Question: I purchased a copy of Gita-govinda from a devotee selling books in the streets of Bangalore (India) with a foreword by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta. My question is, are we to understand that Bhaktisiddhanta has authorized the reading of Gita-govinda for the devotees and the general public?
Swami Narasingha: So far as the Gita-govinda is concerned, Bhaktisiddhanta did not allow his disciples to read Gita-govinda nor did he ever write a foreword to that book.
I am aware of the Gita-govinda publication that you speak of and it is quite misleading that the publishers have posed Srila Bhaktisiddhanta as having written that article expressly for Gita-govinda. Had he actually written a foreword to Gita-govinda, then it would indeed be an authorization for devotees in his parampara to read that book, but he has not.
It is a misnomer since the article presented there as a foreword by Bhaktisiddhanta was actually not written by Bhaktisiddhanta. The article was originally written by Professor Nisikanta Sanyal and published in The Harmonist magazine volume 26 #6 in November 1928 (it was later published as a small booklet in 1931). The article was originally called "The Erotic Principle and Unalloyed Devotion" and has been printed and mistakenly attributed to Bhaktisiddhanta in many Gaudiya Matha publications over the decades.
The so-called 'Forward to Gita Govinda' is actually Professor Sanyal's article with a two paragraph add-on at the beginning taken from a lecture by Bhaktisiddhanta wherein he speaks briefly about Jayadeva Gosvami. But he does not recommend the reading of Gita-govinda. The two paragraphs by Bhaktisiddhanta and the article by Professor Sanyal were never intended to be an introduction to Gita-govinda and to do so is misleading and misrepresenting our acarya.
So the topic that you have raised must be taken as interpolation - the fact of the matter is that Bhaktisiddhanta did not write a foreword to Gita-govinda nor did he allow his disciples to read Gita-govinda nor did his bona-fide disciples recommend Gita-govinda to be read by their disciples.
The fashion of pseudo-Vaisnavas has always been to acquire information about Krsna's lila and then to make a show of such knowledge to attract the innocent or ignorant devotees and public.
Bhaktisiddhanta, however, was quite a different person - he placed full importance on surrender and the serving disposition - first deserve, then desire. He was also not in favor of trying to be something or someone in Krsna consciousness that you are not. In other words first one must purify one's heart from all material tendencies by chanting the Holy Name of Krsna before one is qualified to hear higher topics in Krsna's lila. When a neophyte devotee delves in the higher lilas of Krsna without being properly qualified he makes offences and is in due course cast down. Bhaktisiddhanta therefore wanted his disciples to make real advancement in Krsna consciousness and he guided them accordingly.
To read Gita-govinda without proper qualification is an offence and to distribute it to the innocent or ignorant public in the name of preaching is also an offence.
I will provide here some quotes on this topic from acaryas and renowned Vaisnavas so you may better arrive at the proper conclusion on this matter.
"Our master did not allow us to read the books where the higher lilas are described: Govinda-lilamrtam, Stava-kusumanjali, Ujjvala-nilamani, and Gita-govinda. He did not allow us to study and to discuss them. Rather, he would be very much disturbed if he heard that someone was interfering with the higher lilas in those books. He did not like it.
"There are three chapters of Sri Caitanya-caritamrta that we were generally not allowed to discuss fully, including the conversations with Ramananda Raya. Where the lila portion of Radha-Govinda is mentioned, we were not to delve. Of course when parayana (consecutive chanting of the whole book) was taking place, we were to go on reading those sections, but without giving any particular attention to the lila of the highest order of raga. That was barred: "Don't try to come into details there. That will come automatically when it is time. Do not make it a public discussion. Do not place it in the public eye."
"Dusta phala karibe arjjana-Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura warns that we will get only a bad result if we venture to cross that line. It is aparadha. From the lower position, the steps are shown: sraddha, sadhu-sanga, sravana, kirtana, then anartha-nivrtti, when the undesirable things vanish. Then comes ruci, then asakti, then bhava-bhakti, the sprout of real devotion. Then prema-bhakti, and sneha, mana, pranaya, raga, anuraga, bhava, mahabhava-by such steps we are to approach the highest plane." (Srila B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami, Follow the Angels, Ch-2)
"Gita-govinda is a special poetry book, full of transcendental mellows of devotional service, and it describes the exalted pastimes of the Supreme Brahman. There is no other such book in the world. Since the ordinary readers cannot realize the conjugal mellows of the Supreme Lord and since they are fond of material enjoyment, their study of Sri Gita-govinda is not perfect. The poet Jayadeva Gosvami has not offered his book to such readers; rather he forbade them to study this book. For persons who are inexperienced in the transcendental mellows of Vraja, discussing Jayadeva Gosvami and his work is proof of their shamelessness." (Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Sajjana-tosani 7/2)
"With the dissolution of mundane desire, an intense urge arises to serve the senses of Madana-mohana, the transcendental Cupid who enchants the mundane Cupid with His beauty. It is only at this point in one's spiritual development that one will be able to properly engage in the practices of raganuga bhakti such as hearing, chanting and meditating on the asta-kaliya lilas. As long as material desires are present in the heart, it is very possible that a concerted effort to enter into erotic subject matter such as those described in Jayadeva's Gita-govinda will have inauspicious results." (Srila B.P. Puri Maharaja, Art of Sadhana, Chapter 1)
"It is premature to think that as soon as one has taken shelter of his spiritual master he has the right to relish books like the Bhagavata's Rasa-pancadhyaya, Gopi-gita, Uddhava-samvada, or Govinda-lilamrta and Krsna-bhavanamrta, the songs of Candidasa and Vidyapati, Jagannatha-vallabha-nataka, Krsna-karnamrta, Gita-govinda, and other books of this type. The inevitable consequence of such precocious entry into the subjects of Krishna's conjugal pastimes is that one falls into illicit sexual activity." (Srila B.P. Puri Maharaja, Art of Sadhana)
"The Gita-govinda, the loving affairs of Radha and Krsna, it is not for the neophyte student... If you are actually advancing in devotional service, then the symptom will be that you'll have no more material hankerings." That is real. So if you actually hear about Krsna's pastimes with Radharani, then hrd-roga-kaman apahinoti, then our heart disease, lusty desires, will vanish. That is the result. I have repeatedly said. So if you become more lusty by seeing the pastimes of Krsna with Radharani or hearing, that means you are not fit. Stop it. Stop it. Don't be foolish."(A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Lecture on Caitanya-caritamrta Adi-lila 1, 6, Mayapura, March 30th 1975)
Actually, you will not find anywhere any quotes from our acaryas or renowned Vaisnavas recommending that one who is unqualified should hear about the advanced lilas of Krsna. All our acaryas recommend that first one has to become free from anarthas, free from material contamination. Only the Sahajiyas and publishers of Gita-govinda have the audacity and foolishness to cross the instructions of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta.
It is indeed a ruse when the publishers of Gita-govinda say that if the followers of Bhaktisiddhanta do not translate and comment upon Ujjvala-nilamani, Gita-govinda, etc. that these books will then be the exclusive property of the Sahajiyas. To the contrary, in doing so, the publishers of Gita-govinda have entered the domain of the Sahajiyas and shown us their true colors.
At a time when pseudo-Vaisnavas gave faulty instructions in the name of the teachings of Sri Caitanya, Bhaktisiddhanta rose above the crowd and by his preaching, and his personal example, he gave real life to Gaudiya Vaisnavism. His instructions are thus for all time, all places, and all circumstances - because he directly represents the desire and teachings of Sri Caitanya. Bhaktisiddhanta gave real life to Gaudiya Vaisnavism and to reject his instruction means to suffer a spiritual death no matter how much one thinks he knows about Krsna.