Synopsis: Here Krishna says: it is better to respond to one’s own calling than to do another’s even if the latter is well done. Even if the former earns us nothing.
Krishna has just finished telling us where our likes and dislikes reside and how we may gain control over them. He has just told us that there will be waves called attachments and aversions which will seize our discrimination and how we must see these as not OF the objects and situations, but verily the vikara of our own mind!
Nothing can be simpler in description. Krishna says that which seems compellingly desirable is the acute obsession of the mind to be satiated – verily like a bad sneeze that forces its way out. But man can be deluded into thinking that the desire or satisfaction in fact lies in the object and this is what propels him onward.
Now taking this very reasoning forward Krishna alludes to how this very condition of delusion of the mind leads man to adopting duties that are not his (no matter whose they are) in favour of abandoning his own.
How perfectly He has chosen His words – for He is yet staying in the realms of mental control.
And how may one know what one’s own duty is? By staying quiet with your thoughts, understanding their nature and deriving from them. Duties to oneself arise from one’s inner being, not from people outside. When we examine our thoughts we come to understand the fabric of which we are designed, our wiring. ‘What are the skills and talents that I am fitted with which cause my thoughts to be of a given nature/kind?’ This goes to define each person’s personality. This again arises from his bedrock of vasana-s. If we examine our vasana-s we will understand our duty-profile; if we examine our talent pool, we will understand our vasana-s.
Gurudev has one of the finest definitions for vasana-s: Pre-determined ‘channels-of-thinking’ created by one’s own past ways of thinking.
This definition is both a tool for growth and a suicide pact.
If we do not take stock of the vasana-s that need flushing, we are headed for regression. And yet if we give our Vasana-s a good look, we can know what we need to work with. That will define our SVADHARMA.
Usually, getting to grips with our svadharma can be tough if we do not have this road map from the Gita and Gurudev.
The reason why it is called ‘duty’ arises from the fact that on our onward path towards perfection, we will be shown portions of our vasana-s (from one life to another, as a part of the unfolding of our prarabda) and we have to keep exhausting our vasana-s as apparent to us.
This is in fact a neat game plan. In every life a set of vasana-s reveal, if left unattended, they can cause frustration, if attended to well, they can be employed to design our vocation in life, if channelled productively, they will be exhausted, and we are the better for it.
Which is why in career decisions one must employ the vasana bag to choose the path, for these are already with us to contribute for the yagna of life; but when we choose a career that is outside the ambit of our vasana-s so that we are looking at the fruits possible and thus choosing careers where monetary rewards are higher, then what we are doing are:
a. Choosing someone else’s course of life
b. Not giving to the Yagna what we have come with (like taking naivedyam to the temple and not offering it to the Lord!)
c. Taking away from the yagna what was never ours
d. Taking away from the yagna the possibility to enhance its production
e. Restricting the productive potential of the yagna from flowering.
f. Consequently (and naturally) not exhausting our vasana-s
Therefore svadharma is not hereditary (dad is doctor so I am doctor), and from this we can derive any number of caste, creed etc diktats which we must happily abandon. Svadharma is the dictate of our vasana-s and never mind what our parents did, those of us who are parents and guides must love our wards sincerely and guide them towards their vasana led svadharma.
Naturally comes the rider: If we do so, we are calm, un-agitated, at peace and love shines all round. Imagine the frustration when a child has to choose a career because mummy likes it.
In the same breath, we can see that when we do not do as our mind needs, but we do something else, then we are going against svadharma and doing paradharma.
Para can be seen as ‘another’s dharma’ or easier as ‘other than my dharma’. Although many of us are also guilty of doing another’s dharma.
So when Krishna says para-dharmo bhaya-vahah He means simply and just that: in the performance of another’s dharma there is fear, danger.
Why these adjectives? Because frustration over being unable to be what one is, results in a pressure cooker condition – resulting in destruction to his environment or destruction to himself. Both, undesirable. And the danger of sub optimising the task with our unformed skills for a task we are not wired for. And the resultant damage to ourselves.
And this is what Arjuna was being told too. The idea of sanyas was of course born of inability to face his own challenges and a desire to escape by the shortest road available. But in so doing he would be leaving his own duty as a kshatriya unattended and trying to be (a renunciate) what he does not have the wiring for. Sometimes people take sanyas out of frustration with life’s rewards, and half way down the road feel claustrophobic, unable to be a sanyasi.
That could have been Arjuna’s lot.
That can be our lot if we fail to understand Krishna’s wisdom.
One other strong counsel here from Krishna is this: Even if in performing svadharma the results are imperfect.
This ofcourse is perfectly and utterly in sync with the lessons of Karma Yoga (to duty alone you have right and not to its fruits... therefore our actions must arise from a sense of duty and not the gains from it...) and the yagna theory that Chapter 3 is bursting with which is: this is a yagna, you have been fitted with a wiring that is conducive for this yagna to be glorious.
Therefore offer what you have and thus maximise the realisation of the productive potential of the yagna of life, now that we know this is the true purpose.
We may want excellence and most for ourselves from an action, but that would be most selfish. But if we recognise that the final winner is the yagna and must be the yagna, then we will be more willing to give our inner skills for the yagna even if what it reaps for us as individuals is trivial. A different, yet related analogy would be the driver or cook of the Prime Minister. He may earn very little from the job, but by doing his best in the yagna, what he does for the nation via the PM is immeasurable.
Also, if we attempt to do somebody else’s work (in order to gain their glory, or because we believe that is what we must do) we will bring damage to the yagna by bringing to the work an attitude that is different from what is needed at that moment. Like adding salt to pudding when what is needed is sugar.