Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Gaudiya Grantha Mandir : Current State of Affairs

A couple of hopeful developments going down on the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir front. I am going to Vrindavan at the end of this month to discuss Bhagavat-sandarbha with Satya Narayan, but also to meet with him and Shrivatsa Goswami about whether there is any way that the GGM project can be pushed ahead. Both of them have recognized the importance of the project and expressed interest in doing something. Let us see whether a spirit of benevolence and cooperation can be established.

I have also been asked to speak about the GGM on a video conference that will be held at the Universidad de Antioquia in Bolivia. Of course, what I say there will be more about hope than realities, because the truth is that the current situation at GGM is pretty pathetic.

Madhavananda's abdication has left us with even less resources than before. From the time he went to Radha Kund he pretty much stopped keeping the site functioning. Actually, GGM was almost totally dependent on Madhava and his contribution was inestimable. It frankly would never have happened without him, and whatever he did he did with enthusiasm and good grace. I am, and indeed the entire Vaishnava world should be, forever indebted to him for the service he rendered to this project. We have, after all, had literally hundreds of thousands of downloads. More than 1200 people signed on as members. The unfortunate thing is that all this work is now going down the drain because without his programming abilities we cannot keep it up.

Here is the current status of the Grantha Mandir:

When I was last in Vrindavan, I heard that some people in Iskcon were planning to duplicate or do something comparable to the GGM and this leaves me frankly seething. Though I have tremendous respect for everything that Iskcon has done, to be honest, I do not trust them. They have shown in Mayapur and Vrindavan that they are not team players. In fact, they are bullies and will only play if they can keep the ball. Their arrogance is based on a sense of entitlement that is a result of their preaching successes and opulence. Srila Prabhupada once said of the Gaudiya Math that they would not even fart if they thought it would help their "competitor" (namely Iskcon), and now Iskcon has learned this same art of methane retention. This has been amply proved in Braj by the current status of Friends of Vrindavan. How much better it would have been if there could have been true cooperation and support! Another example is the World Vaishnava Association.

So I would not trust Iskcon to understand the concept of the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir. When I was in Mayapur, Gadadhar Pran talked about the Gaudiya Math edition of Chaitanya Mangala, which was published with a whole section missing, one that describes Vishnupriya and Mahaprabhu's lovemaking before he departed to take sannyas. This is the extent to which sectarianism goes to suppress truth.

But then, who has understood the concept of the GGM? What was the idea?

Create a scholars' open-source textual resource.

Sometimes people complain to me, there are so many mistakes in the texts on the GGM. I practically splutter in frustration! Satya Narayan was having someone else type the Sandarbhas in from beginning to end. That makes a lot of sense--duplicate the work! Dig the hole again, when all you have to do is edit the text.

But the point of GGM was: Make use of the texts, but show your gratitude by sending in your corrections. Do a little service to the rest of the world by making an improved text available. Use the "track changes" function on your MS-Word and we can see whether the changes are due to mistakes or alternative readings. Let us know what manuscript you used and we will update our entry, with a nice word of acknowledgement. Your name will be immortalized.

Of course, even this is too much for most people. I understand. You are busy translating a text or doing research on it; why take on extra chores? But even if you don't think ahead, if you just send in your finished version of the text, we can compare documents and come up with something.

Has anybody done that? Yes, a few mahatmas have. Mostly devotees, but a few scholars also have made contributions, including Andres Rodrigues of UPB. Not enough devotees are scholars; not enough scholars are willing to share in this way. Just recently I talked to someone who has translated Padyavali and he complained to me that the GGM version had too many mistakes. [He also thought I was a Mayavadi because I had posted something about Madhusudana Saraswati on this blog!] I explained to him what I just wrote above and he said, "Yes, I understand," and agreed to help, but I have heard nothing since. Of course, the current immobilism of the site does not make it easier. He may be trying and I would not even know.

One problem, for many Indian scholars, has been that we use transliterated text. Converting from transliterated text is not impossible, but too few people have the computer literacy to attempt such things. Omkarananda Ashram has created a ITRANS tool that converts very easily and quickly. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be able to go backwards. Anyway, no problem is insurmountable, if the will is there.

So the long and short is, the GGM has become a mostly one man show. I have not been enough of a go-getter to approach organizations, foundations or benefactors to get the kind of financial help that would make it work. Not being a card-carrying member of academia does not help.

Critical editions

Is it a value? Do we really need better critically edited versions of these texts? The Chaitanya Mangala example, given above, is a good one. What if people start saying that someone has interpolated this section about Gauranga's last night with Vishnupriya? If there is no reliable, unbiased source of texts, that is the kind of thing that could happen. This is a major case, but there could be many less severe examples of the same sort.

Below is an example of what a critical edition looks like in transliteration. The best or truest reading (i.e., that which is probably closest to what the original author wrote, as far as can be discerned through a critical assessment of the sources, etc.) is in bold. Footnotes show alternative readings from different printed or manuscript editions. This is Gopala Tapani Upanishad.

Printed editions have a big disadvantage in that they cannot be updated. Small corrections, for example, do not warrant costly reprints, especially in small runs as is usual in the case of Sanskrit or other texts of this sort. If I printed the GTU, I or somebody else would not be able to make any changes if an important new manuscript were discovered that altered the understanding of the original author's intent. With digital texts and an open source network, that should be possible. Through constantly improving and updating, one should be reasonably confident of always having the best resources to work with.


An electronic tool for scholars of Vaishnavism.

The Grantha Mandir is part of the fourth wave of evolution of literary media, from oral tradition, to writing, to printing, to digitization. Digitizing texts makes them available and easily accessible for all time.

Though work in the digitization of Sanskrit and other Indian languages languishes far behind what has been done for other classical and literary languages such as Latin and Greek, efforts in this direction are beginning to pick up considerably. Individual efforts by certain scholars, centralizing efforts such as the Gretil site in Tubingen, as well as certain sectarian organizations have begun digitalizing texts and compiling them. However, these projects are not coordinated and generally confined to the specific interests of individual researchers.

The Gaudiya Grantha Mandira specializes in digitizing texts that would be of specific interest to scholars of Vaishnavism, including both sectarian and non-sectarian works, most of which have been underrepresented in the digitalizing work that has been done so far.

The GGM is a Sanskrit text repository that currently has:

-- More than 600 text files.
• Mostly in Sanskrit, but also in Bengali, Brajabhasha, Orissan.
• Mostly related to Gaudiya Vaishnavism (charita, kavya, darshan, stotra), but also other Hindu traditions (e.g., yoga or Advaita-vedanta) or Sanskrit literature traditions (e.g., kavya, nataka, vyakarana, chandas, kama-shastra, subhashita).

-- nearly 1200 members from around the world.
• including academics
• and devotee scholars
• lovers of Sanskrit and Indian culture

-- More than 400,000 texts have so far been downloaded for free.

Digitized texts present the following advantages for scholars—
• Cross referencing
• Search function
• Database functions
• Facility for publication
A good example of this is in the current work I am doing on Bhagavat-sandarbha. Satya Narayan has agreed that since most readers of the translation are either incapable of following the Sanskrit or uninterested, it makes sense to refer those who do have an interest to the online text, which is being intensely edited as I go through the work. This will save on printing costs and at the same time make the text available for anyone who does want to publish it in either Devanagari, or some other script.

Texts in Roman transliteration
• The availability in transliterated forms facilitates learning and reading other languages, e.g. Orissan, that are cognate but whose script may be unknown.
• It make conversion to various other platforms easier.
• It also facilitates searches and other information technology tasks.

The opportunity provided by information technology to engage in research should not be underestimated for the study of the history and doctrines of any cultural phenomenon.

Projects that we look forward to completing—

• Current work includes commentaries on Krishna-bhavanamrita, Govinda-lilamrita, Radha-rasa-sudhanidhi, Yoga-sutra. Constant updating of already available texts, such as the Sandarbhas.
• Many more Gita commentaries.
• Bhagavata commentaries (10 from Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition and many commentaries from other traditions.)
• Brihad-bhagavatamrita commentaries
• Vaishnava padavali
• Braj bhasha literature (Nimbarka, Haridasi, Radhavallabhi, Gaudiya)
• Vedanta-sutra bhashyas of different traditions (Govinda-bhashya, Nimbarka, Keshava Kashmiri, Vallabha)
• Orissan (Pancha-sakha, Chaitanyaite texts.)
• Assami texts. (Cross-pollination of traditions is something that can be learned through comparative studies.)
• Hundreds of other texts discovered in the last century, some published some not.
• Concordances and indexes

Funds are needed—

• To track down rare literature, manuscripts. Much is now available on microfiche, etc., and can be purchased. This will require travel to India and engaging people to do the work.
• Hire typists who have an elementary knowledge of Sanskrit—enough to be able to recognize sandhi, etc.
• Engage information technicians to do some of the programming work that will be need to upgrade the database technology, to insert links and cross-references, etc.
• Technicians, eventually, to make everything available on DVD.
• Hardware here and in India, as well as communications expenses (internet connections, software packages, etc.)
• Give some compensation to contributors, editors and webmasters for the thousands of hours they have devoted to this work and will do in the future. Nearly everything that has been posted so far is the work of three persons, though there have been significant contributions made by other individuals, which we have recognized on the site.


I mentioned to John Smith of Cambridge that I was "looking for a patron." He wrote back:

Good luck with the search for a patron; I hope you get a good one. You probably know Johnson's acid response to his soi-disant patron, Chesterfield: "Is not a Patron, my Lord, one who looks with unconcern on a man struggling for life in the water, and, when he has reached ground, encumbers him with help? The notice which you have been pleased to take of my labours, had it been early, had been kind; but it has been delayed till I am indifferent, and cannot enjoy it; till I am solitary, and cannot impart it; till I am known, and do not want it. I hope it is no very cynical asperity not to confess obligations where no benefit has been received, or to be unwilling that the Public should consider me as owing that to a Patron, which Providence has enabled me to do for myself."

Certainly that is the way it is going! But I wrote back that it is not so much to enable me personally to do the work as to facilitate the accomplishment of the goals. I personally would simply go on doing what I am doing--typing, correcting, etc., texts.


Oliver said...

Radhe! Where can one get the "missing"chapter from Caitanya Mangala?

anuradha said...

"So I would not trust Iskcon to understand the concept of the Gaudiya Grantha Mandir. When I was in Mayapur, Gadadhar Pran talked about the Gaudiya Math edition of Chaitanya Mangala, which was published with a whole section missing, one that describes Vishnupriya and Mahaprabhu's lovemaking before he departed to take sannyas. This is the extent to which sectarianism goes to suppress truth."

I have no clue about Sanskrit, but already with the Gita I have the feeling translations are being made anything but objectively, but very coloured by sectarianism. I just have to take the time to look at the word for word translations and conclude the obvious. Not that I disagree with what is meant with every translation necessarily, but I rather see a more neutral/'honest' translation. Just as I think it is rather suspicious to put Gaudiya tilak on Krishna paintings, predictions of Chaitanya, Buddha and even Prabhupada in "older" scriptures and so on....
Sectarianism all over. It is really a big problem, I think, because I ask myself... Who started this habbit of changing, deleting and adding parts of scripture to fit the sectarian purpose ? Apparently it started really early in the process of writing things down. I not only don't trust Iskcon......... I do not trust most claims made by others about scriptures either, or scripture in itself. Their usefullness has become very limited over the centuries. Nonetheless it has succeeded to bring certain valuable ideas across with the help of a few sober realized souls.

Can you recommend me a clean translation of the Gita ?

jijaji said...

I always thought Gaudiya Grantha Mandir was a good thing Jagat, however I do think it would have received more support from the devotees in general if there would have been a section that was for English translations for many of the scriptures that it contained.


Jagat said...

There are already plenty of translation sites out there. We were posting recommended published translations and links. Probably we will do that again once the site gets up and working.

There was also the forum, which was in part meant to be a place for discussing the books, but that never took off.

jijaji said...

The forum probably never took off because the whole site was I think intimidating to non-sanskrit reading devotees.

All I'm saying is if it could somehow be more accomodating to the non-sanskrit crowd in some manner it would develop a larger audience.



Jagat said...

Thanks Jijaji. You are probably right. Of course, the site has to serve its primary purpose, which is the preservation of the original texts.

I suppose it may seem elitist to think that one has an advantage if one can access the original sources, but those who proudly think that they know as much by reading secondary materials only are in a way fooling themselves.

The foolish and hopeless quest for purity and authenticity. Whatever you can sell has value, and if you can't sell it, it has none. But if I can get it up and running again, I will certainly do what I can to make the forums at least more accessible to non-scholars.

Jagat said...

As to Anuradha's comment about authenticity in translations. Well, that is always a problem, as I just wrote to Jijaji. Nevertheless, with regards to the Prabhupada Gita, I would say that of all BBT books, it is the most authentic. The Nectar of Devotion the least. Chaitanya Charitamrita dodgy in places.