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Bhagavad Gita And Oppenheimer – Quote After Nuclear Bomb Testing

After the Trinity nuclear test in the New Mexico desert of United States in July 1945, Robert Oppenheimer is said to have silently pondered (and later intoned on TV) Vishnu’s lines from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds …” It is only a fraction of the verse... the entire verse is never quoted by the  various media. 

There are two quotes similar in the Bhagavad Gita –

Chapter X Verse 34

म्र्त्युह सर्वह्रास्चाहमुद्भावास्चा भाविश्यतम
किर्तिही श्रीवाकिचा नारीणँ स्मृतिँमृधा

Mrtyuh sarvahras-ca-ham-udbhavas-ca bhavishyatam
Kirtih sririvakca narinam smrtir-medha

I am the all-embracing Death, and the Source of things to be, and of Women, the Fame, Fortune, Speech, Memory, Intelligence. (Verse 34) – (the source of born and unborn.)

Chapter XI Verse 32

I am death,
The mighty destroyer of the world, out to destroy.
Even without your participation all the warriors
Standing arrayed in the opposing armies
Shall cease to exist.

Kalo’smi lokaksayakrt-pravrddho
Lokan smahartum-iha pravrttah|
rte’pi twam na bhavisyanti sarve
ye’vasthitah pratyanikesu yodhah||

The term used for death in the verse is ‘Kal’ which also means ‘Time’ so the verse also means -

Time am I, that comes to destroy worlds, grown mature, engaged here in subduing the world. Even without thee, all the warriors stationed in the opposite ranks shall not be. (Translated by Shakuntala Rao Shastri)

Krishna is here removing the ignorance of Arjuna by pointing out that ‘Time’ or ‘death’ will anyway consume all those that you are worrying for. When Krishna says ‘Time am I’ he is saying that he is Brahman or the ultimate truth - the one without a second.

Krishna did not ask Arjuna to kill innocent people but asked to fight for his existence – do his dharma (duty). Shying away from defending one's existence is against the law of nature. Every living being has the right to live in nature until nature consumes it. Often human beings out of his/her ignorance do not perform the required duty. Krishna was removing the ignorance of Arjuna which was acting as an impediment from him performing his duty - a warrior of truth and protector of dharma.

In the modern world, everyone talks about rights but no one talks about duty. Along with rights we need to perform our duties for the world to exist in its natural state.

The world is in such a bad state and on the verge of collapse because we have shied away from our duty. We never stood up against the wrongs committed in the name of progress (progress were water, air and food is polluted and sold). We never raised our voice when nature was being plundered. We never stood up for all the living beings that were put down in the name of religion and development.

The duty of Arjuna as a warrior was to protect the weak and protect dharma. He was shying away from his responsibility and Krishna only reminded him of his duty.