Finding What You Weren’t Looking For

Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

I’ve been exploring philosophy, spirituality, and theology looking for ways to enrich my daily life. At Books A Million, I came across a translation of the Bhagavad-Gita. My only familiarity with it was from J. Robert Oppenheimer’s famed quote following the successful testing of the first atomic bomb. He said the following.

Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.

Hence, as I read I was looking for this quote. As can be the trouble with translations, I never found it. My copy was translated by Barbara Stoler Miller. In it, the quote is translated differently. It reads as follows.

I am Time grown old, creating world destruction, set in motion to annihilate the worlds; even without you all of these warriors arrayed in hostile ranks would cease to exist.

Therefore, arise and win glory! Conquer your foes and fulfill your kingship! They are already killed by me. Be just my instrument, the archer at my side.

Lord Krishna

I underlined that text. However, I did so without realizing that it was the specific text I was looking for. Translated differently, of course. Moreover, it took on greater meaning when read in context. One of the justifications by proponents of using the bomb was that it actually saved lives. I’m not sure that I buy into that. However, it amplifies the “They are already killed by me” line. Perhaps Oppenheimer found some solace in these words after the fact.

Finding what you weren't looking for.
Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds.

Learning from this experience.

  1. I learned to fully read the text, searching for what it says to you, and not what it conveys to somebody else. Learning from the insight and perspective of another is useful. However, applying it to yourself is better.
  2. Furthermore, I learned the value of context. Don’t go quote searching. Read the words in the context in which they were written so that you can fully appreciate the meaning.

The Bhagavad-Gita is a beautiful work of poetry. There is a lot in it to consume, and it is full of old wisdom. I highly recommend picking up a copy and reading it. However, for those who don’t I hope you enjoyed this short clip from it. I’m sure that I will add more quotes from it here at my blog in the future.


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