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From: M K Sudarshan (
Date: Thu Jul 24 1997 - 01:56:25 PDT

srimathE lakshmi-nrsumha parabrahmaNE namaha
sri vedanta guravE namaha

Dear "bhAgavatOttamA-s", 

The "theory" (and a rare one it surely is!) that speculates on the morality
of BhishmA's deed in giving away valuable "military-intelligence" to
Yudhishtra, on the 9th night of the Kurukshetra battle, runs along the
following lines :

BhishmA, as we observed in the last post, had two fundamental moral choices :

A. To remain faithful and steadfast in his role as Supreme Commander of
DuryOdhana's forces 

B. To provide Yudhishtra the counsel he sought 

The moral choices before BhishmAchArya-r, when stated in such a cold
matter-of- fact way as above, certainly appear to one as a "toss-up" between
a "HIGHER" duty and a "LOWER" one. 

As Supreme Military Commander Bhishma's duty extended to a whole army and
many thousands of individuals and not simply to Duryodhana. 

As a "mentor" to Yudhishtra, however, Bhishma's duty extended only to a
single individual.

In line with the cardinal "dhArmi-c" principle that "ONE'S ACTIONS SHOULD
NUMBERS", one would have expected Sri.BhishmAchArya to take 'Moral Choice-A'
rather than 'B'. One would have expected the old warrior to take his
position as Supreme Commander of a vast Armed Force with a seriousness
greater than what he eventually gave to his relatively minor duty as
Yudhishtra's advisor or "agony-aunt" (rather, "agony-uncle" !). 

So why then did the "pitA-mahar" opt for the "LOWER" duty 'B' ?  How did his
moral instincts get so skewed ? Did his fine and famous sense of "dharmA"
and propriety fail him ? What impelled Bhishma to act in the unusual way he
did and so completely out of character ?

The answer to such questions are offered by way of a "psychological theory"
which is as follows:

*****  Bhishma DID NOT AT ALL perceive the moral choices, A and B, in terms
of "higher" and "lower" duties of "dharma".

*****  Both choices were to him what could be called "two sides of the same
"dhArmi-c" coin". To his exalted sense of morality, one choice was in no way
intrinsically superior to the other, since, the practical outcome of both
'A' and 'B', he calculated, were essentially the same (explained below).

*****  Both 'A' and 'B', as far as Bhishma was concerned, fell in the
category of what in our scriptures is classified as "sAdhAraNa" or "sAmAnya"

(In a series of posts last December'96, I discussed in detail the concept of
"A Hierarchy of "dharmA"" while describing the "Jatayu-episode" in the
"Aranya-kAndam" of Swami Desikan's "Raghuveera-gadyam". Those interested may
please look it up on Sri.Mani Varadarajan's "bhakti-archives" on the Web.
I'd be happy if some of you can give your own comments on it.)

Now, when we say, "Bhishma chose 'B'", what we are really saying is,
"BhishmA upheld a "sAmAnya-dharmA" viz."one should never renege on a given
word of honour"". Bhishma thus certainly kept the 'word' he gave Yudhishtra
: that he would never fail to give useful advice whenever the latter sought
it. As events unfolded in the Mahabharatha, we know the Pandavas strictly
followed Bhishma's "advice" -- on the following 10th day of battle ---
"eliminated" the "pitAmahar", killed many men and won the day.

However, let's assume for a moment that Bhishma chose 'A' instead of 'B' and
had refused to give Yudhishtra counsel as earlier promised. In this case, on
the following day, Bhishma would have continued the bloody battle into the
Pandava-camp like the previous day #9. Again many more soldiers, like the
"sOmayakA-s", would have needlessly got slaughtered.

He would, in that event, nevertheless have been regarded as upholding
another 'sAmAnya- dharma', isn't it ? Bhishma would still be hailed for
having carried out a military commander's first and foremost "dharmA"
i.e."to ensure the safety of the fighting men following him into battle". 

Under both circumstances, Bhishma thus surmised, there would only have
inevitably followed another day of blood-bath, another day when lives would
be wasted needlessly.

Either way, 'A' or 'B', Sri.BhishmAchArya-r calculated, there would only be
more bloodshed, in one or the other camp, in a war between the Kauravas and
the Pandavas ---- a war which anyway would go down in history as the most
immoral, senseless and un-principled one ever fought on the soil of
BhAratha-country ! 

Thus, neither Moral Choice 'A' nor 'B' appealed to Sri.BhishmAchArya-r as
intrinsically superior to the other. In terms of "dhArm-ic" worth or VALENCY
he considered them both equally hopeless ! In both courses of action he
could see only the prospect of NARROW and SELFISH VIRTUE for HIMSELF, viz.,
his own reputation as an upholder of conventional or 'sAmAnya-dharmA' being
preserved intact. 

But that would do nothing, Sri.Bhishma thought, to stop the larger
"a-dharmA" -- the tragedy of an immoral war -- being wrought on the poor and
innocent peoples of his dearest Hastinapur!

What BhishmAchArya-r, hence, was really looking out for was a THIRD and
GREATER moral choice!

He was desperately in search of a 3rd moral alternative whose scope would be
limited not just to securing his own narrow, individual virtue ('sAmAnya-
dhArma') but to ridding his beloved Hastinapur and its citizens from a
greater "a-dharmA" i.e. the fratricidal war of Kurukshetra rapidly
snow-balling into a suicidal one ---- where fathers were killing sons,
vice-versa and brothers thought nothing of rendering their brothers'
children into orphans !

In other words, Bhishma was desperately looking for a 3rd moral avenue truly
fitting the definition of what the ancient scriptures classify as
"visEsha-dharmA" !

In the next post let's examine 'visEsha-dharmA' -- a truly sublime concept
fashioned by our hoary "itihAsA-s" ! 

srimathE srivan satagopa sri narayana yathindra mahadesikaya namaha