Maharajji answers questions in Śrī Guru Darśanam, pp. 343-344
Question: How can we understand these different levels of spiritual development? Sometimes there is a different pace of growth, or even regression in spiritual life. Does this depend on the discipline of the person, on his personality, or is this just Kṛṣṇa’s mercy.
Answer: On the path of bhakti, the progress depends upon the grace of Bhagavān. Bhakti is different from other paths like jñāna, yoga or karma. On other paths, the person performs some sādhāna as they do in karma, to attain some result. The result depends on one’s own action. Common people have no ability to understand bhakti. Therefore such questions arise, because we have heard about other paths, or have heard about bhakti mixed with other paths. Bhakti has been presented in an improper manner.
Bhakti is the internal energy of Bhagavān. Bhakti is Bhagavān Himself, because His energy is not independent of Him. So when a person takes initiation, then God Himself accepts him and gives him bhakti. This bhakti is not separate from God. God gives bhakti by His will and grace, and then one makes progress by engaging in bhakti.
On other paths, the person performs some sādhanā because he has material desires that he wants to fulfill. He depends on his own efforts. In bhakti also, people have a similar type of idea. People think, “I will perform this action and then I will progress.” Progressing means that I will become something.
All these concepts have to be given up. This is the meaning of become free from all deceptive mentality, dharmaḥ projjhita-kaitavaḥ. This whole idea that I want to become something, even on the path of bhakti, carries the same type of contamination as on other paths. This signifies a desire to be independent of God. Otherwise, on this path, there is no other thought except that of doing favorable service (anyābhilāṣitā śūnyam). One’s happiness is only in service. So when that is the motive and the goal, then one does not think of making any other progress. This very idea of making advancement means keeping oneself separate and is against the nature of bhakti.
In uttamā-bhakti, satisfaction comes only be rendering service. There is no restriction in that, and no requirement that one has to become advanced. Here everything happens by the grace of Bhagavān. Of course, one has to accept it. After taking dīkṣā, one has to accept that one is a servant of the guru and one should cooperate and serve with this mood. The goal of making advancement is a defect on the path of bhakti.
Bhagavān gives His mercy to those people who are free from cheating. By His grace, He gives the association of a pure devotee. After that, if one takes shelter of the devotee without any deceptive propensity, then he gets further mercy of Bhagavān. One has to give up attachment to this material body, which is temporary and basically the food for dogs or vultures. If a person dies and you throw the dead body on the street, the dogs or vultures will eat it. As long as one has the feeling of “I” and “mine’ as separate from the guru, one cannot get the grace of Bhagavān. Taking shelter of the guru without any motive means not giving importance to this body. Only such people get the mercy of Bhagavān.
Question: You are describing a very high level of uttamā-bhakti, where after the point of surrender there are no more material desires, etc., but what about my case, where I still feel material desires, what can I do?
Answer: Continue with your service and chant. Do not become disheartened.
Question: I am wondering about how many lifetimes this will take. Once you said that if a disciple surrenders, then this is his last life, and if he does not surrender, then there is no question of relationship with the guru at all. Is there any hope?
Answer: The main prerequisite of a disciple is simplicity and straightforwardness. That means he should neither have any deceptive propensity nor any hatred, dislike or disrespect for Kṛṣṇa or the guru. The fact that a disciple has taken to the path of bhakti is itself the mercy of Bhagavān. If a disciple is simple-hearted and continues to service, then he will progress and all the impurities of the heart will go away by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa.