If one wants to go to the higher material planets, he can keep his finer dress of mind, intelligence and ego, but has to leave his gross dress (body) made of earth, water, fire, etc. When one goes to a transcendental planet, however, it is necessary to change both the finer and gross bodies, for one has to reach the spiritual sky completely in a spiritual form. This change of dress will take place automatically at the time of death if one so desires. But this desire is possible at death only if the desire is cultivated during life. Where one's treasures are, there also is one's heart. When one practices devotional service, one cultivates a desire for the kingdom of God. The following details outline a general practice by which one can prepare himself for an easy journey to the Vaikuṇṭha (anti-material) planets, where life is free from birth, old age, disease and death.
General practice (positive functions):
1. The serious candidate must accept a bona fide spiritual master in order to be trained scientifically. Because the senses are material, it is not at all possible to realize the Transcendence by them. Therefore the senses have to be spiritualized by the prescribed method under the direction of the spiritual master.
2. When the student has chosen a bona fide spiritual master, he must take the proper initiation from him. This marks the beginning of spiritual training.
3. The candidate must be prepared to satisfy the spiritual master in every way. A bona fide spiritual master who is fully cognizant of the methods of spiritual science, learned in the spiritual scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gītā, Vedānta, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam and Upaniṣads, and who is also a realized soul who has made a tangible connection with the Supreme Lord, is the transparent medium by which the willing candidate is led to the path of the Vaikuṇṭhas. The spiritual master must be satisfied in all respects, because simply by his good wishes a candidate can make wonderful progress along the path.
4. The intelligent candidate places intelligent questions to the spiritual master in order to clear his path of all uncertainties. The spiritual master shows the way, not whimsically, but in accordance with the principles of the authorities who have actually traversed the path. The names of these authorities are disclosed in the scriptures, and one has simply to follow them under the direction of the spiritual master. The spiritual master never deviates from the path of the authorities.
5. The candidate should always try to follow in the footsteps of the great sages who have practiced the method and obtained success. This should be taken as a motto in life. One should not superficially imitate them, but should follow them sincerely in terms of the particular time and circumstances.
6. The candidate must be prepared to change his habits in terms of the instructions contained in the books of authority, and for the satisfaction of the Lord he must be prepared to sacrifice both sense gratification and sense abnegation, following the example of Arjuna.
7. The candidate should live in a spiritual atmosphere.
8. He must be satisfied with as much wealth as is sufficient for maintenance only. He should not try to amass more wealth than is necessary to sustain himself in a simple way.
9. He must observe the fasting dates, such as the eleventh day of the growing and waning moon.
10. He must show respect to the banyan tree, the cow, the learned brāhmaṇa and the devotee.
These are the first stepping-stones toward the path of devotional service. Gradually one has to adopt other items, which are negative in character:
11. One should avoid offenses in the discharge of devotional service and in chanting the holy names.
12. He should avoid extensive association with nondevotees.
13. He must not take on unlimited disciples. This means that a candidate who has successfully followed the first twelve items can also become a spiritual master himself, just as a student becomes a monitor in class with a limited number of disciples.
14. He must not pose himself as a vastly learned man simply by quoting statements in books. He must have solid knowledge of the necessary books without superfluous knowledge in others.
15. A regular and successful practice of the above fourteen items will enable the candidate to maintain mental equilibrium even amidst great trials of material loss and gain.
16. In the next stage, the candidate does not become afflicted by lamentation and illusion.
17. He does not deride another's mode of religion or worship, nor does he deride the Personality of Godhead or His devotees.
18. He never tolerates blasphemy against the Lord or His devotees.
19. He should not indulge in the discussion of topics dealing with the relationship between man and woman; nor should he engage in useless topics concerning others' family affairs.
20. He should not inflict pain—either in body or in mind—upon other living beings, whomsoever they may be.
Out of the above twenty items, the first three positive items are imperative and most essential for the serious candidate.
There are forty-four other items to be followed by the serious candidate, but Lord Caitanya has selected five as the most important. These were selected owing to the present conditions of civic life. They are as follows:
1. One should associate with the devotees. Association with devotees is made possible by hearing them attentively, by asking them relevant questions, by supplying them food and by accepting food from them, and by giving them charity and by accepting from them whatever they offer.
2. One should chant the holy name of the Lord in all circumstances. The chanting of the Lord's name is an easy and inexpensive process of realization. One can chant any of the innumerable names of the Lord at any time. One should try to avoid offenses. There are ten offenses which one can commit while chanting the transcendental names, and these should be avoided as far as possible, but in any event, one should try to chant the holy names of the Lord at all times.
3. One should hear the transcendental topics enunciated in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. This hearing is made possible through platform lectures by bona fide devotees and by authorized translations of the Bhāgavatam.
4. One should make his home at Mathurā, the birthplace of Lord Kṛṣṇa. Or one may make his home as good as Mathurā by installing the Deity of the Lord to be worshiped by all members of the family after proper initiation from the spiritual master.
5. One should worship the installed Deity with attention and devotion so that the whole atmosphere of one's home becomes the replica of the Lord's abode. This is made possible by the direction of the spiritual master who knows the transcendental art and can show the candidate the proper method.
The above five items can be adopted by any man in any part of the world. Thus anyone can prepare himself for returning home, back to Godhead, by the simple method recognized by authorities such as Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who specifically advented Himself to deliver the fallen souls of this age.
For further details on this subject, one should read literatures like the Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu, of which we have presented an English summary study entitled The Nectar of Devotion.
The whole process of transferring oneself to the spiritual sky involves gradually liquidating the material composition of the gross and subtle coverings of the spirit soul. The above-mentioned five items of devotional activities are so spiritually powerful that their performance by a devotee, even in the preliminary stage, can very quickly promote the sincere executor to the stage of bhāva (the stage just prior to love of Godhead), or emotion on the spiritual plane, which is transcendental to mental and intellectual functions. A complete absorption in bhāva, or love of God, makes one fit to be transferred to the spiritual sky just after leaving the material tabernacle. The perfection of love of God by a devotee actually situates him on the spiritual platform, even though he may still maintain a gross material body. He becomes like a red-hot iron which, when in contact with fire, actually ceases to be iron and acts like fire. These things are made possible by the Lord's inscrutable and inconceivable energy, which material science has not the scope to calculate. One should therefore engage himself in devotional service with absolute faith, and to make his faith steadfast one should seek the association of the standard devotees of the Lord by personal association (if possible) or by thinking of them. This association will help one develop factual devotional service to the Lord, which will cause all material misgivings to disappear like a flash of lightning. All these different stages of spiritual realization will be personally felt by the candidate, and this will create in him a firm belief that he is making positive progress on the way to the spiritual sky. Then he will become sincerely attached to the Lord and His abode. Such is the gradual process of evolving love of God, which is the prime necessity for the human form of life.
There are instances in history of great personalities, including sages and kings, who attained perfection by this process. Some of them attained success even by adhering to one single item of devotional service with faith and perseverance. Some of these personalities are listed below.
1. Emperor Parīkṣit attained the spiritual platform simply by hearing from such an authority as Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī.
2. Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī attained the same simply by recitation, verbatim, of the transcendental message which he received from his great father, Śrī Vyāsadeva.
3. Emperor Prahlāda attained spiritual success by remembering the Lord constantly, in pursuance of instructions given by Śrī Nārada Muni, the great saint and devotee.
4. Lakṣmījī, the goddess of fortune, attained success simply by sitting and serving the lotus feet of the Lord.
5. King Pṛthu attained success simply by worshiping the Lord.
6. Akrūra, the charioteer, attained success simply by chanting prayers for the Lord.
7. Hanumān (Mahāvīra), the famous nonhuman devotee of Lord Śrī Rāmacandra, attained success simply by carrying out the orders of the Lord.
8. Arjuna, the great warrior, attained the same perfection simply by making friends with the Lord, who delivered the message of Bhagavad-gītā to enlighten Arjuna and his followers.
9. Emperor Bali attained success by surrendering everything unto the Lord, including his personal body.
These are nine standard modes of devotional service to the Lord, and a candidate can choose to adopt any one, two, three, four or all, however he likes. All the services rendered to the Absolute are in themselves absolute, with none of the quantitative or qualitative differences found on the material platform. On the spiritual platform everything is identical with everything else, although there is transcendental variegatedness. Emperor Ambarīṣa adopted all the above nine items, and he attained perfect success. It was he who engaged his mind on the lotus feet of the Lord, his voice in describing the spiritual world, his hands in cleansing the temple of the Lord, his ears in submissively hearing the words of Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, his eyes in viewing the Deities of the Lord, his body in touching the bodies of the devotees, his nostrils in smelling the flowers offered to the Lord, his tongue in tasting the food offered to the Lord, his legs in visiting the temple of the Lord, and all the energy of his life in executing the services of the Lord without in the least desiring his own sense gratification. All these activities helped him attain the perfect stage of life which defeats all dexterities of material science.
It is therefore important for all human beings to adopt these principles of spiritual realization for the perfection of life. A human being's only obligation is spiritual realization. Unfortunately, in modern civilization, human society is too busy in discharging national duties. Actually, national duties, social duties and humanitarian duties are obligatory only to those who are bereft of spiritual duties. As soon as a man takes his birth on this earth, not only does he have national, social and humanitarian obligations, but he also has obligations to the demigods who supply air, light, water, etc. He also has obligations to the great sages who have left behind them vast treasure-houses of knowledge to guide him through life. He has obligations to all kinds of living beings, to his forefathers, family members and so forth and so on. But as soon as one engages himself in the one single obligatory duty—the duty of spiritual perfection—then he automatically liquidates all other obligations without having to make separate efforts.