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Infallibility of Guru and Shastra


Question

I read your letter stating that in your view, Draupadi was not disrobed by the Kurus. However, Srila Prabhupada describes this scene various times throughout his purports. Are you not worried that by contradicting Srila Prabhupada’s statements, the devotees may lose their faith in Srila Prabhupada? Also, I’ve noticed that when you quote the Gita, you often do not use Srila Prabhupada’s translation. Why is this?

Answer

H.D. Goswami Profile Picture

I appreciate your concerns and will address your points.

Translation issue:
  1. Srila Prabhupada said that “there can be many translations” of the Gita. He himself translated the same verse in different ways in different contexts, and said that his disciples could also translate. So at times when I am trying to make a point, I give a very literal translation.
  2. Prabhupada wrote to me: “Read my books and explain them in your own words.”  Also, in his first letter to me he said, “I want you to be nicely educated and explain Krishna consciousness to similarly educated people.” So in obedience to these words, I try to translate Sanskrit verses in a very literal way, since that is what educated people often expect in a translation.
  3. I am well aware that Prabhupada is far more Krishna conscious than me. Prabhupada knows Krishna intimately, and I can only know something of Krishna by his mercy and blessing. Krishna is fully present in Prabhupada’s books and translations. It is Prabhupada who is saving the world, who is revealing Krishna in this world. As his small servant, I am trying to serve his mission according to his instructions to me.
 
The case of Draupadi:
 
  1. Prabhupada emphatically taught that the Guru’s teachings are infallible because the Guru is simply repeating Shastra.  
  2. Similarly in his Sandarbhas, Srila Jiva Goswami explains that Shastra and Guru are infallible in matters of siddhanta, or the philosophical conclusions regarding God, the soul, and nature.
  3. We find that great Acaryas, pure devotees, disagree on matters of detail of lila and sadhana, issues that are not siddhanta.
  4. Prabhupada and Shastra also clearly teach that one must apply the test of Guru, Sadhu, and Shastra. So, in obedience to all these principles, and based on Madhvacarya’s declaration that the Mahabharata is a corrupt text, I tend to rely on Srimad-Bhagavatam, which four times mentions the insult to Draupadi in the gambling hall, each time saying that the Kurus offended her by touching/pulling her hair. I do not deny or reject Prabhupada’s teaching on this matter, I simply focus on what I find in the Bhagavatam.

We should also note that great Acaryas, through their advanced realizations, envision many ‘transhistorical’ details of Krishna Lila. We find this extensively in the writings of Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura, Rupa Goswami, and, I would say, Srila Prabhupada. My understanding is that great Acaryas envision Krishna Lila on a pure spiritual platform, and do not necessarily, in a literal sense, look back in time. For example, in his translation of SBh 7.9.40, Prabhupada says that Prahlada Maharaja warns us not to listen to “cinema songs.” The highly Indian term “cinema songs” is a non-literal translation of the Sanskrit ‘sravanam’, ‘hearing.’ I doubt that Prabhupada believed that millions of years ago on a different planet, Prahlada Maharaja literally spoke of ‘cinema songs.’ There are of course other examples.

Yet, Prabhupada is perfectly making a philosophical point and that I believe is his real concern. In general, Prabhupada uses a non-literal translation style. He even told his Sanskrit editors, just before his disappearance, that he was interested in only doing purports, not translations, since the purports were his real concern.
 
My conclusion: I understand that some devotees don’t like my approach to these matters. And some devotees state that my approach allows them to remain with ISKCON and Prabhupada. Inevitably in every religion on earth, we will find faithful members taking different approaches on these issues. I am confident that I am faithfully serving Prabhupada, and whatever liberties I take are within the boundaries of Prabhupada’s own teachings, which I accept as authoritative.