By Madhava Gosh das
The latest topic amongst those in ISKCON addicted to debating is the annotation of Prabhupada’s books. For those of you not familiar with the specifics, I will not provide links because a.) I am too lazy to find and include them and b.) why disturb your mind about it when you were having a perfectly fine day without worrying about it already.
I stipulate I haven’t read the GBC resolution and don’t know their specific reasons for deciding to annotate Prabhupada’s books. I am speaking only from my own perspective on the topic and neither approve nor disapprove of their method of arriving at their decision.
My first impression on reading some of the feedback is that I think that half the opposing commentators or more don’t know what annotation is, ergo I include this definition:
Main Entry: an·no·ta·tion
1 a note added by way of comment or explanation 2: the act of annotating.
One example would be like Srimad Bhagvatam class where after reading the verse and purport, the person giving class gives a critical analysis of what has been read. An oral annotation in other words.
My premise is that the only way that Srila Prabhupada’s books can be retained in their original version is through the use of annotations. Think of Shakespeare.
He wrote hundreds of years ago and since then the English language, being very fluid, has shifted. In order to understand not only what the now archaic words meant but the cultural context and nuance of how those words were used, one would need to do an extensive study of the culture of that time.
Fortunately, qualified scholars have already done this for us so when we get stuck we can read the annotations and continue to enjoy Shakespeare as he originally wrote it.
Annotations don’t change books, they clarify points in them. Shakespeare comes in both annotated and unannotated versions. Just because an annotated version of a book exists, doesn’t mean an unannotated version can’t also exist, so there is no need to worry an annotated version of SP’s books will replace the current ones.
As language morphs, the need to annotate will become greater if the desire is there to retain Prabhupada’s books in original versions. That may seem academic now, but will be a greater need as decades slip by.
Consider the word “gay” and how its meaning has drastically changed:
1 a: happily excited : merry
Most would agree that the 4th meaning should now be put as the first, at least in America. If it were, the old Christmas carol “Deck the Halls Boughs of Holly” would need to be annotated in scholarly quarters so it was clear that the refrain “don we now our gay apparel” wasn’t understood to be an exhortation to dress in drag.
Consider this quote from Srila Prabhupada’s original Bhagvatam:
“The Lord was then married with great pomp and gay and began to preach the Congregational chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord at Nabadwipa.”
SB 1-1962: Introduction
Do we think that SP was saying Lord Chaitanya was a homosexual? Of course not, but an annotation would be in order to clarify it.
So I personally have no problems with the concept of annotating SP’s books IF it is done by devotees who have an understanding of the principles of Vaisnava philosophy.
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