Govinda dasi: So really, the issue is not how he changed the books; it’s the fact that they are changed. Also, that the concept of bowdlerizing is a Western concept; it’s a scholarly concept. But there’s another concept that has a Sanskrit name: it’s arsha prayoga. It means ‘respect for the spiritual master’s words.’ That you respect them—if he says that the sky is pink and white polka-dotted, then it’s pink and white polka-dotted—that’s how it is with the disciple. There are so many stories like that in the Vedas, where the guru tests the disciple in this way. So basically, we have to have respect for Srila Prabhupada’s words. He saw, later on, he saw the American disease. I’ve got so many things that are written about the American disease of changing things. [See for example, letter 74-11-24 to Bhakta das]
Satyahit Prabhu: That reminds me of something Jayadvaita Maharaha said, that Srila Prabhupada authorized him to go ahead and make any changes he wanted…
Govinda dasi: Jayadvaita Maharaja seems to believe that he has a carte blanche, open-ended permission that ‘you can change all my books’ from Srila Prabhupada. I do not know where he has gotten this, because it is not written anywhere, and it contradicts…
Devotee: There is one letter, authorizing him to do some editorial work while Srila Prabhupada was here on the planet. It wasn’t a carte blanche for ever and ever, and as far as I know it was in regard to a certain title only for certain editorial work
Devotee: Because Srila Prabhupada authorized and approved it and as she just said, it’s called arsha prayoga: that the respect for what the spiritual master authorized and approved is such that he tells the disciple, “That’s a snake,” and the disciple sees a rope, he goes, “That’s a snake.” And if he goes later, “That’s a rope,” then the disciple goes, “Oh, it’s a rope.” So we print them as they are, and later on we intend to print little addendums showing some minor corrections. And if they had done this, nobody would object. Just like you were saying, Srila Prabhupada wanted ‘cow protection’ not ‘cattle raising.’ So the solution is to start printing Srila Prabhupada’s authorized and approved books, and if you have a problem with something, put it down somewhere else, or put it in a footnote, put it in an addendum. Print the manuscript that it originally came from, if you want to be so close to the original manuscript, and say, “This is the original manuscript, but this is what Srila Prabhupada authorized and approved. And as Govinda dasi was explaining to me, it wasn’t just that Hayagriva was an English professor and one of Srila Prabhupada’s original disciples, but Srila Prabhupada spent two years with him going over the manuscript.
Govinda dasi: Before Jayadvaita joined the movement in May of 1968, Hayagriva had already been working with Srila Prabhupada on the Bhagavad-gita for two years already. I lived with Srila Prabhupada and Hayagriva in Los Angeles. They worked for hours every day. This is before Jayadvaita joined the movement. And so why—the Gita is a song: the Song of God. It’s poetic, beautiful, in Sanskrit it’s actually poetry. Why would Krsna out of the blue send an English professor, a PhD in English, who happens to be a poet, who happens to have the writing style of a Merton and Thoreau, and all of the early transcendental poets? That was an accident, right? He just happened to send in 1966. Havagriva is not the issue. We’re not saying that Haygriva is a pure devotee. That’s not the issue; the issue is that Krsna was sending Srila Prabhupada whatever he needed to do his work. And He sent him a very qualified man to do this editing.
I take one example: “The Blessed Lord said.” It’s been changed to “The Supreme Personality of Godhead said.” This is not something that we want to quarrel about. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Blessed Lord… but how do we know that Srila Prabhupada and his editor didn’t sit down and discuss this point, and decide on “the Blessed Lord said?” We don’t know that because we weren’t there, and actually, Jayadvaita wasn’t there. It was something that was going on already. Jayadvaita joined in Boston on 1968, like May or a couple of months before. We were in Boston at that time. Gourasundara and Srila Prabhupada and I were staying in Boston for a month in May of 1968, about the time he joined and was working for the press.
One day Srila Prabhupada called me in to his room in Boston. He had a Back to Godhead in his hand. He was livid. He said, “Look at this! Look what they have done!” He showed me. I was like, “OK, what did they do?” The Back to Godhead had—and I’ve still got this Back to Godhead—it had a picture of Srila Prabhupada, black and white, and a big statement: “This man has changed the world.” He was very upset. He said, “This, this is the beginning of falldown. To consider, to refer to the spiritual master as a man shows that the consciousness of the disciple does not see the spiritual master correctly. Call them!” So Rayarama was brought on the carpet.
My point here is that this was the mood at the press at the time Jayadvaita Maharaja joined. He was a new devotee. Satsvarupa was the president, Rayarama was the editor of Back to Godhead; Srila Prabhupada later removed him, and I don’t know the exact history on that, but he did not agree with Rayarama’s point of view on the spiritual master or on how Back to Godhead should look. There was an issue with skull on the cover. Srila Prabhupada was like, “A skull on the cover? Pictures of Krsna should be through Back to Godhead! Not skulls!”
So Srila Prabhupada was very on-target about what he wanted. He could see how the consciousness was moving in any disciple. I can remember so many instances. I was really angry about something one day, and he said to Gourasundara, “Govinda dasi is fighting a war.” He could read your mind, from 3,000 miles away, from Krsna-loka away. How about right now? As if we don’t believe he’s sitting right here listening to this discussion. We do. He’s right here, and he’s very happy that we’re defending his books.
My concern is this: I just got a Back to Godhead magazine, and it showed a big party in Poland with over 100,000 people: a big festival. 93,000 plates of prasadam distributed. And it had a picture of the book table, and on the book table was not Srila Prabhupada’s Gitas; on the book table was the changed version. And what we have to realize, as Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, is that Srila Prabhupada’s books have almost been lost. Twenty years they’ve been practically out of print. They’ve almost been lost. How serious is this? This is very serious. Probably the most important thing we can do with our lives is to reinstate his books. I believe that historians are going to look at this era, because you know history and historians have a way of bringing things out. All religions have a very rocky beginning, I have been told by scholars. I’m not a scholar myself. But when they look at this era, there’s no way that the political turmoil and all of the strange things that have happened since Srila Prabhupada left can be hidden; there’s just no way. They’re going to look at this era as being the Dark Ages, or like the Vatican Inquisitions, or an era where they fed the Christians to the lions, or—what did they do to Saint Thomas, crucify him upside down? They’re going to look at this era with great suspicion. My concern is, will they know by that time which one is the original Bhagavad-gita? Will they actually know? If this million-dollar lawsuit had not been won, and these books not put back into print, the world would not have Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita fifty years from now. That is basically the truth, and that’s a very serious thing.
Govinda dasi: One time, I was illustrating—and this is how closely Srila Prabhupada worked with his writers and artists. I was illustrating those early paintings in the Prahlad books. It was very simple, this was in the early days when we were first devotees. I had only been a devotee for a couple of months, so I really didn’t know very much—not that I know very much now, but I mean I really didn’t know. We didn’t even have a Gita in those days, guys. There weren’t any books, only the three volumes of Srimad-Bhagavatam that Srila Prabhupada had brought from India. And we read those; but there’s a picture where Prahlad is boiled in oil. And so there are all these demons that go and stick him, and Srila Prabhupada described all those demons. So I would draw each picture and then go and show it to him. Just like he would talk with Hayagriva about each change in his manuscript. So in the course of this particular drawing, he told me how each of these demons looked. And I had never seen a demon, so I didn’t know. So I looked at some comic books, and got some ideas, they had some tails and some horns, and I kind of made some demons up s best I could. And I took it in and showed it to him, and he said, “Yes, that’s very good. There are such demons in jungles in Africa and South America, like that.” And I said, “What?” I was, after all, college educated, I was in my fourth year of college when I joined Srila Prabhupada, left abruptly—never have regretted that decision. So I thought I knew everything that existed in the world, because that’s what they told me in college, you know, biology, anthropology and all that. So I said, “I didn’t know that!” In other words, he had said that there were such demons in the world, and I didn’t know that. He looked at me and said, “There are many things you do not know.”
And I think we underestimate; the problem with the movement, with our whole ISKCON, is not really realizing who Srila Prabhupada is, and underestimating who he is. This is the bottom line; this is why these books have been edited. This is why all these things have happened in the way that they’ve happened. And I think in the future, Srila Prabhupada will be recognized more for who he is. Already we have since 1996, when Srila Prabhupada re-entered the society in the form of the Centennial, I think that people appreciate him more. Those of you who lived through the 1978-86 eleven guru days know what I’m talking about. And that’s a separate subject; I don’t want to get into it, I want to stick to the books. But I have a couple of notes here.
One of the things is that Srila Prabhupada accepted his books in 1972 as transcendental. As I said, he lectured on every verse in the Gita. And he constantly pushed book distribution and said his books were transcendental. So Srila Prabhupada said that his books were transcendental then, and yet now these same books aren’t good enough, they’re not transcendental?
Govinda dasi: And another point is, he never actually gave authority to change his books after his departure. He specifically said, “Any changes should be seen by me.” He says many things [about the book changes], and you should read them, and they will be available on the new web site, www.adi-vani.org. And people will be able to write letters in to email@example.com. The purpose of this website is to have all the many disciples—and there are batches in Europe, batches in India and all over the world—and they’re not unified. The idea is that they will all write letters. And even if the BBT doesn’t change right now, we want to leave a broad enough band of history, a broad enough volume of work that when historians pore over this in 50 years, and we’re all dead and gone and forgotten—and all of us will be, including the biggest leaders—they will be able to see which books were Srila Prabhupada’s books, and they will be able to see what Srila Prabhupada’s original disciples had to say about the changes. This is what we’re trying to do. It’s not a political ‘right now’ thing; it’s a future thing. Other people have other ideas; this is my idea. But basically, we have to leave enough history that Srila Prabhupada’s books don’t get lost.
Because right now, even though they’re printing—they just printed 10,000 Gitas, right?—for the last 20 years, how many millions of the other Gita have been distributed? All over Poland, all over Russia, all over the whole world. So, what will the historians think? That was the original Gita. Of course, there may be three or four more versions or editions by then. So that’ll be just like the Bible. It could easily turn into the Bible, and we don’t want this to happen. So our mood here is we’re just a handful, but there are many, many Srila Prabhupada disciples, sitting in their homes with the Bhagavad-gitas, who are disgruntled and don’t have a forum to speak what they have to say. We want to give them a forum. This is our goal.