On translating original works.

BKG folded hands

What follows are portions of a letter with my comments related to maintaining the accuracy of original works when translating them into other languages.


One thing I noticed in your translation is that you translated this:

Dear Govinda Maharaja,


Dear Srila Govinda Maharaja,

In doing so, you added “Srila” which was not in the original letter.

By posting these letters I am trying to present a historical record which must be as accurate and as authentic as possible. If we make changes to these documents to suit current tastes, opinions, or for any other reason, it may be seen as an improvement over the original, but it is a distortion of the facts, the history and, possibly, the truth.

When these distortions or misrepresentations are discovered, we will lose credibility. It will be thought we are tying to hide something, puff ourselves up to appear greater than we actually are or it may appear we are being dishonest.

I am acutely sensitive to this matter because, since Srila Govinda Maharaja’s disappearance, there has been a great effort to re-write the history, change the facts and distort the nature of his relationships and instructions. Even his Will, which was crystal clear, was misrepresented, interpreted and disfigured to such an extent as to make it appear he intended things he never intended, such as; there be only one worldwide acharya after him, and so forth.

We want to know clearly what our acharyas said and did in context. We do not want any unnecessary interpretations, “corrections” or “improvements” being made to their original statements and pastimes, or the context within which they occurred. Introducing changes to these items is sure to cause confusion and disorientation in those reading, hearing or observing them. (Making grammatical or other changes necessary for readability or understanding is approved for publications derived from original works. The original works themselves, however, should remain intact for the benefit of posterity.)

After knowing the facts, we will have to make our own assessment of how to act with regard to them. But if the facts are unknown to us, what will be our “basis of comparative ontological study”?:

“The clue of the highest attainment of fulfillment of our life has been given by him. Not to be followed by blind faith, but on the basis, basis of comparative ontological study. Eliminating all possibility of doubts and suspicions about the highest goal of all the jivas.” — 84.02.21.B (Spoken on the avirbhava of Srila Saraswati Thakura), @8:46
Sri Madhvacharya would not accept the Brahma vimohan lila. He could not accept that the head of his sampradaya could fall under the spell of illusion. But Mahaprabhu accepted it, and we accept Him. He made us know that Krishna’s will is Supreme above anyone; everyone, and every thing. Abhijna svarat:
Arthesv abhijnah svarat, means that He knows the meaning of every incident in existence and that He is above giving any explanation to others. He is not responsible to any law or to anyone else. He is absolute and independent.”

Our Mission, simply put, is to expose the truth, especially the Absolute Truth. If we, instead, are seen to be hiding the truth, employing the methods used by Stalin to eliminate Trotsky from the newsreels, what will be thought of us?

I don’t know why you decided to make the addition of “Srila.” I suspect you thought it would be helpful to me. Or, perhaps it was done unconsciously or in sympathy with your own feelings of regard for His Divine Grace, Srila Govinda Maharaja.

Adding “Srila” is a rather small detail, but I mention it so that you can understand what I am trying to do when presenting these documents you are translating.

In later letters you will see I began using “Srila” and even “Your Divine Grace” when referring to Srila Govinda Maharaja. It was not done as a formality, but out of a deep feeling of respect for him as my siksha guru.

This came as a natural transition and will hopefully be seen in that way.

At present, the use of “Srila” seems to have evolved, like the daily guru puja in ISKCON, into something of an obligatory formality that is in vogue at the moment but, to my understanding, was rarely observed by our gurus except at times where it was used to call particular attention to the special position of an exalted Vaishnava. For example, this morning, listening to a recording of Srila Sridhara Maharaja, I observed that even when glorifying Srila Bhakt

isiddhanta Saraswati Thakura on his appearance day, he several times referred to him simply as “Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati.” There was no “Srila” or “Thakura”, etc. appended to his name.

I hope these observations of mine will be seen in the proper light. Glorifying devotees and offering respect to them is always auspicious, but the greater respect will come in the form of following their instructions. That is far more preferable than attaching lofty nomenclatures to them, and then ignoring their direction. That is my point.

In the material world knowledge is sought as a means to eliminate doubt, but this pursuit has the opposite effect of the one intended. The more knowledge one acquires, the more he doubts. This is due to the inevitable realization that all knowledge in this mundane world is imperfect and, thereby, unreliable.

Transcendental knowledge, with its basis in faith, is free from doubt. That means no mundane knowledge has the power to block, disrupt or mutate it. It will stand pristine at all times and in all places.

I have many faults. If you try to help me by hiding them, it will be a hopeless task. Those who have faith in Srila Gurudeva will accept his final opinion about me, as it was given in his Last Will and Testament. Barring any serious deviation on my part, I believe his final declaration regarding me is sufficient for all purposes.

Those who do not know Srila Gurudeva, nor have faith in his opinion, will also make their judgements about me, based on their particular faith. We have little control over that outcome. It is in their hands and the determination of the Divine Will.

I know you are my well-wisher and I very much appreciate the important help you are offering in my attempt to serve our Divine Master.

I pray this finds you well in all respects.

Swami B.K. Giri