Misconceptions have been circulating about the authorship of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada). For example, it is a mistake to think that his books were written by his editors. The facts demonstrate that Srila Prabhupada translated, wrote, edited, and published his books while using his disciples as assistants. In contrast, the so-called editing of his books without his knowledge and consent is really rewriting by hidden co-authors.
Srila Prabhupada is an extraordinary author unsurpassed in history because he translated, wrote, edited, published, and distributed millions of books worldwide, translated in many languages. He trained hundreds of disciples to assist him in this monumental work. Srila Prabhupada created his own publishing house, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT). He created his own distribution system of temples, the Life Membership program, and book distributors who developed innovative methods to distribute books. He engaged millions of people in producing, distributing and receiving his transcendental books, and thus engaged them in the pure devotional service of Lord Caitanya’s movement.
Srila Prabhupada was a published author before he reached America. In India, without help, he translated, wrote, edited, published and distributed the three volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam, First Canto, the paperback Easy Journey to Other Planets, and many issues of Back to Godhead magazine. He wrote a second manuscript for the Bhagavad-gita to replace his first one which had been stolen.
Of course, he recognized his difficulties in presenting transcendental knowledge in a foreign language. In the Preface to each volume of Srimad Bhagavatam, he appealed to the readers: “I must admit my frailties in presenting Srimad Bhagavatam, but still I am hopeful of its good reception by the thinkers and leaders of society on the strength of the following statement of Srimad Bhagavatam (1.5.11): tad-vag visargo… ‘On the other hand, that literature which is full with descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, form and pastimes of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a transcendental creation meant to bring about a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though irregularly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.’”
Once he arrived in America, he took opportunities to correct his “irregular composition.” He gave a large stack of papers, his Bhagavad-gita manuscript, to his disciple, Hayagriva das, who had a Masters degree in English. The two of them worked closely together to edit and prepare the manuscript for publication in the United States.
AMAZING SYSTEM TO WRITE AND PUBLISH
Srila Prabhupada’s published letters reveal an amazing system which he organized to accelerate his writing. He controlled every aspect from beginning to end. And he trained his disciples to assist him in various ways. He dictated translations and purports which his disciples transcribed. He corrected and edited those transcriptions which were then sent to other disciples for more editing. He edited the Sanskrit synonyms or provided them himself. He proofread manuscripts and final drafts. He gave specific instructions regarding illustrations, number of pages, size, paper, binding, covers, printing and costs. He examined the printed books to see if they had been printed properly. He noted his satisfaction and dissatisfaction. If necessary, he ordered corrections for a subsequent printing. Amazingly, he did all this work using personal meetings and regular postal mail while traveling around the world!
Srila Prabhupada wrote letters to convey his instructions and answer questions. Excerpts demonstrate his direct involvement in training and correcting his disciples’ work. He wrote his books by dictating the translations and purports which were transcribed. “I have received the transcription of tape #16. You are doing very nicely and improving your editorial capability.” (Letter to Satsvarupa, July 29, 1969) “Pradyumna and Shyamsundar will be sending you regularly completed transcriptions of my translation work by post … and because I am here, if they have questions, I can answer and make the final proofreading, and this will expedite everything.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, May 15, 1971)
His disciples had difficulty producing quality translations and Sanskrit synonyms even in later years, thereby forcing Srila Prabhupada to do the work himself. “The translations… I am not using. There is some fault. I am doing the translations… (Letter to Radhaballabha, Sept. 26, 1975) “Yes, because no one else can do them, I shall do the Sanskrit synonyms.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, Feb. 18, 1972) “From yesterday night I have begun adding the synonyms as it doesn’t save very much time to have the synonyms.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Oct. 20, 1975) “I will have to see personally what are the mistakes in the synonyms and also how you intend to correct them. I was not satisfied with the corrections that were made before. I saw some changes which I did not approve. Nitai may correct whatever mistakes are there, but the corrected material must be sent to me for final approval.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Jan. 5, 1976)
Synonyms were missing for 25 chapters of the Srimad Bhagavatam, so he provided them. “I have begun this work and the first tape of synonyms, tape no. 6, was sent to Pradyumna today. This work will take at least one month to complete.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, Feb. 18, 1972) Sometimes he provided the synonyms within the letter: “So far your question, the synonyms are as follows: sattvam – the mode of goodness; rajas – the mode of passion … (Letter to Jayadvaita, July 3, 1971)
Srila Prabhupada’s solution to the Sanskrit editing problems was to train his disciple, Pradyumna das. “I am very much glad that Pradyumna is now with me for teaching him correctly this Sanskrit editing work. After he has become well-trained that will be a great relief to me and it will benefit everyone by increasing the flow of our books and literatures.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, May 15, 1971)
Srila Prabhupada also trained his disciples in editing the English and preparing the manuscripts for publishers, including basic proofreading. As always, he reviewed their work and made necessary corrections. “Regarding your second point, all incarnations should be proper nouns and therefore capitalized. It does not matter whether they are Visnu-tattva or jiva-tattva, saktavesh-avatar or plenary expansion.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, July 12, 1970) “…you have got 31 only out of 33. I think some of the brackets are not counted. So if the parentheses are removed from ‘intoxication’ and ‘impotency’ and they are also counted, the total of symptoms will come to 33. Simply add commas…” (Letter to Jayadvaita, Jan. 30, 1970)
Srila Prabhupada supervised his editors; he reviewed their work, including the final manuscript. “Regarding the corrections you have sent, this kind of changes is admissible. There is no harm.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Sept. 21, 1975) “I have received your letter dated May 26, 1972, along with the blue-print copies of Bhagavad Gita As It Is from MacMillan Company. It is very nice. So I shall be looking forward to seeing the entire manuscript and book sometime around first July, 1972.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, May 28, 1972)
Srila Prabhupada gave instructions and reviewed the art work to illustrate his books. “The sketches are all alright as they are. Please go ahead and make the paintings.” (Letter to Jadurani, Jan. 5, 1976) For Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta, he wrote, “The art paintings are very, very good. Everyone likes them, and I know they have worked especially hard…. The photographs are also wonderful. He has done nicely, the boy Bhargava.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Sept. 26, 1975)
Other examples include the illustrations in the Seventh Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam (1st printing, 1976) which comply with his instructions. “2. There should be no effulgence around Prahlad. Hiranyakasipu should not be shown with a pipe. He was a non-smoker.… 4. To illustrate Prahlad being protected when he is thrown off the cliff, there should be a semi-visible Krishna waiting below, as if to catch.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Feb. 3, 1976)
Srila Prabhupada determined the layout of his books and other publishing details. He wanted high quality publications. “Regarding 6th Canto, Nitai has just yesterday sent off Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 and next week he expects to send off Chapters 9 through 13. This will be sufficient for you to publish one volume.” (Letter to Radhaballava, Sept. 21, 1975) Regarding a decrease in the printing quality of Back to Godhead magazine, he wrote, “The color is not at all good. It is not attractive, and not as good as Dai Nippon…. The standard quality of Dai Nippon must be maintained. On what consideration is the printer being changed?... In my opinion, no one can print better than Dai Nippon. Why is the plan changed without my consent?... We cannot change the quality of printing for the matter of a little change in the price. This printing is not approved by me…. I am sending copies of this letter to all BBT Trustees for necessary action.” (Letter to Radhaballava, Sept. 22, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada was a prolific writer – he translated and wrote faster than his disciples could edit and publish. Although he was one person and they were many, they could not keep up with him. For example, he pressured his disciples for years to publish the eighteen volumes of Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta. The manuscripts were written, but the editing, illustrations, and publication progressed slowly. The first published volume appeared in 1973. A year later, another volume was published. He overcame BBT’s lethargy in 1974 by forcing the Los Angeles temple into a marathon to prepare the books. And he personally stayed there to assist the editors. By his efforts, the entire Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta was finally published in 1975.
Other books took longer. In 1972 he ordered the publication of a paperback based on recorded conversations. “I think we are just now typing up the tapes of those conversations we held in Mayapur, and we shall be publishing them as a book. It will be called Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers.” (Letter from Srila Prabhupada to Bob Cohen, June 16, 1972, reprinted in the book) Five years later, the small paperback was published and ready for distribution.
Srila Prabhupada’s system of book distribution relied on three integral parts – his temples, his book distributors, and the Life Membership program. The temples were the regional centers for book distribution. They organized the local distribution and provided all the needs for the book distributors and support persons (managers, pujaries, cooks, etc.) who lived in the temples. The temple activities were organized so that the book distributors could devote all their energies to distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books and preaching. “There is no doubt about it, to distribute books is our most important activity. The temple is a place not for eating and sleeping, but as a base from which we send out our soldiers to fight with maya. Fight with maya means to drop thousands and millions of books into the lap of the conditioned souls. Just like during war time the Bombs are raining from the sky like anything.” (Letter to Ramesvara, Aug. 3, 1973)
Srila Prabhupada devised the Life Membership Program as a scheme to publish and distribute books in India, and to expand it to America and other countries. “Here in India our program is going on very nicely. Especially we are making so many life members. That program is so important that we are getting money, supporters and distributing our literature all at the same time.” (Letter to Damodara, March 5, 1971) “…on this book distribution scheme of life membership. 50% is utilized for reprinting books and 50% is utilized for increasing the number of centers. I think the same program may be vigorously introduced in your country and that will be a great success.” (Letter to Rupanuga, Feb. 19, 1971)
Click below to read Part II - Hidden Co-Authors