Five Reflections On The Image Of Bhishma Departing

[Bhishma departing]“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)

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सूत उवाच
कृष्ण एवं भगवति
आत्मन्य् आत्मानम् आवेश्य
सो ऽन्तःश्वास उपारमत्

sūta uvāca
kṛṣṇa evaṁ bhagavati
ātmany ātmānam āveśya
so ‘ntaḥśvāsa upāramat

“I saw something recently that bothered me. It created this nagging feeling of disappointment, shock, and anger, all combined. To most people, the interaction was innocent enough. It would not warrant so much attention. As this was a post on social media, there were many favorable comments. I could not find one that was negative or critical.

“The author of the post was trying to make light of the madness surrounding the dictates and strong recommendations of the health authorities. These are people with a lot of power. They control the governing bodies. Governments, local and national, follow their guidance.

“Anyway, this group of doctors is recommending one injection after another. These injections are experimental in nature. If pressed on the fact, the scientists will admit that the most recent injections have not even gone through formal testing within the human population.

“Yet, they are still recommending that people take them. It is indeed a farce. That community of so-called experts has turned into a joke. Any sane person would agree. This person on social media decided to make a joke of the recommendation for never-ending injections by posting a picture of Bhishmadeva.

“Yes, it is the one you are thinking of, that famous depiction of the respected warrior lying down on the battlefield, body filled with arrows. I guess the image of the many arrows piercing his body brings to mind the never-ending series of injections recommended for the population.

“I don’t know if there is something wrong with me, but I didn’t find the post to be funny, at all. What did Bhishma ever do to that person? Why should his image be used for such jokes? There are thousands of other images the author could have used.

“Could you perhaps elaborate as to the seriousness of that scene? What it represents, why we should study it, why Bhishma should be respected, and so forth. I think that would provide a more balanced view and make such jokesters think twice before offending great personalities and those who hold them in high regard.”

1. Respected in victory and defeat

The image is of Bhishma lying down on the battlefield. He has been defeated. He was respected prior to this particular battle, which was actually a war. In fact, the leading fighter for the Kuru side had confidence precisely because people like Bhishma were part of the army.

अपर्याप्त‍ं तदस्माकं बलं भीष्माभिरक्षितम् ।
पर्याप्त‍ं त्विदमेतेषां बलं भीमाभिरक्षितम् ॥

aparyāptaṁ tad asmākaṁ
balaṁ bhīṣmābhirakṣitam
paryāptaṁ tv idam eteṣāṁ
balaṁ bhīmābhirakṣitam

“Our strength is immeasurable, and we are perfectly protected by Grandfather Bhishma, whereas the strength of the Pandavas, carefully protected by Bhima, is limited.” (Duryodhana, Bhagavad-gita, 1.10)

Bhishma is immortalized through that image because he is still respected. Whether in victory or defeat, gain or loss, ascension or decline, Bhishma is still one of the twelve mahajanas. He is an authority on dharma. He knows the true meaning to that word, that concept, and that way of living.

2. The potency of a single transfer of knowledge

It was recommended that Maharaja Yudhishthira pay respects to Bhishma. The paternal leader of both the Kurus and Pandavas was on his way out. He was still alive, and there was an opportunity for counsel.

This single instance of knowledge transfer was vital. Bhishma was not lecturing in front of thousands assembled in a hall. He was not going live on an internet stream or appearing on a televised talk show. He was essentially talking to one person.

[Bhishma departing]Bhishma passed on the knowledge to Yudhishthira, who was the ideal leader. If one person knows the truth, in how to apply the timeless principles of Vedic culture, then everyone who follows them can subsequently benefit.

3. At his own choosing

Bhishma had been previously granted the benediction of dying at the time of his choosing. We see that this was the moment. On a battlefield, a body filled with arrows, surrounded by the leaders of the opposing party.

This choice was made in sound judgment and wisdom. It is not that the mental faculties had departed that elderly leader. Bhishma knew exactly what he was doing.

4. The ishta-deva

That moment was for meditating on his deity of choice. It is said that Bhishma subsequently merged into Narayana, who is the source of men. Bhishma was looking at Shri Krishna at the time. Krishna is the same Narayana.

[Lord Vishnu]This proves that liberation can take place through any of the non-different forms of Vishnu. A person is not compelled to worship God only as Krishna. Bhishma is not considered to be less of a person because he focused the consciousness on Narayana at the moment of quitting the body.

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)

5. Never lost to Krishna

यो मां पश्यति सर्वत्र
सर्वं च मयि पश्यति
तस्याहं न प्रणश्यामि
स च मे न प्रणश्यति

yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra
sarvaṁ ca mayi paśyati
tasyāhaṁ na praṇaśyāmi
sa ca me na praṇaśyati

“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.30)

There is a verse in Bhagavad-gita where Shri Krishna describes how devoted souls are never lost to Him. He always knows where they are. He is always supporting them. Their prayers never go in vain.

The image of Bhishma departing is proof of this truth. Bhishma was remembering Krishna. Krishna knew that Bhishma was remembering Him. Krishna therefore brought the Pandava brothers to Bhishma, to take counsel, to accept vital information prior to that great soul leaving for the spiritual world.

In Closing:

Matter seriously to take,
Sacred that image to make.

Of Bhishma on battlefield ground,
Body filled with arrows found.

But Krishna towards him to steer,
For Pandava brothers to hear.

A single case of knowledge passed,
Wisdom for lifetimes to last.

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