Srila Prabhupada on Who Can Translate



1 JULY, 2018

Recently I’ve taken part in discussion online with various devotees on whether there is any harm in reading or using Hrdayananda’s translation of the 11th and 12th cantos of the Srimad Bhagavatam. The rationale for using his translations was that technically, translation work itself does not necessitate a liberated, self-realized soul, whereas purports or commentary does require such qualification. Therefore, there is no harm in reading just the translated verses of the 11th and 12th cantos of the Bhagatavam, ignoring the purports of the non-liberated, non-self-realized Hrdayananda. Another side to this rationale was that the translation itself is always truth or fact, irrespective of who it is being translated by. While these arguments may sound appealing, after some research I found that they were lacking a crucial consideration which Srila Prabhupada set in place for who can translate and who can’t. That consideration is that one must be a devotee within our parampara or line of thinking in order to translate. Additionally, we should receive topics of the Lord and His activities by such devotees. Those that usurp the position of the spiritual master and themselves pose as spiritual masters, as well as anyone who supports such actions, can no longer be considered devotees in our parampara; Nor should we hear or accept their attempts to translate vedic literature, nor should we reproduce their unauthorized work for others, especially when the very books we are quoting from contain commentaries by such conditioned souls, which is a category of its own (see We don’t allow any literature which is not given by liberated soul). Herein I have presented the results of my research on the subject from Srila Prabhupada’s teachings.


Srila Prabhupada allowed new comers – but devotees – to translate:

“When a person is willing to help with our mission, he is also a devotee, so there is no question of him being nondevotee. But they must translate as it is, they must not deviate. Anyway, our motto should be to somehow or other express the objectives of Krishna Consciousness to the German-speaking people.” (Letter to Krsna dasa—Los Angeles 13 February, 1969)

“The difficulty is that unless one is in our line of thought it is very difficult for him to translate nicely. If Mr. Ganguly would have come to our line of thought or, in other words, become one of us as a student, he could have improved nicely.” (Letter to Giriraja—Nairobi28 September, 1971)

“I am very glad to hear that Louise Bourassa has joined us. Thank her for understanding our philosophy. She is PhD., so she may translate all of my books into French language in cooperation with Yogesvara at ISKCON Press in New York, who is in charge of the foreign languages printing of my books. She may also write article for BTG why she came to KC and comparing our philosophy to others. […] 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.” (Letter to Rudra and Radhika, Feb. 20, 1972 – Calcutta)


Translating from Sanskrit

Bhūgarbha: He says that when one translates from Sanskrit into English and from English into French, that it’s not exactly the same thing in French that it was in Sanskrit, he feels…

Prabhupāda: No, if from Sanskrit to French can be translated, I have no objection. But we have no such arrangement.

Yogeśvara: We have no Sanskrit scholars in French yet, no.

Prabhupāda: Not only scholar, not only scholar, he must be a realized soul. Simply scholars will not help, simply scholarship will not help. There are many Sanskrit scholars in India. There are many Sanskrit scholars, original Sanskrit scholars in India, they cannot understand Bhāgavata.

Yogeśvara: Professor Chenique’s point is that we are seeking to introduce these books on a university level, and there’s a certain standard that must be met.

Prabhupāda: What is that standard?

Bhūgarbha: He’s just saying that the style of French, he feels that it’s too many words.

Prabhupāda: French, he must be French, expert in language, at the same time, a devotee. Then he can explain. Otherwise no. Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s secretary, Svarūpa Dāmodara, he asked that brāhmaṇa, bhāgavata paḍā giyā bhāgavata sthāne:(?) “Go and study Bhāgavata from bhāgavata.” I have discussed this in the beginning of translation of Bhāgavata. So Bhāgavata, that is the limit of education. Vidyā bhāgavata vadhiḥ.(?) One has to study and take education up to Bhāgavatam. That is, if one understands Bhāgavatam, he’s finished his education.

(Room Conversation with Professor Francois Chenique—August 5, 1976, New Mayapur (French farm))


“[translating] works in the future that you may not see”

Satsvarūpa: 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 Purāṇa or the Ṣaṭ-Sandarbha may be translated. But what would the system be to insure the paramparā if you would not personally see these translations?

Prabhupāda: 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)


Taking Sanskrit word meanings by paramparā

Paramahaṁsa: In some cases, in a more controversial case, the word chosen, or the meaning chosen for a particular Sanskrit word, may change the whole meaning of the verse, but because…

Prabhupāda: Therefore you have to take the paramparā meaning. Because we are foolish, we cannot understand properly. Tad vijñārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet. Therefore, one has to go to guru and understand the meaning by paramparā. You cannot make your own meaning. The meaning is already there. But if you cannot understand, then you should approach guru and understand the meaning by paramparā. (Evening Discussion—May 6, 1975, Perth)


With full paramparā explanation

“…when the demand for Bhagavad-gītā As It Is considerably increased, I was requested by many scholars and devotees to present the book in its original form, and Messrs. Macmillan and Co. agreed to publish the complete edition. Thus the present attempt is to offer the original manuscript of this great book of knowledge with full paramparā explanation in order to establish the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement more soundly and progressively.” (Bhagavad-gita As It Is Preface (1972 edition))


Translation must be approved by the acharya, disciplic succession.

Prabhupāda: Recently one gentleman from India… He is a man of very good position, ICS, the old ICS, British ICS, Indian Civil Service. They are the topmost service. So he sent me one translation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. So perhaps you know. Gargamuni knows. So I rejected it, that “No, this cannot be published. There are so many anomalies.” And so his daughter is here in Los Angeles. So she came with her husband and took back. So we do not publish anything which is not approved by the ācāryas. We are not like ordinary press, that anything and anything will come and we shall publish. No. That is not our business. It must be approved, as we are presenting Bhagavad-gītā as it is, no mental concoction. We don’t allow any mental concoction. It must be approved by the ācārya, disciplic succession. Then it is nice. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 2.1.1 Lecture—Los Angeles, July 1, 1970)


Srila Prabhupada defines realization:

“Personal realization does not mean that one should, out of vanity, attempt to show one’s own learning by trying to surpass the previous ācārya.  He must have full confidence in the previous ācārya, and at the same time he must realize the subject matter so nicely that he can present the matter for the particular circumstances in a suitable manner.  The original purpose of the text must be maintained.  No obscure meaning should be screwed out of it, yet it should be presented in an interesting manner for the understanding of the audience.  This is called realization. The leader of the assembly, Śaunaka, could estimate the value of the speaker, Śrī Sūta Gosvāmī, simply by his uttering yathādhītam and yathā-mati, and therefore he was very glad to congratulate him in ecstasy.  No learned man should be willing to hear a person who does not represent the original ācārya. So the speaker and the audience were bona fide in this meeting where Bhagavatam was being recited for the second time. That should be the standard of recitation of Bhagavatam, so that the real purpose can be served without difficulty. Unless this situation is created, Bhagavatam recitation for extraneous purposes is useless labor both for the speaker and for the audience.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam SB 1.4.1 purprot)


Nondevotee professional reciters without any realization should not be heard.

“Those who are not vaiṣṇava, those who are not devotees, one should not hear from them. It is useless. It is useless, waste of time. Śravaṇaṁ na kartavyaṁ sarpocchiṣṭaṁ payo yathā. Just like milk touched by the lips of a serpent is poison. You cannot say it is milk, very nice. No. Because it is touched by the lips of the serpent it is useless. Similarly, as soon as a professional reciter or a avaiṣṇava reciter, without any realization, without being a devotee of the Lord cites, recites, that should not be heard. That is restricted by Sanātana Gosvāmī. Avaiṣṇava mukhodgīrṇaṁ pūtaṁ hari-kathāmṛtaṁ śravaṇaṁ naiva kartavyam. Because you’ll not derive any benefit. You go on hearing for thousand of years. Thousands of years, still you’ll remain where you were in the beginning.” (Lecture: Nectar of Devotion Lectures : The Nectar of Devotion — Bombay, January 10, 1973


Hearing the statements of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from professional reciters


Citraketu was a great devotee (mahātmā). If one hears this history of Citraketu from a pure devotee, the listener also is freed from the conditional life of material existence.


The historical incidents in the purāṇas, such as the history of Citraketu explained in the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, are sometimes misunderstood by outsiders, or nondevotees. Therefore Śukadeva Gosvāmī advised that the history of Citraketu be heard from a devotee. Anything about devotional service or the characteristics of the Lord and His devotees must be heard from a devotee, not from a professional reciter. This is advised herein. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s secretary also advised that one learn the history of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from a devotee: yāha, bhāgavata pada vaiṣṇavera sthāne. One should not hear the statements of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from professional reciters, or else they will not be effective. Quoting from Padma Purāṇa, Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī has strictly forbidden us to hear about the activities of the Lord and His devotees from the mouths of nondevotees:


pūtaṁ hari-kathāmṛtam

śravaṇaṁ naiva kartavyaṁ

sarpocchiṣṭaṁ yathā payaḥ

“One should not hear anything about Kṛṣṇa from a non-Vaiṣṇava. Milk touched by the lips of a serpent has poisonous effects; similarly, talks about Kṛṣṇa given by a non-Vaiṣṇava are also poisonous.” One must be a bona fide devotee, and then he can preach and impress devotional service upon his listeners. (SB 6.17.40)


Professional translation

Gargamuni: The man at the Sampurnanand Sanskrit Library at BHU, when he saw the Hindi Bhāgavatam, he said, “I will order fifty sets for our various sub-libraries.” He said, “This is wonderful.” Because the only Hindi Bhāgavatam is that Gītā Press, which is useless. There is no commentary, it is so unattractive.

Prabhupāda: Prepared by nondevotees. How you can expect? Bhaktyā mām abhijānāti [Bg. 18.55]. Without being devotee, who will understand Bhāgavatam? It is not so easy. Big, big paṇḍitas, they cannot understand Bhāgavatam even.

Gargamuni: In BHU all the scholars had great eagerness for this Bhāgavatam Hindi, because it is the only one.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Never been done before.

Gargamuni: No, there is only Gītā Press.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: Very surprising.

Gargamuni: That’s all.

Tamāla Kṛṣṇa: But what about in Bengali, there must be…

Prabhupāda: No, no, that is rubbish. They do not what is Bhāgavata. How they will translate? Professional translation is not. Bhāgavata-pado giya bhāgavata sthāne.(?) “Whose life is Bhāgavata, go there and read Bhāgavata.” That is the recommendation. That is the order of Svarūpa Dāmodara Gosvāmī. Ordinary men, what they will understand, Bhāgavata? Bhāgavata is not for ordinary men. Paramo nirmatsarāṇāṁ satāṁ vāstavam vastu vedyam atra [SB 1.1.2]. In the beginning it is said unless one is paramahaṁsa, he cannot understand. Paramo nirmatsarāṇām. (Room Conversation—April 2, 1977, Bombay)


Srimad Bhagavatam, although it is amṛta, nectar, it is not to be received from the mouth of a nondevotee.

Bhāgavata means this, one who is related with Bhagavān. Bhāgavata. From bhagavat-śabda, from the word bhāgavata, bhāgavata. So bhāgavata means the grantha-bhāgavata, the book Bhāgavata, and the devotee bhāgavata. So either you read Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam… But Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam should be relished, understood through person bhāgavatam. It is recommendation. Svarūpa Dāmodara, Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s secretary, personal secretary, he chastised one brāhmaṇa. He wrote something wrong, and after all, he gave him advice that “If you want to study Bhāgavata, then bhāgavata paro giya bhāgavata sthāne(?), try to understand Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam from a devotee, not from a professional man who is earning his livelihood by reading Bhāgavata.” He must be practical bhāgavata. Then you will gain. Sanātana Gosvāmī has also said that avaiṣṇava-mukhodgīrṇaṁ pūtaṁ hari-kathāmṛtam. Hari-kathā, amṛta, nectar, but still, although it is amṛta, it is not to be received from the mouth of a nondevotee. One must be practical devotee, pure devotee. When he speaks, you should receive Bhāgavata, the message of Bhāgavata, Bhagavad-gītā from him. Avaiṣṇava-mukhodgīrṇaṁ pūtaṁ hari-kathāmṛtam, śravaṇaṁ naiva kartavyam. Do not hear. Reject. Professional readers. Reject immediately. Those who are earning their livelihood by the Bhāgavata reading profession, you should immediately reject. This is the injunction. Not that “Oh, here is Bhāgavata. Here is Bhāgavata. I must sit down.” No. Sanātana Gosvāmī says no. Śravaṇaṁ naiva kartavyam.

Why? Hari-kathā. “He may be whatever he may be, but he’s speaking Bhāgavata. What is the harm to hear from him?” One can argue like that. No, Sanātana Gosvāmī says, “Yes, sarpocchiṣṭaṁ yathā payaḥ. Milk is amṛta, nice, but as soon as it is touched by the tongue of a serpent, it is, it is poison.” Sarpocchiṣṭaṁ yathā payaḥ. He has given this very example. Milk is very nice, undoubtedly. Everyone will agree. But as soon as it is touched by the lip of a serpent, you cannot drink it. Then you’ll die. Now Caitanya Mahāprabhu has also warned like that, that māyāvādi-bhāṣya śunile haya sarva-nāśa [Cc. Madhya 6.169]. If you hear from a Māyāvādī who misinterprets things according to their whims, so then you’ll be spoiled. You’ll not get any benefit. And Svarūpa Dāmodara, secretary of Lord Caitanya, he has also the same thing, that bhāgavata paro giya bhāgavata sthāne. Those who are practical bhāgavata, life bhāgavata, from them, from him try to understand Bhāgavata.

So Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s instruction, His secretary’s instruction, and Sanātana Gosvāmīs… These are mahājana. Mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ [Cc. Madhya 17.186]. We have to follow the path of great personalities. Not of the fools and rascals. Then you’ll get the result. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.18—Vṛndāvana, October 29, 1972)


Seemingly transcendental sound received from an unauthorized person has no potency.


The letters of the holy name have so much spiritual potency that they act even when uttered improperly.


Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura states that the word vyavahita (“improperly uttered”) is not used here to refer to the mundane vibration of the letters of the alphabet. Such negligent utterance for the sense gratification of materialistic persons is not a vibration of transcendental sound. Utterance of the holy name while one engages in sense gratification is an impediment on the path toward achieving ecstatic love for Kṛṣṇa. On the other hand, if one who is eager for devotional service utters the holy name even partially or improperly, the holy name, who is identical with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, exhibits its spiritual potency because of that person’s offenseless utterance. Thus one is relieved from all unwanted practices, and one gradually awakens his dormant love for Kṛṣṇa. (Cc Antya-lila 3.59)


[…] The potency of transcendental sound is never minimized because the vibrator is apparently absent. Therefore Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam or Bhagavad-gītā or any revealed scripture in the world is never to be accepted as an ordinary mundane sound without transcendental potency.

One has to receive the transcendental sound from the right source, accept it as a reality and prosecute the direction without hesitation. The secret of success is to receive the sound from the right source of a bona fide spiritual master. Mundane manufactured sound has no potency, and as such, seemingly transcendental sound received from an unauthorized person also has no potency. One should be qualified enough to discern such transcendental potency, and either by discriminating or by fortunate chance if one is able to receive the transcendental sound from the bona fide spiritual master, his path of liberation is guaranteed. The disciple, however, must be ready to execute the order of the bona fide spiritual master as Lord Brahmā executed the instruction of his spiritual master, the Lord Himself. Following the order of the bona fide spiritual master is the only duty of the disciple, and this completely faithful execution of the order of the bona fide spiritual master is the secret of success. […] (SB 2.9.8 purport)


Persons who deviate from the strict order of the spiritual master are useless.


The order of the spiritual master is the active principle in spiritual life. Anyone who disobeys the order of the spiritual master immediately becomes useless.


Here is the opinion of Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī. Persons who strictly follow the orders of the spiritual master are useful in executing the will of the Supreme, whereas persons who deviate from the strict order of the spiritual master are useless. (CC Adi-lila 12.10 purport)


He cannot be śikṣā-guru or anything else.

“A śikṣā-guru who instructs against the instruction of spiritual, he is not a śikṣā guru. He is a demon. […] If one is disobeying the spiritual master, he cannot remain in the pure status of life. He cannot be śikṣā-guru or anything else. He is finished, immediately.” (Lecture, Bhagavad-gītā 17.1-3—Honolulu, July 4, 1974)


Should not be respected but rejected.

“A mundane person in the dress of a Vaisnava should not be respected but rejected. […] There are many jealous people in the dress of Vaisnavas in this Krsna consciousness movement, and they should be completely neglected.”  (Cc Madhya-lila 1.218 Purport)



Srila Prabhupada gave us all we need in his books, and we should stick to those.

There is no need by any of my disciples to read any books besides my books—in fact, such reading may be detrimental to their advancement in Krishna Consciousness. All reading of outside books, except in certain authorized cases such as for example to read some philosopher like Plato to make an essay comparing his philosophy with Krishna’s philosophy—but otherwise all such outside reading should be stopped immediately. It is simply another botheration. If my students cannot even read my own books thoroughly, why they should read others? I have given you TLC, what need is there to read Caitanya Caritamrta translated by someone else. You are right to stop such reading.” (Letter to Sri Govinda—Jaipur 20 January, 1972)


“Bhakti Vilas Tirtha is very much antagonistic to our society and he has no clear conception of devotional service. He is contaminated. Anyway, who has introduced these books? You say that you would read only one book if that was all that I had written, so you teach others to do like that. You have very good determination.” (Letter to Sukadeva, 14 November, 1973)


“Whatever is to be learned of the teachings of Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura can be learned from our books. There is no need whatsoever for any outside instruction.” (Letter to: Gurukrpa , Yasodanandana—Los Angeles 25 December, 1973)


“I am pleased to hear that you are chanting 16 rounds daily and reading my books regularly and following the four rules. In my books the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness is explained fully so if there is anything which you do not understand, then you simply have to read again and again. By reading daily the knowledge will be revealed to you and by this process your spiritual life will develop.” (Letter–Bombay 22 November, 1974)


Paramahaṁsa: Yeah, that was, the reason was because of, he didn’t want the devotees going to Gauḍīya Maṭha. But there’s nothing wrong with the idea of studying the previous ācāryas’ books.

Prabhupāda: No. Who said? That is wrong. We are following previous ācāryas. I never said that.

Paramahaṁsa: All of your commentaries are coming from the previous ācāryas.

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Jayadharma: But that wouldn’t mean that we should keep all the previous ācāryas’ books and only read them.

Prabhupāda: That is already there. You first of all assimilate what you have got. You simply pile up books and do not read—what is the use?

Jayadharma: First of all we must read all your books.

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Paramahaṁsa: Practically speaking, Śrīla Prabhupāda, you are giving us the essence of all the previous ācāryas’ books in your books.

Prabhupāda: Yes. Yes.

(Morning Walk—May 13, 1975, Perth)


In the case of the Srimad Bhagavatam…


[Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja:] I am now almost an invalid because of old age, and I know that at any moment I may die. Therefore I have already described some portions of the antya-līlā.


Following in the footsteps of Śrīla Kṛṣṇadāsa Kavirāja Gosvāmī, I am trying to translate Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as quickly as possible. However, knowing myself to be an old man and almost an invalid because of rheumatism, I have already translated the essence of all literatures, the Tenth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, as a summary study in English. I started the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement at the age of seventy. Now I am seventy-eight, and so my death is imminent. I am trying to finish the translation of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam as soon as possible, but before finishing it, I have given my readers the book Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, so that if I die before finishing the whole task they may enjoy this book, which is the essence of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. (CC Antya-lila 1.11)


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