Bhagavad Gita: Chapter 3: Karma Yoga, Verse 35: Do your work not others

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 - Karma Yoga, Verse 35

According to Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 3 – Karma Yoga, Verse 35, Lord Krishna says that it is better to perform one’s prescribed duties, even if it has some faults in it, rather than performing someone else’s duty perfectly.

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुण: परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् |
स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेय: परधर्मो भयावह: || 35||

Transliteration of Verse 35:

śhreyān swa-dharmo viguṇaḥ para-dharmāt sv-anuṣhṭhitāt
swa-dharme nidhanaṁ śhreyaḥ para-dharmo bhayāvahaḥ

Word For Word Translation:

Sanskrit Literal English Meaning
śhreyān far better
swa-dharmah personal duty
viguṇaḥ tinged with faults
para-dharmāt than another’s prescribed duties
sv-anuṣhṭhitāt perfectly done
swa-dharme in one’s personal duties
nidhanaṁ death
śhreyaḥ better
para-dharmāh duties prescribed for others
bhaya-āvahaḥ fraught (भरा हुआ) with fear

Complete Literal Translation of Verse 35:

It is far better to perform one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, to follow another’s path is dangerous.

My Views on Verse 35:

Before presenting my own views on this, I am amazed that these things are said 4000 – 5000 years and they are still relevant today. Late Steve Jobs said the same thing in his own words that “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

So in this verse, Lord Krishna says to us that it is better to perform our own prescribed duty even if it has some faults rather than performing someone else’s duty to perfection.

But what does he mean when he says, “perform one’s prescribed duties”? What are our prescribed duties and how do we know about it?

What are Dharma and Swa-Dharma?

“Dharma” is a very complex word and there is no single word for it in English. It includes responsibilities, duties, thoughts, and actions that are suitable for us.

Now “Swa-Dharma” means personal dharma. It is dharma related to our situation, maturity, and profession in life.

See, each of us born differently although in the same manner. Our basic physical structure might be the same but mentally it is absolutely diverse. We all think differently. Our way of approaching something is also different.

Now sometimes what happens that we tend to divert from our purpose of life. (Here the purpose of life means our natural duty i.e. duties based on our basic nature which we can perform without any tension or pressure.)

Do not try to pretend someone which you are not:

Sometimes, we try to pretend someone we are not. The work (duties) of other people around us might seem very attractive.

But if it against our basic nature, then we should avoid doing it even if we are good at it as it will create conflict in our senses, mind, and intellect.

That’s why Lord Krishna said that one should avoid performing duties that are meant for others. One should only focus on their work even if it has some faults in it.

Because if you do your work (or duty) according to your basic nature, then one thing is for sure that you will remain happy and calm for your lifetime. This does not mean that no problems would occur in this case but these problems won’t bother you as such.

At last Lord Krishna says that it is preferable to die while performing one’s duty rather than following the path (or performing duties) of someone else which is filled with fear and danger.

Also, the path to self-realization (आत्म ज्ञान), which is the ultimate goal of human life, is to live your life in an authentic manner. One beautiful quote from the Bhagavad Gita which beautifully summarizes this whole discussion is:

It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.

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