There is a gradual process of sadhana – a means to an end. And gradually, slowly, according to the capacity of the devotee, and the endeavor, the sadhana, one’s bhakti develops. When darkness has almost been finished, the non-gentle, abnormal, exploitative symptoms like the mean attempt to exploit the environment, gradually disappear. And in this way, gradually, we make further progress. It is not that all of a sudden – in one stroke – everything is cleared. Rather, according to our bhajana, our sadhana, our attempt, the undesirable elements will gradually vanish, go away. And by different stages we shall reach the goal.
These stages have been described by Rupa Goswami as follows in his Bhakti-Rasamrita-Sindhu (1.4.15-16):
adau shraddha tatah sadhu-sango ’tha bhajana-kriya
tato’ nartha-nivrittih syat tato nistha rucis tatah
athasaktis tato bhavas tatah premabhyudancati
sadhakanam ayam premnah pradurbhave bhavet kramah
“In the beginning there must be faith. Then one becomes interested in associating with pure devotees. Thereafter one is initiated by the spiritual master and executes the regulative principles under his orders. Thus one is freed from all unwanted habits and becomes firmly fixed in devotional service. Thereafter, one develops taste and then attachment. This is the way of sadhana-bhakti, the execution of devotional service according to the regulative principles. Gradually spiritual emotions manifest and intensify, then finally there is an awakening of divine love. This is the gradual development of love of Godhead for the devotee interested in Krishna consciousness.”
–An excerpt from Srila Sridhar Maharaj’s Subjective Evolution of Consciousness (58-60).