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Bhishma - Grace in power

Updated: Feb 27, 2022


Blog # 8

  • Ever wondered who is more powerful, the King or the Kingmaker?

  • Can you be so loyal to a cause that you fail to see the cause is now itself obsolete?

  • What if the cause is now aligned with the perpetrators of evil?

Meet Bhishma, the Grand Daddy Cool of the Mahabharata

Mahabharata Context:

Bhishma, the son of the river Goddess Ganga and King Shantanu, was the step uncle to King Pandu (father of Pandavas) and King Dhritarashtra (father of Kauravas). Trained in weaponry by the legendary Sage Parashurama, he had no parallel in the battlefield. He was seen as a threat to the Hastinapura throne by his step mother Satyavati and to pacify her, given his father's love for her, he promised to never covet the throne nor seer children who would do the same, and always be loyal to the king of Hastinapura.

As the Pandavas and Kauravas start having disagreements, he is always loyal to the Hastinapura king Dhritarashtra and actively advises both parties to keep the peace and seek a joint path forward. In fairness, he nominates the eldest Pandava Yudhishtira as the Crown Prince and earns the ire of Dhritarashtra's son Duryodhana. When battle breaks out, he assumes the role of commander-in-chief of the Kaurava army. It takes the sharp arrows of Arjuna delivered from behind Amba-Shikandi to stop him in battle. His fall leads to a stoppage in battle and is provided a bed of arrows by Arjuna for rest.

Our null hypothesis of the Bhishma persona:

Bhishma's fairness in managing relations and single-minded loyalty to the Hastinapura throne are two of his many endearing attributes. He was a man of rules and principle. Born of Gods, he is seen as the honest broker given his lack of personal interest to the throne. He constantly provides the right consult to King Dhritarashtra who is torn between doing the right thing (anointing Yudhishtira as the Crown Prince) and providing the opportunity to his undeserving son Duryodhana. Bhishma never broke his vow despite being the most powerful warrior in the kingdom, who could easily have seized power. Despite knowing the Pandavas were in the right, he takes arms against them and leads the Kaurava army keeping his promise to protect the throne. His fairness shines through in the many arguments in court that break out between the Kauravas and Pandavas.

Lessons Learned:

Bhishma teaches us about grace in power. He was a very powerful warrior who could, should and would have been a great king of Hastinapura. Instead he stepped away from the opportunity for his father's happiness, a king who married a manipulative fisherman's daughter. Yet this graceful move made him more influential than any elder in the court, more powerful than the king himself. This teaches us a hard-to-learn lesson; if you covet power, it might remain forever elusive.

However, any intentional walking away from a position of power so that it may be offered to you, is also misguided. Look to truly help people and don't focus on the power. If it is to be, it will happen. If it happens, it will rest easy on your head as you didn't covet it in the first place. Bhishma's grace in power is such a subtle life lesson! What % Bhishma are you?

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