Either the soul goes to a place he desires at the time of death, or upon leaving his body he is forced to accept a position according to his acts in his previous life
"I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, the first progenitor, who is tending cows yielding all desires in abodes built with spiritual gems and surrounded by millions of purpose trees. He is always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds and thousands of goddesses of fortune."
This is a verse from the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.29). This description of the abode of Kṛṣṇa gives us definite information of the transcendental place where not only is life eternal, blissful and full of knowledge, but there are ample vegetables, milk, jewels, and beautiful homes and gardens tended by lovely damsels who are all goddesses of fortune. Kṛṣṇaloka is the topmost planet in the spiritual sky, and below it are innumerable spheres, a description of which can be found in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. In the beginning of Lord Brahmā’s self-realization he was shown a transcendental vision of the Vaikuṇṭha spheres by the grace of Nārāyaṇa. Later, by the grace of Kṛṣṇa, he was shown a transcendental vision of Kṛṣṇaloka. This transcendental vision is like the reception of television from the moon via a mechanical system for receiving modulated waves, but it is achieved by penance and meditation within oneself.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Second Canto) states that in Vaikuṇṭhaloka the material modes of nature, represented by the qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance, have no influence. In the material world the highest qualitative manifestation is goodness, which is characterized by truthfulness, mental equilibrium, cleanliness, control of the senses, simplicity, essential knowledge, faith in God, scientific knowledge and so on. Nevertheless, all these qualities are mixed with passion and imperfection. But the qualities in Vaikuṇṭha are a manifestation of God's internal potency, and therefore they are purely spiritual and transcendental, with no trace of material infection. No material planet, even Satyaloka, is comparable in quality to the spiritual planets, where the five inherent qualities of the material world—namely ignorance, misery, egoism, anger and envy—are completely absent.
In the material world, everything is a creation. Anything we can think of within our experience, including even our own bodies and minds, was created. This process of creation began with the life of Brahmā, and the creative principle is prevalent all over the material universe because of the quality of passion. But since the quality of passion is conspicuous by its absence in the Vaikuṇṭha planets, nothing there is created; everything there is eternally existent. And because there is no mode of ignorance, there is also no question of annihilation or destruction. In the material world one may try to make everything permanent by developing the above-mentioned qualities of goodness, but because the goodness in the material world is mixed with passion and ignorance, nothing here can exist permanently, despite all the good plans of the best scientific brains. Therefore in the material world we have no experience of eternity, bliss and fullness of knowledge. But in the spiritual world, because of the complete absence of the qualitative modes, everything is eternal, blissful and cognizant. Everything can speak, everything can move, everything can hear, and everything can see in fully blessed existence for eternity. The situation being so, naturally space and time, in the forms of past, present and future, have no influence there. In the spiritual sky there is no change because time has no influence. Consequently, the influence of māyā, the total external energy, which induces us to become more and more materialistic and forget our relationship with God, is also absent there.
As spiritual sparks of the beams emanating from the transcendental body of the Lord, we are all permanently related with Him and equal to Him in quality. The material energy is a covering of the spiritual spark, but in the absence of that material covering, the living beings in Vaikuṇṭhaloka are never forgetful of their identities: they are eternally cognizant of their relationship with God in their constitutional position of rendering transcendental loving service to the Lord. Because they constantly engage in the transcendental service of the Lord, it is natural to conclude that their senses are also transcendental, for one cannot serve the Lord with material senses. The inhabitants of Vaikuṇṭhaloka do not possess material senses with which to lord it over material nature.
Persons with a poor fund of knowledge conclude that a place void of material qualities must be some sort of formless nothingness. In reality, however, there are qualities in the spiritual world, but they are different from the material qualities because everything there is eternal, unlimited and pure. The atmosphere there is self-illuminating, and thus there is no need of a sun, a moon, fire, electricity and so on. One who can reach that abode does not come back to the material world with a material body. There is no difference between atheists and the faithful in the Vaikuṇṭha planets because all who settle there are freed from the material qualities, and thus suras and asuras become equally obedient loving servitors of the Lord.
The residents of Vaikuṇṭha have brilliantly black complexions much more fascinating and attractive than the dull white and black complexions found in the material world. Their bodies, being spiritual, have no equals in the material world. The beauty of a bright cloud when lightning flashes on it merely hints at their beauty. Generally the inhabitants of Vaikuṇṭha dress in yellow clothing. Their bodies are delicate and attractively built, and their eyes are like the petals of lotus flowers. Like Lord Viṣṇu, the residents of Vaikuṇṭha have four hands decorated with a conchshell, wheel, club and lotus flower. Their chests are beautifully broad and fully decorated with necklaces of a brilliant diamondlike metal surrounded by costly jewels never to be found in the material world. The residents of Vaikuṇṭha are always powerful and effulgent. Some of them have complexions like red coral cat's eyes and lotus flowers, and each of them has earrings of costly jewels. On their heads they wear flowery crowns resembling garlands.
In the Vaikuṇṭhas there are airplanes, but they make no tumultuous sounds. Material airplanes are not at all safe: they can fall down and crash at any time, for matter is imperfect in every respect. In the spiritual sky, however, the airplanes are also spiritual, and they are spiritually brilliant and bright. These airplanes do not fly business executives, politicians or planning commissions as passengers, nor do they carry cargo or postal bags, for these are all unknown there. These planes are for pleasure trips only, and the residents of Vaikuṇṭha fly in them with their heavenly, beautiful, fairylike consorts. Therefore these airplanes, full of residents of Vaikuṇṭha, both male and female, increase the beauty of the spiritual sky. We cannot imagine how beautiful they are, but their beauty may be compared to the clouds in the sky accompanied by silver branches of electric lightning. The spiritual sky of Vaikuṇṭhaloka is always decorated in this way.
The full opulence of the internal potency of Godhead is always resplendent in Vaikuṇṭhaloka, where goddesses of fortune are ever-increasingly attached to serving the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead. These goddesses of fortune, accompanied by their friends, always create a festive atmosphere of transcendental mirth. Always singing the glories of the Lord, they are not silent even for a moment.
There are unlimited Vaikuṇṭha planets in the spiritual sky, and the ratio of these planets to the material planets in the material sky is three to one. Thus the poor materialist is busy making political adjustments on a planet that is most insignificant in God's creation. To say nothing of this planet earth, the whole universe, with innumerable planets throughout the galaxies, is comparable to a single mustard seed in a bag full of mustard seeds. But the poor materialist makes plans to live comfortably here and thus wastes his valuable human energy in something that is doomed to frustration. Instead of wasting his time with business speculations, he should seek the life of plain living and high spiritual thinking and thus save himself from perpetual materialistic unrest.
Even if a materialist wants to enjoy developed material facilities, he can transfer himself to planets where he can experience material pleasures much more advanced than those available on earth. The best plan is to prepare oneself to return to the spiritual sky after leaving the body. However, if one is intent on enjoying material facilities, one can transfer himself to other planets in the material sky by utilizing yogic powers. The playful spaceships of the astronauts are but childish entertainments and are of no use for this purpose. The aṣṭāṅga-yoga system is a materialistic art of controlling air by transferring it from the stomach to the navel, from the navel to the heart, from the heart to the collarbone, from there to the eyeballs, from there to the cerebellum and from there to any desired planet. The velocities of air and light are taken into consideration by the material scientist, but he has no information of the velocity of the mind and intelligence. We have some limited experience of the velocity of the mind because in a moment we can transfer our minds to places hundreds of thousands of miles away. Intelligence is even finer. Finer than intelligence is the soul, which is not matter like mind and intelligence but is spirit, or antimatter. The soul is hundreds of thousands of times finer and more powerful than intelligence. We can thus only imagine the velocity of the soul in its traveling from one planet to another. Needless to say, the soul travels by its own strength and not with the help of any kind of material vehicle.
The bestial civilization of eating, sleeping, fearing and sense-gratifying has misled modern man into forgetting how powerful a soul he has. As we have already described, the soul is a spiritual spark many, many times more illuminating, dazzling and powerful than the sun, moon or electricity. Human life is spoiled when man does not realize his real identity with his soul. Lord Caitanya appeared with Lord Nityānanda to save man from this type of misleading civilization.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam also describes how yogīs can travel to all the planets in the universe. When the vital force is lifted to the cerebellum, there is every chance that this force will burst out from the eyes, nose, ears, etc., as these are places that are known as the seventh orbit of the vital force. But the yogīs can block these holes by complete suspension of air. The yogī then concentrates the vital force in the middle position, that is, between the eyebrows. At this position, the yogī can think of the planet to which he wants to go after leaving the body. He can then decide whether he wants to go to the abode of Kṛṣṇa in the transcendental Vaikuṇṭhas, from which he will not be required to descend into the material world, or to travel to higher planets in the material universe. The perfect yogī is at liberty to do either.
For the perfect yogī who has attained success in the method of leaving his body in perfect consciousness, transferring from one planet to another is as easy as an ordinary man's walking to the grocery store. As already discussed, the material body is just a covering of the spiritual soul. Mind and intelligence are the undercoverings, and the gross body of earth, water, air and so on is the overcoating of the soul. As such, any advanced soul who has realized himself by the yogic process, who knows the relationship between matter and spirit, can leave the gross dress of the soul in perfect order and as he desires. By the grace of God, we have complete freedom. Because the Lord is kind to us, we can live anywhere—either in the spiritual sky or in the material sky, upon whichever planet we desire. However, misuse of this freedom causes one to fall down into the material world and suffer the threefold miseries of conditioned life. The living of a miserable life in the material world by dint of the soul's choice is nicely illustrated by Milton in Paradise Lost. Similarly, by choice the soul can regain paradise and return home, back to Godhead.
At the critical time of death, one can place the vital force between the two eyebrows and decide where he wants to go. If he is reluctant to maintain any connection with the material world, he can, in less than a second, reach the transcendental abode of Vaikuṇṭha and appear there completely in his spiritual body, which will be suitable for him in the spiritual atmosphere. He has simply to desire to leave the material world both in finer and in grosser forms and then move the vital force to the topmost part of the skull and leave the body from the hole in the skull called the brahma-randhra. This is easy for one perfect in the practice of yoga.
Of course, man is endowed with free will, and as such if he does not want to free himself from the material world he may enjoy the life of brahma-pada (occupation of the post of Brahmā) and visit Siddhaloka, the planets of materially perfect beings, who have full capacities to control gravity, space and time. To visit these higher planets in the material universe, one need not give up his mind and intelligence (finer matter), but need only give up grosser matter (the material body).
Each and every planet has its particular atmosphere, and if one wants to travel to any particular planet within the material universe, one has to adapt his material body to the climatic condition of that planet. For instance, if one wants to go from India to Europe, where the climatic condition is different, one has to change his dress accordingly. Similarly, a complete change of body is necessary if one wants to go to the transcendental planets of Vaikuṇṭha. However, 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, 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.
The Bhagavad-gītā confirms that one will attain his next material body according to his desires at the time he leaves his body. The desire of the mind carries the soul to a suitable atmosphere as the wind carries aromas from one place to another. Unfortunately, those who are not yogīs but gross materialists, who throughout their lives indulge in sense gratification, are puzzled by the disarrangement of the bodily and mental condition at the time of death. Such gross sensualists, encumbered by the main ideas, desires and associations of the lives they have led, desire something against their interest and thus foolishly take on new bodies that perpetuate their material miseries.
Systematic training of the mind and intelligence is therefore needed so that at the time of death one may consciously desire a suitable body, either on this planet or another material planet or even a transcendental planet. A civilization that does not consider the progressive advancement of the immortal soul merely fosters a bestial life of ignorance.
It is foolish to think that every soul that passes away goes to the same place. Either the soul goes to a place he desires at the time of death, or upon leaving his body he is forced to accept a position according to his acts in his previous life. The difference between the materialist and the yogī is that a materialist cannot determine his next body, whereas a yogī can consciously attain a suitable body for enjoyment in the higher planets. Throughout his life, the gross materialist who is constantly after sense gratification spends all day earning his livelihood to maintain his family, and at night he wastes his energy in sex enjoyment or else goes to sleep thinking about all he has done in the daytime. That is the monotonous life of the materialist. Although differently graded as businessmen, lawyers, politicians, professors, judges, coolies, pickpockets, laborers and so on, materialists all simply engage in eating, sleeping, fearing and sense gratification and thus spoil their valuable lives pursuing luxury and neglecting to perfect their lives through spiritual realization.
Yogīs, however, try to perfect their lives, and therefore the Bhagavad-gītā enjoins that everyone should become a yogī. Yoga is the system for linking the soul in the service of the Lord. Only under superior guidance can one practice such yoga in his life without changing his social position. As already described, a yogī can go anywhere he desires without mechanical help, for a yogī can place his mind and intelligence within the air circulating inside his body, and by practicing the art of breath control he can mix that air with the air that blows all over the universe outside his body. With the help of this universal air, a yogī can travel to any planet and get a body suitable for its atmosphere. We can understand this process by comparing it to the electronic transmission of radio messages. With radio transmitters, sound waves produced at a certain station can travel all over the earth in seconds. But sound is produced from the ethereal sky, and as already explained, subtler than the ethereal sky is the mind, and finer than the mind is the intelligence. Spirit is still finer than the intelligence, and by nature it is completely different from matter. Thus we can just imagine how quickly the spirit soul can travel through the universal atmosphere.
To come to the stage of manipulating finer elements like mind, intelligence and spirit, one needs appropriate training, an appropriate mode of life and appropriate association. Such training depends upon sincere prayers, devotional service, achievement of success in mystic perfection, and the successful merging of oneself in the activities of the soul and Supersoul. A gross materialist, whether he be an empiric philosopher, a scientist, a psychologist or whatever, cannot attain such success through blunt efforts and word jugglery.
Materialists who perform yajñas, or great sacrifices, are comparatively better than grosser materialists who do not know anything beyond laboratories and test tubes. The advanced materialists who perform such sacrifices can reach the planet called Vaiśvānara, a fiery planet similar to the sun. On this planet, which is situated on the way to Brahmaloka, the topmost planet in the universe, such an advanced materialist can free himself from all traces of vice and its effects. When such a materialist is purified, he can rise to the orbit of the pole star (Dhruvaloka). Within this orbit, which is called the Śiśumāra-cakra, are situated the Āditya-lokas and the Vaikuṇṭha planet within this universe.
A purified materialist who has performed many sacrifices, undergone severe penances and given the major portion of his wealth in charity can reach such planets as Dhruvaloka, and if he becomes still more qualified there, he can penetrate still higher orbits and pass through the navel of the universe to reach the planet Maharloka, where sages like Bhṛgu Muni live. In Maharloka one can live even to the time of the partial annihilation of the universe. This annihilation begins when Anantadeva, from the lowest position in the universe, produces a great blazing fire. The heat of this fire reaches even Maharloka, and then the residents of Maharloka travel to Brahmaloka, which exists for twice the duration of parārdha time.
In Brahmaloka there is an unlimited number of airplanes that are controlled not by yantra (machine) but by mantra (psychic action). Because of the existence of the mind and intelligence on Brahmaloka, its residents have feelings of happiness and distress, but there is no cause of lamentation from old age, death, fear or distress. They feel sympathy, however, for the suffering living beings who are consumed in the fire of annihilation. The residents of Brahmaloka do not have gross material bodies to change at death, but they transform their subtle bodies into spiritual bodies and thus enter the spiritual sky. The residents of Brahmaloka can attain perfection in three different ways. Virtuous persons who reach Brahmaloka by dint of their pious work become masters of various planets after the resurrection of Brahmā, those who have worshiped Garbhodakaśāyī Viṣṇu are liberated with Brahmā, and those who are pure devotees of the Personality of Godhead at once push through the covering of the universe and enter the spiritual sky.
The numberless universes exist together in foamlike clusters, and so only some of them are surrounded by the water of the Causal Ocean. When agitated by the glance of Kāraṇodakaśāyī Viṣṇu, material nature produces the total elements, which are eight in number and which gradually evolve from finer to gross. A part of ego is the sky, a part of which is air, a part of which is fire, a part of which is water, a part of which is earth. Thus one universe inflates to an area of four billion miles in diameter. A yogī who desires gradual liberation must penetrate all the different coverings of the universe, including the subtle coverings of the three qualitative modes of material nature. One who does this never has to return to this mortal world.
According to Śukadeva Gosvāmī, the above description of the material and spiritual skies is neither imaginary nor utopian. The actual facts are recorded in the Vedic hymns, and Lord Vāsudeva disclosed them to Lord Brahmā when Brahmā satisfied Him. One can achieve the perfection of life only when he has a definite idea of Vaikuṇṭha and the Supreme Godhead. One should always think about and describe the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for this is recommended in both the Bhagavad-gītā and the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, which are two authorized commentaries upon the Vedas. Lord Caitanya has made all these subject matters easier for the fallen people of this age to accept, and Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta has therefore presented them for the easy understanding of all concerned.