Gita essay

By Ashwath Subramanian
||Shri Gurubhyo Namaha.||

Pranams to you, the reader.

The message conveyed by the Bhagavad Gita, teaches man to strive toward realization of the Divine Goal: merging one’s inner spirit with the Paramatma, or Supreme Being. In the third chapter of the Gita, the Lord teaches us the path of liberation through action, or Karmayoga. He says that performing one’s ordained duty without attachment and with the Lord in
the mind, one attains Liberation.

During his discourse to Arjuna on this topic, Bhagavan declares in the second half of the thirty-fifth verse,

svadharme nidhanaṃ śreyaḥ paradharmo bhayāvahaḥ” (3:35)

The verse states that it is better to do one’s own duty, (svadharma) than to do another’s (paradharma), as doing the duty meant for someone else is dangerous. In the context of the Kurukshetra War, Krishna is appealing to Arjuna to do his ordained duty as a Kshatriya, and not give in to his urge to leave the battlefield. People are born into various castes – Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaisya, or Sudra. As a result of these castes, each person is suited to a specific ordained duty. Krishna describes each of these in 18:41 – 18:441-4; Brahmanas are meant to study the scriptures and Vedas, and endure hardships in the name of religious studies. Kshatriyas are ordained to be diligent and dauntless in battle and rule with honor and majesty. The innate duty of a Vaishya is to raise cows and crops, as well as honest and proper trade of merchandise and other items. The dharma of a Sudra is service of all the other classes and castes. As such, man should at least try to accumulate positive karma toward his next birth by performing what duties he is ordained.

Fulfilling one’s proper responsibility will bring lasting satisfaction through spiritual closeness to one’s goal. This is obviously preferable to spending one’s life in bondage to duties that are not meant for oneself (paradharma) and only satisfy temporary pleasures, and not contributing to one’s true goal. Another’s svadharma (our paradharma) may look very attractive and glamorous, but once we experience it, this is revealed to be an illusion. This fact is supported by the previous line of the same verse –

śreyānsvadharmo viguṇaḥ paradharmātsvanuṣṭhitāt” (3:35)

Here, the Lord, in simple terms, tells us that doing low-quality svadharma is always better than doing even the highest quality of paradharma.
Bhagavan also says that doing another’s duty is fraught with fear and danger (paradharmo bhayavahaha); doing such activity which is meant to bring material goals will bring momentary satisfaction, but inevitable disappointment. Such duty will seem to be attractive and satisfactory at first, but will eventually be revealed as unfulfilling and self-destructive, because one will distance oneself from the final spiritual goal – this type of enjoyment is designated as Rajasika in the thirty-eighth verse of the eighteenth chapter –

pariṇāme viṣamiva tatsukhaṃ rājasaṃ smṛtam ||” (18:38)

This verse states that contact with sense-objects will appear as nectar at first, but will eventually be revealed as poisonous and evil; thus, it is Rajasika. This also applies to the commencement of another’s duty for the purpose of worldly enjoyment – it is not, in the end, actually good for you. In contrast, svadharma, which is the duty meant for a person, will bring lasting happiness; not necessarily in the form of wealth, fame, or success, but in that one will be able to attain the ultimate spiritual success – namely; self-fulfillment. When performing our svadharma, our task becomes easy, productive, and enjoyable, and our spiritual awareness becomes stronger through our devotion to our svadharma.

The next step, after understanding the teaching of this verse, is putting it in the current context. In the 21st century, the use of “caste” is not to be understood as the same “caste” that existed during the creation and writing of the Gita. Rather, it should be interpreted as “man’s natural self-evolving propensities,” as stated by H.H. Shri Paramahansa Yogananda. The same goes for the term of “ordained duty;” people are not born knowing their characteristic duty – especially not in the present day and age. Until such time when one’s characteristic task is discovered, one’s svadharma is that which is readily available to him. By chance, a Brahmana may find himself in construction, or a Kshatriya may end up working as a teacher. What are they to do now? They must face the task in front of them with the ultimate devotion, automatically making it service to the Lord.

However, the word paradharma can be taken at face value, as it is simply the opposite of svadharma. An example of this is a student helping his friend with a project, at the expense of his own homework. At first, this may seem contrary to the Gita; however, the student’s own dharma is not to help his friend, it is to be a student and to do his own homework. To help the friend is the dharma of a teacher. A devotee must dedicate all the energy put toward his task to the Lord – every little movement should be done in the name of Bhagavan. This concept is epitomized in the eighteenth chapter –
yataḥ pravṛttirbhūtānāṃ yena sarvamidaṃ tatam ।
svakarmaṇā tamabhyarcya siddhiṃ vindati mānavaḥ ॥
” (18:46)

This verse teaches that by worshipping the all-pervading Lord through performance of duty, man can attain perfection. Again, the Gita mentions doing one’s duty – “svakarmaṇā” – as an outlet to the Supreme Being.
In summation, Krishna’s statement “svadharme nidhanaṃ śreyaḥ paradharmo bhayāvahaḥ” imparts to devotees an important aspect of worship through action – doing one’s own duty is always superior to doing another’s, because of the eventual unhappiness perpetuated by paradharma and the future happiness and satisfaction gained through svadharma.

• The Bhagavad Gita: Royal Science of God-Realization – H.H. Shri Paramahansa Yogananda
• Srimad Bhagavad Gita – Swami Swarupananda
• Bhagavad Gita and Modern Life – Kulapati Munshi
• Srimad Bhagavad Gita – Gita Press, Gorakhpur
• Bhagavad Gita: Translation and Selected Commentary – Saligrama C. Subbarao
• Bhagavad Gita: A New Translation – Stephen Mitchell
• The Bhagavad Gita – Swami Chidbhavananda
• The Holy Gita – Swami Chinmayananda

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