“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)
“I am not criticizing Bhishmadeva. On the contrary, I have the utmost respect for him. Certain families are known to have that one member, who is something like a founder. They are respected by all of the descendants. That person is treated as a father by the younger brothers.
“The children compete in trying to offer service. Within society, you can’t find one person who will say a single bad word about them. The person is considered sinless. They have no vices. They do not put others into trouble. Instead, they are always looking to help, to lend support, to offer guidance.
“I guess that is one of the many aspects creating the amazing contrast of Bhagavad-gita and Mahabharata, in general. You have this wonderful person in Bhishma, and he happens to be fighting against the side aligned with righteous principles.
“Bhishma is so respected that at the time of his departure from this world, which is at his choosing, the winning side approaches him for counsel. Shri Krishna advises the Pandavas to go to Bhishma and learn from him.
“It is within that period of interaction that we learn of Bhishma’s ishta-deva. This is the worshipable deity of choice. The respected elder to both the Kurus and Pandavas meditates on Krishna at the time of death. He worships Krishna as the driver of the chariot for the bow-warrior Arjuna.
“This seems to be a rather odd choice. There are so many aspects to Krishna, who is Narayana, which is another name for God. Why wouldn’t Bhishma worship God in a style of greatness? Why not remember Krishna killing a certain asura, lifting a mighty hill to protect people, or ruling over the kingdom of Dvaraka?”
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, since this is a worshipable form of choice, the interaction at the foundation is eternal. For instance, if we worship Krishna standing next to Radha in a formal temple environment, we understand that the two are always together. Radharani is the goddess of fortune, and the relationship is eternal.
In the same way, in some part of the many universes Krishna is guiding Arjuna. Both are on the chariot. Arjuna gives the orders and Krishna obeys. This is the real wonder to the relationship. Though perhaps lost within industrialized nations in the modern day, throughout the majority of recorded history there has been this role of driver.
In the traditional interaction, the driver does not speak much. They are a servant. They take orders, and sometimes those orders are delivered in a harsh or condescending manner. The servant does not receive much praise, as it could negatively affect their work.
At the time of eating, the servant sits in a different area. The servant has separate living arrangements. At no time are they to mistakenly think they have become an equal with the person giving the orders.
It was this kind of role in which Krishna entered. Who would not marvel at such kindness and compassion? The source of the material and spiritual worlds, who is the controller of time, who possesses every opulence known to man, who can make desire come true in an instant [satya-sankalpa], was accepting the orders of Arjuna.
Bhishma and others appreciate this lila of Bhagavan because it shows the kindness He has for His devotees. They are His friends, and in that friendship there is never separation or loss of interest. Krishna has nothing to gain and everything to offer.
Arjuna might appreciate the service so much that he forgets that Krishna is the Almighty. In Bhagavad-gita, we see Arjuna apologizing, as if being embarrassed for behaving so informally with someone so great.
सखेति मत्वा प्रसभं यद् उक्तं
हे कृष्ण हे यादव हे सखेति
अजानता महिमानं तवेदं
मया प्रमादात् प्रणयेन वापि
यच् चावहासार्थम् असत्-कृतो ऽसि
एको ऽथ वाप्य् अच्युत तत्-समक्षं
तत् क्षामये त्वाम् अहम् अप्रमेयम्
sakheti matvā prasabhaṁ yad uktaṁ
he kṛṣṇa he yādava he sakheti
ajānatā mahimānaṁ tavedaṁ
mayā pramādāt praṇayena vāpi
yac cāvahāsārtham asat-kṛto ‘si
eko ‘tha vāpy acyuta tat-samakṣaṁ
tat kṣāmaye tvām aham aprameyam
“I have in the past addressed You as ‘O Krishna,’ ‘O Yadava,’ ‘O my friend,’ without knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love. I have dishonored You many times while relaxing or while lying on the same bed or eating together, sometimes alone and sometimes in front of many friends. Please excuse me for all my offenses.” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.41-42)
The person who remembers this relationship, who sees Krishna as the committed well-wisher to the devotees, who ensures that the surrendered souls always have guidance, has actually understood Bhagavad-gita.
Like menial servant to command,
On chariot waving the hand.
The driver dutifully to obey,
Listening whatever to say.
Krishna this role accepted,
Never from original one expected.
Beautiful interaction true,
That for devotees whatever to do.