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.
In this verse, Krishna also says that the duty of another is definitely fraught with fear. If you neglect your duty and do something else, you will be cursing everyday about why you did. You will have nothing but conflict, regret, guilt of omissions and commissions.
There is no demand in duty. This is because no one has the right to demand when he or she has not fulfilled the demands of the other person e.g. why you didn’t call me, why you don’t talk to me etc. Demand means there is a rub in the form of a counter demand or denial. There is friction. We see this in our homes every day and our daily life is just demands and more demands. When people are demanding, the society also will keep demanding and it is an endless cycle.
When we have duties, we will find there is amity. Because we can never fulfil duties completely, there is also humility. But if each person tries to fulfil his or her duties, as father, son, husband or wife they will meet somewhere. In doing so, understanding is possible. That’s why dharma is called manava dharma or manushya dharma.
Having listened to the dose of Karma Yoga, Arjuna now pops a question in Verse 36. His question is simple.
‘Impelled by what, does a person commit sin, as though pushed by some force even though not desiring to’.
Krishna responds to his question from verse 37 to verse 41 which concludes his teaching on Karma Yoga. We will see verse 37 onwards from tomorrow.
Om Namo bhagavate vasudevaya.