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Bhishma – The Ego Manifest

Kurukshetra means the field of doing. The doer within us is our ego. Bhishma and Arjuna are two very important warriors in the Mahabharata; Bhishma symbolising the ego within us, and Arjuna depicting the disciple within us working to dissolve the ego.

The ninth day of the Mahabharata war is characterised by Bhishma devastating the Pandava army. Even the mighty Arjuna has fought and lost many duels with him. Here, Sri Krishna warns Yudhisthira that unless the Pandavas defeat Bhishma, defeat in the battle is certain. Yudhisthira asks, “How does one kill someone who has the boon of voluntary death (ichcha mrityu)?” Sri Krishna advises Yudhisthira to return to Bhishma the blessing of victory that Bhishma bestowed before the war began. When Yudhisthira goes to him, Bhishma concedes that if a woman comes in front of him, he will be forced to drop his weapons (owing to his pratigya). Yudhisthira is left in a dilemma, as by rule, a woman cannot fight.

Later that day, Sri Krishna narrates to the Pandavas the story of Shikhandin who was born a woman but raised as a man. Hence, on the tenth day, Arjuna asks Shikhandin to be alongside him on his chariot during the battle. On seeing Shikhandin, Bhishma lays down his weapons. This allows Arjuna to shoot arrows that penetrate an unarmed Bhishma’s armour, felling him on a bed of arrows. If we can unravel this beautiful symbology, then we will have unlocked some of the most guarded secrets of our spiritual journey.

The word Bhishma comes from the root ‘bhi’, meaning to frighten. Even though our soul is immortal, we live in the fear of death. Our attention is hypnotised by our bodily existence and the indulgences of the five senses. That which frightens the soul into forgetting its immortality and getting bound in sentient existence is Bhishma or the Ego. He rules our psychic nature, forcing our soul, the real ruler, into a hypnotic trance. Here lies the seed of human suffering. The scriptures depict this as the pratigya or vow of celibacy that Bhishma took to satisfy the lust of his father. This very pratigya became the root cause of the Mahabharata war. The whole aim of spirituality is to dissolve the ego and awaken the sleeping soul to its true divine nature.