Professor Trimble,
You don’t know me, but I’m a friend of a former student of yours, Bonnie McElroy [Govinda dasi]. She and I are both members of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. The principal editor of our spiritual master’s books is here in Hawaii promoting his editorial changes, which many of our members are very unhappy with. Bonnie remembers a conversation she had with you a few years ago about bowdlerizing, and after reading Dr. Bowdler’s Legacy: a History of Expurgated Books in England and America by Noel Perrin, I realized that this is what the editors of our spiritual master’s books have been doing. Their rationalization and plea is to correct the grammar and English—supposedly to make it more acceptable to the scholarly community. They have gone farther by changing the meaning through subtle word jugglery. The reason I have written is to ask you, ‘What is the scholarly response to posthumous editing, especially of religious texts?’ Our community is meeting with the editor tomorrow; could you please write me. It would be good to know your response for further discussion.
Dr. Trimble’s reply:
Regularizing the spelling and grammar is one thing; “improving” the meaning is another, especially when such changes aren’t expressly acknowledged. I think the editor should be challenged. At the very least, he should have to justify every “improvement” that isn’t strictly grammatical. The burden of proof is on him, not on you.
Hope this helps,
Now this is from a scholar, the best writer; he wrote the legal encyclopedia. So this guy knows his stuff. So this argument, that ‘We’ve made it more acceptable to the scholarly community,’ just doesn’t fly.
Devotee: I was at a meeting at the LA temple with a number of senior devotees—and one devotee was putting forth the idea, “Well what about the scholars?” Another devotee said, “So what if there are a couple of scholars that think this or that; the whole Vaisnava community is in an uproar about it; I think maybe we should worry about that first.”
The second thing I always like to point out is that 99.99% of all our glorious scholarly reviews are done from the original authorized and approved version, and I don’t that we have more than a handful that are done from the new version. In other words, all of our scholarly reviews—of which there are hundreds—are done from authorized and approved versions, and not from the new ‘better for scholars’ version.