“Suta Gosvami said: Thus Bhishmadeva merged himself in the Supersoul, Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, with his mind, speech, sight and actions, and thus he became silent, and his breathing stopped.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.9.43)
कृष्ण एवं भगवति
आत्मन्य् आत्मानम् आवेश्य
सो ऽन्तःश्वास उपारमत्
kṛṣṇa evaṁ bhagavati
ātmany ātmānam āveśya
so ‘ntaḥśvāsa upāramat
“You will often hear others lament when the end is approaching. That is to say when they know they are on the verge of moving on to the next life, they review the one they just experienced. The regrets come to mind, for whatever reason. That which they wanted to do but never got around to. Those places they wished to visit, those people they wanted to see, those words they said but later regretted.
“Heartbreaking it is when such a person reviews their many failures. Perhaps they wanted to succeed at something but were never able to. Now time has run out. There is no future opportunity. How do we avoid such a fate? Is that even possible?
“I look to someone like Bhishma, who lay fallen on a bed of arrows through taking part in the Bharata War. He lost, though no one was able to defeat him previously. He quit his body, though it appeared that he would otherwise live forever. He fought on the wrong side, the one aligned with evil. He went against his own interests, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, was the charioteer for the leading warrior of the opposition.
“Is not such a passing ignominious? Why is Bhishma celebrated so? Is not the duty of a warrior to succeed? Wouldn’t someone be full of regret if they were conscious of their failures at the time of death, especially with something as meaningful as a great war?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada states that the human being is meant for dying like Bhishma. This is due to consciousness. We should be fully aware of the Supreme Lord, cognizant of His name, form and pastimes, and desirous to maintain association with Him moving forward.
There will be another life. Nothing can kill the imperishable soul, atma. It was never born and it never ceases to be. What we see as death is merely a changing of bodies, like switching garments in the fitting room of a retail outlet.
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरो ऽपराणि
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णान्य्
अन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही
vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ‘parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
To die in any other way is to die like an animal, which means that the next birth depends on the laws of nature. It could be high or low. Moving or nonmoving. In the sea or on land. As a tree or as a bird perched on a branch. As the son of a high court judge or a child in the womb facing a knife.
Though in the material estimation Bhishma was a failure, he actually attained perfection. It is for this reason that his rivals, the ones responsible for the bed of arrows, approached him on the battlefield. They went to seek counsel on all important matters. It was something like a knowledge transfer that occurs in the corporate environment, when an important employee leaves the firm.
Shrimad Bhagavatam describes the travel as merging. One soul into another. The individual soul, atma, merging with the Supersoul, Paramatma. This is the meaning of yoga. The merging here is just a formality, as Bhishma is always conscious of Shri Krishna. He is one of the twelve mahajanas, or authorities on devotional life, mentioned by Yamaraja, the god of justice.
In truth, success or failure is not entirely in our hands. One person tries their best to start a business and break out on their own. Another person attempts the same, within the same industry. One person is successful while the other is looking for work in a few years. They are equally as capable, but for whatever reason the outcomes did not align identically.
Shrila Prabhupada explains that we have the potential to finish as victorious as Bhishma. We don’t need to enter a battlefield or witness Shri Krishna directly. The name of the Absolute is identical to Him, so if we chant the maha-mantra it is just like merging into the pastimes of the eternal one, who is all-compassionate towards His devotees: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
To those devotional living.
So that outcome whatever,
To find something better.
Where Bhishma on battlefield to fall,
But greatest passing to call.
Since of Krishna aware,
A perfect transfer there.