The Mistake of Change: A Critique of Dravida das Prabhu's Editorial Approach

Dravida's bold claim that editing is not just copyediting but is also essentially "to change" or content editing:

"If for some reason the intended philosophical point Srila Prabhupada is trying to make isn't clear, the editors make changes to clarify."

"So yes, philosophical clarification is part of editorial decision-making."

[Here, please note that the phrase "philosophical clarification" is a euphemism for "change," as such "clarifications" to which Dravida refers are not editorial foot/end notes for clarifying what Prabhupada could be saying but is actually a manipulation of Prabhupada's words, altering the original published words.]

Editing issue on the following passage:

Madhya Līlā, Volume 8, Chapter 20, Text 117

Srila Prabhupada's original:

"While staying in the marginal position he [the jiva] is sometimes attracted by the external, illusory energy, and that is the beginning of his material life."

The 1975 publication:

"He is sometimes attracted by the external illusory energy when he stays in the marginal position, …"

Dravida's change in the 1996 publication:

"Being in the marginal position, he is sometimes attracted by the external, illusory energy, …"

Dravida's various written justifications for this change to Ramesvara:

"[which, as I pointed out, in view of all the other times Prabhupada made it crystal clear that the marginal position is the jiva's eternal position, is Prabhupada's way of saying:]"

"This very strongly gives the impression that the jiva is only occasionally, intermittently(?), tatastha, thus distorting what Prabhupada said and being philosophically at odds with tons of his other statements … and Lord Caitanya's statement at madhya 20.108."

"So, yes, I did make a philosophical clarification based on everything I knew of what Prabhupada taught elsewhere, and on what Lord Caitanya said 9 verses before, at madhya 20.108 -- namely that tatastha is the constitutional position of the living entity" (Dravida email to Ramesvara, 12/15/13).

Dravida's spoken remarks to Garuda (LA Rathayātrā, BBT Office, Summer of 2017, with Ramesvara and several other devotees present):

"It doesn't make any sense!"

"I changed it to make it more consistent with what Prabhupada says in other places."

Garuda in conversation with Dravida on this change:

Garuda: "I can tell you right off how it [Prabhupada's original or the 1975 version of it] makes sense to me!"

Dravida: "How?"

Garuda: "When Prabhupada says while or when the jīva stays in the marginal position, Prabhupada is making an existential assertion. When Prabhupada says in other places that the jīva is the marginal energy, he is making an ontological assertion."

Dravida: [He looked at me with a bit of a blank expression and said,] "Well, I never thought of that!" [This interaction is demonstrative of my whole point: we must work in a team, not in isolation.]

Garuda's serious afterthoughts on Dravida's approach to editing:

"Prabhupada's instructions on editing can be summed up as, "No changes, no mistakes." And as I've quoted from Prabhupada's letter to Rupanuga Prabhu (2/17/70): "Our editing is to correct grammatical and spelling errors only, without interpolation of style or philosophy."

Garuda's comments: Prabhupada clearly insists on ONLY copyediting when he states, "our editing is to correct grammatical and spelling errors only." This is exactly what copyediting is. There are no grammatical or spelling errors in the 1975 printing of the sentence in question. The 1975 wording that got published when Prabhupada was present we have to assume was acceptable to Prabhupada, whether it be different from, similar to, or exactly the same as the final manuscript that he submitted for publication. This principle also holds true for the MAC72Gita.

But Dravida has transgressed this instruction by insisting on correcting what he deems to be a philosophical error or mistake or unclear expression make by Prabhupada, as gently stated when he insists that "philosophical clarification is part of editorial decision-making."

As seen above, Dravida even goes so far as to say, "If for some reason the intended philosophical point Srila Prabhupada is trying to make isn't clear, the editors make changes to clarify." Several components in Dravida's statement are worth seriously considering and questioning:

[if !supportLists](1) [endif]Dravida's words, "if for some reason," are tacitly confessional on his part. What he's trying to say, is "If for some inexplicable reason I cannot appreciate why Prabhupada would have written what he wrote, then I'll change it." So, an editing change starts with some wording of Prabhupada that he cannot explain, that had some source in Prabhupada's transcendental mind of which he is unaware. How can Dravida go any further with any kind of content editing if he cannot comprehend the reason that Prabhupada wrote what he wrote?

(2) The wording "the intended philosophical point" seems to indicate that Dravida is yet sure of what Prabhupada intended but unsuccessfully expressed. How can he be so sure he knows what Prabhupada intended other than the published words that Prabhupada gave us?

(3) The wording "Srila Prabhupada is trying to make" implies that Prabhupada was unsuccessful in expressing what he "intended" to express. Does Dravida have the key to what Prabhupada truly intended to say, but for whatever reason, couldn't? Are we all utterly dependent on Dravida and his editing for this?

(4) The wording, "isn't clear." If Dravida insists that Prabhupada is not clear in a passage he wrote, I must ask, who is Dravida to decipher what Prabhupada did intend to say if he didn't say it when he wrote what he wrote? Perhaps it is clear, as I've expressed to Dravida, what Prabhupada was not merely "trying" to say, but only just not clear to Dravida's mind and Dravida's intellect. But to my mind and intellect it certainly was clear! And why are thousands upon thousands of devotees forced to depend on what Dravida's intellectual capacity allows him to determine what is clear and what is not clear? Just because Prabhupada has said something in one or several places that differs from what he said in still other instances, does this mean we start trying to make Prabhupada consistent with Prabhupada?

Wouldn't Prabhupada himself be capable of this IF this were how he desired to present himself? Prabhupada spoke from different angles of vision, from different levels of understanding, in various places, and it is not our duty to force Prabhupada's words and ideas into a flatly consistent presentation! The richness of Prabhupada's writings is precisely BECAUSE he did present things in a multivalent fashion. Again, it is our task NOT to change Prabhupada's words, but to produce separate commentarial pieces that delve more deeply into these complex ideas that Prabhupada gave to us, to enter into the mystery of our Krishna Bhakti tradition.

(5) And finally, Dravida's words, "the editors make changes to clarify." First of all, "editor" in the plural? This gives the impression that more than Dravida was involved in his editing decision to change this and other content. And this is precisely what actually is needed: editing, especially when it comes to critical issues of philosophical content, should never be a singular editor's decision. As a general rule, there should be no content editing, even if what Prabhupada writes in his published words may not "make sense" to our limited intellectual and spiritual faculties. Rather, because we advance in Krishna Bhakti, what Prabhupada writes will eventually make sense to us! We can speed up this process of what makes sense to us by working together as a team! I'm sorry to keep repeating myself here, but I cannot emphasize this enough.

Secondly, Dravida boldly states that it has been and still is his task to "make changes to clarify." What should he change to clarify for whom? Are we here to dummy down Prabhupada's words for us while in our present state of mind and heart? Prabhupada has not indicated to his editors when physically present that we should be changing his words. And certainly, after his departure, just out of respect for Prabhupada not only as an author, but as a world-teacher and as a spiritual master of Krishna Bhakti who has brought its teachings out of India and around the world, one does not change what such an exalted author writes. Prabhupada's words are, indeed, precious currency! And if we can trust Ramesvara's quote of Prabhupada, "Yes, my books will be the law books for humanity for the next ten thousand years. That is how I think as I write each word," then we should not change a word unless, in rare instances--and in consultation with a team of peer editors consisting of educated, trained, and experienced dedicated devotees--ONLY when it is deemed to be absolutely necessary.

We must not use statements made by Prabhupada to alter or change what Prabhupada has already written and published as if we, as disciples, even if we think we know better what Prabhupada really intended to write and thus change what he himself committed to the published written word. Even if Prabhupada himself critiques his own work or says something in a lecture or any other context that appears or sounds contradictory, it does not give any disciple a license to "correct" Prabhupada's published written word. And even if Prabhupada appears to be correcting something found in his published work during a lecture or disucssion, and may even offer an alternative reading of his published word, it must not be changed unless he states explicitly, "Please change this passage in my book to what I've just said."

Bhutatmaji, PhD, recently wrote to me in an ongoing discussion the following illuminating words: " It is simply not worth violating the principle of deference, because it opens the door to subjective reconstruction. This is why Dravida sees it so differently...he thinks rewriting is just fine as long as it can be shown to "improve". But the cost is too high spiritually and ethically. Just defer to the Acharya on all but what he asked for specifically...spelling, typos, etc."

When we finally understand the gravity and importance of editorial work, there will never be any question of interpolating or tampering with Prabhupada's published work, even in the name of Prabhupada, or even with the excuse of getting "closer to Prabhupada." We truly become closer to Prabhupada when we can honor "Prabhupada as he is" in his vāni the same way we used to honor his vāpu.