Chapter 3 – Verse 35

Following one’s svadharma, svakarma is the basis of karma yoga

śreyān svadharmo viguṇaḥ paradharmāt svanuṣṭhitāt
svadharme nidhanaṃ śreyaḥ paradharmo bhayāvahaḥ

su-anusthitat paradharmat – as compared to the well performed dharma of another
vigunah – imperfect
svadharmah – one’s own dharma
sreyan – better
svadharme – in one’s own dharma
nidhanam – death
sreyah – is better
paradharmah – the dharma of another
bhayavahah – is fraught with fear

Better is one’s own imperfectly performed dharma than the well performed dharma of another. Death in one’s own dharma is better. The dharma of another is fraught with fear.

If there is an awareness of Ishwara in your choice of action, it is Karma Yoga. Until, then it is simply the choice of a mature person. A mature person has ethics but need not have a religion. E.g. Bertrand Russell wrote a book called ‘Why I am not a Christian’ and he never claimed any religious leanings. Yet he was an ethical person and he was the first to raise his voice against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Ethics are born out of common sense and not of religion. One’s own experiences in life and understanding are enough to understand what is proper and improper. However, religious scriptures add something to ethical values. They say that if you perform an improper action, you cannot get away with it and will come and bite you back at some point of time. According to the Karma performed, a result is given to you.

A Karma Yogi is a bhakta, a devotee who does not look upon one’s possession as one’s own. For such a person, a physical body is given, mind is given, world is given, opportunities are given, resources are given, skills are given, time, place is given. Everything is given. Only when one appreciates the given and also the giver there is karma yoga. We saw this earlier by the thanks giving to the various devatas who bless us in various forms.
The concept of svadharma needs to be understood in the spirit of this verse. What this says is that doing one’s own karma is far better than doing the karma of another person. Do only what you have to do. E.g. in a soccer game, if a goal keeper also decides to run like other players, it would be a disaster. It is his job to protect the post and it is better for him to do just that. If the ball comes to the keeper, the does the action otherwise, he is just standing there.

Another example can be given of a bolt in a piston. The role of a bolt is to stay tight and hold things when the piston moves. The job of a piston is to move and if the bolt is watching silently and mutters ‘why is the piston moving? Why I can’t’. Suppose the bolt decides to move and starts wriggling, the whole piston will collapse. Likewise, each person has set duty and should be done only by that person. E.g. a father, mother has a role and each person should act accordingly.