By Concerned Book Distributors
Misconceptions have been circulating about the authorship of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (Srila Prabhupada). For example, it is a mistake to think that his books were written by his editors. The facts demonstrate that Srila Prabhupada translated, wrote, edited, and published his books while using his disciples as assistants. In contrast, the so-called editing of his books without his knowledge and consent is really rewriting by hidden co-authors.
Srila Prabhupada is an extraordinary author unsurpassed in history because he translated, wrote, edited, published, and distributed millions of books worldwide, translated in many languages. He trained hundreds of disciples to assist him in this monumental work. Srila Prabhupada created his own publishing house, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT). He created his own distribution system of temples, the Life Membership program, and book distributors who developed innovative methods to distribute books. He engaged millions of people in producing, distributing and receiving his transcendental books, and thus engaged them in the pure devotional service of Lord Caitanya’s movement.
Srila Prabhupada was a published author before he reached America . In India , without help, he translated, wrote, edited, published and distributed the three volumes of Srimad Bhagavatam, First Canto, the paperback Easy Journey to Other Planets, and many issues of Back to Godhead magazine. He wrote a second manuscript for the Bhagavad-gita to replace his first one which had been stolen.
Of course, he recognized his difficulties in presenting transcendental knowledge in a foreign language. In the Preface to each volume of Srimad Bhagavatam, he appealed to the readers: “I must admit my frailties in presenting Srimad Bhagavatam, but still I am hopeful of its good reception by the thinkers and leaders of society on the strength of the following statement of Srimad Bhagavatam (1.5.11): tad-vag visargo… ‘On the other hand, that literature which is full with descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, form and pastimes of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a transcendental creation meant to bring about a revolution in the impious life of a misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though irregularly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.’”
Once he arrived in America , he took opportunities to correct his “irregular composition.” He gave a large stack of papers, his Bhagavad-gita manuscript, to his disciple, Hayagriva das, who had a Masters degree in English. The two of them worked closely together to edit and prepare the manuscript for publication in the United States .
AMAZING SYSTEM TO WRITE AND PUBLISH
Srila Prabhupada’s published letters reveal an amazing system which he organized to accelerate his writing. He controlled every aspect from beginning to end. And he trained his disciples to assist him in various ways. He dictated translations and purports which his disciples transcribed. He corrected and edited those transcriptions which were then sent to other disciples for more editing. He edited the Sanskrit synonyms or provided them himself. He proofread manuscripts and final drafts. He gave specific instructions regarding illustrations, number of pages, size, paper, binding, covers, printing and costs. He examined the printed books to see if they had been printed properly. He noted his satisfaction and dissatisfaction. If necessary, he ordered corrections for a subsequent printing. Amazingly, he did all this work using personal meetings and regular postal mail while traveling around the world!
Srila Prabhupada wrote letters to convey his instructions and answer questions. Excerpts demonstrate his direct involvement in training and correcting his disciples’ work. He wrote his books by dictating the translations and purports which were transcribed. “I have received the transcription of tape #16. You are doing very nicely and improving your editorial capability.” (Letter to Satsvarupa, July 29, 1969) “Pradyumna and Shyamsundar will be sending you regularly completed transcriptions of my translation work by post … and because I am here, if they have questions, I can answer and make the final proofreading, and this will expedite everything.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, May 15, 1971)
His disciples had difficulty producing quality translations and Sanskrit synonyms even in later years, thereby forcing Srila Prabhupada to do the work himself. “The translations… I am not using. There is some fault. I am doing the translations… (Letter to Radhaballabha, Sept. 26, 1975) “Yes, because no one else can do them, I shall do the Sanskrit synonyms.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, Feb. 18, 1972) “From yesterday night I have begun adding the synonyms as it doesn’t save very much time to have the synonyms.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Oct. 20, 1975) “I will have to see personally what are the mistakes in the synonyms and also how you intend to correct them. I was not satisfied with the corrections that were made before. I saw some changes which I did not approve. Nitai may correct whatever mistakes are there, but the corrected material must be sent to me for final approval.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Jan. 5, 1976)
Synonyms were missing for 25 chapters of the Srimad Bhagavatam, so he provided them. “I have begun this work and the first tape of synonyms, tape no. 6, was sent to Pradyumna today. This work will take at least one month to complete.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, Feb. 18, 1972) Sometimes he provided the synonyms within the letter: “So far your question, the synonyms are as follows: sattvam – the mode of goodness; rajas – the mode of passion … (Letter to Jayadvaita, July 3, 1971)
Srila Prabhupada’s solution to the Sanskrit editing problems was to train his disciple, Pradyumna das. “I am very much glad that Pradyumna is now with me for teaching him correctly this Sanskrit editing work. After he has become well-trained that will be a great relief to me and it will benefit everyone by increasing the flow of our books and literatures.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, May 15, 1971)
Srila Prabhupada also trained his disciples in editing the English and preparing the manuscripts for publishers, including basic proofreading. As always, he reviewed their work and made necessary corrections. “Regarding your second point, all incarnations should be proper nouns and therefore capitalized. It does not matter whether they are Visnu-tattva or jiva-tattva, saktavesh-avatar or plenary expansion.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, July 12, 1970) “…you have got 31 only out of 33. I think some of the brackets are not counted. So if the parentheses are removed from ‘intoxication’ and ‘impotency’ and they are also counted, the total of symptoms will come to 33. Simply add commas…” (Letter to Jayadvaita, Jan. 30, 1970)
Srila Prabhupada supervised his editors; he reviewed their work, including the final manuscript. “Regarding the corrections you have sent, this kind of changes is admissible. There is no harm.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Sept. 21, 1975) “I have received your letter dated May 26, 1972, along with the blue-print copies of Bhagavad Gita As It Is from MacMillan Company. It is very nice. So I shall be looking forward to seeing the entire manuscript and book sometime around first July, 1972.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, May 28, 1972)
Srila Prabhupada gave instructions and reviewed the art work to illustrate his books. “The sketches are all alright as they are. Please go ahead and make the paintings.” (Letter to Jadurani, Jan. 5, 1976) For Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta, he wrote, “The art paintings are very, very good. Everyone likes them, and I know they have worked especially hard…. The photographs are also wonderful. He has done nicely, the boy Bhargava.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Sept. 26, 1975)
Other examples include the illustrations in the Seventh Canto of Srimad Bhagavatam (1st printing, 1976) which comply with his instructions. “2. There should be no effulgence around Prahlad. Hiranyakasipu should not be shown with a pipe. He was a non-smoker.… 4. To illustrate Prahlad being protected when he is thrown off the cliff, there should be a semi-visible Krishna waiting below, as if to catch.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, Feb. 3, 1976)
Srila Prabhupada determined the layout of his books and other publishing details. He wanted high quality publications. “Regarding 6th Canto, Nitai has just yesterday sent off Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8 and next week he expects to send off Chapters 9 through 13. This will be sufficient for you to publish one volume.” (Letter to Radhaballava, Sept. 21, 1975) Regarding a decrease in the printing quality of Back to Godhead magazine, he wrote, “The color is not at all good. It is not attractive, and not as good as Dai Nippon …. The standard quality of Dai Nippon must be maintained. On what consideration is the printer being changed?... In my opinion, no one can print better than Dai Nippon. Why is the plan changed without my consent?... We cannot change the quality of printing for the matter of a little change in the price. This printing is not approved by me…. I am sending copies of this letter to all BBT Trustees for necessary action.” (Letter to Radhaballava, Sept. 22, 1974)
Srila Prabhupada was a prolific writer – he translated and wrote faster than his disciples could edit and publish. Although he was one person and they were many, they could not keep up with him. For example, he pressured his disciples for years to publish the eighteen volumes of Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta. The manuscripts were written, but the editing, illustrations, and publication progressed slowly. The first published volume appeared in 1973. A year later, another volume was published. He overcame BBT’s lethargy in 1974 by forcing the Los Angeles temple into a marathon to prepare the books. And he personally stayed there to assist the editors. By his efforts, the entire Sri Caitanya-Caritamrta was finally published in 1975.
Other books took longer. In 1972 he ordered the publication of a paperback based on recorded conversations. “I think we are just now typing up the tapes of those conversations we held in Mayapur, and we shall be publishing them as a book. It will be called Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers.” (Letter from Srila Prabhupada to Bob Cohen, June 16, 1972, reprinted in the book) Five years later, the small paperback was published and ready for distribution.
Srila Prabhupada’s system of book distribution relied on three integral parts – his temples, his book distributors, and the Life Membership program. The temples were the regional centers for book distribution. They organized the local distribution and provided all the needs for the book distributors and support persons (managers, pujaries, cooks, etc.) who lived in the temples. The temple activities were organized so that the book distributors could devote all their energies to distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books and preaching. “There is no doubt about it, to distribute books is our most important activity. The temple is a place not for eating and sleeping, but as a base from which we send out our soldiers to fight with maya. Fight with maya means to drop thousands and millions of books into the lap of the conditioned souls. Just like during war time the Bombs are raining from the sky like anything.” (Letter to Ramesvara, Aug. 3, 1973)
Srila Prabhupada devised the Life Membership Program as a scheme to publish and distribute books in India , and to expand it to America and other countries. “Here in India our program is going on very nicely. Especially we are making so many life members. That program is so important that we are getting money, supporters and distributing our literature all at the same time.” (Letter to Damodara, March 5, 1971) “…on this book distribution scheme of life membership. 50% is utilized for reprinting books and 50% is utilized for increasing the number of centers. I think the same program may be vigorously introduced in your country and that will be a great success.” (Letter to Rupanuga, Feb. 19, 1971)
It is clear that Srila Prabhupada was the author of his books, and the editors were his assistants. Also, he fully controlled the editing and publishing process. For his books, he determined the content, meaning, purpose, audience, style, illustrations, binding, paper, publication dates, etc.
So why do some, including some BBT editors, erroneously claim that Srila Prabhupada did not really write his books? Why do they mistakenly refer to “Hayagriva’s Bhagavad-gita” instead of “Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad-gita?” The answer is that they confuse writing with editing.
Factually, editing is not writing because editing polishes something already written. First the author writes, and then the editor edits. First, Srila Prabhupada wrote the translations and purports for Bhagavad-gita, and then Hayagriva edited them.
Writing creates the content, meaning and purpose. Editing polishes that work to make it more presentable to the readers, but editing does not change the author’s meaning and purpose. Srila Prabhupada created the transcendental content of his books. He conveyed the meaning of Krsna consciousness within the Vaisnava parampara (disciplic succession). And he imbued his books with the purpose to spread Lord Caitanya’s mercy all over the world. Srila Prabhupada’s books contain his potency to transform sincere readers into pure unalloyed devotees. To assist him, Hayagriva polished the Bhagavad-gita manuscript by correcting the irregular composition without changing Srila Prabhupada’s meaning and purpose.
Editing differs from writing because the editor suggests changes and consults with the author for approval. Hayagriva proofread the Bhagavad-gita manuscript. Proofreading is the process of finding and correcting errors in spelling, conjugation, capitalization, grammar, syntax, italics, etc. as well as conformity to the publisher’s format (font size, margins, indentations, footnotes, etc.).
Hayagriva also suggested other changes to the manuscript. Like a good editor, he discussed the changes and asked for Srila Prabhupada’s approval of them. Other disciples acting as editors followed the same approval process with other books. It is clear that Srila Prabhupada wrote his books and that Hayagriva and other disciples edited them.
Another misconception is that Srila Prabhupada’s books can be edited without his knowledge and consent. This is erroneous because, as explained above, editing requires discussions and approval from the author. And the author makes the final decisions about what is published. Therefore, no editing can occur especially after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance (in 1977) because he is no longer available for consultation. The only exceptions would be found in his orders for specific changes to specific books. Regarding the unfinished Srimad Bhagavatam, he personally trained and assigned only Pradyumna das to finish the translations and purports.
Still another misconception is that Srila Prabhupada gave orders to change his published books after his disappearance. No evidence exists to support this claim. In fact, he gave many orders not to change his books. “Yes, there is no need for corrections for the first and second Cantos. Whatever is there is alright.” (Letter to Radhaballabha, May 4, 1976) Regarding the Bhagavad-gita manuscript prepared for the 1972 MacMillan publication, he wrote, “So far changing the working of verse or purport of 12:12 discussed before, it may remain as it is.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, March 17, 1971) Apparently Srila Prabhupada rejected Jayadvaita’s suggestions in favor of leaving the manuscript “as it is.” Yet three words in that purport were changed for the unauthorized 1983 revision.
Those familiar with Srila Prabhupada’s management understand that he would have given important orders to change his published books to the BBT Trustees, the GBC members, and Pradyumna, his highly qualified translator. So why are there no orders from Srila Prabhupada to his important leaders? Why would he grant permission to rewrite his Bhagavad-gita to devotees who were not important leaders before his disappearance?
What is so-called editing that is independent from Srila Prabhupada’s order? Factually, it is not editing, it is rewriting of his books. The so-called editors are acting like authors. They are really co-authors because they are rewriting books written by another author, i.e., Srila Prabhupada. And, they are really hidden co-authors because they rewrite his books while hiding behind the good name of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. The hidden co-authors present their own translations and opinions hidden within Srila Prabhupada’s books.
In contrast, honest co-authors always publish their names, and sometimes they describe their individual contributions. In any case, their readers understand that two or more authors wrote the book. A famous example of co-authoring is a book about grammar and writing, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White (Fourth edition, 2000, published by Longman Publishers). In it, White explained his role as co-author and his changes to Strunk’s original book. White also claimed credit for writing the section on style.
CHANGES TO THE BOOKS
The problem of hidden co-authors even occurred during Srila Prabhupada’s physical presence. Some disciples deviated from the honest relationship between Srila Prabhupada as author and the disciples as editors. Such persons changed his manuscripts and printed books without his permission and knowledge. After discovering these unauthorized changes, Srila Prabhupada strongly chastised the persons involved and demanded the removal of the changes. For example, during a Srimad Bhagavatam class, Nitai das read a manuscript translation which contained unauthorized changes.
Nitai: “At the time of death, Ajamila saw three awkward persons… His small child, Narayana, was playing a little distance off, and with tearful eyes and great anxiety, he called the name of his son very loudly three times, ‘Narayana, Narayana, Narayana!” (SB 6.1.28-29)
Srila Prabhupada: Is there “three times?”
Nitai: It said in the manuscript. The manuscript said “three times.”
Srila Prabhupada: Who said in the manuscript? There is no three times. Not “Narayana” three times. One time, “O Narayana,” that’s all. So did I say “three times?” No, it is not said here. You should correct it. Once, “O Narayana,” that’s all. There is no reason of calling three times. There is no mention here. Once is sufficient. (laughter) …Uccair ajuhava, very loudly, “Narayana!” Like that. That’s all. Uccair ajuhava akulendriyah. So you edited it? Not yet?
Srila Prabhupada: So you should keep at least what is there. (Transcription of recorded lecture for S.B. 6.1.28-29, Philadelphia, July 13, 1975)
Despite his continual efforts to rectify and train his editors, they continued to make unauthorized changes. By June of 1977, Srila Prabhupada expressed his doubt that his leading editors would follow his order to remove over 100 changes to the Sri Isopanisad and publish it as the original (1969) printing. He said, “It is a very serious situation. You write one letter that ‘Why you have made so many changes?’ And whom to write? Who will care? All rascals are there! Write Satsvarupa that ‘This is the position. They are doing anything and everything at their whim. The next printing should be again to the original way." (Conversation with with Srila Prabhupada and Yasoda-nandana, June 22, 1977)
After Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, the hidden co-authors made major changes to Bhagavad-gita As It Is (1972 edition). A major change is the language, the writing style, of the Bhagavad-gita translations. For example, Srila Prabhupada originally published (1972 edition), Chapter 7, verse 24 as “Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” In contrast, the hidden co-authors (1983 revision) rewrote the verse as “Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme.”
The stark contrast between the two versions clearly indicates that they were written by two different authors. Srila Prabhupada wrote the original version, and the hidden co-authors wrote the later version.
Other Bhagavad-gita verses in the rewritten, 1983 edition display similar changes. The hidden co-authors substituted a lower level writing style not intended for college educated readers. Therefore, the change in writing style indicates a change in audience, the intended readers. Srila Prabhupada wrote for a college-educated, more intelligent audience; whereas, the hidden co-authors wrote for a less intelligent audience.
The co-authored Bhagavad-gita (1983 revision) is not suitable for college classrooms. But Srila Prabhupada’s plan differed: “…our propaganda should be going on for drawing attention of the educational institutions to accept our books at least in the religious courses.” (Letter to Satsvarupa, Nov. 2, 1973) “I am so glad to learn that you are having nice success in placing my books in the libraries and in schools and colleges…. I am sure that this will revolutionize the thinking of thoughtful men of your country as well as the students and the professors and the ultimate end will be to save the world from the clutches of material illusory activities which is now causing havoc everywhere.” (Letter to Karandhar, Sept. 13, 1970)
Why do the hidden co-authors claim to be better translators and commentators (purport writers) than Srila Prabhupada? What are the hidden co-authors doing when they change the philosophy and preaching plans in Srila Prabhupada’s books? What is their purpose?
The hidden co-authors usurp Srila Prabhupada’ property, his books, by making changes not authorized by him. They seize and hold his books by force without the spiritual right to do so. The hidden co-authors force changes without any order to do so. They blatantly disobey his direct order to maintain the books as originally published. They use BBT money and diplomacy to defeat opposition to their usurpation. The hidden co-authors behave like squatters who forcibly and unlawfully take over someone’s property and use it for their own purpose.
The hidden co-authors mislead the devotees and the innocent public by publishing their own opinions under Srila Prabhupada’s good name. What is their purpose? They are acting like hidden founder-acaryas because they rewrite sastra (Vedic scripture) intended for the next 9500 years. Because they reject Srila Prabhupada’s order to maintain his books as published, they freely inject their own opinions.
The proper behavior of a disciple or follower is to follow the spiritual master’s order. Srila Prabhupada explained: “Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has stated that the order of the spiritual master is the life and soul of the disciples. As a man cannot separate his life from his body, so a disciple cannot separate the order of the spiritual master from his life. If a disciple follows the instruction of the spiritual master in that way, he is sure to become perfect.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 3.24.13, 1974, 1st printing)
On the basis of this instruction, sincere devotees have the duty and the right to reject all co-authored changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books. We must follow Srila Prabhupada, not the hidden co-authors because he can liberate anyone who follows him.
Srila Prabhupada wrote: “Not a single person in the West became Krsna conscious before the Krsna consciousness movement was founded. But when the same Bhagavad-gita was presented as it is through the disciplic succession, the effect of spiritual realization was immediately manifested.” (Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.22.19, 1978, 2nd printing)
By following Srila Prabhupada, we can make spiritual progress and preach Lord Caitanya’s movement all over the world. And Srila Prabhupada, through his Prabhupada-vani – his books and teachings, can take anyone back home, back to Godhead.