Does ISKCON consider the English of the 1920s to be sacred?

by Chaitanya CharanSeptember 27, 2014

From Prof Rao:

I am a Professor of English and am interested in Krishna consciousness. I find it strange that most ISKCON preachers use the English of the 1920s in the words they choose, the way they make sentences and convey their ideas. Does ISKCON’s philosophy consider that English to be sacred that you are preserving it hundred years later? If yes, why?

Transcribed by: Argha Maji

Question: Does ISKCON consider the English of the 1920s to be sacred?

Answer: No, it is not that the English in 1920’s is sacred. The reason for the slightly anachronistic nature of the language of ISKCON preachers is not philosophical but circumstantial. Most ISKCON preachers learn philosophy in English language through the books written by Srila Prabhupada and Srila Prabhupada learned his English in 1920’s from Scottish Church College where he went and then in his later life, he wrote the books.

So most devotees learn philosophy for the first time by reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. When they give discourses they are also speaking philosophy which they learn from the books so along with speaking the philosophy, they also use the terms, form the sentences and convey the ideas based on the way they have studied. Now, this problem of an anachronistic language is especially there for those preachers who have learnt English only by reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. Many of them came from vernacular languages and then they learnt English while being in ISKCON by reading Prabhupada’s books. Then their practical experience of English is mostly Srila Prabhupada’s English. In their case problem is most acute.

There are others who learnt English in their schools. But they studied philosophy not from any other books, except Srila Prabhupada’s books. So when they speak philosophy , they tend to use the language of 1920’s also. Although in conversations , they may sound less stilted and more of a normal human being. Now there are other devotees who read widely even devotee books written by contemporary ISKCON devotees and their language tends to be much more contemporary. So overall this is a problem which you will find among few preachers but if since you are from English background and the medium will seem as important for you as the message so if you want to hear classes you can look for those preachers whose English seem sophisticated to you. Especially many of Srila Prabhupada’s western disciples who learnt the English in the western world , their English is quite good and contemporary and that may seem normal to you. And many of the younger devotees also who are well read means second generation teachers of ISKCON who are well read, their English also tend to be contemporary.

So in general as long as ISKCON devotees don’t read books other than Srila Prabhupada’s books their language will seem stilted but gradually things are changing. Devotees are also recognising the need to be contemporary not only in the language that they use but more importantly in the methods and way they present so that’s why more and more devotees are writing books and more and more devotees are reading those books also in addition to Srila Prabhupada’s books they are also reading more contemporary books written by contemporary devotees using contemporary language. So as this sort of reading becomes more especially among those devotees who are into preaching and teaching , then you will see that overall the language will become more contemporary and seem less anachronistic or outdated or stilted. Thank you. Hare Krishna.

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Chaitanya Charan
  • E Kiran Kumar
    February 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Hare krishna. I think we should give more stress on the subject and the philosophy aspect than on what type of english is used to describe the spiritual subjects. anyway, i feel there should not be any problem reading the 1920 english, which is very clear and conveys the original words of Jagad guru Srila Prabhupada. hare krishna

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