Question: In three successive years the bhaktas of Kulina-grama asked Sriman Mahaprabhu “What is a Vaisnava and what are the symptoms by which he can be recognized?”
Sri Mahaprabhu replied by instructing them about uttama, madhyama, and kanistha Vaisnavas. Now, according to the characteristics of His description, all three of those classes – as He described them – meet the standards that I have defined for madhyama and uttama Vaisnavas. None of them correspond to the kanistha bhaktas who are only capable of worshiping the Deity form, because they do not utter suddha-Krishnanama. Their chanting is known as chaya-namabhasa. Chayanamabhasa refers to a semblance of the pure name obscured by ignorance and anarthas, like the sun covered by clouds, which does not manifest its full brilliance.
Mahaprabhu instructed madhyama-adhikari grhastha Vaisnavas to serve the three kinds of Vaisnavas, which He described as follows: one from whose mouth Krishna-nama is heard even once; one from whose mouth Krishna-nama is heard constantly; and one whose very sight spontaneously evokes the chanting of sri-Krishna-nama. All these three types of Vaisnavas are worthy of service, but this is not true of one who only utters namabhasa, and not suddha-Krishna- nama. Only Vaisnavas who utter suddha-nama are worthy of service.
We are instructed to serve the Vaisnavas in accordance with their respective levels of advancement. The word maitri signifies association, conversation, and service. As soon as one sees a pure Vaisnava, one should receive him, respectfully converse with him, and fulfill his needs as far as one is able. One should serve him in all these ways, and one should never envy him. One should not criticize him, even by accident, or disrespect him, even if his appearance is unattractive, or if he has some disease.
The third characteristic of the madhyama Vaisnava is that he bestows mercy on the ignorant. The word balisa refers to people who are ignorant of spiritual truth, bewildered, or foolish. It means materialistic people who have not received any genuine guidance in spiritual matters, but have not been contaminated by unauthorized doctrines such as Mayavada. They are not envious of bhaktas and bhakti, but their mundane egoism and attachment prevents them from developing faith in Isvara. Learned scholars also belong in this category if they have not attained the highest fruit of study, which is to develop faith in Isvara.
The kanistha-adhikari prakrta-bhakta is standing at the doorway to the temple of bhakti, but because of ignorance in the principles of sambandha-jnana, he has not yet attained suddha-bhakti. Such a person is also regarded as balisa until he comes to the platform of suddha-bhakti. When he becomes acquainted with the truth of sambandha-jnana, and awakens taste for suddha-hari-nama in the association of pure bhaktas, his ignorance will be dissipated, and he will attain the status of a madhyama Vaisnava.
It is essential that a madhyama Vaisnava should bestow his mercy upon all the above-mentioned ignorant people. He should treat them as guests and should satisfy their needs as far as he is able, but that is not enough in itself. He should also act in such a way as to awaken their faith in ananya-bhakti and their taste for suddhanama. That is the real meaning of mercy. The ignorant may be victimized by bad association and may fall down at any time because they lack expertise in the sastras. The madhyama Vaisnava should always protect such susceptible people from bad association. He should mercifully give them his association and gradually instruct them in spiritual matters and in the glories of suddha-nama.
A diseased person must be under the care of a physician because he cannot cure himself. Just as one should pardon the anger of a diseased person, so one should also excuse the improper behavior of the ignorant. This attitude is known as mercy. The ignorant have many misconceptions, such as faith in karma-kanda, occasional inclination towards jnana, worshiping the Deity with ulterior motives, faith in yoga, indifference towards the association of pure Vaisnavas, attachment to varnasrama, and many other things. However, the kanistha-adhikari can quickly become a madhyamaadhikari when these misconceptions are dispelled by good association, mercy, and good instructions.
When such people begin to worship the Deity of Bhagavan, it may be understood that they have laid the foundation of all auspiciousness. Of this, there is no doubt. They do not have the defect of adhering to false doctrines, and for this reason, they have a scent of true sraddha. Their Deity worship is not like that of the Mayavadis, who do not have even a trace of sraddha for the Deity, and who are offenders at the lotus feet of Bhagavan. That is why the words sraddhaya ihate, (he worships with faith), have been used in the sloka (11.2.47) that describes the kanistha-bhakta.
Question: “The philosophical outlook lodged in the heart of Mayavadis and proponents of other similar doctrines is that Bhagavan has no form and that the Deity which is worshiped is simply an imaginary icon. Under such circumstances, how can there be any faith in the Deity?
As a result, there is a significant difference between Deity worship of Mayavadis and that of even the most neophyte Vaisnavas.
Kanistha-adhikari Vaisnavas worship the Deity with faith, knowing that Bhagavan possesses personal form and attributes. Mayavadis, however, believe that Bhagavan has no form or attributes, and that the Deity is therefore imaginary and temporary.
Neophytes are not guilty of the offense of Mayavada, and that is why they are accepted as prakrta Vaisnavas (materialistic devotees), even though they do not possess any other Vaisnava characteristics. This is where their Vaisnavism is found. On the strength of this one quality, and by the mercy of sadhus, they will certainly gradually be elevated. Madhyama-adhikari Vaisnavas must be genuinely merciful towards such people, and if they are, the neophyte bhakta’s worship of the Deity and his chanting of hari-nama will quickly rise from the abhasa stage to the purely transcendental stage.
The madhyama Vaisnava’s fourth characteristic is neglect towards those who are inimical. Here we must define enmity and describe its different types. Dvesa, enmity, is a particular attitude which is also known as matsarata, envy, and which is exactly the opposite of love. Isvara is the only object of love, and dvesa is the attitude that is directly opposite to love for Him. There are five different types of dvesa: absence of faith in Isvara; the belief that Isvara is nothing more than a natural potency that brings about the results of all action; the belief that Isvara has no particular form; the belief that the jivas are not eternally subordinate to Isvara; and the absence of mercy.
Individuals whose hearts are contaminated by these inimical attitudes are absolutely bereft of suddha-bhakti. They do not even have prakrta-bhakti, the rudimentary devotion that is the doorway to suddha-bhakti, and which is represented by the neophyte bhakta’s worship of the Deity. The five types of enmity are found to coexist with attachment to material sense enjoyment. Sometimes the third and fourth types of enmity lead to such an extreme form of asceticism or aversion towards the world that it culminates in self-annihilation. This is seen in the lives of the Mayavada sannyasis.
It is their duty to avoid them.
The word upeksa, neglect, does not imply that one should abandon all social dealings that are normal between human beings. Nor does it mean that one should fail to alleviate an inimical person’s difficulty or deprivation if he falls into distress. Grhastha Vaisnavas remain within society, so they have many types of relationships, for instance, with relatives through marriage, and with others through business dealings, through the maintenance of property and bringing up of animals, through endeavoring to mitigate the suffering and ailments of others, and through their position as citizens of the state. These different social relations entail connection with inimical people, and avoidance does not mean that one should at once give them up. One is obliged to conduct routine affairs and interact with people who are indifferent to Isvara, but one should not take their association when it comes to spiritual matters.
Question: “Some members of one’s own family may acquire a malicious nature as a result of their sinful activities from a previous life. Should one abandon such people?”
Certainly not. One should deal with them without attachment insofar as ordinary affairs are concerned, but one should not associate with them for spiritual matters. Upeksa should be applied in this regard. Spiritual association means to meet together for the purpose of spiritual advancement, to discuss topics of eternal truth, and to render reciprocal service and welfare that awakens one’s devotional sentiments. Upeksa means avoiding the association of people with whom such types of exchange are not possible.
When an inimical person who has adopted discordant or inconsistent opinions hears glorification of suddha-bhakti or virtuous instructions regarding bhakti, he will immediately retort with some futile argument which is not beneficial for you or for him. One should avoid such fruitless arguments, and interact with such people only as far as necessary in routine social dealings. One may think that one should include inimical people among the ignorant, and therefore bestow mercy upon them, but if one does so, one will not help them and will only harm oneself. One should be benevolent, but with caution.
Madhyama-adhikari suddha-bhaktas should certainly follow these four instructions. If they neglect to do so in any way, they become guilty of behaving improperly and thus fail to do that for which they are qualified. This is considered a serious defect, as explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.21.2):
To be firmly established in the duties one is authorized to perform is a good quality, whereas failure to do so is a fault. Good qualities and faults are ascertained in this way.
In other words, good qualities and faults are determined according to one’s eligibility, and not by any other criterion. According to the sastras, the madhyama-adhikari suddha-bhakta should develop prema for Krishna and friendship with His pure bhaktas. He should be merciful to the ignorant and should neglect those who are inimical. The degree of friendship that the madhyama-bhakta establishes with other bhaktas should be in keeping with the degree of
their advancement in bhakti; the degree of mercy that he bestows upon the ignorant depends on their degree of sincerity or foolishness; and the extent to which he neglects the inimical depends
on the degree of their enmity. The madhyama-bhakta considers all these things as he interacts with others in spiritual affairs. Worldly affairs should be conducted in a straightforward manner, but should always be performed with consideration of the ultimate spiritual benefit.