Gita Daily Readings

14th December
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.

Commentary

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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