In the Kathopanishad, Nachiketa, a young Brahmin boy, notices that his father was giving away old and infirm cattle as part of the mandatory charity ritual at the conclusion of the yagna or sacrifice that he was performing. Upset at the futility of such unworthy charity, Nachiketa asked his father repeatedly – to whom was he to be offered? The annoyed father retorted: “In the hands of Yama, Lord of Death”. Accepting his father’s words, Nachiketa bid him goodbye and set out for Yamaloka, abode of Yama.
In the Ramayana, Prince Rama’s father had given a boon to his wife Kaikeyee. Now, on the eve of Rama’s coronation as king of Ayodhya, Kaikeyee (his stepmother) asked for her wish to be fulfilled – that Rama should be exiled for 14 years so that her son Bharata can be king. Rama did not hesitate for a moment; he upheld his father’s promise to his wife and prepared to leave for the forest, despite Bharata’s pleadings for him to stay back.
In another absorbing story from the Mahabharata, we find that Shantanu, the king of Hastinapur, had a son named Debabrata, who was next in the succession line. The king wished to marry Satyavati, a fisherman’s daughter but there was a catch – marriage would be on the condition that he disinherits Debabrata as heir to the kingdom. When Debabrata came to know of this, he vowed to remain a bachelor and give up his right to the throne.
In all the three stories narrated above, the sons duly fulfilled their respective father’s obligations but in the end, all was well since truth always triumphs. Nachiketa did reach Yamaloka. He wished to learn knowledge of the Self from Yama who was also known as Dharmaraja. When Yama was convinced that Nachiketa was indeed deserving of such rare knowledge, he helped Nachiketa become a Brahmajnani – knower of ultimate truth.
Prince Rama did not waste his time in the forest. He ended the tyranny of the rakshasa king, Ravana. Rama learnt rajdharma from his adversaries as well; something that helped him establish what has come to be known as Ramrajya when he later became king of Ayodhya.
Unlike Nachiketa and Ramachandra, Bhisma embraced the life of an ascetic all through, despite being a part of the political fabric of the royal family. He faced challenges with detachment; kept his vows and duties intact till the last day of his long life and by so doing, he attained the height of a Karmayogi as mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita.
His lifelong sadhana or meditative persistence as a selfless soul bore fruit for he realised Krishna as the embodiment of the ultimate truth. That his enlightenment was absolute was amply proved from his passionate comment at the end of the epic battle of the Mahabharata. One day, when he saw the Panchapandava (the five Pandava brothers) along with Krishna coming to him as he lay dying on a bed of arrows, his eyes filled with tears. Was he in pain? No, he said, he was just amazed that he witnessed the suffering of the Pandavas and failed to see that they had Divinity standing by them in the form of Krishna. His moment of truth had moved him to tears.
“Truth has to be encountered, truth has to be faced”, said Osho. No matter that truth-realisation comes to some only during the last moments whereas others are able to recognise it even while young.