Gītā-Govinda Revisited

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by Swami B.G. Narasingha

“Gītā-Govinda Revisited” is a previously unpublished article written in 2010 by Śrīla B.G. Narasiṅgha Mahārāja. In this essay, Narasiṅgha Mahārāja answers a devotee’s questions concerning Jayadeva Gosvāmī’s work who asks if the warnings given by Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and other ācāryas concerning higher literature are still relevant today.

The question of reading and discussing confidential līlā continues…

Question: I am concerned about what serious preachers should do in this age of ‘information overload,’ especially regarding books about the higher līlās. Should the points of Śrīpāda B.R. Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s regarding the higher līlās be taken as instructions that are valid for all times, or is it possible that they were given in accordance with time and circumstance? I have read several editions of GītāGovinda and several articles as well over the past several years, and only one edition truly reclaims the text as part of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava canon. Based on the editions and articles I have read, save and except for that edition, I would have to say that not only māyāvādīs, but mental speculators, logicians and karmīs have dominated the publishing of books such as GītāGovinda for years. In fact, it’s been a popular book in India for at least 700+ years. Should such work (sevā) be left to sahajiyās, or should qualified Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas reclaim these texts and have expert editors ensure the texts are delivered as it is, along with bona-fide commentaries?

Narasiṅgha Mahārāja: This is not a new concern, nor a new question. It has been around for a long, long time — possibly even since the time of the Six Gosvāmīs. With that in mind, we see that none of Mahāprabhu’s associates wrote a commentary on GītāGovinda, nor in later years did Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura, who is considered expert in dealing with the esoteric pastimes of the Supreme Lord. Then in modern times, we have Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura and Sarasvatī Ṭhākura, who both objected to the widespread distribution of GītāGovinda. They clearly said it was not a book for the masses, and Sarasvatī Ṭhākura did not even allow his qualified disciples to read it.

However, Mahāprabhu Himself did listen to GītāGovinda and loved it dearly, and this has been the excuse for deviation over the past 500 years. Imitation is easy, whereas qualification is difficult. Mahāprabhu also walked thru walls, but who pays attention to details…?

The whole reason that sahajiyā and māyāvādī commentaries exist in the first place is due to deviation from the previous ācāryas. Such unqualified persons are intruding into areas where they don’t belong. Now, in an age where people are much less qualified than they were in the past and too lazy to learn Sanskrit to read the original text, it is hardly justifiable to print and distribute GītāGovinda to the English speaking man in the street as is being done — but begging the question continues.

The era of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja and our times are hardly different — the only major difference being the inception of the internet. If Śrīdhara Mahārāja were here today, I feel he would not have a different opinion than he had 22 years ago. In fact, he mentioned that the message of Sarasvatī Ṭhākura was to be preached in every nook and corner of the world for all time. ‘For all time’ indicates that this is not a ‘time and place circumstance’, but that it is intrinsic to the constitutional position of the jīvapūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge, the jīva’s constitutional position is that of a little distant and below. We should not try to bring the highest līlā down to our lower plane.

As you say, GītāGovinda has been a popular book in India for 700+ years, but popular with whom? Lusty kings, sahajiyās and māyāvādīs, but not popular with the ācāryas in Prabhupāda’s and Śrīdhara Mahārāja’s line who set the example.

Personalities in India like Gopīnātha Pūjārī Gosvāmī (the first disciple of Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī), Rāṇa Kumbha (A Mewar king), Śaṅkara Miśra, Vanamālī Bhaṭṭa, Nārāyaṇa Bhaṭṭa, Gopāla Ācārya commented on GitaGovinda. However, none of these were in our line with the exception of Gopīnātha Pūjārī Gosvāmī and he does not figure as a prominent ācārya — nor do we find any of our ācāryas saying that GītāGovinda should be made available to the public at some future time.

You say you have read GītāGovinda, but I would say that your inner sense should make you aware that this is not for the ‘Joe’ in the street! There are many things of high value that have been contaminated, particularly in India. Now this is also true in the west where we find that even kīrtana, the all purifying agent, is being contaminated by the so-called bhakti movement (Bhakti Fest). There we find that people chant the holy name, but do not follow the principles of pure devotion. In fact, some are not even vegetarian and the rules of celibacy and other Vaiṣṇava conduct are not even a remote consideration. It is simply kīrtana and sex life in the name of bhakti — a typical sahajiyā platform.

In my opinion, it matters little to save the canon of books such as GītāGovinda because they are not quintessential to progress in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. What is important is to save kīrtana and the proper siddhānta of pure bhakti found in Bhāgavatam and Caitanyacaritāmṛta by following closely in the footsteps of our previous ācāryas (sato vṛtteḥ).

Here is what Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja had to say on topics of higher līlā:

Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja: Those amongst you who are qualified can go on preaching and taking the books to the public as your Guru Mahārāja has directed. But the higher literature for the highly realized souls – that may not be propagated in a very broad way. That is meant only for the selected few who can go up to that mark and can have entrance to discuss and to think and to work according to that high direction.

But the general requirement is śraddhā for Mahāprabhu and śraddhā for Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. Mādhuryarasa and especially parakīya – these two planes may be misunderstood by the general people. It is beyond our conception to relate with God as His wife or mistress. Wife maybe possible, we can accommodate that somewhat. But mistress of God? That is impossible! The conception of Godhead and at the same time the conception of His mistress is impossible to conceive of for the ordinary intellect. That should not be brought to the people at large. It should be kept for a selected few only. Just as on the stage of Uddhava:

āsām aho caraṇa-reṇu-juṣām ahaṃ syāṃ
vṛndāvane kim api gulma-latauṣadhīnām

yā dustyajaṃ sva-janam ārya-pathaṃ ca hitvā
bhejur mukunda-padavīṃ śrutibhir vimṛgyām

“My desire is to become a blade of grass or a creeper that grows in the forest of Vraja. In that way, it will be possible for me to receive the dust of the feet of those great personalities who have worshiped the lotus feet of Mukunda. The dust of their feet is sought after by the Vedas. Leaving aside the affection of their kith and kin, which is ordinarily impossible to give up, the gopīs of Vraja have sacrificed everything for the satisfaction of Śrī Kṛṣṇa.” (Bhāg.10.47.61)

Mādhuryarasa – complete self-dedication to the all-capturing attitude of the Supreme Beauty. When that is also to be increased in intensity, parakīya must manifest. The milana, (the meeting between Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa) should be very rare, then only it will be more intensified. And the background must be suitable. The cost of that sacrifice is the relationship of those whom we consider to be our own kith and kin, our own intimate friends. Even those who are recommended by the stalwarts of the gregarious society – that also should be given up. So much risk! Who will come forward to take such a risk? We can only expect a bad name and the least help from our nearest and dearest. All must be eliminated!

We must take the fullest risk to cast our lot towards someone who is an Autocrat – an Autocrat, but beautiful. Such a degree of sacrifice was considered to be the highest even to Uddhava, the greatest of the devotees whom Kṛṣṇa Himself in His own words describes as, “Dearer than My life. What to speak of Lakṣmī, Baladeva, Śiva and Brahmā? You are dearer than My own body, Uddhava.”  And that Uddhava speaks in such a high way about the gopīs! So that is not to be dragged into the ordinary audience with an ordinary intellect – it should not be.

It is the highest verse of revelation. The Vedas only point from a distance that kṛṣṇa-līlā, the highest līlā, is on this side. They can’t express that. This is the very attitude of the revealed scriptures of the highest order and you should not venture to take the whole thing into this mundane world. We keep it on our heads.

Pūjala rāga-patha gaurava-bhaṅge – the very tenor of the preaching of our Guru Mahārāja was this. He used to worship the way of rāga – the highest love. He did not try to bring them down here. Hold this rāgapatha, the way to attain divine love, on your head. Tread all possible stages of learning with a respectable attitude. Otherwise, if you think you have got that, you are gone! You are doomed! It is not so cheap! It is not so cheap! Don’t try to make it very cheap. It is very difficult.

Prabhupāda once told that there was one scholar in Dacca University. He used to teach Sanskrit literature to the post-graduate students. That gentleman was a good scholar and he used to teach the books written by Rūpa Gosvāmī – Ujjvalanīlamaṇi etc. Prabhupāda objected, “What does he teach? This is not for the school students. The highest religious preachers are supposed to have entrance in that domain and he is taking it!” One girl was a student of his and it so happened that this gentleman had to marry that girl. Then when this happened our Guru Mahārāja commented that this gentleman did not want to understand the dignified position that Rūpa Gosvāmī has explained. (March 10th, 1981)

******

You say that a certain edition of Gītā-Govindatruly reclaims the text as part of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava canon‘ but I fail to see how this has done anything other than create a new brand of sahajiyaism — unqualified devotees thinking that they are now relishing the Lord’s highest līlā. Simply ludicrous!

And after the era of Śrīla Śrīdhara Mahārāja, Śrīla Bhakti Pramoda Purī Mahārāja confirmed the same thing — that the higher/confidential līlā is only for those devotees who are most qualified — the paramahaṁsas. This position was, and is, preached by all branches of Gauḍīya Maṭha who follow in the footsteps of Śrīla Sarasvatī Ṭhākura and his disciples. We follow their lead in this matter in all respects.

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