Before we discuss the editing, let’s first look at how the books were written.
Some books Srila Prabhupada wrote out in longhand or typed himself. These include Easy Journey to Other Planets, Sri Isopanishad, the first and second cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam, the first five or six chapters of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and chapters one through five or six of Sri Caitanya-caritamrita, Adi-lila.
Most of his books, however, he dictated on a Grundig dictating machine, using tapes that each afforded perhaps an hour of dictation. This enabled him to achieve greater speed. Yet the method had its drawbacks: he had less opportunity to review and revise his words, he sometimes spoke passages twice, and–most of all–he had to depend on the accuracy of his transcribers. Especially in the early years, accuracy was poor. The transcribers were not yet deeply familiar with his philosophy, they had difficulty with his strong Bengali accent, and most of his Sanskrit words and quotations were strange to their ears.2 Moreover, Srila Prabhupada’s frequent clicking of the switch to start, stop, and review his dictation clipped short many words or deleted them entirely.
This resulted in numerous gaps and errors. Sometimes transcribers simply left things out–entire Sanskrit quotations, for example–or gave only phonetic approximations. Sometimes they could only guess at what Srila Prabhupada was saying, and often guessed wrong.
This was most conspicuously true for Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and to a lesser extent for the “Krishna Book.”3 In later books, the quality improved. Srila Prabhupada, instead of mailing tapes for transcription, had a transcriber personally traveling with him. The transcribers became well versed in his philosophy, accustomed to his accent, and familiar with his favorite quotations. And some of the transcribers learned the Sanskrit and Bengali alphabets in order to refer to the source texts that Srila Prabhupada himself was using. So errors in transcription, though they still occurred, became considerably less frequent and less severe.
Some of Srila Prabhupada’s books were compiled from his recorded lectures or conversations. Examples are Teachings of Queen Kunti, Teachings of Lord Kapila, and small books like On the Way to Krishna and The Perfection of Yoga. The Nectar of Instruction was exceptional. Srila Prabhupada dictated it to disciples who took down his words longhand.4
For some books Srila Prabhupada saw the edited manuscript or a pre-press blueprint. For most he didn’t.