As we are looking to leave tomorrow morning, I called my good friend Andrew that is a Santa Fe native. I was hoping he could meet up with us Wednesday when we spend most of the day in Santa Fe, perusing the museums and listening to the dharma talk at the Upaya Zen center. That may or may not happen, but what did come out of the situation was a discussion about Los Alamos and the atomic bombs, well Oppenheimer specifically.
Andrew told me that Oppenheimer was a deeply spiritual personality, interested in many faiths. He remarked in one instance in particular, after the bombs were dropped on Japan, Oppenheimer quoted the Bhagadvad Gita, “If the radiance of a thousand suns were to burst at once into the sky, that would be like the splendor of the mighty one..Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” Here he expands on that quote later, “We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried. Most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagadvad Gita; Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty, and to impress him, takes on his multi-armed form and says, ‘Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.’ I suppose we all thought that, one way or another.”
First, the conversation flung me deeply into the ambiguity, splendor, and darkness of New Mexican history, Los Alamos as the center for the bomb production, how Oppenheimer and Einstein secretly worked on this history-changing project. Second, I find it extremely compelling that an American man as scientifically talented as Oppenheimer, at such a dark and horrific time, would find in natural to quote Hindu text, as if it were natural. Obviously complex, he proliferated an interfaith spirituality, and utilized this world view to analyze and give meaning, value to his actions and his perspective of the world.
And though this instance is one of sadness and darkness, we turn to this interfaith posture in hopes to catch a glimpse of this interfaith-ness New Mexico has to offer, preferably, this time, in the context of light and beauty and happiness.
–Chaplain Jake Hofmeister