śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ
kurvan nāpnoti kilbiṣam
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 18.47
It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
One’s occupational duty is prescribed in Bhagavad-gita. As already discussed in previous verses, the duties of a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra are prescribed according to their particular modes of nature. One should not imitate another’s duty. A man who is by nature attracted to the kind of work done by shudras should not artificially claim to be a brahmana, although he may have been born into a brahmana family. In this way one should work according to his own nature; no work is abominable, if performed in the service of the Supreme Lord. The occupational duty of a brahmana is certainly in the mode of goodness, but if a person is not by nature in the mode of goodness, he should not imitate the occupational duty of a brahmana. For a kshatriya, or administrator, there are so many abominable things; a kshatriya has to be violent to kill his enemies, and sometimes a kshatriya has to tell lies for the sake of diplomacy. Such violence and duplicity accompany political affairs, but a kshatriya is not supposed to give up his occupational duty and try to perform the duties of a brahmana.
One should act to satisfy the Supreme Lord. For example, Arjuna was a kshatriya. He was hesitating to fight the other party. But if such fighting is performed for the sake of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there need be no fear of degradation. In the business field also, sometimes a merchant has to tell so many lies to make a profit. If he does not do so, there can be no profit. Sometimes a merchant says, “Oh, my dear customer, for you I am making no profit,” but one should know that without profit the merchant cannot exist. Therefore it should be taken as a simple lie if a merchant says that he is not making a profit. But the merchant should not think that because he is engaged in an occupation in which the telling of lies is compulsory, he should give up his profession and pursue the profession of a brahmana. That is not recommended. Whether one is a kshatriya, a vaishya, or a shudra doesn’t matter, if he serves, by his work, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even brahmanas, who perform different types of sacrifice, sometimes must kill animals because sometimes animals are sacrificed in such ceremonies. Similarly, if a kshatriya engaged in his own occupation kills an enemy, there is no sin incurred. In the Third Chapter these matters have been clearly and elaborately explained; every man should work for the purpose of Yajna, or for Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Anything done for personal sense gratification is a cause of bondage. The conclusion is that everyone should be engaged according to the particular mode of nature he has acquired, and he should decide to work only to serve the supreme cause of the Supreme Lord.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Looking at one’s own rajasic duties with various actions, and not having a taste for them, one should not perform sattvika duties. It is better to do one’s own duties, inferior though they may be, though done imperfectly (viguna), than doing another’s duty (para dharmat), though it may be preferred because it can be executed easily (su anusthitat). You should not give up your own work of fighting because its fault of killing friends, and instead performing another’s dharma in the form of wandering around begging.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
18.47 One’s proper Dharma is that which is suitable for performance by oneself, in the form of worshipping Myself, relinquishing agency etc., as has been taught. For, Karma Yoga, consisting in the activities of sense organs, is easy to perform by one in association with Prakrti. Thus, Karma Yoga, even if it is defective in some respects, is better than the Dharma of another, i.e., than Jnana-yoga, even for a person capable of controlling his senses, which is an attainment liable to negligence, because it consists of control over all sense-organs; for, though this may be well performed occasionaly, one is always liable to deflection from it. He explains the same: As Karma consists of the activities of the sense-organs, it is ordained by Nature for one who is conjoined with Prakrti, i.e., the body. So by performing Karma Yoga one does not incur any stain. But Jnana Yoga is liable to negligence, because it requires the control of the senses from the very beginning for its performance. One intent on it is likely to incur stain from negligence. [Thus we are reminded about what was mentioned in the third chapter – that Karma Yoga alone is greater.]
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
The reason Lord Krishna emphasises its better to perform one’s own duty imperfectly then another’s duty perfectly is because the defective performance of one’s own duty is superior in merit to the performance of another’s duty perfectly executed. This is to reinforce in Arjuna the futility of concocting any notions that living on alms as a mendicant beggar which is the duty of Brahmins is superior then his duty of fighting. Begging is not the path for him to take as it is inferior in terms of merit then fighting in battle and dispatching the enemy which is Arjunas natural duty. By following one’s own natural path no sin is incurred.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
Sri Madhvacharya did not comment on this sloka.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
Because the natural propensity inherent within is always accurate it behoves one to perform prescribed Vedic activites unto the Supreme Lord as this leads to the highest perfection. Such activities should be performed consistently for securing one’s own best interests. This Lord Krishna alludes to with the sreyan meaning better for it is better to perform one’s own duty with the intention to propitiate the Supreme Lord even if devoid of merit or deficient in some way; it is still superior to performing the duties of another even if done exemplary. The performance of duties not sanctioned for one in the Vedic scriptures is risky and fraught with danger is susceptible to sin; but in the performance of one’s own natural prescribed duty no sin is incurred.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
18.47 Svadharmah, one’s own duty; though vigunah, defective-the word though has to be supplied-; is sreyan, superior to, more praiseworthy than; paradharmat, another’s duty; su-anusthitat, well performed. Kurvan, by performing; karma, a duty; svabhavaniyatam, as dictated by one’s own nature-this phrase means the same as svabhavajam (born from Nature) which has been stated earlier-; na apnoti, one does not incur; kilbisam, sin. As poison is not harmful to a worm born it it, so one does not incur sin by performing a duty dictated by one’s own nature. It has been siad that, as in the case of a worm born in poison, a person does not incur sin while performing his duties which have been dictated by his own nature; and that someone else’s duty is fraught with fear; also that, one who does not have the knoweldge of the Self, (he) surely cannot remain even for a moment without doing work (cf. 3.5). Hence-
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
18.41-60 Brahmana – etc. upto avasopitat. Surely the intrinsic nature of the Brahmanas etc., does not voilate what has been difined (above) by way of classifying their duties. Therefore, as far as you are concerned, you have the intrinsic quality of the Ksatriya (warrior), and your nature i.e., intrinsic quality, does, without fail, assume the part of the inciter of yourself, even though you don’t like it. For, a person who acts simply being incited by that (natural condition), there is the strong bondage of the merit or demerit. Therefore, perform actions following the means of correct knowledge, taught by Me. In that case, the bondage would disappear. The intention of the principal sentence (statement of the entire passage under study) is to help to get this idea. The meaning of the subordinate sentences (statements) is evident. Briefly (verse 50) : in short. Knowledge : i.e. the one which has been explained earlier. Nistha conveys, avoiding verbal jugglary, the meaning ‘what has been determined’. He who is endowed with intellect totally pure etc. : All this has been almost explained already. Hence, no more trouble is taken [to comment upon it].
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah
kurvan napnoti kilbisam
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
śreyān — better; sva-dharmaḥ — one’s own occupation; viguṇaḥ — imperfectly performed; para-dharmāt — than another’s occupation; su-anuṣṭhitāt — perfectly done; svabhāva-niyatam — prescribed according to one’s nature; karma — work; kurvan — performing; na — never; āpnoti — achieves; kilbiṣam — sinful reactions.