The Weightiest Argument (Classic)
by Dhira Govinda dasa
“Leaving one or both ‘initiated’s will strongly imply that the use of the phrases ‘direct disciple’ and even ‘accepted [as his disciple]’ indicate formal initiation as we know it in ISKCON, which is far from the truth…This last was the weightiest argument, in my view, for changing the passage” [Letter excerpt from BBT representative regarding the change on Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta page 1].
“The revision is small and in itself, we believe, of no great consequence” [Jayadvaita Swami, regarding the revision on Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta, page 1].
In May, 2005 I fortuitously encountered Jayadvaita Maharaja at a Sunday feast program in Alachua, and he shared with me about recent, somewhat extended deliberations, and conclusions, of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT) directors concerning the revision on the first page of Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta. In July, 2005 I received the article that he wrote, on behalf of the BBT, about this matter. This article is now apparently receiving increased attention. Jayadvaita Maharaja wrote “In particular, Dhira Govinda Prabhu questioned it and asked us to reconsider it. We took his request seriously.” The BBT directors did devote extended hours to this topic, and I sincerely appreciate their earnest attention to the matter.
My perspective is that the revision is of profound consequence. Perhaps of even greater moment is the fact that the BBT directors believe that the revision is “in itself,… of no great consequence.”
On June 16, 2000, about half a year after he wrote the letter from which the excerpt at the start of this posting is taken, the BBT representative who had written “This last was the weightiest argument…”, wrote to me as follows:
“Aside from the passage itself, I can easily see the following syllogism flowing from your notes on diksa: Diksa is really the imparting of transcendental knowledge. Srila Prabhupada is the pre-eminent imparter of transcendental knowledge for all generations of ISKCON devotees, now and in the future. So Srila Prabhupada is giving diksa to all who take knowledge from his books, tapes and other media. He who gives diksa is the diksa-guru. One is enjoined to have only one diksa-guru because the acceptance of more than one is strictly forbidden in the sastra. Therefore Srila Prabhupada is the only diksa-guru for all ISKCON devotees for the next ten thousand years.
“I don’t think I want to go down that road.”
[end of letter excerpt from BBT representative]
I feel compelled to state that this article is not about whether “Srila Prabhupada is the only diksa-guru for all ISKCON devotees for the next ten thousand years.” My views about Srila Prabhupada’s relationship with the members of his movement are expressed in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link (available at http://geocities.com/pointofsurrender/index.htm) and other essays. My original correspondence with BBT representatives concerning the book change on the first page of Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta is available in Appendix C of the second printing of Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link, and a short chapter discussing ramifications of this change is included as Chapter Three in Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link.
This article is about an apparent knowledge filter that is active in decisions regarding revisions to Srila Prabhupada’s books. From what I am able to discern, the psychology underlying the emendation under discussion embraces a priori assumptions regarding which roads may be traversed. Rather than impartially presenting Srila Prabhupada’s words with an eagerness to discover which roads open, there seems to be an attitude, albeit subconscious, of pre-determining which paths are permissible for visitation, and accordingly adjusting Srila Prabhupada’s writings.
While recognizing the attempts of the BBT representatives to transparently represent Srila Prabhupada, it seems that in this instance Srila Prabhupada’s clear intentions are obscured for the reader due to a filter composed of presuppositions. These assumptions perhaps have not been closely examined, or at least are not readily apparent to many current and future readers of Srila Prabhupada’s books.
In an article dated May 6, 2006, Bala dasa Prabhu similarly addresses the topic. “This is a very troubling development for yet another reason. For this justification is laying the ground for making ANY further change to Srila Prabhupada’s teachings that the GBC deems fit.” Notwithstanding the distinction between the GBC and BBT, Bala dasa’s essential point seems to be a caution regarding the peril implied by application over time of this “weightiest argument” to revising Srila Prabhupada’s books.
Apart from future considerations of damage caused by this gatekeeper mentality, I believe it relevant to contemplate present effects. The revision to the first page of Sri-Caitanya-caritamrta (CC) is one of thousands of changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books. Perhaps the knowledge filter has been productive in more than this one case. Maybe it has had its effect in two or three, or perhaps dozens, of the changes to Srila Prabhupada’s books. We might fruitfully deliberate on the influence this has had on the Vaisnava society.
I suggest that sober reflection on the substance of this one change, to CC page 1, and the paradigm of thought that engendered this change, would tremendously impact the philosophical, political, economic, social and spiritual culture of persons and groups that are influenced by the consciousness and determinations of the BBT and GBC. Acknowledgement of this “great consequence” by the BBT directors, or any one of them, would in itself provide momentum for this impact, and would launch torpedoes at embedded institutional structures.
In his Foreword to Srila Prabhupada: The Prominent Link Ambarisa dasa Prabhu quotes Herbert Spencer. “There is principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all information, which is proof against all arguments, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. That is contempt prior to investigation.” Contemporary ISKCON policy and thought as a basis for changing Srila Prabhupada’s books carries serious risk of “contempt prior to investigation.” Such a strategy seems to be dedicated to institutional preservation more than to authentically representing Srila Prabhupada. I assert that we may trust that authentic representation of Srila Prabhupada is the strongest assurance of protection, integrity and healthy expansion that an organization may enjoy.