By Ajit Krishna Dasa
If you are involved in the controversy about the posthumous changes made to Srila Prabhupada’s books then I guess you know who Garuda Dasa (Graham M. Schweig) is. Otherwise you can easily inform yourself by searching the internet.
To avoid any misunderstandings about my position in relation to Garuda Dasa I will now explain where and why I disagree with him on the topic of the posthumous editing of Srila Prabhupada’s books. At the same time I want to applaud Garuda Prabhu for much of this work in relation to the unauthorized changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Unlike me Garuda Dasa wants a new edition, or version, of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. He is not satisfied with the work of Jayadvaita Swami, but at the same time he thinks we still need some posthumous editing. Garuda would like to do this editing himself – with a small group of qualified devotees.
I disagree with him, and I recently presented my worries to him thus (slightly edited):
“You keep bringing up a couple of quotes to support posthumous editing, for example this one:
‘Our editing is to correct grammatical and spelling errors only, without interpolation of style or philosophy’ (Letter to Rupanuga Dasa, February 17, 1970).
And then you add that Srila Prabhupada’s instructions on editing his books can be summed up in the mantra “no changes, no mistakes,” and that this mantra must guide the posthumous editing of his books.
I find your argument fallacious for the following reasons:
1) There is no evidence that Srila Prabhupada included the idea of posthumous editing when he spoke these words. The context was that he was present to supervise the work – if he so desired.
2) Srila Prabhupada spoke out against posthumous editing on several occasions.
3) Srila Prabhupada’s own example was that he did not change his guru’s or previous acarya’s mistakes when he found them. Srila Prabhupada would not even allow corrections of grammatical mistakes made by the editors of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (see more below).
4) Caitanya Mahaprabhu also did not correct the mistakes of the acaryas.
So why do you want to extrapolate these quotes to include posthumous editing?
Why not do as Srila Prabhupada did, i.e. let the books be! And then perhaps create separate booklets to explain the mistakes?”
Garuda Prabhu first said he more or less agreed with me. But a few days later he wrote this:
‘I’ve looked into every one of the changes in the BGAII with the help of an extremely competent devotee. My conclusion: I can accept up to 25% of the editing, and even some of it very good. But at least 75% of the editing was totally unnecessary, even intrusive. With just the 25% of valid editing, no second edition would have been necessary.’ (Garuda Dasa, Facebook post, May 2020)
Garuda says he can accept 25% of Jayadvaita Swami’s editing. And then he wants to do some editing himself. First we had Srila Prabhupada’s Gita, then we had Jayadvaita Swamis new edition, and now Garuda might take over Jayadvaita Swami’s role as a posthumous editor, and then we will have a third.
It should be obvious that Garuda Prabhu’s attempts will not settle the matter. Intelligent devotees are against all sorts of posthumous editing. Why? Well, first of all because of the above mentioned reasons. But also because no matter how well-articulated your reasons are for making a certain change you cannot get Srila Prabhupada’s approval. And that is certainly needed.
This affair can only be settled by reference to an absolute principle. We are fortunate to have this principle. It is called arsa-prayoga. It means that we cannot make any changes to the acarya’s words (without explicit instructions from the acarya himself). This settles the matter. There is nothing further to discuss.
But as long as we have conditioned souls taking up roles as authorities on the editing of Srila Prabhupada’s books there will be disagreements as to what constitutes a good, or the best, editor, and what constitutes a good reason to change. One editor will reject the other editors, and new, differing editions of Srila Prabhupada’s books will be published.
My position is, therefore, that this dispute cannot be settled with reference to conditioned souls no matter how good they are at editing. It can only be settled by reference to an absolute principle – arsa-prayoga.
Post November 18, 1977 all editing stops, and thereafter only commentaries on the books are allowed. Everyone can, if they so desire, make their individual commentary describing the mistakes in the original Bhagavad-gita As It Is. And then they can personally publish it at their own cost and risk, and also get all the material profit.
Unfortumately Garuda’s attempts, however well-intentioned, will result in more frustration. We will have more and more new editions, or versions, of Srila Prabhupada’s Gita. People will lose their trust in Srila Prabhupada’s books, and in the Krishna consciousness movement.
Thus, it seems that with Garuda Dasa at the helm of the ongoing editing the changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books still will not be stopped.
Ajit Krishna Dasa
A devotee wrote:
“The suggestion to correct transcription errors made by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, who made mistakes and aren’t gurus or acharyas, doesn’t fit the description of your quote.”
“Srila Prabhupada’s editors were not acaryas. They’re conditioned souls. They made mistakes.”
As soon as the book the approved there can be no more changes without the direct approval and instruction of the guru.
While discussing the editing of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saravati Thakura’s Brahma Samhita we find this recollection by Ramesvara Dasa:
“Once it’s approved it’s eternal.” That was his quote. “Once it’s approved it’s eternal.” One of the heaviest incidences came up I think in ’76 or ’77, we wrote to Prabhupada about publishing his spiritual master’s book the Brahma-samhita. Because it had already been introduced to chant in the Gurukulas, we were chanting it all over ISKCON. And although Prabhupada in ’75 said, “You cannot read the Gaudiya Math publications, you cannot approach my spiritual master or Bhaktivinoda directly. You have to learn their teachings through me, through my books, through my lectures.” This was a big incident in ’75 because the devotees were buying Gaudiya Math publications and reading directly. And Prabhupada completely smashed it. So it was either ’76 or ’77 we wanted to print Brahma-samhita. Prabhupada approved it and he wrote a very heavy letter to Radhaballabha. Because we were asking Prabhupada about editing changes. I’m not sure if he wrote the letter or if it’s on a tape or maybe it’s both. I think Radhaballabha had a room conversation with Prabhupada and I wasn’t present. Tamal was there. And in addition to that I think there’s a letter. Anyway, between the letter and the room conversation, the instruction was given that “You cannot make any changes in my spiritual master’s book.” “What about the incorrect grammar?” Prabhupada’s reply, “You cannot change one comma, not even a comma, not even a punctuation mark, that is the etiquette.” So that was just another one of those super heavy instructions that the etiquette in dealing with a great acarya’s books is that whatever he has done it’s eternal and it can never be changed. And I believe that all of this was part of Prabhupada’s training us. He wanted to train people who would be entrusted with his books. And who would in turn train the next generation of BBT men, managers and production managers in this fanatical, literally fanatical transcendental phobia about changes. Prabhupada went out of his way to train us. Some of the instructions were so extreme that one might say they’re exaggerated. But they’re not exaggerated. This is exactly what Prabhupada wanted. (Ramesvara Dasa, Interview, 1979)
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. Saravati Thakura had editors. It was their job to properly edit the Brahma Samhita. But as we see Srila Prabhupada would not even allow corrections to the grammatical mistakes of the editors of the book.
We should follow in Srila Prabhupada’s footsteps by not allowing any changes to whatever Srila Prabhupada has approved to be in his books.
If Srila Prabhupada was here we could ask him, and he might give his approval to such corrections. But since he is not here, and thus cannot give his approval, it is offensive to continue editing his book.
Intelligent devotees can foresee how havoc can come from trying to correct the editors’ mistakes:
-Can only their grammatical mistakes be corrected?
-Is it considered a mistake if an editor has left passages from the so-called original manuscript out?
-How do we know if something is an editorial mistake, or a transcendental mistake made by Srila Prabhupada? Or perhaps not a mistake at all. There are many grey areas.
I think there will be differing answers to these questions, and then we are again left with conditioned souls as our editorial guides, instead of an absolute principle – arsa-prayoga.
And then we have not made progress towards stopping the continuous changes and corrections to Srila Prabhupada’s books.