- Commentary on "A Note About the Second Edition"
Original Edition Second Edition
Commentary on "A Note About the Second Edition"
BY: GARUDA DAS, PhD
May 16, 2018 — USA (SUN) —
INTRODUCTION: In 1972, Śrīla Prabhupāda published his translation of and commentary on Bhagavad Gītā with Collier Macmillan (MAC72), and many millions of copies were distributed and sold. After Śrīla Prabhupāda departed from this world, the BBT, for their reasons, published a revised version, second edition of his work in 1983 (BBT83). Appearing on page 766 in the BBT83 edition, signed "—The Publishers" (or appearing on page 866 or on page 868 in later BBT83 editions, without the bolded signature, "the Publishers"), is a singular page, entitled "A Note About the Second Edition." While the Publishers attempt to justify their later revised edition of Śrīla Prabhupāda's Bhagavad Gītā in this note, my comments here will attempt to show how, ironically, their words in this note unintentionally reveal inadequacies and flaws in their justifications.
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: "For the benefit of readers who have become familiar with the first edition of the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is, a few words about this second edition seem in order."
MY COMMENT: Beginning with this opening line, I have several questions: Why just for the benefit of readers who "have become familiar with the first edition"? Why not also for the benefit of those who never read the first edition? And, why not even merely out of respect for Śrīla Prabhupāda's MAC72 edition that he gave to us? And why should this note not be for those general readers who may wish to understand the rationale behind a second edition generally?
The use of the word "familiar," to me, is peculiar. Most of the persons who had "become familiar with the first edition" were not merely familiar with it, but, more accurately, highly treasured it. In many cases, the first edition transformed a person's life into that of a Krishna Bhakta. That kind of transformation indicates a relationship with Prabhupāda's book that is more than one of mere familiarity. I would suggest here that it is certainly not only dangerous to minimize the powerful impact of the MAC72 edition of the BG, but that addressing the so-called readers "familiar" with the first edition is perhaps a conscious or unconscious intention on the part of "the editors" to diminish the importance of the first edition as compared with the second edition justified in this note.
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: "Although in most respects the two editions are the same, the editors of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust have gone back to the oldest manuscripts in their archives to make this second edition even more faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda's original work."
MY COMMENT: Wait a minute . . . how can anything become more faithful to Śrīla Prabhupāda's original work when he himself originally submitted his own work for publication with a prestigious publisher? This is a dangerous assertion, as the "editors" are saying that they are more faithful in the second edition than Śrīla Prabhupāda was to his own work when he submitted it. And that somehow the "editors" know better than Śrīla Prabhupāda what is more faithful or truer to his own work than he is himself and, moreover, ignores the crucial fact that he never requested an "even more faithful" work to be published later or after he would depart from this world.
Another curious thing. If in fact the two editions are "in most respects . . . the same," then just how much more could the second edition be faithful to "Śrīla Prabhupāda's original work"? If they're virtually the same, why make any changes at all? My understanding is that there have been some glaring changes that are not faithful either to his earlier manuscripts nor to the MAC72, and thus we are looking into this carefully.
Now, let's just say that the BBT83 is truly more guided by "the oldest manuscripts in their archives." Prabhupāda never asked anyone to go back to his earlier or earliest drafts of a book he ended up submitting to and publishing with a major world publishing house. The author-translator was alive when he made that choice. It is not as though the BBT editors had to go back to the earliest manuscripts to determine what the true text is of this deceased author—the author consciously and deliberately submitted and signed off on this publication with Collier Macmillan. Moreover, Śrīla Prabhupāda utilized the MAC72 edition for five years in over 250 classes on the Bhagavad Gītā. So why this misapplied, artificial application of historical-critical analysis of Prabhupāda's published BG against his "oldest manuscripts" when he was satisfied with his originally published MAC72 work except for specific changes that he is on record requesting or that are obvious mistakes?
Anyone would have to conclude here that somehow the BBT "editors" know better what is truer to Prabhupāda than Prabhupāda himself, perhaps rationalized by thoughts such as the following: "back in the day, Prabhupāda was rushed and he didn't have the time to do what he really wanted to do, but we know what he really wanted to do from his earliest drafts," or "the devotees editing back then didn't know what they were doing, so Prabhupāda compromised what he really wanted in his publication," or "Prabhupāda didn't know English that well and needed help with that," and "some of the earlier editors were on drugs and had long hair and were hardly capable or qualified to assist Prabhupāda's translation." So are we to believe that Śrīla Prabhupāda did not know with whom he was working at the time? And are we to conclude that Śrīla Prabhupāda was incapable of engaging these contaminated or incompetent souls despite their shortcomings? I don't agree. One of Śrīla Prabhupāda's many miracles was, and still is, that he could take you or me, or for that matter anyone else, and engage them and us in Krishna's sevā despite all shortcomings.
Finally, note the phrase, "the editors." Who are these editors? To my knowledge, there is Jayadvaita Swami, and that's it. No matter whom he may have consulted, no matter how much he may have been aided by others, still, it is my understanding that this second edition, the BBT83, is solely his work for which he alone is responsible since he had the ultimate editorial authority to accept or dismiss changes in Prabhupada's BG. There are no other editors of the BBT who worked on the BG with the Swami who had equal say and influence as did Jayadvaita Swami. So why not mention his name in this note? The person who is solely responsible for the BBT83 edition? Everyone knows it is he who is responsible for it, so why not print that information to convey a sense of honest and full disclosure?
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: "Śrīla Prabhupāda finished Bhagavad-gītā As It Is in 1967, two years after he came from India to America. The Macmillan Company published an abridged edition in 1968 and the first unabridged edition in 1972."
MY COMMENT: Let's more accurately and more fully present the incredible accomplishments that Śrīla Prabhupāda made at the time. Collier Books of the Collier-Macmillan Ltd., London published in 1968 an abridged edition with the prefaced or introductory words by the likes of Allen Ginsberg, Denise Levertov, and Thomas Merton. Wow! I would have loved to have had all three introduce any of my books, especially Merton.
And then in 1972, Collier Books, A Division of Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc. published the unabridged edition of Śrīla Prabhupāda's Bhagavad Gītā, with another intellectual luminary, Professor Edward C. Dimock, Jr. who was teaching at the time at the University of Chicago.
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: "The new American disciples who helped Śrīla Prabhupāda ready the manuscript for publication struggled with several difficulties. Those who transcribed his taped dictation sometimes found his heavily accented English hard to follow and his Sanskrit quotations strange to their ears. The Sanskrit editors had to do their best with a manuscript spotted with gaps and phonetic approximations. Yet their effort to publish Śrīla Prabhupāda's work was a success, and Bhagavad-gītā As It Is has become the standard edition for scholars and devotees around the world."
MY COMMENT: No doubt, there were challenges back then. But does anyone doubt that Śrīla Prabhupāda was unaware of these challenges? Somehow, as an a priori assumption, Śrīla Prabhupāda was aware of these challenges and the possibility of errors along the way, so he was concerned that there would be "no mistakes" in his books. But he was also just as concerned, even firm about "no changes" to the content. It is possible that "the editors" of the BBT83 edition have inflated this notion of "mistake" to the point of making changes to the content that were not only unnecessary on an editing level but not faithful to the content of what Śrīla Prabhupāda offered his reader. I believe that this is the crux of the matter, which calls for careful review.
The last sentence is curious, though. It claims that Śrīla Prabhupāda's work was "a success" because it became the standard edition "for scholars and devotees around the world." Wow. Understated points in the BBT note are as intriguing as the present overstated or hyperbolic point. In no way has Śrīla Prabhupāda's BG become the "standard edition for scholars," or, what to speak of, "scholars around the world." Although I am happy to see here in the Note that there is an interest on the part of the BBT editors to satisfy scholars on some level. Indeed, Śrīla Prabhupāda's MAC72 edition did attract the attention and numerous endorsements from scholars especially in the US and Europe. I wonder why no one has sought endorsements for the BBT83 edition.
The last statement of this paragraph also claims that Śrīla Prabhupāda's work has become the standard edition for "devotees around the world." Doesn't the publisher mean more accurately, ISKCON devotees around the world? Surely it doesn't mean the Shaiva or Shakta devotees, and for that matter, devotees of other Western traditions. Moreover, there are many devotees that do not see the BBT83 as the standard edition and thus seek out publishers who still print the MAC72 edition.
Again, we find more hyperbole, which is concerning. But if the publisher really believes its own statement that the book became the standard for scholars and devotees, then why would there be any need to fix that which has worked so well and so powerfully? Thus, I don't think the publisher believes its own statement given the exaggerative language it has engaged. More accurately, it is the one book of Śrīla Prabhupāda that was a key factor in establishing the Krishna consciousness movement in the West, which saw a dramatic expansion in the US from the date of the publication of the BG in 1972 to the time Śrīla Prabhupāda departed 1977, and even beyond into the 1980's.
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: "For this second edition, however, Śrīla Prabhupāda's disciples had the benefit of having worked with his books for fifteen years. The English editors were familiar with his philosophy and language, and the Sanskrit editors were by now accomplished scholars. And now they were able to see their way through perplexities in the manuscript by consulting the same Sanskrit commentaries Śrīla Prabhupāda consulted when writing Bhagavad-gītā As It Is."
MY COMMENT: What does this mean: "the benefit of having worked with his books for fifteen years"? About what kind of work are we speaking here? Creative editing? Editing for content? Editing out errors only? Or invasively corrective editing? It is not clear at all what it means to have worked with Śrīla Prabhupāda's books. Were these "disciples" (again, note the plural) professionally trained devotees or were they auto-didacts? Now, we are informed that the editors were more familiar with Śrīla Prabhupāda's philosophy and language. Again, how is this much of a qualification? Did these editors receive any formal training or education in editing? There are such trainings. My sense is that "they" did not.
Then we are told that the Sanskrit editors (who are they!?) were "by now accomplished scholars." Really? Who are these "accomplished scholars"? There were none back in the day, to my knowledge, when this edition was being produced. But they too should be named and credited for all their fine work, shouldn't they? Wouldn't BBT be proud to name these "accomplished scholars"? Again, this claim is confounding to me.
The last sentence is curious . . . the editors needed to find their way "through perplexities in the manuscript by consulting the same Sanskrit commentaries Śrīla Prabhupāda consulted . . ." This method should raise eyebrows. Again, are the "editors" and accomplished Sanskrit scholars needing to correct or rewrite the content of Śrīla Prabhupāda's writing? Really? Exactly what was the need to do this? This is not explained.
The decisions that must be made in the delicate task of professional editing requires training, experience, and theological sensitivity in addition to common sense. It should not be a "learn-as-we-work-for-years" with the same texts, inviting crowd-sourced critiques, suggestions, and corrections, which has been their method for years. Rather, it should be genuinely authoritative and respectful of the original author, following the strict instructions from the author for such a task with his own work.
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: "The result is a work of even greater richness and authenticity. The word-for-word Sanskrit-English equivalents now follow more closely the standard of Śrīla Prabhupāda's other books and are therefore more clear and precise. In places the translations, though already correct, have been revised to come closer to the original Sanskrit and to Śrīla Prabhupāda's original dictation. In the Bhaktivedanta purports, many passages lost to the original edition have been restored to their places. And Sanskrit quotations whose sources were unnamed in the first edition now appear with full references to chapter and verse."
MY COMMENT: The Publishers' claim here is that there is even "greater richness and authenticity" with the revised BBT83 edition of Śrīla Prabhupāda's BG. Apparently Śrīla Prabhupāda didn't desire or know how to make his work more authentic or richer, or maybe he didn't have time to do so, since he was rushed. Whatever the reason that the editors give to justify their reworking/revising the original text, the BBT editors have come to rescue the work out of its proven extraordinary success, from 1972 through 1983. I don't doubt that there was a valid but modest editorial cleaning up of the text that any publisher would ordinarily insist upon, but to go further than this is where serious issues arise. To go back to Śrīla Prabhupāda's "oldest manuscripts" as if they were representative of what he truly desired for the very book he personally authorized in the end carries with it an assumption that the BBT editors know better what Śrīla Prabhupāda desired for his BG than he did. Moreover, it transgresses the basic emphatic instruction of Śrīla Prabhupāda, which is "no changes!" and ignores the severe warning he so powerfully characterized as "the change disease."
Does it strike anyone reading this . . . going back to the words quoted above . . . that it is rather forward of the "editors" to assume that they can bestow greater richness" and "greater authenticity" on Śrīla Prabhupāda's Bhagavad Gītā? Wasn't Śrīla Prabhupāda the embodiment of authenticity? Of the Krishna Bhakti teachings and guru paramparā? What more authenticity could these BBT editors and supposed Sanskrit scholars lend to Śrīla Prabhupāda's work?
If these were themselves not serious enough concerns, then perhaps this one, maybe the ultimate one, has to do with the theological value in treasuring what it was that Krishna and Śrīla Prabhupāda left us: A gift that he so enjoyed for several years without any indication that more editing was required—a gift from which the Movement thrived like no other time—a gift through which divine grace surely had come and still comes to so many precisely because this is what he gave us and left for us—it is his legacy. And to do anything more than just the absolutely modest, few, necessary editorial corrections to Śrīla Prabhupāda's work, is to dethrone the divine grace that flows from it. I believe that this is what agonizes so many devotees, which they may have been unable to articulate fully. And to make matters worse and likely more agonizing, to conduct years of a kind of crowd-source editing, constantly changing things forward and backward as devotees object to this and that, etc., makes a mockery of the very blessings that Śrīla Prabhupāda's BG has embodied in the MAC72 edition.
I have begun to understand the anguish, and the sense of hopelessness and helplessness that so many devotees feel in regard to this extremely central issue. Again, I apologize here as I have elsewhere for assuming that the BBT as a publisher was doing its job professionally and assuming that the BBT editors were trustworthy in their sevā, maturing as we all naturally do as we delve more deeply into a life of Krishna bhakti. I am sorry that I was unaware of the extent that the BBT editors have overreached in their editing work, trying to enhance Śrīla Prabhupāda's work, trying to correct him or make him more consistent with his own words, etc. And now I'm attempting to do something about it.
BBT PUBLISHERS' NOTE: —The Publishers [please note that some of the BBT printings don't have this signature on the page]
MY COMMENT: The Publishers? Aren't we really talking about Jayadvaita Brahmacari and later Swami here, who has always been the BBT's absolute authority on editing? The judge, the jury, the defense, the offense, the whole adjudicative burden of assessing the editing responsibility? Hasn't it always rested on his shoulders? Hasn't he had the supreme trans-zonal/trans-guru power in the Movement to say ultimately what stays in Śrīla Prabhupāda's books and what does not?
MY CONCLUDING COMMENT: This printed note at the back of the various second edition BBT83 printings of the BG, in my opinion (devotional as well as professional), is simply an inadequate explanation for the justification of the second edition: it is verbose, it contains understated facts with some overstated claims and hyperboles, and it addresses too narrow a readership. It is not only inadequate, it is unacceptable, as it is misleading in many ways and, upon examination, it reads as a rather sloppy explanation.
Surely, we are beyond this kind of thing now, aren't we? Any reader of Śrīla Prabhupāda's revised edition of his original work deserves a far more honest, a more precise explanation. A very different kind of note should have been produced for this second edition that addresses ALL readers, which more accurately, more succinctly and straightforwardly presents the editorial processes involved and the names of the persons responsible for them, along with their qualifications.
Please also see:
Revisions Only With the Consent of the Author