Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura says that any Vaiṣṇava who is constantly chanting the holy name of the Lord should be considered to have attained the second platform of Vaiṣṇavism. Such a devotee is superior to a neophyte Vaiṣṇava who has just learned to chant the holy name of the Lord. A neophyte devotee simply tries to chant the holy name, whereas the advanced devotee is accustomed to chanting and takes pleasure in it. Such an advanced devotee is called a madhyama-bhāgavata, which indicates that he has attained the intermediate stage between the neophyte and the perfect devotee. Generally a devotee in the intermediate stage becomes a preacher. A neophyte devotee or an ordinary person should worship the madhyama-bhāgavata, who is a via medium.
In his Upadeśāmṛta (5) Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says, praṇatibhiś ca bhajantam īśam. This means that madhyama-adhikārī devotees should exchange obeisances between themselves.
The word nirantara, meaning “without cessation, continuously, constantly,” is very important in this verse. The word antara means “interval.” If one has desires other than a desire to perform devotional service—in other words, if one sometimes engages in devotional service and sometimes strives for sense gratification—his service will be interrupted. A pure devotee, therefore, should have no desire other than to serve Kṛṣṇa. He should be above fruitive activity and speculative knowledge. In his Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu [Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11], Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says:
- anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam
- ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
This is the platform of pure devotional service. One should not be motivated by fruitive activity or mental speculation but should simply serve Kṛṣṇa favorably. That is first-class devotion.
Another meaning of antara is “this body.” The body is an impediment to self-realization because it is always engaged in sense gratification. Similarly, antara means “money.” If money is not used in Kṛṣṇa’s service, it is also an impediment. Antara also means janatā, “people in general.” The association of ordinary persons may destroy the principles of devotional service. Similarly, antara may mean “greed”—greed to acquire more money or enjoy more sense gratification. Finally, the word antara may also mean “atheistic ideas,” by which one considers the temple Deity to be made of stone, wood or gold. All of these are impediments. The Deity in the temple is not material—He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Similarly, considering the spiritual master an ordinary human being (guruṣu nara-matiḥ) is also an impediment. Nor should one consider a Vaiṣṇava a member of a particular caste or nation. Nor should a Vaiṣṇava be considered material. Caraṇāmṛta should not be considered ordinary drinking water, and the holy name of the Lord should not be considered an ordinary sound vibration. Nor should one look on Lord Kṛṣṇa as an ordinary human being, for He is the origin of all viṣṇu-tattvas; nor should one regard the Supreme Lord as a demigod. Intermingling the spiritual with the material causes one to look on transcendence as material and the mundane as spiritual. This is all due to a poor fund of knowledge. One should not consider Lord Viṣṇu and things related to Him as being different. All this is offensive.
In the Bhakti-sandarbha (265), Śrīla Jīva Gosvāmī writes: nāmaikaṁ yasya vāci smaraṇa-patha-gatam ity-ādau deha-draviṇādi-nimittaka-‘pāṣaṇḍa’-śabdena ca daśa aparādhā lakṣyante, pāṣaṇḍa-mayatvāt teṣām. “In the verse beginning nāmaikaṁ yasya, we find the word pāṣaṇḍa [‘godlessness’]. The word literally indicates misuse of one’s body or property, but in that verse it implies the ten offenses against the Lord’s holy name, since each of these leads to such godless behavior.” The Māyāvādīs look on Viṣṇu and Vaiṣṇavas imperfectly due to their poor fund of knowledge, and this is condemned. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 11.2.46), the intermediate Vaiṣṇava is described as follows:
- īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca
- prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ
“The intermediate Vaiṣṇava has to love God, make friends with the devotees, instruct the innocent and reject jealous people. These are the four functions of the Vaiṣṇava in the intermediate stage.” In the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (CC Madhya 22.64) Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī is taught:
- śraddhāvān jana haya bhakti-adhikārī
- ‘uttama’, ‘madhyama’, ‘kaniṣṭha’—śraddhā-anusārī
“One who is faithful is a proper candidate for devotional service. In terms of one’s degree of faith in devotional service, one is a first-class, second-class or neophyte Vaiṣṇava.” śāstra-yukti nāhi jāne dṛḍha, śraddhāvān ‘madhyama-adhikārī’ sei mahā-bhāgyavān “One who has attained the intermediate stage is not very advanced in śāstric knowledge, but he has firm faith in the Lord. Such a person is very fortunate to be situated on the intermediate platform.” (CC Madhya 22.67) rati-prema-tāratamye bhakta-taratama “Attraction and love for God are the ultimate goal of devotional service. The degrees of such attraction and love distinguish the different stages of devotion—neophyte, intermediate and perfectional.” (CC Madhya 22.71) An intermediate devotee is greatly attracted to chanting the holy name, and by chanting he is elevated to the platform of love. If one chants the holy name of the Lord with great attachment, he can understand his position as an eternal servant of the spiritual master, other Vaiṣṇavas and Kṛṣṇa Himself. Thus the intermediate Vaiṣṇava considers himself kṛṣṇa-dāsa, Kṛṣṇa’s servant. He therefore preaches Kṛṣṇa consciousness to innocent neophytes and stresses the importance of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. An intermediate devotee can identify the nondevotee or motivated devotee. The motivated devotee or the nondevotee are on the material platform, and they are called prākṛta. The intermediate devotee does not mix with such materialistic people. However, he understands that the Supreme Personality of Godhead and everything related to Him are on the same transcendental platform. Actually none of them are mundane.