Wednesday, 22 May 2013

They're ruining my books." -- Srila Prabhupada

A very, very important document has just become public. It is a 300+ page transcript of a 1979 interview with Ramesvara Prabhu, the manager of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, the person directly in charge of printing Srila Prabhupada’s books. Ramesvara had unlimited direct instructions from Srila Prabhupada in regard to printing his books. He also gives an eye-witness account of many other important events that occurred in ISKCON in the presence of Srila Prabhupada. The events were very fresh in his mind at that time as this interview took place only two years after Srila Prabhupada had disappeared from our material vision.
In this interview he is giving a completely honest account of Srila Prabhupada’s instructions to him in regard to not changing his books and on many other points also.
This is perhaps the most important document that has come to light in ISKCON since 1977.
I request you to please read the whole 300+ pages of the interview transcript. You will find it uplifting, encouraging, inspiring and also very informative.
In today’s ISKCON almost everything has been changed and so many of Srila Prabhupada’s orders have been disobeyed. This document is truly a wake up call for the BBT and ISKCON, coming perhaps just at the right moment.
You can download and read the PDF file of the interview by clicking on:
Please read it…
A few short quotes from the interview (these are about book changes but the interview covers a very broad spectrum of interesting topics so please read the transcript for yourself):
“Prabhupada got involved in many of the facets related to his books. In 1974, for example, we had proposed to put a new picture on the cover of Isopanisad, Krsna playing the flute on the rock. We mailed a copy of the picture to Prabhupada and told him, “We’re planning to do this.” Prabhupada fired back a letter, “Don’t you dare change the picture on my book! I have deliberately chosen the picture of Visnu because I want this book to be attracting the Mayavadis and impersonalists.”
Prabhupada just explained how everyone’s a rascal for daring to touch anything in his books. The greatest anxiety he has is that after he’s gone we will add things to his books that are bogus, we will take things out that are bona fide, we will make changes in his books and the whole work for 10,000 years, his plan Prabhupada was working on, it will all be spoiled by us because of our tendency to change. And Prabhupada gave an example that the disease to do things differently is so inherent in the Americans that for the sake of doing things differently we would walk on our hands rather than our feet.”
“The artists were always writing letters to Prabhupada asking him to explain how he wants the transcendental lilas painted. How to paint the spirit soul, how to paint Krsna, how to paint the spiritual world, what it looks like, what the atmosphere is, what the ground should look like, all kinds of detailed questions. And Prabhupada would write hundreds of letters to his artists explaining to them the answers. Even though these questions bothered him sometimes, they were like teasing him, but still he took the time to always answer. He once had said that ISKCON Press is the heart of ISKCON and the art department is the heart of the Press. So to Prabhupada these paintings were windows to the spiritual sky.”
“Prabhupada actually wanted 50 paintings in every volume. That was Prabhupada’s vision. Genius! No philosopher ever thought of such a thing. And therefore their books never sell. These art paintings were the basis of all the book distribution. Of course, it was our sincerity and our drive and our desire to please Prabhupada. But the technique was showing people the paintings, attracting their senses, getting them curious and interested and attracted by the art. The more beautiful the art the more you could tell people that this describes the most beautiful, peaceful way of life, the most beautiful spiritual thing. You’d show the paintings and you’d say things like, “This explains how to experience the highest happiness. Just look at this painting. Wouldn’t you like to be there?” The paintings were the basis for the book selling. And Prabhupada is the genius who thought that up.”
“By 1974, Radhahallabha and I and the artists were talking about reprinting the Krsna Book, “Let’s update the paintings.” These paintings were done in 1969, 1968. The artists have gotten much better. Their expertise was much better. So the decision was made by myself and Radhaballabha, we were going to upgrade all the paintings. The artists would get together with Radhaballabha and pick out which ones they wanted and then we would work it out together which ones to take out and which ones to put in. So Prabhupada and Bali came to Los Angeles and I had a meeting with Prabhupada upstairs in his room and I started showing him all of the paintings that were corning out, page by page, and all the paintings that were going in. This was one of the most astonishing meetings I ever had with Prabhupada in my life.
Just before we started going over the Krsna Book paintings, we went  over these drawings that Pariksit had done for the Teachings of Lord Caitanya. He had worked for one year on about 24 or so black and white drawings which would be going on the title page for each chapter of the Teachings of Lord Caitanya. This was his first major work at the BBT art department. And they had sent them to me so I could show them to Prabhupada because we were getting ready to print the TLC in Dai Nippon. So we went through drawing after drawing after drawing and Prabhupada was becoming angrier and angrier and more and more livid, and it was becoming a frightening experience. He was condemning them, he was throwing them out, he was rejecting them, he was blasting them, he was describing how they were going to ruin his book, they’re off, they’re misrepresentative, they’re not clear, they’re bogus, and “If you put anything bogus in my book, this is my greatest fear that you will ruin my book and the whole book will be ruined because of you!” And on and on, it was devastating! And I wrote a letter to the artists with the description of Prabhupada’s comments like a blow by; blow because it was so impressed in my mind. As soon as I got out of the room I ran downstairs and typed out this letter, remembering all of the things Prabhupada said. So I’ll be able to find that letter and you can refer to it and you’ll see exactly how Prabhupada analyzed the drawings in relation to what they were supposed to be illustrating very carefully and rejected them and just with devastating critique. Prabhupada was so expert. So then after going through that scene, then I took out the Krsna Book and said “Now, these are the paintings they want to take out and these are the ones they want to put in, Srila Prabhupada.” And we started again going page by page, color plate by color plate. And Prabhupada was becoming more and more livid, and more and more angry. And it was just the most terrifying experience that I have ever gone through. He was screaming, “They’re ruining my books! They have no brain! They are hippies! They are rascals!” Screaming, pounding his fist on the desk. At one point they wanted to take out the old Putana, the dead Putana with Krsna sucking the breast of Putana or playing on her lap, whatever it was, and in the background you have the Vrndavana village. And they wanted to put the new one in from the 2.2 which Prabhupada considered to be an inferior painting because it did not show as much. “An ugly black lump,” he said. But the worst was when we came to the rasa-lila, this was one of Prabhupada’s favorite paintings, the original Devahuti painting of the rasa-lila which we’ve made the poster of, which is now in the Krsna Book and so on. They wanted to take it out and  they wanted to put this painting of Krsna dancing with the gopis from the first printing of the Third Canto, Volume 2. Now in the reprinting of the Third Canto, Volume 2 this rasa-lila has been taken out and the original Krsna Book rasa-lila has been put in. Because the rasa-lila that they wanted to put in the Krsna Book was the final straw. Prabhupada just turned white! He looked into his bedroom at the original painting which was hanging on his wall. From his sitting room in Los Angeles he could look into his bedroom. He turned white. He looked at that painting. Then he looked down at the painting that they were proposing was better. Krsna’s hair was wild and long, Radharani’s head was uncovered, the gopis‘ hair was uncovered. It was like a, Prabhupada said, “hippie dance, sex dance. Hippie seeds, hippie contamination, hippie mentality, hippie, hippie, dirty! Rascals!” On and on. Prabhupada was screaming, banging his fist on the desk. There was nothing you could say, it was just an explosion that “They’re ruining my books.”

With the BBT, the size of the books, the type of art in the books and so on, on principle Prabhupada would not allow changes even if the change was an improvement. Just to teach that principle of don’t change. When the Dallas Gurukula was collapsing, I begged Prabhupada, “Let us send money from the BBT.” He said, “No. It is not the business of the BBT to support children, it is the business of parents.” The parents didn’t have any money, how could they support the children? But on this principle, Prabhupada wouldn’t let the BBT bail out the Dallas Gurukula and it closed. I was ready to bail them out. I proposed it, I wanted to bail it out, but it just didn’t happen.
I’ve had many experiences with Prabhupada literally drilling me, pounding it into my head that you’re never allowed to change anything in his books. He trained me so intensely on this point. Even when the changes make sense he wouldn’t let me change. Just to train me.
You can download and read the PDF file of the interview by clicking on:

Chant Hare Krishna and be happy!

Madhudvisa dasa

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