A few months ago, I had the opportunity to edit Radhanath Swami’s upcoming book (tentatively named “Yoga of Love”). When I received the book by email, I was both excited and apprehensive.
Excited because I would be able to relish the condensed wisdom that Radhanath Swami packs into his writings. Radhanth Swami’s speech is itself brilliant, permeated as it is with profundity, maturity, simplicity and beauty. But his writings are simply astounding; I like to call them as English Vedanta Sutras. (The Vedanta Sutra are the condensed aphorisms that encode the highest wisdom humanity has ever received.) Of course, there’s a difference; though both contain extraordinary wisdom, the Sanskrit Vedanta Sutras captivate by their complexity, whereas Radhanath Swami’s sutras enchant with their clarity. So, I was understandably excited to be among the privileged few recipients of a pre-publication manuscript of Radhanath Swami’s latest book.
But I was also deeply apprehensive. The very nature of editing is that it often brings out the differences between the author and the editor. Radhanath Swami is an exalted saint, a venerable monk, my foremost spiritual guide. I would normally never think of editing his writing, for it expresses sublime wisdom in superb language. Yet, now as a service, I was being asked to edit his writing. I didn’t want to displease him by seeming presumptuous and giving suggestions about how to improve his manuscript, yet I didn’t want to displease him by refusing the service he had given me.
Finally, praying for guidance to do this service in a sensitive yet competent way, I started the editing. It was a 250 plus page manuscript and it took a fortnight of some 12 hours work daily to complete it. When I mailed the edited draft to him I just didn’t know what to expect: his pleasure, displeasure or indifference.
To my great amazement, I received a call from his secretary saying that he was very grateful for my inputs. I was struck by the word “grateful”. It was I who had to be grateful to be considered worthy of this service. A week later, when I had gone to Mumbai for his birthday celebrations, he called me to his room and thanked me profusely. He said he had incorporated most of my suggestions, and added with a sweet smile, “Last several days, I have been doing your work.”
Relieved by his warmth and pleasure, I voiced my apprehension about editing the work of an exalted person like him. He reassured me saying that he was very pleased and asked me whether I would like to go over the whole manuscript once again to check whether the changes had been properly incorporated.
I was overwhelmed, not just because he had considered my service useful, but also because in him any attachment to his literary creation was conspicuous by its absence. As an author myself who gets published in international magazines, I often have to incorporate the changes suggested by the editors of those magazines. So, I know all too well how difficult it is for an author to change one’s own literary expressions to satisfy another. As I heard Radhanath Swami speak, from his tone and speech, I could realize that his writing was not to fulfill any literary craving, but to be an instrument to share Krishna’s message of love with the world. That’s why he could be so open to suggestions; he saw his writing not as his own creation, but as a contemporary rewording of Krishna’s timeless message, and if anybody could help word it better, he was more than happy.
When I contemplate on this experience in retrospect, I feel that, though, by my written comments, I edited Radhanath Swami’s manuscript, he, by his own example, edited my heart to point out to the attachment, the ego, the pride of literary creation that reside there. He promptly incorporated the changes I pointed out, I am still struggling to incorporate the changes he showed me.
— Chaitanya Charan Das