Law Books for Mankind: The Final Authority

March 3, 2013 in Articles, Narasimha Dasa by Nityananda Rama dasa


Recently I saw on the internet a discussion wherein an Iskcon “guru” was disputing a purport found in one of Srila Prabhupada’s original, authorized editions of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta. This sannyasi has determined that this often quoted book purport is wrong. He apparently made this determination based on his great erudition and knowledge of Bengali. He contends that his study of the Bengali purports of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati (purports Srila Prabhupada has based his own purports upon) has revealed that the book version is incorrect, even though Srila Prabhupada was highly pleased with these publications and read and lectured from them many times.


The original version found in the book is as follows: One should not try to be an artificially advanced devotee, thinking, “I am a first-class. devotee.” Such thinking should be avoided. It is best not to accept any disciples. (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 7.130, Purport.) The swami says this purport should read: One should not try to be an artificially advanced devotee, thinking, “I am a first-class devotee, so it is best not to accept any disciples.” Such thinking should be avoided.


I am not a Bengali scholar and have not studied Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati’s purports to this verse, but I do know English fairly well and have carefully studied all of Srila Prabhupada’s books in English. The version found in the book is consistent with the siddhanta found throughout Srila Prabhupada’s books. The version of the swami, however, contradicts siddhanta. There is significant difference in meaning between these two versions.

The first version cited above, as found in the authorized books, is clear. It says devotees should not think of themselves to be paramahamsas simply because, as Damaghosa mentions, they may have been following the basic regulative principles and chanting the minimum of 16 rounds for a few years. Such following is the qualification for being a disciple, not a guru. Srila Prabhupada concludes his statement above, clearly saying, “It is best not to accept any disciples.” Throughout Srila Prabhupada’s books the emphasis is on the strict sadhana required to become a bona fide disciple. Srila Prabhupada never ordered, authorized or suggested ecclesiastical arrangements for electing “gurus”. Nor did he suggest one should adopt the office and status of spiritual master on his own initiative, without full authorization and realization.

Unfortunately, most of us modern men are sloppy readers and writers, as is seen constantly in legislative assemblies, newspapers, magazines, and even scholarly journals. Most experienced English teachers and editors will agree on this point. Srila Prabhupada’s original books have been carefully proofed by qualified editors. The standard is high, with very few, if any, glaring errors that severely distort the intended meaning. English is a complex and precise language in word definitions, grammar and structure, but sadly it is often misused, miswritten or misunderstood by sloppy readers and writers, the poorly educated, and those with ulterior motives, such as lawyers and politicians. Srila Prabhupada, on the other hand, had perfect command of the English language, particularly in writing. He required no editors; yet by his causeless mercy he engaged qualified disciples in this service.

The swami’s version of this purport perverts the meaning drastically. He puts Srila Prabhupada’s statement It is best not to accept any disciples within the quotation marks that Prabhupada uses to illustrate the type of thinking that should be avoided. In other words, the swami’s version says, “One should not think himself too exalted to take on the botherations involved in accepting disciples.” The book version, on the other hand, shows no quotation marks on the statement “It is best not to accept disciples.” This statement appears as Srila Prabhupada’s clear warning that one should not become a spiritual master on his own initiative, without specific authorization, full realization and empowerment from Sri Guru and Gauranga. (Although for most devotees it may be best to not accept any disciples, Krishna of course sometimes orders His pure devotees to descend to the material world to do so.)

Throughout Srila Prabhupada’s books he has repeatedly cited evidence that shows only a first-class devotee is qualified to become a genuine spiritual master and deliverer of fallen conditioned souls and that even such a qualified devotee never accepts disciples on his own initiative. The version promoted by the swami, however, disputes this idea by suggesting: One should avoid thinking: “I am a first-class devotee, [therefore, for me] it is best to not accept any disciples [since accepting disciples is the work of second-class and third-class devotees].”

We should carefully note the placement of quotation marks in these two versions. The second version is misleading. It gives emphasis to the idea that thinking “It best not to accept disciples” is the thinking that should really be avoided, not necessarily thinking “I am a first-class devotee.”  In other words, the swami’s version is structured in such a way as to suggest that it may be fine to think of oneself as a first-class devotee as long as he doesn’t use that as an excuse to avoid accepting disciples.

Such speculation, change and interpretation of Prabhupada’s original books creates a dangerous precedent. Devotees may come to believe that it is a good idea to analyze every book statement based on old archived manuscripts someone has dug up somewhere–manuscripts that have been transcribed from tapes long ago or recently by who knows who. Should we doubt statements we don’t like and go back to so-called “original” manuscripts, or even the writings of previous Acharyas, to determine what Prabhupada really meant? It seems odd to say, “The Caitanya-caritamrita Prabhupada gave us was a rushed job, so naturally it is full of serious mistakes, even though Prabhupada accepted it, read it and lectured from it many times. I am an advanced scholar, so let me offer the correct version.”

With all the book changes and speculation in Iskcon, the authority of Srila Prabhupada’s books has been undermined. If this continues, the authority of Prabhupada’s mission may become more and more obscured, as a floodgate of speculation is opened wide. We must all try to carefully maintain respect for the integrity and authority of Srila Prabhupada’s original books. Otherwise, the whole mission may eventually become severely adulterated or spoiled by misguided pundits and persons with false ambitions.