Vaisnava-ninda (Criticizing a Vaisnava), Part 2

BY: SUN STAFF - 3.6 2022

A serial presentation of 'Vaisnava-ninda' by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur.

Three Types of Vaisnavas According to Srimad-Bhagavatam: Kanistha, Madhyama and Uttama

In Srimad-Bhagavatam, three specific categories of Vaisnavas are described in the following three verses:

The neophyte, or kanistha, Vaisnava –

arcayam eva haraye
pujam yah sraddhayehate
na tad-bhaktesu canyesu
sa bhaktah prakrtah smrtah
Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.47)

He who engages in worshipping the deity as Bhagavan Sri Hari, with ordinary faith received through some lineage of worldly teachers, but who does not engage in worshipping Sri Hari's devotees, is a kanistha Vaisnava, or neophyte Vaisnava. In other words, he is just beginning to enter into understanding the science of bhakti.

The specific difference between worldly, traditional faith and faith based on the revealed scriptures (sastriya-sraddha) is that the former arises from mere conventional, worldly education, whereas in the latter, namely sastriya-sraddha, faith in the Vaisnavas arises from deep conviction in the words of the scriptures and is based on the evidence presented therein. It is only with the advent of sastriya-sraddha that the jiva becomes a madhyama Vaisnava, or intermediate Vaisnava.

Until sastriya-sraddha has arisen, the obligation of a sadhaka (a devotee in the stage of practice) to perform karma does not wane. In this regard, Sriman Mahaprabhu has said:

suddha-vaisnava nahe, kintu vaisnavera praya

Such persons are not pure Vaisnavas, but they resemble Vaisnavas.

Solely by genuine association with true Vaisnavas, the kanistha Vaisnava, who is a vaisnava-praya jiva, can become a suddha Vaisnava (pure Vaisnava).


The intermediate, or madhyama, Vaisnava –

isvare tad-adhinesu
balisesu dvisatsu ca
yah karoti sa madhyamah
Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.46)

He who offers his love to the Supreme Lord, Sri Bhagavan; remains a sincere friend to all Vaisnavas; shows mercy to the innocent*; and, through the most appropriate use of indifference, tolerance or even complete avoidance, neglects those who are envious of Bhagavan and the Vaisnavas, is a madhyama Vaisnava.

* This refers to the vaisnava-praya jivas, or those living entities who resemble Vaisnavas but are not yet conversant with the science of bhakti.

In this way, the madhyama Vaisnava even shows fitting mercy to the envious, seeing them as ignorant. Only the madhyama Vaisnava is actually qualified to serve the Vaisnavas.

Since the kanistha Vaisnavas do not engage in such service, they cannot be called Vaisnavas; rather, they are known as vaisnava-praya (those who resemble Vaisnavas).


The topmost, or uttama, Vaisnava –

sarva-bhutesu yah pasyed
bhagavad-bhavam atmanah
bhutani bhagavaty atmanyesa
Srimad-Bhagavatam (11.2.45)

He who experiences the revelation of his own cherished form of Bhagavan in the hearts of all jivas, including his own; who experiences that all jivas, their very existence resting in Bhagavan, are fully surrendered to that same Supreme Absolute Reality; and who perceives everyone in the whole world as a Vaisnava, is known as an uttama Vaisnava (topmost Vaisnava). Such a Vaisnava does not see the difference between a Vaisnava and a non-Vaisnava.


Translated from Sri Gaudiya Patrika, Year 7, Issue 10 in Rays of The Harmonist, Kartika Issue, 2009