What follows is a short summary of the different grades of devotees and what makes each what he is.
In sports, business, and academics, there are certain yardsticks of measurement by which we can gauge our progress in each field of endeavor. What follows is the simple and clear instructions of the pure devotee of the Lord explaining these necessary things, to those who will listen.
1) Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.11 Purport, Dhruva Maharaja Returns Home
We have therefore established the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Anyone who is trying to be aloof from this Krishna Consciousness Society and yet engage in Krishna consciousness is living in a great hallucination, for this is not possible. From this statement by Dhruva Maharaja it is clear that unless one is associated with devotees, his devotional service does not mature; it does not become distinct from material activities.
2) Srimad Bhagavatam, 4.18.5, Prithu Maharaja Milks the Earth Planet
A foolish person who manufactures his own ways and means through mental speculation and does not recognize the authority of the sages who lay down unimpeachable directions is simply unsuccessful again and again in his attempts.
At the present moment it has become fashionable to disobey the unimpeachable directions given by the acharyas and liberated souls of the past. Presently people are so fallen that they cannot distinguish between a liberated soul and a conditioned soul.
A conditioned soul is hampered by four defects: he is sure to commit mistakes, he is sure to become illusioned, he has a tendency to cheat others, and his senses are imperfect. Consequently we have to take direction from liberated persons. This Krishna consciousness movement directly receives instructions from the Supreme personality of Godhead via persons who are strictly following His instructions.
Although a follower may not be a liberated person, if he follows the supreme liberated Personality of Godhead, his actions are naturally liberated from the contamination of the material nature. …. Materialistic men are not interested in taking directions from a liberated person, but they are very much interested in their own concocted ideas, which make them repeatedly fail in their attempts. Because the entire world is now following the imperfect directions of conditioned souls, humanity is completely bewildered.
3) Srimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.12, Purport, Divinity and Divine Service
There are four different types of human beings – the karmis, the jnanis, the yogis and the devotees. The karmis are materialistic, whereas the other three are transcendental. The first-class transcendentalists are the devotees who have realized the Supreme Person. The second-class transcendentalists are those who have partially realized the plenary portion of the absolute person. And the third-class transcendentalists are those who have barely realized the spiritual focus of the absolute person. …..
Devotional service is not, therefore, meant for the less intelligent class of transcendentalist. There are three classes of devotees, namely first, second, and third class. The third-class devotees, or the neophytes, who have no knowledge and are not detached from material association, but who are simply attracted by the preliminary process of worshiping the Deity in the temple, are called material devotees. Material devotees are more attached to material benefit than transcendental profit.Therefore, one has to make definite progress from the position of material devotional service to the second-class devotional position.
…In the second-class position, the devotee can see four principles in the devotional line, namely the Personality of Godhead, His devotees, the ignorant and theenvious. One has to raise himself at least to the stage of a second-class devotee and thus become eligible to know the Absolute Truth.
A third-class devotee, therefore, has to receive the instructions of devotional service from the authoritative sources of Bhagavata. The number one Bhagavata is the established personality of devotee, and the other Bhagavatam is the message of Godhead. The third-class devotee therefore has to go to the personality of devotee in order to learn the instructions of devotional service. Such a personality of devotee is not a professional man who earns his livelihood by the business of Bhagavatam.
Such a devotee must be a representative of Sukadeva Gosvami, like Suta Gosvami, and must preach the cult of devotional service for the all-around benefit of all people. A neophyte devotee has very little taste for hearing from the authorities. Such a neophyte devotee makes a show of hearing from the professional man to satisfy his senses. This sort of hearing and chanting has spoiled the whole thing, so one should be very careful about the faulty process.
The holy messages of Godhead, as inculcated in the Bhagavad-gita or in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, are undoubtedly transcendental subjects, but even though they are so, such transcendental matters are not to be received from the professional man, who spoils them as the serpent spoils milk simply by the touch of his tongue.
A sincere devotee must, therefore, be prepared to hear the Vedic literature like the Upanishads, Vedanta and other literatures left by the previous authorities or Gosvamis, for the benefit of his progress. Without hearing such literatures, one cannot make actual progress. And without hearing and following the instructions, the show of devotional service becomes worthless and therefore a sort of disturbance in the path of devotional service.
Unless, therefore, devotional service is established on the principles of sruti, smriti, purana or pancharatra authorities, the make-show of devotional service should at once be rejected. An unauthorized devotee should never be recognized as a pure devotee. By assimilation of such messages from the Vedic literatures, one can see the all-pervading localized aspect of the Personality of Godhead within his own self constantly. This is called samadhi.
4) Adi 7.95-96, Lord Chaitanya in Five Features
A person who cannot keep his faith in the words of his spiritual master but acts independently never receives the authority to chant the holy name of the Lord. It is said in the Vedas. (Shvetasvatara Upanishad 6.23):
yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
"Only unto those great souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master are all the imports of Vedic knowledge automatically revealed." This Vedic injunction is very important, and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu supported it by His personal behavior.
Some conclusions from the above statements by Srila Prabhupada:
Unless one regularly associates with devotees fixed in siddhanta, his understanding of spiritual life does not mature and worse – he can't tell the difference between material and spiritual activities within his own self or from others. In other words he may be in total maya, but will think he is Krishna Conscious. His fruitive acts are considered spiritual even though there is no renunciation of the fruits or the fruitive mentality or doing all acts for the pleasure of guru and God.
– (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.9.11)
And because he does not accept the proper method of following transcendental authority and its representatives, he continues to speculate and deviate from the proper method outlined by authorized persons.
– (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.18.5)
As a result of this foolishness, he therefore can’t even tell the difference between a liberated and a conditioned soul. Prabhupada has explained several times that if you do as an electrician does, following exactly what he tells you to do, then your acts, under his guidance, are as good as the first class electrician – even without his personal qualifications. Similarly if we follow the instructions of a bona fide guru exactly, then our acts are also liberating and without karmic reaction.. Because many devotees don’t hear from Srila Prabhupada properly or regularly, they cannot tell who and who not to hear from in their own personal lives and from other devotees. He concludes by saying now the whole world is bewildered because they do not take the perfect instructions of the pure devotee and his representatives.
The third class devotees have barely achieved the spiritual focus of God, namely brahman realization (I am not this body), are not detached from material association but have become attracted to Deity worship, and as a result (of the material attractions) have more of an affinity for material profit than spiritual gain.
The second class devotee can see four persons – God, the devotees, the innocent or ignorant, and the envious hearted. This last ability to see those are actually envious will serve that devotee well who can sever all ties with those who pose as devotees but at heart and behavior are envious of devotees. The second class devotee avoids the envious and atheistic and preaches to the ignorant or innocent. In order to raise oneself from third class to second class one must go to the book Bhagavat and person Bhagavat and regularly and sincerely hear from him. This is the authorized process.The third class devotee has little or no taste for doing this – hearing the nectar of the parampara but will make a show of doing so just to satisfy his senses.
"Oh I have attended Srimad Bhagavatam class or the Sunday feast program, therefore now I am a devotee – a spiritual person" "I also wear a very nicely pleated and ironed dhoti/kurta or sari and put on my tilak very carefully, therefore again, I am a very spiritual person." This type of devotee makes it his/her business to hear from the "professional devotees" those who have little or no renunciation or actual knowledge, yet pose as gurus, acharyas and other such "holy men".
Srila Prabhupada states, .."This sort of hearing and chanting has spoiled the whole thing, so one should be very careful about the faulty process.”
In other words Prabhupada is telling us here that in order that we don’t get cheated, even if we attempt to hear Srimad Bhagavatam from some devotee, then we have to know about that devotee, how they live, what they do and especially what are their motives.
He also warns – "the make-show of devotional service should at once be rejected. An unauthorized devotee should never be recognized as a pure devotee. This little bit of intelligence we must have to protect ourselves from the wolves of Kali yuga.
4) 100% faith in the pure devotee of the Lord is the actual and tangible asset we should acquire. First we must find out WHO is the actual pure devotee of the Lord, then we follow him which also means automatically all the pretenders are then rejected.