sadrsam cestate svasyah
prakrter jnanavan api
prakrtim yanti bhutani
nigrahah kim karisyati
Everyone gets to his own innate nature
That is his inherent potential
That is his swadharma
The wise one also tries to
Do karma according to his swadharma
How can anyone’s opinion
Or renouncing (nigrahah) anything
Make a difference in this situation? ||3:33||
tayor na vasam agacchet
tau hy asya paripanthinau
The indriyas have potential energy
There is always a momentum
One should know of the ragas and dweshas
That resides in every indriyas
Ready to hijack the person as a whole
And take him away from the
Path that leads to the center
(raga = attachments, dwesha = aversion, jealosy). ||3:34||
sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah
Know and follow your swadharma
That is your aptitude
It is always better to die
Following your own dharma
Following someone else’s path
And someone else’s dharma
Is against the very personal nature of our being
This is against the very aptitude (swadharma)
And can potentially lead to fear inside.
(Fear of the unknown and
The fear of being against one’s nature) ||3:35||
Krishna has discussed the role of karma in detail so far. Karma (doing) is rooted in the gunas (forces of nature). Krishna pauses for a minute and talks about shradha (trust) and then continues on to swadharma. Swadharma is one of the core concepts of Gita. There is no good English word for swadharma. Authenticity comes close. In terms of a game of golf, everyone has an authentic swing. That is his true nature and all he has to do is to unveil his authenticity. Fire burns. It can be useful in cooking or heating the house. But, fire can also burn the house. The swadharma of fire is to burn.
It is easy to understand the swadharma when it applies to fire or water. We know and call theses as properties of fire or properties of water. It becomes harder when we apply these principles to human beings. Let us go back to our old example of rock and wood. This time the wood and rock are flying on an airplane. The plane is up there and a bag of rock and a bag of wood are thrown down from the plane. They will both fall because of the effects of the gravity. There may be some influence of the speed of the plane and the speed of air outside. The rock or wood do not have any decision making in how they fall.
Things are different if it is a story of Mr. Wood and Mr. Rock. Mr. Rock may decide not to jump. Mr. Wood may be excited in jumping from the plane. He will plan his jump carefully. He will do a free fall initially and then open his parachute and be thrilled by the whole experience.
What is the difference? The difference between rock and Mr. Rock or wood and Mr. Wood is huge and this is because Mr. Wood and Mr. Rock have three extras that wood and rock do not have. Those three extras are mun (wishing mind), buddhi (intellect) and ahankar (ego). The mun wants to jump in the case of Mr. Wood. The intellect does the planning and the ego gives the feeling of achievement. They all have a role in Mr. Rock and Mr. Wood’s actions.
The forces of nature are applicable to all of us. The modifiers are the three extras (mun, buddhi and ahankar). The net result is the whole individual. Krishna says that this individual has an innate nature and has an authenticity. Krishna divides the whole humanity in four classes based on the karma of these individuals. There are just four possibilities. Krishna did not emphasize division of people on his or her color. He did not divide people based on where they come from and he did not even divide people on the basis of their sexes. Krishna divides people based on the quality of their karma which in turn is rooted in the gunas
Let us try from and example. Let us say that Mr. Wood is a doctor. His duty (swadharma) is to treat patients. Mr. Wood may be making money in the process. But, his primary intention and whole energy is directed in taking care of sick people. Now, his modifiers (mind, intellect and ego) want him to become a businessman. Mr. Rock now starts looking at how he can make money from his skills. He has a needle and he can re-use this needle on twenty patients. He saves twenty dollars. Who is going to notice it and who cares about ethics? Now, Mr. Rock is neither a good doctor nor is he a good businessman. A smart businessman will never put his reputation at stake. He might cut production cost of the needle and he may charge two dollars for each needle, but he will not compromise on quality of product. A doctor at heart will never compromise the quality of care for his patient. Mr. Rock has already exposed his twenty patients to the risk of serious illnesses by sharing of the needle.
This is what Krishna is talking about here. It is better to sharpen the authentic properties of ourselves that Krishna calls swadharma than trying to emulate someone that we are not meant to be. The big question is as to how we find out our real potentials. How do I know what my swadharma is? Arjun was a soldier and he was one of the best of his times. We shall try to understand the concept of swadharma more as we go along.