arjuna uvāca —
kathaṁ bhīṣmam ahaṁ saṅkhye
droṇañ ca madhusūdana
“Arjuna said: O Madhusūdana! O Arisūdana, slayer of enemies! How can I fight with arrows in battle Grandsire Bhīṣma and Droṇācārya, who are my worshipable superiors?”
Arjuna said, “Kṛṣṇa, how can you instruct me to fight with my grandfather? He is respected and a lifelong brahmacārī. He helps everyone. He cared for me when I was naked in his lap. I had no father, but he took care of me. My brothers and mother and I were like orphans… and Droṇācārya, how can I fight him? O Madhusūdana, I ought to worship these personalities and you are telling me I should fight and kill them! How is this possible for me? They taught me everything I know!”
Kṛṣṇa gives instruction on who is fit to be called Guru.
guror apy avaliptasya kāryākāryam ajānataḥ
utpatha-pratipannasya parityāgo vidhīyate
Mahābhārata, Udyoga Parva 179.25
It is one’s duty to give up a Guru who is attached to sense gratification rather than the practices of bhakti, who does not know what he should or should not do and who deviates from the path of pure bhakti, either because of bad association or because he is opposed to Vaiṣṇavas.
If anyone accepts the side of adharma, they should not be respected or revered. This is a big test. On one side, there are so-called respected personalities, but they are against dharma, and on the other side there are the true followers of dharma. On one side, there are the senses, body and mind; they give many instructions telling one to serve and worship them. One cannot tolerate neglecting their desires. If he tries, he becomes angry having not fulfilled the lusty desires of the senses and mind. When hungry or lusty one cannot tolerate it. Meanwhile, everyone is standing by ready to enjoy and calling, “Come and enjoy with me.” Everywhere he looks, there are objects waiting to be enjoyed, sumptuous dishes and enchanting women. What can one do? If the sādhaka goes to the side of māyā leaving dharma, then he will be lost. This is a very dangerous position. Māyā prepares everything and places it in front of us as gifts and tests, “What is your choice?”
Do you like goodness or badness? It is very easy to obtain objects of sin.
On days like Ekadasi and Janmastami one fasts with great difficulty while observing so many delicious preparations. In youth, one burns in the fires of lust and many girls are ready to kiss and embrace him. They make phone calls and send emails and one cannot control himself.
Once, a sage was given a sword by a king in the forest. He kept it in his aśrama and cleaned it daily. One day he took it with him into the forest and wore it as he picked flowers and fruits. He came across two animals who were enjoying and becoming angry, struck them down. When he saw that they were actually sages in the forest, he quickly realized he had committed a great sin because of his uncontrolled nature.
Arjuna lamented to Kṛṣṇa, “What can I do? Did you ever kill Your grandfather, relatives or Guru? Why are You giving me this instruction to fight?”
gurūn ahatvā hi mahānubhāvān
śreyo bhoktuṁ bhaikṣyam apīha loke
hatvārtha-kāmāṁs tu gurūn ihaiva
bhuñjīya bhogān rudhira-pradigdhān
“It would be better to maintain my life in this world by begging than to kill these great personalities who are my gurus. Even though motivated by material gain, they remain my superiors. After killing them, any worldly enjoyment I might attain would certainly be tainted by their blood.”
“How can I kill those elevated superiors; my Guru’s? It would be better for me to accept the renounced order and beg door to door for my livelihood. If I kill my Gurus and relatives, then the earth will drink their blood. I cannot enjoy a kingdom which is soaked with their blood. They are very great and senior to me. I have no desire for the land of my father. If I were to kill my gurus, all would insult me for doing so. People would say, ‘The Pandavas killed all their relatives and even their Gurus out of greed to enjoy the kingdom.’ They will say, ‘Arjuna was Kṛṣṇa’s friend, and Kṛṣṇa instructed him to perform this sinful activity. Alas, all will insult You as well. Therefore, I can’t do this. I will not fight. Bhīṣma and Droṇācārya may have lost their intelligence having stayed with Duryodhana and living off his wealth. Thus, they may not know what is good or bad. I am also like their grandson or disciple, and they should not kill me and my family. However, there is no problem. They can kill me, but I won’t kill them. Their natures have changed with bad association, but I am with You. So why should I do something sinful like killing them? I am with You. They may have lost their good-nature because of bad association, but I have no problem. I will give them the kingdom and go begging from door to door.”
Bhishma told Arjuna and Yudhisthira prior to the war, “You are very dear to me and are my great grandsons, but I am living off of the wealth of Duryodhana and am thus subordinate to him. I have also taken a vow to support the king of the Kuru dynasty, who is none other than Dhṛtarāṣṭra. Therefore, I cannot side against him.”
Bhīṣma-pitāmaha is a follower of truth and a perfect brahmacārī. Previously, he had made a promise to Santanu Mahārāja, “Any children that come in the line of Satyavati will be kings, and I will help them.”
Bhīṣma had made this promise, therefore how could he go against his word? Bhīṣma-pitāmaha had vowed to help anyone who is the king of the Kurus. Dhṛtarāṣṭra was that king and he favoured Duryodhana. Dhṛtarāṣṭra did not want to give anything to the Pāṇḍavas. Yet there is a deeper significance in Bhīṣma siding against the Pāṇḍavas.
Śrīla Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura explains:
At the time of cupid’s battle, a lover bites her beloved with her teeth and scratches his body violently. This causes them both pleasure. In the chivalrous rasa, Bhīṣma-pitāmaha sided against Kṛṣṇa. He had great love for Kṛṣṇa and wanted to give Kṛṣṇa pleasure through the rasa of chivalry. He wanted Kṛṣṇa to accept him as His beloved. Kṛṣṇa is raso vai saḥ, akhila-rasāmṛta-mūrtiḥ.
Bhīṣma said, “You are the taster of all different mellows. You participated in this war to taste the rasa of fighting. Therefore I will go against You. If I don’t attack You, You will not accept me.”
Like a young girl who is intent and has attraction for someone, but that person is not accepting her. She then attacks him, scratching and biting him, forcefully trying to make him enjoy her.
Bhīṣma-pitāmaha shot Kṛṣṇa with many arrows until Kṛṣṇa became enraged, then ran forward with a broken wheel in His hands to attack him.
Bhīṣma-pitāmaha chose the side against Kṛṣṇa to increase the rasa of the battle. His character is very deep, hidden and pure. He has no fault.
Bhīṣma-pitāmaha had been waiting for a long time, but Kṛṣṇa did not accept him. He thought, “I will side against Kṛṣṇa and will fight Him, disturbing Him so much that He will be forced to accept me.”
Throughout his entire life Bhīṣma had preserved his brahma-śakti as a lifelong brahmacārī. He also had the boon to die according to his own will. He thought, “How long will I carry this body while performing mundane work? My father has given me the boon to leave my body at will. Therefore, if I don’t give up this body, then Kṛṣṇa will not accept me. I will not be able to achieve the gopīs’ moods or form.”
Thus he fought, shooting many thousands of arrows at Kṛṣṇa. Finally Kṛṣṇa ran towards him with a chariot wheel spinning in His hands ready to kill him. Seeing His forward charge, Bhīṣma surrendered to the Lord.
At the end of the battle, while lying on a bed of arrows, Bhīṣma prayed many verses:
sva-nigamam apahāya mat-pratijñām
ṛtam adhikartum avapluto rathasthaḥ
dhṛta-ratha-caraṇo ‘bhyayāc caladgur
harir iva hantum ibhaṁ gatottarīyaḥ
“Fulfilling my vow and sacrificing His own promise, He got down from the chariot, took up its wheel and ran towards me hurriedly, just as a lion goes to kill an elephant. He even dropped His outer garment on the way.”
kṛtam anukṛtavatya unmadāndhāḥ
prakṛtim agan kila yasya gopa-vadhvaḥ
“Let my mind be fixed upon Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa, whose motions and smiles of love attracted the damsels of Vrajadhāma [the gopīs]. The damsels imitated the characteristic movements of the Lord [after His disappearance from the rāsa dance].”
Bhīṣma had a very elevated mood and was a pure devotee of Lord Kṛṣṇa. He took up arms to please the Lord by enhancing the chivalrous rasa and was not inimical to Kṛṣṇa.
Kṛṣṇa instructed Arjuna from an external standpoint, “If anyone is against dharma, and the proper rules and regulations of scripture, then he is not a guru or relative.”
gurur na sa syāt sva-jano na sa syāt
pitā na sa syāj jananī na sā syāt
daivaṁ na tat syān na patiṣ ca sa syān
na mocayed yaḥ samupeta-mṛtyum
“That Guru is not a Guru, that father is not a father, that mother is not a mother, that demigod is not a demigod and that relative is not a relative who cannot protect us from the clutches of death, cannot bestow eternal life upon us and cannot protect us from the ignorance of māyā which keeps us engrossed and bound in this material existence of birth and death.”
That Guru is not a Guru, that father is not a father, that mother is not a mother, that demigod is not a demigod and that friend is not a friend who cannot protect me from further suffering in the cycle of birth and death. If they cannot help me in bhakti and bhajana and take me to the Supreme Soul. Rather, they are my enemy.
Bali Mahārāja left his Guru Sukrācarya, Bhīṣma-pitāmaha fought with Paraśurāma.
Yet Arjuna declared, “I will not kill them, they are my worshipable superiors.”