Chapter XVIII: 47
|Better is one's own duty (though) destitute of merits than the duty of another well performed. He who does the duty ordained by his own nature incurs no sin.|
The word "svadharma" in the text, translated into "one's own duty," can be extended to cover everything that a man is expected to do - expected not only in the obligatory but in a more natural sense, e.g., you expect a dog to bark at a stranger. That single word is difficult and delicate to translate; it is capable of triggering bitter controversy.
The tiger killing other animals incurs no sin. Perhaps the savage cannibal incurs no sin either, for he is still on the animal plane. A butcher carrying on his family trade incurs no sin. They can attain God-realization by realizing that all these activities pertain to their physical nature and that the self is the witness-consciousness.
It is "desire born of rajo-guna, passion-quality" that holds man in bondage, not the performance of his duty - whatever that may be. The detached performance of his duty will ensure, in the case of a butcher, that it will drop away in God's good time; but its willful abandonment by him in favor of a more esteemed occupation will only strengthen his ego and fulfill its desire for respectability.
The due performance of one's own duties, even mechanically, will gain for the man a natural promotion on the path of evolution, but a wise performance of the same duties, ascribing them to nature, whilst the seeker stands by as witness-consciousness, will secure self-realization for him.
Where "the expression of one's nature" involves antisocial activity, society will curb it; and that again is lawful.
The verse also unequivocally affirms Krishna's firm view that proselytization is a spiritual crime. One who is converted, and one who converts, blasphemes against the omnipresence of God.
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