“Bhishmadeva was a pure devotee, and as a military marshal he constantly remembered the battlefield feature of the Lord as Partha-sarathi, the chariot driver of Arjuna. Therefore, the Lord’s pastime as Partha-sarathi is also eternal. The pastimes of the Lord, beginning from His birth at the prison house of Kamsa up to the mausala-lila at the end, all move one after another in all the universes, just as the clock hand moves from one point to another. And in such pastimes His associates like the Pandavas and Bhishma are constant eternal companions.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.9.39 Purport)
Friend1: It is said that Bhishma merged into the Supreme Personality of Godhead at the time of death. I understand that this isn’t the same as merging into Brahman.
Friend2: Right. Typically, we think of merging as losing spiritual identity. Shedding association with the material and remaining only in the spiritual.
Friend1: Mukti. That is the enjoyment from liberation. The four principal rewards of an existence are dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. When we get ultimate liberation, moksha, we fall off the track of rebirth, so to speak.
Friend2: And so Bhishma’s merging was different. It was liberation, but with a continuation of existence.
Friend1: To me, the incident validates the various philosophical teachings.
Friend2: Such as?
Friend1: The advice to keep the Supreme Lord on the consciousness at the time of death.
अन्त-काले च माम् एव
स्मरन् मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्
यः प्रयाति स मद्-भावं
याति नास्त्य् अत्र संशयः
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Friend2: Yes, for sure.
Friend1: Also, this idea that the consciousness carries forward. Whatever state of being we have at the time of death, that continues into the next life.
यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं
त्यजत्य् अन्ते कलेवरम्
तं तम् एवैति कौन्तेय
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
Friend2: Again, the consistent theme of remembrance. In the writings of Goswami Tulsidas, you will find repeated use of words like sumirata and surati. Remembering is key in succeeding in bhakti life.
Friend1: The thing with Bhishma is that he had a very specific vision while meditating at the time of death.
Friend2: What do you mean? Is there something on the other side? Is there a vague picture?
Friend1: Sure. If you are thinking only of God in terms of greatness. But I make the mention to compare against what we would typically worship. Namely, the deity in the temple or a popular picture or painting.
Friend2: Like Krishna standing next to Shrimati Radharani?
Friend1: Or Vishnu alongside Lakshmi Devi, the goddess of fortune. Even Krishna as a child, holding a laddu in His lotus-like hands.
Friend2: You are saying that Bhishma worshiped something different.
Friend1: Really specific, if you think about it. He was focused on Krishna as the chariot driver. Not just to any person, but to Arjuna. Krishna is Arjuna’s protector, Arjuna’s cousin, and also Arjuna’s spiritual guide.
Friend2: Are you saying that someone like Bhishma would typically be envious over those relationships?
Friend1: You could say that, but just see the appreciation. He was so amazed at Krishna’s kindness. It was too much to believe.
Friend2: The Supreme Lord is an ocean of unlimited mercy.
Friend1: It is not common to find that image in temples. That is all I am saying.
Friend2: You mean on the altar, I don’t expect to find Krishna guiding the chariot for Arjuna?
Friend1: Exactly. How does that qualify for worship? Was that specific to Bhishma or is it available to every person?
Friend2: His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the lila is eternal. The deity essentially immortalizes a specific period of time or relationship. For instance, when Krishna associates with Yashoda, we understand that the relationship exists forever.
Friend1: Even though Krishna later reaches a mature stage and has to leave Vrindavana.
Friend2: Even though the battle of Kurukshetra is not going on at the moment, somewhere it is. Krishna is eternally the guide of Arjuna. That is why someone like Bhishma can worship that image. Krishna as the charioteer is the ishta-deva for Bhishma.
Friend1: The ishta-deva is the worshipable form of choice.
Friend2: Which is an extension of Krishna’s kindness. We are not compelled to worship a specific form. So many people make their offerings before Jagannatha. This is how they understand spiritual life. This is complete worship. They are not lacking anything.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: Where there is a will, there is a way. If I want to connect with the Almighty, He will help me to maintain that connection. Even if I happen to be fallen on the battlefield, while a great war is raging, He will not forget me.
Even if on battlefield to fall,
Still responding to call.
Though battered and bruised to see,
Krishna not forgetting me.
Because through devotion connected,
Sacrifice for His interest directed.
When vision keeping on the mind,
That destination next to find.