“Not a Shabby Thing”

What Śrīla Prabhupāda told his editors and publishers about finding and fixing mistakes
By: 
Jayadvaita Swami

Publishers revise their books. It’s standard practice. You don’t perpetuate mistakes. You fix them. Especially when the mistakes are your own (the publisher’s own), not the author’s. 

And when publishers make corrections, they don’t litter the page with little footnotes to tell you where all the goofs were. The mistakes simply disappear, with the corrected text in its place. 
In the event that revisions are extensive, it’s standard practice to publish an explanation: What was done? Who did it? Why? And that’s it. What should matter to the reader, after all, is the text, not the corrections. 
An exception is made in the case of what is called “critical editions.” A critical treatment is usually reserved for ancient and classical manuscripts, in editions intended to enable scholars to minutely study the differences between texts. For example, there’s a critical edition of the Sanskrit Mahābhārata, noting in detail the differences between various available manuscripts. There are also critical editions of Shakespeare, noting the differences between the “First Folio,” “Second Folio,” and so on. 
If we wanted, we could publish a critical edition for every BBT book, showing how the edited version differs from Śrīla Prabhupāda’s original dictation. Do you think that critical editions are what Śrīla Prabhupāda had in mind for us to publish? 
Were we to publish a critical edition of, for example, Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, showing the differences between the first edition and the second, the main service we’d be doing the reader would be to point out to him the hundreds of bloopers and blunders committed in the first edition of the book (Click here to see a sample of what such a critical edition would look like). Do you think that would help the reader? Would it bolster his confidence in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books? Does he really need to be told, for example, that the first edition spoke of “a planet of trees”? 
Śrīla Prabhupāda gave no sign that he wanted his books published in critical editions.

Instructions from Śrīla Prabhupāda 

Did Śrīla Prabhupāda want his books edited? Yes, he did. And are the BBT editors who continue to correct errors in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books acting under Śrīla Prabhupāda’s instructions? Yes, they are. 
Consider this, from a letter (9 January 1970) to one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s early editors, Satsvarūpa Dāsa, now Satsvarūpa Dāsa Gosvāmī: 
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 Kṛṣṇa, but, still, we should not present a shabby thing. Although Kṛṣṇa 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.
However much a mess a book may be, if it glorifies Kṛṣṇa the bona fide devotees will accept it. But Śrīla Prabhupāda clearly and unequivocally instructed that his books should not have mistakes. “We should not present a shabby thing.
Whose responsibility is it to make sure that such mistakes do not appear? It is the responsibility of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s editors and his publisher, the BBT.
Śrīla Prabhupāda instructed his editors to be vigilant against errors. He did not want his books to include mistakes due to editorial negligence. Nor did he want doubtful text simply pushed through. 
In 1970, when Brahmānanda Dāsa was in charge of ISKCON Press (the forerunner of the BBT), Śrīla Prabhupāda would sometimes review final manuscripts or proofs for the Kṛṣṇa  book. When on one occasion Śrīla Prabhupāda found an editorial error, he sent Brahmānanda this memorable instruction (17 April 1970): 
In KRSNA chapter #87, on page 4, the last line, it is said, “known as budbuvasa, which is manifested by Govinda.” I do not know what is this editing. The correct word is Bhurbhuvasvah as it is in the Gayatri mantra and everybody knows it. This “budbuvasa” is an extraordinary word, neither it is Sanskrit nor English, so how it has avoided the vigilance of so many editors? So if none of the editors knew this word, why was it pushed? There should be no such negligences like this, nothing uncertain should be pushed. Now what other discrepancies there may be like this? Or what is the use of such editing? Everything must be done very carefully and attentively.
What other discrepancies might there have been? Śrīla Prabhupāda expected his editors to find them—and purge them. The editors did so—but imperfectly, as Śrīla Prabhupāda later brought to the attention of Brahmānanda (on 2 June 1970): 
In the present Kṛṣṇa book everything is done nice, but there are many mistakes, but on the whole the work is nice.
Śrīla Prabhupāda was pleased with the book, but he also noted the mistakes. He did not want errors. As Śrīla Prabhupāda had written to Brahmānanda earlier (10 December 69): 
In every publication house all printing matters are edited at least three times. So we should be very much careful about grammatical and printing mistakes. That will mar the prestige of the press and the institution.
Six years later, Śrīla Prabhupāda reiterated the same message: The books should not have mistakes. When Rameśvara Dāsa was in charge of book publishing in Los Angeles, Śrīla Prabhupāda wrote to him (20 December 75): 
I note that for the new printing of the abridged Gita, Dai Nippon, there were mistakes. Why there should be mistakes? Mistakes makes the book useless. You must be very, very careful. It will be detrimental to the sales.
At the risk of overloading this paper with quotations, here’s one more, from yet another letter to Brahmānanda (22 April 1970): 
Regarding the Topmost Yoga, in the blueprint there are many mistakes. I am pointing out some of them as follows: 
Page 2 “. . . decided to kill his sister.” not sisters, because only Devaki was there. 
The Lord’s compromise was that He had Vasudeva propose to the brother-in-law . . .” This sentence is obscure. The actual fact is Vasudeva made a compromise and said to his brother-in-law, “such and such”. 
Then everywhere there is yogins, gosvamins, sannyasins, etc. in many places. The “n” is not required—that I have already informed Pradyumna. 
On page 17 there is a word “enfuriated”; this is a spelling mistake, it should be “infuriated”. 
Then on page 48: “on the bank of the Ganges near Didbee”. This is not “Didbee”, it is “Delhi”. 
On page 49 there are so many “gosvamins,” but there should be no “n.” 
In this way I have read the book sporadically, not very minutely. I think it should be gone through once more very carefully and all the mistakes that are still existing there should be corrected. If the books are printed with spelling mistakes and other mistakes, that will be a discredit for our publication. So please see that editorial work is done very nicely. [emphasis supplied] 
Śrīla Prabhupāda had read the book “sporadically.” But to read the book carefully, minutely, and correct all mistakes was a task he assigned to his editors. And he not only assigned a one-time task, but clearly stated the principle involved: No mistakes. The editing must be done nicely. It is this standard, stated by Śrīla Prabhupāda himself, that the BBT continues to uphold as the standard for every one of Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books