Wednesday, January 22, 2014

VIII: 24

Chapter 8, Verse 24

"Fire, light, day-time,
The six-month journey
Of the Sun to the north;
Those who are free
Go to the Supreme."

Sri Eknath Easwaran:

Bheeshma was a splendid spiritual teacher, but he was a teacher to the Kauravas, the forces of darkness; and though he tried to win them away from violence, they would not listen.  Unable or unwilling to understand his teachings, they ignored his warnings and went to war against Arjuna and his brothers.  Bheeshma was mortally wounded in the war.  Pierced by many arrows, he lay on the battlefield for fifty-eight days on a bed of arrows.  Despite excruciating pain, he kept his body alive through sheer will power until the Sun had crossed the equinox from the southern hemisphere to the northern, so that he could shed his body during the northern path of the Sun.  He was prepared to undergo any amount of pain in order to attain the path of the Sun, the path of light and unity.

[Bheeshma was an amazing character.  His father was a king, and his mother was the River Goddess of the Ganges.  She exited the earthly realm shortly after Bheeshma was born.  Bheeshma, whose given name was Devrarata, grew up as the heir-apparent to his father's kingdom.  His father, Shantanu, doted on him as only a father can dote on an only son.

Then his father fell in love with a fisherwoman and asked her to be his bride.  She was enthusiastic, but said that she would marry him only if he fulfilled a certain condition.  "Just name it," Shantanu replied.  The condition was that the son that the fisherwoman would bear would be the heir to the throne.  Shantanu became miserable.  He had been grooming Devrarata all those years to take his place eventually, and yet he was head over heels in love with the fisherwoman.

There seemed to be no way out of the impasse until Devrarata, out of devotion to his father and a wish for his happiness, took a life-long vow of celibacy, which effectively removed him from consideration as heir.  From that moment on, Devrarata was known as Bheeshma, which means "he of the terrible oath."

Even though Bheeshma knew that the Kauravas were in the wrong and the Pandavas were in the right, his intuition, the voice of his innermost being, told him to fight for the Kauravas.  How do we know that it is Bheeshma's intuition guiding him and not the crafty voice of a delusional ego?  We learn this from what follows the great war, as Bheeshma lies dying on the battlefield.

Arjuna's brother, Yudhishthira has been crowned king.  We pick up the story with this paraphrased passage from Kamala Subramaniam's version of "The Mahabharata"...

Yudhishthira comes before Krishna with folded palms.  He says, "My Lord, you have given me back my kingdom.  For my sake you do so many tasks.  In your affection for me, you play the role of a man, whereas you deserve to be worshiped as the Eternal Soul.  You are the Lord of lords, and you pretend to be a man.  You pretend to be affected by the joys and sorrows which trouble us.  With us you weep, and with us you smile.  You show us the way to Truth, and you are our Guide.  I do not know what else to say.  My heart overflows with emotion.  I have always followed your advice.  I fall at your feet and wash them with my tears.  That is all that I can do in return for all that you done for us."

Krishna lifts up Yudhishthira.  He speaks sweet and gentle words to him and his brothers.  He is in a thoughtful mood.  He says, "I am thinking of your great patriarch, Bheeshma.  He has reached his last few days on Earth.  You wanted to learn so much from him.  He is calling me in his mind.  Let us go to see him."

Yudhishthira responds, "We will do as you suggest."

The entire group leaves for the battlefield.  There they abandon their chariots and go on foot into the presence of the great Bheeshma.  He looks like the setting Sun.  Krishna kneels next to him.  He is feeling so unhappy to see the great man in such pain.  Krishna says to him, "How are you faring, my lord?  Your strength of will is amazing.  How can you bear the pain caused by so many arrows which are lodged in your body?  There is no one like you in this world.  You have always followed the path of righteousness.  You must now pacify Yudhishthira who is grieving because of the death of his relatives.  He wants to rule the kingdom as well as his ancestors did.  You must teach him all that you know.  You must help him to shake off his sorrow and rule the kingdom properly.  You are the only person who can help him."

Bheeshma hears the words of Krishna.  He raises his head a little and looks at him.  A sublime smile hovers at the corner of his lips.  He says, "My Lord, you are the Eternal Soul that pervades this Universe.  You are the home of all knowledge and wisdom.  Why do you want me to give this discourse on the duty of a king?  Why do you not speak to Yudhishthira yourself?  I want to know the reason for this."

Krishna smiles a gentle smile and says, "You are right.  I can tell him everything, but I have decided to bring you everlasting glory.  I want the world to remember you always.  The world of men will ever hereafter take your words to be sacred.  I want you to live forever.  That is why I am asking you to speak."

Bheeshma's tears flow slowly and silently.  He is speechless.  This Love that Krishna has for him is too sacred for words.  Finally, he composes himself and says, "Tell Yudhishthira to ask me any question he likes.  I am ready to answer him."

Krishna responds, "Yudhishthira feels guilty.  He does not dare to come into your presence, since he thinks that he is the cause of the destruction of so many heroes, including his own relatives."

Bheeshma smiles tenderly and calls Yudhishthira to him.  He places his old hands on his head and says, "My child, the duty of a warrior is to fight.  You have been a real warrior.  You must not grieve for having done your duty.  Come now.  Krishna tells me that your understanding is clouded because of the doubts that you have about true conduct.  I hear that you want to learn the art of ruling the kingdom well.  I will tell you everything, my child.  It was taught to me by the great masters, and I will impart it all to you with the Grace of Krishna."

As he lies dying, Bheeshma proceeds to answer all of Yudhishthira's questions about duty and conduct.  Even though Bheeshma had chosen, after a strict examination of his duty, to fight on the side of the blind king and his spoiled sons, great honor was bestowed upon him by Krishna.  Hence, one of the messages from Bheeshma's life is this: it is not necessary for a soldier to fight on the side of righteousness in a war to fulfill his or her duty.  Perhaps a further underlying message is this: war is so horrible and degrading for all involved that moral superiority may not be claimed by either side.

Long live non-violent revolution!  Hip Hip Hurray!!]

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