BBT Book ‘Changes’ and Being British

The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust is now providing a permanent online record of all the editing of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is that happened prior to the revised edition of 1983. That’s good. It will help anyone who, even very slightly, has lingering suspicions that ‘changes’ were made that deviated the text from Srila Prabhupada’s original. Full page scans of the original edited copy are reproduced so that every word and punctuation mark can be examined by anyone, either now or by scholars in the future.

As someone who witnessed Jayadwaita Swami for a week or two during the many months he spent editing, and having known him for decades during which period we’ve talked for hours on many subjects, I’ve never understood the suggestion that there was any motive involved in his editing other than to please Srila Prabhupada by doing what he had done for him already for many years. His guru asked him to edit his English and that’s what he did. And if his guru had not asked him to edit, there’s no way he would have touched even one full stop.

Having said that, I must admit that for me Bhagavad-gita chapter 2, verse 20 will always include: ‘Nor, having once been, will he ever cease to be.’ Even though that rendition of the translation is theologically clarified by the present version (look it up, dear faithful readers) I got used to that expression since I quoted it so many times as a young preacher.

But satisfied as I am about ‘the changes’ I do have my own misgiving about one BBT editorial change in particular. Nothing earth-shattering; a mere pin-prick, but it continues to itch. I would like the BBT to consider letting us British and Australians have a British-English version of Bhagavad-gita. With English as we speak it in the birthplace of the language. I’m not talking about reprinting the Gita in London Cockney Rhyming Slang, just the Queen’s English as it is spoken in England.

May I remind my American readers that American-English is quite different from British-English; that contrary to what you might think, American English is not ‘Standard English’; and that when you sell a book with American-English spellings on the streets of jolly old England, people do actually think that the Hare Krishna movement is an ‘American movement.’

Perhaps it was for the first few decades, but no longer.

If somehow Srila Prabhupada had landed in London first, instead of Boston, we might have had British-English BBT books sold all over America. Can you imagine the bewilderment as American readers struggled with Balarama’s ‘plough’ or Lord Krishna’s monsoon-cloud ‘colour’ ?

Yet Srila Prabhupada’s books were originally written in British-English as that was the way he learned the English language growing up in British India. I therefore propose that either the BBT revert to our founder-acarya’s original British-English spellings or, alternatively, begin treating British English as a ‘foreign language’ so that we can have English as we spell it. Almost 100 countries of the world have Srila Prabhupada’s books in their own language – what about us Brits? Are we to be the last nation on Earth to have Srila Prabhupada’s books in our own language?

That’s my conspiratorial rant for today.



Filed under Journal

13 responses to “BBT Book ‘Changes’ and Being British

  1. david Haslam

    Hare Krishna,
    It’s nice to see you have a little rant.
    However may I point out that not one of Srila Prabhupada’s books is available in the language of the country I come from which is Welsh; nether do I get any mail in Welsh although there is a legal obligation for this.
    Srila Prabhupada’s books were edited by the lovely dedicated American devotees, so we see that it is American English not as you report British English being used.
    However I am reminded we can become distracted by these things or alternatively simply become absorbed in the words that will save the spirit soul from material suffering.
    After all most people no longer know there is a difference thanks to Microsoft and the Americanization of language, I have seen this personally in nursing that the UK terms have slowly been replaced by the American spelling.
    The devotees are doing an amazing service in editing Prabhupada’s books using the language they know best, after all we also have New Zealand English and Australian English which also has it’s own unique spelling and word usage; so where do we stop?

    • I am also from Wales – Barri – and so I would also like to see at least one of Srila Prabhupada’s books available in the Welsh language. Through vigorous action on behalf of Welsh language speakers and academics, the Welsh language has been advanced, in just my lifetime, from a fringe issue to a national standard. The progress has left Irish Gaelic speakers wondering where on earth they went wrong. There are 250 Sanskrit words in Welsh, so it lends itself well to translation.

      Where do we stop in translating Srila Prabhupada’s books? Having been involved in the translation and production of the first Swahili and Ethiopian books, I would say let’s not stop until we reach the 1500 languages mark, which is what the Jehovah’s Witnesses have done and of course the various Bible societies. And along the way, yes, I would still like to see a British-English version.

  2. Giridhari Das

    Dear Kripamoya Prabhu,
    Please remember – Americans do NOT speak English…they speak American! 🙂


  3. Akruranatha

    It should not be hard to publish a British English version. It is not like you will have to make a whole new translation. You could make some “global” find and replace spelling changes and then probably changing a few words or phrases here and there would be enough, wouldn’t it?

    It does make sense to not make it seem like an American book, when it would be so easy to make a British version.

    I do not know much about Kiwi and Aussie English (being a “Yank” myself), but they might even prefer the British English books to the American versions. Or let them make their own versions. Why not? It should be simple.

    And of course there should be Welsh books in due course. It may not be a priority because nearly all Welsh readers can also read English (I’m guessing), but as long as there are some people who would prefer to read the books in Welsh, let’s make it possible.

    Cockney Rhyming Slang and California “Boontling” may be some of the last languages we will translate the books into. 🙂

  4. dusyanta dasa

    Hare Krsna.
    According to what is being produced on the Internet today there is a wide descrepancy of views as to the whole topic of re-translating Srila Prabhupadas Books.
    Since the 1978 Gaura Purnima announcement concerning the Guru Issue and the “Uttama” Adhikari Diksa Gurus of that time and the translations of Srila Prabhupadas Books,there has been a huge migration from unity in Iskcon.How many Iskcons exist today?Certainly not only one.All claim to be the genuine Iskcon.
    These issues and many more have dissected Iskcon into fragments of the original existence of Iskcon.And each “Iskcon” fights against the other “Iskcon”.
    We see the Rittviks just expanding and are doing well,the devotees taking re-initiation from H H Narayana Maharaja saying they are now the real Iskcon,the original printing of Srila Prabhupadas Books group of Iskcon,the new age type Iskcon,and the Official Gbc Iskcon.
    Seems to me that what Srila Prabhupada was worried about after His Disappearance,the break up of iskcon,is coming true.Perhaps, before we dont even recognise what is Iskcon,we should have an Istagosthi together with a view to unifying the small population of Vaisnavas that inhabit this small planet.Otherwise what will Iskcon be like in another 30years.?Dont we want Srila Prabhupada to be represented strongly in the Vaisnava world for as long as possible?Isnt Srila Prabhupada the topmost Vaisnava of modern times?Hasnt Srila Prabhupada contributed more to this world than any other Vaisnava,and holds the most unique position in Vaisnava history in ALL Sampradayas.?
    Our activities and words have only resulted in what exists today,we have created a world of seperate Iskcons,we could reverse all that we have done by changing our attitudes,paths, and admitting that collectively we have gone wrong.From my small experience in Iskcon we have gone wrong,i admit it.We have made big mistakes,its true.I feel ashamed of our service to Srila Prabhupada and we have let Him down,big time.We do need to heal individually and collectively because we have harmed eachother alot.We dont deal with the problems in an adult way,and we have aided and abetted so many wrong doings.From the top to the bottom of all Iskcons we can settle all our differences and become united again.Only we stop this happening.
    your servant Dusyanta dasa.

    • You are completely right when you say that there is a good number of Gaudiya-Vaishnava groups in the world today. However, please look at the situation in another way: it could be worse! There could be a lot more. Vaishnava groups through history have traditionally produced lots of branches because each disciple created his own mission – Srila Prabhupada slowed that rate of multiplication right down by creating something the world had never seen before: an international Vaishnava movement.

      If there’s one thing we’ve all realised by now, it’s that no-one can actually control how devotees choose to interpret Srila Prabhupada’s words and apply them in their own lives. Everyone is an individual and has their own relationship with Srila Prabhupada and Krishna. They will see things according to their conditioning from a previous life, their intelligence, their level of faith and purity, and their remaining desires to control and enjoy the world and others around them. And according to that combination of elements, Lord Krishna’s blessings will be fully available to them and they will live a life of grace. Nobody but them – and devoted sadhana – can change that.

      Those who wish to work together will work together, and those who don’t will make alternative arrangements. As long as they continue to make individual progress in their internal, spiritual development, and try to advance the mission of Srila Prabhupada in some way, nobody else should have any complaints, should they? However, time is lost through argument and our lives are all passing very quickly. Each of us has to make choices and stick with them.

      It might be worth remembering in all this that members of each group, when trying to explain their decision to remain separate from ISKCON, will focus on the differences, yet the differences in some cases are mere shades of meaning of a minor philosophical point. It is also true that each group will claim to be ‘growing rapidly’ but since there is no statistical analysis of any group’s membership numbers – including ISKCON – no group can make claims about their rapid growth that can be independently validated.

      One thing I can tell you for sure: Lord Jesus Christ was preaching his message 2,000 years ago and at the last count there were 38,000 different denominations – all of which claim to be practising his real message. No doubt Jesus himself would be surprised at how many different messages, theologies, rituals and liturgies could be extracted from his teachings. Srila Prabhupada preached his message just 40 years ago and I count less than 10 ISKCON offshoots. Could there be more in the future? I think so. Will they advance the cause of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu? I think so. Diversity sometimes helps by giving people a space where they can be themselves, but too many unco-ordinated groups means the entire enterprise becomes weakened.

  5. Babhru

    I think editing Srila Prabhupada’s books in British English is long overdue. I’d guess it may be a matter of economics, although there may certainly be other factors. And, as Akruranath points out, it would not entail an overwhelming amount of work; the main thing to attend to would be the spelling and punctuation differences. After all, the “variant” spellings that we know as standard American English were politically motivated, part of a deliberate effort to establish a distinctly American English. It may be that the punctuation differences were, also. You may also have to focus on a few usage differences, too, such as using plural verbs for collective-noun subjects. But I think it’s doable and desirable. Such books would also have appeal in other English-speaking nations, such as Australia and New Zealand.

    I also like the idea for some books printed in Welsh. I’m happy to hear that Welsh and other languages indigenous to the British Isles have seen a revival. We’ve seen something similar in Hawaii over the last 35 years or so. If a couple of the Welsh-speaking devotees got together to translate a small but essential book (Nectar of Instruction?) and presnted it to the BBT trustees, we may see some movement there.

  6. Pancha Tattva dasa

    I’d love to read – and own – a British-English set of Srila Prabhupada’s books. And I confess to the sound of properly spoken British-English being just this side of sense gratification for me, coming as I am from the Midwest flatlands of North America, where the short ‘a’ sounds like the bleating of a sheep. “Ba-a-a-a-a-a!”

    I admit to a prejudice for the sound, accent, and inflections of British English, although I much prefer ‘plough’ to ‘plow’ and ‘colour’ to ‘color’. I used to get in trouble for using British spellings in gradeschool. (Or would that be ‘primary school?’)

    Perhaps a nice start would be a British-English audio recording of Prabhupada’s books, beginning with Bhagavad-gita As It Is, The Nectar of Devotion and Sri Isopanisad, complete with purports. I’m suggesting this for purely altruistic reasons – not motivated at all, really. (When do I get my copy?)

    And for the benefit of the American public, I suggest that all the major American news networks, radio and television, hire some British newspersons, so that whenever some really bad news must be reported, we can hear it in British-English. The news would be more tolerable. Meanwhile, I’ll have to keep tuning to the BBC….

    • Standard movie-making policy in Hollywood seems to be that the guy with the British accent is always the bad guy! Actually, there are a wide variety of British accents and dialects, many of which could not be understood by Americans. That is, except the accents found in the northern section of the south-west of England, and that of East Anglia, which were apparently the accents carried over on the Mayflower.

      • Babhru

        Alan Rickman–one of the most delicious bad guys in the movies. And as for the variety of British accents and dialects, it’s true that a good many are hard for Americans to understand. Most of us probably had to really listen hard to some lines in, say, “Billy Elliott,” as well as the the many great British crime shows that we see in the US.

  7. Akruranatha

    Nice comment by Dusyanta and wonderful reply by Krpamoya.

    Yes, ISKCON is not monolithic and cannot control how everyone is going to feel about various issues. Some have felt the necessity to make alternative arrangements to spread Krishna consciousness in their own way. As long as they do not try to disrupt the work of other devotees, more power to ’em.

    But one of the wonderful things about Srila Prabhupada’s preaching strategy was the creation of the GBC, and the ideal that an organized mass-movement for spreading Lord Caitanya’s teachings need not be (should not be?) the instrument of a single, charismatic “acarya.”

    Numerous enlightened devotees should work together in the same cause, in spite of minor differences of opinion or personality, because there is strength in numbers. Moreover, a philosophy that cannot produce a well-organized, cooperative, large-scale institution for propagating its message seems to be missing something. Why should truly enlightened devotees have to divide themselves into separate personality cults that do not work well together?

    This is a matter of ecclesiastical “polity” and we should heed Srila Prabhupada’s views on the subject. Srila Prabhupada identified the failure of SBSST Prabhupada’s senior disciples to form a GBC as a cause for the division of Gaudiya Math into numerous competing groups, weakening the effectiveness of the institution as a preaching force. Thus, Srila Prabhupada personally created and trained the GBC, rather than leaving it up to us to form a GBC after his disappearance.

    As a result, in spite of some missteps and admitted mistakes, the main branch of ISKCON, united in organization under the GBC, has remained effective, strong and viable. It has not been easy or obvious how to follow Srila Prabhupada’s instructions in this regard.

    Two impediments to the creation and maintenance of large, cooperative Gaudiya Vaisnava preaching organizations are (1) our traditional emphasis on pure, spiritual authority descending through parampara by enlightened acaryas (who by definition practice what they preach), and (2) our traditional distrust of worldly systems or structures of any kind.

    However, these ideals are not entirely incompatible with large, ecclesiastical-style preaching institutions. Our greatest modern acaryas, Bhaktivinod Thakur, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Prabhupada and Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, have all emphasized the worldwide need for cooperation of devotees in well-organized, large-scale institutions for carrying out publishing, sankirtan and other educational activities.

    From where I sit, ISKCON with its GBC remains the world’s best hope for fulfilling this noble desire of our great acaryas. It has proved resilient and able to learn from its mistakes.

    Yes, many isthaghostis should be conducted. We need to learn the techniques of communicating about Krishna consciousness philosophy in a friendly and even tentative way, instead of always struggling for a seat on the vyasasana and ignoring the voices of ordinary devotees. Everyone has realizations to contribute.

    Not that isthaghostis should replace traditional Bhagavatam classes, nor should successful ecclesiastical organization ever replace the system of guru parampara.

    But our Gaudiya Vaisnava gurus and acaryas, at least in ISKCON (and hopefully everywhere), should encourage friendship and cooperation among devotees and set a personal example by how they work cooperatively and affectionately with other gurus, without envy or mundane competition, to bestow Lord Caitanya’s message of hari kirtan on all jivas.

  8. Akruranatha

    Was it Winston Churchill who described British and Americans as “two nations divided by a common language”? 🙂

    Srila Prabhupada famously paraphrased Gita-mahatmya, verse 7 at the end of his Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, saying: Let there be one scripture for the whole world — Bhagavad-gita. Let there be one God for the whole world — Sri Krishna. Let there be one hymn, mantra or prayer — the Hare Krishna maha mantra. And let there be one work only — the service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

    We may have minor divisions based on different languages, cultures, personalities. After all, variety is the mother of enjoyment. But we should hopefully be able to show an example of unity and cooperation to establish the principles of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement as the best hope for the modern world.

  9. Fantastic post and equally fantastic replies ! Learnt a lot. Thank you all.
    – manoj

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