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Oct 22 2011

Cantina Quote o’ the Week: Bhagavad Gita

I am become death, the shatterer of worlds.                  

-Bhagavad Gita

This is another translation of the quote that crossed Robert J. Oppenheimer’s mind when he saw the first atomic bomb explode at Trinity site. I like it better than his translation: one word change, a slightly different impact: destroyer, while apt, doesn’t have quite the effect of shatterer. Destroyer is a word; shatterer gives you the cacophony of a world broken into a trillion pieces, the sharp sound of all those shards falling on the ground.

In any form, it was an apt quote for a world-shattering event. The world changed. The people who wielded this weapon now had the power to destroy it utterly. And these words, thousands of years old, were there to describe what it was, precisely, we had become.

I love the old Hindu myths. They’re so often whimsical, sometimes funny, comical, and then they take a sudden turn. They become vast and deep and terrifying and serious. Sometimes they’ve brought me to a new understanding of the world. I come away with different eyes, when I read them, and this is what all good stories should do.

Someday, I might even get around to reading the Bhagavad Gita in its entirety. Myths are wonderful things for a storyteller to mine, and there are stories in those non-Western tales that just beg to be enfolded into my own story world.

But this moment, it stands by itself. I can think of nothing more suitable to say whilst watching a mushroom cloud rise.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    larianlequella

    They are great Myths! Much, much better than the ones from the bronze age goat herders in the middle east! Read them, you won’t be disappointed.

  2. 2
    Avicenna

    The Bhagavad Gita is actually a rather interesting book.

    See it’s not really part of the Mahabaratha which is “just a story”. It’s not really a religious piece, and more like an epic in the same way that the Illiad isn’t a religious piece. It was added on later to examine some of the ideas brought up by the Mahabaratha which I prefer to the Ramayana as an epic.

    Basically it involves the discussion between Arjuna (a Hero) and Krishna (God’s Avatar who is relatively incognito). In it they discuss duty and what makes good and evil. Arjuna is about to fight against his own blood and cannot bring himself to kill his own cousins and indeed teacher and uncles. Arjuna basically is quoting from something called the Laws of Manu.

    The Laws of Manu are talibanesque in scope and even more crazy than abrahamic law. Like “pants on head crazy”. Caught being an adulterer? You get torn to pieces by wild dogs… It’s filled with hard and fast rules.

    Post Siddarth Gauthama the idea of situational morality took Hinduism by storm (or to be fair Buddhism took India by storm and the Hindus just stole the Buddha as a god and reconverted people back by just declaring their beliefs as Hindu.) Basically the Bhagavad Gita is trying to explain situational morality, like how it is acceptable to kill in war but not in normal life. It’s very crude and tries to bring in concepts such as duty and that the actions are judged in relation to the event and that duty comes first but it’s the start of situational morality.

    Consider that abrahamic religion still considers the 10 commandments and Leviticus as vital and you will see how utterly groundbreaking the Gita is (Think of it as an add on book to the bible that overturns the 10 commandments and Leviticus.)

    Added to which the Mahabaratha is a great story filled with all the powers you would assume to be sensible replaced with insane powers. Not to mention you can see a lot of greek influences in the story if you pay attention.

    Oh and Hindu Gods have crazy powers. Like some are sensible, some are laser eyes and destructo-hair.

  3. 3
    dave cortesi

    Then you can get the same myths refracted through the brain of Roger Zelazny in Lord of Light

  4. 4
    PZ Myers

    Just posting something to see if Dana hates me, too.

  5. 5
    PSG

    A very good story, and one I first heard in a recent song: The Radiance by Linkin Park.

    I do kind of like shatterer too… it’s a very descriptive, yet strange word.

  6. 6
    Al West

    Avicenna,

    Not to mention you can see a lot of greek influences in the story if you pay attention.

    Hmm. I’m not sure about this. While all written versions of the Mahabharata post-date the Alexandrian invasion (as does all decipherable writing in India, for that matter), the Greeks in India became Buddhists, not Hindus, and the Greek epics seem not to have made an impact on Hinduism. There are parallels between them, but the more plausible hypothesis is that the shared elements are part of a shared heritage. Both Greeks and Indo-Aryan-speaking Indians derived from Indo-European populations who originally lived on the Pontic-Caspian steppe. In fact, they may be even more closely related than that if Greco-Aryan is a valid sub-branch of Indo-European.

    The shared content of Persian, Indian, Greek, Celtic, Ossetic, Germanic, Italic, etc, mythologies and poetic forms is discussed best in M.L West, 2007, “Indo-European Poetry and Myth”, OUP. It’s a fantastic book, covering almost every aspect of Indo-European poetics and story-telling, as well as religious belief and cosmology. Highly recommended.

    1. 6.1
      Avicenna

      So people say, Durhyodhana of the Mahabaratha has the same powers as Achilles only concentrated around his groin (he dipped himself in the Ganges but since women were about covered up his penis with his hands thus preventing him from being totally invulnerable). He was kind of confident in it’s powers since the rules of Hindu dueling state that blows must be struck above the hip. His opponent (the Indian equivalent of Hercules) cheated. A lot of similarities in heroes and plots are seen.

      Oh and krishna is killed by an arrow through his ankle…

      As I said, a lot of similarities exist in both stories. They may be based of the same original tale.

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