By Michael Dolan,
B.V. Mahayogi
The dharma of kings and the yoga of self-discovery
Do good deeds today;
Don't let the moment pass
through your hands.
(c) Bhishma
Death of the Vedic Age

In the divine tragedy of the Mahabharata, Bhishma's death marks the death of the Vedic age. In his time he fought the violent avatara of Parashuram to a draw in their duel for the honor of Amba. If Parashurama's avatar was intended to restore respect for the brahmanas, Bhishma understands the need to protect the brahmanas and heed their advice. He knows that proper raja-dharma means the enlightened king must always rule with regard for the teachings of saints and sages.






Bhishma's speech:
The Shanti and Anushasana Parvas

At the end of the epic, Bhishma recites the essential meaning of the poem while pierced by thousands of arrows and suspended between the earth and sky on their points. The old order of kings has been destroyed. The new order will be led by Yudhisthira. But Yudhisthira is filled with doubts. Like Arjuna who loses his nerve at the beginning of the war, Yudhisthira has no stomach for rule. He wants to renounce the kingdom and go to the forest, to wash his hands of the blood of his generation.
Yudhisthira's Dilemma
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.
The dharma of kings and the yoga of self-discovery
Bhishma's teachings on life, rule, the dharma of kings, and the yoga of self-discovery contain the essence of truth. Throughout the conversation between the new and old order, Yudhisthira proves himself to be worthy of the dialogue.

It may be argued that Bhishma is a poetical character, and therefore that his teachings are not worthy of discussion. But Bhishma's character is mythical or legendary matters little. Here we have a carefully preserved historical record of political theory from the Vedic age and its argument for raja-dharma. Close attention must be paid. While the letters of Cicero and the diary of Julius Caesar may give us some insight into Roman, even Plato's teachings do not explore the political views of Homer. Odysseus does not pause on the plains of Troy to give us his view of kings and their duty according to the ancient Greeks. And Bhishma's political, social, and spiritual views are valuable precisely because of their universality. His words have withstood centuries of analysis because they strike at the core of human life.

Bhishma and the art of war
Sun Tzu's the Art of War offers strategies not only for warriors, but for deal-makers and entrepreneurs. In the same way, the teachings of Bhishma are useful because they teach us to live as kings. Bhishma's teachings on raja-dharma are useful especially if we consider his teachings personally and take them as a form of self-help literature.

Bhishma expounds his views of kingship with the flexibility and wisdom of a veteran warrior and general who has seen generations of rulers. His views on raja-dharma are not only congruent with the ancient Vedic Laws of Manu, but tempered by the experience of rulers on the cusp of the age of Kali. Any discussion of Bhishma's views on kingship and social dharma is bound to end in dispute, since so many schools of interpretation about his teachings have arisen over the centuries. These schools have been influenced both by scriptural dogma as well as by the Byzantine politics of India over the last 30 or so centuries. The fact that many of his ideas are still hotly debated gives strength to his original teachings which are well worth discovering as we shall see.

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