“Rascal editors!” Srila Prabhupada said. He had come upon an editorial mistake in a verse of Srimad-Bhagavatam, and so he strongly denounced “rascal editors” who make unauthorized editorial changes.
This incident, which took place in Vrindavan on June 22, 1977, has been known to Hare Krishna devotees for more than thirty years. And for more than thirty years, most devotees have been wrong about what mistake he had found.
This makes no difference to Srila Prabhupada’s point. Rascal editors are rascal editors.
Still, we might as well get straight what the editorial error was.
The mistake, most of us have thought, was that the editors had put in the wrong meaning for the word sadhu. It should have been “O sages,” we have thought, but instead the editors changed it to “this is relevant.”
But is that really the mistake Srila Prabhupada was pointing out?
Let’s look closely.
As the conversation begins, Srila Prabhupada quotes a verse (Bhagavatam 1.2.5) and asks that it be found. Tamal Krishna Maharaja begins reading, and the conversation goes on from there.
Tamal Krishna Goswami:
“munayah sadhu prsto ’ham
yat krtah krsna-samprasno
munayah — of the sages; sadhu — this is relevant; prstah — questioned; aham. . .”
Prabhupada: No? What is that? Sadhu? What is that? Munayah?
Tamal Krishna Goswami: Says, “sadhu — this is relevant.”
Tamal Krishna Goswami: That’s what it’s translated as, “this is relevant.” May be a mistake.
Devotee (1): It’s a mistake.
[NOTE: Srila Prabhupada never says that “this is relevant” is a mistake. Those who take it as a mistake are TKG and “Devotee 1.”]
Tamal Krishna Goswami: “Munayah — of the sages; sadhu — this is relevant. . .”
Prabhupada: The nonsense, they are. . . They are correcting my trans. . . Rascal! Who has done this? Munayah is addressing all these munis.
[NOTE: Here Srila Prabhupada identifies the actual mistake. Munayah is addressing all these munis. That is (in grammarspeak), the word is vocative (“O sages”), not genitive (“of the sages”). Srila Prabhupada had written in his original Indian Bhagavatam, “oh the sages.” But some rascal editor, instead of changing “oh the sages” to “O sages,” had changed oh to of — “of the sages.”]
Tamal Krishna Goswami: It’s addressing the munis?
Tamal Krishna Goswami: Sadhus, great sages.
[NOTE: Here TKG, not Srila Prabhupada, is the one who (wrongly) takes the word sadhu to refer to “sadhus, great sages.” Srila Prabhupada is pointing out the error in the English for munayah, and TKG mistakenly thinks the error is in the English for sadhu. Since sadhu is a well-known term for a sage or ascetic, TKG’s mistake is natural. But sadhu can also mean “fit, proper, right, good, virtuous, honorable, righteous, pure” or, as Srila Prabhupada wrote, “relevant.”]
Prabhupada: Yes. Sadhu means they are very pure. What can be done if it goes there and these rascals becomes Sanskrit scholar and do everything nonsense? One Sanskrit scholar strayed, that rascal. . . He take. . . What is his. . .? Saci-suta? Saci-nandana?
[NOTE: “They are very pure.” Srila Prabhupada never specifies the antecedent to “they.” Of course, it refers to the questions.]
Tamal Krishna Goswami: Jaya-sacinandana?
Prabhupada: And they are maintaining them. Different meaning.
Tamal Krishna Goswami: “Bhavadbhih — by all of you; loka — the world; mangalam — welfare; yat — because; krtah — made; krsna — the Personality of Godhead; samprasnah — relevant question; yena — by which; atma — self; suprasidati — completely pleased. Translation: O sages. . .”
Prabhupada: Now here is “O sages,” and the word meaning is “of the munis.” Just see. Such a rascal Sanskrit scholar.
[NOTE: That’s the error: As the translation says, it’s “O sages,” but the rascal editors have given the word-for-word meaning as “of the sages.”]
Prabhupada: Here it is addressed, sambodhana, and they touch [?] it — “munayah — of the munis.” It is very risky to give to them for editorial direction. Little learning is dangerous. However proper Sanskrit scholar, little learning, dangerous. Immediately they become very big scholars, high salaried, and write all nonsense. Who they are? [pause] Then?
[NOTE: As one meaning for sambodhana — and it’s the meaning that fits here — the Monier-Williams dictionary gives “the vocative case or its termination.”]
Tamal Krishna Goswami: “O sages, I have been. . .”
Prabhupada: No, they cannot be reliable. They can do more harm. Just see here the fun [?].
Again, none of this changes Srila Prabhupada’s point about unauthorized changes. But we might as well know what the error was that made Srila Prabhupada so disturbed — and what has been done about it.
In a recent online text, one devotee has said that the same error Srila Prabhupada criticized in June of 1977 — “this is relevant” — still persists in the Bhagavatam the BBT publishes today.
Not so. “This is relevant” is the meaning — the correct meaning — Srila Prabhupada gave for sadhu in his original Bhagavatam. And the BBT editors changed “of the sages” to “O sages” more than thirty years ago.