Hindu or Jew: Why was Oppenheimer so obsessed with the Bhagavad Gita?

Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer.  - Twitter / @Partisan_O
Theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer. – Twitter / @Partisan_O

Renowned theoretical physicist, J Robert Oppenheimer, who shot to fame as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb” after creating ripples in the world of physics in 1945, is once again in the news due to the recent release of his biopic “Oppenheimer”.

Following the release of Christopher Nolan’s latest biographical thriller, it was revealed that the famed theoretical physicist was deeply inspired by the Bhagavad Gita, the holy scripture of Hinduism.

Despite its success at the box office since its release on 21 July, a scene in the biopic in which the scientist is shown reciting the Bhagavad Gita after sex is being criticized by the global Hindu community for “attacking their religion”.

Especially in India, there has been a growing demand from viewers to censor the controversial scene.

Since he was a keen scholar of many languages ​​including Greek, Latin, French and German. He also learned the Dutch language within six weeks.

However, Oppenheimer was introduced to the ancient Indian language Sanskrit and the Gita by Arthur W. Rider, a fellow professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who taught Sanskrit.

Ryder gave Oppenheimer private Sanskrit lessons on Thursday evenings.

“I am learning Sanskrit,” Oppenheimer wrote to his brother Frank, “having great pleasure in it and enjoying the sweet luxury of being taught again”.

In a letter to his brother, Oppenheimer stated that discipline and hard work were his core values. He attributed this to his fascination with Eastern philosophy.

He wrote: “Through discipline, though not through discipline alone, we can obtain peace, and a certain small but precious measure of freedom from the accidents of incarnation … and the quietness that preserves the world it leaves behind”.

“Only through discipline”, he said, “is it possible to see the world without the pervasive distraction of personal will, and in so seeing, more readily to accept our earthly privation and its earthly horror”.

Furthermore, many of his friends found his new obsession with Indian languages ​​strange, Oppenheimer’s biographers noted.

One of them, Harold F. Cherniss, who introduced the scientist to Ryder, thought it “made perfect sense” because Oppenheimer had a “taste for the mysterious and the esoteric”.

According to CNNTwo days before the detonation of the first atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert in July 1945, Robert Oppenheimer “recited a verse from the Bhagavad Gita, or The Lord’s Song”, to relieve his stress:

“In battle, in the forest, on the top of the mountains

On the dark vast sea, between spears and arrows,

In sleep, in confusion, in the depths of shame,

The good deeds that a man has done in the past, only they protect him…”

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