श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात् ।

स्वधर्मे निधनं श्रेयः परधर्मो भयावहः ।।3.35।।

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.

The dictionary says

dharma, as, am, m. n. (rarely n.; the older form which occurs in the Ṛig-veda is dharman, q. v.; for 2. dharma see p. 451, col. 3), that which is to be held fast or kept, ordinance, statute, law, usage, practice, custom, the customary observances of caste, sect, &c.; religion, piety; prescribed course of conduct, duty, (thus ‘giving alms’ &c. is the dharma of the house- holder, ‘administering justice’ of a king, ‘piety’ of a Brāhman, ‘courage’ of a Kshatriya); right, justice, equity, anything right, proper, or just; virtue, morality, morals, merit, good works; nature, character,"

In modern times - Hindu-dharma is being spread in the west where the notion of dharma has been different or perhaps not even applicable. Is this consistent with bhagavad gita?

  • 2
    Possible duplicate of What is the difference between dharma and religion?
    – iammilind
    Jan 21, 2018 at 14:37
  • 1
    Dharma is independent of "Religion". An atheist person still has to follow pita dharma, pati dharma, putra dharma. Even the translation you mentioned, also doesn't say Dharma = religion. Hence, there is no point of converting one religion to other.
    – iammilind
    Jan 21, 2018 at 14:40
  • 1
    Related or already answered : What is Dharma according to the Bhagavad Gita?. Jan 22, 2018 at 3:02

1 Answer 1


You have misunderstood the verses.

Here, talk is not on Hindu Dharma, Christian Dharma and so on and so forth, but about "Swadharma" or "one's own duties". That is, the duties, that are prescribed for a particular person to perform, as per the scriptures.

And these duties depend on the Varna and the Ashrama systems.

For, example as per Ashrama, what is prescribed for a student (the BrahmachAri) is not required to be followed by the Grihastha (the householder). An example- a student can not cohabit sexually but a householder is required to do so as prescribed.

Similarly, Varna-wise, what is a duty for a Kshatriya is not necessary the same for a Brahmin and vice versa.

For example:

Manu Smriti 2.189. At his pleasure he may eat, when invited, the food of one man at (a rite) in honour of the gods, observing (however the conditions on his vow, or at a (funeral meal) in honor of the manes, behaving (however) like a hermit.

Manu Smriti 2.190. This duty is prescribed by the wise for a Brahmana only; but no such duty is ordained for a Kshatriya and a Vaisya.

So, prescribed duties or Swadharmas vary with the Varnas (as well as the Ashramas).

For, a Kshatriya (which was what Arjuna was), to fight for protecting the subjects, in times of need, is the highest duty.

Manu Smriti 7.144. The highest duty of a Kshatriya is to protect his subjects, for the king who enjoys the rewards, just mentioned, is bound to (discharge that) duty

So, he can not really shy away from fighting, his Swadhrama, by citing examples of duties that belong to others. This is the main point here.

And, the person, who without performing the the duties meant for his Varna or Ashrama, tries to follow those of others, is condemned as follows:

Varam swadharmo viguno na pArakyah swanushtithah |
Paradharmena jivan hi saddhyah patati jAtitah ||

Manu Smriti 10.97. It is better (to discharge) one’s own (appointed) duty incompletely than to perform completely that of another; for he who lives according to the law of another (caste) is instantly excluded from his own.

So, a person who tries to follow the duties that are prescribed for other Varna people, by forsaking his own, loses his own Varna (or caste). This is what says the above verse.

So, in short, the word "Dharma" can mean many things like: Religion, duty, nature or tendency etc etc. One just needs to check in what way it's used here or in a particular context.

In Vedas, there is a Mantra that is mentioning the word to mean "religion" (i have used the Mantra in other answers of mine).

When they say Putra Dharma (Dharma of a son), Patni Dharma ( ..of the wife), it can not mean religion. Here, the meaning is clearly "duty".

Again, when they say that - the Dharma of fire is to rise up, that of water is to flow down - the word is being used to mean "nature or tendency".

In this case, Arjuna is simply being taught what the Dharma (duty) of his class (or Varna) is and also the fact that he is needed to follow it.

  • 2
    The "svadharme" verse tells Arjuna to follow his varna's dharma - but there is nothing that restricts the word "dharma" to caste dharma alone. The notion of arya dharma or sanatana dharma is well recognized as is the notion of mlechha dharma. So proselytizing someone who would be regarded as a mleccha to follow sanatana dharma would be disallowed by this verse.
    – S K
    Jan 22, 2018 at 13:23
  • The notion of arya dharma or sanatana dharma is well recognized as is the notion of mlechha dharma. ---- Yes but as already explained.. here Dharma is used to mean "duty" -- as simple as that.. if u want know where the same word is used to mean religion, then i can show u a Mantra.. So here "proselytizing someone" is not even an issue.. So, we can not use these verses to that effect.. @SK
    – Rickross
    Jan 23, 2018 at 11:26
  • the svadharma in this paricular case is the varna dharma of a kshatriya. but common sense would say that the statement is quite evidently meant to be applicable to all aspects of dharma @rickross
    – S K
    Jan 23, 2018 at 13:54
  • @SK No you need to see the context, here it means duty only.. He should make Arjuna to fight, why to give him advice that won't be useful for that purpose?
    – Rickross
    Jan 23, 2018 at 14:48
  • "He should make Arjuna to fight, why to give him advice that won't be useful for that purpose" @rickross - exhorting arjuna to fight is only a tiny part of the Gita.
    – S K
    Jan 23, 2018 at 14:54

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .