More About Editing, Tara, and the Rubaiyat

by Swami Kriyananda

“Why did you publish your own version of Yogananda’s commentaries on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam?”

Swami Kriyananda answers:

The book I edited and published under the name, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam Explained was authored by Paramhansa Yogananda, not by me. It was emphatically not “my own version” in the sense of being different from Master’s. It was entirely based on his original work, even to the point where, if I had a thought to add what might, it seemed to me, help the reader to understand a point more fully, I put it separately under the heading, “Editorial Comment.” I took great pains not to add a single thought to the text, nor to detract a single thought from it. I was as faithful to his meaning as I could possibly be.

Was my editing in any case, however, presumptuous? Hadn’t Master requested Tara Mata and Mrinalini Mata to edit that book? Daya Mata insisted that such was the case. For myself, I had to be guided by the following facts:

A) Tara Mata’s editing, as demonstrated by her ponderous and far-from-poetic editing of Whispers from Eternity, had shown her incapable of editing this particular work, which Master in his own commentaries had clearly intended to be also a work of poetry.

B) I was an “insider” at Mt. Washington for most of my fourteen years there, and knew only that Master had wanted Mrinalini to edit his lessons, not his books. (The lessons, incidentally—as far as I know—have yet to be offered to the public.)

C) Tara died in 1970, two years after a massive stroke. Works that hadn’t been completed by that time had to be undertaken by others. In my opinion, as one who has devoted most of his seventy-five years of life to expressing his Guru’s teachings through the written word, the publications that have appeared since that time have been disappointing.

I had already seen SRF’s version of Master’s commentaries on the Rubaiyat. They had appeared for several years in the SRF magazines. To me, their editing of this book fails to do credit to our great Master. Beautiful phrases in the original often became, in their edited form, dull and unchallenging, as though great pains had been taken not to surprise or offend anyone. (Good writing, however, demands surprises occasionally to keep the reader awake and interested.) Strained expressions found their way into the text, such as, “Gaze with envy on the saints.” (Is not envy a spiritual flaw? Competent editing would have made the sentence read something like, “Emulate the saints.” But in fact, Master hadn’t expressed even that thought, himself. Who, then, had a right to insert it?) Mixed metaphors, even within a single sentence, burdened the text. Changes of wording failed to clarify the meaning, and sometimes actually obscured it.

A comment I frequently heard while those commentaries were appearing in the SRF magazines was, “Whenever an issue arrives in the mail, I eagerly open it to his Rubaiyat commentary. And each time, a few paragraphs later, I’ve put it down, unable to proceed. Perhaps, I felt, I was just sleepy!”

There’s another side to this story. For I don’t want you to think I merely blundered in with the thought, “This work needs better editing.” Master had asked me himself to help him with editing.

When he went out in 1950 to Twenty-Nine Palms, his desert retreat, to work on his commentaries on the Rubaiyat, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Holy Bible, he took me with him. Before we left, he told me in the presence of some of the monks, “I asked Divine Mother whom I should take with me to help with this work, and your face appeared, Walter. To make doubly certain, I asked her twice more. Each time, your face appeared. That’s why I am taking you.”

People always laugh at the words, or perhaps only at the self-deprecating way I relate them, “I asked Her twice more”—as if it hadn’t been believable to Master that Divine Mother would choose me of all people! In fact, of course, what he wanted to do was say he was satisfied that he understood Her wishes correctly.

Divine Mother must have known I wasn’t ready for such an important work! I was only twenty-three, a “greenhorn” especially in my discipleship. I wasn’t yet fully steeped in his teachings. How could I possibly grasp subtleties that could become clear to me only after years of meditating on him, on his teachings, on his words, his very tone of voice, his actions, his gestures, his very facial expressions? I should add that my life as a disciple has been spent meditating on these things. Never have I done anything important without first inwardly consulting him and asking, “What would you do in this circumstance? What deeper meaning could you have intended in that sentence?”

Having heard him speak and teach on numerous occasions, I feel it safe now to say that at least I would not be likely to mis-interpret him. My understanding in these matters has matured gradually over the years.

Here is an example of the clarification that may be needed especially of the spoken word: I heard him say on one occasion, “I slept and dreamed life was beauty; I woke up and found life is duty.” The meaning of that statement is not so simple or obvious as may first appear. Indeed, there are deep waters here. For duty, too, is not the last word in his teaching on this subject. Beyond duty, as he often reminded us, lies rest in the eternal divine beauty.

Again, he once said to me, “The dreamer is not conscious of his dream.” It is not enough to recognize that, of course, the dreamer must be at least somewhat conscious, to dream at all. What he lacks is awareness of it as a dream. Tara rendered this sentence, for The Master Said, as, “The dreamer is not cognizant of the hallucinatory fabric of his dream.” Thus, although clarifying the meaning, she sacrificed simplicity and rhythm. No one would, or even could, speak in such a way. Better, it seemed to me, because truer to what Master actually did say, to edit his statement thus: “The dreamer is not aware that in fact he is only dreaming.”

All of the above raises a question: Why should a master’s work require editing at all? Being a master, wouldn’t his every word be exact? Well, it simply wasn’t always. And as someone who has devoted over sixty years to editing his own writing—often not satisfied with a piece until I’d gone over it fifty times—I can say with confidence that words are simply beasts of burden for the ideas they express. Master spoke intuitively, not with the careful precision of someone wedded to intellectuality. Much of what he said wasn’t actually stated by his words at all: It was only implied by them. One had to tune in to his meaning and grasp it on a soul level. Much of it, indeed, was multi-leveled: intended to be understood by the individual according to his or her own degree of spiritual refinement.

I’ve grown increasingly sensitive over the years to what a burden it must be for a master even to think in prosaic, logical sequences, when his intuition takes him soaring far above ratiocination and the plodding, logic-obsessed intellect. In reading the words of any great master, one quickly notices that his words were either carefully edited—too much so, usually—to make their meaning perfectly clear to the reader, or the cumbersomeness of the master’s expression suggests that much was left unexpressed.

To me, the editing process is rather like plumbing. It arranges words in such a way as to make their flow right. Ultimately, the true editor’s goal is to call attention, not to the words themselves, but to the ideas they express. At the end of the process, he or she must often feel, “This is all so obvious, I’m not sure I’ve really done anything at all!”

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