Original or Revised Bhagavad-gita — It’s Your Call

Changes — By on February 19, 2010 9:16 am

One way to consider whether the revisions published in the 1983 version of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is were necessary is to make a side-by-side comparison of those revisions with the first edition text as published by Macmillan Co. in 1972. It was that text or manuscript to which Srila Prabhupada affixed his seal of approval: “I have received your letter dated May 26, 1972, along with the blue-print copies of Bhagavad-gita As It Is from the 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) Macmillan had previously published a heavily abridged paperback edition, and as Srila Prabhupada later wrote: “I was not very happy, therefore, when I had to minimize our original manuscript.” (Preface, 1972 edition) He was glad to see that Macmillan was publishing his entire manuscript in book form at last.

Srila Prabhupada had been closely monitoring both the preparation of the manuscript and the contract with Macmillan. On February 9, 1972 he had written: “I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter dated February 9, 1972, along with the two copies of the Macmillan Co. contract. As per your instructions I have initialed same wherever your own initials have appeared. I noticed that in the carbon copy contract, you neglected to initial the last clause (b) of section XX Special Provisions, although you had done so on the original copy. In addition I have the phrase to XII Competative Material as follows, “as well as the 48 pages of illustrations for which the Author reserves the right to publish for any purpose he may determine…” (Letter to Rupanuga, February 22, 1972).

This letter illustrates Srila Prabhupada’s supervision of details. Another example, regarding the purposes in the 1972 manuscript being prepared for Macmillan: “So far changing the wording in the verse or purport of 12:12 as described before, it may remain as it is.” (Letter to Jayadvaita, March, 1972) Interestingly, three words in that purport to 12:12, last, regulated and state, were changed against these instructions – after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance – during the revision process.

Srila Prabhupada commented in Vrndavan (June 27, 1977), “What can I do? Ultimate, it goes for editorial. They make changes, such changes.” Obviously, Srila Prabhupada is referring here to unnecessary changes out of his control, not all changes. Editing means to make changes, but everyone makes mistakes particular to their service, and the particular mistake that editors tend to commit is the unnecessary changes or hyper-editing of content. And in this case – the 1983 Gita revisions – without the author’s option to review any changes while he was present.

Therefore, notwithstanding the sworn Internet testimonials of various ISKCON officials or reviewers, the technique of rummaging previous drafts or tapes to justify all the changes in a printed book appears dubious – in the absence of a clear directive for such a procedure from the author, Srila Prabhupada.

Be that as it may, in Srila Prabhupada’s absence a side-by-side comparison of purports from the two editions can be made by the light of his clear instructions: “Our editing is to correct grammar and spelling errors only, without interpolation of philosophy or style.” (Letter to Rupanuga, 1970) Also, Srila Prabhupada had warned the original editor of his 1972 manuscript, Hayagriva das, that he should be careful not to make needless changes in Srila Prabhupada’s purports, his “personal ecstasies.”

Random House’s authoritative Webster’s College Dictionary (2005 ed.) defines interpolation: ‘to introduce (something additional or extraneous) between other things or parts; interject; interpose; to alter (a text) by the insertion of new matter, esp. deceptively or without authorization to insert (new, or spurious matter) in this manner.”

The following two columns of excerpts are from purports only, example arranged in a way to make a simple comparison between the two editions. It’s up to the reader to judge by the result whether Srila Prabhupada’s instructions are followed in these revisions of his “personal ecstasies.” ‘Personal ecstasies’ mean that Srila Prabhupada is giving vijnana or realized knowledge. As he said, “My purports are liked by people because it is presented as practical experience.” (May 23, 1977, Vrindavan)

Bhagavad-gita 2.18 First Edition …Arjuna was advised to fight and to sacrifice the material body for the cause of religion. Bhagavad-gita 2.18 Revised Edition …Arjuna was advised to fight and not sacrifice the cause of religion for material, bodily considerations.
Bhagavad-gita 3.20 First Edition …Being a great devotee of the Lord, he was transcendentally situated, but because he was the king of Mithila (a subdivision of Behar province in India), he had to teach his subjects how to fight righteously in battle. He and his subjects fought to teach people in general that violence is also necessary in a situation where good arguments fail. Bhagavad-gita 3.20 Revised Edition …Being a great devotee of the Lord, he was transcendentally situated, but because he was the king of Mithila (a subdivision of Behar province in India), he had to teach his subjects how to perform prescribed duties. Lord Krsna and Arjuna, the Lord’s eternal friend, had no need to fight in the Battle of Kuruksetra, but they fought to teach people in general that violence is also necessary in a situation where good arguments fail.
Bhagavad-gita 4.10 First Edition …One has to get rid of all three stages of attachment to the material world: negligence of spiritual life, fear of a spiritual personal identity, and the conception of void that underlies the frustration of life. Bhagavad-gita 4.10 Revised Edition …One has to get rid of all three stages of attachment to the material world: negligence of spiritual life, fear of a spiritual personal identity, and the conception of void that arises from frustration in life.
Bhagavad-gita 4.10 First Edition …So, by the slow process of devotional service, under the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master, one can attain the highest stage, being freed from all material attachment, from the fearfulness of one’s individual spiritual personality, an from the frustrations resulting from void philosophy. Then one can ultimately attain to the abode of the Supreme Lord. Bhagavad-gita 4.10 Revised Edition …So, by the slow process of devotional service, under the guidance of the bona fide spiritual master, one can attain the highest stage, being freed from all material attachment, from the fearfulness of one’s individual spiritual personality, an from the frustrations that result in void philosophy. Then one can ultimately attain to the abode of the Supreme Lord.
Bhagavad-gita 4.34 First Edition …Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge. Bhagavad-gita 4.34 Revised Edition …Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help lead one to the right path. Nor by independent study of books of knowledge can one progress in spiritual life. One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge.
Bhagavad-gita 5.12 First Edition …The person who is attached to Krsna and works for Him only is certainly a liberated person, and he is not anxious for fruitive rewards. Bhagavad-gita 5.12 Revised Edition …The person who is attached to Krsna and works for Him only is certainly a liberated person, and he has no anxiety over the results of his work..
Bhagavad-gita 5.16 First Edition …Therefore one has to seek out such a bona fide spiritual master and, under him, learn what Krsna consciousness is. The spiritual master can drive away all nescience, as the sun drives away darkness. Bhagavad-gita 5.16 Revised Edition …Therefore one has to seek out such a bona fide spiritual master and, under him, learn what Krsna consciousness is, for Krsna consciousness will certainly drive away all nescience, as the sun drives away darkness.
Bhagavad-gita 7.6 First Edition …A fragmental part and parcel of the Lord, namely the living entity, may by manipulation of material energy construct a skyscraper, a factory, or city, but he cannot create matter out of nothing, and he certainly cannot construct a planet or a universe. The cause of the universe is the Supersoul. Krsna, the supreme creator of all individual souls and the original cause of all causes, as the Katha Upanisad (2.2.13) confirms. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. Bhagavad-gita 7.6 Revised Edition …A fragmental part and parcel of the Lord, namely the living entity, may be the cause of a big skyscraper, a big factory, or even a big city, but he cannot be the cause of a big universe. The cause of the big universe is the big soul, or the Supersoul. And Krsna, the supreme, is the cause of both the big and small souls. Therefore, He is the original causes. This is confirmed in the Katha Upanisad (2.2.13) confirms. Nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam.
Bhagavad-gita 7.8 First EditionSimilarly pranava, or the omkara transcendental sound used in the beginning of every Vedic hymn to address the Supreme Lord also emanates from Him. Bhagavad-gita 7.8 Revised EditionAnd pranava, or the omkara transcendental sound used in the beginning of every Vedic hymn, addresses the Supreme Lord .
Bhagavad-gita 8.2 First Edition …Now the word prayana-kale in this verse is very significant because whatever we do in life will be tested at the time of death. Arjuna fears that at the time of death, those who are in Krsna consciousness will forget the Supreme Lord because at such a time bodily functions are disrupted, and the mind may be in a panic-stricken state. Therefore Maharaj Kulasekhara, a great devotee, prays, “My dear Lord, may I die immediately now that I’m healthy so that the swan of my mind may enter into the stem of Thy lotus feet.” The metaphor is used because the swan often takes pleasure in entering the stem of the lotus flower – similarly, the mind of the pure devotee is drawn to the lotus feet of the Lord. Maharaj Kulasekhara fears that at the moment of his death his throat will be so choked up that he will not be able to chant the holy names, so it is better to “die immediately.” Arjuna questions how one’s mind can remain fixed on Krsna’s lotus feet at such times. Bhagavad-gita 8.2 Revised Edition …Now the word prayana-kale in this verse is very significant because whatever we do in life will be tested at the time of death. Arjuna is very anxious to know of those who are constantly engaged in Krsna consciousness. What should be their position at that final moment? At the time of death all the bodily functions are disrupted, and the mind is not in a proper condition. Thus disturbed by the bodily situation, one may not be able to remember the Supreme Lord. Maharaj Kulasekhara, a great devotee, prays, “My dear Lord, just now I am healthy, and it is better that I die immediately so that the swan of my mind can seek entrance at the stem of Your lotus feet.” The metaphor is used because the swan, a bird of the water, often takes pleasure in digging into the lotus flowers; its sporting proclivity is to enter the lotus flower. Maharaja Kulasekhara says to the Lord, “Now my mind is undisturbed, and I am quite healthy. If I die immediately, thinking of Your lotus feet, then I am sure that my performance of Your devotional service will become perfect. But if I have to wait for my natural death, then I do not know what will happen, because at that time the bodily functions will be disrupted, my throat will be choked up, and I do not know whether I shall be able to chant Your name. Better let me die immediately.”
Arjuna questions how a person can fix his mind on Krsna’s lotus feet at such a time.
Bhagavad-gita 8.10 First Edition …In this verse it is clearly stated that at the time of death the mind must be fixed in devotion the Supreme Godhead. For those practiced in yoga, it is recommended that they raise the life force between the eyebrows, but for a pure devotee who does not practice such yoga, the mind should always be engaged in Krsna consciousness so that at death he can remember the Supreme by His grace. This is explained in verse fourteen. Bhagavad-gita 8.10 Revised Edition …In this verse it is clearly stated that at the time of death the mind must be fixed in devotion on to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For those practiced in yoga, it is recommended that they raise the life force between the eyebrows to the ajna-cakra). The practice of sat-cakra-yoga, involving meditation on the six cakras, is suggested here. A pure devotee does not practice such yoga, but because he is always engaged in Krsna consciousness so that at death he can remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead by His grace. This is explained in verse fourteen.
Bhagavad-gita 8.10 First Edition The particular use of the word yoga-balena is significant in this verse because without practice of yoga one cannot come to this transcendental state of being at the time of death. One cannot suddenly remember the Supreme Lord at death unless he is practiced in some yoga system, especially the system of bhakti-yoga. Sine one’s mind at death is very disturbed, one should practice transcendence through yoga during one’s life. Bhagavad-gita 8.10 Revised Edition The particular use of the word yoga-balena is significant in this verse because without practice of yoga –whether sat-cakra-yoga or bhakti-yoga–one cannot come to this transcendental state of being at the time of death. One cannot suddenly remember the Supreme Lord at death; one must have practiced in some yoga system, especially the system of bhakti-yoga. Sine one’s mind at death is very disturbed, one should practice transcendence through yoga during one’s life.
Bhagavad-gita 8.11 First Edition Lord Krsna explains that Brahman, although one without a second, has different manifestations and features. For the impersonalists syllable om is identical with Brahman. Krsna here explains the impersonal Brahman in which the renounced order of sages enter. Bhagavad-gita 8.11 Revised Edition Lord Sri Krsna has recommended to Arjuna the practice of sat-cakra-yoga, in which one places the air of life between the eyebrows. Taking it for granted that Arjuna might not know how to practice sat-cakra-yoga, the Lord explains the process in the following verses. The Lord says that Brahman, although one without a second, has various manifestations and features. Especially for the impersonalists the aksara or omkara—the syllable om–is identical with Brahman. Krsna here explains the impersonal Brahman, in which the renounced order of sages enter.
Bhagavad-gita 10.31 First Edition Of all the aquatics the shark is one of the biggest and is certainly the most dangerous to man. Thus the shark represents Krsna. And of rivers, the greatest in India is the Mother Ganges. Lord Ramacandra, of the Ramayana, an incarnation of Krsna, is the mightest of warriors. Bhagavad-gita 10.31 Revised Edition Of all the aquatics the shark is one of the biggest and is certainly the most dangerous to man. Thus the shark represents Krsna.
Bhagavad-gita 10.33 First Edition Among the creators and living entities, Brahma is the chief. The various Brahma’s exhibit four, eight, sixteen, etc., heads accordingly, and they are the chief creators in their respective universes. The Brahmas are representatives of Krsna. Bhagavad-gita 10.33 Revised Edition Among the living entities who are creators, Brahma, who has four heads, is the chief. Therefore he is a representative of the Supreme Lord, Krsna.
Bhagavad-gita 10.34 First Edition “…One need not read many books on different subject matters; the ability to remember a few and quote them when necessary is another opulence.” Bhagavad-gita 10.34 Revised Edition “…And the ability not only to read many books on different subject matters but to understand them and apply them when necessary is intelligence (medha), another opulence.”
Bhagavad-gita 13.8 First Edition “…If anyone wants to compete with God and at the same time make advancement in spiritual knowledge, he will be frustrated. It is clearly stated that without humility understanding is harmful. To think oneself God is most puffed up. Although the living entity is always being kicked by the stringent laws of material nature, still he thinks, “I am God” because of ignorance. One should be humble and know that he is subordinate to the Supreme Lord. Bhagavad-gita 13.8 Revised Edition “…If anyone wants to compete with God and at the same time make advancement in spiritual knowledge, he will be frustrated. It is clearly stated that without humility understanding is not truly possible. To think oneself God is most puffed up. Although the living entity is always being kicked by the stringent laws of material nature, still he thinks, “I am God” because of ignorance. The beginning of knowledge, therefore, is amanitya, humility. One should be humble and know that he is subordinate to the Supreme Lord.
Bhagavad-gita 13.29 First Edition The living entity, by accepting his material existence as just so much suffering, can become situated in his spiritual existence. Bhagavad-gita 13.29 Revised Edition The living entity, by accepting his material existence has become situated differently than in his spiritual existence.
Bhagavad-gita 16.1-3 First Edition Then svadhyaya, Vedic study, and tapas, austerity, and arjavam, gentleness or simplicity, are meant for brahmacarya or student life. Brahmacaris should have no connection with women; they should live a life of celibacy and engage the jmind in the study of Vedic literature for cultivation of spiritual knowledge. This is called svadhyaya. Bhagavad-gita 16.1-3 Revised Edition Then svadhyaya, Vedic study, is meant for brahmacarya or student life. Brahmacaris should have no connection with women; they should live a life of celibacy and engage the jmind in the study of Vedic literature for cultivation of spiritual knowledge. This is called svadhyaya.
Bhagavad-gita 16.1-3 First Edition As far as simplicity is concerned, not only should a particular order of life follow this principle, but every member, be in the brahmacari asrama, or grhastha asrama, or vanaprastha asrama or sannyasa asrama. One must live very simply. Bhagavad-gita 16.1-3 Revised Edition As far as the brahminical quality of simplicity is concerned, not only should a particular order of life follow this principle, but every member, be in the brahmacari asrama, or grhastha asrama, or vanaprastha asrama or sannyasa asrama. One should be very simple and straightforward.
Bhagavad-gita 16.1-3 First Edition The word rajas used here is meant for the kshatriyas. The kshatriyas should always be very strong to be able to give protection to the weak. They should not pose themselves as nonviolent. If violence is required, they must exhibit it. Bhagavad-gita 16.1-3 Revised Edition The word rajas used here is meant for the kshatriyas. The kshatriyas should always be very strong to be able to give protection to the weak. They should not pose themselves as nonviolent. If violence is required, they must exhibit it. But a person who is able to curb down his enemy may under certain conditions show forgiveness. He may excuse minor offenses.

(An analysis of examples of interpolations will follow in Part II)

[NOTE: My appreciations to Sriman Praghosa das, the renowned book distributor, for these purport excerpts from his email to Madhuvisa das on 3/12/98. Thank you very much.]

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3 Comments

  1. Govind says:

    I want the original not the revised version of any of the SRILA PRABHUPADA BOOKS…………….IF IT IS REVISED ONE, I ASSURE OF NO ONE BUYING THE BOOKS WITHIN MY COMMUNITY…THANKS…

  2. Alankara dasa says:

    I think this story is an appropriate response to Rupanuga Prabhu’s article.
    Today I fortunately stopped by our rather humble local Sri Sri Gour-Nitai ISKCON Temple. I spent some time happily talking with a Godbrother sanyasi and a young initiated brahmacari disciple. Some afternoon prasadam was available, and the few devotees present decided to enjoy the prasadam. As we talked the new brahmacari spontaneously shared his story of how he became a devotee.
    He was living in Texas,and a Christian. He had heard of the Gita as a famous book from India and decided to go to his local University library for a copy. He found the “Gita” section, and while looking decided on Bhagavad Gita As It Is. However, there were a number of versions. Bhagavad Gita As It Is, Revised Bhagavad Gita As It Is, and Enlarged Bhagavad Gita As It Is. The other verisons of “Gita” he decided were too artistically rendered and without the authenticity he was seeking. He couldn’t understand why ‘as it is’ should be “Revised” or why the original version should be “Enlarged”. He took home the original Bhagavad Gita As It Is and has become an initiated devotee, and a strong book distributor. Srila Prabhupada read from, and gave class from, etc these original books. By the power of the world-wide distributon of these books the movement was built. Vrndaban and Mayapur were built and thousands of devotees were brought to Krishna Consciousness by these books. There is a saying:’If it ain’t broke-don’t fix it’. This boy has traveled around the world as a devotee. He has been to Mayapur,Vrndaban,RadhaKund, etc. These original books work. Hari Bol!

  3. Eyal Reut says:

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All Glories to Srila Prabhupada!
    Had it not been for the “revised” edition, I would have become a devotee 22 years ago. It’s the confusion of it all, the fact that the “revised” edition was being pushed so hard by ISKCON, and especially that – it’s a new book, not Prabhupada’s work. It lacks in authority and in spirit. And it doesn’t sound right at all.
    ISKCON’s only chance of survival is to pull back every copy of this poor attempt to rewrite Prabhupada’s Gita, and to re-endorse the original version. Failing to do this, ISKCON will render itself irrelevant, and gradually disintegrate.

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