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Dispelling an Internet Myth
This item was first posted on the web in May of 2003
The story, posted some time back, of how Hayagriva Prabhu painstakingly sat with Srila Prabhupada for two years to fine tune the text of Bhagavad-gita As It Is is only just one more internet myth. Who says? Hayagriva.
Criticism and insults I can tolerate. Fictitious history is harder to bear. So let’s set things straight, shall we?
According to the published story, “While it is not generally known, for two years Srila Prabhupada sat with Hayagriva and patiently transformed His intimate realizations into a level of refined expression onto which He then comfortably placed His name. The resulting literary expression was the wondrous 1972 Bhagavad-Gita As It Is.”
There’s a good reason why this tale is “not generally known”—it’s a falsehood.
In the words of Brahmananda Prabhu, who was there at the time, “It’s out of the question.” Why?
First of all, the supposed two years didn’t exist. Fortunately, Hayagriva Prabhu has left us an excellent memoir of his early years in ISKCON, The Hare Krishna Explosion. And from that lively and informative book, and from the Folio VedaBase, you can easily find out when Srila Prabhupada and Hayagriva were together.
Without boring you with the details (available on request), during the period when Bhagavad-gita As It Is was being edited the total time that Hayagriva and Srila Prabhupada were even together in the same city, what to speak of sitting together working, was—two years? Forget it. At the most, less than five months.
And, again according to Brahmananda Prabhu (and Umapati Maharaja confirmed this for me), Hayagriva mainly worked on his own.
Nor was it Srila Prabhupada’s method to sit with his editors for hours together, refining the details of the language. He gave you the work and you did it. And sometimes you might come and ask questions. But even then, though perhaps he’d answer a few questions, soon he’d be talking about any sort of Krishna-katha—preaching to you about Krishna consciousness, the way he preached to nearly anyone he came in touch with.
Hayagriva does speak of consulting Srila Prabhupada “daily” throughout the spring of ’67. But Hayagriva’s memory must have been tricking him: In the time he speaks of, he was in San Francisco, Srila Prabhupada in New York.
More reliably, Hayagriva tells in some detail of a time he worked closely with Srila Prabhupada. That was also in 1967, for a week or so in July. Srila Prabhupada had retired to Paridisio, an estate in Stinson Beach, California, to try to recuperate from a major stroke, and Hayagriva would go there from San Francisco, with the first five chapters of Bhagavad-gita in hand. He was especially concerned about the translations.
The translations, of course, are the most conspicuously literary part of the book. And here’s Hayagriva’s own account of how they were done:
After the Rathayatra festival [in San Francisco on July 9, 1967], Swamiji tells me that I should live at Paridisio and work full time on the final manuscript of Bhagavad-gita. …
“It must be well stated in the English language,” Swamiji insists. “If there are any questions about the translations, you may ask me. Remember, edit for force and clarity.”
Daily, I try to clarify and strengthen the sentences without changing the style or meddling with the meaning, and, needless to say, this is very difficult. I soon find myself consulting Swamiji on every other verse, and occasionaly he dictates an entirely different translation. The verse translations themselves are most problematical because they often differ from the word by word Sanskrit-English meanings accompanying them. What to do?
“Quit bothering him,” Kirtanananda tells me. “Whenever anyone’s in his room, he talks to the point of exhaustion.”
True. He talks sitting up. Then he leans back and talks. Then rests on one elbow. Then lies on his side, still talking, still clarifying, still praising Krishna.
* * *
Swamiji finally tires of my consulting him about Bhagavad-gita verses.
“Just copy the verses from some other translation,” he tells me, discarding the whole matter with a wave of his hand. “The verses aren’t important. There are so many translations, more or less accurate, and the Sanskrit is always there. It’s my purports that are important. Concentrate on the purports. There are so many nonsense purports like Dr. Radhakrishnan’s, and Gandhi’s, and Nikhilananda’s. What is lacking are these Vaishnava purports in the preaching line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. That is what is lacking in English. That is what is lacking in the world.”
“I can’t just copy others,” I say.
“There is no harm.”
“But that’s plagiarism.”
“How’s that? They are Krishna’s words. Krishna’s words are clear, like the sun. Just these rascal commentators have diverted the meaning by saying, ‘Not to Krishna.’ So my purports are saying, ‘To Krishna.’ That is the only difference.”
The refined literary expressions in the wondrous 1972 Gita were the result of—two years of Srila Prabhupada intimately sitting with Hayagriva? Pure mythology. They were mainly the result of Hayagriva working with the manuscript on his own—and, for the translations, borrowing from other editions.
Hayagriva Prabhu, of course, was named after the horse-headed incarnation of Lord Krishna. And now you have the story in his own words—that is to say, right from the horse’s mouth.