Brief-History-of-Unauthorize-Book-Changes-in-ISKCON

Compiled by: Purujit Dasa
Contributed by: Yasoda Nandana Dasa

Glossary:

editing – also known as the first editing, these are the edited versions of Srila Prabhupada’s dictation tapes transcripts

reediting – going over an already printed book, second editing.

The first-time reediting of Srila Prabhupada’s books had been undertaken was in the case of the First Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. Srila Prabhupada published this book in India in the early 1960′s and upon his arrival to America he instructed his disciple, Hayagriva das to revise it. Thus the 1972 version of the First Canto came about. After this Hayagriva reedited two more books — Easy Journey to Other Planets (from 1957-8? version) printed in 1972 and Teachings of Lord Chaitanya (from 1968 version), printed in 1974.

Later on, Jayadvaita, another chief editor of Srila Prabhupada’s books, reedited the 1972 version of the First Canto and it was printed in the late 1976. He has also reedited the 1972 Second Canto shortly after the 1972 version had been printed. We have also found evidence of reediting in certain volumes of the Third and Fourth Canto.

In the case of the first printings of the first four Cantos we have sufficient evidence that these versions have been authorized by Srila Prabhupada, however in this article we would like to point out a lack of substantial evidence of Srila Prabhupada approving the later printings.

DO NOT DO ANYTHING WITHOUT CONSULTING ME

The first fact to consider is that Srila Prabhupada did not want his disciples to change his books without his authorization. Examples of this can be seen in these quotes:

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Bhargava, May 29, 1976, Honolulu:

“I am in due receipt of your letter dated May 25, 1976, along with samples of the Gitar-gan and the cover in for the Bhagavat-darsana. No, the printing of the Gitar-gan cover this fashion is not at all approved by me. You have done most nonsensically. Why change the cover? When people look to see the Bhagavad-gita they expect to see Krishna and Arjuna, not the picture of Krishna with cow. You have done a great mistake by changing the front picture and it will hamper the sale. In future you don’t do any changes without asking me first. Simply because there is no stock of books, we can do anything whimsically??? Is this logic? Gita is not spoken in Vrindaban, it is spoken on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, but this is Vrindaban picture. That chariot drive by 4 horses, that is the real Kurukshetra picture. It is not that because there is no stock we can do whimsically as we like and lose the idea, that is rasa-bhasa. Because there is no bread, you take stone to eat? There is no stock of bread so you will take stone??? The front picture is most important thing and you have changed it. It must remain standard, and not change. Also, the lettering is not nice on the cover. You could have taken a color picture of Krishna and Arjuna and used it black and white (one color) on the front cover. Just as you did with the inside back cover of the Bhagavat darsana, the original picture of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu was in color but you have printed it in black and white. You could have done this on the front cover with Krishna and Arjuna on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra, but the cover must not be changed. Concerning the Bhagavat darsana cover, this Hindi on the back is not good. Who is translating this? Also, the address on the back of our Vrindaban Temple is not correctly spelled. It has been spelled Chattakara Road; But it should be Chattikara Road. Who is proof-reading?

I am glad to see that some Hindi translating is going on but what about that other boy who was translating The Srimad-Bhagavatam in Vrindaban? Do not do anything whimsically in future, and you can write me if you have questions concerning the printing.”   

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Radhavallabha, January 5, 1976, Nellore:

“I will have to see personally what the mistakes in the synonyms are, 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. So, reprinting the volumes will have to wait until the mistakes are corrected and approved by me.” 

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Hayagriva, November 18, 1968, Los Angeles:

“Regarding Srimad-Bhagavatam, please send me the chapters which you have already revised. I want to see it, how it is being done. I am glad that you are not omitting anything, but just making grammatical correction, and phrasing for force and clarity, and adding Pradyumna’s transliteration, that is very nice.

Yes, henceforward, as I have already told you, that Srimad-Bhagavatam will be ultimately seen by you, before being printed. That will keep consistency, I quite agree with you. My present plan is to stay in Los Angeles, perhaps at least for more than a month, which will cover Christmas holidays. And so, during that time, if you come here, it will be very nice.” 

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Satsvarupa, November 14, 1969, London:

“Also, I have not received any edited versions of the tapes which I have sent you from Europe. So please send them to me as soon as possible, keeping carbon copies with you in Boston. If there are discrepancies in your editing techniques between the beginning and later chapters, please inform me what they are so we can make the corrections here.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Karunasindhu, November 9, 1975, Bombay:

“My dear Karuna Sindhu das,

Please accept my blessings. I am in due receipt of your letter dated October 24, 1975 and I have noted the contents. I am very glad to receive your letter. I can understand this cunning Purusottama das has taken advantage of your simplicity. So any one of my god brothers cannot help me in this way of book writing because they are unfortunate in the matter of preaching work. They are simply trying to infiltrate our society to so something harmful by their attempt. So please do not have any correspondence with this Purusottama or any of my god brothers, so-called. And do not do anything without consulting me. You can inform this instruction to everyone and send back to me the sheets of corrections sent to you by Purusottama.

I was very much anxious to know how Purusottama entered in our camp. Now the matter is clear. Be careful for further dealings with such men.

I hope this finds you in good health.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Radhavallabha, August 26, 1975, Vrindaban:

“Regarding the English editing discrepancies, that how can I know? Let them point out which part and on which page so I can see.”

 Srila Prabhupada Letter to Radhavallabha, November 3, 1974, India:

“Regarding the indexing for Srimad-Bhagavatam, that has caused some confusion. From you letter it appears that you are printing a one volume index covering the first four Cantos, in a softcover edition. But, the indexes for the First and Second Cantos have already been published at the concluding volume of the Canto. Why are you now changing the procedure? Since the indexes for the first two Cantos have already appeared, why not just publish indexes for the next two Cantos which have not yet appeared? And, even if you bring out indexes for all the first four Cantos, since the entire work is not yet completed, you will again have to do the work over again when the succeeding Cantos are published.

Any way you can do it as you are doing it, but it is advisable to consult directly with Srila Prabhupada on such a matter specially if you are making some change in any of the publishing, that should be consulted with Srila Prabhupada first. Kindly do this.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Radhavallabha, August 26, 1976, New Delhi:

“You may title this book, Teachings of Lord Kapila, but it must be subtitled, “The Son of Devahuti”. That will remain, do not try to change it. The Americans may like it or not like it, but we must make the distinction between devahuti putra kapila, and the atheistic Kapila. Do not try to change anything without my permission.”

BECAUSE I AM HERE IF THEY HAVE QUESTIONS I CAN ANSWER

From Srila Prabhupada’s letters we can also understand that keeping editors with him was preferable. Srila Prabhupada could thus oversee any changes they were making.

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Dhananjaya, July 13, 1976, Philadelphia:

“Regarding Nitai, he is now travelling with me for some immediate editing work. Afterwards you can consult with Ramesvara what will be his program.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Jayadvaita, May 15, 1971, Sydney:

“One thing, I do not regularly receive copies of books and magazines which are new, so if you will kindly send me whenever they come out sample copies of all our literatures, I shall be very thankful. As I have informed, Pradyumna and Syamasundara. will be sending you regularly completed transcriptions of my translation work by post, that will avoid the high cost of sending tapes, which besides are very expensive and may be lost easily in mail, and because I am here if they have questions I can answer and make the final proofreading, and this will expedite everything.”

TOO MUCH EDITING IS NOT REQUIRED

There are many instances where Srila Prabhupada is not in favor of too much editing. Too much editing by too many people means too much danger that unauthorized changes to come in. When Hayagriva das reedited the Easy Journey to Other Planets, Srila Prabhupada was not satisfied and called him a rascal for changing so many things. Also, the reediting of Teachings of Lord Chaitanya has been nicely refuted by Rupanuga Prabhu in his article “A Scientific Method for Evaluating Editorial Changes to Srila Prabhupada’s Books” as well as in an article by Srimad Bhagavatam Prabhu. 

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Rayarama, December 21, 1967, San Francisco:

“What is the reason that he wants to leave us? It is understood that the finished MSS. of the Teachings of Lord Chaitanya is with him; whether he has delivered this final MSS. to Brahmananda for printing purpose? Please inform me about this. Too much editing is not required. If Satsvarupa has already edited it, there is no need of further editing.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Satsvarupa, December 23, 1967, San Francisco:

“This too much editorial work on Gitopanisad has created some misunderstanding between the editorial staffs. Anyway, in future, one man should edit it and be sufficient for our printing.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Rayarama, May 15, 1969, Columbus, Ohio:

“Regarding your proposed program of editing, the Bhagavatam First Canto is already edited, so when making final typing, you shall simply see it for proofreading.” 

Which version to print?

First Canto 1972 version?

1) Radhavallabha’s letter

Note: On the 22nd of April 1976, Radhavallabha das from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust sent Srila Prabhupada a letter, which besides other issues mentions the following:

“Nitai hasn’t sent me any corrections for the reprints of First and Second Cantos, so I want to reprint them as they are.

To this letter Srila Prabhupada wrote a response a few days later:

“There is no need for corrections for the First and Second Cantos. Whatever is there is all right. Once Pradyumna comes to join me here from India, then there will be no need for Nitai das or Jagannatha das to edit the Srimad-Bhagavatam.”

(Letter of 5-4-76)

We also see a note made by a blue marker on the side of Radhavallabha’s letter.

“Yes. No need of corrections. Whatever is there is alright. No need of reediting by Pradyumna, Nitai+ Jag.”

Note: This means that Srila Prabhupada’s letter has been received and well understood. For the planned 1976 reprint of the First and Second Cantos Srila Prabhupada instructed to print the original 1972 versions, without reediting. This constitutes the most direct order in this regard. It is obvious that Srila Prabhupada authorizes the first printings and further editing is not needed.

2) This version has been used for Srila Prabhupada’s lectures. It was the 1972 version read regularly in the temples. Srila Prabhupada gave classes from this version and it was this version which received favorable reviews by scholars, etc.

3) Prabhupada’s personal guidance in the editing process

Note: The editing of the 1972 version has been a result of close cooperation between Srila Prabhupada and the editor Hayagriva dasa, as is clear from the following quotes:

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Rupanuga, January 15, 1969, Los Angeles:

“Recently, Hayagriva came from Columbus, and he remained with me for more than a fortnight. He was assisting me in editing Srimad-Bhagavatam.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Hayagriva, January 31, 1969, Los Angeles:

“I am very pleased to learn that the entire first canto should be completely edited by March 8th, and I am also glad to hear that your Lord Chaitanya play is at last completed.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Hayagriva, September 9, 1969, San Francisco:

“Please accept my blessings. And I hope by this time you have reached your headquarters, at Wheeling, and I hope you are feeling well. And you have taken the Dictaphone. Now immediate task is that you revise the 1st, 2nd, 3rd volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam. As soon as they are revised, we shall immediately print in one volume. Just we are going to print, volume one means canto one. So then you take up the second part, second canto, and keep along with you Pradyumna; he will help you in marking diacritic signs on the original verses, and be always in correspondence with me. And be seriously engaged in this task, and it will be a great service to Krishna.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Hayagriva, November 18, 1968, Los Angeles:

“Regarding Srimad-Bhagavatam, please send me the chapters which you have already revised. I want to see it, how it is being done. I am glad that you are not omitting anything, but just making grammatical correction, and phrasing for force and clarity, and adding Pradyumna’s transliteration, that is very nice. Yes, henceforward, as I have already told you, that Srimad-Bhagavatam will be ultimately seen by you, before being printed. That will keep consistency, I quite agree with you. My present plan is to stay in Los Angeles, perhaps at least for more than a month, which will cover Christmas holidays. And so, during that time, if you come here, it will be very nice.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Hayagriva, July 31, 1970, Los Angeles:

“Regarding Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, I am glad that manuscript is also being composed. Srimad-Bhagavatam, Second Canto, improper title pages being rectified is good news. Please keep me informed about the progress of those manuscripts.”

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Jayadvaita, July 12, 1970, Los Angeles:

“Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated the July, 1970 and noted the contents. Regarding the missing translation, it is as follows:

First Canto, Chapter 3, verse 6, Translation

“So, in the beginning of the creation, first of all there were the four unmarried sons of Brahma (Kumaras) and they underwent severe austerities being situated in avowed celibacy for realization of the Absolute Truth.”

Regarding your second point, all incarnations should be proper nouns and therefore capitalized. It does not matter whether they are Visnutattva or jivatattva, saktyavesa-avatara. or plenary expansion. The incarnations listed however may be classified as follows: Visnutattva: Kapila, Nara Narayana, Rama, Balarama, Krishna, the Purusas, the Boar, Yajna, Rsabha, Matsya, Kurma, Dhanvantari, Mohini and Kalki. Jivatattva (empowered): Narada, Vyasa, Buddha, Kumaras, Dattatreya, Prthu and Bhrgupati.”

4) EVEN THERE IS SOME MISTAKE, THAT DOESN’T MATTER

Note: It is true that there have been mistakes made in the 1972 version because in a letter to Radhavallabha dated 5th of January, 1976 Srila Prabhupada states that: “reprinting the volumes will have to wait until the mistakes are corrected and approved by me.” However, when Radhavallabha writes to Srila Prabhupada that he had not received any corrections for the First and Second Canto from Nitai (Sanskrit editor for BBT), Srila Prabhupada responds in the following letter dated 4th of May, 1976: “There is no need for corrections for the First and Second Cantos. Whatever is there is all right.” This means that although Srila Prabhupada knew that mistakes had been done in the 1972, he still authorizes its reprint. This is most likely to ensure that the books are not altered more than they already are. It is significant for us to know that these mistakes were not serious enough for Srila Prabhupada to stop the printing. How such books can be still transmitting the transcendental message is inconceivable to our mundane senses, but Srila Prabhupada explains this phenomenon in the following instances. 

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Satsvarupa, January 9, 1970, Los Angeles:

“Regarding transcribing, I have written to Detroit if they can do it. In the meantime, I have engaged Devananda transcribing the tape and a primary editing also, and the copy can be sent to you for final editing and then printing. We have to do things now very dexterously, simply we have to see that in our book there is no spelling or grammatical mistake. We do not mind for any good style, our style is Hare Krishna, but, still, we should not present a shabby thing. Although Krishna literatures are so nice that, even if they are presented in broken and irregular ways, such literatures are welcomed, read and respected by bona fide devotees.”

Room Conversation, February 27, 1977, Mayapur: 

Srila Prabhupada: The system is: whatever authority has done, even there is mistake, it should be accepted.

Radha-vallabha: Oh.

Prabhupada: Asa-praya(?) That is ha… He should not become more learned than the authority. That is very bad habit.

Radha-vallabha: He was always wondering how he should think. So I’ll tell him that. He thinks, “If I think I see a mistake, what should I think?” I’ll tell him what you just said.

Prabhupada: He cannot see mistake. He is mistake. (laughter)

Room Conversation, August 21, 1971, London:

Srila Prabhupada: He could not finish any one?

Hansadutta: No, not even the magazine was finished. The magazine before this recent one, I put it together myself from old magazines.

Prabhupada: There are so many German students. They cannot do?

Hansadutta: They can do, but the thing is that you have said that he is the chief and unless it goes through him, it can’t be printed.

Prabhupada: No. No, no. No, no. No, no.

Hansadutta: Everything is bottle-necked around him.

Prabhupada: Now, the important subject, he may do slowly, but…

Hansadutta: Like Bhagavad-gita or Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Prabhupada: Yes. Others may be done by others. You print it. Even there is some mistake, that doesn’t matter.

Note: The last quote applies to our controversy. Should the 1972 version be printed although there are mistakes in it? Yes, you print it. Even there is some mistake, that doesn’t matter.

And idea was raised to correct Srila Prabhupada’s books for the next printing in the authorized way. Although it might seem justified, especially when Srila Prabhupada himself specifies these. (‘of the sages’ would be changed to ‘O sages’ in the First Canto) However, there are a few points to consider. 

1) The new version would have to be shown to and approved by Srila Prabhupada himself.

Srila Prabhupada Letter to Radhavallabha, January 5, 1976, Nellore:

“Nitai may correct whatever mistakes are there, but the corrected material must be sent to me for final approval.”

2) Srila Prabhupada established a ‘no change’ policy to check further deterioration of the text.

Srila Prabhupada, June 22, 1977, Vrndavana:

“So everything is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam. And then these unfortunate rascals, they are distorting. What can I do? How to stop it?”

Room Conversation, February 27, 1977, Mayapur:

Radha-vallabha: “Well, now that this system of no corrections anywhere, that makes it very simple. Then he can’t do anything. I don’t think he wants to, either. It makes it more simple for him. It makes him very uncomfortable.

Srila Prabhupada: No corrections. He can write that synonym, that’s all, according to the translation. Who is writing the synonym?

Radha-vallabha: Jagannatha.

Prabhupada: That’s all right. According to the translation. Not that he becomes a greater scholar than my Guru Maharaja.”

Conversation, June 22, 1977, Vrndavana:

Srila Prabhupada: “So you bring this to Satsvarupa. They cannot change anything.”

3) The next printing should be again to the original way

Conversation, June 22, 1977, Vrndavana:

Yasoda-nandana: Sometimes they appeal that “We can make better English,” so they change like that, just like in the case of Isopanisad. There are over a hundred changes. So where is the need? Your words are sufficient. The potency is there. When they change, it is something else.

Svarupa Damodara: That’s actually a very dangerous mentality.

Yasoda-nandana: What is it going to be in five years? It’s going to be a different book.

Srila Prabhupada: So, you… What you are going… It is very serious situation. You write one letter that “Why you have made so many changes?” And whom to write? Who will care? All rascals are there. Write to Satsvarupa that “This is the position. They are doing anything and everything at their whim.” The next printing should be again to the original way.”

Note: In this quote Yasoda Nandana is raising a valid point. If the unauthorized reediting continues, the text in books will completely deteriorate and the original meaning will be lost. To this Srila Prabhupada is giving the solution. “The next printing should be again to the original way.” And later on in the same conversation, “They cannot change anything.” These remain to be the last instructions up to date from Srila Prabhupada on the matter of his books.

The key words in this connection are “again” and “check”. When Tamal explains that the editors reedit books which were already printed, Srila Prabhupada wants to check this, stop this, and next printing should be again to the original way means that the printing original way already happened in the past (first printing). If “to the original way” meant that the next printing should be something even better than the first printing, Srila Prabhupada would not have said how to stop the reediting, how to check the reediting. Please note that Srila Prabhupada expressed his desire to stop this practise of unauthorized editing many times during the conversation…

Conversation, June 22, 1977, Vrndavana:

“So, everything is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam. And then these unfortunate rascals, they are distorting. What can I do? How to stop it?”

Conversation June 22, 1977, Vrndavana: 

Srila Prabhupada: “Very serious feature. It is not possible for me to check, and they are doing all nonsense, freedom.”

…and warns about consequences if such policy continues. Now do the needful. Otherwise everything will be spoiled.

3) Other devotees in favor

Many devotees who are well acquainted with the controversy over the changed books are in favor of reprinting the 1972 first edition. These are quotes I’ve gathered over the years. Hansadutta das in ‘Just What is Jayadvaita’s Point?’ article retells a personal story:

“I was one BBT trustee along with Srila Prabhupada and Bali Mardan when I went to Srila Prabhupada and suggested we reprint his Original Bhagavatams for the pleasure of his devotees who liked the old Indian version… Before finishing my proposal, Srila Prabhupada admonished me saying, “no–whatever Hayagriva has done is perfect, I have full faith in him as the editor of my books.” This was quite some time after the publication of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita. He went on to say “whatever he (Hayagriva) has done is perfect, do not touch it, I have full faith in him.”

Veda Guya Prabhu, the person who has been printing original books under KBI licence for a few years and has been responsible for a major contribution of original books to today’s society at times when there’s so few people committed to Srila Prabhupada’s real desire, has confessed in a mass email in his response to “Are you on the blacklist?”:

“Until some magnanimous devotee comes forward (anywhere from $200,000 to $300,000) and is willing to finance this printing we have to console ourselves with only supplying the set printed by the BBT. These are from the pre-1978 printings, although the early Cantos were edited during the mid-1970′s.”

Another devotee in favor of reprinting the 1972 version is Madhudvisa Prabhu, who stands behind a very successful Internet shop and has been enlightening devotees about changes in the Bhagavad-Gita As It Is, etc. He also works with KBI. In 2006, after we have published our article ” Distinguishing the Original Books from the Changed Ones”, he wrote us an email:

“I agree with your point that we should print the original editions and your article is very good to illustrate this point.”

Or 1976 version?

Note: We would like to point out that while writing this article, unfortunately we are not in possession of the 1976 version. Nonetheless, according to the BBTi editor, the 1976 version is identical with all the subsequent printings (i.e., 1978 onwards). Assuming this is the truth, there are several points in favor of the proclaimed 1976 version. They are: the letter to Jayadvaita where Srila Prabhupada expresses that whatever Jayadvaita does is alright, the inclusion of the missing indexes, and the correction of the “of the sages” mistake. 

To be continued….