śreyān sva-dharmo viguṇaḥ
sva-dharme nidhanaḿ śreyaḥ
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 3.35
It is far better to discharge 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, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
One should therefore discharge his prescribed duties in full Krishna consciousness rather than those prescribed for others. Materially, prescribed duties are duties enjoined according to one’s psychophysical condition, under the spell of the modes of material nature. Spiritual duties are as ordered by the spiritual master for the transcendental service of Krishna. But whether material or spiritual, one should stick to his prescribed duties even up to death, rather than imitate another’s prescribed duties. Duties on the spiritual platform and duties on the material platform may be different, but the principle of following the authorized direction is always good for the performer. When one is under the spell of the modes of material nature, one should follow the prescribed rules for his particular situation and should not imitate others. For example, a brahmana, who is in the mode of goodness, is nonviolent, whereas a kshatriya, who is in the mode of passion, is allowed to be violent. As such, for a kshatriya it is better to be vanquished following the rules of violence than to imitate a brahmana who follows the principles of nonviolence. Everyone has to cleanse his heart by a gradual process, not abruptly. However, when one transcends the modes of material nature and is fully situated in Krishna consciousness, he can perform anything and everything under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master. In that complete stage of Krishna consciousness, the kshatriya may act as a brahmana, or a brahmana may act as a kshatriya. In the transcendental stage, the distinctions of the material world do not apply. For example, Vishvamitra was originally a kshatriya, but later on he acted as a brahmana, whereas Parasurama was a brahmana but later on he acted as a kshatriya. Being transcendentally situated, they could do so; but as long as one is on the material platform, he must perform his duties according to the modes of material nature. At the same time, he must have a full sense of Krishna consciousness.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
In this verse the Lord answers those who desire to perform the duties of others such as non-violence, because it is easy to execute and also not independent of dharma, and because of inability to fight the battle due to attachment and repulsion. One should boldly perform one’s duties, even though they may have some slight fault. This is better than performing others’ duties even if those duties are executed well and are full of good qualities. The reason is given. Destruction in the course of performing one’s duties is better. Performing others’ duties is dangerous. The seventh canto of Bhagavatam speaks of performing others’ duties, para dharma, as irreligion:
vidharmah para-dharmas ca abhasa upama chalah
adharma-sakhah pancema dharma-jno ‘dharmavat tyajet
There are five branches of irreligion, appropriately known as irreligion [vidharma], religious principles for which one is unfit [para-dharma], pretentious religion [abhasa], analogical religion [upadharma] and cheating religion [chala-dharma]. One who is aware of real religious life must abandon these five as irreligious. SB 7.15.12
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
3.35 Therefore Karma Yoga is better than Jnana Yoga. For, it forms one’s own duty, since it is natural to one and easy to perform, and though defective, is free from liability to interruption and fall. Jnana Yoga, on the other hand, though performed well for some time, constitutes the duty of another, as it is difficult to practise for one conjoined with Prakrti. It is therefore liable to interruption. For a person who lives practising Karma Yoga — which is his duty because he is qualified for it — even death without success in one birth does not matter. For, in the next birth with the help of the experience already gained in the previous birth, it will be possible for him to perform Karma Yoga without any impediments. Jnana Yoga is fraught with fear because of the possibility of errors for anyone who is conjoined to Prakrti. It is another’s duty, on account of it being not easily adoptable by him.
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
One should engage themselves in their duties overriding one’s normal inclinations which are even seen to be in the natures of animals. One maybe would like to switch their duties for anothers but it is very risky that the duties one was never trained for would be as successful as the duty that one was well versed in. Engaging in ones own duty one possesses the correct inner mentality to accomplish it; but for engagment in another’s duty the correct inner mentality would not be present even if the external action was performed perfectly. There might be worry or indecision and questions regarding some aspects of another’s duty and unresolved these would lead to inner conflict which is very detrimental for one’s consciousness and atma tattva or soul realisation. This is Lord Krishna’s meaning.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
In this verse Lord Krishna is emphasising the fact that one should perform the duties one is authorised to do according to one’s station and rank in society. Arjuna was a royal prince educated and trained by the strength of his might to uphold and protect dharma or righteousness and although war enacts terrible suffering it was necessary and was appropriate for Arjuna to engage in it.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
It should not be presumed that a person abstaining from a negative direction to pursue the ascetic life of non- violence, meditation, virtuousness and self-satisfaction seems superior for worshipping the Supreme Lord. What is therefore the purpose of a warrior’s duty to perform cruel deeds upon the battlefield in pursuit of victory and self-preservation. Anticipating such a doubt Lord Krishna states it is better to follow one’s own duties according to station and rank in life as enjoined by the Vedic scriptures. Because to perform another’s duty is not authorised in the Vedic scriptures and being prohibited is fraught with dangers. According to te scriptural injunction: One who exempts themselves from their prescribed actions as enjoined in the Vedic scriptures, is never qualified to perform the prescribed actions of a higher station. Such actions is prohibited.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
3.35 Svadharmah, one’s own duty; being practised even though vigunah, defective, deficient; is sreyan, superior to, more commendable than; para-dharmat, another’s duty; though svanusthitat, well-performed, meritoriously performed. Even nidhanam, death; is sreyah, better; while engaged svadharme, in one’s own duty, as compared with remaining alive while engaged in somebody else’s duty. Why? Paradharmah, another’s duty; is bhayavahah, fraught with fear, since it invites dangers such as hell etc. Although the root cause of evil was stated in, ‘In the case of a person who dwells on objects’ (2.62) and ‘…..because they (attraction and repulsion) are his adversaries’ (34), that was presented desultorily and vaguely. Wishing to know it briefly and definitely as, ‘This is thus, to be sure’, Arjuna, with the idea, ‘When this indeed becomes known, I shall make effort for its eradication’, said:
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
3.34-35 Indriyasya etc., Sreyan etc. A person living the worldly life does entertain likes or dislikes towards every sense-object. For, due to his total ignorance he imagines that actions are performed only by his Self. Thus there is this difference between a man of knowledge and a man of worldly life, eventhough they perform alike their [respective] worldly activities such as eating etc. The established view of ours [in this regard] is this : For a person, who, freed from attachment in every way, Performs his own duty, there is hardly any bond of merit or demerit. Indeed one’s own duty never disappears from one’s heart and it is certainly rooted there deeply as a natural taste. Not a single creature is born without that. Hence it should not be given up.
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
sreyan sva-dharmo vigunah
sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
śreyān — far better; sva-dharmaḥ — one’s prescribed duties; viguṇaḥ — even faulty; para-dharmāt — than duties mentioned for others; su-anuṣṭhitāt — perfectly done; sva-dharme — in one’s prescribed duties; nidhanam — destruction; śreyaḥ — better; para-dharmaḥ — duties prescribed for others; bhaya-āvahaḥ — dangerous.