By Michael Dolan, B.V. Mahayogi
The Teachings of Bhishma
Explore the Art of War.
Why are Bhishma's teachings essential in any conflict?
What does the dharma king learn?
A king who acts carefully with deliberation chooses the right time and place for favors; by planting well-placed favors the king gets the desired fruit.
(c) Bhishma
Levels of Meaning in the Mahabharata
The Mahābhārata conceals many levels of meaning. It is saga and epic, history and holy writ. It is the story of kings and heroes, of conflicts between empires, but it is also the story spiritual journeys of quests for inner truths.

These levels of meanings reveal themselves not only through the teachings of saints and sages but also through the lives and stories of the hero's journeys. Heroes like Arjuna, Yudhisthira, and Karna all have important stories to tell not only through their words but also through their deeds and the examples of their lives.
At the center of our telling is Bhishma, son of the Ganges, last of the old guard.

Bhishma's Vow

Saved at birth by his father Shantanu the Adi-Raja, Bhishma is bound by an oath to support his father's rule. His oath denies him kingdom and companionship: He has sworn never to marry in order to support the rule of his step-brothers, the puissant Chitrangada and the sensitive, boyish Vichitravirya. When they die untimely, it is Bhishma's half-brother Vyāsa who at the behest of the royal matriarch, Satyavati, populates the line and continues the dynasty.

In carrying out his vow to this father, Bhishma supports the rule of his stepmother's children and grandchildren. He lends his arms to the blind Dhritarashtra and his sons while lending a hand to the sons of Pandu. Bhishma's word is everything to him. His vow is sacrosanct.
Maintaining in the Dynasty
While the rivalry between the sons of Pandu and their cousins grows, Bhishma does his best to support harmony in the realm. His advice is to split the kingdom in half and let the two sides of the dynasty rule in peace. But an easy peace is not Hastinapura's destiny. And while Bhishma's heart is with the Pandavas, he has given his word to the Kauravas and must honor his sacrosanct vow to protect Dhritarashtra and his sons.
Oaths of Loyalty
Covert ally of Yudhisthira and the new order led by Krishna and the Pandavas, Bhishma is bound by his old oaths of loyalty to Dhritarashtra and has tied his fate to that of Duryodhana and the armies of the Kurus. He leads these armies as their general until confronted by a face from his past: Shikhandi, the alter-ego of Amba, a woman he had wronged.
Unable to fight against a woman, he allows Arjuna to pierce his body with arrows until he lies supine, pierced from head to toe, unable to fight any longer.
Bhishma is a kshatriya. His religion is raja-dharma. To fully understand Bhishma's sense of honor we must look forward a number of centuries to the Japanese code of Bushido and the honor of the Samurai.

His character is noble, his death, tragic. He gives his life to guard the old social order, even knowing that it will soon end.
The Battle of Kurukshetra ushers in the beginning of Kali-yuga where the old feudal order of sages and saintly kings will die.
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