Book Changes: A Dangerous Precedent
There is no precedent in our sampradaya for posthumous, unapproved changes to an acarya’s books. If a devotee needs to clarify a previous acarya’s work for the understanding of his contemporaries, he writes a separate tika and appends it to the original work, leaving the previous acaryas’ commentaries unchanged. This is the accepted practice in the Gaudiya-sampradaya.
I have been a devotee since 1967, and joined ISKCON in Miami in 1971. In 1974 I served as a proofreader for Srila Prabhupada’s Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya-lila Vol. 6, 7 & 8, and as comprehension editor on Antya-lila, Vols. 2 & 3. From 1980 to 2000 I worked as a technical editorial consultant in the IT field, writing and publishing many articles, books and websites on technical subjects. I also published many temple newsletters and fund-raising pieces at ISKCON temples from Bombay to Chicago. More recently I published my own books on spiritual subjects: Here Be Wisdom, Sri Visnusahasranama, Sri Nrsimhasahasranama, The Book of Gethsemane, and Search for the Absolute Truth. At present I am editing some of Srila Narayana Maharaja’s translations of the books of the Six Gosvamis. So I do have some acquantance with literary work.
I find Jayadvaita’s attitude inexplicable. In spiritual life, if many senior devotees and Godbrothers make critical comments about our service, we are duty-bound to accept them politely and consider them seriously, in light of the fact that we know that we are imperfect and full of flaws. Jayadvaita’s arrogance is rather non-devotional. He belittles his critics and uses ad hominem arguments against them. He refuses to acknowledge that he may have any fault at all. This arrogance is not the soft-hearted, humble attitude of an advanced devotee.
Jayadvaita conveniently overlooks the second definition of bowdlerizing, which is extant in any fine dictionary, especially the Oxford unabridged edition, which is the standard dictionary Srila Prabhupada used in his literary work. Perhaps Jayadvaita is unaware of this fact, and referred to a less complete dictionary. Besides denoting expurgation, bowdlerizing can also refer to any unauthorized editing, especially to alter the doctrine or philosophy expressed by a work. This usage certainly applies to Jayadvaita’s Gita, in which he has altered the original meaning of many passages.
Then he compares his editorial work with Srila Vyasadeva’s division of the Vedas. Please, we all know that Vyasadeva is an incarnation of God, and all of us are neophytes. But that is no excuse for being unaware of the standards of our sampradaya. There is really no precedent in our sampradaya for posthumous, unapproved changes to an acarya’s books. If a devotee needs to clarify a previous acarya’s work for the understanding of his contemporaries, he writes a separate tika and appends it to the original work, leaving the previous acaryas’ commentaries unchanged. This is the accepted practice in the Gaudiya-sampradaya. One wonders from Jayadvaita’s attitude whether he considers himself bound by the literary conventions of the Gaudiya-sampradaya, or fancies himself an independent authority.
This controversy is a prime example of what can happen when we detach ourselves from regulation by superior authorities, and adopt the ascending method of attempting to attain self-realization by our own efforts. While the original edition of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is was produced under the author’s careful personal guidance, Jayadvaita worked independently without the benefit of accepting the personal guidance of a self-realized pure devotee. The difference in tone and contrast in content is self-evident.
Just as a raging forest fire cannot be extinguished except by a downpour of mercy rain, we cannot realize Krsna consciousness except by the mercy of previous authorities, the perfectly self-realized acaryas. Although Jayadvaita has sung this hymn every morning since he joined ISKCON, it appears not to have sunk in, since he relied on his own strength instead of approaching senior Gaudiya Vaisnava authorities for advice and guidance in preparing his Gita.
In my experience, Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is is a rich, multidimensional work, its satisfyingly substantial paragraphs resonating with poetic language and redolent with the fragrance of carefully guarded references to the adi-rasa, or Krsna’s pastimes of conjugal love. There is one confidential conversation that Srila Prabhupada had with Srila Sridhar Maharaja during the period of his household life, where Srila Prabhupada reveals his realization of these veiled esoteric references in Bhagavad-gita.
Jayadvaita’s work not only completely misses, and in fact obscures this recodnite point, but also his edition of the Gita reads very flat, as if it were a technical work on philosophy instead of a disciple’s sensitive rendition of an ecstatic devotional poem. While there is everything to be said for clear phrasing and standardized terminology in an analytical work, Jayadvaita’s Gita is far the less for his editorializing. No matter how acceptible it may be to scholars and the general public, bhakti covered by jnana or karma is not accepted as pure devotional service by authorities in our line.
In the final analysis, we must judge by the results. Srila Prabhupada left us an expanding preaching field with booming book distribution. Twenty-five years after his apparent disappearance, book distribution is devastated. After so many scandals, the general public regards even the words ‘Hare Krsna’ with disdain. Srila Prabhupada presided over a dynamic, expansive worldwide association. But now ISKCON has shrunk to the point where there are more deities than devotees at many centers, and recently the North American temples declared bankruptcy. How would Srila Prabhupada respond to this news?
The original edition of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is convinced many people, myself included, that ISKCON was a serious, spiritually-empowered movement with a philosophy that is at once ecstatic and profound. During the time that Jayadvaita’s edition of the Gita has been distributed around the world, we have seen a dramatic deflation of everything Srila Prabhupada worked for and achieved. I think this is sufficient evidence to convince any clear-thinking persion that the general trend in ISKCON, of which Jayadvaita’s Gita happens to be a prime example, has been against the thrust of Srila Prabhupada’s original intention.
Fortunately, by the arrangement of Krsna, Srila Prabhupada’s original Bhagavad-gita As It Is is again in print. We will see how well Jayadvaita’s changed edition fares in the open marketplace against the original empowered, authorized and approved work. It would be far more honest if Jayadvaita would just publish his editorial work under his own name. He is a fine editor; he’s just not a pure devotee on the level of Srila Prabhupada. His edition reflects this fact clearly, but from his comments and attitude, one wonders if he realizes this fact.
For further information on the changes the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) is making to Srila Prabhupada’s books please go to:
All glories to Sri Guru and Gauranga,