Tag Archives: Vishnu

Within & Beyond this World

Srimad Bhagavatam 2.6.17

Nārada: It seems unusual that an entity so essential and fundamental to this world should have its true, original position beyond it.

Brahmā: It is not unusual. Take life-air (prāṇa) for example. It has its own energy, but it also lends its energy to other things. Another example is the Sun, it shines by its own power, but lends its radiance to all things. In a similar way, the Supreme Person is situated apart, within his own power, but lends his power to all things. Thus he is both within and beyond everything.

18-20

Nārada: I really want to know how the Supreme Person exists beyond this world. Please explain this to me!

Brahmā: He is the perfection of fearless nectar, far exceeding any mortal happiness! My dear spiritually inspired child, we cannot find any limit on his excellence!

Please understand that the place in which we all dwell reflects merely one-fourth of the Supreme Person. His true abode is beyond even what is beyond the three worlds – a place of nectar, security, and fearlessness.

That place beyond our world represents three-fourths of the Supreme Person. It is the abode of those who are not forced into rebirth. Those who instead take birth within our three worlds do so because they have a selfish bent, being without very strong convictions toward that Supreme Person.

21

Nārada: What happens to those souls?

Brahmā: They roam far and wide within our worlds.

Nārada: In what directions?

Brahmā: Those with some knowledge move towards emancipation. Those without knowledge move towards accumulation. In truth, the Supreme Person is the shelter for both of them.

22

Nārada: I can see why he would be the shelter of those striving towards enlightenment, but how is he also the shelter of those striving to accumulate material objects?

Brahmā: What are they searching for except him!? The egg of the universe comes from him. It produces elements, senses, and powers that allow the two to interact – everything they desire.

Nārada: Then, since they both seek the Supreme Person, are the those who strive for material objects on an equal footing with those who strive for emancipation?

Brahmā: No. Those who seek enlightenment are more evolved.

Nārada: Why?

Brahmā: Their outlook is more like the divine outlook of the Supreme Person.

Nārada: How so?

Brahmā: The Supreme Person is uninterested in the material objects he manifests in this world.

Nārada: Why?

Brahmā: All these things are simply like sunshine, but he is the brilliant sun!

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Krishna-less = The Walking Dead

To celebrate completing the first draft of chapter 3, Beautiful Tales of the All Attractive, Vol. 2, I am posting an excerpt spoken by Śaunaka Ṛṣi.

20-24

“O Sūta, when we do not hear about the heroism of the Hero, our ear canals are just like snake holes. When we do not sing about the One Worth Singing About, we might as well have the tongues of frogs. When our head does not bow to the Liberator, it is nothing but a heavy burden, even if it is decorated with a silken crown. When our hands do not serve Hari, they are the hands of a corpse – even if decorated with glittering golden bracelets. When we do not look upon the forms of Viṣṇu our eyes are like the eyes of a peacock feather. When our legs do not move us to Hari’s sacred places, how are they any better than the legs of trees? If we mortals never touch the dust from the feet of the blessed devotees, we are like the walking dead. When we do not smell the scent of Tulasī from the beautiful feet of Viṣṇu we are nothing but a breathing corpse.

“Worst of all is an iron-clad heart that cannot be melted by all this. Even when it takes firm hold of Hari’s name, nothing happens. It does not melt and send forth emotions like tears in the eyes or hairs standing on end.”


Noble Fury

When Parīkṣit came upon them, they appeared like an abandoned cow and bull being beaten with a club by a wicked man dressed like a king.

The bull, white as lotus-root, was urinating out of fear, trembling and terrified as his one remaining leg was beaten by the rogue.

The cow, whose milk is morality, became helpless and afraid as the rogue smashed her legs. Bereft of her calves, tears streamed down her face. She looked emaciated and in dire need of grass.

The king picked up his bow and spoke to the culprit in a voice that resounded from his completely golden chariot like deep thunder from the sky:

Who are you?! What are you doing in my kingdom?! What kind of ‘strong man’ attacks the weak??? Your kingly clothes are nothing but a costume, for such deeds are not those of a noble person!

Do you think you can get away with this because Krishna and Arjuna[1] are no longer among us? That will not happen! You are guilty of attacking the innocent when you think no one is looking. You deserve to die!

Then the king turned to the bull in a different tone of voice:

Here is a bull as white as lotus-root, moving on one leg with the others broken; are you a god taking this shape to show us the miserable future?

Moving his glance towards the cow, his voice became full of compassion:

Never before has anyone come to such lamentable grief in any land protected by the arms of Kuru Kings. O child of Surabhi,[2]no one in my kingdom should fear harm from wicked men. Mother, do not cry! Be blessed! I shall curb this rogue!

Oh saintly woman, destruction comes to the fame, longevity, fortune and afterlife of a king who allows anyone to be terrorized by the wicked. A king’s first duty is to remove the suffering of those who suffer. Therefore I shall kill this most worthless hater of creatures!

Turning again to the bull, the King asked for a testimony:

Who broke your three legs, O four-legged Surabhi’s-son? I have never seen such a thing in a country ruled by kings who follow Krishna.

But the bull said nothing.

The king continued:

Please speak, for the sake of those who are saintly and do no wrong. And for my sake, tell me who is disfiguring and destroying the fame of Pṛthā’s sons?

Those who harm the harmless must fear me wherever they go! Certainly the saintly prosper when the sinful are curbed. If any wildman harms the harmless I will unleash my arms without restraint, even if he is an armored immortal.

The foremost duty of a dutiful king is to protect the innocent and curb those who needlessly disregard the moral path.


[1] Arjuna is named here as the wielder of the powerful Gaṇḍīva bow.

[2] Surabhi is the divine cow.


Conversation Between The Dharma Bull & The Earth Goddess Cow

Sūta began to tell the story of Parīkṣit arresting Kali:

While surveying the Kuru Jungle, Parīkṣit heard undesirable news: Kali had spread through the kingdom. Seeing this as an excellent opportunity for a fight, he took up his weapons and set out on a beautiful chariot, flying a lion-flag and yoked to brilliantly black horses, along with soldiers, horsemen, elephanteers and charioteers.

As he traveled, he brought order and strength to his lands.[1] Everywhere he went he always heard bards singing about his great ancestors, because their fame was involved with the glories of Kṛṣṇa. These songs often involved him, too: especially how Krishna rescued him from the powerful weapon of Aśvatthāma. He heard songs about the great affection between his family and Krishna’s family, due to their mutual love for Krishna.

Extremely satisfied by these songs his eyes opened wide with delighted love. In a very magnanimous mood, he gave the bards a great deal of money, clothing and jewelry.

Hearing how the universally obeyed Viṣṇu became a driver, ally, assistant, friend, messenger, guard, follower, and respecter of the beloved Pāṇḍavas made the king choked up with devotion for Viṣṇu’s lotus-like feet .

He thus passed many days enrapt in thoughts of his ancestors. But soon something very astonishing happened, which is what you wanted to know about:

The god of morality had taken the form of a bull, and was walking the only leg he still. He came upon the goddess of the earth, who had taken the form of a cow and was darkened under the shadow of grief, with tears covering her cheeks like a mother who has lost her child.

Dharma asked her:

Good lady, are you alright? Why has the shadow of grief darkened the face of your soul? Are you ill, Mother? Are you remembering of a long-lost friend?

Do you lament for my broken legs? Do you weep because wicked people will soon eat you? Are you depressed over the drought that will soon strike you when sacrifices to the gods cease?

Do you cry for the unsheltered women and children of the earth, who will be left for monsters to devour? Or because priests will speak only words, while their fraudulent behavior abandons spirituality in search of political power? Or because the politicians will bewilder themselves with bickering, while civilization declines into a mob mindlessly and randomly eating, drinking, living, bathing, and having sex?

O Mother, Hari descended to lighten your heaven burden. Take heart; remember all the deeds he did to save you! Or has this situation changed? O Mother, please tell me what is at the very root of your tears. Has fate, more powerful than any power, dissolved your treasure and good fortune, which the gods themselves desired?

Dharaṇī[2] replied:

Dear Dharma, whose four legs spread happiness throughout the worlds, I will enlighten you about all that you have asked.

Truthfulness, cleanliness, compassion, calmness, detachment, satisfaction, sincerity, introspection, restraint, austerity, fairness, learning…

Knowledge, dispassion, power, chivalry, influence, strength, morality, independence, expertise, beauty, steadfastness, and certainly kindness…

Ingenuity, gentility, good manners, willpower, vigor, fortune, depth, dedication, faithfulness, fame, honor, modesty…

…The All-Attractive always has all these and many other great qualities. No one else can ever hope to possess such greatness. He is the flag of good qualities and the palace of beauty herself.

You ask why I lament? I have just been robbed of his company; and in his absence I suddenly find the ills of Kali entering the world.

I lament not only for myself. This is also a disaster for you, and for the highest immortals, the gods, the forefathers, the sages, the saintly… it is a disaster for everyone.

You know that there is a goddess named Śrī; and that everyone including the creator, Brahmā, always struggles to obtain her carefree glance. But she has given herself wholly to the All-Attractive. Abandoning her home in the forests of lotuses she dedicates herself to lovingly caring for his blessed feet.

The soles of those same feet recently decorated my body with their prints – marked with a flag, spur, thunderbolt and lotus. Ah, with these ornaments my beauty and opulence excelled paradise itself! But now… he has left me… I suppose I must have been too proud of my good fortune?

He manifested his delightful body in the Yadu family to easily and independently rescue me from the extreme burden of hundreds of demonic armies. He empowered you to be free from the misery of your broken legs. Oh, who can bear to be without that supreme man!? His glances, pleasant smile and sweet words dispel the composure and pride of proud sweethearts. My hairs stood up to celebrate the touch of his feet!!!

While Pṛthivī[3] and Dharma were discussing Krishna in this way, the Philosopher-King Parīkṣit arrived at the eastward Sarasvatī river.


[1]  The text notes the following regions that Parīkṣit visited: eastward to Bhadrāśva, westward to Ketumāla, southward into Bhārata, and northward into Uttarakuru and the wild mountainous regions beyond, like Kimpuruṣa.

[2] Dharaṇī refers to the earth as the thing that holds everything and everyone up.

[3] Pṛthivī refers to the Earth as the great expanse which spreads from horizon to horizon and splits the vast sky.


Is Krishna Still With Us?

While the King was worrying and wondering, suddenly he saw the monkey insignia flag atop Arjuna’s chariot.  It came slowly towards him. Arjuna eventually descended, and came to his brother’s feet in unprecedented dejection.  Drops of tears fell from the lotus-eyes of his downcast face.

Seeing his brother’s troubled heart and paleness, the king began to question him then and there, in the middle of everyone; unable to get the words of Nārada out of his mind.

Yudhiṣṭhira said:

Are our allies in Dvārakā passing time happily? [1]

Arjuna did not look up or answer.

Is Grandfather Śūra and his wife Māriṣa passing time auspiciously?

No answer.

How is Uncle Vasudeva (for whom the drums of heaven resounded)?  What about our aunts, the seven sisters who are his wives, headed by Devakī; are they living happily among their children and daughters-in-law?

Arjuna can give no reply. So Yudhiṣṭhira continues to become more specific in his inquiries.

Does king Ugrasena still live with his children, among whom one was worthless?[2]  What about Great-grandfather Hṛdīka?  What of Krishna’s confidants: Akrūra, Jayanta, Gada, Sāraṇa – are they living happily, headed by Śatrujit?

Still, Arjuna could not move or speak. Forced to consider graver and graver possibilities Yudhiṣṭhira asked about Krishna’s brother:

How is Rāma, the All-Attractive protector of the saintly Sātvata dynasty?

No answer.  So now Yudhiṣṭhira must ask about Krishna’s sons:

Is Pradyumna living happily as the General of the Vṛṣṇi armies?

All-Attractive Aniruddha, profoundly dexterous, must be prospering!? So too must be all the great sons and grandsons of Kṛṣṇa like Suṣeṇa, Cārudeṣṇa, Sāmba, Jāmbavatī’s son, Ṛṣabha and so on…

Ever more worried and dreading to ask directly about Krishna, the King anxiously continues.

How are Kṛṣṇa’s constant companions: Śrutadeva, Uddhava and so on? How are Sunanda and Nanda, the best among leaders of the Sātvata family??? Aren’t they all well, being sheltered by the strength of Rāma and Kṛṣṇa? Do they ever remember us kindly, their affectionate relatives?

But Arjuna neither raises his eyes nor answers. Tears only stream down his pale cheeks all the more profusely with each question. Finally, Yudhiṣṭhira must ask the most awful question possible:

Certainly All-Attractive Govinda, who is so affectionate to devotees and thinkers, must be enjoying the city’s assembly hall, surrounded by well-wishers!?

Moved by the thought of Krishna, the King composes a poem, hoping it might cheer up his brother:

Viṣṇu reclines upon the universal ocean with Ananta,
for the sake of manifesting the worlds.

~

Krishna reclines among an ocean of family with Rāma,
for the benefit of the world.

Those who reside with Viṣṇu,
Enjoy paramount bliss and security.

~

Those who reside in Dvārakā,
Enjoy the protection of his scepter-arms,
and relish pastimes of paramount bliss.

Among those who reside with Viṣṇu, Goddess Lakṣmī is the foremost. The king now compares The Queens of Dvārakā to Lakṣmī:

Very attentively attending his feet
Is their prime concern;
The women headed by Satyabhāmā
Numbering twice eight-thousand.

They claimed the treasures of the gods,
And enjoy the property of the thunderbolt-master’s wives;
Standing undefeated
Against the thrice ten divinities.

Next, the King turned his attention to other residents of Dvārakā:

Under the protection of his scepter-arms,
His family have become great heroes,
ever fearless in every way.

So they strode into paradise on foot
And took the god’s prize possessions by force;
The Sudharmā assembly house.

Arjuna’s conditioned worsened the more the King’s spoke. In a weak, trembling, and hopeless voice, the King feelingly asked:

Dear brother, are you sick?  You look so pale and weak.  Or have you been disrespected or neglected?  Did someone insult you? Did they claim that you did not give to a beggar? Or did not fulfill a promise? Or did not give shelter to intellectuals, children, cows, the elderly, the sick, or the women who came to you seeking refuge?

Did you embrace an unworthy woman? Or did you mistreat a woman? Were you defeated by a junior? Or could it be that you ate before feeding the old and young?

Have you done something horrible and unforgivable?

Arjuna only cries all the more forcefully as tears pool on the ground beneath his lowered face. Yudhiṣṭhira has no choice but to admit the worst:

“Alas! I am vacant… I have forever lost the most precious, dear friend of my very soul”

Besides this, no other thought could trouble you so.


[1] These allies include the Madhu, Bhaja, Daśārha, Ārha, Sātvata, Andhaka and Vṛṣṇi clans

[2] The worthless child was Kaṁsa.


Defining the Unlimited

18

Sūta said:

Oh! My unusual birth has now become meaningful, for I have this opportunity to serve the learned elders.  To speak intimately with great souls quickly purifies the faults and sufferings one is born into.

What is Sūta’s “unusual birth”? It may be literal, since the word sūta also refers to an unusual caste in which the father is a warrior (kṣatriya) and the mother an intellectual (brāhmaṇa). Members of this caste usually became bards and poets. Another reason Sūta’s birth is “unusual” and “faulty” is that his father, Romaharsana, insulted Krishna’s brother, Balarāma. He sees this opportunity to glorify Krishna and Balarāma the ideal way to atone for this undesirable element in his ancestry. Finally, everyone’s birth is “unusual” and “faulty” – for the soul ought not repeatedly change identities! Everyone’s misfortune in this regard will be quickly purified by discussing the stories we are about to tell.

19

Why? Because then one will proclaim the name of the singular refuge of those great souls, who is called “Unlimited” because his all-attractive potencies and excellent qualities are unlimited!?

Why is heart-to-heart conversation with great souls so spiritually purifying? It is because the topic of discussion invariably turns towards the Unlimited All-Attractive.

20

So how can anyone define the immeasurable qualities of he who rests upon the unlimited? The divine goddess ignores all those who petition her and, unrequested, serves the dust of his feet.

The potencies and qualities of the All-Attractive are unlimited. When we hear that “he rests upon the unlimited,” we envision Viṣṇu beyond the borders of the universe reclining on the sea-dragon named Ananta (“unlimited”). It is an image which communicates the fact that his very being exists on the foundation of infinity.

So how can anyone define or delimit Viṣṇu and his qualities by conversation? Still one is hopelessly attracted to the effort, much like the supreme goddesses, who ignore those who bring her presents and prayers, and instead flock unrequested to attend upon the outskirts of such discussions.

21

The water flowing from his toenails is collected by the creator (Brahmā), who uses it to honorably purify the destroyer (Śiva). Who else in the world besides the Lotus-Face could be worthy of the name and position of “All-Attractive”?

There are, truly, so many amazing people among humans and gods and others. But who is worthy of the title “All-Attractive”? It is only he whose face is like the most beautiful flower, whom the goddess flock to, whom the gods worship. We will hear a story much later in this tale, that Viṣṇu once took three cosmic strides. The third created a fracture in the shell of the universe, and the water from the ocean of causality streamed down from the polestar, through the Milky Way, and eventually onto the earth as the Ganges river. This is the water that “flows from his toenails.”

22

Those in love with him suddenly become very deep. Going beyond the embrace of their bodies they attain the highest perfections, in which nonviolence and tranquility are natural.

The purifying power of devotion of the All-Attractive is powerful and uniquely swift, “sudden.” Without such devotion one toils with great delay to develop good qualities like non-violence and tranquility.

23

You are like Aryamān, so whatever you ask I will grant. I will speak as far as my knowledge will allow. Birds fly as high as they can into the sky, like the learned towards Viṣṇu.

Aryamān is the Vedic god who empowers a man to ask a father for his daughter in marriage. It is a very difficult request to accept, because a father very dearly loves his daughter and feels very reluctant to entrust her care to anyone else. Therefore the would-be groom must appeal to Aryamān for divine help. One should give whatever is asked for in the name and with the sanction of Aryamān. Sūta considered the sages to be representatives of Aryamān, because their inquiries were so blessed and divine. Therefore he felt honor-bound to give them what they had asked for.

The sages, headed by the elderly Śaunaka, requested Sūta to tell them all about the All-Attractive son of Vasudeva, Krishna. Sūta says that it is impossible to properly describe Krishna because he is naturally unlimited in qualities and nature. He is All-Attractive. Our efforts to describe and comprehend Krishna are like the effort of a bird to fly in the sky. It is natural for the bird, and delightful – but still it is impossible for a bird to reach the limit of the sky.

The tales of the All-Attractive told by Sūta in this beautiful book, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam are sublime. They represent the intimate vision and realization of the most highly elevated souls. Still, Sūta admits that this book cannot define or delimit the Unlimited. This book will point our attention towards Krishna. Our consciousness then will absorb the downpour of blissful and enlightened energy radiating from him and thus become empowered to directly and impossibly comprehend the tangible reality of Śrī Krishna.

As a lightning rod attracts lightning, without creating or containing the it, this book attracts our consciousness to the All-Attractive. It is the greatest blessing of Indian thought. May we dive into it with wild joy and abandon.

This ends the introduction to Srimad Bhagavatam. From here the book itself begins, so we shall consider this the end of the first part, although traditionally that division is made one chapter after this.

Krishna and the gopis, from a Bhagavata Purana...

Krishna and the gopis, from a Bhagavata Purana manuscript c. 1760 . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Parikit Hears His Ancestors Glorified in Kirtan

10

Sūta said:

When Parīkṣit was in Kuru Jungle he heard not very desirable news: Kali had spread through his own jurisdictions. Then, with this excellent opportunity for a fight he took up his weapons.

11

His beautiful chariot, beneath a lion-flag and yoked to brilliantly black horses set out from the city along with soldiers, horsemen, elephanteers and charioteers.

12

He brought order and strength to his lands, which included Bhadrāśva, Ketumāla, Bhārata, and northern regions like the land of Kimpuruṣa.

Although the very old geography is difficult for a non-historian like myself to accurately sort out, basically the statement made in texts 10-12 is that Parīkṣit restored a sense of order and dignity to his vast kingdom, which extended far to the south (“Bhārata”), west (“Ketumāla”), north (beyond “Uttarakuru” into regions like “Kimpuruṣa”), and east (“Bhadrāśva”).

The northern regions beyond Uttarakuru are high up in the Himalayas. Various semi-human species live in these remote areas, which is why they have names like Kimpuruṣa, a term that either means, “what kind of being is this?” or “who owns this place?”

13-15

In each and every place he went he always heard bards singing about the great souls who were his own ancestors, because their fame was involved with the glories of Kṛṣṇa. He heard songs about himself, too, about how he had been rescued from the powerful weapon of Aśvatthāma. He heard songs about the great affection between the families of Vṛṣṇi and Pṛthā due to their mutual devotion to Keśava.

Extremely satisfied by these songs his eyes opened wide with delighted love. Being magnanimous, he gave the bards a lot of money, clothing and jewelry.

16

Hearing how the universally obeyed Viṣṇu became a driver, ally, assistant, friend, messenger, guard, follower, and respecter of the beloved Pāṇḍavas caused the king to become moved with devotion for Viṣṇu’s lotus-like feet .

17

He thus passed many days enrapt in thoughts of his ancestors. But pretty soon something very astonishing happened, which is what you wanted to know about.

 


A Mountain of Gold Hidden in the Himalayas

1.12.32

The king wanted to perform a horse sacrifice to diminish the effects of fighting with his family, but he realized that the treasury consisted of nothing but taxes and fines.

We’ve already heard about King Yudhiṣṭhira’s horse sacrifices, so it would be good to clarify the story line at this point. We are currently in the twelfth chapter of the first division of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam. In the seventh chapter, Sūta began to answer the questions he was asked about Parīkṣit, the person to whom Śrīmad Bhāgavatam was originally spoken. The main thing he communicates about Parīkṣit is that Viṣṇu personally rescued him from the radiation of a deadly weapon, while he was still in his mother’s womb. Chapter seven and most of chapter eight are the backstory explaining why this weapon was cast, even after the war itself was finished (it’s the same war described in detail in Mahābhārata). Sūta describes the actual rescue at the end of chapter eight. But in telling this story in which the main subject of Śrīmad Bhāgavatam, Kṛṣṇa, plays a central role Sūta became excited and eager. So he continued narrating the tale even after his original purpose for bringing it up had been fulfilled. This goes on through chapters nine, ten, and eleven; wherein Sūta describes Bhīṣma’s deep relationship to Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa’s journey home to Dvārakā, and the welcome he received there.

At the beginning of chapter twelve, Śaunaka takes advantage of a natural pause in the story to remind Sūta of his original intention: to answer their questions about Parīkṣit. Sūta returns to the story line in this chapter, and reconnects his new narrative to the old by referencing topics previously mentioned. That is why we again hear about the horse sacrifices of King Yudhiṣṭhira.

33

Seeing this desire, his brothers approached the Infallible who told them how to find and procure an abundance of wealth from the north.

Long ago, Śiva gave a literal mountain of gold to an ancient king, Marutta. Eventually the path to the mountain was lost and the treasure within became inaccessible. But Infallible Kṛṣṇa told the Pāṇḍavas exactly how to find it and get an abundance of wealth for the sacrifice.

34

With it, the son of Dharma procured enough ingredients to perform the sacrifice three times, being fearful. Hari was pleased.

Fearful of the ill fate created by the war between family members, Yudhiṣṭhira performed the purificatory sacrifice not once, but three times.

35

The All-Attractive attended the sacrifice performed by twice-born for the king. Out of affection for his beloved devotees, he lived with them for a few months.

Regarding the term “twice-born:” The first birth is determined by fate. The second is determined by freewill. Only evolved persons utilize their freewill to take a symbolic second birth to establish an identity dedicated to higher pursuits. Such persons are qualified to perform mystical ceremonies.

36

Then, O spiritualists, the king allowed Kṛṣṇa to leave for Dvārakā, surrounded by Arjuna and his other friends and relatives.


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


Going to the Deathbed of Grandfather Bhishma

1.9.1

Sūta said:

So, fearing the hatred of the citizens and wanting to understand the proper morality, he went to the field of destruction, where Godly Avowed lay.

The “Godly Avowed” (deva-vrata) is a name for Bhīṣma, the grandfather of the royal family. King Yudhiṣṭhira was not placated by the moral guidance of great sages like Vyāsa, nor by intimate friends like Kṛṣṇa. He needed to hear Bhīṣma’s guidance because (a) Bhīṣma was a great sage with practical experience and realization of royal and warrior life, and (b) most importantly, Bhīṣma was his dear grandfather whom he and his brothers killed during the war. Bhīṣma lay struck down upon the battlefield preserving his last remaining life-force.

2-3

He went with all his brothers and with learned sages like Vyāsa, in a row of golden chariots pulled by fine horses. Even the All-Attractive was there, with Dhanañjaya in his chariot. The King’s glory seemed like the god of wealth amidst his retinue.

Another way to express this is that the god of wealth himself strives to compare to the limitless wealth of King Yudhiṣṭhira, for whom the All-Attractive Object, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, gladly took the role of an ornament.

4

Seeing Bhīṣma lying there like an immortal fallen from the heavens, the Pāṇḍavas and their associates offered respects, as did the Disc Wielder.

The “Disc Wielder” (cakriṇā) is a name for Kṛṣṇa, who wields the discus-weapon of Viṣṇu. Sūta has clearly adopted a style which shies away from grouping Kṛṣṇa together with others in any list. This is a device intended to highlight Kṛṣṇa’s unique position as the All-Attractive Original Person.

5

The most learned sages had gathered there with the topmost sage of the gods, and philosopher-kings, to see the foremost Bharata.

Bhīṣma was the “foremost Bharata” (bharata-pungava) because he was the oldest living descendent of King Bharata, the great-grandfather of the Pāṇḍavas. The “topmost sage of the gods” is Nārada. Sūta will now elaborate a list of exalted persons who had gathered around Bhīṣma who lay on the battlefield at the threshold of death.

6-8

Parvata, Nārada, Daumya, and Godly Bādarāyaṇa; Bṛhadaśva, Bharadvaja and his disciples, and Reṇukā’s Son; Vasiṣṭha, Indraprama, Trita, Gṛtsamada, Asita, Kakṣīvan, Gautama, Atri, Kauśika and also Sudarśana. O brahmin, there were also scholars like spotless Brahmarāta. Accompanied by students arrived Kaśyapa, Angirasa, and others.

“Godly Bādarāyaṇa” is Vyāsa, who is an incarnation of Godhead and dwells in Bādarik Ashram. “Reṇukā’s Son” is another incarnation of Godhead, the warrior-killer, Paraśurāma. Sudarśana is the personified form of Viṣṇu’s discus weapon. Brahmarāta is a name for Śuka.

9

Gaining their company, the greatly blessed Topmost Vasu – fully aware of moral principles – respectfully received them in a manner appropriate to the unusual circumstance.

Sūta addresses Bhīṣma as the “Topmost Vasu” (vasūttama) because Bhīṣma is one of the eight gods called Vasu who were cursed to become human beings. Bhīṣma is the best Vasu because the river Ganges immediately claimed the lives of the other seven Vasus as soon as they were born. Only Bhīṣma survived to obtain a life which granted him direct audience and friendship with the All-Attractive Original Person, Śrī Kṛṣṇa.

10

Aware that the great controller of the universe was mystically sitting before him while simultaneously sitting within his heart, he welcomed Kṛṣṇa with special respect.

Bhīṣma, who Sūta just described as being “fully aware of moral principles” showed more respect to Kṛṣṇa than to any of the extremely illustrious “V.I.P. list” of Vedic sages.

11

Pāṇḍu’s children sat nearby, overwhelmed with emotion. As tears poured from his eyes Bhīṣma called them to come near.

Is Bhīṣma crying for the devastation endured by his grandchildren? Or is he crying out of joy that Kṛṣṇa has come before his eyes? Both; hot tears of pain are flowing alongside cold tears of joy. This illustrates the profound nature of spiritual bliss, in which mutually opposite emotions coexist and almost violently heighten one another beyond conventional experience.

trying to stop Goddess Ganga from drowning the...

His father, King Shantanu, saves newborn Bhisma from being drowned by the Ganges.