Srimad Bhagavatam

SB 1.9 - Varṇāśrama dharma

Yudhiṣṭhira, in the presence of all the great sages, asked Bhīṣma about the essential principles of various religious duties. Kṛṣṇa inspired the king to ask questions to indicate that a devotee like Bhīṣma is superior to many great sages. Although Bhīṣma was in an aggrieved state, Kṛṣṇa wanted to prove that His pure devotees are always sound in body and mind by dint of spiritual enlightenment. The Lord declares emphatically that worship of His devotee is more valuable than worship of Himself.

Bhīṣma first defined all the classifications of castes and orders of life in terms of one’s qualifications (svabhāva). Then he systematically described counteraction by detachment and interaction by attachment. He described dharmas suitable for men according to their natures, according to varṇa and āśrama, which (āśrama) have qualities of renunciation and enjoyment described according to a person’s detachment and attachment. It is a rule that all the āśramas need not be undertaken one after the other by all the brāhmaṇas. If they have constant renunciation they become sannyāsīs and if they have constant attachment, they become gṛhasthas.

SB 1.9 - The duties of the varṇās and āśramas

The conception of varṇāśrama is to make people gradually realize their spiritual identity and thus act to get free from material bondage. Bhīṣma advised for all human beings nine qualifications: (1) not to become angry, (2) not to lie, (3) to distribute wealth equally, (4) to forgive, (5) to beget children only by one’s wife, (6) to be pure in mind and hygienic in body, (7) not to be inimical toward anyone, (8) to be simple, and (9) to support subordinates. These are the preliminary qualities for a civilized person.

The brāhmaṇas need to control the senses and follow the Vedic way of life. This means he must study the Vedic literatures, especially the Bhāgavatam and the Bhagavad-gītā. For learning the Vedic knowledge, one must approach a person who is a pure devotee. The kṣatriyas are advised to give charity. They must be well versed in the scriptures, but must not become teachers. They must be trained in military education and must be chivalrous. The warrior class including the leader should personally fight in the battle field. The vaiśyas are advised to protect the cows and thus increase milk production. Agriculture and distribution of foodstuff are the primary duties of the mercantile community backed by education in Vedas and trained to give charity. Kṣatriyas protect the citizens and vaiśyas protect the animals. Industrial economy can only increase the artificial living of vested interests without producing the essential needs of mankind namely rice, wheat, grains, milk, fruits and vegetables. The śūdras are meant to serve the other three sections of society and attain all comforts of life. The higher castes should always look after the maintenance of the śūdras, and they should provide them with old and used garments. The śūdras should be sumptuously fed before any sacrifice is performed.

The āśrama-dharma is to awaken knowledge and detachment. The brahmacārī āśrama is the training ground for the prospective candidates. They are taught self realization and detachment. One who fails to assimilate the spirit of detachment is allowed to enter family life. But the detached person can take sannyāsa and live on charity alone. Household life is for one who is attached, and the vānaprastha and sannyāsa orders of life are for those who are detached from material life. The brahmacārī āśrama is meant for training both the attached and detached.

SB 1.9 - Dāna-dharma and Rāja dharma

Bhīṣma then explained acts of charity (dāna-dharma), the activities of a king (raja-dharma) and activities for salvation (mokṣa-dharma). Then he described the duties of women (strī-dharma) and devotees (bhagavad-dharma) both briefly and extensively.

A student should perform sacrifices, a householder should give charity, and a person in the retired or renounced life should practice penance and austerity. In the brahmacārī life training is given to understand that the world is the property of the Lord. Thus in the householder life one must give in charity for the service of the Lord. Our energy which is borrowed from the Lord’s energy must be returned to the Lord. The Lord says in Bhagavad-gītā that whatever we do, whatever penance we undergo, whatever we sacrifice, whatever we eat or whatever we give in charity must be offered to Him. That is the way of using our borrowed energy.

Rāja dharma is a great science, unlike modern diplomacy for political supremacy. The kings were trained to become munificent and lead the subjects to attain salvation. In modern days people get power by the strength of manipulated votes but are never trained in the primary duties of a ruler. They become rogues and thieves and increase the tax burden of the people. The brāhmaṇas are meant to give direction to the kings for proper administration in terms of the scriptures. A typical king is the ideal of the people in general, and if the king is pious, religious, chivalrous and munificent, the citizens generally follow him. The kings of Vedic culture were exemplary in punishing the miscreants without resorting to so-called ahiṁsā. In terms of tax, the kings would collect one fourth of one’s wealth, and due to an abundance of natural wealth, no one was materially unhappy. The kings selected his ministers according to qualifications. They saw to the welfare of the tapasvīs, who disseminated spiritual knowledge. The king would give special protection to the illiterates, the helpless and the widows.

SB 1.9 - Mokṣa dharma and Bhagavad-dharma

Mokṣa dharma entails conquering lust, anger, desires, avarice and bewilderment. To be free from anger, one should learn how to forgive. To be free from unlawful desires, one should not make plans. By spiritual culture one can conquer sleep. By tolerance one can conquer avarice. Disease can be avoided by regulated diets. By self control one can be free from false hopes, and money can be saved by avoiding undesirable association. By practice of yoga one can control hunger, and worldliness can be avoided by culturing the knowledge of impermanence. False arguments can be avoided by factual ascertainment, talkativeness by gravity and silence, and fearfulness by prowess. Perfect knowledge can be obtained by self cultivation.

Women are considered as a power of inspiration for men. Shyness is important for women.

The simple process for pleasing the Lord is to install the Deity of the Lord at home. By concentrating on the Deity, one may progressively go on with the daily routine work. Worshiping the deity, serving the Deity, hearing Bhāgavatam, residing in a holy place and chanting the holy name are all inexpensive items by which one can please the Lord.

SB 1.9 - Bhīṣma's waiting for the right time to leave his body

Citing instances from history, Bhīṣma described dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa along with the means to attain them. Incidents mentioned in the Purāṇas, Mahābhārata and Rāmāyaṇa are factual historical narrations and they happen on different universes. One should be simply concerned with the instructive lessons of such incidents and not their chronological order. Bhīṣma awaited the Uttarāyaṇa, the day when the sun enters the northern hemisphere. Uttarāyaṇa also means He who entered within Uttarā, who is Kṛṣṇa, who had entered the womb of Uttarā to protect Parīkṣit. While Bhīṣma was thus describing occupational duties, the sun’s course rain into the northern hemisphere (uttarāyaṇa), which is desired by mystics who die at their will. In Bhagavad gītā 8.24, it is said that those who leave the material body when the sun is in the northern horizon achieve the transcendental sky. The yogīs can leave their bodies at their will, and can go to any planet within a short time. Bhīṣma prepared to quit his body in the presence of the exalted Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the pious Pāṇḍavas and the great sages.

SB 1.9 - Kṛṣṇa fulfills Bhīṣma's desire

Thereupon that man who spoke on different subjects with thousands of meanings and who fought on thousands of battlefields and protected thousands of men, stopped speaking. He withdrew his mind from everything else and fixed his eyes upon the Lord, who stood before him, four-handed, dressed in yellow garments that glittered and shined. Being a pure devotee, Bhīṣma had very little to do with the detailed performance of yogic principles. Simple bhakti yoga is enough to bring about perfection.

Looking at Kṛṣṇa, Bhīṣma was freed from all inauspiciousness and was relieved of all bodily pains caused by the arrow wounds. Thus all the external activities of his senses stopped, and he prayed to the controller of living beings while quitting his body. The soul is originally pure and so also the senses. By material contamination the senses assume the role of imperfection and impurity. By revival of contact with the Supreme Pure, Lord Kṛṣṇa, the senses again become freed from material contamination. In the presence of the sun like Kṛṣṇa, there is no possibility of darkness like material contamination. Being the provider of all necessities for all living beings, Kṛṣṇa provided all facilities to fulfill the transcendental desires of His great devotee, Bhīṣma.

SB 1.9 - Kṛṣṇa, the leader of the sātvatas

Bhīṣma said he would invest his thinking, feeling and willing in the Lord, who though self satisfied still enjoys transcendental pleasure by descending on the material world from whom it is created. Being the head of the Kuru dynasty, Bhīṣma’s mind was strewn over so many subjects so far. But now he wanted to achieve pure devotion to Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa descends on earth to bestow the boon of devotional service upon His pure devotees. He descends sometimes as Lord Kṛṣṇa as He is, and sometimes as Lord Caitanya. Both are leaders of the pure devotees, who are sātvatas. Unless one is purified from all sorts of material desires, the Lord does not become one’s leader.

The Lord is the leader of all the living beings, both the devotees and non devotees. But His dealings are different with them. Non devotees never care to take any instruction from the Lord, and so He is silent in their case, although He witnesses all their activities and awards them the necessary results, good or bad. The devotees, being beyond good and bad, have no desire for anything material. Desiring their association, Kṛṣṇa descends to enliven them. He appears out of His own will and not forced by the conditions of material nature, and thus He is addressed as Vibhu, the almighty.

SB 1.9 - Bhīṣma's absorption in vīra-rasa

Bhīṣma praised Kṛṣṇa as Bhagavān full of six qualities, best of the Yadus, superior to all other forms of the Lord, and absorbed in bliss with His associates. After describing thus the main qualities of the Lord, Bhīsma then described the secondary qualities by saying that the Lord contacts māyā by glancing for evolving mahat-tattva from which arises the sequence of material creation. He does this in His forms of the puruṣāvatāras.

Kṛṣṇa, the intimate friend of Arjuna, had appeared on earth in His transcendental body, which resembles the bluish color of the tamāla tree. His body attracts everyone in the three planetary systems. Bhīṣma prayed for Kṛṣṇa’s glittering yellow dress and His lotus face covered with paintings of sandalwood pulp be the object of His attraction, and that he may not desire fruitive results. He saw that intense yellow from Kṛṣṇa’s upper and lower cloth sparkling in the sun’s rays as Kṛṣṇa stood on the chariot of Arjuna. Bhīṣma admired his enemy Arjuna for possessing the Lord as his friend. So he addressed Kṛṣṇa as vijaya-sakhe. Although Kṛṣṇa was present before Bhīṣma, Bhīṣma did not use the second person to address the Lord. This indicates his attraction for the Lord’s sweetness absorbed in vīra-rasa during the battle, and his absorption in relishing it.

Bhīṣma visualized Kṛṣṇa on the battlefield with His flowing hair turned ashen due to the dust raised by the hoofs of the horses; beads of sweat wetted His face arising from efforts because of His affection for Arjuna. All these decorations, intensified by the wounds dealt by Bhīṣma’s sharp arrows, were enjoyed by the Lord. Bhīṣma is a great devotee of the Lord in the relation of dāsya. Thus his throwing of sharp arrows at the transcendental body of the Lord is as good as the worship of throwing soft roses upon Him. The arrows slightly pierced the armor of Kṛṣṇa and not really His skin. Moreover, the Lord’s body which is completely spiritual is never hurt by the arrows or any other weapons hurled at Him. Spirit is never pierced, burnt, dried or moistened as explained in the Gītā. The Lord acts like a conditioned soul to bewilder the asuras and the non believers. Thus Bhīṣma’s piercing the body of Kṛṣṇa is a bewildering problem only for the atheist. Bhīṣma repented his acts but the all merciful Lord was never reluctant to come before Bhīṣma’s deathbed, even though He was ill-treated by Bhīṣma on the battlefield. Bhīṣma’s repentance and the Lord’s merciful attitude are both unique in this picture.

Viśvanātha Cakravartī says that the wounds created on the body of the Lord by the arrows of Bhīṣma were as pleasing to the Lord as the biting of a lover who bites the body of the Lord directed by a strong sense of sex desire. Thus the fighting as an exchange of transcendental pleasure between the Lord and His pure devotee was not at all mundane. Bhīṣma is a devotee in the chivalrous relation, and so he fixed up his mind on Kṛṣṇa in thinking about Kṛṣṇa’s wounds.

SB 1.9 - Kṛṣṇa's love for Arjuna

Arjuna ordered Kṛṣṇa to place his chariot between the armies of soldiers and Kṛṣṇa obeyed this command. While there, He shortened the life span of the enemy soldiers, by taking away their prārabdha-karmas simply by looking at them. Bhīṣma’s mind pictured this scenario. The Lord is never the order carrier of anyone but He willingly carries out the order of His devotees. Diminishing the duration of the lives of the enemy does not mean that the Lord was not merciful. Those who saw the Lord at the time of death attained salvation, and thus all fighters attained salvation at Kurukṣetra. Therefore, the Lord is all-good, and whatever He does is for everyone’s good.

When Arjuna was seemingly polluted by ignorance upon observing the armies before him, the Lord eradicated his ignorance by delivering transcendental knowledge. The kings and commanders fought in the battlefield and were not like the modern day presidents. The fighting happened at a place far away from the civilian residence, so that the innocent citizens were immune from all effects of the fighting. Arjuna, seeing his friends and relatives like Droṇa, Bhīṣma and others, was overwhelmed with compassion and decided not to fight. Thus it is said here that his intelligence was polluted, but being a devotee, constant companion and the avatāra (Nara) of the Lord, his intelligence could never be polluted. Apparently this happened so that the Lord could deliver the teachings of Bhagavad-gītā for the good of all polluted conditioned souls.

SB 1.9 - Kṛṣṇa keeps Bhīṣma's promise by breaking His own

Duryodhana criticized Bhīṣma alleging that he was reluctant to kill Arjuna because of paternal affection. Angered by the insult, Bhīṣma vowed that the next day he would kill all the five Pāṇḍavas with special weapons made for the purpose. Duryodhana was satisfied and he kept the arrows with him to be delivered the next day. By tricks Arjuna took the arrows from Duryodhana, and Bhīṣma learning this, took a vow that the next day Kṛṣṇa would have to take up weapons Himself, otherwise His friend Arjuna would die. Kṛṣṇa had vowed before the battle that He would not take up weapons. The next day Bhīṣma fought so violently that both Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa were in trouble.

At that time, in order to please His devotee, Bhīṣma, by keeping Bhīṣma’s promise, Kṛṣṇa got down from the chariot, took up the wheel of the chariot and rushed at Bhīṣma in an angry mood. Kṛṣṇa, situated on the chariot, quickly got down from the chariot in such a manner that no one could see it. Or Kṛṣṇa, though He got down, remained on the chariot to protect it in another form invisible to others. He dropped His outer garment on the way. While rushing this way, Kṛṣṇa trampled the earth and the earth trembled because Kṛṣṇa allowed the weight of the entire universe to rest in His body. Bhīṣma at once gave up his weapons and stood to be killed by his beloved Lord. The fighting of the day ended at that very moment, and Arjuna was saved. Of course Arjuna could not have been killed because Kṛṣṇa was on the chariot. To keep His devotee’s promise, the Lord broke His own promise.