Founder Acharya His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

“Book Changes Controversy” Coming to a Close
By Bhaktivedanta Book Trust   |  Apr 10, 2022
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On October 17, 2019, the BBT and GBC cooperatively appointed an Editorial Review Panel (ERP) to address devotees’ concerns about making changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books after his physical departure.

Formed with the mandate to review all proposed and previously published edits to Srila Prabhupada’s books in the English language, the ERP has now been convening for more than a year, and they are making progress in their review. The panel consists of devotee scholars and editors who were nominated and approved by both the GBC and BBT, including Bhakti Vijnana Goswami, Bhanu Swami, Kalachandji Dasa, Krishna Kshetra Swami, Krishnarupa Devi Dasi, Radhika Ramana Dasa, and Keshava Bharati Dasa Goswami.

The ERP’s first order of business was to compile a set of principles and guidelines by which they could effectively conduct their review. Some of these guidelines include being ‘conservative and cautious’ about any editing done after Srila Prabhupada’s lifetime, not modifying his statements due to changing scientific or social views, but correcting ‘straightforward errors in grammar, punctuation, and spelling, and phrasing for force and clarity,’ and also rectifying ‘mistakes introduced into his books by a prior editor, proofreader, transcriber, typist, or designer.’

Inquisitive readers are invited to see the ERP’s full paper, “Editorial Principles”.

Guided by these principles, the ERP will consider each revision that has been made to Srila Prabhupada’s books and propose to either accept or remove the revision. All their recommendations will be made by consensus. Once the ERP’s work is complete, they will submit their suggestions to the BBT Editorial Board for review and implementation.

This should effectively put to rest the longstanding ‘book changes controversy,’ which has unfortunately generated division and offensive discourse within ISKCON. The BBT apologizes for any lack of clarity which may have inadvertently contributed to this controversy.

Let’s put differences aside and work collaboratively and tirelessly to place a set of Srila Prabhupada’s books in every home in the world, and, more importantly, to deeply imbibe his teachings within our own hearts.

Background: Srila Prabhupada’s Desire to Distribute Books

The publication and distribution of Kṛṣṇa conscious literature was foremost among Srila Prabhupada’s aims in informing the International Society for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. As the first item in the Seven Purposes of ISKCON, Srila Prabhupada writes:

“To systematically propagate spiritual knowledge to society at large and to educate all people in the techniques of spiritual life in order to check the imbalance of values in life, and to achieve real unity and peace in the world.”

And in the final seventh purpose, he writes:

“With a view towards achieving the aforementioned purposes, to publish and distribute periodicals, magazines, books, and other writings.”

Srila Prabhupada’s guru, Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura, was such an avid publisher that he coined the term bṛhad-mṛdaṅga as a name for the printing press at the Gaudiya Math. At a fateful meeting in November 1935, he gave our Srila Prabhupada an instruction which would set the trajectory for the rest of Prabhupada’s life: “If you ever get money, print books.”

As soon as Srila Prabhupäda saw that his fledgling ISKCON society was gaining some stability, he formed a publishing department to oversee the production, printing, and distribution of his books, including an ambitious vision for a sixty-volume commentary on the Srimad Bhagavatam. This began as the ISKCON Press in 1969 and later manifested as the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) in 1972.

Perfect, More Perfect, and Most Perfect

In order to ensure the quality of his books, Srila Prabhupada appointed several devotees as editors. He knew that he was setting a rigorous pace and that the BBT was struggling to keep up. Although the BBT team did their best, many errors nonetheless went unnoticed. In a letter to Brahmananda Prabhu (17 April 1970), Srila Prabhupada points out one such error that was printed in the first edition of KṚṢṆA, The Supreme Personality of Godhead:

“In KRSNA chapter #87, on page 4, the last line, it is said, “known as budbuvasa, which is manifested by Govinda.” I do not know what is this editing. The correct word is Bhurbhuvasvah as it is in the Gayatri mantra and everybody knows it. This “budbuvasa” is an extraordinary word, neither it is Sanskrit nor English, so how it has avoided the vigilance of so many editors? So if none of the editors knew this word, why was it pushed? There should be no such negligences like this, nothing uncertain should be pushed. Now what other discrepancies there may be like this? Or what is the use of such editing? Everything must be done very carefully and attentively.”

Srila Prabhupada acknowledged that such errors do not diminish the potency of the transcendental message, but he still wanted these errors to be found and corrected. In a letter to Hamsaduta Prabhu (20 January 1972), Srila Prabhupada explains:

“It is not that we may present anything crude translation and that is acceptable. No, even though the transcendental subject matter of Vedic literature is still spiritually potent despite the crudest translation, still, because we have got facility to make it perfect, that is our philosophy. When I translated Srimad-Bhagavatam I had not the facility so you may notice grammatical discrepancies.

“It is not our philosophy to print errors. Of course, our spiritual subject matter is transcendental and therefore it remains potent despite mistakes in grammar, spelling, etc. But this type of translation may only be allowed if there is no other way to correct it, then it is all right. But if you know the correct order, then you must make it perfect. That is our philosophy: everything perfect for Krishna”

Devotees at the BBT took note of Srila Prabhupada’s desire to produce the highest quality publications, free of mistakes. In 1975, Jayadvaita Prabhu began reviewing the First Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and he carefully compiled dozens and dozens of revisions to mistakes he found in the first edition. After speaking with Jayadvaita and reviewing some of the proposed changes, Srila Prabhupada wrote to another BBT editor, “Concerning the editing of Jayadvaita Prabhu, whatever he does is approved by me. I have confidence in him.”

Service in Separation

After Srila Prabhupada’s departure in 1977, Jayadvaita Prabhu (now Swami) and other devotees at the BBT continued their editorial services, ever striving to bring BBT publications to the highest standard by correcting errors which had found their way into the printed editions of Prabhupada’s books. Thanks to their tireless effort, the current editions are vastly improved from previous versions. As Srila Prabhupada wrote: “We have got facility to make it perfect, that is our philosophy.”

 

How did so many errors occur in the initial publications? There were a number of relevant factors at play:

  1. The early ISKCON editors were inexperienced in working with Srila Prabhupada and unfamiliar with the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.
  2. Typists who transcribed Prabhupada’s dictated translations and purports often had a very difficult time understanding his thick Bengali accent. They also knew virtually none of the Sanskrit verses Prabhupada quoted while composing his purports.
  3. The Sanskrit department was in its infancy and was unable to provide meaningful insight during the editorial process. Srila Prabhupada was a prolific author and a fully transcendental personality, and it was often difficult for the BBT to keep up with his literary output.

Thankfully, over the years the BBT has carefully reviewed Srila Prabhupada’s books to catch and correct mistakes. For a more detailed history of the BBT’s editorial process, readers are invited to see the article “Editing the Unchangeable Truth” by Jayadvaita Swami and the compilation “Responsible Publishing” by Jayadvaita Swami and Dravida Prabhu.

 

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