Gita and the path of modern man

Like any seeker, in my quest for knowledge I too have read various scriptures and books, both religious as well as spiritual, to understand more about myself and this world.

Bhagavad Gita, the poem of life, has always come out as one where religion is backed by deep spiritual thoughts. Whose verses have cleared many doubts and given a window to seep into the world of spirit and its timeless journey.

Every reading enriches one’s life and many a times when I re-read a verse, a new interpretation emerges opening new doors of knowledge. There have also been thousands of Gurus and preachers who, over the years have propagated the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita in both religious as well as spiritual ways and have added their own perceptions. The journey continues….

Words have power and also sometimes can be used to completely present a different narrative, especially when used out of context. Or when the meaning is translated verbatim from Sanskrit to English without realizing how it may affect the minds of the believer who goes by the translated message as the gospel truth.

One such incidence happened to me a few weeks back, when in the neo-universities of the world- “The World wide web of Baba Whatsapp”, someone shared the translated gist of Chapter 3 of Gita- The chapter on Karma Yoga or the Yoga of action or the path to assist in union of self/soul with the divine through action. While most was simple, one sentence stood out and was distracting and made me thinking. The translated sentence was-

“In following your own religion, even if you die, it is still good. To follow another’s religion or path can be dangerous”.

To me it did not make sense and hence I went back to Chapter 3, re-read the entire chapter and found the verse which was being referred and I quote-

“Bhagavad Gita- Chapter 3, verse 35:

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः

Shreyan sva-dharmo vigunah para-dharmat sv-anusthitat

Sva-dharme nidhanam sreyah para-dharmo bhayavahah.

Translation- Performing one’s natural prescribed duties tinged with faults is far better than performing another’s prescribed duty perfectly; Even death in performing one’s own natural prescribed duty is better, for performing prescribed duties of others is fraught with danger.”

While the translation was simple, yet the meaning conveyed by Baba Whatsapp in which the “Sva-dharma” was converted from a personal duty to a religion completely changed the effect it would have on ordinary reader. And when a religious leader or a hate monger or a neo-Guru uses this as the gospel truth of Gita to create a further wedge in society, it could be extremely dangerous.

As if on que, a week later I was shocked to see one of the popular politicians of India and a Prime Minister aspirant use this exact Shloka to convey the message as distorted above in trying to further foster his divisive religious views.

Let this be stated clearly that the Shloka never talked about one’s religion as it is interpreted in today’s world and to use these words out of context and link the Shloka to religion is wrong, deceitful and a ploy just to make the believer go on a wrong path. In fact in the entire Gita or even the Mahabharata period, the concept of a different religion does not even exist and is never mentioned.

The Shloka is very specifically referring to “sva-dharma” which in the entire chapter three, refers to one’s duty- the path that one follows in life.

The first part of the Shloka is very clear and positive- that one must continue to do one’s prescribed duties with deep faith and focus on them rather than get distracted. Even if you are not able to do it perfectly, yet subscribing to it and doing it wholeheartedly is the path of salvation.

However the second part, when added to the first creates a dilemma for the modern man. It states that even if you are not doing your duty well and can do the duty of others with perfection, yet it is better to do one’s own duty than switch to something else as that is fraught with danger.

It is important to understand the period when these scriptures were written and how they were used to create a balance of those times. The “varna-vyavastha” or the prescription of specific duties undertaken by various sections of the society was being firmly established. In fact it was widely accepted to be not just in terms of what the society prescribed you to do but more in lines with your “family” at birth, the origin of caste system. So a Kshatriya born was to do the duty of a warrior as Arjuna was supposed to do.

This Shloka tries to further strengthen that idea and says that it is better to be a warrior if you are prescribed to be one than turn into a scholar or a shop keeper.

The world has changed and changed for the better. Today the “varna-Vyavastha” of the past, the caste system of the latter times and one that unfortunately many follow till date, has been turned upside down, both constitutionally and also in the minds of people.

A Gupta can be a teacher, an army officer, a cleaner, a temple trustee or a business owner and the same goes for a Sharma, Chauhan, Meena or a Kumar. We live in the world where finally after decades and centuries we are starting to believe that all are equal and that it is not our prescribed duty that should define who we are or what we are supposed to follow but the one in which we are good at. Which our heart, intellect and expertise make us excel and follow!

I know that in today’s charged atmosphere it is difficult to accept that a different reality exists now as against the world that existed earlier. I do hope that the readers realize that truth evolves with time and that we have a mind of our own and should use the same to understand, analyze and chart our own path.

Karma Yoga is one of the most important paths to salvation.

Let the path that YOU decide and one in which you excel be your path of life and unite you with the divine!


Posted in Times of India on 6th Feb 2023. Link below-


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