Mahabharata Characters 10 – Bhishma 09 – The Ideal Departure
This talk is a part of the “Fascinating Mahabharata Characters” series. To know more about this course, please visit: bhakticourses.com
Transcribed by : Sadananda Das
Today we are coming to the last session on Bhimsa. In the previous class we discussed about how Bhisma fell on the tenth day after a gallant war and how till his last moment he was trying to do the welfare of Duryodhana and Karna by beseeching them to end the hostilities, but they did not pay any attention. Then the war went on. After eighteen days the whole Kaurava army was annihilated. Bhima killed Duryodhana, and then whatever Pandava warriors remained were slaughtered ruthlessly in the night by Aswathama.
Bhisma Parva was the sixth Parva. Then for the next five days Drona was the commander; that is the Drona Parva which is the seventh Parva; the eight Parva was Karna Parva when in the sixteenth and seventeenth day he was the commander; then Salya Parva is the ninth Parva wherein for one day in the eighteenth day he was the commander; then there was the Sauptik or Sleeping Parva which is the tenth Parva in which while sleeping the warriors were killed very terribly, ruthlessly and heartlessly by Aswathama. Then after that the eleventh Parva is the Stri Parva which depicts the lamentation of the women of both the sides for they had lost their husbands, children, brothers and even their fathers, and then after that in all these Bhisma doesn’t play any role. And we will discuss the events in this parva when we are discussing the later characters. We are focusing right now on Bhisma. After this in the twelfth and the thirteenth Parva’s Bhisma again plays a very central role. The twelfth Pava is the Shanti Parva and the thirteenth Parva is the anusasan Parva. In these two parvas Bhisma gives elaborate instructions to Yudhisthir while being on a bed of arrows himself. The image that we see is, Bhisma is on the arrow bed illuminating the most exhaustive and amazing wisdom that the world has ever seen; and especially from such a painful situation he transcends all pain and shows the path to dharma and ultimately to transcendence for all of humanity; for all time to come.
In the Sauptic Parva Yudhisthir is devastated. He even in the beginning had some second thoughts about the war, and after the war ends and especially after all the Pandava’s five sons are killed, practically all the warriors of the Pandava’s also die. Yudhisthir is extremely filled with remorse and then when they are performing the final rights Kunti tells Yudhisthir, “Please perform the last rites. Please offer water in Ganga for Karna also because he was your older brother and he has no surviving family member to do that.” This is a devastating blow for Yudhisthir to think that he along with his brothers had killed their eldest brother. He just couldn’t tolerate it, and as Yudhisthir sees lamentation all around rending the earth and the sky, he feels that he and his desire for the kingdom are responsible for it all, and he resolves to leave the kingdom behind to renounce the world and go to the forest, feeling that that is the only way he can do atonement for the grievous bad karma that he has done, and when he expresses this resolve he tells the Pandava’s, “O Bhima! You can become the king and I am leaving for the forest.” The Pandavas are aghast to hear this and everybody starts counseling Yudhistir. Although the four brothers are younger, they try their best counsel Yudhisthira; Draupadi speaks; and because it is a very sovery? 31.24 occasion and so many warriors have been killed so many rishis also have come over there. So, Vyasadev speaks and there are many other
sages who speak and try to pacify Yudhisthir. Krishna himself speaks but Yudhisthir is not pacified, and then finally Krishna tells Yudhisthir to seek guidance from Bhisma because he alone will be able to help him to see the light of true wisdom. At first thinking of Bhisma causes Yudhisthir’s heart to sink further and drowns him deeper into the abyss of gloom because he thinks, “My grandfather is suffering lying on an arrow bed because of me and my greed for the kingdom. How can I even go and face him?” Then Krishna reassures him that Bhisma is profoundly wise and that Bhisma is his greatest well-wisher and Bhisma will be the right person to seek counsel at such a time. Bhisma who had throughout his life cherished the Pandava’s ever since he had seen them first after they returned back would not be happy if Yudhisthir renounces the kingdom like this. So, at least Yudhisthir should go and consult him; and Krishna when he speaks this speaks it so persuasively that Yudhisthir agrees, and Yudhisthir not only agrees to go and see Bhisma but he agrees even to be coronated as the king. Why does he do that? For the pleasure of Bhisma. Now Bhisma had the benediction of iccha mrtyu; whenever he desired, at that time death would come upon him.
Vyasadev comes much earlier and tells Satyavati when Bhisma is still not so old and Pandavas and Kauravas are not yet born; at that time Bhisma comes and tells Satyavati that now the dark age of Kali is coming and many auspicious things will happen. It is best that you retire from this world and Satyavati retires at that time, and from that time onwards Bhisma is aware that things are heading towards disastrous and catastrophic flashpoint, and he endures agonizingly the many injustices that are perpetrated on his beloved grandsons, the Pandavas. At any time Bhisma could have retreated and could have decided, “Enough, I have done my part. I will depart from this world.” Why did Bhisma stay on? For a valiant person to see anyone suffering is at the core of what the person stands for, and especially that is the duty of the ksatriya’s; for anyone, for every citizen. The word ksatriya means: Ksatatrayate: one who protects others from Ksata (hurt), and this applies for everyone and every citizen. Any citizen if he is suffering, the ksatriya cannot tolerate that and what to speak of somebody who is one’s own relative; and not just an ordinary relative but a relative who is very cultured and very respectful, very gentle, very virtuous and very noble. How much more dear will such a person be to the heart? And how painful it would be for a ksatriya to see such a person suffering and to not be able to do anything to stop that suffering? That was the pain that Bhisma underwent when the Pandava’s were exiled. Why did Bhisma go through all these? He could very easily have taken the benediction of iccha mrityu and departed from the world. Bhisma waited because he knew that dharma would eventually triumph and that the virtuous would eventually be successful, and he wanted to wait to see that glorious day when the Pandava’s would be enthroned as the king, when Krishna would be glorified and Krishna’s devotees would be glorified, and that’s why he tolerated all those tribulations, and now Yudhisthir knew that for the sake of the pleasure of Bhisma he would dress himself in opulent and magnificent royal dress.
Normally if a person is sick and is about to die and when the relatives go to meet that person, they won’t dress in opulent royal dresses and go. It is a very sobery? occasion. Yudhisthir knew that going to Bhisma is a sobery occasion; yet he dressed opulently because there is a higher purpose over there. The higher pleasure was the pleasure of Bhisma. He had always wanted
that his grandsons would be glorified and that they attain the glorious position of the Emperor of the world; it was his dream. Just as the fathers dream live on to the sons or the children in general; similarly the grandfathers dream live on to the sons. Now those dreams were going to be fulfilled and Yudhisthir wanted to do all that he could to ensure that Bhisma’s dreams are fulfilled. So, after Yudhisthir was coronated he went to the palace where Krishna was staying and there when he entered, to his amazement he saw Krishna sitting in a yogic posture of meditation with eyes closed, with head erect, with a divine peace emanating from his face, a gentle smile on his face, eyes closed, lost to this world; and Yudhisthir folded his hands and he said, “How amazing it is that you who are the sustainer of the world, you who are the object of those who enter the fourth state of consciousness are now yourselves situated in that fourth sense of consciousness.” What is that fourth state of consciousness? Our consciousness can be in four states; the normal waking state is called as Jagruti where we are aware of the world around us. Then there is the second state which is called as swapna. When the consciousness is rooted through the subtle body but it doesn’t come to the gross body; we are souls and around the soul there are two coverings: Gita (7.4) tells that one is the subtle body which is made up of mind, intelligence and false ego; and then around that there is the second covering. That is the gross body which is what we see around us, which is what we call as our body normally. When the soul’s consciousness is rooted through the subtle body through the gross body and it comes to the outer world; that is called as the state of Jagruti; when we are aware of the outer world and the soul’s consciousness is rooted to the subtle body but is not rooted to the gross body. And therefore it doesn’t go to the outer world. That states is called as the state of swapna. That means that when we are sleeping we are conscious, but we are not conscious of the world around us, we are not conscious of the bed that we are lying on, we are not conscious of the color of the ceiling, we are not conscious of whether there is a fragrance or odor in that room. We are conscious of the subtle level of something else entirely, whatever we may be dreaming about. So, it is not unconsciousness, it is different state of consciousness.
When the soul’s consciousness is at the second level of the subtle body; that is swapna. When the soul’s consciousness is drawn by the in self not even at the subtle body level; that is called as the susupti, deep sleep. It is something similar to but it is deeper than dreamless sleep, and then when the soul’s consciousness is redirected and the souls consciousness is directed to either to the subtle or the gross body it is directed in the world of matter, but the souls consciousness is directed towards the opposite direction in the world of spirit, towards God and towards the spiritual reality. That state of consciousness is called as Turya and it is also known as Samadhi. So, those who are fixed in spiritual realization captivated by spiritual reality are situated in the fourth state of consciousness, and Yudhisthir was saying, “How is that Krishna has entered into this fourth state of consciousness?” And Krishna still remained silent lost in another world. Yudhisthir’s amazement changed to feelings of reverence and he said, “O Lord! If I am so fortunate can I know what is it that you are meditating on?” Slowly Krishna opened his eyes. His eyes reflected an extraordinary light and sweetness. Krishna turned towards Yudhisthir and spoke. He said, “That heroic warrior who had defeated all the ksatriya’s of the world twenty one times, that heroic warrior who single handedly defeated all the ksatriya’s at the swambhar in Kashi, that heroic warrior who was not just a ruler but also a sage; who excelled in
the knowledge of scripture, has learned from the greatest of sages like Parsuram, Sukracharya and Brihaspati; that great person who as long as he was in the battlefield of Kurukshetra there was no chance for you to win; that great son of Ganga is in his final days and he is meditating on me with his heart and mind fixed completely on me, and as his heart and mind are completely fixed on me they are attracting me to fix my heart and mind on him. It was on that great Bhisma that I was meditating O Yudhisthir.” This is the bond of love between the Lord and the devotee; the devotee is meditating on the Lord and the Lord is meditating on the devotee.
Krishna describes in the Bhagavad-gita (9.29), I am in the hearts of my devotees and my devotees are in me. Yudhisthir nodded. He said, “Yes, O Krishna it is time that we should go and see Bhisma. If you are so gracious please come with us.” Krishna nodded. He said, “Yes, soon that great Bhisma would depart from the world and when he departs along with him a vast, immeasurable ocean of knowledge and realization will depart. Let us dip into this ocean and quench our thirst as much as possible. Let us go forthwith to where that great son of Ganga is reclining.
The Pandava’s in their chariots went to the battlefield of Kurukshetra. There Bhisma was lying surrounded by guards and Brahmins who were chanting mantras. Along with Yudhisthir the ladies of the palace also came, and hundreds of citizens came along in a procession, all longing for one last vision of Bhisma. The Pandava’s then descended from their chariots and then went close to Bhisma and they offered their respects. Bhisma opened his eyes and looked with love at all of them and he smiled, and when he turned towards Krishna, Krishna’s eyes lit up and he smiled. He said, “How are you doing O grandsire? It is inconceivable that with so many arrows protruding your body that you live. No one but you could have accomplished such a feat of being alive amidst such pain for so long. Bhisma spoke in a feeble, weak voice, “Obeisance’s to you O divine Krishna. You are the Lord of the world. You have come to give me shelter in my last moments. Please instruct me what I should do now?” Krishna smiled and he said, “O Bhisma! I know of your devotion to me. That is why I have come to you to give you my darshan at your last moment and also so that you can do one glorious service. Yudhisthir is here and lamenting because of the war that caused the deaths of so many people. Please instruct him and solace him.” Bhisma spoke feebly, “O Krishna! You are the spiritual master of all the worlds. How can I a disciple speak in the presence of a teacher? You should speak and all of us will hear. How can I speak in your presence O Krishna. Moreover I am in great pain. My voice is weak. My body has lost all strength, my memory is fading away, I can’t think. In such a situation how can I speak O Krishna? Please you speak and I will hear.” Krishna told, “No Bhisma. It is you who are meant to instruct in this moment. Please you speak, and as far as your pain is concerned listen as I give you a blessing. From this moment till the end of your life you will feel no pain, no hunger, no thirst and no anxiety. Your mind and consciousness will be as clear as they were in your youth. Your voice will be as resonant and as strong as it was when you are in the most vibrant of health. And as Krishna spoke this, flowers fell from the sky on Bhisma, and then when Bhisma started speaking thereafter his voice was changed, and Bhisma started speaking. And Bhisma spoke to Yudhisthir. Now Yudhisthir was lamenting how much everybody had suffered because of him and how Bhisma was also suffering, but Bhisma was so selfless
that when he was on the arrow bed he did not think about how he was suffering. He said, “How inconceivable and heart breaking it is that O Yudhisthir you had to suffer so much. Although you were virtue personified, although Bhima was the most formidable among all warriors, although Arjuna was the most peerless of all archers, and although you had Krishna, the Lord of the goddess of fortune on your side, still you had to suffer. How is this possible? Your mother suffered when she was a widow, when she had to take care of all of you, when you were a small baby without the help of her husband. When you grew up her suffering increased more seeing your suffering. How is it that she who was truthfulness and religiosity personified had to suffer like this?” Bhisma phrased the very question that was there in the back of everyone’s mind, and he answered himself; he said, “I consider it all the way of time. Time has its own ways and it brings misery and happiness in the life’s of different people and the best way to deal with the effects of time is by being firm in the service of the Lord. The Lord has a plan for everyone but we cannot understand that plan, but if we just stick in doing what the Lord wants us to do, then his glorious plan will be revealed to us and all auspiciousness will come, and therefore by that Lord’s plan now you have become the king, and all these people who are orphaned they need a guardian; you become their guardian.” And then Bhisma gives his own example of how he had to fight in the side of evil because that was the plan of the Lord, and although that plan was extremely difficult for him to follow; when he followed it, what was the result? He says, “Although the plan was very difficult I stayed fixed in devotion to the Lord, and then what was the result?” He said, “Such mercy the Lord is giving me; O protector of the earth, just see the mercy of the Lord. When I am about to depart from this world, Krishna has come to give him darshan.” So, Bhisma is not proud; he was not saying that he was an unflinching pure devotee. He is glorifying bhakti and giving himself as an example. He says, “Anyone who practices unflinching devotion to the Lord will be rewarded in due course of time, and as an example of that just see how the Lord is rewarding me by himself coming in front of me to give me his darshan in the last moment, and that Lord is no other than Krishna himself. That Lord is Krishna and he wants you to become the king; so, follow his will and become the king.”
Bhisma knew that this devotional explanation is what will pacify and energize the heart of Yudhisthir. Yudishthir took heart and then he asked Bhisma about how he should rule as the king, and thereafter Bhisma spoke. Bhisma’s instructions went on for fifty six days and they comprise a massive part of the Mahabharata; the Santi Parva and the Anusasana Parva and the instruction in them are so exhaustive that they are almost as big as the number of the pages narrating the main events of the Mahabharata and Bhisma talked about specially raj dharma – the dharma of a king, how a king should rule; and then after elaborately speaking on this, then he noticed that the sun had come to the meridian. He knew now that the time for him to depart had come. He turned his head towards Krishna, he focused his mind and all his consciousness internally on Krishna, and that Lord, that great person who had spoken on hundreds of topics and had fought hundreds of wars and deliberated on hundreds of subjects now withdrew his consciousness from all those directions. He took his consciousness from everything else and focused that on that one supreme Lord, Bhagavati, and he started offering his prayers. As he offered prayers, they are the most moving prayers. Bhisma remembered how Krishna was extremely beautiful. Nothing in this world could compare to his beauty. Here he says, “No one in
this world is as beautiful as Krishna. He bears yellow garments and his whole body is effulgent and shining, and such a Lord, may he always be on the path of my eyes, and then he specially remembered that pastime in which he was most intimately related with the Lord during the pastime of fighting with the Lord. He remembered Krishna as Vijaya sakha, as a charioteer of Arjuna, and then he remembered specially that glorious event on the ninth day when Krishna in order to protect Arjuna had jumped off the chariot, picked up a chariot wheel and charged towards him to kill him, and that was the highest moment of him life, and he remembered the wounds in the face of Krishna, he remembered Krishna’s expressions and he remembered how he reciprocated love with the Lord in that extraordinary way, and after remembering this intimate moments he remembered other glorious moments. He remembered how Krishna had received the worship as the greatest person in the Rajasurya yajna that Yudhisthir had performed. Then he remembered the most treasured of all pastimes: the pastimes of the gopi’s of Vrindavan. In fact in the Srimad Bhagavatam where the departure of Bhisma is narrated in the ninth chapter of the first canto, Bhisma speaking to the gopi’s is the first reference of the gopi’s in the Bhagavatam, and Bhisma remembered how this gopi’s had become completely mad with love for Krishna and blinded by divine madness – and with those treasured memories and memories of his most intimate interaction with the Lord; the Lord’s glorification in this world and the memories of the most exalted devotees. Treasuring all these memories in his heart he offered one final obeisance; that Lord who is present in the heart of everyone, that Lord who is the well-wisher of everyone, I offer my obeisance’s to him, and speaking thus he became silent. His eyes closed and the sages saw over there a shining light piercing through his forehead and shooting up to the sky; it entered around the effulgence around Krishna’s body and disappeared. They knew that Bhisma had attained the highest abode in the spiritual world, never to return back to this world.
After a moment of silence the celestials started showering flowers, drums started being beaten. Although it was a moment of lamentation it was also a moment of celebration. Yes, the great soul had departed from the world, but the great soul had departed to the greatest destination and that was an occasion for celebration.
The Pandavas took the body of Bhisma and majestic funeral procession worthy of the greatest of kings took him to the funeral pyre and with Yuyutsu who was the only surviving son of Dhrtarastra holding a parasol or an umbrella on the head, Bhima and Arjuna fanning the head on the two sides, Yudhistir and Dhritastra fanning the feet on both sides, they stood around Bhisma and as the priests were chanting mantras, one of the priests gave the lit log to Yudhisthir and Yudhisthir lit the body and within moments the whole body was consumed into flames, and in this way Bhisma departed from the world, and Bhisma’s departure is exemplary among all departures in this world because it is the perfection; everybody has to die in this world, but the perfection is not to avoid death or to evade death. That is not possible for anyone, but the perfection is to die in such a way that one will never have to die again, and that happens when one remembers Krishna at the time of death. That person will return back to Krishna.
We all practice chanting the holy names, hearing the pastime, taking darshan of the Deities, associating with the devotees. By all these we practice so that we can ultimately get inner
remembrance of Krishna. We make a habit of remembering Krishna throughout our life so that we can remember at the moment of death, and the Lord himself comes, is right in front of us at the moment of death to help us remember what more greater fortune can be there than that.
For millennia Bhisma’s departure has been held as the standard that everyone aspires for, not just in terms of demanding the presence of the Lord, but in also aspiring for the consciousness of devotional surrender and absorption in the Lord that Bhisma demonstrated. Such was the grandsire Bhisma’s great life and a great departure.