The Devil and the Truth: Both Are in the Details! (W. comments on the 2nd editions of Bg.)

Screen Shot 2014-01-08 at 4.11.03 AMDear _____________,

Please accept my blessings and well-wishes.

I have not had the time until now to make the correction [you offered] to your recent translations [from English to Russian].

It is very encouraging to see you are very particular in this seva.

Some may consider such things to be small, insignificant details which are not worthy of the time needed for examination and correction. That is not my “style”, I think it is more the style of Sripada Avadhuta Maharaja. I don’t say this to find fault with him. His style also has value. By his style he was able to build a big mission in Russia in a short amount of time. Srila Gurudeva appreciated that seva of his, and I do also.

But there is also an important place for seeing that the details are given attention, and that they are accurately reproduced. Srila Prabhupada, Srila Sridhara Maharaja and Srila Govinda Maharaja were very particular in this matter. Their attention to these details may not always be obvious when scrutinizing the works produced by their disciples, where there are many defects, inaccuracies or oversights that result in, mostly, slight distortions, if any at all, of the siddhanta originally presented by them (our gurus).

For example, Srila Prabhupada’s English version of Bhagavad-gita published in 1972 is now being promoted by some as the “‘Original'”, as if it more accurately represented Srila Prabhupada’s siddhanta than the second edition published in 1983. Here is a part of such a promotion on Facebook that came to my notice:

“I am happy to announce that Srila Prabhupada’s “Original” 1972 “Bhagavad Gita As It Is” is now availiable in a pocket size Edition.”

What this person is offering for sale is not the actual “Original” as he would like the readers to believe. The true “Original” English edition was what is referred to in Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta as Geetopanishad and was stolen sometime around 1949 when Srila Prabhupada was still living as a householder in Kolkata.

He [Mr. Chetty] asked Abhay Charan to send him the complete Geetopanishad manuscript so that he could present it to Dr. Allagappa in Madras. Mr. Chetty had already written Dr. Allagappa about the “first-class work Geetopanishad, to cover 1,200 pages of royal size” and had urged him to publish it for the benefit of religious-minded people. He had also mentioned that Abhay had been trying to publish the book since 1946.

Dr. Allagappa soon replied to Mr. Chetty that he was interested, and Mr. Chetty wrote to Abhay, “So I am on my way to help you, and only God must help me.” As for talking business with Dr. Allagappa, there would be no need, since “once he does it, it is for the sake of benevolence…” Anticipating success, Mr. Chetty invited Abhay to come to Madras to meet Dr. Allagappa. “There he will arrange for what God has meant for you to do in your religious duty.” In Madras, Abhay would be able to check and correct the proofs of the manuscript and see the book through the various stages of printing. It was a big opportunity, and Abhay was not one to miss an opportunity. If the book could be published, it would be a great victory in his mission to fulfill the request of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.

But then the worst thing happened. The manuscript was stolen. It was the only copy, the one Abhay was keeping safely at home. He questioned his family and servants-no one knew what had happened. Abhay was baffled; so much work had been undone. He felt he had worked so many months for nothing. Although he couldn’t prove anything, he suspected that his servant or even his son might have done it, with a motive for raising money. But it remained a mystery. — Srila Prabhupada-lilamrta, Satsvarupa dasa Goswami

The 1972 edition of Bg (aka the “first edition”), like all of Srila Prabhupada’s books, with the exception of those he printed himself in India (i.e. the three volume set of Srimad Bhagavatam) were produced by his disciples and all bear the marks of their changes in the form of editing and proofreading, at a minimum. These books were also subject to some interpretation, by his disciples, of the intended meaning, with some distortions appearing in the text.

The so-called “‘Original’ 1972 ‘Bhagavad Gita As It Is'” was, perhaps, even more susceptible to interpretation than other works, as Sriman Hayagriva, the principle editor, was not only a recent convert to Krishna Consciousness, but could hardly be expected to take Srila Prabhupada’s time to explain every nuance to be derived from the manuscript he had been given to work from.

“The Publishers” (I suspect expressing the ideas of Sripada Jayadvaita Swami) of the “Second Edition” of Bhagavad-gita offer what I believe to be a number of elegant arguments that favor the view (which I share) that the “second edition” is closer to the “original” (i.e. Srila Prabhupada’s intended presentation) than the first edition.

A Note About the Second Edition

For the benefit of readers who have become familiar with the first edition of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, a few words about this second edition seem in order.

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 Srila Prabhupada’s original work.

Srila Prabhupada finished Bhagavad-gita 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.

The new American disciples who helped Srila Prabhupada 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 Srila Prabhupada’s work was a success, and Bhagavad-gita As It Is has become the standard edition for scholars and devotees around the world.

For this second edition, however, Srila Prabhupada’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 Srila Prabhupada consulted when writing Bhagavad-gita As It Is.

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 Srila Prabhupada’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 Srila Prabhupada’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.

— The Publishers

Ref. VedaBase => A Note About the Second Edition

As the second edition of Bg, produced by Srila Prabhupada’s more mature disciples, is welcomed by me as an improvement to the first edition, I have no reason to think we should feel any less confident that Srila Prabhupada’s dictation of his second manuscript, would be an improvement over his first “original” manuscript that had been stolen more than a decade before.

Immature disciples, regardless of their age or experience, who would take umbrage with this assessment of mine, believing our spiritual master’s work, being perfect, cannot be improved upon, forget the many examples offered in our history that contradict such an idea.

I think there is no reason to elaborate on these points here, except to briefly point to Sri Narada’s redirecting Srila Vyasadeva’s meditation and presentation, and the fact that even Vyasa, who explained the path of liberation to Sri Shukadeva, was very anxious to hear Sri Shukadeva’s more advanced explanations of bhakti-marga, or bhagavata-marga. What to speak of Srila Vyasadeva, even Sri Narada was keen to be present and hear Sri Shukadeva’s explanations that differed in significant ways with his own teachings known as pancaratrika-vidhi*.

In Sriman Mahaprabhu’s instructions to Sri Sanatana Goswami we find even Sri Krishna manifests his pastimes in varying degrees of perfection described as “perfect, more perfect and most perfect.”

harih purnatamah purna-
 tarah purna iti tridha
srestha-madhyadibhih sabdair
 natye yah paripathyate

“‘This is stated in the dramatic literatures as “perfect,” “more perfect” and “most perfect.” Thus Lord Krsna manifests Himself in three ways — perfect, more perfect and most perfect. — CC., Madhya 20.399

I find no reason to deny such a complimentary understanding of the pastimes exhibited by the pure devotees, as offered in the above example of Srila Vyasadeva.

Thus, it is easy for me to see the various forms of Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita, although “perfect” in the absolute sense (om purnam adah purnam idam purnat purnam udacyate), to also represent the “perfect” in various relative degrees, according to one’s subjective and even objective analysis. That is, from the relative and the absolute perspective; respectively.

In my opinion, those who would deny the superiority of the second edition of Bg over the first do so as a result of being swayed more by nostalgia than academic or spiritual discipline. While offering due respect to devotees’ truly spiritual sentiments (resulting from nostalgia or other causes), we will be better served adhering to the more disciplined approach while preaching and practicing the spiritual science of devotion.

Those who object to this logic, to be consistent, would have to commit to accepting the guru’s first draft or attempt of any writing, speech, etc. as “the original” and thereby the best.

While I have many times heard this type of argument in relation to Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita, I have never heard it made to apply to his “Original” three volumes of “Srimad Bhagavatam”, although I’m sure I will, should I live long enough. It is almost self-evident that the BBT publication of these three volumes, edited and proofread by Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, is a great improvement over the “originals” printed in India, notwithstanding their nostalgic appeal.

Whether produced by Srila Prabhupada directly, or by his direct order, the faithful disciple will see his spiritual support which is the true imprimatur of authenticity (vag visargo janatagha viplavo… ).

Some clever person will surely argue that there is no direct order from Srila Prabhupada to edit a second edition of his Bg. I suspect it is this same sort of clever gentleman that argues for the “self effulgent acharya” and then closes his eyes to avoid seeing the effulgence of any acharya that appears in a different form than the one he remembers as being that of his guru.

Was there a direct order from Srila Saraswati Thakura to Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami to translate Bhagavad-gita As It Is or any of his other books? Did he receive a direct order to initiate disciples, accept the position of acharya or the title “Srila Prabhupada”? No, he did not.

The pure in heart, those who are honest, must admit that all these manifestations of Srila Prabhupada’s potency, that led Srila Sridhara Maharaja to declare him a shaktyavesha avatara, along with their concomitant efficacy in presenting the siddhanta of Srila Saraswati Thakura, are sufficient evidence that they could only have come forth from his direct empowerment.

In the same way, those who are honest, or at least objective or neutral, must surely see Srila Prabhupada’s teachings with “even greater richness and authenticity”, in the second edition of Bg thus verifying the work as coming forth out of his own desire and for his satisfaction.

I make mention of all these things as a way to illustrate my idea that we should try our best to pay close attention to the details when translating devotees’ writings into other languages. The closer the attention to detail, the more representative it will be of the author’s original thought.

In my opinion, it is the attention to detail that has made the second edition of Bhagavad-gita As It Is an improvement over the first edition. It is such a substantial improvement, I can see little reason, given a choice, to study or distribute any previous edition. The same is true with regard to the first and second English renderings of Srila Sridhara Maharaja’s BHAGAVAD-GITA, The Hidden Treasure of the Sweet Absolute.

If you will continue to translate with the same careful attention as you are currently doing, it will be very pleasing to Sri Guru and Krishna.

I pray this finds you well in all respects.

Swami B.K. Giri