Srila Giri Maharaja “Translator or Censor?”

BKG folded hands

Since the time of Srila Bhakti Vinoda Thakura it has been the ambition of the preachers in the line of Sri Chaitanya to see His Divine Precepts disseminated to all jivas. To do this often requires the cooperation of translators. Many times I have been approached by persons offering to translate for me and I always immediately accept their offers. But then, to my surprise, they begin to set out a series of conditions that must be met if their work is to continue, or even begin. Until now, I have avoided paying for any translation services, believing such services should be offered by devotees who, like me, feel an urgency, or at least appreciate the need, to preach the Divine message of our Sri Guru Varga across the length and breadth of this world.

Not long ago I was approached by a devotee I have known for sometime. He asked me to disclose to him something of the most confidential nature (siddha svarupa) about my gurus. He has helped me in countless ways. He is a humble devotee who has often sought my blessings and accepted my advice and opinions on various matters, thus we easily and openly express our thinking to each other. On one occasion he told someone “I am a simple servant of Giri Maharaj and just following his orders.”

He has often expressed his desire that I offer him some seva and even expressed some particular excitement at the opportunity to do some translation for me saying, “Of course I will be glad to help you with translation.” and “I can help with a lot of translations… ”

But, alas, it was not to be. He refused to translate the very first text I presented to him. Suddenly, as has happened on so many previous occasions, he presented me with a set of conditions that I must accept, or there would be no translation. In this case he would confine his translations to only those topics he deemed appropriate or useful. It was not my thoughts, ideas and opinions he wanted to translate, but his.

The almost translator offered, as many had before him, what might appear to be an airtight case justifying his refusal:

“I am so fallen and require the mercy of all Vaishnavas. I have no adhikar for such topics.”

I address the latter of the two sentences in my email but, upon further consideration, must extend my puzzlement to wonder how one who is eager to translate pure siddhanta, a task presumed to be best suited to those of very high adhikara, would be lacking when it comes to translating topics of vaishnava relationships, assuming such a distinction could be made. His argument seems to be that those of the lowest rank should be the ones to translate the highest subjects, and vice versa.

Moving back to the first of the two sentences, “I am so fallen and require the mercy of all Vaishnavas.”, introduces an assumption and a question. The assumption is, that some vaishnava(s) will not show him mercy if he translates the work being discussed. The inference being that vaishnavas do not show mercy to those who are fallen or of insufficient adhikara.

The question is, “How will he get ‘the mercy of all vaishnavas’ when many of them, who might benefit from the discussion I have introduced, will be prevented from hearing it due to his refusal to translate it?” Carrying his idea to its logical conclusion: if, by not doing something we ensure unto ourselves “the mercy of all vaishnvavas”, the only sure way to “get the mercy of all vaishnavas” is to do nothing at all. That is not devotional service, that is mayavada.

By the grace of Srila Gurudeva, the article will be translated by someone else who has agreed to translate, rather than censor, my words.

The two letters of mine that follow, on the subject of translation, will, I pray, be considered thoughtfully by our readers, who, I further pray, will benefit in some way from our mutual efforts and be merciful to this fallen soul..—B.K. Giri


Date: July 12, 2015

Dear _______ ,

Please accept my humble obeisances.

“When a devotee’s social life is also affected and controlled by his spiritual principles, he becomes a second class devotee. When he adopts such a form of life, he is fit to help others.”—Srila Sridhara Maharaja, Sri Guru and His Grace

I understand the above to mean that “senior vaishnava relationships” are those to which “purely siddhanta topics” have been applied. They are the natural development of such topics and discussion of those relationships reside within the domain of the preachers, those undertaking the responsibilities of the madhyama adhikaris. They are not “something else”, something other than “purely siddhanta topics” as you think them to be:

When you mentioned translation service I thought it would be purely siddhanta topics.

I cannot translate something else related to Senior Vishnavas relationships, etc.

In other words, there is no difference between “purely siddhanta topics” and “senior vaishnava relationships.”

Prabhu, I wonder if you have some misunderstanding about word meanings. Kindly consider the following definitions:

translator: a person who translates from one language into another

editor: a person who is in charge of and determines the final content of a text,

censor:  an official who examines material that is about to be released, such as books, movies, news, and art, and suppresses any parts that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.

You offered to translate for me from English to Russian. I was happy to accept your offer to act as my translator for that purpose.

Now it seems what you really hoped to do was act as my chief editor who will determine the final content of my words so that they suit your ideas rather than the ideas I am trying to express. Or maybe, by refusing to translate certain articles, you want to censor me so that I can only present in Russian what you, as my censor, determine to be acceptable.

Your standard for editing and censoring me is based on these idea of yours:

When you mentioned translation service I thought it would be purely siddhanta topics.

I cannot translate something else related to Senior Vishnavas relationships, etc.

I might agree to your editing and censorship of my words if you can explain clearly where discussions of “senior vaishnava relationships” departs from “purely siddhanta topics” and why we should reject the former while accepting the latter.

My reading of our scriptures makes me believe that our pure siddhanta has come out entirely through “senior vaishnava relationships.” For example: Srimad Bhagavatam which, when translated to my language of English by not changing anything (through edits or censoring), illustrates unlimited points of pure siddhanta by describing “senior vaishnava relationships” such as those between Narada and Vyasa, Vyasa and Shukadeva, Shukadeva and Maharaja Pariksit, Narada and Prahlada, Vasudeva and Devaki, Nanda and Yashoda, gopis and gopas, and on, and on, and on.

Agreement or disagreement between these senior vaishnavas was not a consideration when their relationships were translated into English by Srila Prabhupada. He did not refuse to translate the Brahma vimohan lila, (although Madhvacharya refused to acknowledge it), on the plea that it might cast a bad light on our most senior vaishnava’s (Lord Brahma’s) relationship with Krishna.

Sri Shukadeva ran from his father Vyasadeva, who was desperately calling him, insisting that he return to him. Shukadeva refused to accept Vyasa’s call and even his siddhanta. This antagonistic relationship was not excluded from Srila Prabhupada’s English translation. Perhaps you think it should have been.

Shall we eliminate from our speech any talk of the relationship between Srila Madhava Maharaja and Srila Sridhara Maharaja due to their being “something else related to senior vaishnava’s relationships, etc.”? You previously translated my discussion of this, which I considered to be in the line of “purely siddhanta topics.” Was I wrong? Have you decided to refuse to participate in any further translations of such talks?

Srila Prabhupada’s English translation of our supreme scripture, Sri Chaitanya-charitamrta, upon which we rely so heavily for translations into other languages, such as Ukrainian, would be reduced to nothing if the translators removed from its pages all the things “related to senior vaishnava relationships, etc.”

Is that what the Ukrainian translators did? Did they eliminate all such content on the plea that they were “so fallen and require mercy of all Vaishnavas and have no adhikar to such topics.”?

If so, your Ukrainian Cc must be very tiny when compared to the English version. But I have seen it. It is not tiny, it is about the same size as the English translation. How do you explain this?

Lastly, the adhikara of a paramahamsa vaishnava has been described thusly:

The word parama means “ultimate,” and haṁsa means “swan.” So paramahaṁsa means “the perfect swan.” If we give a swan milk mixed with water, the swan will take the milk and leave aside the water. Similarly, this material world is made of two natures – the inferior nature and the superior nature. The superior nature means spiritual life, and the inferior nature is material life. Thus a person who gives up the material part of this world and takes only the spiritual part is called paramahaṁsa.—Teachings of Queen Kunti

To put this in terms relevant to your email, a paramahamsa is one who can separate “purely siddhanta topics” from what you call “something else… ”

But, you say this about yourself:

I am so fallen and require the mercy of all Vaishnavas. I have no adhikar for such topics.

I am puzzled as to how a person “so fallen” happens to have the discrimination of a paramahamsa? Can you explain?

In any event, since you indirectly claim to have this high type of discrimination, and want to act as a censor of one attempting to preach the message of Sriman Mahaprabhu in a language foreign to him, please supply me an example of it. Apply your analysis to this article: “Aparadha- Bhanjana-Pat: Shelter for the Outcastes” and tell me what you find there that is “something else”, something other than “purely siddhanta topics.”

I look forward to your response.

Swami B.K. Giri


Date: July 12, 2015

My dandavats _______,

I need to preach in Russian. To do that I will accept almost any terms, such as yours, that you will be my censor.

I do not expect the arguments made by me in my email to you just prior to this one will have much sway over you, even if I am correct in all respects.

I do not want to wait to see if you will agree with my points. Although, I hope you will.

Until then… please select anything on our website that was written by me that will pass your censorship standards and translate it as you offered to do.

Editing, changing the meaning of my ideas, is worse than censoring them. But even that I can tolerate, if I must. You are a devotee. I do not think it is likely you will alter anything so drastically that it will be entirely unacceptable.

In any event, something is better than nothing. So, do whatever you like, but please help me to preach the precepts of Sri Sri Gaura Nityananda to the Russian speaking people.


Swami B.K. Giri