What are the three categories of Devotees?






Bhagwad Puran mentions three levels of worshipers of God. Knowledge of these distinctions will help a devotee to strive for higher stage of devotion.  

Once Nārada arrived at the home of Vasudeva ( father of Lord Krishna), who worshiped him according to proper etiquette, greeted him respectfully and requested to hear about pure devotional service.

Nārada gave instructions in bhāgavata-dharma to the faithful and inquisitive Vasudeva by recounting a conversation between between the nine Yogendras (saints), who were sons of Lord Ṛṣabhadeva, and Mahārāja Nimi, the King of Videha.
Presented here is the exact translation of the questions and answers that describe three levels of worshipers of God.
During the conversation Maharaj Nimi asked the following questions: 

SB 11.2.44
 — Mahārāja Nimi asked: Now please tell me in greater detail about the devotees of the Supreme Lord. What are the natural symptoms by which I can distinguish between the most advanced devotees, those on the middle level and those who are neophytes? What are the typical religious activities of a Vaiṣṇava, and how does he speak? Specifically, please describe those symptoms and characteristics by which Vaiṣṇavas become dear to God.
Śrī Havir one of the nine saints gave the following answer. 

1.  DEVOTEE AT THE LOWEST POSITION
SB 11.2.47 — A devotee who faithfully engages in the worship of the Deity in the temple but does not behave properly toward other devotees or people in general is called a prākta-bhakta, a materialistic devotee, and is considered to be in the lowest position.
(He considers God to be great and himself also to be a great devotee and but does not recognize others position nor has the ability to judge them.)
2.  DEVOTEE AT THE INTERMEDIATE POSITION
SB11.2.46 — An intermediate or second-class devotee, called madhyama-adhikārī, offers his love to God, is a sincere friend to all the devotees of the Lord, shows mercy (by preaching) to ignorant people who are innocent and disregards those who are envious of God.
3.  DEVOTEE AT THE ADVANCED POSITION
SB 11.2.45 — The most advanced devotee sees within everything the soul of all souls i.e.  God. Consequently he sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord and understands that everything that exists is eternally situated within the Lord.
SB 11.2.48 — Even while engaging his senses in contact with their objects, one who sees this whole world as the energy of Lord is neither repelled nor elated. He is indeed the greatest among devotees.
SB 11.2.49 — Within the material world, one’s material body is always subject to birth and decay. Similarly, the life air [prāa] is harassed by hunger and thirst, the mind is always anxious, the intelligence hankers for that which cannot be obtained, and all of the senses are ultimately exhausted by constant struggle in the material nature. A person who is not bewildered by the inevitable miseries of material existence, and who remains aloof from them simply by remembering the lotus feet of the Lord, is to be considered bhāgavata-pradhāna, the foremost devotee of the Lord.
SB 11.2.50 — One who has taken exclusive shelter of the Supreme Lord, Vāsudeva, becomes free from fruitive activities, which are based on material lust. In fact, one who has taken shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord is freed from even the desire to enjoy material sense gratification. Plans for enjoying sex life, social prestige and money cannot develop within his mind. Thus he is considered bhāgavatottama, a pure devotee of the Lord on the highest platform.
SB 11.2.51 — Birth in an aristocratic family and the execution of austere and pious activities certainly cause one to take pride in himself. Similarly, if one enjoys a prestigious position within society because his parents are highly respected members of the social system, one becomes even more infatuated with himself. But if despite these excellent material qualifications one does not feel even a tinge of pride within himself, he is to be considered the dear-most servitor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
SB 11.2.52 — When a devotee gives up the selfish conception by which one thinks “This is my property, and that is his,” and when he is no longer concerned with the pleasures of his own material body or indifferent to the discomforts of others, he becomes fully peaceful and satisfied. He considers himself simply one among all the living beings who are equally part and parcel of the Supreme God. Such a satisfied Vaiṣṇava is considered to be at the highest standard of devotional service.
SB 11.2.53 — The lotus feet of the Supreme God are sought even by the greatest of devtas, such as Brahmā and Śiva, who have all accepted the Personality of God as their life and soul. A pure devotee of the Lord can never forget those lotus feet in any circumstance. He will not give up his shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord for a single moment — indeed, not for half a moment — even in exchange for the benediction of ruling and enjoying the opulence of the entire universe. Such a devotee of the Lord is to be considered the best of the Vaiṣṇavas.


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Rajeev Gupta
Delhi, India
Management teacher by profession, I follow the Vaishnav Tradition of Hinduism as a path to liberation. By blogging I try to develop interest in Indian spirituality & culture.