Gita, Oppenheimer, and Moral Dilemma

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    Akhil Babu

    Hare Krishna Prabhu. This is a question of Ethics and Morality based on the teachings of Gita. I have heard many people using the example of USA’s act of nuking Hiroshima and Nagasaki for explaining the nuances of Dharma. They say that the act was neither good nor bad but Dharmic because the intention was to stop the war and protect the life of soldiers. Hence the scientists, pilots and government officials who worked behind this military action were not sinners. Their reasoning is that Gita’s teaching is to concentrate on the intention and not on outcomes. Oppenheimer was also a student of Bhagavad Gita and his intention was to save the interests of his country. I am not sure whether Oppenheimer was aware of the true intentions of US government. What was the real intention of US behind dropping nuclear bombs in Japan is also a mystery because later General MacArthur and Eisenhower had said that this has nothing to do with ending the war with Japan and Japan was about to surrender soon. So in such situations if we were in the shoes of people like Oppenheimer what should we do? Should we give importance only to the purity of our intentions or should we also take into account the outcomes of our actions?

    Ashish Dalela

    You can read this post first. I have discussed how waging war on civilians is contrary to Kshatriya dharma. Warriors fight only against warriors, as long as the warrior has not surrendered. There is no concept of torture, or dozens of kinds of warfare involving civilians, in a dharmic war. The above post discusses these.

    Intention has a higher importance, but action is not irrelevant. If a doctor accidentally kills a patient, he cannot say that I did not intend to do it. Negligence is also a problem. But negligence is a smaller problem than intentional killing. Hence, there are differences between 1st degree, 2nd degree, 3rd degree murder, etc. They are all called murders but there is a difference in the respective punishment.

    While the body can operate on its own, the activities of the senses involve an approval. This approval can be delegated. While cycling, the movement of the legs is delegated after a while. This delegated approval doesn’t mean that the person isn’t responsible. Similarly, while driving a car, the car is moving automatically, but there is an approval that can be delegated when we put the car into autopilot. If you switch on a fan, the fan moves automatically, but there is a choice to switch on the fan, after which the choice is delegated. A person is always responsible.

    Bhagavad-Gita doesn’t say that intention is the only important thing. There is no such statement. If one acts out of ignorance, the crime is not completely excused, because one has to ask: Why is the person ignorant? Isn’t intention involved in a person remaining ignorant? Therefore, “I did not know” isn’t an excuse. However, “I did not know” is a lesser crime than “I knew and still did it willingly”.

    Large-scale events (like wars) are called adidaivika suffering. They are caused by influence of time, and predetermined. Good astrologers can predict them. But the person who chooses to participate in these events are implicated because the event is predetermined but the actors or participants are not. These events are like a drama in which roles are fixed but actors are not. Time is the story, not the actors. So, if someone participates in the cosmic drama, there is an approval in participation. But the event will happen without one set of actors because nature will recruit another actor. This predestination of events is not an excuse.

    Akhil Babu

    Yes. I was shocked when people justified it using Bhagavad Gita. What the people suffered is because of their Karma but that doesn’t justify the act of those who were involved. Thankyou very much.

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