A very “insignificant” change (Bg. 2.35)

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From “the original manuscript”:

Skærmbillede 2013-10-10 kl. 11.42.42

From the original, approved and authorized 1972 edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is:

Skærmbillede 2013-10-10 kl. 12.49.59

BBT International’s 1983 edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is:

“The great generals who have highly esteemed your name and fame will think that you have left the battlefield out of fear only, and thus they will consider you insignificant.” (Bg. 2.35)

Prabhupada and his editor, Hayagriva Prabhu, worked together on the “original manuscript” and the end result was “coward” instead of “fig”. But somehow the BBT International decided to replace “coward” with “insignificant”.

On the BBT International’s website we do not find any information about this change and why it was made. This is a significant point because Jayadvaita Swami have now published up through the 8th chapter what is claimed to be a detailed justification of all his changes. But somehow he has left this one out when going through the changes in the second chapter. Why?

In the word-for-word translation to Bg. 2.35 Prabhupada translates the word “laghavam” as “decreased in value”. But nowhere does Prabhupada translate “laghavam” as “insignificant”. When searching the Vedabase Folio we find nowhere in Prabhupada’s books, lectures, conversations, letters where he refers to Arjuna as being “insignificant” in the context of Bg. 2.35 – or any other context. So how is changing “coward” to “insignificant” going back to “the original manuscript”? And in which way is it “closer to Prabhupada”?

We also find that nowhere does Prabhupada use the word “fig” about Arjuna. But we do find plenty of places where he uses the word “coward” about Arjuna in relation to his decision not to fight, and we find lectures on Bg. 2.35 where Prabhupada didn’t object to the use of the word “coward”, and lectures where he actually reinforces the use of the word “coward” by repeating it:

Devotee: 35: “The great generals who have highly esteemed your name and fame will think that you have left the battlefield out of fear only, and thus they will consider you a coward [Bg. 2.35].” 36: “Your enemies will…”
Prabhupada: A ksatriya… It is the custom of the ksatriya that if they are wounded on the back side, he is considered a coward, but if he is wounded on the chest, he is accepted as real ksatriya. That means he has fought face to face. That is the injunction of military art in Vedic injunction. (Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 2.27-38, Los Angeles, December 11, 1968)

This particular lecture is from 1968. Prabhupada had at least three years to demand “coward” changed in the 1972 Complete Edition. He didn’t.

Pradyumna: (leads chanting, etc.)
Translation: “The great generals who have highly esteemed your name and fame will think that you have left the battlefield out of fear only, and thus they will consider you a coward.”
bhayad ranad uparatam
mamsyante tvam maha-rathah
yesam ca tvam bahu
bhutva yasyasi laghavam

…and Prabhupada continues the lecture without objecting to anything. (Bhagavad-gita 2.33-35, London, September 3, 1973)

Here are some other places where Prabhupada uses the word “coward” about Arjuna:

“When Arjuna wanted to become a nonviolent coward on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra, he was severely chastised by Lord Krsna.” (SB 1.9.26)

“So on the whole, Arjuna is illusioned — illusioned in the sense that he is forgetting his duty. He is a ksatriya, his duty is to fight; never mind the opposite party, even he is son, a ksatriya will not hesitate to kill his son even if he is inimical. Similarly, the son, if the father is inimical, he would not hesitate to kill his father. This is the stringent duty of the ksatriyas, no consideration. A ksatriya cannot consider like that. Therefore Krsna said, klaibyam: “You don’t be coward. Why you are becoming coward?” These topics are going on. Later on, Krsna will give him real spiritual instruction. This is… Ordinary talks are going on between the friend and the friend.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.4-5, London, August 5, 1973)

“My case is very serious. My duty is to fight, but I do not like to fight. Some affection, some family relationship, is deterring me to fight, making me coward. So therefore it is a very complex position. And I find that You can make a solution of this complex position. I therefore accept You as my spiritual master. And I fall down under Your lotus feet as Your disciple.” Sadhi mam prapannam. “I am surrendered. Now You kindly protect the surrendered soul.” (Bhagavad-gita 2.13, Hyderabad, November 19, 1972)

(See the Vedabase Folio for more examples)

Two arguments defeated

Some argue that “coward” and “insignificant” means practically the same in the context of Bg. 2.35, so what’s the deal? It is an insignificant change, they argue. But this makes the change needless, so why change? Jayadvaita Swami wrote:

“As you know, and as we kept in mind while doing the work, Srila Prabhupada staunchly opposed needless changes.” (Jayadvaita Swami’s Letter to Amogha Lila 1986)

Besides this obvious point the two words do not at all mean the same. The words “fig” and “coward” are both used in a derogatory meaning by Prabhupada whereas the word “insignificant” is much more neutral. Logically speaking a coward doesn’t need to be insignificant, and an insignificant person need not be a coward. So the two words can’t be synonymous.

I’ve heard a devotee claim that calling someone a “fig” is outdated, and that the BBT International decided to find a better word with a similar meaning. This is of course already defeated with the arguments against going back to the so called “original manuscript”, and the fact that “fig” and “insignificant” are far from synonymous. But additionally it would mean that the BBT International would have a double standard since they have kept the sentence “On the other hand, the forces of the Pandavas are limited, being protected by a less experienced general, Bhima, who is like a fig in the presence of Bhisma.” (Bg. 1.10 purport, the 1983 BBT International edition).

So is this really an “insignificant” change? You decide!


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