Radhanath Swami’s narration on Bhishmashtami



Bishmadeva’s whole life was immersing his consciousness in the will of Krishna, in the service of Krishna and always remembering Krishna; and here he is teaching us how to die. – Radhanath Swami

Radhanath Swami elaborates on the inconceivable circumstances Bhishmadev had to go through

For those of you who are acquainted with some of the history of Mahabharata, he was placed in some inconceivable circumstances. Very, very great difficulties and obstacles came upon him and practically in every stage of his life. Because of his devotion to Lord Krishna, he remained faithful through them all.

Especially we find in the battle of Kurukshetra, he was fighting on the wrong side; this is quite serious. This was a world war. It was dharma against adharma, or love fighting hate, greed fighting goodness or charity, religion fighting irreligion. Dhuryodana represented envy, greed, pride, hatred and passion for power. That was one army and the other army was Yudishtir who represented honesty. Duryodhana was an ocean of duplicity. Yudishtir Maharaj was honest. He was charitable, he was humble, he was a lover of God, his whole life was dedicated to the goodness of all living beings.

Yudishtir Maharaj considered every living entity, the plants, the trees and the insects, the birds, the reptiles, the fish, the animals and every class of the human society as his own children, praja. He respected them, honored them and cared for them as if they were his own children. That is very, very difficult to conceive for an ordinary person. Those of you who have children, you know how you care for them, you know how you worry for them, you know how you are willing to give your life to protect them, but are you willing to do that for another person’s child? Are you willingto do that even for someone who is antagonistic toward you? Are you willing to have that relationship with an insect? It is impossible because we are seeing things in terms of my body and relation with my body. Yudhistir Maharaj was a self realized soul. He was a raja rishi. Therefore he was seeing the soul in everyone’s heart. Yudishtir Maharaj was seeing that every spirit soul was part and parcel of Krishna. As the king, as the representative of Krishna, every living entity in my kingdom is under my care. As Krishna’s representative, the Supreme father, aham bhija pradah pitah, I must love and respect and care for every citizen as my child. That was his love. – Radhanath Swami

So here is this battle of… Duryodhana who tried to usurp and murder the Pandavas headed by Yudishtir, against Yudishtir, and Bishmadev was the commander-in-chief of Duryodhana’s army. Haribol! Quite inconceivable. Why? He knew better than anyone on earth, besides perhaps Krishna, the wicked black heart of Duryodhana, and Bishma knew fully well the illustrious, kind, loving heart of Yudishtir. In fact from the time they were little children, Bishmadeva was always trying to be neutral and kind to all of them because he was like their grandfather although he was a brahmachari; he vowed never to have children, but still he was grandfather in the sense that he was the older relative who was taking responsibility for the entire family. How much it pained his heart to see Duryodhana’s envy! For those of you who are parents, it must be painful to see your children, not just fight and quarrel as children always do, but actually hate each other. Can anything be more painful to the parent than seeing one of your children hate, despise and murder, which is what Bishmadev had to witness in his life.

So many times he and Vidura would give good advice and chastisement to Duryodhana, but he would be convinced against his will as to have the same opinion still. Duryodhana was a very, very scholarly person; he was powerful, was trained by Balaram how to use the club and fight; he was trained by Dronaacharya in military sciences; very, very learned, beautiful. He had all material opulence to a large extent, but he had one fault – he was envious, he was proud, he could not tolerate his elder cousin brother having a position that he longed to posses. So by so many illegal means he tried to poison the Pandavas. Bhima, he gave horrible poison that could kill hundreds of people, but by Krishna’s grace, Bhima was saved. Duryodhana sent the Pandavas to that house of lac, highly flammable building materials, and when they were sleeping one night, he set it on fire. But Bishma and Vidura sent a message to the Pandavas that this is the most inauspicious time, that he is going to light this house on fire; so escape. Bishma was present sitting right there at the gambling match; they were playing dice. Sakuni prompted by Duryodhana cheated the Pandavas. They were banished to the forest. They had to give up their right for inheritance of the kingdom, the throne, the position of service. Very demoniac: he took away their service, he took away their wealth, he took away their prestige, he took away all their possessions and banished them to the forest for 12 years. And then in the forest he made so many plots to humiliate them, to murder them and Bishma was watching all this! He was a devotee of Krishna who loves Yudishtir, who loves these Pandavas more than anyone in the world. He loved them and then ultimately it was Krishna’s arrangement.

Imagine what Bishmadev had to see in his life. Krishna was his life and soul. He loved Kishna with his heart and when Krishna came to Duryodhana to try to convince him to be reasonable and fair and give the Pandavas villages to rule over and he can take the rest of the kingdom, Duryodhana sent his military with weapons to attack Krishna to arrest him and put him in prison. Hare Krishna! For Krishna that was not a problem. He manifested Viratrupa, His universal form that was radiant like millions of suns and a huge form of the universe. The destroyer of everything, he manifested this form. Of course the soldiers could not approach him, but even after seeing that, Krishna told Duryodhana, “You will be ruined, totally destroyed if you maintain your hatred and greed for the Pandavas.” So Duryodhana was preached to by God himself. He was preached to by Bishma, by Vidura, even by his own father Dritarashtra sometimes – “Why are you doing this?”  But Duryodhana couldn’t listen, because his intelligence was completely polluted by greed, by envy.

The Shastras say that even a beautiful body, if it has a spot of white leprosy, the whole thing is ruined, because that spot will spread all over and be the cause of one’s ruination. Similarly, although he had so many good qualities, he was Balaram’s good friend, but because of that envy that is like a spark in all of our hearts, if it not very, very carefully controlled, unless we are working really hard to extinguish that spark of envy within our hearts, that spark of pride, it goes out of control like a blazing fire and burns to ashes all good qualities we may have. That was Duryodhana. – Radhanath Swami


In the end, ultimately, Krishna being compassionate and loving toward all living beings in the world, understood that Yudishtir Maharaj must be the king. Otherwise the whole world will be in a wrong direction. So this battle of Kurukshetra was planned. So, all the great kingdoms, kings and military phalanxes would gather together in one battlefield. All the kings of the world with their armies, and each one had the choice of fighting for Yudishtir or fighting for Duryodhana. Krishna told Duryodhana and Arjuna, “One of my armies I will give to either one of you and for the other one, I will be on their side. But I will not fight, and I will not lift a single weapon.” So, Duryodhana who was very materialistic said, “I want your army, who wants you.” Hare Krishna. Arjuna was very happy. He knew that if Krishna is on our side, then who can defeat us.

Bishma in the Kurukshetra war

Krishna was personally the charioteer, Parthasarathy, of Arjuna. And still Bishmadeva chose to be the commander-in-chief to fight against Yudishtir, Arjuna and Krishna – on the side of Duryodhana. Can anyone understand that? He was a Mahajan, which means one of the greatest thinkers, one of the highly self realized souls. There are 12 mahajans, which means the 12 authorities of pure devotional service. SrilaPabhupad explains the mystery of why Bishma took the side of Duryodhana. Externally, it was because somehow or the other because of his duplicitous and evil means, Duryodhanawas the king and Bishmadeva’s position was to be loyal to the king, to show the world that you must be loyal to your leader. Haribol. Duryodhana was providing everything and it would be ungracious for him to go against him, but actually that‘s external. Krishna tells in the Bhagavad Gita, sarvadharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja/ aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah.” We should abandon all these varieties of religion. You should just surrender unto me. Bishma was a Mahajan. He was a surrendered soul; so what does this have to do with surrendering? There was a higher purpose. Bishmadeva understood the mission of Lord Krishna.

Krishna wanted to send a very serious message for all living beings for all time to come. What was that message? Whoever one may be, however powerful, however learned, however highly placed, if you are not on the side of God, you will be defeated. – Radhanath Swami

Now Bishma happened to be the greatest warrior and most intelligent person. He was educated by Brihaspathi; his military guru was Parashuram, the avatar of Vishnu. He was given a benediction that he would only die when he personally decided to die; otherwise nobody could kill him. Even time itself could not destroy him until he decided that now I want to die. Who can defeat someone like that? He was so powerful, so mighty! Actually on the battle of Kurukshetra, the day before Bishmadeva was defeated, Duryodhana agitated him, “Why are you so sympathetic to you enemy? I know you love your enemy, but now if you are going to be a general in a battle and you are Kshatriya, you have to put aside your personal sentiments and you have to fight. You are not doing your duty.” So Bishmadeva single handedly practically destroyed half the Pandava’s army in one day. He was undefeatable, he was unstoppable. I mean, even Bhima and Arjuna couldn’t even look at him, what to speak of fighting against him. So powerful, incredible personality! In fact that night Krishna told the Pandavas, “If he fights against you tomorrow, you are all finished. Before tomorrow comes, we have to go to him and ask him permission to kill him and the process of how to do it.” This is Bishmadeva. When the Pandavas came to him in the middle of the night in his tent, they had to ask him… They loved him, they loved him more than anyone – except Krishna. He was their loving grandfather. They said, “Bishmadeva. There is no way anyone would kill you; there is no way anyone can defeat you; there is no way anyone can stop your terrible warfare. Please tell us how we can kill you.” That is a nice question to ask your loving grandfather! When Bishma heard that question, he became ecstatic. It was the happiest moment he experienced in years. He just lit up and smiled and said, “Yes, thank you very much. I will tell you the process.” And he told the process, and by Arjuna’s arrows he fell. When Bishma fell, it was the morning. Usually the war goes till sunset. It is not like these guerrilla warfare like today, at any moment somebody comes and it just explodes. It was very fair, weapons in hand, face to face, from sunrise to sunset. But on that day when Bishma fell down, both armies stopped for the day so they could all come personally to offer respects to this most glorious personality as he laid there. The whole of the rest of the battle took place with 18 days. Ultimately of course our Krishna led the Pandavas to victory and Duryodhana died a painful humiliating death. Unfortunate life.


Radhanath Swami narrates the passing away of Bishmadeva

Krishna went to Hastinapur and arranged for the coronation of Yudishtir as king. Now Yudishtir is the king of the world; Kunti and Draupadi, the mother queen and the wife queen. Everything was auspicious except, Yudishtir he was so kind, so humble, he was so pure, he was thinking in his heart, “Because of me so many people died. Because of me there are so many widows who are crying for their lost husbands. Because of me there is so much pain in the world today.” Because of all the loss of so many lives, although he was absolutely blameless and harmless, he blamed himself. That is extra-ordinary.

If we examine our own hearts, we will find a very strong propensity that we never want to admit our faults. It is very convenient to blame someone else for our own inefficiency, for our own mistakes, for our own shortcomings. Have any of you done this before? In our minds, in our words, in our actions, we want to blame someone else for what we have done. Yeah? That is conditioned nature due to the false ego. But Yudishtir Maharaj was absolutely right in everything he did, and he was taking the blame for everyone else that was wrong and putting it upon himself. What a great soul!

So Krishna wanted to actually pacify his heart. And actually Krishna made a wonderful plan because he knew that Bishmadeva was lying in the battlefield, from his neck to feet pierced by arrows, so many arrows that he couldn’t put a single arrow between his two fingers. Those arrows were shot by Arjuna with all his might and every arrow pierced through the front of his body out through the rear of his body, and he was lying on the bed of these arrows. One little bee stings us and we think that it is such a painful situation. Can we imagine Bishmadeva’s condition? Have any of you been to Kurukshetra in the winter? This battle of Kurukshetra was in December and January. It is freezing cold, very, very cold. Not quite as cold as Chicago but it is very cold, and he was just laying there in a bed of arrows with some arrows as a pillow in the winter. There was nobody around but he wouldn’t die; he was laying there for weeks, but he wouldn’t die. He was waiting for Krishna.

Now, Srila Prabhupad explains why Bishma took the side of Duryodahana. Because Bishma wanted to show that principle; he knew it was Krishna’s desire. I will be an example to show the world the importance of being Krishna conscious. If you are on the side of Krishna, you will be victorious and of you are against the will of God, you will be defeated. It doesn’t matter who you are, you will fall. So to assist Krishna in teaching this lesson to the world he took the side of Duryodahana. – Radhanath Swami

And he told Duryodhana again and again, “We are going to lose, no matter how hard we are going to fight. And we are going to lose. We can’t win because Krishna is on their side.”

He knew that he was going to die. He knew that he would be defeated, but that was his selfless attitude of service. He knew that he would be misunderstood by practically anybody who doesn’t hear from a proper acarya about what his motivations were, but that was his surrender. – Radhanath Swami

Prabhupad emphasizes that when Krishna came, Krishna brought Yudishtir to Kurukshetra because he knew that Bishma would not give up his body unless he would completely immerse himself in surrender in the presence of the Lord.

He was just laying there is such a condition waiting for Krishna; such patience, such faith, he knew full well that Krishna would come and stand before him at his last moment of the greatest need and that was his faith. So he laid there and waited and waited and waited. – Radhanath Swami

Krishna told Yudishtir, “In order for you to be a proper king you should learn from Bishmadeva. He is the most learned in all these sciences and he will pacify your heart.” So Krishna personally brought the Pandavas to Kururkshetra. And Bhagavatam describes ‘bhagavanapi,’ that although Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, still he came all that distance, took all that trouble to be there to fulfill Bishmadeva’s last desire of life to be present before him when he died.

Bishmadeva’s whole life was immersing his consciousness in the will of Krishna, in the service of Krishna and always remembering Krishna; and here he is teaching us how to die. – Radhanath Swami

First he performed service. Krishna told Bishmadeva to instruct Yudishtir. So while laying down on a bed of arrows… Can you imagine giving a Bhagavatam class laying down on your back with thousands of arrows pierced into your body? It is hard enough for me to give class because I was up till midnight last night (laughs). Bishma didn’t sleep for weeks; you can’t sleep when your body is pierced with arrows, when it is freezing cold, in a battlefield! His instructions to Yudishtir in Mahabharat composed many chapters, hundreds of pages, what incredible! He instructed him in spiritual martial arts, in politics and all the various sciences.

And then he saw that the sun was entering into the northern hemisphere. And this is a very auspicious time, makarashankaranti, very auspicious time! Then he just looked upon the beautiful moonlike face of Lord Krishna and began to praise Krishna, especially praising Krishna’s mercy to His devotees. He remembered how Krishna became the charioteer of Arjuna. Inconceivable! In the western religions we understand how God is all great. He punishes the wicked, He rewards the pious, He is creator, He is the destroyer. God is great, all powerful. He is so great, people tremble before Him. Fear of God! But how great God is?! Here is the origin of all incarnations, the original Absolute Truth, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Bishmadev is remembering how Krishna took the menial position of Arjuna’s charioteer; his driver, chauffer, in modern day standards. Arjuna says, “Krishna bring my chariot between two armies.” Krishna obediently takes. Bishma knows the greatness of Krishna, the supremacy of Krishna, but his greatest quality is that he takes such a loving position. He was remembering Krishna as Parthasarathy.

Bishmadev wanted to show the world the greatness of Krishna, that he is willing to break his own promise to protect the promise of his devotee. Bishma fought against Arjuna and he was about to kill Arjuna. He knew that the only way Arjuna could be saved was if Krishna broke his own promise, because he promised that he would not lift a weapon or participate in any fighting. When Krishna saw Arjuna in that helpless condition, he picked up a chariot wheel and in great intensity with eyes red like burning coals, he attacked Bishmadev. That is all Bishma wanted. He just wanted the world to see how Krishna loves his devotee, because he knew that is what Krishna wanted the world to know. So when Bishmadev saw Krishna attacking, Bishmadev was shooting arrows at Him. Now, would you shoot arrows at Krishna if you are His devotee? But as a Kshatriya this is the way he was offering his love. Srila Prabhupad quotes Visvanath Chakravarthy Takur and other acaryas that Krishna sees the purpose in which everything is offered. He doesn’t see the thing that is offered, but he sees the purpose in which it is offered. So Bishma was shooting these arrows at Krishna as an offering of pure unalloyed love. Now that might sound strange. And this is not an ordinary situation, and Bishmadeva is not an ordinary man. He knew Krishna and he knew His heart. Krishna was feeling in each of those arrows just the same way as the deity feels when you shower very fragrant soft petals upon them. That was what Krishna was feeling, flower petals. Or an example what Prabhupad gives is, if somebody bites you it hurts, but  if a lover in the passion of love starts biting the beloved it actually feels very nice. I don’t know so much about this, but this is what Prabhupad said, this is what Visvanath Chakravarthy Takur says. If anyone else bites you, ah! painful, but if your lover bites you, ahhhh, nice. It is because of the intention, because of the relationship. This is what way Krishna was feeling the arrows of Bishmadeva, and ultimately when Bishmadeva saw Krishna coming, he ecstatically fell at Krishna’s feet and surrendered – and he is remembering this. This is his ecstasy – how Krishna reciprocated his love in this very, very special way and showed His love for His devotees. In other words, Krishna was defeated by Bishma, by his love. And he is remembering the love of the Gopis of Vrindavan. Well, actually before that he was remembering how Krishna taught Bhagavd Gita on the battlefield to Arjuna in the battlefield to teach the whole world the highest scientific principles of religion, dharma. He was remembering the Rajasuya sacrifice: how Krishna took the position of washing every guest’s feet when they came in. That is the position he volunteered for and how he was worshiped as the Supreme Person of the universe as Yudishtir Maharaj.

He remembered Gopis – the intensity, the purity, the supremacy of their simple love for Krishna; how he attracted their hearts, how he completely saturated their minds in such sweet loving relationships. In separation from Krishna, the Gopis could not separate even for a moment; their entire lives were immersed in remembering Krishna’s form, his beauty, his movements, his pastimes. Yes, Bishmadev was speaking the glories of Krishna in relationship to His devotees. Then Bishmadev became silent, fixed his mind in remembering the qualities, the attributes, the names and the pastimes of the Lord, and fixed his eyes on the beautiful form of the Lord. In this way Bhagavatam describes his speech, his sight, his actions and his mind merged into Krishna in loving remembrance and in that state by his own sweet will, his breathing stopped. Krishna says in Gita, yam yam vapi smaran bhavam tyajaty ante kalevaram, whatever we remember at the time of death that we will achieve without fail. One who remembers me at the time of death will attain me. That is the Lord’s promise.

Radhanath Swami elaborates on ‘Absorption in Krishna’

SrilaPrabhupad here explains that there are 9 processes of devotional service, 9 ways of immersing our consciousness in Krishna and any one of these 9 processes will bring us ultimate perfection. There are examples for all of them.

Here, Prabhupad is particularly emphasizing the process of hearing. This is the beginning of our spiritual life. In proper association, hearing the glories of the Lord, hearing the science of self-realization; if we hear fromthe proper source, then we learn all the other processes of devotional service. – Radhanath Swami

Krishna is non-different than His name. Similarly when Krishna speaks the Bhagavad Gita, that sound vibration is Krishna, the pastimes of Krishna in Srimad Bhagavatam are non-different than Krishna. If we have receptive and sincere heart and we read Prabhupad’s Bhagavad Gita, Krishna is speaking to you and to me in the same way He was speaking to Arjuna. If we have the receptive submissive devotional consciousness of Arjuna, then when we read the Bhagavad Gita, we will get the exact same result and effect that Arjuna had when Krishna was speaking to him. – Radhanath Swami

When book distributers are distributing Srila Prabhupad’s books, they are distributing Krishna. It is not just a book; it is not just paper and cardboard with some nice illustrations. Haribol. Giving books is like giving Krishna, because Krishna’s words are non-different than Krishna. The power, the beauty, the love for God is fully manifested within his words, within His name. So yes, giving these books is an act of the ultimate compassion – giving Krishna, his mercy, His message full-fledged. His books are deities, because the word of God is non-different from God Himself. These books are worship-able deities. That is why Prabhupad was so empathetic in the need to be instrument of the Lord’s compassion in this way. So, when we hear from the proper sources, we become illuminated, we become enlightened, and the seed of devotion enters our heart and begins to grow.

Srila Prabhupad is emphasizing here in how Bishma taught how to be absorbed in God. For Bishmadeva this wasn’t a matter of going to temple or church on Sunday. It was total absorption, it was immersion. His body, mind, speech and actions were merged into Krishna in a total absorption, and if we want to be able to do this at the time of death, we must practice throughout our life. That is what the process of bakthi is, the process of absorbing ourselves in remembering Krishna. We remember Him by chanting His name, by reading His books, by hearing His message, by seeing His beautiful form, by associating with His devotees, by taking His Prasad, by engrossing ourselves in activities in His service. But these activities, if we want benefit, the greatest benefit, it should not be done superficially or mechanically. We have to strive to absorb ourselves, while chanting the holy names, we should really be striving to absorb ourselves, to immerse ourselves to merge our consciousness into the sound of the name. – Radhanath Swami

I see many of you are sleepy because I am over time. But regardless, when we are hearing the message of Srimad Bhagavatam we should really be striving to immerse ourselves to merge our entire consciousness in hearing this. In other words, to be absorbed. When we pray to the deities we should strive to be absorbed. This absorption in Krishna.

To the degree we are absorbed, we become thoroughly cleaned, spiritually purified. – Radhanath Swami


What an example of Bishmadeva! He was laying there in freezing cold all alone, on a battlefield, with his body just perforated and pierced by arrows, waiting in total absorption in Krishna, remembering His form, remembering His pastimes and remembering His holy names and because of his life of absorption, Krishna came to stand right before him with his beautiful smiling face at the time of his departure from the world. Thus Bishmadeva attained the ultimate perfection and immediately went back home, back to Godhead. His leaving of this world was simply not a sad affair. Yes, the Pandavas wee sad that they lost his association, but it was glorious. Even to this day, over 5000 years later we are celebrating the way Bishma died. For a Vasinava who is absorbed in Kishna, death is simply entering into the door into the eternal life of the loving service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thakur Bakthivinod prayed, ‘He reasons ill, who says that Vaisnavas die, when thou are living still in sound. Vaisnavas die to live and live to spread the holy names around.’ In fact when Haridas Takur left his body by his own will in the presence of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu in JagannathPuri, the first thing all the devotees remembered was Bishma’s passing in the presence of Lord Sri Krishna.

The most glorious item to remember in this entire narration is Srila Prabhupad’s wonderful words of encouragement. He is speaking the truth that what Bishma attained at the time of death every single human being can achieve the same perfection. – Radhanath Swami


Mahajano yena gatah sapanthah. Bishma is mahajan, great, great devotee. Scriptures tell us that the path to ultimate perfection is to follow in the footsteps of such great Mahajans.

So yes, let us follow in the footsteps of Bishmadeva, because we do not know when that final moment will come in our life. Let us live in the joy of absorbing ourselves in the loving remembrance and service of Krishna and strive at every moment to be absorbed in this way. – Radhanath Swami


man-mana bhava mad-bhakto

mad-yaji mam namaskuru

mamevaishyasi satyamte

pratijanepriyo’si me.

This is the conclusion of Sri Bhagavad Gita: ‘Always think of me, become my devotee, worship me and offer your homage to me, and in this way you will come to me without fail. It is my promise.’ That is the word of Krishna.

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