The characteristics of a devotee: the madhyama bhāgavata

In a previous article, I discussed the characteristics of the uttama bhāgavata. Here, I will examine Śrī Jīva’s explanation of the characteristics of the madhyama bhāgavata presented in the Bhakti Sandarbha Anuccheda 189. There Śrī Jīva cites a verse from the Bhāgavata purāṇa, which has become quite popular these days. He writes:

atha mānasa-liṅga-viśeṣaṇenaiva madhyama-bhāgavataṁ lakṣayati—

Now the intermediate devotee ( madhyama-bhāgavata ) is defined specifically in terms of the characteristics of his psychological disposition ( mānasa-liṅga ):

īśvare tad-adhīneṣu bāliśeṣu dviṣatsu ca | prema-maitrī-kṛpopekṣā yaḥ karoti sa madhyamaḥ || [bhā.pu. 11.2.46]

One who has love for Īśvara, friendship toward His authentically sheltered devotees, compassion for the unaware, and indifference toward the inimical, is an intermediate devotee. ( SB 11.2.46 )

The four characteristics of the madhyama bhāgavata

The verse lists four characteristics, which Śrī Jīva explains as follows:

  1. parameśvare prema karoti, tasmin bhakti-yukto bhavatīty arthaḥ |

In this verse, the statement that the intermediate devotee has love (prema) for Parameśvara means that he is endowed with bhakti for Him.

2. tathā tad-adhīneṣu bhakteṣu ca maitrīṁ bandhu-bhāvam |

The compound tad-adhīneṣu, lit., “those who are subordinate to, or authentically sheltered in, Him [Bhagavān],” refers to His devotees (bhakteṣu). The intermediate devotee feels friendship (maitrī) or amity (bandhu-bhāva) toward them.

3. bāliśeṣu tad-bhaktim ajānatsu udāsīneṣu kṛpām |

The word bāliśeṣu , lit., “the childish,” refers to those who are unaware of bhakti to Bhagavān and who are thus indifferent to Him (udāsīneṣu). The intermediate devotee feels compassion (kṛpā) for them.

4. ātmano dviṣatsu upekṣā, tadīya-dveṣe cittākṣobhenaudāsīnyam ity arthaḥ

In SB 11.2.46 , the statement that the intermediate devotee feels indifference (upekṣā) toward those who bear animosity toward him ( ātmano dviṣatsu ) means that he remains aloof from them (udāsīnya), because his mind is unperturbed by their animosity (dveṣa).

The madhyama bhāgavata is a siddha and not a sādhaka

The reason this verse has become popular these days is that it is used to motivate bhakti preachers. Preachers are taught to be madhyama ‘devotees’, with the four characteristics described in the verse above, particularly indifference toward those who challenge them, and compassion for those who do not know about bhakti. Compassion is supposed to be expressed by preaching of bhakti to others.

However, this definition does not apply to preachers at all! The vast majority of preachers are sādhakas, and not siddhas. This definition is of a siddha. The verse explicitly states that the madhyama bhāgavata has prema for Bhagavān.

That this definition is of a siddha is also clear from the example that Śrī Jīva gives for compassion (kṛpā) of the madhyama bhāgavata:

yathoktaṁ śrī-prahlādena—

śoce tato vimukha-cetasa indriyārtha-

māyā-sukhāya bharam udvahato vimūḍhān || [bhā.pu. 7.9.42] iti |

The intermediate devotee feels compassion ( kṛpā ) for them, as expressed by Śrī Prahlāda: “I grieve for the bewildered living beings whose regard is turned away from the immortal nectar of Your valiant narrations and who bear the burden of worldly life for the sake of the illusory pleasure derived from sense objects” ( SB 7.9.43 ).

Śrī Prahlāda is not a sādhaka. He is a siddha. Śrī Jīva explains that the purpose for the definition of the madhyama bhāgavata is to differentiate him from the uttama bhāgavata:

asya bāliśeṣu kṛpāyāḥ sphuraṇaṁ, dviṣatsūpekṣāyā eva, na tu prāgvat sarvatra tasya tat-premṇā vā sphuraṇam | tato madhyamatvam |

Toward the unaware (bāliśeṣu), the intermediate devotee experiences an arousal ( sphuraṇa ) of compassion, and toward the inimical (dviṣatsu), he feels only indifference — unlike the superlative devotee, who feels a self-disclosure ( sphuraṇa ) of prema for Bhagavān in regard to all living beings. This is what distinguishes the former as an intermediate devotee.

Here we see the main difference: the madhyama bhāgavata does not have the ability to perceive Bhagavān or his own mood of devotion in everyone. Yet, he does not feel anger toward others, as is the case with Śrī Prahlāda who did not harbor inimical feelings toward Hiraṇyakaśipu. Somewhat paradoxically, Śrī Jīva explains that the uttama bhāgavata can and does feel anger toward the enemies of Bhagavān, while at the same time, maintaining the awareness of the presence of Bhagavān in them. But a madhyama bhāgavata always stays indifferent toward the inimical.

Śrī Jīva next writes:

athottamasyāpi tad-adhīna-darśanena tat-sphuraṇānandodayo viśeṣata eva |

Assuredly, even for a superlative devotee, the bliss of the self-disclosure of prema for Bhagavān ( tat-sphuraṇānanda ) arises in particular by seeing devotees who are truly sheltered in Bhagavān (tad-adhīneṣu).

Note the language: “even for a superlative devotee” – implies that what he writes is also true for the madhyama devotee. The next part of the sentence is: “the bliss of the self-disclosure of prema for Bhagavān arises..[]”. Thus, we see that the madhyama devotee also has prema for Bhagavān.


The madhyama bhāgavata is a siddha, not a sādhaka. Therefore, the characteristics of the madhyama bhāgavata are not possible in the sādhakas.

As such, the definition of the madhyama bhāgavata does not apply to bhakti-preachers.

Unlike the uttama bhāgavata, the madhyama bhāgavata does not have the ability to perceive Bhagavān or his own mood of devotion in everyone.

Unlike the uttama bhāgavata , the madhyama bhāgavata cannot feel anger toward those who are inimical.

Categories: bhāva, concepts, Definitions

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8 replies »

  1. Pranams! I read on another bhakti website that Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakur comments on the Bhagavatam verse describing the madhyama bhagavata thus:

    ”The madhyama devotee shows prema for his worshipable Bhagavan Sri Krishna. This actually means he has attachment for Bhagavan rather than prema..”

    Is it a matter of two acharyas with different understanding or a wrong translation of the commentary, because it seems to be clear that Sri Jiva says the madhyama bhakta has prema bhakti?


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