Good Science, Bad Science - A response to Rupanuga prabhu’s paper

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By Hari-sauri dasa

Sriman Rupanuga prabhu (ACBSP 1966) has recently distributed a short paper called “A Scientific Method for Evaluating Editorial Changes to Srila Prabhupada’s Books.”

As I am sure many others were, I was intrigued by the title and the topic. The editing of Srila Prabhupada’s books since 1977 has been a hot topic in recent years, and the emotions roused have generated a fair amount of heat in the direction of the BBT.

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1 Danavir Goswami

In the beginning of the article it was forcefully established that BBT editorial changes carried out during Srila Prabhupada’s presence on earth were, in principle, authorized. Later in the article, Hayagriva dasa’s editorial work was strongly censured although he was a BBT editor during Srila Prabhupada’s presence on earth.

The article states:

“‘Nor having once been does he ever cease to be” says that the soul comes into being at a certain point and then it is eternally existing.”

Some persons may understand it in that way but others understand, “Nor having once been does he ever cease to be” to mean “nor existing does he ever cease to be.”

The article states,

“I wonder if Rupanuga prabhu, given his sustained isolation from the main stream of devotees, has submitted his treatise to such peer review.”

Rupanuga Prabhu’s analysis may be receiving its peer review here in the columns of the in-house family news site Dandavats.

The article states,

“Srila Prabhupada instructed his editors to present his books so that they are recognized as definitive.”

One important dictionary definition of “definitive” is, “Supplying or being a final or conclusive settlement.” In that sense, any editorial changes made after an author’s demise could lessen a book’s definitiveness.

Comment posted by Danavir Goswami on October 12th, 2008
2 Akruranatha

First of all I would like to thank Hari Sauri Prabhu for adressing this issue clearly and sensibly.

It is shocking the way Jayadvaita Swami and other BBT editors have been abused in print for their sincere and valuable service in faithfully restoring many important passages in Srila Prabhupada’s purports that were simply left out of prior editions, and correcting numerous mistakes, which were not Srila Prabhupada’s mistakes, but were errors committed by typists and editors, and which detract from the clarity and accuracy of Prabhupada’s own words.

Also I would like to thank Hari Sauri for being respectful to Rupanuga Prabhu personally while expressing his disappointment with Rupanuga’s paper. I have heard impassioned arguments in favor of the pre-1978 editions by other senior devotees (e.g., Govinda dasi, Hansadutta), and I think I understand their preference for the more orotund sounding phrases of the Hayagriva-edited version of the Bhagavad Gita translations.

Personally, I prefer to memorize the Sanskrt and try to learn the word-for-words well enough to be able to paraphrase the verse translations in different ways. I refer to the verse translations to make sure I have gotten it right, but I do not find it important to memorize the translations anymore, as I used to. I try to focus more on Prabhupada’s purports rather than the exact wording of verse translations. And without Jayadvaita Maharaja’s faithfully restored purports, we would be missing a lot of what Srila Prabhupada actually dictated.

In order to produce “definitive” editions of Prabhupada’s books, the verse translations should accurately reflect the actual verse meanings, as Prabhupada explained them in parampara. We do not need to be wedded to the first Hayagriva-edited versions, IMHO. When Prabhupada spoke against further editing, he was refering to poor editing as opposed to the very careful and faithful editing spearheaded by Jayadvaita Maharaja, one of Prabhupada’s most trusted editors. We are not talking about whimsical editing.

I can see how devotees may disagree about this, especially when it comes to the poetic “voice” of the Gita verse translations. However, I think most devotees, including most of the senior devotees, best scholars and best preachers, prefer the later editions, with good reason.

Hayagriva’s great service should be honored, but so should the later BBT editors’. Prabhupada did not want blatant errors in his books. Really.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 14th, 2008
3 Akruranatha

I have not read Rupanuga Prabhu’s paper (I would like to), so I cannot comment on that paper at all.

However, I appreciate Hari Sauri’s point about the optimism he felt from the “Scientific Method” in the title, and his disappointment when he felt that the article did not live up to the promise. (I will judge for myself when I do get Rupanuga’s paper, but I trust I can take Hari Sauri’s word for this).

We do not need any more emotional debates about which side is more loyal or faithful to Srila Prabhupada. [Can anyone possibly suggest that Jayadvaita Swami is not faithful to Srila Prabhupada? All of the devotees on both sides of this debate, especially those who have completely dedicated their lives to Prabhupada’s mission, are obviously loyal, faithful and sincere.]

One thing is, Hari Sauri and others in Bhaktivedanta Archives are meticulously preserving every edition, every word they can of what Srila Prabhupada wrote or recorded. It is not that the earlier editions (even the original Bhagavatam First Cantos, with all their idiosyncratic English and inconsistent spellings) are going to be lost to posterity.

Those who prefer the older editions are still able to get them and read them.

We already have the “scientific method” for discussing actual differences between different versions. We chant Hare Krishna together and then, in a purified atmosphere, we discuss Prabhupada’s books faithfully and carefully to try to understand the correct meanings. It is called “istaghosti” and it works marvelously. All doubts are vanquished and our hearts become enlightened with transcendental knowledge. “Srnvatam sva-katha krsnah . . . ”

If there are really any differences in meanings, this method will clear up any confusion. In the few instances where a recent edit obscured some important meaning (I do not deny such instances may exist), the earlier version obviously should be restored. No one will argue with that.

However, if we apply this method honestly (and we should), carefully comparing and discussing each nuance of Srila Prabhupada’s books, we will find that the newer versions are practically always more in line with Srila Prabhupada’s actual instructions, or at least more clear.

On the other hand, arguing over whether the fact of editing is itself a sign of disloyalty gets us nowhere. It sheds no light on actual meanings. It only divides devotees and weakens the sankirtan mission.

Comment posted by Akruranatha on October 14th, 2008

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