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Srila Prabhupada and his books

CC-BY-SA: bh. Jan M., cs version June 2002, updated in January 2014, November 2016 and on; en version November 2023-

And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the sign of the living God. And he cried with a loud voice to the four angels to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea,
Saying: Hurt not the earth nor the sea nor the trees, till we sign the servants of our God in their foreheads.
Revelation 7:2-3

Forehead sign (tilaka), an ancient attribute of monotheists, later largely forgotten, was in modern times introduced by Srila Prabhupada who came from "the rising of the sun" - the East. This passage points to the last chance before the large-scale destruction sets in.

"Following in the footsteps of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, the Krsna consciousness movement is distributing the Hare Krsna maha-mantra and inducing people all over the world to chant. We are giving people an immense treasury of transcendental literature, translated into all the important languages of the world, and by the grace of Lord Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu this literature is selling profusely, and people are chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra with great delight." - A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krisna Consciousness (ISKCON), CC 1.16.19 purport.

The scope of the work of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (1896-1977) in form of books, letters, audio and visual material is remarkable. It especially stands out in comparison with the legacy of Buddha, Jesus or Muhammad who left little or no direct writing material behind, additionally written down by their followers. Also noteworthy is the number of books that in the entire history of ISKCON since 1965 reached circulation: it exceeded 562 million copies (only officially reported books). The effect of such a quantity of spiritual literature on society is exceptional from many points of view (see e.g. Hare Krishna in popular culture).
Although Srila Prabhupada's books are the foundation of ISKCON, as he himself wished, not much is known about their origin and production. The following article should at least partially fill this gap. I hope that it helps readers to appreciate their importance even more.

1. Origin and History
2. Sastras are made available to the world
3. Srila Prabhupada's books and purports (commentaries)
3.1 Source texts
3.2 Some commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatam
3.3 Earlier commentaries on other books
3.4 Three categories of originality
3.5 How Prabhupada's books were created
3.6 Uniqueness of Srila Prabhupada's work
3.7 Response
4. Prabhupada's successors
4.1 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), BBTI
4.2 BBT in the Czech Republic
5. How book translations are created
6. Bibliography

1. Origin and History

Vedic scriptures (sastras) were revealed by Bhagavan Sri Krisna, the Supreme Personality, God, after the creation of the universe to various demigods and sages. Later they passed them on orally to their followers, creating successions of teachers and disciples called paramparas in Sanskrit. Thus the sastras lived in the memory of countless generations.
In the ever-repeating cycle of the four cosmic ages (yugas) is the Kali-yuga the last and the most degraded one. This age we now live in has begun 5,000 years ago when the sastras were first written down by sage Krisna Dvaipayana Vyasa. He foresaw a general decline typical for the age of Kali including the decline of human memory and wanted to preserve them for the benefit of humans.
The material they were traditionally written on was palm leaves cut into narrow stripes. Their durability in India's environment however does not exceed a few hundred years. Sastras therefore had to be copied and their constant use associated with memorization (assisted by versification) and the mutual control within the system of guru-sastra-sadhu guaranteed their almost unchanged form. Changes are omissions and rare word variations by transcribers. It's seen well in the example of Bhagavad-gita, which has been preserved in only two versions in all India - with 700 and 701 verses. This difference arises only by merging verses 13.1-2 into one. The text itself of both versions is identical. One more distinct version exists, a commentary by Abhinava Gupta, which additionally contains eighteen verses - one at the end of each chapter as its conclusion (sangraha) and many verses in part differ favoring the siddhanta of Kashmir Shaivism, a kind of mixture of advaita, yoga and tantra.

2. Sastras are made available to the world

The original language of the Vedic scriptures is Sanskrit. However, it was mostly the language of the learned, as Latin in Europe, and so they remained unknown outside India for a long time. Only in the eighteenth century the Bhagavad-gita and some of the Upanisads and Puranas for the first time attracted attention of Western intellectuals thanks to translations from the pen of the first Indologists.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu introduced a significant innovation in his preaching: he did not consider the qualifications of the recipients (CC 1.9.30), traditionally stated in the sastras themselves. E.g. according to BG 18.67, BG is not intended for these persons: 1. atapasvi, one who does not practice austerities; 2. abhakta, non-devotee; 3. asusrusa, who is not eager to listen, "know-it-all" type; 4. abhyasuyaka, envious of the supreme position of Sri Krisna, i.e. atheist and anti-theist.
Probably the first in the modern history of Vaisnavism to undertake the task to introduce the Vaisnava scriptures to the world in English, was acarya Bhaktivinoda Thakura (1838-1914). Caitanya Mahaprabhu: His Life and Precepts was the first small book written in English, which he sent in 1896 to several Western universities, including McGill University in Canada.
This effort was continued by his son and a very influential preacher, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura (1874-1937), who, among other things, in 1931 opened Thakura Bhaktivinoda Institute in West Bengal's Mayapur, the first philosophy-based English-taught secondary school of Gaudiya Vaisnavism. He published important translations in English of Vaisnava works and the magazine Harmonist. In addition, he sent several of his disciples preach the teachings of Sri Caitanya to Europe. However, the results did not satisfy his expectation. In the article Madhva Gaudiya literature (Harmonist 29.364–65, June 1932) he however predicted the worldwide spread of Gaudiya Vaisnava literature:

It is not our contention that all people of this world are under the necessity of learning the Bengali language in order to deserve to be saved by availing themselves of the only dispensation of this age. The mercy of the spiritual guide is open to all persons on the only condition that one really wishes to attain to the unconditional service of the Absolute.
The Gaudiya literature enshrines also that which is revealed by the mercy of the bona fide spiritual guide. The literature offers the Absolute in a continuous and visible form to all the peoples of the world. This is the function of all the revealed scriptures. These records are a great help to those who are given access to them by the mercy of guru. They represent the agency by whom the divine mercy is showered on all conditioned souls. The scriptures and their authorized exponents have an identical complementary function, which is nothing less than the duty of dispensing the divine mercy to the deserving as well as the undeserving alike.
The Gaudiya literature will be translated into all the languages of the world by the agents of the divine mercy at the appointed time. They will also, no doubt, spring up a mighty host of pseudo exponents and an immense body of spurious Gaudiya literature as has been the case in the past. This is all to be expected by those really thoughtful persons. But nothing can have the least power of depriving a person of the mercy of the real agents of the divine mercy except one’s deliberate refusal to avail of the very same when it is offered at his very doorstep in a perfectly recognizable form. As soon as a single person will have conceived a sincere desire of undertaking the promulgation of the tidings of the Gaudiya literature to the peoples of this world he is thereby enrolled amongst the agents of divine mercy with the power to forward the fulfillment of this express wish of the Supreme Lord.
The Gaudiya literature will not long remain confined to the Bengali-speaking people. It will in a short time expand and display its full brilliancy through the medium of all the languages, including those of the birds, beasts and the vegetable tribes.

another English translation:

The Madhva-Gaudiya literature enshrines the account of the career and teachings of Śri Caitanya and His associates from the pens of the eternal servants of the Lord. They not only rank with revealed literature of the world but furnish the only complete divine dispensation for all ages, and the specific dispensation for the present age.
The reason why the promulgation of the divine dispensation has not been followed by the establishment of unadulterated theism all over the world is to be sought in our neglect to try to understand the Gaudiya literature by the only method of approaching the transcendental subject, viz., through the medium of the spiritual guide. The fear of being victimized by the quacks and pseudo-gurus need not trouble those who do not themselves intend to be so victimized in their quest of the absolute. It is imperatively necessary for all persons who really wish to make the spiritual acquaintance of the Gaudiya literature to engage in the quest of bona fide Caitanyites. If they are themselves not in earnest or are disposed to be content with anything less than knowledge of the Absolute revealed by the Gaudiya literature, they are foredoomed to failure or to fall into the hands of pseudo-gurus.
But no really cautious person who knows his own mind need miss the sight of the bona fide devotee of Godhead if he is really in need of the service of the divinity. The Gaudiya literature will be translated into all the languages of the world by the agents of the divine mercy at the appointed time. There will also no doubt spring up a mighty host of pseudo-exponents and an immense body of spurious Gaudiya literature, as has been the case in the past. This is to be expected by all really thoughtful persons. But nothing can have the least power of depriving a person of the mercy of the real agents of divine mercy except one's deliberate refusal to avail of the same when it will be offered at his very door in a perfectly recognizable form.
As soon as a single person will have conceived the sincere desire of undertaking the promulgation of the tidings of the Gaudiya literature to the peoples of this world, he is thereby enrolled among the agents of divine mercy with power to forward the fulfilment of this expressed wish of the Supreme Lord. The Gaudiya literature will not long remain confined to the Bengali-speaking people. It will in a short time expand and display its full brilliancy through the medium of all the languages, including those of birds, beasts, and the vegetable tribes.
(Bhaktivikasa Swami - Sri Bhaktisiddhanta Vaibhava, Vol. 1, Ch. 13 The Great Drum)

However, it was not until Srila Prabhupada's time that the sastras with commentaries, not just small books with introductory information as before, began to sell on the streets (from the end of the year 1971, the boom occurred from 1973). This was the most significant innovation and the funds obtained in this way enabled the very rapid expansion of the movement.

3. Srila Prabhupada's books and purports (commentaries)

Prabhupada took to heart the instruction to preach in English given to him by his spiritual master, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, already during their first meeting in Kolkata in 1922. He was aware of the admiration western societies held for the wisdom of ancient texts such as Bhagavad-gita and Upanisads, and also that older translations often significantly deviated from the original texts. So he decided to present the sastras "as is", i.e. without changes and misinterpretations. That's why he provided, in addition to the original texts in Sanskrit, transcriptions into Latin, word-for-word translations and translations of the text, also extensive commentaries with the help of commentaries of previous Vaisnava acaryas. By doing so his books combine traditional philosophy with practical application fit for the modern society.
Prabhupada translated into the world's most widely used language today the most important Vaisnava sastras. They are Bhagavad-gita As It Is (BG, abridged Macmillan 1968, complete 1972, revised 1983), Srimad-Bhagavatam (SB, cantos 1-10.13) and Caitanya-caritamrita (CC).
Teachings of Lord Caitanya (TLC, "Golden Avatar" in Czech), Krina and the Nectar of Devotion (NOD) are so-called summary studies based on Caitanya-caritamrita, the tenth canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam and Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu by Rupa Gosvami. Initially, at the turn of the sixties and seventies, he chose this form, because he didn't know if his health would allow him to complete the full versions.
Translated and commented books are Sri Isopanisad (ISO) and Nectar of Instruction (NOI, Rupa Gosvami's Upadesamrita).
Prabhupada's first book written while still in India is Easy Journey to Other Planets (1959). He reacts to contemporary discoveries in quantum physics and the beginnings of aeronautics.
In 1961 Prabhupada was invited to a religious congress in Japan (see SP Lilamrita 1.10). Although the visit did not take place, as the presentation for this purpose he retold SB 10.20 in the book Light of the Bhagavata, which was supplemented by beautiful illustrations in Japanese style.
The other books were compiled from lectures, interviews and discussions with his disciples and visitors.
There is also an introduction to a commentary on the Vedanta-sutra called Bhaktivedanta Bhasya.

3.1 Source texts

Source texts (mula grantha in sanskrit) are original texts in sanskrit or in Bengali (for CC).

SB: canto 1-2 - unknown
3 - Gita Press (GP) ed.
4.1-27 - unknown
4.28-31 - Gaudiya Matha (GM) ed.
5-10 - GM
BG: Gita Press ed.?
ISO: Kanva sakha (ISO is the last, 40th chapter of Vajasaneyi samhita of Sukla Yajur Veda)
All translations of the verses from SB 4.28 to 10.13 follow the Bengali translations of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati's verses. All verse translations from SB 3.15 to 3.31 follow (in many cases verbatim) the English translations of verses from the GP edition (Srimad-Bhagavata Purana, 2 volumes, edited and a translated by C.L. Goswami and M.A. Sastri. Gorakhpur: Gita Press, 1971). In in some cases material from the notes was also included in the commentaries.
All word for word translations from SB 4.28 to 10.13 follow the Sanskrit anvaya (natural word order) of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
All chapter summaries in the SB (starting in the 5th canto) are translations from katha-sara of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.

3.2 Some commentaries on Srimad Bhagavatam

Perhaps you know that there is an edition of the Srimad-Bhagavatam by Krsna Sankar Sastri 'abhinavah sukah' Vedantacarya, Sahitya-tirtha, sribhagavata-sudhanidhi, from Ahmedabad. In his book he has given almost all the important commentaries on the Bhagavatam as follows: 1. Sridhar Svami 2. Sri Vamsidhara 3. Sri Gangasahaya 4. Srimad Viraraghavacarya 5. Srimad Vijayadhvaja Tirtha 6. Srimad Jiva Gosvami 7. Srimad Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura 8. Srimad Sukadeva 9. Gosvami Sri-giridharalal (Vallabhacarya Sampradaya) 10. Sri Bhagavat-prasadacarya, etc ... Among all commentaries, Sridhar Svami's is given the first position. This parampara has existed for a very long time. (letter to Sumati Morarjee, Valencay, August 7, 1976)/

* Sridhara Svami: Bhavartha-dipika (14th century)
Vamsidhara: Bhavartha-dipika-prakaa (1820-90)
Radha-ramana-dasa Gosvami: Dipika-dipani
Ganga-sahaya: Anvitartha-prakasika (1894-97)
* Viraraghavacarya: Bhagavata-candrika (14th century)
* Vijayadhvaja Tirtha: Pada-ratnavali (15th century)
* Jiva Gosvami: Krama-sandarbha (16th century), Brhad-krama-sandarbha (10th canto), Gopala Campu (10th canto), Laghu-vaisnava-tosani (10th canto)
* Visvanatha Cakravarti: Sarartha-darsini (17th century)
* Sukadeva: Siddhanta-pradipa
Giridhara-lala: Bala-prabodhini (1850-1900)
Bhagavat-prasadacarya: Bhakta-mano-ranjani
* Sanatana Gosvami: Vaisnava-tosani (10th canto, 16th century), Brhad-vaisnava-tosani (10th canto)
Vallabhacarya: Subodhini (16th century)
* Madhvacarya: Bhagavata-tatparya-nirnaya (13th century)
* Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati: Ananta-gopala Tathya (1923-35), Sindhu-vaibhava Vivrti (1923-35)

(* cited by name)

Sridhara Svami - Visnu-svami (Rudra) sampradaya
Viraraghavacarya - Ramanujacarya (Sri) sampradaya
Sukadeva - Nimbarkacarya (Kumara) sampradaya
Madhvacarya - Brahma-Madhva-sampradaya
Giridhara-lala - Vallabhacarya-sampradaya (Pusti-marga)

Lost SB commentaries

Translation of SB by Girijashankara Mayashankara Shastri in Gujarati includes a preface also in Gujarati entitled "Some Things which you should know about the Puranas" by Manilal N. Dwivedi. He writes that according to Madhva Sankaracarya wrote a commentary on SB. He quotes the line sa azreyaH parama brahma paramAtmA parAtpara iti bhAgavate which supposedly comes from Visnusahasranama bhasya. A work called Chaturvimsatimataviveka, which is another name of the Sarasiddhanta sangraha and according to the editors of the collection of his works called Vani Vilas, an authentic work of Ádi Sankaracarya, contains a passage paramhaMsadharmo bhAgavate purANe kRSNenoddhavayopadiSTaH, a clear reference to the 11th skandha of SB. Dwivedi also quotes Gaudapadacarya, to whom he attributes the commentary on the Uttaragita: Taduktam bhAgavate(:) teSAm asau klezala eva ziSyate nAnyad yathA sthUla tuSAvaghAtinAm (SB 10.14.4). He says that if Sankaracarya's paramguru knew SB, how Sankaracarya himself couldn't know it? He quoted Bhagavatam 12.13.1 in his poem Meditations on the Gita (text 9) and mentions the Bhagavata school in his Sariraka bhasya. A. N. Chatterji confirms this: "Even Shankara... considered the influence of the Bhagavata Purana." Related to this is the question of SB dating.
Also according to Vijayadhvaja Tirtha, Sankaracarya wrote a commentary on SB.
Sridhara Svami reportedly stated that his commentary strictly adheres to an earlier commentary by Citsukhacarya (Sankara's disciple and alleged incarnation of Varuna). According to R.N. Sharma Citsukha lived 1220-1284.

3.3 Earlier commentaries on other books

1. Ramanujacarya Bhasya (Sanskrit)
2. Sarartha-varsiní-tika (Sanskrit) Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura (VCT)
3. Gita-bhusana-tika (Sanskrit) Baladeva Vidyabhusana
4. Rasika ranjana (according to Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura), Vidvad ranjana (according to Baladeva Vidyabhusana) (both Bengali) Bhaktivinoda Thakura
1. Madhva Bhasya (Sanskrit)
2. Baladeva-vidyabhusana-bhasya (Sanskrit)
3. Vedartha-didhiti (Sanskrit) Bhaktivinoda Thakura
4. Anuvada, Bhavartha (Bengali) by Bhaktivinoda Thakura
NOI (Upadesamrita of Rupa Gosvami):
1. Upadesa-prakasika-tika (Sanskrit) Radha-ramana dasa Gosvami
2. Sri-upadesamrita-bhasya (Bengali couplets) Bhaktivinoda Thakura
3. Piyusa-varsini-vritti (Bengali prose) by Bhaktivinoda Thakura
4. Sri-upadesamrita-bhasya (Bengali couplet) Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
5. Anuvritti (Bengali prose) Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
NOD (Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu of Rupa Gosvami):
1. Durgama-sangamani-tika (Sanskrit) Jiva Gosvami
2. Artha-ratnalpa-dípika (Sanskrit) Mukunda dasa Gosvami
3. Bhakti-sara-pradarsini-tika (Sanskrit) Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura
CC of Krisnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami:
1. Amrita-pravaha-bhasya (Bengali prose) Bhaktivinoda Thakura
2. Anubhasya (Bengali prose) Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura

Prabhupada quotes these commentaries by name:
BG: Baladeva Vidyabhusana, Bhaktivinoda Thakura
ISO: -
NOI: Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati
NOD: Jiva Gosvami
CC: Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati

3.4 Three categories of originality

Current editions of Prabhupada's books contain approximately 24,000 pages and can be divided into three categories of varying degrees of originality:

A. Books for which the original accurate record of Prabhupada's words is still available.
- entire 1st canto of SB (printed in India)
- the first 4 chapters of the 2nd canto (written by Prabhupada, copy of the original is kept by the Bhaktivedanta Archives)
- the first six and a half chapters of the Bhagavad-gita as it is (typed by Prabhupada)
- approximately 70% of the Krisna book (copies of the tapes that Prabhupada dictated still exist)
- Sri Isopanisad (first published in Back to Godhead magazine in India)
- Easy Journey to Other Planets (published by Back to Godhead in India)
- Message of Godhead
- Light of the Bhagavata
- most of the books compiled from lectures and interviews, such as The Science of Self-Realization, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Raja-vidya - The King of Knowledge, etc. Most of the original lectures or interviews on tapes is still available.
This first category comprises about 15% of the listed 24,000 pages.

B. Books for which some transcript from tapes which Prabhupada dictated is still available.

These manuscripts exist in various stages, such as the original transcripts, transcripts with corrections by Sanskrit editor, English editor or both, or transcripts in which these corrections have already been included. Some of them also contain other handwritten corrections. Of course, the more original the manuscript, the better. But even direct transcriptions cannot be considered first class because they all contain different kinds of errors (for example from mishearing). The fact that the original record has not survived refers all these books to category B. Here are unfortunately about 81% of Prabhupada's books, including all CC and most of SB.

Original transcripts (OT) BBT doesn't want to publish for some reason, although it would most probably prevent the controversy about the original and revised books (more about it in 3.5). For BGAII.

C. Books for which neither the original nor transcriptions have survived.

This category includes the seventh to tenth chapter of the 2nd canto SB, the whole TLC and several chapters of books compiled from lectures and interviews. It is about 4% of all books.

The question naturally arises as to why so few originals have survived. It brings us to the topic of book production.

3.5 How Prabhupada's books were created

Prabhupada's books are made up of several sources. They are the source material itself, earlier commentaries, quotations from other sastras, author's own words and other material. The author transcribed or translated them from the original, wrote or dictated himself and also quoted from memory. They are abbreviated as OT.
In India Srila Prabhupada had to do the entire production (including sales) basically alone. This continued for some time in America. There he got his first dictaphone (originally a tape recorder). Its main disadvantage was that it is difficult to fix errors. Moreover, the result is a spoken, not a written speech. This means redundant repetition, missing logical connections between sentences, grammatical inconsistency or even incomplete sentences. Yet Prabhupada welcomed this new method, mainly because it allowed him to speed up his work considerably.
After Prabhupada had dictated the verses and commentaries, the production was in the hands of his editors, who added verses, references and corrected the English. At first they were inexperienced and lacked specialized knowledge of Sanskrit and philosophy. Prabhupada's heavy Bengali accent did not make their work any easier. Another problem was the way how Prabhupada used his dictaphone. To avoid wasting tape, he switched it on and off in such a way that the beginning or end of the sentence was often missing, as can be seen in the film footage of Prabhupada's translation.
Taking into account all these difficulties, the editors performed admirably, but at the same time it was not to be wondered at that the books contained many defects. That is why the BBT in the eighties and nineties revised some major titles (BG-1983, NOD-1982, ISO-1993, Krisna-1996, CC-1996). The reason was to get closer to the preserved originals of Prabhupada's words. It explained its move in the publication Responsible Editing (Jayadvaita Swami, Dravida das) and later also through the website
Nevertheless, some devotees still consider the first editions to be more faithful, "because they were used in Prabhupada's time and he didn't point out any shortcomings", which is considered his "approval". But the fact is that he did not make any comparison of his written or dictated text with books. E.g. for BG 15.12 with a significant deviation from its original version no lecture is extant in which he could point this out. Another reason is that these devotees do not trust Jayadvaita Swami, whom however Srila Prabhupada trusted.
Saving money was also the reason, why Prabhupada tapes after they were transcribed, were repeatedly reused. Unfortunately BBT did not make any copies, and therefore not many originals have survived.
The quality of the books gradually improved. Their English was more or less in order (compared to those published in India), external appearance (typesetting, paper and binding) was significantly better and the pace of publication much faster. Prabhupada put BBT under the same time pressure as himself. He was aware of the lack of time that was increasingly taken up by daily management of his young movement. His life's work, Srimad-Bhagavatam, had to be completed by his disciples (from SB 10.14).

3.6 Uniqueness of Srila Prabhupada's work

The traditional style of commentaries on the Bhagavatam takes the form of glosses very strictly sticking to the text, explanations of individual words and brief notes. It can be said that Sridhara Svami, who said that he belongs to succession of Sankara's disciple Citsukhacarya, never wrote even one syllable more than was absolutely necessary for understanding the text. He commented almost all the verses of the entire Bhagavatam, or rather briefly explained one or two words in each verse. He also sometimes quoted verses from other Puranas and Upanishads.
Madhva's style is different. More than 80% of his commentaries are only relevant verses from other sastras, without a single word of explanation.
Later commentators often repeat verbatim the words of Sridhar Svami and sometimes they provide additional notes. Visvanatha Cakravarti discusses emotions and motivations of the main characters, thus adding to otherwise factual comments a psychological dimension. Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati partially summarizes and partially repeats significant statements of previous acaryas and adds extensive quotations from Caitanya caritamrita and Caitanya bhagavata to which he also provides his own commentaries. He is also the first to write chapter summaries, while previous commentators summarize the whole chapter in one or two verses. Yet, as with the commentaries of the previous acaryas, his writing represents a theological treatise, an academic work intended for scholars and not for the public. Prabhupada therefore for the first time makes this knowledge accessible on a wide scale.
What is usually called "Prabhupada's Bhagavatam" consists of 8,837 verses or texts from the first 214 of the total 335 chapters of the Bhagavatam. Prabhupada comments on approximately 78% of these verses. His main sources are commentaries of Visvanatha Cakravarti, Sridhara Svami and Jiva Gosvami ("These are not my books. I only translate." (interview, 26.2.1976, Jakarta, further e.g. letter to Jayapataka, Los Angeles, April 17, 1970). He began working on the Bhagavatam while still in India. His style in the first and second cantos differs considerably from the later one, for example in the eighth canto. He addresses public leaders. In later cantos he often points out contemporary Western culture and events in his worldwide movement. The main difference between Prabhupada and other commentators lies in commenting on specific historical events. He talks about the world of his time and appeals to contemporary readers. He preaches a certain message, promotes values and discusses changes that will occur in society if these values would be accepted. Prabhupada's books are intended for the public outside Gaudiya Vaisnava tradition and express his deep faith and conviction.

3.7 Response

Prabhupada's books evoke a wide spectrum of reader reactions. Contact with them manifests the degree of the material (three gunas) and the spiritual (sukriti) influence of the person.
First of all, it is difficult to come into contact with these books. They have "self-defense mechanism" - they require qualifications to access them and read them. This is called sukriti and is difficult to obtain these days due to the high degree of secularization and materialization of society. Most of the people who come into contact with the books will not show any interest. In the West, this is often also due to anti-religious influence and anti-sectarian propaganda. Some of the believers consider them a different, competing religion or even a negative ideology. They are not however, able to justify it in any way.
A common counterargument is that devotees do nothing beneficial for society ("You'd better go to work!"). This is a fundamental mistake because it is the most beneficial work, see e.g. Manu-samhita 11.19:
yo asAdhubhyo artham AdAya sAdhubhyaH saMprayacchati
sa kRtvA plavam AtmAnaM saMtArayati tAv ubhau

He who takes the wealth of the wicked and gives it to the virtuous will be transformed in a ship and will carry them both (across the sea of calamity). (This of course does not refer to theft or other adharmic practice.)
A less common response is outright rejection without a clear reason. It usually manifests itself at the first contact. Basically, it is a strong degree of asura bhava, intuitive disapproval of Krisna's position as the Supreme Lord and the living entity as His eternal servant, the main reason for our stay in samsara.
The purpose of ordinary books is to entertain or educate. However, this is missing here, which confuses many readers. They find Prabhupada's books boring, repetitive, incomprehensible, with complex concepts and many foreign words. They are unable to continue reading them for a long time.
Furthermore, one can encounter (mainly in India) an interest in pious material results (punya) which can be obtained by reading them. These readers are mostly not interested in the spiritual dimension of these books or consider it secondary.
Other readers are interested in facts and philosophies on the jnana level. They put many questions and will not settle for superficial answers. After getting information, they will lose interest in books unless they get company of devotees.
Only a very small number of people will find these books appealing by their essence - Krisna bhakti. They often build on their previous experience from past lives. In the company of devotees they will begin to study Prabhupada's books seriously.

4. Prabhupada's successors

Prabhupada's disciples began to translate his books from English into other languages. As of 1994, 40 of Srila Prabhupada's books had been translated into 71 languages. Almost all were translated into German, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish. However, this is still only the beginning. As an example of how much transcendent effort still lies ahead of us, can serve statistics concerning the Bible.
The Bible is the most widely read book in the world. Every year gets to circulation about 60 million copies of the entire Bible or its parts. It was the first time printed on Johann Gutenberg's printing press around 1455 (in Czech between 1579-93) and until 1800 it was at least partially translated into 68 languages. Since then have been printed about four billions of Bibles (either in whole or in parts). It is the most translated book in history. According to United Bible Societies, it was translated into 2,123 languages and dialects by 1995. For more than 90% of people at least part of is it available in their native language.

Comparison of different translations of Bible and Bhagavatam in dates:
| period / ys. | pages | team
Bible Kralická | 1577-1594 / 17 | 830 | unknown number of Protestants
Czech ecumenical translation | 1961-1979 / 18 | 1410 | two teams
Bible 21 | 1994-2009*/ 15 | 1564 | 3 Protestants
Jerusalem Bible | 1980-2009 / 29 | 2240 | 2+1+several consultants
Srimad Bhagavatam | 1992-2012 / 20 | 15000 | max. 4 devotees at once, total 10
)* 2015 - 2nd revised edition includes the Deuterocanonical books, 1840 pages, 2 other Protestants

Prabhupada also mentioned other books he planned to translate:

I you want, I can send you the theistic vedanta interpretation which you can edit and translate into the French language for publication in Back To Godhead. There are four chapters of Vedanta Sutra and the first one called Janmadyasya. I have explained in my Srimad-Bhagavatam at the very beginning. You can see it and if you think it is nice then I'll try to explain the other sutras in the same way. I am enclosing herewith the sanskrit transliterations and meanings as requested by you. (SPL Janardana, LA 68-12-19)

Regarding the teacher Miss Wilson, you may engage her in translating, if she can read Bengali type. She can try Jiva Goswami’s ‘Sandarbhas’—that will be a great contribution." (SPL Rudra, Radhika, Calcutta 72–02-20)

Yes, if you want to translate the Bhakti-Ratnakara. (SPL Acyutananda, LA 72-06-28)

Hari-shauri: If you supply more small books... As you were going to make the Padma Purana...
Prabhupada: Yes. We can give it.
Hari-shauri: ...and the Upanisads, and so on. They will also be very...
Prabhupada: That will be nice. I trained them but they didn't become too experienced. As I do Bhagavad-gita, Srimad..., they can do Padma Purana, Visnu Purana, Brahma-vaivarta Purana in the same way, but our students are not that experienced.
(interview, January 24, 1977, Bhuvaneshvar)

Satsvarupa: Next we have a question about the BBT. At present, no translation work is to be published without your seeing and approving it. So the question is, is there any system for publishing works in the future that you may not see? For example, we’ve heard suggested that the Padma Purana or the Sat-Sandarbha may be translated. But what would the system be to insure the parampara if you would not personally see these translations?
Prabhupada: That you have to examine expertly. […] A realized soul, must be. Otherwise, simply by imitating A-B-C-D will not help. My purports are liked by people because it is presented as practical experience. […] Our translation must be documents. They are not ordinary… One cannot become unless one is very realized. It is not A-B-C-D translation.
(GBC Meets with Srila Prabhupada, May 28, 1977, Vrndavana)

Yet so much is but intimated! Bhagavad-gita As It Is still sits incomplete, and much remains untold: the twelve cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Chaitanya-charitamrita, Vedanta-sutra, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. He had planned to translate and annotate them all.
"I have so much to tell you," he’s often said. "We haven’t even scratched the surface. In our tradition, there are such wonderful literatures! We must work quickly and publish."
(Hare Krishna Explosion 2.10)

The Vaishnava literary tradition is extremely rich. To Prabhupada's disciples, their disciples and subsequent generations will take a long time to translate this literary heritage into English and other languages. After all, only biographies, prose, poetry and other literature related to Sri Caitanya number in the dozens titles. I have already translated some and hope to be able to continue by the mercy of Vaisnavas and Sri Sri Radha-Krisna.

4.1 The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (BBT), BBTI

"ISKCON is my body and the BBT/book distribution is my heart." (statement attributed to Srila Prabhupada)

Prabhupada founded BBT in March 1972 in India and then in May in the US to publish all his books in all the languages of the world and, if it does not conflict with this primary objective, translations of other core scriptures as well. He founded it as a non-profit entity independent of ISKCON so that in case of ISKCON problems are not jeopardized production, distribution of books and the development of the most important pilgrimage sites.
"Ramesvara gives the hint that ISKCON may go into liquidation. I cannot think of it. But, anyway, I cannot at any cost risk BBT if ISKCON goes into liquidation. Why risk the BBT by amalgamating it into ISKCON? Therefore I want to keep BBT separate." (letter to Hansaduta, December 8, 1974, Mumbai)
He took into account that it is not appropriate to combine everyday activities of a decentralized ISKCON with a corporate and centralized kind the management required for the production of books and the construction of temples, financed from book sales. BBT is the organization that offers ISKCON services of producing books in a form best suited for distribution. BBT sells ISKCON books and depends on their distribution through him.
BBT with the number of titles, languages and circulation of individual books gradually became one of the largest publishing houses in the world and unrivaled in the field of traditional Vedic philosophy and culture. It has several divisions: Northern European (it includes the Czech BBT), North American, Mediterranean, African, Latin American, West Indian, East Indian and Pacific (includes, among others, Chinese language). Each is headed by a trustee. BBT Trustee status also belongs to Jayadvaita Swami, the former long-time editor-in-chief of Back to Godhead magazine (BTG, The trustees meet twice or three times a year.
Prabhupada transferred all copyrights to his books to BBT. BBT is also the holder of the rights to the art graphics. The newly formed BBT International ( supervises their compliance and holds newer copyrights. ISKCON temples and centers, associated projects and individuals who want to use BBT materials need permission from BBT International.
BBT supported projects
The Mayapur Project ( in West Bengal is the largest of its kind in ISKCON and represents a certain embodiment of its future. Prabhupada called it unique and to be built by the missionary efforts of devotees from all over the world in distributing books. The main sponsor is Ambarísha das (Alfred B. Ford).
Bhaktivedanta Archives ( in North Carolina (USA) preserve and spread Prabhupada's message on all kinds of media. They also convert these materials into digital form and publish them. DVD Vedabase is a database of all written material (books, lectures, interviews, morning walks, letters, etc.) by Prabhupada and other books written by his disciples.
Bhaktivedanta Institute (,,, headquartered in Berkeley (CA, USA) and Mumbai (India), is engaged in research, publication and further promotion of Vedic knowledge from the point of view of modern science. Prabhupada gave it its main task: to prove with modern scientific methods that life did not originate from matter, but from life. It publishes Sa-vijnanam magazine.
Oxford Center for Hindu Studies ( in GB is the first theological seminar in the history of Oxford University linked to a tradition other than Christian. BBT bought its building.
The main European distributor of Prabhupada's books and others materials are from the Belgian Bhaktivedanta Library Services (BLS, Most of their goods, together with books in Czech, are available in e-shop.
Already in 1986, the Northern European BBT established for its internal communication the Bulletin Board System known as COM, which over time came to be used throughout ISKCON. It later changed its name to Pamho ( Allows members to communicate via email and in discussion groups. Free for members since 2014, membership is by invitation of existing members.

4.2 BBT in the Czech Republic

Srila Prabhupada's first book - Sri Isopanishad - was translated into Czech by a well-known traveler-hitchhiker and writer Jiri Svoboda in the 70s. Srila Prabhupada told him in a letter dated September 6, 1974, among other things: "So try to learn this philosophy nicely in association with other devotees and certainly you will be able to do great benefit to your fellow countrymen.". Mr. Svoboda was a lifelong supporter of ISKCON, especially prasadam :).
However, his version has not survived. According to the book History of the movement Hare Krisna in Czechoslovakia 1896-1989, Sections 1974 and 1982, Sri Isopanisad was translated by Prabhupada's disciple of Czech origin Paragati das, who lived for a long time in Sweden.
Bhagavad-gita As It Is is the first Czech edition in the bhakti tradition, the only another one is from Prabhupada's spiritual brother B.R. Sridhara Maharaja - The Hidden Treasure of Sweet Absolute, Ambrosia publishing house, 1995, 1999. It differs from Prabhupada's edition mainly in that it contains mostly translations of verses and occasional commentaries by following the commentary of Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, while Prabhupada mainly follows Baladeva Vidyabhusana's commentary.
Golden Avatar (TLC), Sri Isopanisad, Scientific Knowledge of the Soul (SSR), Prabhupada: The Life of a Pure Devotee by Satsvarupa dasa Gosvami (the last two were published together for the first time under the title Life and Teachings of Srila Prabhupada), KB and Nectar of Instructions were done before 1989 abroad thanks to Prabhupada's disciples and followers in exile, mainly Turiya dasa. They were printed at BBT's North European center in Almviks Gard in paperback editions and smuggled into what was then Czechoslovakia, which did not escape attention of StB (Czech KGB). Books were copied and spread in the underground. This era is discussed in an inside book History of the Hare Krisna movement in Czechoslovakia 1896-1989.
After November 1989 books could already be printed in Czechoslovakia. In May 1990 Nectar of Instructions, Golden Avatar and SSR were printed. Other Czech translations began to appear, starting with the first canto of SB, followed by Nectar of Devotion, Teaching of Self-Realization, Life comes from Life, Beyond Birth and Death, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Teachings of Sri Kapila, Krisna's Vegetarian Cookbook and small books.
At the beginning of the nineties the Northern European center of BBT moved from Almviks Gard to Korsnäs Gard.
Other books were the second edition of the Bhagavad-gita, SSR, Prabhupada, Golden Avatar and also the Divine Nature (Mukunda Goswami, Michael Cremo). In the summer of 2001, we started translating Caitanya-caritamrita and the remaining chapters of the tenth canto along with the new translation of Krisna book according to the revised English original. CC was successfully completed and released by Krisna's grace in 2012, see article Chaitanya Charitamrita Appears in Czech for the First Time. In 2015-17 Punya Palaka prabhu worked with my modest help thanks to a private sponsor on a new BG edition published in late October 2020.
Question: How is the new edition of the Gita different from the previous one?
Jan: A comprehensive answer would require another book or seminar. Brief answer is that the previous Czech editions of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is are three and they are all different. The main difference is that the exile-made brown and green editions are translated from the Macmillan 1972 English edition. The blue edition is translated from the revised English edition of BBT 1983. In the last edition, we tried to get even closer to the text, which Srila Prabhupada himself typed (the first 6 chapters) and dictated (and others transcribed it - OT/original transcripts). It is also much more readable. I recommend thoughtful readers to read all editions, compare them and ask questions. I am available to answer them. This article was written for a closer understanding of the entire book production.

Books not yet published

SB has already been translated in its entirety, but has not yet been published. Punya Palaka prabhu already finished the editing. Also awaiting their release are Ramayana (retold version by Krishna Dharma), Light of the Bhagavata, compilation called VEDA (parts of it have already been published in Namahatta magazine), small pamphlet Krisna The Reservoir of Pleasure and the re-edited Raja Vidya and Isopanisad.
In 2013 the translation activity of the Czech BBT came to an end due to the lack of funds from distribution and it is therefore a question of when and if small books will be published.
The compilation Renunciation through Wisdom remained unfinished.

5. How book translations are created

Work on translations of Prabhupada's books in many ways differs from the production of other books. To speak English very well or to be a professional translator is not enough. In addition to a solid knowledge of the source and target languages one must thoroughly know bhakti-yoga philosophy and live according its principles. Passing a test is another requirement. Then comes practice, because "no one learned fell from heaven", as the Czech saying goes. For the BBT service this applies even more.

Production Manager

A key figure in book production, creates a production line and ensures that everyone is doing his job. There needs to be a balance between quality and speed of production and no "bottlenecks" that slow production down. This position carries responsibility for all the dedicated people working on the book production. Serves as an interface between production devotees and BBT leaders and trustees.
Production manager must know well the devotees who work under him, monitor their work, inventory status and order what is needed. He must also know hardware and have a basic idea of their use and small repairs. For major repairs needs to contact authorized repair shops.

Editorial manager

Coordinates the production line, communicates with Sweden, decides about the design of books after consultation with sankirtan devotees, arranges for economic support and printing.

Production line

The production line itself consists of at least three dedicated people: a translator, a first and a second editor, who, in the absence of a proofreader, also performs proofreading and final work. There may be more editors, but due to the specific requirements for this service, BBT usually does not have enough dedicated ones. All team members have a great responsibility, which they must be constantly aware of.


is the most important member of the production line. He is the intermediary between Prabhupada and the readers, and his words are of key importance in spreading the philosophy of Krisna consciousness.
The task of the translator is to translate the text from English into Czech faithfully, clearly, grammatically and legibly. He must stick to the original (not add his own interpretations) and have an excellent knowledge of Vaishnava philosophy. Its ignorance can be a stumbling block for external professional translators that BBT can employ if needed.
Job description: The translator writes the translation using a text editor and hands the resulting file or its printout to the first editor. He should not interfere with the next process, except for reactions to the editors's suggestions.

First Editor

must be able to find and correct translator's errors - grammatical, stylistic, factual and sometimes philosophical ones. Compares the translation with the English original and, if necessary, with original manuscripts or transcripts (if they have survived). Must also verify the facts. Needs knowledge of Indian scripts, realities, history, geography, natural history etc. When needed, experienced devotees or subject matter experts are consulted. BBT for this purpose runs email conferences where one can get insightful answers to questions. These are archived. It's a very demanding activity that requires much concentration.
The first editor with the help of authoritative manuals on grammar and style and in discussion with other members of the production line creates a style sheet with standards. Also announces to the translator corrections in the text so that errors are not repeated and the team's work improves.
Job description: The first editor corrected the text on paper and then entered the corrections carefully into a file that was printed out for the next editor. If there were not many errors, the same printout could be given to the second editor. Later the paper was skipped and only files were exchanged.

Second Editor

corrects mistakes or oversights of the first editor. His knowledge of target language should therefore be even better. He focuses on target language and looks at the original only if something is unclear. Ideally, he should consult these cases with colleagues.
Job content: The second editor writes his corrections to the file. He then passes or prints it to the proofreader.


must have a great feel for detail, not miss even the smallest errors that have been overlooked. Must guarantee that no part of the text was lost during production. Sometimes may catch even bigger errors, but has to remember that he is neither translator nor editor. Draws other colleagues's attention to persistent and more serious problems. Like them, must have above-average patience and a calm nature. Long-term practice and the help of Krisna in the form of Paramatma is irreplaceable.
Job description: The proofreader checks the text and enters the found errors into a file, thus ready for the finalization.


is carried out in close cooperation with the Swedish BBT center. Previously, the personal presence of an authorized Czech devotee was necessary, which I had the good fortune to be repeatedly in the years 1995-2005. With the help of a special software this devotee (usually a proofreader or one of the editors) hyphenates the words, prepares each page taking into account the specific BBT graphic rules, in some cases stricter than in other publishers, prepares the front and back parts of the book and finally prints the whole book with numbered pages. He corrects this version, selects images from the archive for the book and cover, and translates captions.
Specialized devotees will do the graphic design of the cover and the pictorial part and finally the typesetting of the book. The result was so-called films, or transparencies with etched text. They still had to be checked to see if they were complete, error-free and marked. Films were later replaced by printing from pdf files.


is carried out by the printer that best meets the specific BBT requirements. Our books are unusual in their large print runs, so printers really try to accommodate us. BBT is represented by its editor-in-chief in this function.


From the printing press the books travel to the warehouse, from where the devotees gradually transport them to the warehouse in the temple. Sankirtan devotees travel the country with them and offer them to people in every town and village. It is a very demanding service, the reach of which cannot be fully appreciated. I recommend the book The Nectar of Book Distribution, BBT 1993, to those interested. People get spiritual benefit from them and change their lives for the better. Some feel so moved by them that they become devotees of Krisna themselves. This is how the wishes of Sri Chaitanya, who founded this sankirtan mission here on Earth five hundred years ago, are gradually fulfilled.

"When we go to distribute books, we do it in a very organized way all over the world, and it is very successful, very successful." (lecture, Bhagavad-gita 4.23, Mumbai, April 12, 1974)

Final words and thanks

"Until then, something Prabhupada once said to his Sanskrit editor keeps Gopiparánadhana focused: 'All the boys and girls engaged in editing and correcting my books will surely become great devotees. To have to scrutinize these books so closely is a very intimate association with Krisna.'" (Friends of the BBT newsletter, September 2007)

"You have taken seriously this work and I know that my guru maharaj is pleased with you because he wanted this. So by this your endeavor you will all go back home back to Godhead." (letter to Ramesvara & Co (BBT Los Angeles), Vrindavan, September 1, 1975)

My thanks for the clarifying comments, especially on chapter 4.2, go to:
Jaya Gurudeva dasa (ACBSP), the world's leading book distributor and translator of SB 1 into Czech
Lomancita dasa (PVS), the first BBT representative in Czechoslovakia and a long-time president of the Prague temple
Narakriti dasa (BVS), the current president of the Prague temple
colleagues from BBT:
chief translator Punya Palaka dasa (BVS)
editor-in-chief Trilókatma dasa (BVS)
translator and editor in 80's-90's Tattva darsi dasa (BGNS)

For completeness's sake I add that I have served in the Czech BBT since 1994 as the first editor of the most books.

Sankirtana-jajna ki jaya! Patita Pavana Srila Prabhupada and all his followers ki jaya!

6. Bibliography

Ekanath dass - Unzipping the Purports (study and seminar, English), Radhadesh 2000.
Govinda Madhava dasa - Srila Prabhupada's Literary Heritage (study, English), 2001.
Hare Krisna (magazine, Italian), undated.
Historie hnutí Hare Krišna v Československu 1896-1989 (inside publication, Czech), 2017.
BBT Trustees - BBT Hand Book: An explanation of The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust (book, English), The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1987.
International BBT News (magazine, English), #4, The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 1994.
Brahmananda Swami - The Books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, BTG #52, 1973
Kniha pro všechny lidi (magazine, Czech), Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, 1997.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada: Founder-Acharya of the Golden Age
Brilliant as the Sun (Czech subtitles) (ITV video about BBT, 1976 - here is seen technological level of book production at that time)
BBT Addresses the use of "Blessed Lord"
Srila Prabhupada Slokas - Tracing the Unknown by Hari Parshad Das
Pre-test of Survey for SB 4.25.41 comprehension
comments on controversial points
Sri Isopanisad (not Nectar of Instruction) in Arabic
Science of Self-Realization in Skoda Kodiaq Indian commercial

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