Tag Archives: Bhīṣma

The Prayers of Grandfather Bhisma and his Passing into Vrindavana-Lila

1.9.32

Śrī Bhīṣma said:

Thus my contemplation has become thristless and dedicated
To the All-Attractive, foremost of the real, the all-powerful.
Everything that exists springs forth from his energies
Due to his full self-satisfaction and enjoyment.

Bhīṣma could completely dedicate all his perception and contemplation to the All-Attractive because he had lost all thirst for inferior subjects. Only the all-attractive, all-powerful, paramountly real Godhead could attract his attention.

Why do we exist? Why does anything exist? We exist as a result of expansion of the limitless enjoyment and pleasure inherent in the seed of reality – Godhead. Because Godhead is full of bliss, he desires to expand and multiply it, and therefore from his energies spring forth infinite varieties of creation. Thus the meaning of life is pleasure, and this pleasure is experienced fully when the soul is linked to Godhead.

33

Who the three worlds lust for, of dark-complexion,
Wearing cloth as brilliantly gold as the sun,
Body and lotus-like face decorated with sandalwood,
Vijaya’s friend… unto him let me have purest love!

Vijaya is Arjuna, the “Especially Victorious.”

34

In battle, the dust raised by horses made ashen
The wavy hair scattered around his perspiration-decorated face.
My sharp arrows pierced his dazzling armor to touch his skin.
Unto Kṛṣṇa let me give my soul!

35

As soon as he heard his friend’s command
He took their strong chariot between the two sides.
There, he diminished their lifespan of the opposing soldiers by glancing over them.
Unto Pārtha’s Friend let me give my love!

“Pārtha” is Arjuna, the child of Pṛthā.

36

When Arjuna saw from afar the soldier’s faces,
And turned away from killing his own people… an intellectual flaw,
He destroyed this flaw by spiritual knowledge!
To his feet let me give the most paramount love!

37-38

Breaking his own word to fulfill mine
He descended from his place on the chariot
And, with its wheel in his hand he ran, trampling the ground
like a lion killing an elephant, as his upper-cloth fell away.

Wounded by my fierce arrows, which destroyed his shield
Covered in wounds, he came towards his aggressor in anger
Intent on killing me!
May he, the Lotus-Faced Liberator become my destination!

I have translated mukunda as “Lotus-Faced Liberator.”

These beautiful poems composed spontaneously by Grandfather Bhīṣma in an unusual and highly sophisticated Sanskrit meter at the moment of his death reveal romantic Kṛṣṇa to us through the eyes of a heroic warrior.

39

Taking care of Vijaya’s chariot, holding the driving goad,
And the ropes… what a beautiful sight!
May the love of this dying man be for the All-Attractive.
Those who see him while dying attain their spiritual beauty.

“Spiritual beauty” (sva-rūpa) directly implies a spiritual body. The soul can be encased in a material body or a spiritual body. The material body engages in ego-centric affairs, the spiritual body engages in God-centric affairs. Bhīṣma desires to attain his original, beautiful spiritual form by dying with his vision and attention fully focused on the All-Attractive.

What spiritual form does Bhīṣma desire? He now expresses it clearly:

40

Graceful gait, artfully sweet smiles,
Love-laden glances… most glorified conceptions!
They imitate him, at the heights of madness
Yes, into their nature, the wives of the cowherders.

Bhīṣma now unequivocally states the spiritual beauty he desires to attain by dying with his heart and mind fully enrapt in Kṛṣṇa: He wishes to attain the nature of the wives of the cowherders: The Gopīs of Vṛṇdāvana. Specifically, he desires a place among the Gopīs experiencing the highest madness of spiritual love during the affairs immediately following Kṛṣṇa’s world-famous “rāsa-dance.”

41-42

In the great assembly of sages and great kings
Called by Yudhiṣṭhira’s royal sacrifice
All of them worshipped my Beloved
I saw it with my own eyes. I was there.

Now I have him right here!
He is the unborn, within the heart of the embodied,
In the contemplative hearts of the thinkers.
I see him everywhere; like the one Sun is seen everywhere.
I have now attained Samadhi, and am freed from the foolishness of separatism.

True Samadhi is not an impersonal accomplishment or state. Bhīṣma desires to become a Gopī, not a void impersonal energy. He now states that he is completely ready to die, because he has achieved Samadhi. What is Samadhi, then? It is a state of perception (dhi) in which there is perfect oneness (sama). What is oneness??? Those who have not seen it do not know and cannot say. But Bhīṣma has seen it and he says what it is: it is seeing the beloved Kṛṣṇa everywhere – just like we see the sun everywhere. There is only one sun, but it shines on everyone’s head. Similarly there is one Godhead, but Godhead can be seen in everything and everyone – without destroying or contradicting the fact that there is one Godhead. There is indeed one personal, beautiful All-Attractive Godhead. We attain Samadhi when we see him everywhere at all times. Bhīṣma gives confidence to his family and friends by telling them he has attained Samadhi and is therefore perfectly ready to take his final death, they should not fear, worry or grieve.

These were his final words.

43

Sūta said:                                                                                   

He placed himself within All-Attractive Kṛṣṇa, the self of his self, along with his every thought, word, vision, and deed. He took a final breath and was at peace.

44-45

Realizing that Bhīṣma had attained perfect oneness with the unlimited spirit, everyone fell silent like birds at the end of the day. Then, drums resounded, beaten by men and gods alike who praised the saint among kings. A rain of flowers fell from the sky.

46

Yudhiṣṭhira became very morose when the time came to burn the body, O Bhārgava.

47

The sages made everyone satisfied and happy by glorifying the confidential names and deeds of Kṛṣṇa. Then, with Kṛṣṇa in their hearts, they returned again to their own ashrams.

There was enormous nāma-saṁkīrtan at the funeral of Bhīṣma, conducted by the most illustrious sages and saints. This brought peace and happiness to everyone’s heart.

48

After this, Yudhiṣṭhira went to Gajāhvayam to console his uncle and the austere Gāndhārī.

Yudhiṣṭhira’s aunt is an “austere woman” (tapasvī) primarily because she kept her eyes blindfolded as an austerity of love for her blind husband. Gajāhvayam is the capital palace in Hastinapura (now Delhi). Were Yudhiṣṭhira any lesser man he would have hated his uncle and aunt for the central role they played in the incidents which culminated in the disastrous war. Being a very elevated soul, however, Yudhiṣṭhira easily overlooks the faults in others and embraces whatever good is in them.

49

With the approval of his uncle, and the subsequent pleasure of Vasudeva’s Son, he administered the kingdom with morality as great as his grandfather’s.

A good student of a good teacher becomes a good teacher. Yudhiṣṭhira was a good student, and his grandfather Bhīṣma give him good advice about how to be a king. By deeply and faithfully implementing his grandfather’s advice, Yudhiṣṭhira’s kingdom was as moral and good as if Bhīṣma himself was the king.

Those aware of the fuller story arc presented in Mahābhārata will note that this completes a diversion to the flow of fate which started when Bhīṣma renounced his claim to the throne.

Krishna attacks Bhisma like a lion attacking an elephant - to return the touch of Bhisma's arrows upon his skin

Bhisma's Spiritual Aspiration


Bhīṣma’s Instructions on Human Duty (Varṇāśrama-Dharma)

1.9.25

Sūta said:

Hearing all this from he who lay on a bed of arrows, Yudhiṣṭhira then asked him many questions about duty, and the sages also listened to the answers.

26

Humans all have unique individual character, and on that basis they are given specific responsibilities for material and spiritual development. Bhīṣma systematically described these, and how they involve both attachment and detachment.

27

He differentiated the duties pertaining to wealth, politics, and enlightenment; and explained that they sometimes overlap but are sometimes specific to certain subgroups like women, and devotees.

28

Understanding the truth of such things, he explained the four goals – morality, stability, pleasure, and enlightenment, along with the means to achieve them as illustrated in the histories.

Yudhiṣṭhira came to Bhīṣma mired in the quicksand of depression, unable to comprehend and digest the horrors he just partook in during the war. Bhīṣma told him that fate is beyond our comprehension, and we can simply trust that it is good, knowing that its master wishes us well. He said not to dwell on the past but to face the future. For Yudhiṣṭhira, the future means being the king and taking care of thousands of people. Therefore Yudhiṣṭhira began asking him many, many questions about how to properly execute his duties as a king.

Sūta summarized the elaborate questions and answers in three concise verses (26-28). Bhīṣma first explained that all duties are relative to a single key issue: your unique individual character. Everyone has unique duties and responsibilities based on their character, just as every patient does not receive exactly the same medicine and treatment from a hospital.

We have two basic frameworks of duty. Varṇa refers to career duties, material duties as a member of society. Āśrama refers to evolutionary duties, spiritual duties as an evolving spiritual being. We should pursue both duties simultaneously, balancing material attachment and spiritual detachment in a ratio befitting our unique individual character.

Bhīṣma specifically cited charity as the prime duty of business and industrial career types (vaiṣya-varṇa); politics as the main duty for administrative and governmental careers (kṣatriya-varṇa); and enlightenment as the primary duty mainly for educational and philosophical careers (brahmaṇa-varṇa). Bhīṣma also said that sometimes duties overlap with each other and with the borders of different careers and stages of evolution; while at other times are specific only to certain people. He specifically sites women and devotees as groups that have exceptional and specific duties not shared by other groups.

Bhīṣma then explained that there are four goals of human life: we search for pleasure (kāma), which leads us to desire stability (artha) as a solid foundation for happiness, which then leads us to desire order and morality (dharma) to insure the stability of our shared social foundations, and finally culminates in the desire for enlightenment (mokṣa) as we come to understand that ego-based pleasure is not truly pleasant.  All classes of people share these goals, but various categories have different primary focus. Commoners focus primarily on pleasure, businesspeople focus on economic stability, administrators focus on law and order, while the educational class primarily focuses on enlightenment.

Bhīṣma explained all this to the King, along with what history has shown to be the best means for attaining each goal, so that the King could guide all the different citizens in a manner appropriate to their individual natures.

29

While he was explaining human duties, the Sun began moving northward: the exact time desired by mystics who can chose the moment of their death.

Most contemporary Indian astrologers miscalculate the northern course (uttarāyaṇa) due to over-habituation towards sidereal references, and ignorance of the simple fact that the Sun’s movement in relation to earthly directions is an inherently tropical phenomenon. The Sun moves further and further south each day until the winter solstice, at which point it begins moving northward. This conversation between Bhīṣma and Yudhiṣṭhira culminated on the winter solstice, which is always in the vicinity of December 21st by our modern calendar.

30

Then, he who was expert in thousands of subjects withdrew his voice and removed his mind from all other embraces; fixing his wide-open eyes on the Original Person, Kṛṣṇa, who was right before him with four arms, in flowing yellow cloth.

31

All impurity washed away by that contemplation. Simply by looking on Kṛṣṇa, the weariness of his battle-wounds ceased and fled. He arrested all the activities of the roaming senses and prayed to the Delighter of People as he cast off the thing which was born.

Bhīṣma was the master of thousands of subjects. Besides being a warrior he was a philosopher and sage, and a mystic as well. He had the ability to choose the moment of his death. So he waited for Kṛṣṇa’s presence before dying – although his body was completely destroyed by battle wounds and it was very tiring and painful to remain alive. Kṛṣṇa came to him just before the winter solstice, and when that moment arrived Bhīṣma ceased all other responsibilities and completely withdrew his consciousness from everything in the world, focusing it upon Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the true delight of people (Janārdana) who stood before him in exactly the form adored by Bhīṣma.

Ayyavali depiction of Vishnu.

Image via Wikipedia


Inescapable Fate & God’s Plan

1.9.12

Alas how you suffered! Alas how unfair! O children of morality, you wouldn’t have survived such trials were you not protected by the learned, by righteousness, and by the infallible.

13-17

When the great warrior Pāṇḍu died he left my daughter Pṛthā with children. Raising you she suffered again, terribly.

All the difficult things that happened to her and to you are fate, I conclude. Everyone in all the worlds, and even the protectors of those worlds, is in the grip of fate like a cloud bank is in the grip of the wind.

How else could such disaster befall a king who is the son of Dharma, alongside the mace wielding Wolf-Belly, and the mystic-bow wielding Kṛṣṇā with his dear protector Kṛṣṇa?

None can ever understand his plan. Confusion persists even if experts investigate it exhaustively. Therefore just take everything that happened as the hex of destiny.

Now you are the chief of the Bharata dynasty. So, Lord, you must protect the helpless citizens.

The Pāṇḍavas suffered quite unfairly and so did their mother, who first of all lost her husband at a very young age, and second of all had to watch them grow up into such an unfair environment. Bhīṣma says that Pṛthā (Kuntī) is his “daughter.” Bhīṣma never married, but in loving Indian families relations terms are extended beyond their literal definitions. Kuntī was the daughter in law of Bhīṣma’s brother. Out of affection he considers her his own daughter.

King Yudhiṣṭhira could not rise above the emotional distress that culminated in the horrible war which forced him to take the lives of so many friends, teachers, and family members, including his beloved grandfather Bhīṣma who now lay broken on the battlefield. Yudhiṣṭhira approached him for advice and Bhīṣma said, “You cannot make logical sense out of everything that happened. Everything happens as a result of fate, and we cannot figure out the logic of fate with our human intellect.”

We use freewill, and our accountability for what we do therewith generates what we experience as “fate.” The universe attempts to improve the character of her children by rewarding our good deeds and punishing our bad. So, in theory, fate is a simple concept. But in practice it quickly becomes complex, especially because often good things seem fated to bad people, and visa versa. The simple reason for this is that fate spans many lifetimes. Those who are good in this lifetime have not always been so, and visa versa. Full comprehension of fate would require full comprehension of our entire timeline of reincarnation, which is beyond the boundary of human investigation. Thus although it is a simple principle, it is impossible to fully comprehend it.

The Pāṇḍavas are a very special example of how confusing fate can become, for not only were they extremely good and moral in this lifetime, we also have very little reason or evidence to believe that they were ever otherwise in any previous incarnation. Why then should calamities befall them? Bhīṣma answers by pointing at Kṛṣṇa and saying, “it is his inscrutable plan.”

Bhīṣma specifically refers to Kṛṣṇa as Arjuna’s beloved friend and protector. The implication here is profound: there is nothing truly ill in the incomprehensible plans of destiny, because the master of destiny is our beloved protector.

In actual fact, neither the Pāṇḍavas nor their mother Kuntī suffered at any time. Kuntī herself just finished telling Kṛṣṇa that she enjoyed every calamity they encountered and wishes they would never cease to befall them – because they place her into Kṛṣṇa’s company. Apparently ill things sometimes happen to truly saintly people, but they are unscathed and their experience only serves to instruct and uplift the world.

Bhīṣma concludes the topic by telling Yudhiṣṭhira, “You must stop trying to figure out why everything happened the way it did. Take your head out of the past and focus on the future. Now you are the head of our royal family and you have important obligations to the citizens that you must focus on.”

Bhīṣma now spontaneously turns his words to a new topic, most dear to his heart. Speaking indirectly to Kṛṣṇa who is listening besides Arjuna, he raises his hand towards the All-Attractive and says:

18

He is certainly, directly the All-Attractive Original Personality, Narayana. His charms intoxicate everyone as he moves confidentially among us Vrsni.

“Moving confidentially among us” means two things: (1) he is hidden from the perception of ordinary egoists, who see him as just another human being; (2) his activities with us are the most confidential and intimate side of his Godhead. These facets of confidentiality are accomplished by “intoxicating charms” (mohayan māyayā) which functions in two corresponding ways: (1) It allows egoistic souls to disconnect themselves from the All-Attractive; (2) It allows pure souls to connect themselves to the All-Attractive to a depth not warranted by their infinitesimal constitution.

It may be helpful to use distinguishing terminology for the two functions of Kṛṣṇa’s illusion: illusion which distances souls from him is called mahā-māyā. Illusion which deeply connects souls to him is called yoga-māyā. The use of the English term “illusion” is also problematic, so let us note that the illusions generated by the Supreme Reality are realities unto themselves.

19

O King, Śiva knows the most confidential secrets of his all-attractive nature, as does the gods’ sage Nārada, and godly Kapila.

These are three particularly noteworthy pure souls who are drawn closer to Kṛṣṇa by his intoxicating charms, and therefore know him very intimately.

20

You know him as your cousin, beloved friend, and supreme protector; who councils you, is your messenger, and out of kindness became your charioteer.

Yudhiṣṭhira and the Pāṇḍavas like Arjuna are even more exalted than Kapila, Nārada or Śiva. Their confidentiality with the All-Attractive is so great that it overshadows the officiousness and hierarchy inherent in the power of Godhead and endears the Original Person to become his beloved friend and servant.

Seen through the intoxication of illusion, however, it appears merely that Kṛṣṇa is a common mailman and chauffer for a prince, and nothing more. This is the veiw of intoxicated fools. It is not Bhīṣma’s view, as he explains:

21

He is certainly the soul of all, the neutral observer, the non-dual and the non-ego. His deeds are products of a consciousness never affected by attachment or aversion.

Bhīṣma states plainly that the person seated beside them, Kṛṣṇa, is directly and fully the Supreme Godhead. All of us are plagued by hunger in the core of our hearts. All of our actions are an attempt to fill this emotional hunger. The Supreme Being has no such hunger. Quite the opposite, the heart of the All-Attractive overflows with bliss. The actions of a common man attempt to fill a void within, the actions of the All-Attractive flow from an infinite fountainhead of bliss to fill the void without.

22

But King, see how sympathetic he is towards his single-minded devotee: as my life is ending Krsna has come directly before me!

The All-Attractive is impartial, but is not impersonal. If you direct affection towards him, he does not neglect it. In fact, because we are inherently infinitesimal and he is inherently infinite, his reciprocation for our affection is monumentally amplified in comparison to what we can offer.

23

Mind enrapt in divine love; Words glorifying his name; Giving up their body in this state, a yogi is released from all the reactions of selfishness.

Bhīṣma feels that Kṛṣṇa has given him a huge, undeserved favor. Kṛṣṇa has come personally before Bhīṣma as he is giving up his body. Thus it will be extremely easy for Bhīṣma to do what great yogis undergo extreme efforts to attain: to wrap their thoughts and words around him and thus be freed from the cycle of birth and death.

“Glorifying his name” is nāma-kīrtana. “Reactions of selfishness” is kāma-karmabhih.

24

The god of gods awaits,
While I leave this body.
The satisfied smile,
Sunrise eyes,
And lotus face
Of the Four-Armed
Pave the path of my concentration.


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