[Ed. Note: this article is part of a series by the author]
The remainder of this article will focus mainly on the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, which contains the essence of vaisnava philosophy. Srila Prabhupada said that the Krishna consciousness movement is genuine, historically authorized, natural and transcendental due to its being based on the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. It was his conviction that the entire human society could embrace one God, Krishna, and live harmoniously by practicing one religion, devotional service to God, by chanting one mantra, the Hare Krishna Mahamantra, and by following one scripture, the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Because the Bhagavad-gita is so vitally important to the spreading of Krishna consciousness, the adverse effect of changing its original wording without the approval of the acarya can hardly be estimated.
Srila Prabhupada's Bhagavad-gita was first published in 1968 by the MacMillan Publishing Company in an abridged format of less than 400 pages. The book sold well in book stores and was well received by the academic community. A very encouraging letter of appreciation was submitted by Dr. Haridasa Chaudhuri, President of the Asiatic Studies Institute of San Francisco, who wrote:
"The Bhagavad-gita As It Is is without doubt the best presentation so far to the western public of the teachings of Lord Krishna from the standpoint of Vaisnava tradition and devotional Hindu mysticism."
Srila Prabhupada took these words as a favorable sign, but he was not happy that to make his book more marketable, MacMillan had omitted many of his important purports, especially from the later chapters of the Gita. The book's popularity warranted two additional printings in 1969 and 1970, but MacMillan was still not ready to print the complete edition. While they procrastinated, Srila Prabhupada grew impatient and decided that his own press would print the unabridged Gita. MacMillan, seeing how the demand for Srila Prabhupada's complete Bhagavad-gita continued to increase, finally agreed to do the printing.
It is interesting to note that while planning to print the unabridged version of the Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada often referred to it as the "revised and enlarged" edition. Oddly enough, after the BBT published its unauthorized adulterated Gita years later, they would henceforward refer to the 1972 printing as the "original" edition while calling theirs the "revised and enlarged" edition. This appears to be a subtle act of deception meant to validate the irreverent practice of changing Srila Prabhupada's books. It is evident from the following references that it is indeed the 1972 MacMillan printing that should be referred to as the revised and enlarged edition of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is:
"I am thinking of publishing a revised and enlarged edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is." (Letter to Rayarama dated 3-6-69)
"Our first printing will be this, what is the name? Nectar of Devotion. And then, if possible, Bhagavad-gita As It Is, revised and enlarged." (Conversation of 12-24-69)
"So your next compositions shall be Bhagavad-gita As It Is, revised and enlarged. Please do it nicely." (Letter to Pradyumna dated 2-22-70)
"As soon as this indexing is finished, I shall publish another revised and enlarged edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is at my own cost." (Letter to Satsvarupa dated 6-27-69)
"Immediately I want $17,000 for printing Bhagavad-gita As It Is in a new enlarged and revised edition, so try to help in this connection." (Letter to Bali Mardan dated 1-6-71)
A comparison of the two complete editions reveals several important differences between them, besides changes made in the text. Most significantly, the index of the Bhagavad-gita was reduced from eighty pages in the original to only twenty pages in the current edition, while the number of color plates decreased significantly from forty-eight to sixteen. When the first complete edition came out, it was nearly six hundred pages longer than the abridged edition printed in 1968. But when the BBT published its updated version of the Gita, it had added only a few paragraphs to the text that were accidentally left out of the original. It is obvious, then, that the Bhagavad-gita As It Is published by MacMillan in 1972 was the actual revised and enlarged edition. The Gita that is currently sold by the BBT is the unauthorized, revised and reduced adulteration of Srila Prabhupada's original Gita.
On December 24, 1969, Srila Prabhupada met in Boston with a group of devotees who were working on his publications at ISKCON Press. During the meeting, he gave his disciples guidelines for writing articles for Back to Godhead magazine and then took the opportunity to discuss his plans for publishing the complete Bhagavad-Gita As It Is. Present at that meeting were Satsvarupa, Pradyumna, Hayagriva, Kirtanananda, Jayadvaita and Brahmananda. An excerpt from the transcript of their discussion shown below reveals how Srila Prabhupada reached the decision to use the same verses exactly as they appeared in the abridged MacMillan Gita to produce the complete, revised and enlarged edition of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
When the subject of the Bhagavad-gita is raised in the conversation, Hayagriva first notes that the wording of the verses had been touched up by MacMillan's own professional editors to improve their readability. Srila Prabhupada then suggests that to prepare the complete edition of the Bhagavad-gita, they should use the verses just as they appeared in the abridged MacMillan Gita. He clearly does not recommend any further editing of the verses. He and his staff seem to be very satisfied with the translation of the verses already in print. Then, whatever purports had been left out of the abridged edition would be added back, and, to make it complete, Pradyumna, his Sanskrit editor, would add the transliteration of the verses and their word meanings. In a nutshell, this was Srila Prabhupada's plan to assemble and publish the much-awaited complete edition of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is.
Conversation of December 24, 1969 with BTG and Book Production Staff in Boston
Hayagriva: I know the translations themselves, they were somewhat changed in Bhagavad-gita As It Is as it came out in MacMillan (the abridged edition). Did you like those translations?
SP: Whichever is better, you think. That's all. You can follow this MacMillan.
Hayagriva: They're good. I think they're very good.
SP: Yes. You can follow that translation. Simply synonyms he can add, transliterations.
Hayagriva: And we have all the purports. We can include everything. Nothing will be deleted. Everything will be in there.
SP: That's all right.
Having settled the issue, Srila Prabhupada would thereafter never recommend that the verses of the Bhagavad-gita be changed in any way. In fact, when one of the editors from ISKCON Press subsequently submitted a proposal to change the particular wording of a Bhagavad-gita verse and purport, His Divine Grace rejected the idea, stating that whatever had been printed previously should remain "as it is":
"I have dictated the missing purports from Chapter Nine and they are sent enclosed herewith. So far changing the wording of verse or purport of 12:12 discussed before, it may remain as it is." (Letter to Jayadvaita dated 3-17-71)
This letter clearly documents Srila Prabhupada's resistance to having changes made in the wording of the verses and purports of his Bhagavad-gita once it had been published. It also shows how the opinion of his editors was often incorrect regarding the changes they thought needed to be made, and how their opinion was often overruled by His Divine Grace. If, in pursuance of the rule of arsa prayoga, the BBT editors had seen fit to apply the instruction in the above letter ("It may remain as it is") to the Bhagavad-gita in its entirety, the whole issue of book changes would have been completely resolved long ago.
To guarantee that his writings would always be available to the public, Srila Prabhupada registered the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust as a legal entity separate from ISKCON. When it was discovered that some ISKCON centers were doing their own printing independently, taking the collection and spending it outside of the jurisdiction of the BBT, a memorandum was sent out to the entire society stating that His Divine Grace would not allow the independent printing of his books by third parties because it could cause the financial ruin of the BBT.