What is “Adi Vani”?

An Analysis
By: 
Jayadvaita Swami

The words adi vani are Sanskrit. According to the Monier-Williams Sanskrit Dictionary, adi means “beginning” or “first,” and vani means “sound,” “voice,” “words,” “literary composition,” and so on.

So adi vani can be taken to mean “original words.”

Sometime around 2003, a group of “Hare Krishna” people began using the term to promote their editorial views about the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda, Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

The term never appears in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, and we have no evidence he ever used it.

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s writings

Śrīla Prabhupāda was a prolific author. He wrote many volumes of translation and commentary for works from the Vedic tradition of India. Most of these books were published before Śrīla Prabhupāda passed away, in November of 1977.

Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote or typed the manuscripts for a few volumes himself, but most of his books he “wrote” by speaking the text into a dictating machine. His disciples then transcribed his words, edited the text, and produced the finished books.

  • Strictly speaking, therefore, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s adi vani—his original words—consist of the words in his original manuscripts or the words he typed or dictated.

The editing of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books

Before Śrīla Prabhupāda came to the West from India, in 1965, he served as his own editor. But after that he engaged his Western disciples to edit his words. All of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, therefore, were extensively edited before they were published.

With Śrīla Prabhupāda’s blanket approval, the editors

  • fixed transcription errors
  • corrected grammar and punctuation
  • revised wordings
  • reworked sentence structure
  • deleted redundancies
  • added text unintentionally missing
  • supplied chapter-verse references
  • and made all sorts of other corrections and revisions.

In the process, they also sometimes made mistakes. So during Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lifetime and afterwards, his publisher, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), from time to time published his books in revised editions.

The history of this work has been summarized in an article, Editing the Unchangeable Truth, published in Volume 11 (2005) of ISKCON Communications Journal.

 

The controversy

Some of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s followers have expressed dissatisfaction with books revised after Śrīla Prabhupāda passed away.

Their opinions vary.

  • Some approve of small revisions—fixing typos, for example—but disapprove of major editing.
  • Others approve of major editing—to fix the most grievous errors—but disapprove of doing minor revisions.
  • Some object to the editing of particular passages.
  • Others say that, in principle, after Śrīla Prabhupāda’s lifetime no further editing should be done.

The BBT still keeps the older editions available. But:

  • Sales of the older editions are small, and growing smaller.
  • The new editions, printed in large runs, are ordered and distributed in large numbers.
  • With few exceptions, the various branches of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness all order the newer editions.

 

How is “adi vani” used?

The term adi vani mainly seems used by those who feel that after Śrīla Prabhupāda’s departure no editing of his books should be done at all.

Their use of the term, however, is curious.

  • By adi vani they don’t mean “his original words” as he originally spoke them.
  • They mean his words as published during his lifetime, after they were edited.

These users of the “adi vani” phrase often show examples of “the original version” and “the revised version” side by side, highlighting the differences, with the implication (sometimes directly stated) that the new version deviates from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original words.

To give an example, here is a sentence from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is (2.31).

FIRST EDITION SECOND EDITION
Discharging one’s specific duty in any field of action in accordance with varnasrama-dharma serves to elevate one to a higher status of life. Discharging one’s specific duty in any field of action in accordance with the orders of higher authorities serves to elevate one to a higher status of life.

 

Here, critics point out, the word varnasrama-dharma (denoting the Vedic social system) has been changed to “the orders of higher authorities.”

This, they say, is outrageous. How could anyone be so arrogant as to tamper in this way with Śrīla Prabhupāda’s adi vani?

Yet what were actually Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original words? The chapter to which this passage belongs was first typed by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself. Here is what he wrote:

"To discharge one’s specific duty in any field of action and as ordered by higher authority is the opportunity for being elevated in higher status of life."
 

So the second edition makes the fewest changes needed to bring the text closer to what Śrīla Prabhupāda originally said:

Śrīla Prabhupāda’s
ORIGINAL MANUSCRIPT
FIRST EDITION
(“Adi Vani”?)
SECOND EDITION
To discharge one’s specific duty in any field of action and as ordered by higher authority is the opportunity for being elevated in higher status of life. Discharging one’s specific duty in any field of action in accordance with varnasrama-dharma serves to elevate one to a higher status of life. Discharging one’s specific duty in any field of action in accordance with the orders of higher authorities serves to elevate one to a higher status of life.

The critics say “adi vani,” but do they mean “his original words”? No.

 

About Adi-vani.org

Anonymous critics of the BBT’s editorial policies maintain a website, adi-vani.org.

None of that site’s small group of regular contributors had any direct role in editing or producing Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books during his physical presence.

One of the main voices on the site is a lawyer named Joseph Fedorowsky, whose spiritual name is Gupta Dasa. In recent years he has been a persistent critic of the BBT’s editors, most especially Jayadvaita Swami.

Ironically, on April 8, 1975, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to Gupta Dasa:

Regarding your idea for writing articles for different legal journals, that will be very nice. I think it will be best if you take a little help from the editors[,] who will be in Los Angeles soon. They can help you to make sure that nothing is stated improperly. They are experienced, so consult with them. Jayadvaita and the others are now here in India, but they will be back by the first of May, so take their advice in this matter. 

The people Śrīla Prabhupāda directed him to take advice from are the people he now derides.

 

Arguments and refutations

We read on the critics’ site that no respectable academic publisher would ever approve of posthumous editing. This contention is wrong, as shown by an article in the NY Times about the re-editing of translations for the Loeb Classical Library.

Further evidence that the contention is wrong is found on the site of the Library of America, a highly respected publisher of classic American literature. There you can read about the careful posthumous editing done for authoritative editions of America’s most celebrated authors.

Other arguments offered on the critics’ site have been extensively answered in