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From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Wed Jul 16 1997 - 00:15:50 PDT

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", 

When Yudhishtra met Bhishma that night he minced no words.

"Great and venerable Sire," said Yudhishtra,"I have come here with my
brothers and generals to submit to you that victory in this battle will
elude us as long as you remain the Supreme Commander of the Kaurava forces.
I have come here to seek your counsel. Pray tell us how should we proceed in
this war in order that we may emerge victorious. I seek your advice, Sire,
with full faith in its efficacy."

When Bhishma heard Yudhishtra's appeal he quickly understood what was really
being asked of him.

Bhishma realized that what the Pandavas expected from him was not merely
military advice; they were really asking him to compose and sign his own
death warrant !

The astute Bhishma remained silent for a long while and deliberated very
deeply on the counsel he would deliver to Yudhishtra.

The "pitA-mahar" then eventually spoke.

"My brave boy", he began addressing Yudhishtra, "I'm duty-bound to give you
counsel since you ask it with such sincerity and humility. At the same time,
please remember, it is my "dharmA" to remain ever protective of the
interests of the Kaurava clan who are no less dear to me than you all. And
above all, it is Hastinapur and its subjects that rule my heart."

"So hear me now, Yudhishtra, I give my best counsel to you. Abide by it
faithfully such that ye shall all prosper by it."

"In the morrow when battle begins do not be intimidated by me or by my
battalion-formations. Approach me and amass your troops against me. But let
your troops be led by Sikhandi whom you may instruct to fire the deadliest
missiles at me without let or hindrance. All of you, too, and especially the
most valiant Arjuna, should gather behind Sikhandi and unleash your arsenals
against me.

"While I will easily resist and overcome you all, Yudhishtra, I am afraid I
shall never be able to retaliate against Sikhandi."

A moment of awkward silence ensued when BhishmAchAryar-r paused and continued: 

"Sikhandi is a transvestite --- once a woman now turned man. But to my eyes
he is still of feminine nature. I'd never be able to raise an arm to attack
a woman! My honour would'nt permit it."

Yudhishtra heard the words but it was only after a full minute's reflection
that the real significance of what BhishmA had said sank into his mind.

"It's the moment, Yudhishtra, you might want to seize," Bhishma said softly,
"The mighty Arjuna, especially, perhaps, should then be able to easily
subdue me....?

"I can't say much else. May the best camp win. Who else but the Lord can
decide the outcome of Kurukshetra, my dear Yudhishtra!

"But I have kept my word. I've just given you good advice now... haven't I?
" said BhishmA with a sad little twinkle in his eyes.

After listening to BhishmA, Yudhishtra remained silent for a long while in
deep contemplation.

Then without another word he rose and prostrated at the feet of the beloved

A moment later when Yudhishtra took leave and returned with his entourage to
the Pandava camp that night.... he could'nt suppress the hot and abundant
tears that gushed in his eyes.


At this point in the epic, most commentators raise questions of
BhishmAchAryar's probity.

(A) Was he ethically right in rendering critical information and
intelligence pertaining to Kaurava military forces to the Pandavas ?

(B) Was it not morally reprehensible on the part of a Supreme Commander to
meet with the enemy on the eve of battle and divulge to them the weakness in
the armoury of his own forces and, much worse, to advise on how it could be
exploited by the Pandavas to their advantage ? 
(C) Was his act not sheer treachery to Duryodhana ?

These are very sensitive questions, indeed, from a moral or "dhArmic"

All of us, even in our petty lives, do sometimes face such agonising moral
choices -- when the choice is between the devil and the deep sea, between
"Scylla and Charybdis", as the idiom goes !

It is not easy to sit in judgment over morally wrenching issues whose
"black" and "white" sides one is never sure of.

In BhishmA's case especially one can never rashly suspect the probity or
rectitude of his actions. For if ever there was a character in the
Mahabharatha who could be said to be the embodiment of the "dharmA" of
"dvapara-yuga" times or of "kshatriya" honour during that period in our
ancient history, it was, without a shred of doubt, the revered
BhishmAchArya-r ! 

Whatever may have been the other internal compulsions or motivations of
Bhishma, it is clear he was caught, when Yudhishtra called on him that
night, between the horns of a profound moral dilemma --- a chasm of a
"dharma-sankatam" !

On the one hand he had a duty, as Supreme Military Commander of Duryodhana's
forces, to ensure their victory. On the other hand, he had an equally
binding duty -- the duty of giving trusted counsel to his beloved Yudhishtra !

The QUESTION to ask is : Which duty, indeed then, weighed more heavily on
BhishmA's mind when he acted as he eventually did ?

To us all, now living in the twilight of the 20th-century, it seems as if
BhishmA's duty to Yudhishtra was far less binding than that towards the
Kauravas, isn't it ?
Going by the narration in the Mahabharatha we see that, in the final
analysis, it was his 'LESSER DUTY' towards Yudhishtra that finally overcame
Bhishma's heart; and it was the seemingly 'HIGHER DUTY' towards Duryodhana
that came in last in Bhishma's scheme of moral priorities.

Surely, there is plenty of scope to debate the point....indeed, that's what
makes the 'Mahabharatha' the magnificent epic it truly is! It is packed and
stuffed with profoundly ambivalent moral lessons! The scale and scope of
such fine "moral-ponderables" are sometimes truly more than what ordinary
human sensitivities, like our own, can fathom or bear !

All the same, there is available a rare "theory" -- a little known
"hypothesis"- to explain Sri.BhishmAchAryar's action in this episode of the
'Mahabharatha' ! 

I personally find the "theory" absolutely convincing, and which is the
reason why I wish to share it with you all here, by way of a credible
explanation of Bhishma's so-called "act of treachery".

Please note that "explanation" should not be construed to be a "defense" of
BhishmA's "dhArmic" choice !

Compared to the moral stature of the "pitAmahar", the author of the holy
"Vishnu-SahasranAmam", our own in this un-moral age, would pale ...and pale
appallingly ! His moral decisions really require no defense, least of all ours.

The "theory" being offered here, thus, is only an attempt to provide
opportunity for a feeble understanding of why the great Bhishma acted as he
did that fateful night in his tent in the Kurukshetra camp ....when he gave
away to Yudhishtra the secret knowledge of his own vulnerability in battle !

We will discuss that "theory" or "hypothesis" in the next post. The
"theory", too, if understood properly, aids our understanding of the many
little messages carried in the verses of the "bhishma-stuthi".

srimathe srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha