A lecture by HH Giriraj Swami
14th January 1996, Bombay
Today is the auspicious day of Makara Sankranti. Makara Sankranti always falls on the 14th of January. On the same date eighteen years ago we celebrated the grand opening of Sri Sri Radha-Rasabihariji's temple here. Today is important also because it is the disappearance day of Grandfather Bhisma. Grandfather Bhisma was lying on the bed of arrows after the battle of Kuruksetra, and just as a great yogi can quit his body at will, Grandfather Bhisma could wait until the right time to leave his body. Thus he waited until the sun passed from the southern hemisphere to the northern hemisphere, on Makara Sankranti day. So we shall read about his passing away, not just to glorify Grandfather Bhisma, but to get instruction and inspiration for how we can prepare ourselves for the time of death.
Reading from Srimad-Bhagavatam, Canto 1, Chapter 9, "The Passing Away of Bhismadeva," Text 29:
dharmam pravadatas tasya
sa kalah pratyupasthitah
yo yoginas chanda-mrtyor
While Bhismadeva was describing occupational duties, the sun's course ran into the northern hemisphere. This period is described by mystics who die at their will.
PURPORT by His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada
The perfect yogis or mystics can leave the material body at their own sweet will at a suitable time and go to a suitable planet desired by them. In the Bhagavad-gita (8.24) it is said that self-realized souls who have exactly identified themselves with the interest of the Supreme Lord can generally leave the material body during the time of the fire-god's influence and when the sun is in the northern horizon, and thus achieve the transcendental sky. In the Vedas these times are considered auspicious for quitting the body, and they are taken advantage of by the expert mystics who have perfected the system. [Bhismadeva] was just waiting for the suitable moment to quit his material body, and the golden opportunity arrived when he was instructing his noble grandsons, the Pandavas. Thus he prepared himself to quit his body before the exalted Lord Sri Krsna, the pious Pandavas and the great sages headed by Bhagavan Vyasa, etc., all great souls.
COMMENT by Giriraj Swami
When news reached the Pandavas that Grandfather Bhisma was lying on the bed of arrows waiting for the time of death, all of them, headed by Maharaja Yudhisthira and accompanied by Draupadi and by the Supreme Lord Himself, went to offer respects to the dying Bhisma. They took the opportunity to ask him to explain the duties of human beings in different orders of life, and thus Grandfather Bhisma gave a summary description of varnasrama-dharma. Now he has come to the auspicious time to actually leave the body.
tadopasamhrtya girah sahasranir
vimukta-sangam mana adi-puruse
krsne lasat-pita-pate catur-bhuje
purah sthite milita-drg vyadharayat
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 and, being completely freed from all bondage, withdrew his mind from everything else and fixed his wide-open eyes upon the original Personality of Godhead, Sri Krsna, who stood before him, four-handed, dressed in yellow garments that glittered and shined.
In the momentous hour of leaving his material body, Bhismadeva set the glorious example concerning the important function of the human form of life. The subject matter which attracts the dying man becomes the beginning of his next life. Therefore, if one is absorbed in the thoughts of the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna, he is sure of going back to Godhead without any doubt. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita (8.5-15):
5: And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body remembering Me
alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.
14: For one who remembers me without deviation, I am easy to obtain, O son of Prtha, because of his constant engagement in devotional service.
15: After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.
Sri Bhismadeva attained the perfection of quitting his body at will and was fortunate enough to have Lord Krsna, the object of his attention, personally present at the time of death. He therefore fixed his open eyes upon Him. He wanted to see Sri Krsna for a long time out of his spontaneous love for Him. Because he was a pure devotee, he had very little to do with the detailed performance of yogic principles. Simple bhakti-yoga is enough to bring about perfection. Therefore, the ardent desire of Bhismadeva was to see the person of Lord Krsna, the most lovable object, and by the grace of the Lord, Sri Bhismadeva had this opportunity at the last stage of his breathing.
The perfection of life is to remember the Lord at the time of death. Grandfather Bhisma was so fortunate that the Lord personally came to be present before him at the time of death. Grandfather Bhisma is one of the twelve great authorities in Krsna consciousness, so we can learn much from him.
We too can realize the presence of the Lord at the time of death if we can chant His holy name. Although Lord Krsna appeared at the end of Dvapara-yuga, He also appears in Kali-yuga--in the form of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra:
kali-kale nama-rupe krsna-avatara
nama haite haya sarva-jagat-nistara
"In this Age of Kali, the holy name of the Lord, the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, is the incarnation of Lord Krsna. Simply by chanting the holy name, one associates with the Lord directly. Anyone who does this is certainly delivered." (Cc Adi 17.22)
When we chant purely, Lord Krsna is personally present, just as He was personally present before Bhismadeva at the time of death.
To chant purely at the time of death requires practice, and from now onwards we should practice and practice and practice and practice. And practice makes perfect, even in spiritual life. So we should practice chanting Hare Krsna now, so that at the time of death we can chant purely and realize the presence of Sri Krsna.
By pure meditation, looking at Lord Sri Krsna, he at once was freed from all material inauspiciousness and was relieved of all bodily pains caused by the arrow wounds. Thus all the external activities of his senses at once stopped, and he prayed transcendentally to the controller of all living beings while quitting his material body.
Bhismadeva said: Let me now invest my thinking, feeling and willing, which were so long engaged in different subjects and occupational duties, in the all-powerful Lord Sri Krsna. He is always self-satisfied, but sometimes, being the leader of the devotees, He enjoys transcendental pleasure by descending on the material world, although from Him only the material world is created.
Sri Krsna is the intimate friend of Arjuna. He has appeared on this earth in His transcendental body, which resembles the bluish colour of the tamala tree. His body attracts everyone in the three planetary systems. May His glittering yellow dress and His lotus face, covered with paintings of sandalwood pulp, be the object of my attraction, and may I not desire fruitive results.
On the battlefield [where Sri Krsna attended Arjuna out of friendship], the flowing hair of Sri Krsna turned ashen due to the dust raised by the hoofs of the horses. And because of His labor, beads of sweat wetted His face. All these decorations, intensified by the wounds dealt by my sharp arrows, were enjoyed by Him. Let my mind thus go unto Sri Krsna.
In obedience to the command of His friend, Lord Sri Krsna entered the arena of the Battlefield of Kuruksetra between the soldiers of Arjuna and Duryodhana, and while there He shortened the lifespan of the opposite party by His merciful glance. This was done simply by His looking at the enemy. Let my mind be fixed upon that Krsna.
When Arjuna was seemingly polluted by ignorance by observing the soldiers and commanders before him on the battlefield, the Lord eradicated his ignorance by delivering transcendental knowledge. May His lotus feet always remain the object of my attraction.
Fulfilling my desire and sacrificing His own promise, He got down from the chariot, took up its wheel, and ran toward me bravely, just as a lion goes to kill an elephant. He even dropped His outer garments on the way.
May He, Lord Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who awards salvation, be my ultimate destination. On the battlefield He charged me, as if angry because of the wounds dealt by my sharp arrows. His shield was scattered, and His body was smeared with blood due to the wounds.
At the moment of death, let my ultimate attraction be to Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead. I concentrate my mind upon the chariot driver of Arjuna who stood with a whip in His right hand and a bridle rope in His left, who is very careful to give protection to Arjuna's chariot by all means. Those who saw Him on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra attained their original forms after death.
Let my mind be fixed upon Lord Sri Krsna, whose motions and smiles of love attracted the damsels of Vrajadhama [the gopis]. The damsels imitated the characteristic movements of the Lord [after His disappearance from the rasa dance].
By intense ecstasy in loving service, the damsels of Vrajabhumi attained qualitative oneness with the Lord by dancing with him on an equal level. The relationship of the Lord with Arjuna is undoubtedly praiseworthy for devotees like Bhismadeva, but the relationship of the gopis with the Lord is still more praiseworthy because of their still more purified loving service. By the grace of the Lord, Arjuna was fortunate enough to have the fraternal service of the Lord as chariot driver, but the Lord did not award Arjuna with equal strength. The gopis, however, practically became one with the Lord by attainment of equal footing with the Lord. Bhisma's aspiration to remember the gopis is a prayer to have their mercy also at the last stage of his life. The Lord is satisfied more when His pure devotees are glorified, and therefore Bhismadeva has not only glorified the acts of Arjuna, his immediate object of attraction, but has also remembered the gopis, who were endowed with unrivalled opportunities by rendering loving service to the Lord. The gopis' equality with the Lord should never be misunderstood to be like the sayujya liberation of the impersonalist. The equality is one of perfect ecstasy where the differential conception is completely eradicated, for the interests of the lover and the beloved become identical.
The impersonalists want to become one with the Lord by merging into His existence and losing their personal identity. Srila Prabhupada explains that in Krishna consciousness to become one with the Lord does not mean to give up one's individual existence but to become one in interest. Sometimes Christians also say that the Father and the Son are one: They are one in interest, while distinct as individuals. We cannot say that the father is the son or the son is the father, but we can say that they are one in interest because the good son or disciple wants to satisfy the supreme father or master and thus he has no separate interest. The best examples of such selfless service are the gopis of Vrndavana, because the gopis of Vrndavana had no selfish interest at all. They were ready to sacrifice everything for the satisfaction of Sri Krsna. When Krsna called the gopis in the dead of night, so many family members--fathers, mothers, brothers, husbands, in-laws--tried to stop them. But when Krsna played upon His flute, they had no other thought but to satisfy Krsna's desires.
Srila Rupa Goswami has composed one nice verse about Srila Govindadeva, in which he advises, "If you are interested in the happiness of material society, friendship and love, then you should not go to the banks of the Yamuna where Krsna is standing in the moonlight in His beautiful threefold bending form, playing upon His flute." What is the purport of this verse? The purport is that we all want to be happy. Generally, people try to be happy through material society, friendship and love. Yet they never find real happiness through such attempts. But if they become attracted by the transcendental beauty of Krsna and absorb their mind and desires in Krsna, they can be fully satisfied and happy.
One Vaisnava poet has compared the material world to a desert. We are burning in the scorching heat of the desert of material existence and are dying of thirst, with nothing to drink. Maya gives us one drop only. Can anyone dying in the desert be satisfied with one drop? He requires gallons and gallons of water, not just one drop. So although we struggle so hard to become happy in the material world, we are not happy. What do we get for our hard labor? Just one drop of sense gratification. So we remain dry, parched, miserable. Therefore, Srila Rupa Goswami says that if you want to remain attached to material society, friendship and love, don't go to the banks of the Yamuna where Krsna is playing on His flute; because if you become attracted by the beauty of Krsna, you'll forget the so-called happiness of the material world with so-called family and friends.
Here Grandfather Bhisma prays that he can remember Krsna at the time of death so that his attention may not be diverted to anyone else or anywhere else. Although he was seeing Krsna on the battlefield of Kuruksetra, he remembered the gopis in Vrndavana, because their attention was focused exclusively upon Sri Krsna and they had no selfish motive. They never asked Krsna to fulfill any desire, nor did they have any desire to be fulfilled. They wanted only to please and satisfy Krsna, and they were ready to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of the Lord.
Srila Prabhupada has introduced the same principle in ISKCON--that we should be ready to do anything and everything to satisfy the Lord.
Once some devotees were complaining to Srila Prabhupada about some problems, and Srila Prabhupada listened with great sympathy and tried to help them solve their problems. But then Srila Prabhupada's mood changed, and he said that he always followed one principle: "Everything for Krsna, and nothing for myself." And he said that because of this basic principle, he never complained--because he never asked anything for himself. He simply wanted everything for Krsna, and nothing for himself.
Then he said that in the material world we tend to become absorbed in material thoughts and in talks of material subjects, and if we become too absorbed in such material thoughts and talks we will not be able to remember Lord Krsna. We live in the material world and we have to deal with the world to some extent, but if we keep the basic principle, "Everything for Krsna and nothing for myself," we will have nothing to worry or complain about. We will simply think how to satisfy Krsna.
In the material world nothing satisfies Krsna like preaching Krsna consciousness, and Srila Prabhupada was always thinking how to spread the Krsna consciousness movement. As the gopis were ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Krsna, Srila Prabhupada was also ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of spreading Krsna consciousness. And naturally, when one always thinks of how to please Krsna by preaching Krsna consciousness throughout one's life, one will be able to remember Krsna at the time of death.
So we have to practice, not only chanting--of course chanting is essential, and we cannot live without chanting at least sixteen rounds--but we also have to think of how to spread Krsna consciousness, how to please Krsna, which for us really means how to please Srila Prabhupada. Because, yasya prasadat bhagavat-prasado: if we please the spiritual master, if we please Srila Prabhupada, then automatically Krsna will be pleased. We can please Srila Prabhupada by chanting Hare Krsna and spreading Krsna consciousness, and that will liberate us so that at the time of death we can think of the Lord. Without being liberated we are not sure to think of the Lord at the time of death, because of material attachments. Thus we might have to take birth again and suffer.
One of our Godbrothers told one story that he was driving his car and the car stalled on the railway tracks. He didn't want to lose the car, so he kept trying to start it, but he couldn't. Meanwhile, the train was coming closer and closer. But he got so absorbed in trying to start the car that he didn't notice the train was bearing down upon him. Suddenly he saw the train was about to hit the car, so he started to chant Hare Krsna. Then the train hit, and at the last moment our Godbrother thought of his wife: What will happen to her? Then he fell unconscious. By the grace of the Lord, he lived to tell the story. But he realized how dangerous material attachments can be, because even though with our intelligence we may try to chant the holy name, still, at the last moment we may think of some attachment within the heart, and that will create our next body.
We have to be careful to use every moment in Krsna consciousness so we actually become attracted to Krsna and lose our attachment to material things. Then we can think of Krsna at the time of death. We have to work at it. It's not so easy. As Srila Prabhupada said, "God is not cheap." We have to endeavor. And although chanting is not difficult, Srila Prabhupada said the determination to chant is not so easy. Chanting, preaching, and working for Krsna consciousness are easy and natural, though the determination to keep so engaged may sometimes be difficult. Still, we can develop such determination by association.
Just today I read a letter from a devotee who quoted Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, that the only price we have to pay to get Krsna is the intense desire to get Him, to serve Him. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta comments that to develop this intense desire is not within the hands of the conditioned soul; it is in the hands of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He explains that by following the instructions of the spiritual master we can get the Lord's mercy, and then, by the Lord's mercy, we can get the intense desire to serve Him. Such intense desire alone can lift us out of the material world, beyond the material miseries, into the transcendental realm of pure devotional service.
Srila Prabhupada has given us everything: he has given us the instructions we need to become fully Krsna conscious, and he has given us the facilities we need to be Krsna conscious. We simply have to take advantage.
On this auspicious day we can remember Grandfather Bhisma, how he lay on the bed of arrows. His body was pierced by thousands of arrows, but he never complained. His only prayer was that his attraction be drawn exclusively to Lord Krsna at the time of death. He wanted to see the beautiful form of the Lord, and Lord Krsna fulfilled his desire.
If we are similarly sincere and eager to serve Lord Krsna, He will manifest Himself to us at the time of death, and we will be able to achieve the same perfection as Grandfather Bhisma.
Thus we remember Bhismadeva's glorious example, and we pray that Srila Prabhupada will help us to follow: to sacrifice our lives for the pleasure of the Lord, and to think of the Lord at the time of death.