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Bhismadeva's Instructions on his death bed of arrows

Bhismadeva's Instructions on his death bed of arrows

Bhisma reclines upon the bed of arrows, surrounded by the seven rishis, including Narada with the vina; Krishna, four-handed, with mace, conch, and lotus; Yudhisthira; and the other pandavas; and Duryodhana. Bhisma, the venerable uncle of Pandu and Dhrtarastra, and instructor of the pandavas and kauravas alike, fought on the side of the latter in the great war. On the tenth day the aged hero grew weary of the slaughter, and desired to meet his own fate. At last he fell, wounded by many arrows. When he fell from his car the hearts of all fell with him. ‘That foremost of all bowmen,that mighty-armed hero, fell down like an uprooted standard of Indra, shaking the earth as he fell.

Pierced all over with arrows, his body touched not the ground. At that moment a divine nature took possession of that great bowman lying on a bed of arrows.’ The sun was then in the southern solstice, an inauspicious time for death. Wounded as he was, Bhisma resolved to hold his life until the sun should reach the north; so, ‘having recourse to that yoga which is taught in the great Upanishads, he remained quiet, expectant of his hour.’ Subsequently Bhisma, in response to the inquiries of yudhisthira, instructed him in the four branches of knowledge at great length. The story says that when yudhisthira came to Bhisma, ‘ he lay stretched on his arrowy bed, resembling in splendour the evening sun’; like unto a fire that is about to go out’. When at last the sun turned towards the north, Bhisma gave up his life-breaths: ‘in the midst of those great-hearted men it was a marvelous thing to see’.

The famous Bhisma, the son of Ganga or Gangeya of Mahabharata fame, belongs to a lunar dynasty. He was a Kshatriya, the greatest warrior of his time. In the society of his time he had achieved the reputation of being patriarch Bhisma, the greatest among the Kurus.

Bhismadeva's Instructions on his death bed of arrows
Bhismadeva's Instructions on his death bed of arrows

Bhismadeva advised for all human beings nine qualifications:

  • Not to become angry
  • Not to lie
  • To equally distribute wealth
  • To forgive
  • To beget children only by one's legitimate wife
  • To be pure in mind and hygienic in body
  • Not to be inimical toward anyone
  • To be simple
  • To support servants or subordinates.

Bhismadeva also advices this:

1. To get freedom from anger, one should learn how to forgive.
2. To be free from unlawful desires one should not make plans.
3. By spiritual culture one is able to conquer sleep.
4. By tolerance only can one conquer desires and avarice.
5. Disturbances from various diseases can be avoided by regulated diets.
6. By self-control one can be free from false hopes.
7. Money can be saved by avoiding undesirable association.
8. By practice of yoga one can control hunger.
9. Worldliness can be avoided by culturing the knowledge of impermanence.
10. Dizziness can be conquered by rising up.
11. False arguments can be conquered by factual ascertainment.
12. Talkativeness can be avoided by gravity and silence.
13. By prowess one can avoid fearfulness.
14. Perfect knowledge can be obtained by self-cultivation.

In Shrimad-Bhagavatam (1.9.27) Bhishma instructs King Yudhishthira in the following dharma:

dana-dharma, or public acts of charity,
raja-dharma, or the duties of a king,
moksha-dharma, or duties for salvation,
stri-dharma, or duties for women, and ultimately
bhagavata-dharma, or pure devotional service to the Lord.

Bhishma did not limit his discussion to bhagavata-dharma, because Lord Krishna gave Maharaja Yudhishthira the devotional service of acting as a king, and to execute his service Yudhishthira Maharaja required extensive knowledge of civic affairs. However, one who is not rendering such prescribed devotional service in society should not unnecessarily involve himself in the material world, even by practice of Vedic rituals. Nothing should distract him from the ultimate goal of satisfying Lord Krishna.

SB. 1.9.27-28 Translation: He then explained, by divisions, acts of charity, the pragmatic activities of a king and activities for salvation. Then he described the duties of women and devotees, both briefly and extensively. Then he described the occupational duties of different orders and statuses of life, citing instances from history, for he was himself well acquainted with the truth.

To give charity is one of the householder's main functions, and he should be prepared to give in charity at least fifty percent of his hard-earned money. A brahmacari, or student, should perform sacrifices, a householder should give charity, and a person in the retired life or in the renounced order should practice penances and austerities. Those are the general functions of all the ashramas, or orders of life on the path of self-realization. In the brahmacari life the training is sufficiently imparted so that one may understand that the world as property belongs to the Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead. No one, therefore, can claim to be the proprietor of anything in the world. Therefore, in the life of a householder, which is a sort of license for sex enjoyment, one must give in charity for the service of the Lord.

Bhisma confronts Krishna in battle

Everyone's energy is generated or borrowed from the reservoir of energy of the Lord; therefore, the resultant actions of such energy must be given to the Lord in the shape of transcendental loving service for Him. As the rivers draw water from the sea through the clouds and again go down to the sea, similarly our energy is borrowed from the supreme source, the Lord's energy, and it must return to the Lord. That is the perfection of our energy. The Lord, therefore, in the Bhagavad-gita (9.27) says that whatever we do, whatever we undergo as penance, whatever we sacrifice, whatever we eat or whatever we give in charity must be offered to Him (the Lord). That is the way of utilizing our borrowed energy. When our energy is utilized in that way, our energy is purified from the contamination of material inebrieties, and thus we become fit for our original natural life of service to the Lord.

Raja-dharma is a great science, unlike modern diplomacy for political supremacy. The kings were trained systematically to become munificent and not merely be tax collectors. They were trained to perform different sacrifices only for the prosperity of the subjects. To lead the prajas to the attainment of salvation was a great duty of the king. The father, the spiritual master and the king are not to become irresponsible in the matter of leading their subjects to the path of ultimate liberation from birth, death, diseases and old age. When these primary duties are properly discharged, there is no need of government of the people, by the people. In modern days the people in general occupy the administration by the strength of manipulated votes, but they are never trained in the primary duties of the king, and that is also not possible for everyone. Under the circumstances the untrained administrators play havoc to make the subjects happy in all respects. On the other hand, these untrained administrators gradually become rogues and thieves and increase the taxation to finance a top-heavy administration that is useless for all purposes. Actually the qualified brahmanas are meant to give direction to the kings for proper administration in terms of the scriptures like the Manu-samhita and Dharma-shastras of Parashara.

Krishna confronts Bhisma on the battle field

A typical king is the ideal of the people in general, and if the king is pious, religious, chivalrous and munificent, the citizens generally follow him. Such a king is not a lazy sensuous person living at the cost of the subjects, but alert always to kill thieves and dacoits. The pious kings were not merciful to dacoits and thieves in the name of nonsensical ahimsa (nonviolence). The thieves and dacoits were punished in an exemplary way so that in the future no one would dare commit such nuisances in an organized form. Such thieves and dacoits were never meant for administration as they are now.

The taxation law was simple. There was no force, no encroachment. The king had a right to take one fourth of the production made by the subject. The king had a right to claim a fourth of one's allotted wealth. One would never grudge parting with it because due to the pious king and religious harmony there was enough natural wealth, namely grains, fruits, flowers, silk, cotton, milk, jewels, minerals, etc., and therefore no one was materially unhappy. The citizens were rich in agriculture and animal husbandry, and therefore they had enough grains, fruits and milk without any artificial needs of soaps and toilets, cinemas and bars.

The king had to see that the reserved energy of humanity was properly utilized. Human energy is meant not exactly for fulfilling animal propensities, but for self-realization. The whole government was specifically designed to fulfill this particular purpose. As such, the king had to select properly the cabinet ministers, but not on the strength of voting background. The ministers, the military commanders and even the ordinary soldiers were all selected by personal qualification, and the king had to supervise them properly before they were appointed to their respective posts.

The king was especially vigilant to see that the tapasvis, or persons who sacrificed everything for disseminating spiritual knowledge, were never disregarded. The king knew well that the Supreme Personality of Godhead never tolerates any insult to His unalloyed devotees. Such tapasvis were trusted leaders even of the rogues and thieves, who would never disobey the orders of tapasvis. The king would give special protection to illiterates, the helpless and widows of the state. Defense measures were arranged previous to any attack by the enemies. The taxing process was easy, and it was not meant for squandering, but was for strengthening the reserve fund. The soldiers were recruited from all parts of the world, and they were trained for special duties.

As far as salvation is concerned, one has to conquer the principles of lust, anger, unlawful desires, avarice and bewilderment. To get freedom from anger, one should learn how to forgive. To be free from unlawful desires one should not make plans. By spiritual culture one is able to conquer sleep. By tolerance only can one conquer desires and avarice. Disturbances from various diseases can be avoided by regulated diets. By self-control one can be free from false hopes, and money can be saved by avoiding undesirable association. By practice of yoga one can control hunger, and worldliness can be avoided by culturing the knowledge of impermanence. Dizziness can be conquered by rising up, and false arguments can be conquered by factual ascertainment. Talkativeness can be avoided by gravity and silence, and by prowess one can avoid fearfulness. Perfect knowledge can be obtained by self-cultivation. One must be free from lust, avarice, anger, dreaming, etc., to actually attain the path of salvation.

As far as the women class are concerned, they are accepted as a power of inspiration for men. As such, women are more powerful than men. Mighty Julius Caesar was controlled by a Cleopatra. Such powerful women are controlled by shyness. Therefore, shyness is important for women. Once this control valve is loosened, women can create havoc in society by adultery. Adultery means production of unwanted children known as varna-sankara, who disturb the world.

The last item taught by Bhishmadeva was the process of pleasing the Lord. We are all eternal servants of the Lord, and when we forget this essential part of our nature we are put into material conditions of life. The simple process of pleasing the Lord (for the householders especially) is to install the Deity of the Lord at home. By concentrating on the Deity, one may progressively go on with the daily routine work. Worshiping the Deity at home, serving the devotee, hearing the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, residing in a holy place and chanting the holy name of the Lord are all inexpensive items by which one can please the Lord. Thus the subject matter was explained by the grandfather to his grandchildren.