confusion or shame
good deeds someone has done
before, defend them
Based on this line of poetry and thereby hangs a tale.
The line is:
In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,
The good deeds a man has done before defend him
The line was used by Dr. J. Robert Oppenheimer, head of the Manhattan Atomic Bomb project in World War 2.
The lines is purported to have been translated from by Dr. Oppenheimer from the Bhagavad Gita.
I will not try to explain what the Bhagavad Gita is as I don’t know that I can as I don’t know exactly what it is.
Dr. Oppenheimer remembered the lines out loud just prior to the first atomic bomb test in 1945.
Almost every book and biography about Dr. Oppenheimer or about the bomb have the quote.
They also have his more remembered and quoted quote when the bomb went off successfully, also from the Bhagavad Gita, that goes:
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”
I am reading a book on the a bomb, fascinating stuff by the way, and came across todays quote and worked it into today’s haiku.
I wanted a citation.
The book cites the poetry as coming from Dr. Oppenheimer’s personal translation of the Bhagavad Gita.
Searching an online copy of the Gita, I could not come anywhere close to finding lines that reflected these thoughts and words.
I went Back to the Google.
It did not take long to one, find the original source and two, to learn it isn’t in the Gita AT ALL.
I have seen the quote cited to the Gita in countless books and articles.
Does anyone bother any more to check these things?
Does anyone higher editors and fact checkers anymore?
The quote actually comes from the the Śatakatraya, a work of Sanskrit poetry, comprising three collections of about 100 stanzas each by Bhartṛhari, a 5th century (CE) Sanskrit writer.
I am just to going to leave it at that rather than try to give any explanation of the Śatakatraya or the Bhagavad Gita as I don’t know the difference and I don’t know if it can be explained.
I will BET thought it cannot be explained in less than a fall term graduate level lecture class some where.
What Bhartṛhari wrote was:
vane raṇe śatrujalāgnimadhye
mahārṇave parvatamastake vā ।
suptaṃ pramattaṃ viṣamasthitaṃ vā
rakṣanti puṇyāni purākṛtāni ॥
In a forest, in a battle, amongst enemies, amidst water or fire, in a vast ocean or on the tip of a mountain, while asleep, awake or in danger – virtuous deeds from (our) past are the protectors.
Where the Google can take you on a Saturday morning, I tell you.
Virtuous deeds from (our past are the protectors.
A good thought to start a Saturday in the midst of a pandemic and never ending election.
I do have to think about some of those figures in the election.
And I do have to ask, what if you have no good or virtuous deeds in your past?