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BBT Book ‘Changes’ and Being British

By: on Jan. 17, 2010

The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust is now providing a permanent online record of all the editing of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is that happened prior to the revised edition of 1983. That’s good. It will help anyone who, even very slightly, has lingering suspicions that ‘changes’ were made that deviated the text from Srila Prabhupada’s original. Full page scans of the original edited copy are reproduced so that every word and punctuation mark can be examined by anyone, either now or by scholars in the future.


As someone who witnessed Jayadwaita Swami for a week or two during the many months he spent editing, and having known him for decades during which period we’ve talked for hours on many subjects, I’ve never understood the suggestion that there was any motive involved in his editing other than to please Srila Prabhupada by doing what he had done for him already for many years. His guru asked him to edit his English and that’s what he did. And if his guru had not asked him to edit, there’s no way he would have touched even one full stop.


Having said that, I must admit that for me Bhagavad-gita chapter 2, verse 20 will always include: ‘Nor, having once been, will he ever cease to be.’ Even though that rendition of the translation is theologically clarified by the present version (look it up, dear faithful readers) I got used to that expression since I quoted it so many times as a young preacher.


But satisfied as I am about ‘the changes’ I do have my own misgiving about one BBT editorial change in particular. Nothing earth-shattering; a mere pin-prick, but it continues to itch. I would like the BBT to consider letting us British and Australians have a British-English version of Bhagavad-gita. With English as we speak it in the birthplace of the language. I’m not talking about reprinting the Gita in London Cockney Rhyming Slang, just the Queen’s English as it is spoken in England.


May I remind my American readers that American-English is quite different from British-English; that contrary to what you might think, American English is not ‘Standard English’; and that when you sell a book with American-English spellings on the streets of jolly old England, people do actually think that the Hare Krishna movement is an ‘American movement.’


Perhaps it was for the first few decades, but no longer.


If somehow Srila Prabhupada had landed in London first, instead of Boston, we might have had British-English BBT books sold all over America. Can you imagine the bewilderment as American readers struggled with Balarama’s ‘plough’ or Lord Krishna’s monsoon-cloud ‘colour’ ?


Yet Srila Prabhupada’s books were originally written in British-English as that was the way he learned the English language growing up in British India. I therefore propose that either the BBT revert to our founder-acarya’s original British-English spellings or, alternatively, begin treating British English as a ‘foreign language’ so that we can have English as we spell it. Almost 100 countries of the world have Srila Prabhupada’s books in their own language – what about us Brits? Are we to be the last nation on Earth to have Srila Prabhupada’s books in our own language?


That’s my conspiratorial rant for today.


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