Is Writing Books Offensive?

Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 4.3, Salem, 5th June 2006

That very ancient science of the relationship of the supreme is today told by me to you because you are my devotee as well as my friend and can therefore understand the transcendental mystery of this science. 


There are 2 classes of men namely the devotee and the demon.  The Lord selected Arjuna as the recipient of this great science owing to his being a devotee of the Lord but for the demon it is not possible to understand this great mysterious science.  There are a number of editions of this great book of knowledge some of them have commentaries by the devotees and some of them have commentaries by the demons. Commentation by the devotees is real whereas that of the demons is useless. Arjuna had said Sri Krsna is the supreme Personality of Godhead and any commentary on the Gita following in the footsteps of Arjuna is real devotional service  to the cause of this great science.  the demoniac however do not accept Lord Krsna as he is, instead they concoct something about Krsna and mislead general readers from the path of Krsna’s instructions.  Here is a warning about such deceiving paths, one should try to follow the disciplic succession from Arjuna and thus be benefited by this great science of Srimad Bhagavad Gita.


Srila Prabhupada writes in this purport that there are a number of editions of this great book of knowledge many have been produced in the past both by devotees and by non devotees, as Prabhupada points out those by the devotees they are very valuable for human society and those by non devotees are very detrimental to human society.  So there have been many in the past and we have Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita As It Is in which Srila Prabhupada following the commentaries of the previous acaryas mostly Srila Prabhupada follows Srila Baladeva Vidyabushana in his commentary and Prabhupada with his own realizations of that expressed in English as according to the order of his Spiritual Master to present Krsna consciousness in English has presented us Bhagavad Gita As It Is which is accepted, at least within ISKCON as the definitive edition of Bhagavad Gita and as Srila Prabhupada said, ‘my books will be the law books for the next 10,000 years’ so this Bhagavad Gita As It Is should be read, studied, accepted, distributed for quite a long time yet.  Although Hari Sauri Prabhu, I remember, once he was suggesting that – now you know Hari Sauri Prabhu he’s very orthodox in his quoting of Prabhupada –He’s always quoting Srila Prabhupada, his lectures; even if you talk with him he’s always just saying ‘well Prabhupada said this and Prabhupada’—what he personally remembers of  Prabhupada.  So he –I remember once in class in Vrindavana this question came up that well maybe the Bhagavad Gita As It Is will need to be rewritten at some point in the future because the English language is changing and if you see Shakespeare’s English which was what 500 years ago or something like that, its not understandable.  You see the original its not understandable and if you go back even further to Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (that’s the 1st– no its probably not the first but one of the earliest extant English books.  It goes back how long? I don’t know any idea?  800 years? 900? quite a long time)  Anyway, its not understandable unless you learn that Old English.  I remember we wasted time in school going through that but in modernized English otherwise you can’t understand it.  So the English language is always changing so Hari Sauri Prabhu was suggesting that it will be necessary to rewrite Bhagavad Gita –this question came up—as it is, to write all of Prabhupada books, as the language changes otherwise people won’t be able to understand it.    For learning the Koran they learn Koranic Arabic which is, no one speaks that anymore.  Its different from modern Arabic but they learn that to read the Koran.  And of course, some people they learn Sanskrit to read the Sastras.  Sanskrit isn’t a dead language and it isn’t a changed language so that’s a little different.  The same Sanskrit more or less there is talk of Vedic Sanskrit and later Sanskrit and this and that its more or less the same as it was, as it is.  So this question; I chose to speak on this verse today because a few weeks ago by email a question came up that one devotee quite new in devotional service had written that one disciple of Srila Prabhupada who is a professor, he told me that he’s going to write an edition of Bhagavad Gita with his commentary and he felt bewildered by this and he was asking in the question ‘is this alright?’ and he seemed to think – it’s not alright- there is something wrong there.  I suppose the idea was; if Prabhupada has given us Bhagavad Gita then what do we need any other one for?  It seems to be like the idea was that the devotee is going to write a commentary—who does he think he is?  He’s writing something –he’s doing better than his guru or he thinks he can write it better that seems to be the presumption here. Although it doesn’t have to be taken that way, because Prabhupada said ‘there are many commentaries and presumably the Bhagavad Gita As It Is won’t be the last bonafide copy in the history of the human race or in this Kali Yuga.  Prabhupada himself said that, once he was asked (I’m not sure if this is in the folio but maybe its in TKG’s Diary or somewhere) Prabhupada was asked ‘well then what will you translate when you finish the Bhagavatam?’ and Prabhupada said ‘well, maybe I’ll do Bhagavad Gita’ and then he said ‘but Prabhupada, you already did Bhagavad Gita’ and then Prabhupada said ‘well, we can do some more’ There’s Ramanuja’s commentary –do you remember reading that?….. He said –oh He’s justifying why he’s doing- that book; surrender unto me.  So there could be, we could translate Ramanuja’s commentary Madhva’s commentary, there are so many bonafide commentaries Vishvanatha’s commentary.  So Prabhupada wasn’t against there being more commentaries on Bhagavad Gita As It Is and he also said that my disciples will write purports on my purport so its not necessarily that; it could be that someone is thinking that ‘I’m going to write a better commentary than Prabhupada I’m going to show everyone I’m better’  There is actually someone who did that- one disciple of one of Prabhupada’s Godbrothers brought out an edition of Srimad Bhagavatam in English and in the preface he wrote: well what is the need of another English edition when there is already one very well known one? very gorgeously, very nicely printed and this and that and then he wrote why: because actually he didn’t mention the name of Prabhupada he was saying actually that commentary is not very good.  Mine, this one is going to be better.  Although it isn’t he doesn’t know English well enough to write it.  His English is… even from the point of view of the English language, his writing is terrible and its hardly understandable and definitely his commentary is … I mean you don’t even want to look at such a person; anyone with such an attitude…so, his commentary certainly doesn’t surpass Prabhupada and has had no influence on the way of the world whatsoever (name)

prabhu told me he met him once, I think it was just last year, and he said to him directly “how can you say like that, how can you write like that” and he said (mumble).  He told him directly ‘this is Vaisnava aparadha’, which it is.  So is our godbrother in America, is he a Guru aparadhi?  Maybe, if he’s thinking that ‘my edition of Bhagavad Gita is …after this comes out everyone will throw away their copies of Bhagavad Gita As It Is and I will show, I’m better’  If he’s thinking like that then Citra Gupta has got a lot of work to do.  You know Citra Gupta, he writes all the sins and then when you go to Yamaloka on the basis of that F.I.R. then you get your punishment from Yamaraja.  However, I don’t think that we should presume that he’s doing it like that, I mean, he’s a disciple of Prabhupada.  He’s been around for more than 30 years.  I never heard to date that he’s a great Guru aparadhi.  I’m pretty sure who it is—there aren’t hundreds of Prabhupada’s disciples who are professors; its Garuda- presumably.  Although I haven’t seen him maybe in 30 years or something (I don’t think I ever spoke to him) but he’s a disciple of Prabhupada who has been teaching in the University, somewhere near Philadelphia, many years.  So its not necessarily that he’s thinking this is going to usurp that but there may be grounds for producing more editions of Bhagavad Gita and actually there are already 6 editions of Bhagavad Gita by Prabhupada’s disciples in English and maybe in other languages, I don’t know and its not that Prabhupada’s Bhagavad Gita has become defunct or any such thing but they all serve particular purposes which presumably they want to amplify the teachings or Bhagavad Gita As It Is or examine it from a different angle or present it from a different angle.

One of the editions is Bhagavad Gita for children by Visakha Devi and she’s got illustrations.  I don’t think you’d need that in India because in India by the culture you can just start teaching children slokas and they pick it up right away and until recently it wasn’t uncommon that children could recite all the Gita and they could explain it.  It wasn’t such an uncommon thing but in the West to get anyone to take an interest in Bhagavad Gita is not such an easy thing so she made it… I didn’t read it but I saw it, there are many illustrations trying to attract the interest of children from a young age giving them the basic idea of what Bhagavad Gita is about so that’s quite a good idea isn’t it? I mean, you can’t expect the average child to pick up Bhagavad Gita and start to understand it .

I saw recently in Udupi, temple president there – of our ISKCON had a children’s bible. Bible with lots of nice paintings, written in story form – I read that as a child, when I was 7-8 years old – I could not read the whole Bible as in King James’ version or whatever but children’s version I could read.

Another edition is being run by Kalakantha Prabhu – in my initial days of Krsna consciousness before I came to India – he was very nice to me, very wonderful devotee. So, I read bits and pieces of that, didn’t read the whole thing – in poetry form. So, you may say “what’s the need,” but what’s the harm? Again I am sure he is not thinking this is going to replace Bhagavad Gita As It Is. But, people who are inclined towards poetry, that’s also something nice. Then, you were mentioning “Surrender unto me” by Bhurijan Prabhu, many devotees have found it very helpful – for understanding flow of ideas in Bhagavad gita. He describes in introduction that for years he was himself studying Bhagavad gita and trying to understand how each verse follows one after another, how each chapter is connected and the sequence of ideas – he has particularly presented that – so that’s very helpful.

Shivaram Maharaja wrote a book justifying…… but it’s not edition of Bhagavad gita but you can say it’s an exegetical book on Bhagavad gita. If one has patience to read it. Its highly intellectual the way its presented. I read it, wrote to him. I also wrote to Bhurijan Prabhu after reading his book.

Bhanu Swami Maharaja has translated the Bhagavad gita with purports of Baladev Vidyabhusha Prabhu and Vishwanath Chakravarti Thakur. Prabhupada himself said that he had wanted to do that. Prabhupada also said that all Vedic literature, especially Vaishnava literature should be translated in all languages and distributed all over the world. So, certainly these commentaries and works of Baladev and Vishwanath should be translated and printed – that’s an express desire of Srila Prabhupada.

One more by a disciple of Prabhupada is by Tripurari Swami which I’ve difference of opinion over certain things he has written. He has written something about social issues. Prabhupada presents standard Vedic line or principle that women are not to be given independence. Tripurari Maharaj is presenting with the idea of making it more accessible to modern man – in modern circumstances – I disagree with that. But at the same time it’s not that this edition has usurped Srila Prabhupada ’s Bhagavad gita or all that – this is replacement of Bhagavad Gita As It Is. What all these devotees have done – they have all been studying Srila Prabhupada’s Bhagavad gita for many years and out of their enthusiasm for Bhagavad gita that they have received from reading Prabhupada’s Bhagavad gita and applying it in their lives – they feel the desire to express that. Writing is another form of kirtan – it’s glorifying Krishna. So, Prabhupada himself said that preaching means you hear and express it on your own words. So, in that way there could be many editions. So, I mean I could imagine why Garuda Prabhu wants to do this. He already wrote one book for scholarly community means indologists. He wrote one book about rasalila – definite need of such a book by a scholar – he is a scholar here I mean who is accepted by academic community. There are lots of misunderstandings about rasalila, fostered by whole indology faculty, whole science or study from very beginning. Indology – this subject was deliberately begun in England for studying the ancient culture and Hinduism. Deliberately started with aim of establishing that this is all rubbish – how can you worship Krishna as God when he is immoral? There was an essay written in 1930s by Prof.  Nishikant Sanyal who was disciple of Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur – with initiated name of Narayana das Bhakti Sudhakar. He wrote an essay called “Divine Love and Erotic Principle” – Srila Bhakti Siddhanta published it in Harmonist magazine. He had that printed it as pamphlet and had it sent to Universities and scholars in West – “Unalloyed Love and Erotic Principle” – that was the title.

Prof. Sanyal in his incisive way – cutting right through the heart of matter – demonstrated how Krishna’s pastimes are not immoral but they are worshipable. That was one attempt in 1930s to address this issue. Garuda Prabhu wrote a book on rasalila, specifically written in scholarly language to presumably address the misconceptions which are still very much extant among professors of Indology. I did not read the book, so I cannot comment exactly how to perceive it. There is definitely a need for such books. There is probably a need for edition of Bhagavad gita that specifically addresses the hang-ups, misconceptions of the scholarly community – written in their style and language. Of course, many scholars have written their appreciation of  Bhagavad Gita As It Is. But, there may be some points where Garuda Prabhu from his years of experience in academic institution – feels some points particularly for scholars need to be illuminated more. For instance, if you’re preaching in Thailand, you might want to bring out edition of Bhagavad gita that addresses the misconceptions of Buddhism. I was in Thailand….phew…. it’s very difficult to preach there – it’s really really tough. That place is difficult – it’s really really tough. One reason is to begin to communicate what Krsna consciousness is – because all the words that you might use to explain Krsna consciousness philosophy – all Thai words are borrowed from Sanskrit and they all have Buddhist/Voidistic meanings – connotations. So, where do you begin, how do you begin? As soon as you try to say something, immediately that word in their mind is connected to voidistic philosophy. Very-very tough – even to begin to preach. Like in Bhagavad gita we’ve words like nirvana, meditation is discussed. We’ve Bhagavad Gita As It Is in Thai now and that will definitely have its effect but if you want to write for scholars of Buddhism, you probably have to – good idea would be to write a dictionary – to define each word very carefully – go over each word in great detail – new dictionary just like Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur said he wanted to write a new dictionary – redefine all words like Bhakti, Bhagavan. People have completely different understanding of these words. Or if you are going to write edition of Bhagavad gita for scientists – nowadays there are scientists – not a small number with interest in Bhagavad gita – now Franks something… he wrote some book like “ Tao of Physics” – quite a big book trying to show that advancement or theories of modern physics or quantum physics fit with Voidistic or Eastern philosophy.  So, lots of interest in certain circles of scientific community of trying to align modern physics with eastern philosophy. Conceivably there could be an edition of Bhagavad gita according to parampara for scientists – in a new manner – “old wine in new bottle” – as Prabhupada wrote about Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur  way – on outside looks different but in inside is the same – now one who is very expert can do that. Now like I said whether Garuda Prabhu is expert enough or not – but I don’t know if I am even qualified to judge on that – because I am not a scholar. But an attempt to do that is laudable and certainly if he is sincere Krishna will help. Certainly, if attempt is to outdo Srila Prabhupada or trying to do something better, then it should be rejected. But, if its within the disciplic succession, presenting the message then let there be many editions of Bhagavad gita. Now, there is a theory floating around that Prabhupada’s books are law books for next 10,000 years and no other books should be written. And anyone who writes any books they are just offenders to Srila Prabhupada. Although when I read Prabhupada’s books, I read statements that it’s the first duty of someone in renounced order of life to write literary contributions for benefit of human society.  Prabhupada told so many of his disciples to write books. Should there be no more writing of books then? Certainly there should be as Prabhupada said that there are different commentaries – demoniac and devotional. So, only demons should go on writing the books and devotees should stop? A godbrother wrote to me few months ago an angry letter  saying that “why you’re writing books?” I was wondering why is he only writing to me – I’m not the only disciple of Srila Prabhupada who is writing books. There are so many other disciples of Prabhupada writing books. That if he wants to get the message out that no one should write any more books, then probably the best way to get the message out is to write a book and put it in the book – If he really feels so strongly about it and he wants to send the message across.  Like J. Krishnamurthy who wrote in his book “should not read books” and he put it in a book. It sounds contradictory  – the point is that if there is a message to be communicated then the book is a “brhad mrdangam” – the big way of getting it across. Brhad mrdangan means it is a big kirtan. Writing books is kirtan – it is a natural propensity of soul in purified state to glorify Krishna and the way our recent acaryas have recommended is that if you are going to do kirtan then why not do it in a big way. As Prabhupada used to quote if you come to dance on stage then why to pull the cover over. Well, I am going to preach but only to one person – because I don’t want to become puffed up. If message is good for one person then it’s good for every person.  Just like sahajias say that preaching is just for self-glorification (pratistha) for increasing name and fame. It can be. Such preaching is not wanted. But, if one is sincerely trying to serve the parampara as their servants one should endeavor considering that their message is so wonderful that we should get it across to as many people as possible. And, if there are certain classes of persons – for instance average scientists. You may have experienced it on trains, while distributing books – now is the season students are going back – you’ll see them studying and you show them Bhagavad gita they don’t even look at it. But, if you show then Origins magazine, which is actually meant for same purpose they become interested – “Oh it’s very interesting…”. After reading Origins magazine, they are thousand times more inclined to read Bhagavad gita. Such preaching is required. Many books are required.  Doesn’t mean Prabhupada’s books should be forgotten. No, Prabhupada’s books are the basis. We are preaching from Prabhupada’s books, living according to Prabhupada’s books.  Again, but it does not mean further expression of Krsna consciousness should be finished. Then we shouldn’t give classes either – we should just read from Prabhupada’s books – but Prabhupada didn’t say that. It’s also required to explain what is in Prabhupada’s books. Because Krishna is unlimited – that means that explanation can go on in unlimited ways. That should go on. There should be more and more glorification of Krishna. That’s my answer to this question. Is there something intrinsically wrong. I say let’s take the positive side. If someone is a devotee and they are inspired by Krishna and they have this feeling that I want to communicate this message and get it across to others, then that’s something very wonderful. And, that is the natural result of hearing (sravanam), reading Bhagavad Gita As It Is – that you want to communicate to others. Not everyone has to write the books. Most important thing is to distribute Prabhupada’s books. But, some devotees will have the inspiration to write and publish that. So, let them do it. Now, you may be surprised because I was talking about Garuda Prabhu is professor in university and teaching Indology.  So, you may be surprised because I’m talking about him – not him in particular but I’ve been critical in the last few years of back to school movement within our ISKCON movement that senior devotees– not so much nowadays – during different times that our movement goes through – from certain quarters there was lot of move that everyone should go back to college and get degrees.  Trivikram Swami told me once when some of his sannyasi godbrothers found out that he has a university degree, that why don’t you go and get a PhD. And there was this idea that we’re all going to become PhDs and we are going to preach from university and this is going to make the big difference. I was critical of that for various reasons – not that I am against it per se – but that one thing is why should sannyasis and spiritual leaders do that. If anyone is going to do it then let others do that. Sannyasis and spiritual leaders are required to preach Krsna consciousness directly – academia you’re restricted by very nature of academia – you cannot present Krsna consciousness directly – that is considered unscholarly according to modern way of thinking. And also if our leaders go to colleges then they are lost to a large extent to devotees who need their association and guidance. And, another reason is unless one is very strong personally one is likely to be affected by whole academic way of thinking because you can’t present papers for academic community unless it is written in a certain way. There always has to be doubt cannot present in absolute  way – again if coming from Gurus that sounds very bad. Guru has to present Krishna is the Absolute Truth.  Actually all devotees have to do that. Although there may be within a particular preaching field, there may be some room/leeway for presenting according to academic method. But, thing is if our acharya and gurus go that then people may think this is standard and then it becomes very dangerous. Another reason is that it’s dangerous association – we ourselves might start thinking that Krishna is just a relative truth. There is no proof of so many things – that’s the general way of academic thinking. That, Krishna is an object of study. Vaishnavism is an object of study. Intent is to become master of knowledge about Krishna and Krsna consciousness rather than intent of becoming servant and servant of process of Krsna consciousness. So, it’s very dangerous because the full faith required for full commitment and full surrender that goes. And, then you see that many devotees who can do this back to school kind of thing, not being strong enough get affected by that. Compromised faith means compromised commitment means compromised behavior. Well, I don’t really want to follow all these rules – and the whole Krsna consciousness becomes watered down. So, talking today about particular devotee – Garuda Prabhu and I haven’t met him for many years – he did his PhD many years ago and he has been in this academic system for many years – he didn’t make a big fanfare or blow his trumpet or anything – just went and did it. He didn’t start announcing that I am going to save the whole world. If you are strong enough then there is no harm to do that, can be very good. He is a householder – has to do something to maintain his family and he is very intellectual person, so wanted to be a professor and wanted to discuss this topic which is dearest to him – Krsna consciousness so he did it. I was even suggesting that some of our devotees who are studying and want to become householders they could also become professors like that – that’s a possibility. So, I am not against it per se – I’m against the dangers of and misappropriations of idea of academic preaching.

So, Hare Krishna. That’s what I had to say about that. So, I thought I could say it in class and share it with others.

Any questions?

Devotee1: …….

BVKS: You are sending your daughter to college – what is she studying?

Devotee1: Microbiology.

BVKS: Microbiology is very broad topic. What is she specializing in? Do you know that medicine is one of the major killers in America. Tejiyas Prabhu sent this report – I didn’t believe him – it’s ridiculous – caused by doctors or whole medical profession – 1 million deaths per year caused by doctor. Report sent by wrong prescriptions, over-prescriptions, hospitalizing people who don’t need to be, very big cause performing surgery on people who don’t need it. In last 10 years, has killed far more people than killed by all the wars in America. Unnecessary hospitalization and people pick up diseases there. Sridevi sent her mother to America for tumor on her head, and she came back with operated  on wrong side of head – spent so much money. Sometimes they do things like that – mix up reports, or someone comes back after so many years of operation – saying I’ve so much pain in stomach and they give painkillers – then do X-ray and find out they left a scissor inside! One major contributing factor is unnecessary prescription of antibiotics – and when real disease comes around, they’ve no resistance.  Anyway, you had a question….

Devotee1: Mataji gave a yellow book with lot of pictures and stories for teaching to children. Are there any books specifically for children?

BVKS:  Do we have children books? We do. There is one devotee in Hyderabad – Syamasundar – he has produced many many books.

Devotee2: Difference between Prabhupada’s books and his devotees’ commentaries

BVKS:  Well, if these are real bonafide commentaries, then intrinsically there is no difference. There may be in presentation, in focus but in message there is no difference –  if it’s a real disciple’s commentary – “old wine in new bottle”. Prabhupada gave example of his own Gurudev, Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur – same message – presented message of Krishna in a manner suitable for that era and ethos – highly scholarly style. And Prabhupada presented the same message that was wonderfully acceptable both to intellectual and ordinary people. Ordinary people – not people who read tabloids. Tabloids like Bombay Midday, that mostly contain sports and sex – written for comprehension of 7-8 years old, no more education than that. Prabhupada’s books are meant for thoughtful people, serious enough to apply their intelligence to understand it. But, it’s not so difficult that it cannot be read by people with basic education in English language – who can read in other words.

Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare!

Srila Prabhupada ki jaya!

Bhagavad Gita ki jaya!







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