Editing the Unchangeable Truth

Reprinted from ISKCON Communications Journal, Volume 11 (2005)
By: 
Jayadvaita Swami

“Don’t add anything. Don’t subtract anything. Don’t change anything.” This was the instruction ISKCON’s founder-acharya, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, many times gave to his disciples. Yet some disciples he engaged to edit his words for publication—that is (by definition) to add, subtract, and change. Here I present a brief history of that editorial work.

Introduction

Before Srila Prabhupada came to the West, his writing, publishing, and distribution were a “one-man show.” He himself did it all. The only editing done on his writing was whatever editing he did himself.

He put substance ahead of language. As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.11): “Literature that is full of descriptions of the glories of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization.” Even if imperfectly composed, the Bhagavatam says, such literature is “heard, sung, and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.”

Srila Prabhupada was aware of the shortcomings of his English. As he himself wrote in his unedited commentary on this verse:

We know that in our honest attempt for presenting this great literature conveying the transcendental message for reviving God-consciousness of the people in general, as a matter of re-spiritualisation of the world atmosphere,-is fret with many difficulties. Regard being had to the facts that our capacity of presenting the matter in adequate language, specially a foreign language, will certainly fail and there may be so many literary discrepancies inspite of our honest attempt to present it in the proper way.

Still, he had hope:

But we are sure that with our all faults in this connection the seriousness of the subject matter will be taken into consideration and the leaders of the society will still accept this on account of its being an honest attempt for glorifying the Almighty Great so much now badly needed.

He offered an example:

When there is fire in the house, the inmates of the house go out for help from the neighbors who may be foreigners to such inmates and yet without any adequate language the victims of the fire express themselves and the neighbors understand the need even though not expressed in adequate language.

And so:

The same spirit of co-operation is needed in the matter of broadcasting this transcendental message of the Srimad Bhagwatam throughout the whole poluted atmosphere of the present day world situation. After all it is a technical science of spiritual values and as such we are concerned with the techniques and not with the language. If the techniques of this great literature are understood by the people of the world, there is the success.

Yet once Srila Prabhupada came to the West, he wanted his writings edited: “I wish that all copies, before finally going to the press, must be thoroughly revised and edited so that there may not be any mistakes especially of spelling and grammar or of the Sanskrit names.” 1

How Were the Books Written?

Before we discuss the editing, let’s first look at how the books were written.

Some books Srila Prabhupada wrote out in longhand or typed himself. These include Easy Journey to Other Planets, Sri Isopanishad, the first and second cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam, the first five or six chapters of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and chapters one through five or six of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila.

Most of his books, however, he dictated on a Grundig dictating machine, using tapes that each afforded perhaps an hour of dictation. This enabled him to achieve greater speed. Yet the method had its drawbacks: he had less opportunity to review and revise his words, he sometimes spoke passages twice, and—most of all—he had to depend on the accuracy of his transcribers. Especially in the early years, accuracy was poor. The transcribers were not yet deeply familiar with his philosophy, they had difficulty with his strong Bengali accent, and most of his Sanskrit words and quotations were strange to their ears.2 Moreover, Srila Prabhupada’s frequent clicking of the switch to start, stop, and review his dictation clipped short many words or deleted them entirely.

This resulted in numerous gaps and errors. Sometimes transcribers simply left things out—entire Sanskrit quotations, for example—or gave only phonetic approximations. Sometimes they could only guess at what Srila Prabhupada was saying, and often guessed wrong.

This was most conspicuously true for Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and to a lesser extent for the “Krishna Book.”3 In later books, the quality improved. Srila Prabhupada, instead of mailing tapes for transcription, had a transcriber personally traveling with him. The transcribers became well versed in his philosophy, accustomed to his accent, and familiar with his favorite quotations. And some of the transcribers learned the Sanskrit and Bengali alphabets in order to refer to the source texts that Srila Prabhupada himself was using. So errors in transcription, though they still occurred, became considerably less frequent and less severe.

Some of Srila Prabhupada’s books were compiled from his recorded lectures or conversations. Examples are Teachings of Queen Kunti, Teachings of Lord Kapila, and small books like On the Way to Krishna and The Perfection of Yoga. The Nectar of Instruction was exceptional. Srila Prabhupada dictated it to disciples who took down his words longhand.4

For some books Srila Prabhupada saw the edited manuscript or a pre-press blueprint. For most he didn’t.

Who Were the Editors?

Srila Prabhupada’s editors were various. His first steady editor was Rayarama Dasa, an early disciple who worked professionally as a freelance writer for comic books. By the time I joined Srila Prabhupada’s society, in 1968, Rayarama was among what Srila Prabhupada called “the main pillars of the society.”5 Next came Hayagriva Dasa, whom Srila Prabhupada met in 1966 while walking down a street on New York’s Lower East Side. Hayagriva (then known as Howard Wheeler) had an MA in English, and as he relates, Srila Prabhupada (then most often referred to simply as “the Swami”) had work for him to do:

Noticing that he has been typing, I offer to type for him, and he hands me the manuscript of the First Chapter, Second Canto, of Vyasadeva’s Srimad-Bhagavatam.

“You can type this?”

“Oh yes,” I say.

He is delighted. We roll a small typewriter table out of the corner, and I begin work. His manuscript is single spaced without margins on flimsy, yellowing Indian paper. It appears that the Swami tried to squeeze every word possible onto the pages. I have to use a ruler to keep from losing my place.

The first words read: “O the king.” I naturally wonder whether “O” is the king’s name, and “the king” stands in apposition. After concluding that “O King” is intended instead, I consult the Swami.

“Yes,” he says. “Change it, then.”

As I retype another paragraph, I notice certain grammatical discrepancies, perhaps typical of Bengalis who learned English from British headmasters in the early 1900s. Considerable editing is required to get the text to conform with current American usage. After pointing out a few changes, I tell the Swami that if he so desired, I could make all the proper corrections.

“Very good,” he says, smiling. “Do it! Put it nicely.”

Thus my editorial services begin.

I type all morning in the room where he reads, translates, welcomes visitors, and “takes rest.” There is a tin footlocker, used as a desk, and a rug on which he sits and sometimes sleeps. Apart from my typewriter table, there is no other furniture. As I type, I hear him cooking in the kitchen, and can smell the butter being boiled to make ghee. I finish the chapter: twenty pages, double spaced with wide margins. The original had filled only eight pages.

“Let me know if there’s any more work,” I tell him. “I can take it back to Mott Street and type there.”

“More? Yes,” he says. “There is lots more.”

He opens the closet door and pulls out two large bundles tied with saffron cloth. Within, he shows me thousands of pages of single spaced, marginless manuscripts of literatures unknown in the Western world. I stand before them, astounded.

“It’s a lifetime of typing,” I protest.

“Oh, yes!” he smiles happily. “Many lifetimes.”

(“The Hare Krishna Explosion,” Hayagriva Dasa, pp. 15–16)

Another early disciple, Satsvarupa Dasa (later Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami), did considerable editing on Srila Prabhupada’s early dictated works. Gaurasundara Dasa and others also tried their hand at editing. In 1970 I gradually began, and later in the 1970s, Dravida Dasa.

For Sanskrit, Srila Prabhupada’s first editor was Pradyumna Dasa, who continued to serve as the main Sanskrit editor throughout Srila Prabhupada’s life. Among the other editors in what eventually became the BBT Sanskrit department were Nitai Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Santosha Dasa, Jayasacinandana Dasa, and Gopiparanadhana Dasa.

Who Did What?

A history of who served as the English editors for which books is best presented in tabular form. Listed here are only the books published during Srila Prabhupada’s lifetime. The year given is the year of first publication. Editors mentioned in parentheses did minor work, usually in the form of final checking or polishing or supplying missing material.

Book

Year

Editor(s)

Bhagavad-gita As It Is16

1968

Hayagriva, Rayarama17

Teachings of Lord Caitanya

1969

Satsvarupa, Rayarama18

Sri Isopanisad

1969

Rayarama

Easy Journey to Other Planets

1970

Rayarama

Krishna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System

1970

Hayagriva

The Nectar of Devotion

1970

Purushottama,19 Rayarama (Hayagriva, Jayadvaita)

Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (chapters 1 through 37)

1970

Satsvarupa, Hayagriva

Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead (chapters 38 through 90)

1971

Satsvarupa, Jayadvaita (Hayagriva)

Bhagavad-gita As It Is (unabridged)

1972

Rayarama, Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto

1972

Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Second Canto

1970–220

Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Third Canto

1972–4

Satsvarupa, Jayadvaita (Hayagriva)

On the Way to Krishna

1973

Hayagriva

Raja-vidya: The King of Knowledge

1973

Hayagriva

Elevation to Krishna Consciousness

1973

Hayagriva

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fourth Canto (chapters 1 through 8)

1974

Satsvarupa, Jayadvaita (Hayagriva)

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fourth Canto (chapters 9 through 31)

1974

Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila

1974

Jayadvaita

Caitanya-caritamrita, Madhya-lila

1975

Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

Caitanya-caritamrita, Antya-lila

1975

Jayadvaita, Dravida21

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fifth Canto (chapters 1 through 13)

1975

Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fifth Canto (chapters 14 through 26)

1975

Jayadvaita, Dravida22

The Nectar of Instruction

1975

Hrishikesananda, Hayagriva (?), Jayadvaita

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sixth Canto

1975–6

Jayadvaita

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Seventh Canto

1976

Jayadvaita

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Eighth Canto

1976

Jayadvaita

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Ninth Canto

1977

Jayadvaita

Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers

1977

Syamasundara,23 Jayadvaita

Teachings of Lord Kapila

1977

Hayagriva (Jayadvaita)

The Science of Self-Realization

1977

several24

Srimad-Bhagavatam, Tenth Canto (chapters 1-13)25

1977

Jayadvaita

 

What Sort of Editing Was Done?

 In principle, the editing Srila Prabhupada asked for was minimal: “[S]imply 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.”6

In practice, to keep from shabbiness, more than grammar and spelling was involved. Apart from spelling, grammar, and punctuation, the editors applied standards of consistency (Deity or deity? spirit-soul or spirit soul?). They tried to make sure that pronouns had unambiguous antecedents. They broke long paragraphs into shorter ones. They turned passive constructions (“and the rest is being awaited by Him”) into active (“and He is awaiting the rest”).7 They made skewed constructions parallel.

They turned British or Indian usages into American. “We have got” often became “we have.” Rupees became dollars, “lakhs and crores” became “thousands and millions,” and figures like “1,00,000” (one lakh) became “100,000.”

In some instances, minor examples that would have seemed strange or jarring to a Western reader were modified or deleted.

In the books as published, when Srila Prabhupada quotes a verse in Sanskrit an English translation usually follows. Most often, this translation was inserted by the editors. It was the editors, too, who routinely supplied the chapter-verse references (Srila Prabhupada did so only on occasion) and corrected wrong ones.

When Srila Prabhupada used outmoded rhetorical devices, like parenthetical question marks or exclamation marks to express irony—“the modernised Sanyasins (?)”8—the editors deleted them.

The editors often changed Srila Prabhupada’s choice of words. “Therefore give up your disparity of mind” became “Therefore give up your anxiety.”9 And the gopis, in the edited “Krishna Book,” modestly try to cover their nakedness not “by placing the left-hand palm upon the vagina” but “by placing their left hand over their pubic area.”10

Any editor, typically, strives to bring out a work that is properly polished and yet stay as close to the author’s language as possible. For Srila Prabhupada’s books, this could be especially challenging. The technical nature of the subject, the enlightened status of the author, the sense that Krishna Himself was speaking through him, and the charm, grace, simplicity, and precision so often found in his personal voice—all these were in constant tension with a grammar and diction just as often in need of serious repair.

And then again, by working so much with Srila Prabhupada’s writings and in his Society, an editor could be lulled into accepting Srila Prabhupada’s nonstandard locutions as standard. The use of benedict as a verb, and semina instead of semen, thus sometimes bluffed their way past the editors’ eyes.

The editors pruned for conciseness. “Since he has departed from this place it is now seven months past up to date but he has not as yet returned back from there” became “Since he departed, seven months have passed, yet he has not returned.”11 Sometimes redundant sentences were deleted and sometimes (again because of redundancy) entire paragraphs.

Before coming to America, Srila Prabhupada had twice translated some or all of the first five or six chapters of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, so as editor I amalgamated the two manuscripts, choosing text sometimes from one, sometimes the other. And for books compiled from lectures, of course, extensive cutting and rearranging were required.

For all of Srila Prabhupada’s books, the editors checked and revised for mundane accuracy. When Srila Prabhupada gave mathematical calculations, did the numbers tally? When he gave a geographical reference, did it match the map?

For grammar, clarity, readability, and flow, the editors routinely changed Srila Prabhupada’s sentence structure—often utterly reworking it—merging sentences, or severing them, or rearranging clauses, striving for a suitable mixture of simple sentences and complex.

Connectivity was another concern. Did each sentence follow from the one before? For this the editors routinely added connectives: and, but, however, therefore, nonetheless. (Hayagriva was particularly liberal with indeed, and I became nearly as generous.)

The editors worked for clarity, euphony, and force. Srila Prabhupada wrote to Hayagriva, “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.”12 In practice, as mentioned, such editing was a multifaceted task.

Sanskrit Editing

 A large part of this task—this is where Pradyumna came in—was the Sanskrit editing. Pradyumna began by learning, on his own, to transliterate Devanagari into roman characters. Srila Prabhupada was pleased, and Pradyumna, going further, became expert in the Sanskrit language. He tells of his role:

Sanskrit editing means that I would put the correct diacritic marks on the Sanskrit words, and I would spell them correctly according to the international system. I would also adjust Prabhupada’s grammar in the word-for-word translations. Also, if something were missing, I would send a lot of queries, “What about this, what about that, is this okay?” I had a lot of letters from Prabhupada, “Yes, you can do this. You can do this. Yes, that’s okay.”

(Siddhanta Dasa, p. 10)13

Pradyumna was speaking modestly. He did considerably more. He’s the one who set the Sanskrit transliteration standards for Srila Prabhupada’s books, who systematised the division of Sanskrit compound words into their constituent parts, who set rules of style (italics? caps?), and who made scriptural verse references a consistent feature.14

Beyond this, he answered countless queries from the English editors, and straightened the editors out when they misunderstood intended meanings. I remember that on one occasion, when a passage for the last chapter of the “Krishna Book” was unclear, Pradyumna and I sent a query to Srila Prabhupada, who simply sent back a one-word answer: yaduvaraparisat. In other words, “This is the word I’m translating. You figure it out and set things right.”

In 1972 Pradyumna joined Srila Prabhupada’s personal entourage and traveled with him to serve as Sanskrit editor for the rest of Srila Prabhupada’s days. While traveling with him, Pradyumna often did considerable work in editing his translations.

To give an extreme example of how much Pradyumna might revise, we may consider Srimad-Bhagavatam 5.22.2. Here is the transcription of Srila Prabhupada’s original dictation:

SG answered, My dear king, it is exactly like the big wheel which is moving and along with him the small ants which have taken shelter of the big wheel, they are also moving; that is to say, the big wheel is moving towards northern side, the small ants also moving towards that side. Similarly, with movement of the big orbit, the small stars appear to be moving along with it, so when passing through the Dhruva loka and Sumeru mountain, the small ant-like stars also move like that. So with the movement of the sun and other small planets and stars which have taken shelter of the big orbit moves in the same direction, therefore, it sometimes appears to be moving differently in different directions.

After Pradyumna’s revision:

Sri SG answered, My dear king, it is exactly like the wheel of the potter which is moving and along with it the small ants which are located on the big wheel, they are also moving along with the wheel, but their motion is seen to be different because they are noticed at one time to be in one place and later in another on the wheel. Similarly, with movement of the wheel of time which is observed by the constellations and signs. They are moving to the right around Dhruva loka and Sumeru mountain and moving with them are the ant-like planets like the sun and other small planets. But because these planets are seen in different constellations and signs at different times, the motion of these planets is different from the motion of the zodiac or wheel of time.

And this is how the verse finally appeared in print:

Sri Sukadeva Gosvami clearly answered: When a potter’s wheel is moving and small ants located on that big wheel are moving with it, one can see that their motion is different from that of the wheel because they appear sometimes on one part of the wheel and sometimes on another. Similarly, the signs and constellations, with Sumeru and Dhruvaloka on their right, move with the wheel of time, and the antlike sun and other planets move with them. The sun and planets, however, are seen in different signs and constellations at different times. This indicates that their motion is different from that of the zodiac and the wheel of time itself.

In a lecture in 1973, Srila Prabhupada, on the occasion of his Vyasa-puja,15 expressed his gratitude for Pradyumna’s service. A volume of Srila Prabhupada’s edition of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita had just been published, and Srila Prabhupada humbly gave Pradyumna this credit for the book:

Our Panditji, Pradyumna, he has presented. Actually, he has worked for it. Although I have translated, … I am very much indebted to him that he very carefully edits and makes the thing very perfect… . Because mostly there is Sanskrit portion, my beloved disciple Pradyumna—I call him Pandit Mahasaya because he is actually doing the pandit’s work—so he edits and he works very hard.

For Srila Prabhupada’s final literary work—Srimad-Bhagavatam, Tenth Canto, Chapter Thirteen—the last portion was in fact an extraordinary collaboration between Srila Prabhupada and Pradyumna. While Srila Prabhupada lay prone on his bed, close to death, Pradyumna, having studied the Sanskrit verses and the Sanskrit commentaries Srila Prabhupada preferred, would read them to him in Sanskrit, in small portions. Some portions Pradyumna would translate and read out, some Srila Prabhupada himself would translate, and Srila Prabhupada would comment. The translations and commentary, recorded on tape, were then blended and edited together to become the text for the book.

Revisions to Published Books (before Srila Prabhupada's Departure)

Starting from the early 1970s, or perhaps even earlier, the BBT has published revised versions of Srila Prabhupada’s books.26 The editorial staff discovered occasional errors in published books and routinely corrected them in later printings. Rarely, Srila Prabhupada himself also pointed out a word or passage he wanted revised.27 In accordance with standard publishing practice,28 the BBT published such revisions without giving notice.

Also beginning from the early 1970s, the BBT began publishing Srila Prabhupada’s books in versions revised so extensively that they deserved to be called “second editions.” The first of these were re-edited versions of Easy Journey to Other Planets (1972) and Sri Isopanishad, both revised by Hayagriva Dasa on the grounds that the English editing stood in need of substantial improvement.29 Sometime in 1972 or 1973 I made extensive revisions to the Second Canto. The revised version, though never marked “Second Edition,” was used in all printings after the first. In 1974 the BBT published a second edition of Teachings of Lord Caitanya, again revised for English by Hayagriva. (He revised the book entirely from the published text, without benefit of the original manuscripts, by then lost, or Srila Prabhupada’s Caitanya-caritamrita, not yet written.) The second edition used Sanskrit diacritical spellings, and with Srila Prabhupada’s permission Nitai Dasi supplied transliterations for many Sanskrit verses given in the first edition only in English.

In 1972, when the first American edition of Srimad-Bhagavatam, First Canto, was in preparation and the first volume nearly ready for printing, Satsvarupa brought to Srila Prabhupada’s attention that in numerous instances the edited version seemed to have low fidelity to Srila Prabhupada’s original work. Srila Prabhupada responded, in essence: “Don’t lose time. Just print it.”30

In 1976, however, on my own initiative, I did extensive revisions for this canto, especially for the translations in the first two chapters. I then prepared a list showing these revised translations, with a cover letter explaining what I had done, and when Srila Prabhupada visited ISKCON New York in July of 1976 I brought the package to his room.

I had expected merely to drop it off with his secretary. But to my surprise I found Srila Prabhupada right there before me, asking to know why I had come. I told him, and he instructed me to read to him the revised translations, right there on the spot. So I began, Srila Prabhupada listening attentively, and after I had read a few verses he interrupted: “So, what you have done?”

“I’ve revised the translations to make them closer to what Your Divine Grace originally said.”

“What I have said?”

“Yes, Srila Prabhupada.”

Srila Prabhupada then made a characteristic dismissive gesture and said: “Then it is all right.”

And that was that.31

Revisions to Published Books (after Srila Prabhupada's Departure)

 After Srila Prabhupada passed away, the BBT editorial staff continued to notice and correct editorial discrepancies in Srila Prabhupada’s books. Many of these were brought to light by ISKCON devotees, especially those serving as BBT translators.32 (The BBT has translated books by Srila Prabhupada into some eighty-five languages.) As during Srila Prabhupada’s presence, the BBT continued to correct minor editorial errors routinely, without giving notice.

But again as in Srila Prabhupada’s time, for some books more extensive revisions seemed needed. Thus in 1979 the BBT trustees resolved: “Harikesa Swami will discuss with Satsvarupa Goswami and Jayadvaita Swami about the necessary corrections in original manuscripts such as Bhagavad-gita As It Is (complete ed), 3rd canto, etc.”33

My review of Bhagavad-gita As It Is turned up editorial errors and omissions extensive enough to warrant a second edition. And so, after extensive consultation with senior ISKCON devotees, the second edition was published in 1983.34

For The Nectar of Devotion I did a light revision, published by the BBT in 1982. Probably the most prominent feature of this second edition was some adjustment to the structure of the chapters. Several of Srila Prabhupada’s original chapters had been large, so Rayarama had broken them down, at somewhat arbitrary intervals, into chapters of a comfortable size.35 While revising the book, I found that some chapter titles and section titles mismatched their contents,36 and some chapters began in the midst of a topic, rather than before or after. I renamed and redivided accordingly. The second edition also included an appendix that showed where the “waves” of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s “Ocean of Devotional Service” had their places in Srila Prabhupada’s summary study.

In 1993, Dravida Dasa revised Sri Isopanishad, comparing the first and second American editions with the original text Srila Prabhupada had published in 1960 in his Back to Godhead. Again, Dravida recovered extensive passages that earlier editions had lost.37 In 1996 the BBT also published second editions of the “Krishna Book” and Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, both revised by Dravida Dasa, who corrected errors and included passages earlier omitted.38 For Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, also, many geographical place names fussily Sanskritized by the editors of the first edition were rendered in the vernacular forms by which the places are actually known.

In the mid-1990s the BBT published a second edition of Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers, edited by a less experienced BBT editor. Because readers of this edition pointed out numerous editorial discrepancies, the BBT directors resolved in 2002 that Dravida Dasa will review the book before its next printing. Either he will correct the discrepancies, or the BBT will revert to the first edition.

Apart from the books mentioned here as having been revised, all of Srila Prabhupada’s books continue to be published only in their original editions, with only occasional minor corrections for typographical and other such errors. So, for example, the Srimad-Bhagavatam from the Second Canto onwards continues to be published only in its original BBT edition.39

Because translators, indexers, and other readers who intensively study Srila Prabhupada’s books continue to turn up suspected editorial errors, the BBT provides an e-mail address to which such errors may be sent: errors.english.books@pamho.net. As a matter of policy the BBT editors, mindful of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions, resist changes. But verified editorial errors are corrected in later printings or editions. This policy has brought the BBT some outspoken criticism, much of it, unfortunately, uncivil and badly uninformed.40 An extended response to such criticism stands beyond the scope of this article.41

Keeping Track of BBT Editorial History

 Because on the title and copyright pages of Srila Prabhupada’s books the BBT staff has often been less than meticulous about recording new editions, for some books, especially those published and revised during Srila Prabhupada’s lifetime, one may have a hard time discerning which edition one is reading. Aware of this, the BBT directors have resolved that future printings should make the publishing history more clear.

Additionally, in 2002 the BBT directors hired a consultant to conceive of a comprehensive system for keeping track of the editorial history of each English BBT title. The system, the directors said, should enable us to preserve, catalogue, and access the various edited and unedited versions, and it should tell us, for each version, who did what, when, and why, both in summary and, ideally, at the level of the sentence or the word. And the system should work for other languages as well.

The consultant has provided specifications for such a system, ambitious in scope, and work is underway at the Bhaktivedanta Archives. The envisioned outcome is a searchable hypertext library, perhaps accessible on the internet, that would enable a researcher who selects a particular verse or passage to view the relevant pages of the original and revised manuscripts, any editorial notes, the first and later editions, the Sanskrit or Bengali commentaries Srila Prabhupada consulted, and so on. Also included for each title would be a production history, naming the original editors, typesetters, proofreaders, layout people, and other production people, telling where the prepress work was done, giving the size of the first print run, and telling who were the printers and binders for the original edition.

By this system, the BBT intends to keep, as far as practicable, an “audit trail” for scholars, BBT staff, and other interested readers, so that most readers can have the benefit of books carefully edited yet free from burdensome critical apparatus while those who wish may avail themselves of a detailed editorial history. In advance of such a history, I hope the present overview will be of some service to seekers of editorial truth.

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The Chicago Manual of Style 15th edition, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.  

A History of Philosophy. London: Burns & Oates, 1966. F.C. Copleston.

The Hare Krishna Explosion: The Birth of Krishna Consciousness in America, 1966–1969. West Virginia: Palace Press, 1985. Hayagriva Dasa. 

Editing Twentieth Century Texts, Papers given at the Editorial Conference, University of Toronto, November 1969. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1972. Francess G. Halpenny, ed.  

Responsible Publishing. Los Angeles: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1998. Jayadvaita Swami and Dravida Dasa. 

The Oxford Style Manual. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.  R.M. Ritter, ed.

Memories. Culver City, CA: Monsoon Media, 2003.  Siddhanta Dasa, ed.

Notes

1. Srila Prabhupada letter to Satsvarupa Dasa, 25 January 1970.

2. In recent years, followers of Srila Prabhupada have produced video recordings of his lectures, with subtitles to make his words easier to follow. Yet the subtitles themselves are rich with examples of mishearing—an illustration that the problem is ongoing.

3. This was how Srila Prabhupada referred to his book Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

4. For the history of The Nectar of Instruction I am grateful to Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami, who himself did the bulk of this work.

5. Srila Prabhupada letter to Rayarama Dasa, 3 March 1968.

6. Srila Prabhupada letter to Satsvarupa Dasa, 9 January 1970.

7. Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.13.50.

8. Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.24, purport.

9. Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.13.45.

10. Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Chapter 22.

11. Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.14.7.

12. Srila Prabhupada letter to Hayagriva Dasa, 18 November 1968.

13. For other memories from Pradyumna about how he got started, see Siddhanta Dasa, pp. 4–5, 7, and 9–10.

14. Srila Prabhupada therefore wrote to Pradyumna (on 21 June 1970), “So your efforts in the matter of our Sanskrit editing are effectively improving our books more and more with scholarly standards.”

15. Vyasa-puja is the celebration for the “appearance day” (birthday) of the spiritual master. The lecture took place on 22 August 1973, in London.

16. The manuscript for the complete book was prepared for publication, but it was abridged at the request of the original publisher, the Macmillan Company. Brahmananda Dasa (personal interview, 5 April 2003) reports that Rayarama Dasa flew from New York to Los Angeles to abridge the manuscript in direct consultation with Srila Prabhupada.

17. At first, several devotees had a hand in editing this book. Brahmananda Dasa says, “We were all working on it. I mean, I did it, and Kirtanananda did it, Satsvarupa, Hayagriva, Rayarama, I think even Ranchor. We all had a shot at it. Anyone with any education” (personal interview, 5 May 2003). Similarly, Pradyumna Dasa reports, “A lot of people were editing Prabhupada’s books when they first came into Montreal. Kirtanananda had a copy of the Gita manuscript, Hayagriva had something else, and Rayarama had something else. These were the early days of ISKCON. 1967, ’68” (Memories, Vol. 2, p. 7). Hayagriva and Rayarama finally became the editors for the book.

18. Satsvarupa did preliminary editing, as he did on all the books for which he is listed. Here Rayarama was the main editor.

19. Purushottama, who transcribed the book while traveling with Srila Prabhupada as secretary, did some preliminary editing.

20. Each of the first nine chapters was first published as an individual paperback book.

21. Dravida edited chapters 13, 14, 15, and 17. I oversaw and polished his work and edited the rest of the book.

22. Dravida edited chapters 17 and 25 and at least parts of 18 and 26. I oversaw and polished his work and edited the rest of the book.

23. Syamasundara did some preliminary editing and gave useful editorial suggestions.

24. The text for this book came from articles previously edited by various editors and published in Back to Godhead. I chose the articles and their sequence. Ramesvara Swami and Mukunda (later Mukunda Goswami) added one or two more articles and wrote the titles and introductions.

25. Chapter 13 was published after Srila Prabhupada passed away.

26. In 1972, Easy Journey to Other Planets and Krishna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System were registered with the US Copyright Office with “Revisions and additions.” But minor errors in these and other books may have been noticed and fixed in still earlier printings.

27. The example most well known to ISKCON devotees: He pointed out that in Bhagavad-gita 18.44 an editor had wrongly supplied for go-rakshya the translation “cattle-raising” instead of “cow protection.” On another occasion he pointed out that “purified rice,” in Bhagavatam 1.15.22–3, should have been “putrefied rice.”

28. Both The Chicago Manual of Style and The Oxford Style Manual seem to regard the matter as routine. While noting the difference between a new edition (in which a work is significantly revised or enlarged) and a new impression (in which a book is simply reprinted), Chicago (p. 9) matter-of-factly says, “Corrections are sometimes made in new impressions,” and Oxford (p. 6) simply notes that one meaning of reprint is “a second or new impression of any printed work, with only minor corrections.”

Expressing an uncontroversial view, one scholar goes so far as to say, “[E]mendations in reprintings… have often been fewer than accuracy would demand.” (Halpenny, p. 11, emphasis supplied.)

29. The revised editions of these books came under criticism in a discussion between Srila Prabhupada and some disciples in Vrindavana on 22 June 1977. With reference to a judgment by Srila Prabhupada, the discussion was later entitled “Rascal Editors.”

30. At the time, I was working with ISKCON Press in Boston, where this incident took place, and Satsvarupa related it to me soon after it occurred.

31. The revised version was published in 1976. A full comparison of the revised translations for the first two chapters is online as Bhagavatam Revisions Examined.

32. For two examples, with explanations, see www.bbt.info/main.php?id=85#GRE_Kasi and www.bbt.info/main.php?id=85#GRE_Encircled.

33. BBT resolutions, 12 March 1979. What was intended was that we were to see about necessary corrections with reference to the original manuscripts.

34. A brief history appears in Responsible Publishing (p. 29). A letter widely circulated to solicit input from ISKCON devotees before the book was published appears on pp. 29–33.

35. Rayarama personally told me this, and I personally retyped the manuscripts that bore his editing.

36. “Techniques of Hearing and Memorizing,” for example, had nothing to do with memorization.

37. For examples, see Responsible Publishing, p. 8–9.

38. For examples, see Responsible Publishing, p. 10–13.

Some readers objected to one change in the revised Caitanya-caritamrita: In the introduction to the first chapter, the word initiated has twice been replaced by new wording. Regarding this objection as reasonable, the BBT directors agreed to review it. They sought counsel from eight senior, well-educated devotees outside the BBT, who came to a split decision, four favoring the earlier version, four the later. The directors took the view that either version would be justifiable and the difference was of no great consequence. Of the two instances of initiated, one had come from Srila Prabhupada’s original text (but was arguably not what he intended), the other from me as editor where grammar had required a verb supplied. Deferring to the original text, the directors decided to restore Srila Prabhupada’s initiated but not mine. This revision will appear in the next printing.

39. Curiously, one website advertises the “pre-1978 edition” of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. What is it? The same edition the BBT has published all along.

40. For examples, see 108 Changes to Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita As It Is by Madhudvisa Dasa and In-Depth Examination of Book Revisions by IRG. A collection of links to articles arguing various points of view is published online by the Vaishnava News Network at http://www.vnn.org/news/bbt_revisions.html. [The VNN website is no longer actively updated, and the link to that page is now defunct.] Anonymous critics of the BBT’s editorial policies maintain a site, meant to appear populist, called Adi-vani.org.

41. Such a response may be found in the BBT booklet Responsible Publishing, mentioned above. Other responses appear in Gita Revisions Explained, available online in three parts. Of relevant interest is Bhagavatam Revisions Examined, also mentioned above. The BBT's editorial policies are briefly explained on Krishna.com. [No longer. New location: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Editorial Policies.]