'Now I am become Death': Ethan Crumbley quoted Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita before shooting

The teen allegedly posted a chilling countdown on social media hours before the Oxford school shooting, using the phrase in the Hindu scripture Bhagavad Gita


                            'Now I am become Death': Ethan Crumbley quoted Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita before shooting
Oxford school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley quoted from the Hinduism scripture Bhagavad Gita before the massacre (Oakland County Sheriff's Office, Vitali Laurentsik/ Getty Images)

“Now I become death – destroyer of worlds – see you tomorrow Oxford" -- Oxford school shooting suspect Ethan Crumbley wrote on an Instagram page with his name on it, which has now been deleted, before carrying out the massacre on Tuesday that killed four and injured seven others. The first half of the phrase was derived from the Hindu holy text Bhagavad Gita, which was later popularized by American scientist Robert Oppenheimer. 

Oakland County Prosecutor Karen McDonald said Mr Crumbley will be charged as an adult with one count of terrorism, four counts of first-degree murder, seven counts of assault with intent to murder, 12 counts of possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony. She added that the charges stemmed from “undeniable” evidence that the attack was premeditated. The teen allegedly posted a chilling countdown on social media hours before the shooting, using the phrase that was once used by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, and a photo of his gun in the days before the crime. Even though the account has since been taken down, the screenshots of the same are still being circulated on Twitter. 

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What is the Bhagavad Gita?

The Bhagavad Gita is 700-verse Hindu scripture that is written in Sanskrit. It centers on a dialogue between a great warrior prince called Arjuna and his charioteer Lord Krishna, who is an incarnation of the Hindu god, Vishnu. Arjuna is overwhelmed with emotions after he realizes that he was going to have to fight an opposing army comprising of his friends and relatives. However, Krishna teaches him about a higher philosophy that will enable him to carry out his duties as a warrior regardless of his personal concerns, which is known as Dharma, or holy duty -- one of the four key lessons of the Bhagavad Gita. When Arjuna asks Krishna to reveal his universal form, in verse twelve of the Gita the lord manifests as a sublime, terrifying being of many mouths and eyes.

Hinduism is based on a non-linear concept of time, which preaches that the great god is not only involved in the creation but also the dissolution of all things. The line used by Crumbley is used by Krishna in verse thirty-two, which basically meant irrespective of what Arjuna does, everything is in the hands of the divine. "The quotation 'Now I am become death, the destroyer of worlds', is literally the world-destroying time,” Rev Dr Stephen Thompson, who holds a PhD in Sanskrit grammar, told Wired. "Arjuna is a soldier, he has a duty to fight. Krishna not Arjuna will determine who lives and who dies and Arjuna should neither mourn nor rejoice over what fate has in store, but should be sublimely unattached to such results,” says Thompson. “And ultimately the most important thing is he should be devoted to Krishna. His faith will save Arjuna's soul." 

How did Robert Oppenheimer popularize the saying?

American atomic scientist Julius Robert Oppenheimer (1904 - 1967) arrives in Paris to give a series of lectures at the Faculty of Science. (Photo by Central Press/Getty Images)

 

The same phrase ran through the mind of Robert Oppenheimer as he witnessed the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945. As wartime head of the Los Alamos Laboratory, which is also the birthplace of the Manhattan Project, he is seen as the “father” of the atomic bomb. “We knew the world would not be the same,” he later recalled. “A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent.”

While he never became a Hindu in the devotional sense, he turned to its religious text while watching the fireball of the Trinity nuclear test because his interest in Hinduism was about making sense of his own actions. But Oppenheimer never really achieved the kind of peace that Arjuna experienced. This is why, two years after the Trinity explosion, Oppenheimer said, "In some sort of crude sense which no vulgarity, no humour, no overstatements can quite extinguish the physicists have known sin; and this is a knowledge which they cannot lose.”

Thomson also pointed out the key difference in their views. “He doesn't seem to believe that the soul is eternal, whereas Arjuna does,” Thompson said, adding that the phrase from the Gita is often misinterpreted. “The fourth argument in the Gita is really that death is an illusion, that we're not born and we don't die. That's the philosophy really: that there's only one consciousness and that the whole of creation is a wonderful play.”

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