Govinda dasi: Srila Prabhupada liked the original books and paintings. For the record, there’s a lot of information that’s available to people, where Srila Prabhupada describes that, “The early paintings are full of bhakti; why did you remove them from the books?” He liked the mood. This was, and for those of you who came later, I want you to know that Srila Prabhupada oversaw every step of the production in many, many ways.
Devotee: The early paintings have a look of pastel, and the colors of Krsna’s form are so, so attractive.
Govinda dasi: They’re full of bhakti. When the spiritual master is present, he has the Midas touch. He touches anything and it’s surcharged with bhakti. He touched us, and we were infused with bhakti. Look at the stuff we did; we were 20-year-old kids, green behind the ears. It was because his energy was working through us; he was using us, we were willing warm bodies, and he guided us from within, he guided us from without, he watched over us, and he was over our shoulder. For example, that original purple Gita, I was staying with Srila Prabhupada in LA, and I drew the cover picture for it. He would come shuffling into my room and look over my shoulder while I was drawing the picture. Macmillan cut the book down; he didn’t like that. He wanted it to be with all the purports, so the next one was. So he wasn’t happy with the fact that they wanted not so much repetition.
And then so far as the Teachings of Lord Caitanya, you mentioned that earlier, because that’s going to be on the press next. That book, we did the drawings while we were living with Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada described how the drawings should look. We were very poor in those days, so we didn’t do full color; we did black-and-white drawings.
I had never been to India, and I had never been to Jagannath Puri temple. And there’s a drawing in there of Jagannath up on an altar, for those of you who have seen it. Maybe a lot of you haven’t even seen it. But Srila Prabhupada described in detail how Jagannath was up on this altar, how the room was dark—it’s dark in those big old Orissan temples—and how the pujari is sitting there and receiving the flowers. He would tell us each step of the way for these drawings. And the same way with the early paintings of Jadurani. Jadurani painted those paintings in the next room, Srila Prabhupada was living in the New York apartment, he was living in the bedroom—he did everything in this one room—and in his living room, me and Gaurasaundara and Jadurani sat and did drawings all day. He would walk in, and he would even pose for us. Sometimes he posed, he showed us how a dhoti was wrapped one day. He wrapped a dhoti—an elaborate dhoti, the kind Krsna wears—and stood in a threefold posture. His favorite pose was Lord Nrsimhadeva. He would come in and roar, and you would see the whites of his eyes. [devotees: “Haribol!”] And we were just new kids—but he was actually really into Nrsimha-lila big time—but he showed us each step of the way. We can’t think that ‘We did this,’ anymore than we can think ‘Hayagriva edited this, Hayagriva did this.’
Srila Prabhupada was working through us all, and the people who came to think that ‘I am the doer’ and ‘I am doing this’—and I know a few, and they’re not around anymore. One of them was my ex-husband. Srila Prabhupada said, “He suffered from too much intelligence.” He left because he was brilliant. He thought that he knew more than his guru. Srila Prabhupada said, “He’s suffering from too much intelligence; he thinks he knows more than his guru.” He was brilliant, there’s no question; he wrote books at 21 years old. But that doesn’t cut it. Srila Prabhupada came from Krsna-loka to write some books, print some books; and the fact that they have been altered is the worst thing that could happen. Everything else will be lost in the wash, but his books… He used to say that “Even if we lose all the temples, you have my books.” But we don’t have his books. My point is, his books have been—until the past year—completely lost, except in my bookcase, and so forth. So this is a very significant thing, that he oversaw the production with the artists and the writers, and he infused the work with his own bhakti. That’s why those early writings and those early paintings are so… shining. I look at this painting, and I don’t know how I did it. I look at that one, and I don’t know…[note: Srila Prabhupada’s room in New Navadvipa is decorated with several paintings done by Govinda dasi and other artists directly under Srila Prabhupada’s supervision.] I don’t have the same mood now; I think none of us really do, as we did while Srila Prabhupada was present.
So he saw the American disease of changing things, and he talks about it in a number of different places, that “The American disease is that they will try to improve and they will change.” One time, one devotee came here, and Srila Prabhupada gave him like an hour’s instruction—I was in the room—how he should do deities. He wanted Gour-Nitai deities. And then at the end of it, he said, “My wife wants to make silk. Can we kill the silkworms?” You know, you’ve got to douse them at the end. And after he left, Srila Prabhupada was shaking his head. He said, “These American boys. Next they will be asking me if they can kill cows to make mrdangas!” Because he was disgusted with this American disease of always wanting to change things and ‘improve’ things. And he reached the point where, toward the end—and you can see around the 1976 letters in all this material that we have—he basically said, “No changes.” Because if he gave them an inch, they would take a mile. Which is why, even though there may be some so-called ‘imperfections’ that you may claim that scholars may see, it’s better not to make any changes because the temptation of a barber is to cut too much hair, and the temptation of an editor is to clip too much or to change too much.
Devotee: Just like the Caitanya-caritamrta, there’s a letter from Mathila-dhish about, obviously anyone that was there for the Caitanya-caritamrta marathon knows that the artists, one would fall asleep, another would come and try to finish it. It was a two-month marathon to produce fifteen books. So then after there was more time and energy, and money and facility, they told Srila Prabhupada, “Well we can touch them up and fix them.” Srila Prabhupada said, “No changes.” Then they tried to tell him, da-da-da-da, and Srila Prabhupada said “No changes.” And then they tried again, saying “We just want to finish it, Srila Prabhupada,” and the third time, very furious, “No changes.”
Govinda dasi: One of the points that I really want to make here is that Srila Prabhupada did oversee his work. He really did; it wasn’t like it was just going on. Even the Caitanya-caritamrta, he was on top of it every moment of the day. Srila Prabhupada got up at two in the morning, and started his translation work. His book work was the most important thing he was here to do. And he kept saying that. So he did watch over it. And things were close, like a family in 1966. They were very close in ’67, ’66, there were only a handful [of devotees], and we would sit around in Srila Prabhupada’s quarters in the evening. We were like small family in New York, and we would talk. And so he would have very close direct contact with all of us. And that contact he had with Hayagriva, he was working on the manuscripts, it wasn’t like later when you had to make an appointment to see Srila Prabhupada; you walked into his room, and in and out all day long! And he sat with you and talked with you and worked with you. This was what the Bhagavad-gita was born amongst, this was how it was edited. So Srila Prabhupada worked closely to get the books like he wanted them, and even if there were a few so-called ‘errors,’ they were still acceptable to him.
And as I said, the underlying danger here is the one, the core danger here is seeing Srila Prabhupada as an ordinary man. This is the greatest danger, and I mentioned that ad [in an early Back to Godhead magazine], and after he left in 1977, a decade of forgetfulness ensued. And in this era, many mistakes were made and many wrongs were done, and there was a confusion surrounding his whole disappearance and everything really kind of fell apart. And those of you who lived through this know that it is true. 90% of Srila Prabhupada’s disciples either left or were forced to leave. In 1996 Srila Prabhupada began to enter back into the center of ISKCON, with the Centennial, and simultaneously with the winning of the court case, his original books started coming out again, so that his work will be preserved.
So my concern is that in 50 years, what will history see? If we allow the gate to be opened for the changes, they will go on. There are already indications that they’re thinking of making other changes.
Bhaktisiddhartha Prabhu: There’s a forum on COM that discusses proposed changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books. The major theme that they’re discussing is ‘the removal of sexist and racist language.’ They’re talking about removing whole sections of Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Tejo-prakash Prabhu: Jayadvaita told us when he was here that nothing has been changed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Govinda dasi: That’s not true.
Devotee: Not true.
Bhaktisiddhartha Prabhu: There are thousands of changes.
Tejo-prakash Prabhu: So where’s their credibility?