By Michael Dolan,
B.V. Mahayogi
The old social order. Modern problems and ancient wisdom.
A king must trust some chosen friends,
but he should be alert at all times.

(c) Bhishma
The old social order
The old social order of varnas and ashrams had been challenged in Bhishma's time. Despotic warlords saw no need to rule as enlightened kings and shrugged off the advice of Brahmanas. They even went so far as to persecute the Brahmanas, as we have seen in the story of Parashurama and Kartavirya Arjuna. According to the evidence of Mahabharata, the avatar Parashurama descended in order to chastise the warrior class or Kshatriyas. The Kurukshetra war ended the dominance of the Kshatriyas.

But with the receding power of kings, what would replace the old order?
With the march of time, the old feudal order would collapse, and with its decay, a new order would rise, one based on capital, money, and exploitation. Banks would be more important than kings. The thousand-year rise of the capitalist society saw the destruction of guilds, social ranks, and caste systems. As social interactions became monetized, the social roles foreseen in Vedic society disappeared. Money became the great equalizer. But at what cost? The decay of integrated social classes and organization and the diaspora of citizens from one area to the next based on economic advantage would destroy the old order completely.

The decay of civilization in Kali-yuga

Kali-yuga is the age of iron, the descent of civilization. Manu's ideal system decayed into corrupt feudalism of Zamindars and local chieftains and an iron-clad caste system with no social mobility in India, choking social mobility. Was this version of the so-called "caste" system the true social and political theory of Vedic antiquity? Or are many of these constructs of the recent invention, born from the need to provide a scriptural basis for a corrupt social authority? A careful reading of the Mahabharata will reveal that Bhishma's teachings are often much more profound and subtle than was previously thought, as we shall see.

Dismissing previous ways of life as primitive is easy.

Primitive Civilizations?
But were the ancient Greeks and Romans really so much more primitive than we are? The murals found at the ruins of Pompeii celebrate all the seven arts: architecture, sculpture, poetry, painting, dance, gourmet food, drama, literature. The pyramids of Egypt hold secrets yet undiscovered. The ancient Vedic civilization recorded in the Sanskrit of the Mahabharata reveals that Vyasa was well-acquainted with all the refined meanings of grammar, logic, rhetoric, arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy. Why are we so determined to call them "primitive?"

Proud of our technology we dismiss the ancients. But if modern Western Civilization has brought wealth, it has also brought misfortune. When Gandhi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization, he famously responded, "It would be a nice idea."
Modern Civilization and the prophecy of Bhishma
One only needs to glance at one's favorite internet news source to discover that money, and the mafia of power have brought untold plague and pestilence. From daily stress to the algorithms that control our lives; from the identity politics of racism and discrimination to fascism, and despotism to the destruction of individual freedom and privacy, one hardly needs to read science fiction to see the development of a dystopian society. How prescient that an ancient warrior impaled by arrows on the battlefield predicts the decay of society in Kali-yuga thousands of years ago.
Modern problems and ancient wisdom
Cicero's Reflections on Old Age are as valuable to us today as when he first wrote them; why not look into Bhishma's reflections on royal duty? Unlike the prescriptions of western religion, Bhishma's dharma is not simply a set number of rules – of sins, of "do's and don'ts." His conversation with Yudhishthira is a study in the reflection that demands an intuitive absorption of values, principles, and practice.
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