Why only Svadharma?
"One’s own karma performed diligently, even though it may not be the best thing, is better than others’ karma performed in a most satisfying manner". What then is svadharma?
Certain qualities, powers, propensities, and enthusiasm come to some people naturally. Using such qualities, that mindset and those internal faculties for the benefit of the world is dharma.
Then, should he be tied to his natural talents? Why should he not adopt something that is superior? How is a seemingly deficient svadharma nobler than a ‘better’ dharma that is, albeit, not one’s own? There are four reasons for this :
- Nature helps the doer in svadharma. Whatever she aids him in, is svadharma. Since she is supporting him, his work becomes easy. This ease is the first advantage of following svadharma.
- When the duty becomes easy, it gets done faster too. The yield is greater too. Thus, the second reason is the plentitude of results.
- The world will benefit greatly from this work — as much as the doer can give, it can take and profit from it. Increased benefit to the world is the third reason.
- When performing svadharma, at least some known qualities and abilities are solidly established and flourish in the character. If this dharma is given up and another chosen in its place, the existing abilities are weakened; there is no guarantee that new ones are gained. Therefore, the fourth reason is that there is an absolutely undiluted improvement of one’s skills.
The washerman in our town, Machayya, works till his bones break when there is a wedding in the local wealthy man’s house. What is the use? The man who is seated on the velvet carpet and garlanded on the wedding day is the musician Rangappa. Machayya became sick and tired of this and made his son Marayya learn music. After learning music for ten years, the boy could sing bhajans on the roadside, but no more. The donkeys commented that the town lost a washerman, but did not gain a musician either.
The Practice of Sattva
Arjuna raised another question. Even if we try to perform an action with the best of intentions, we may accrue pāpa because of it. What should be done about that? Bhagavān answered thus:
kāma eṣa krodha eṣa rajo-guṇa-samudbhavaḥ ।
mahāśano mahāpāpmā viddhyenamiha vairiṇam ॥ (BG 3.37)
Bhagavān has answered this vividly and clearly. Kāma has to be subdued. Senses excite the mind. The manas agitates the buddhi. The agitated intellect loses its vision. Therefore, you have to carefully protect that which is above the intellect — the true essence of the ātmā. This will preserve the buddhi from being spoiled by external influences. The intellect works well when the senses are under control. Therefore, rouse the quality of sattva within you, hidden behind the veil of the intellect, and let that be your safeguard.
Attributes like kāma and krodha are hereditary. Family, in turn, is chosen based on previous karma and tendencies from past lives. Relatives and friends, society, and surroundings are also based on vāsanas - impressions from past lives. If thus, the qualities of a man depend upon countless lives, how can we hope to change them? The answer is that every jīva has enough internal sattva that can be much stronger than the negative vāsanas accumulated from many births. But it is dormant, or it is shrunk within itself because of external rājasic and tāmasic influences. We have to remember one characteristic of the jīva here. The sattva of the jīva is unlimited in its source. The Kṛṣṇarāja-sāgar dam is a huge reservoir of water. The water that we get from there into our house in a tap is just a droplet from there. The pipes that carry water from the KRS to our house might be blocked by dirt and block the flow of water. However, we should remember that behind the dripping tap in our house, there is a vast reservoir. This reminiscence gives us courage. This reminiscence is the contemplation of Bhagavān. He is backing us. If we remember that omniscient, omnipotent Bhagavān is behind the strength that is exuded by our bodily organs -- that there is an ocean of energy behind us -- it becomes possible to subdue kāma and krodha, which are but forms of rajas and tamas. One should constantly practise meditating on the nature of the ātmā and Brahma. We shall study this later.
The capability of the ātmā appears dormant. An awakened man sharpens and hones the strength of the ātmā. The intellect then remains conscious and corrects the mind when it errs. The awakened mind quells sensory excitement. When heat from the senses subsides, the viveka to discriminate between right and wrong becomes possible. This viveka decreases the tendency to err. Thus, the first step towards conquering sin is to defeat the foe that is desire.
This chapter is generally called the Karmayoga. In a copy of the Śānkarabhāṣya, it is called karma-praśaṃsā-yoga — or the yoga (path) of praise for karma. Karma can be of many kinds. This chapter deals with karma that is of the form of day-to-day work, specifically karma in the form of one’s own dharma — svadharma. Therefore, it has been called sva-dharma-yoga, so that the meaning is easily grasped.
The next chapter deals with the same topic. What was called karma in the form of yajña in this chapter, is said to be karma that will be an offering to the Supreme Brahma, or karma that is performed without getting attached.
Essence of the Chapter
anyonya sāhya karmame
puṇyaṃ mānavarigaduve nityada yajñaṃ ।
danvayipudu dharmakidu tṛtīyādhyāyam ॥
Karma that is beneficial to one another
Puṇya it is, daily yajña for humans
Without greed, all of yours
Should be in concord with dharma — says chapter three.
gurupraṣṭhanappaṃ Hṛṣīkeśanenduṃ ॥
He who is not acquainted with the varied nature of human beings
Cannot fathom the means of training the mind.
He whose heart is tender with compassion towards the human mind
He, Hṛṣīkeśa, is always the Teacher par excellence.
To be continued...
The present series is a modern English translation of DVG’s Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award-winning work, Bhagavad-gītā-tātparya or Jīvana-dharma-yoga. The translators wish to express their thanks to Śatāvadhāni R Ganesh for his valuable feedback and to Hari Ravikumar for his astute edits.