Certainly many, many people have very confused ideas about this.
- Learning and Knowledge
Many think that these are sure signs of advancement in bhakti-yoga. Some are so dull that they actually think “tenure” (how many years you’ve stuck around) is a measure of advancement. Others are of such a brick-n-morter mentality that they actually seem to think numbers can describe advancement: number of devotees in a temple, number of disciples, number of books sold and so on…
Why should we care at all for any of these confused ideas? So many people might be so confused about what constitutes advancement in bhakti yoga, but its really not confusing at all:
Bhakti means love, particularly love for Krishna. Therefore the more love you have (particularly for Krishna), the more you have progressed in Bhakti-yoga. It’s that simple.
But how do you measure or recognize love? Leaving aside instinct as overly subjective and prone to bias, there is a simple method: the more love you have for something, the more attracted to it you are. So, the more you love Krishna the more you are attracted to Krishna. Again, it’s simple. Attraction to Krishna is the measure of advancement in Bhakti-yoga.
But how do we measure or recognize attraction to Krishna?
In this world (i.e. in the sādhaka-deha) there is no tangible way to express that attraction to Krishna except through the 64 limbs of sādhana. The essence of the 64 limbs is constant remembrance of Krishna, and there are five essential mechanisms of that remembrance – the two most essential of which are hearing Bhāgavatam and performing Krishna-saṅkīrtana.
Therefore the only true measure of our advancement in bhakti-yoga is the extent to which our mind gravitates magnetically towards learning about Krishna (directly, Krishna himself) from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and in how much taste we have for performing Krishna-Saṁkīrtana – especially Krishna-nāma-saṁkīrtana.
We can thus easily assess our own progress on the path. If there is a need to assess the progress of others, we measure the same principle by observing how easy or difficult it is to move the person away from discussion of Krishna (Krishna himself, directly – not stuff-remotely-connected-somehow-to-Krishna-because-of-x-y-z). We can do this by observing how much or how little time the person remains enrapt in Kīrtan and discussion of Krishna.
A person who is always deeply enrapt in Krishna Kīrtan and Kathā is a very advanced Vaishnava, they are very easy to engage in kīrtan and kathā for a long time with enthusiasm, and are very slow to moving the topic of discussion or celebration away from Krishna.