kṛṣṇeti yasya giri taḿ manasādriyeta dīkṣāsti cet praṇatibhiśca bhajantamīśam śuśrūṣayā bhajanavijñamananyamanya- nindādiśūnyahṛdamīpsitasańgalabdhyā
One should mentally honor the devotee who chants the holy name of Lord Krsna, one should offer humble obeisances to the devotee who has undergone spiritual initiation [diksa] and is engaged in worshiping the Deity, and one should associate with and faithfully serve that Pure devotee who is advanced in undeviated devotional service and whose heart is completely devoid of the propensity to criticise others.
In the fifth verse of Sri Upadeshamrita, Srila Rupa goswam is giving instructions about how one should pay due respect to the different levels of Vaishnavas. Based on their level of spiritual advancement, the devotees can be broadly classified into three categories, namely, Kanishta adhikari vaishnavas, Madhyama adhikari vaishnavas and Uttam adhikari vaishnavas. Upon being questioned in three consecutive years about who a Vaishnava is, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had first said that one who even once takes the names of Sri Krishna is a Vaishnava. In the second year, upon being asked the same question again, he answered that one who is constantly chanting the holy names of the Lord is a Vaishnava and in the third year he said that one, the mere sight of whom inspires others to chant the names of the Lord, is a Vaishnava. The previous acharyas have explained that by answering the same question in these three different ways, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has informed us about the three different categories of Vaishnavas. The person who even once takes the names of the Lord or people who occasionally chant the names of the Lord are Kanishta adhikaris, those who are constantly engaged in the chanting of the holy names are Madhyama adhikaris and the great Vaishnavas, seeing whom others are inspired to remember and chant the names of the Lord are Uttam Bhagawats. Various other explanations have also been given describing the three different levels of devotees. The devotees who have komal shraddha, or faith that is not yet firm and those who lack knowledge of the Bhakti Shastras are known as Kanishta Vaishnavas, the devotees having driddha shraddha or unflinching faith in the Lord and his devotees but whose knowledge of the Bhakti literatures is not strong enough are called Madhyama Vaishnavas and those exalted devotees who have unflinching faith and have also completely realised the purports of all the devotional scriptures are known as Uttam Vaishnavas. Similarly it is said that those who have faith in the deity form of the Lord but do not yet realise the glories of the Vaishnavas are Kanishta Adhikaris, the devotees who have love for the Supreme Lord, who are friendly to other vaishnavas, merciful to the ignorant and who do not maintain any connection with those who are averse to bhakti are Madhyama Adhikaris, and those devotees who see everything in relationship with the Supreme Lord, being completely immersed in Krishna’s lilas, and who, due to their advanced stage, see everyone as a part and parcel of the Lord, engaged in the service of Sri Krishna in some or the other way, and do not see anything and anyone as being dissociated with Lord are known as Uttam Adhikaris.
Similarly, Srila Rupa goswami has given a definition for the three levels of Vaishnavas in this shloka, with those devotees who chant the holy names of Lord Krsna being Kanishta, the devotees who have undergone spiritual initiation [diksa] and are engaged in worshiping the Deity as being Madhyama and the pure devotees who are advanced in undeviated devotional service and whose hearts are completely devoid of the propensity to criticise others as being Uttam Adhikari Vaishnavas. He instructs us to give respect to the Kanishta Adhikari Vaishnavas within our minds, the Madhyama Adhikaris by offering respectful obeisances to them and the Uttam Adhikari Vaishnavas by associating with them and serving them with great faith. Therefore, keeping in mind the instructions of Srila Rupa goswami, we should offer due respect to all the Vaishnavas in accordance with their level of advancement on the path of Bhakti.