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I usually tend to accept most of the teachings of Gita pretty easily. However, I can not easily digest the verse 18.47:

It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than accept another's occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one's nature are never affected by sinful reactions.

—Bhagavad Gita As It Is, by founder of ISKCON Acharya

It is a common belief that nepotism and similar practices lead to the lowering of efficiency and are not ideal for Darwinism—and by extension capitalism, which is by far the most successful socio-economic model we have devised as a species. The best example can be given by the Indian political situation itself. If Modi were not as good as Rahul in public relations and politics, he would not have been elected. But, had the system directly prevented Modi from participating in politics, the "fitter"—and thus arguably more competent—victor would not have been able to rule. The varna system gives a considerable disadvantage to the society practicing it because of its inherent talent waste.

I have not read (nor do I understand) the Sanskrit version of Gita. I have only read the above English version. My questions is whether any of the following situations are possible:

  1. The English translation is extreme and conveys a false/misleading meaning.
  2. My interpretations of the verses are wrong.
  3. Lord Krishna said this for that time, place and circumstance.

Otherwise, can you provide an explanation for why Lord Krishna said something that directly harms his followers and a "dharmic" society?

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  • This is something always misunderstood by people. The Varna system was not meant for dividing people. It's more about running a society properly. One is open to choose one varna. Its not like one is bounded. Also the meaning of shloka you mentioned, its correct if you see the way you should see. It means if you choose your varna as Kshatriya , you must continue fighting for good. – TheLittleNaruto Apr 1 '18 at 8:04
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    When in doubt about translation, always first try to find a neutral translation of each shloka, by reading how various different sects translate it, and then make up your mind . Best way to do it is goto gitasupersite.iitk.ac.in/srimad – zaxebo1 Apr 1 '18 at 8:05
  • Related: Communism and class hierarchy – iammilind Apr 1 '18 at 11:06
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    This is undoubtedly a very shrewd question. The old caste based interpretation of the Gita cannot simply be reconciled with the realities of the modern world. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Apr 6 '18 at 13:02
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    "capitalism, which is by far the most successful socio-economic model we have devised" This is highly debatable depending on one's definition for "successful." – Rubellite Yakṣī May 6 '18 at 19:09
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(Disclaimer: There is no caste system in Gita and Varna was not birth based originally)


Let us first see the shloka:

श्रेयान्स्वधर्मो विगुणः परधर्मात्स्वनुष्ठितात्।
स्वभावनियतं कर्म कुर्वन्नाप्नोति किल्बिषम्।।18.47।।

observation1: It does not even mention 'Varna" as word. It mentions "swadharma" and "par-dharma"

See various translations of it at Gita Supersite

English Translation By Swami Adidevananda

18.47 Better is one's own duty, though ill done, than the duty of another, though well-performed৷৷৷৷৷৷ When one does the duty ordained by his own nature, he incurs no stain.

English Translation by Swami Gambhirananda

18.47 One's own duty, (though) defective, is superior to another's duty well performed. By performing a duty as dictated by one's own nature, one does not incur sin.

English Translation by Swami Sivananda

18.47 Better is one's own duty (though) destitute of merits, than the duty of another well performed. He who does the duty ordained by his own nature incurs no sin.

English Translation Of Sri Shankaracharya's Sanskrit Commentary by Swami Gambhirananda

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).

English Translation of Ramanujacharya's Sanskrit Commentary by Swami Adidevananda

18.47 One's proper Dharma is that which is suitable for performance by oneself, in the form of worshipping Myself, relinishing 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 reires 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.]

English Translation By By Dr. S. Sankaranarayan

18.47. Better is one's own prescribed duties, [born of one's nature, even though] it is devoid of ability, than another's duty well executed; the doer of duty, dependent on (or prescribed according to) one's own nature, does not incur sin.

English Translation by Shri Purohit Swami

18.47 It is better to do one's own duty, however defective it may be, than to follow the duty of another, however well one may perform it He who does his duty as his own nature reveals it, never sins.

You may get Hindi translation from the same url too.

CONCLUSION : None of the English/Hindi translation "from so many acharyas" of different panthas/different sects, yet none of them has mentioned "varna"/caste" in this shloka. All of them mention about "Swadharma"(own duties). Now a non-alert translator can see caste/varna/discrimination embedded in the verses, where there is not even an inkling of it.

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The Gita verse in question is given below.

One's own duty, even if without excellence, is more meritorious spiritually than the apparently well-performed duty of another. For, no sin is incurred by one doing works ordained according to one's nature.

Gita 18.47

This verse was interpreted by old commentators as jobs ascribed to particular castes. This verse is interpreted differently by those who follow Vivekananda's psychological explanation of Varna.

These verses, which were easy for our ancients to understand, pose great difficulty for us today. So long as Varna was identified with the endogamous caste, and valid texts ascribed particular works to each caste it was easy to find out one's Svadharma, and if one had a will, to perform it too. That a priest's son should be a priest, a soldier's son a soldier, a merchant's son a merchant, an agriculturist's son an agriculturist, a serf's son a serf - is an arrangement that could be practised to some extent in the old feudal society when educational opportunities were restricted, when there was no choice in following professions, when social contacts were limited, and when the validity of the system was accepted by the people in general. But today such an idea of Svadharma hereditarily determined, is impossible of practice. Society and professions have become competitive. The imparting of education without any restriction imposed by caste, has helped the shuffling of professional abilities among all members of society, setting aside hereditary factors. So it has become honourable for any one to follow any profession, and the determination of Svadharma based on birth as in a caste based economy, has become impractical and impossible, and also undesirable. In a democratic society, the same kind of education is open to all, and every one is eligible, according to one's qualification and capacity, to positions of power, prestige and high income. In these days of national armies every able-bodied citizen has the eligibility to be recruited - he may even be conscripted - in the armed forces of the country. In such a milieu, if the Gita idea of Svadharma is accepted as caste based, as it was understood a few generations back, and as it used to be interpreted by old commentators, then it has become thoroughly outmoded and will be rejected by every section of society in India and outside.

But as already pointed out, the wording of the Gita about Caturvarnya, except as interpreted by old commentators, does not mean endogamous castes, but the four psychological types. If this is accepted, Svadharma would mean only work that springs out of one's own nature and therefore adapted to one's natural development. But how to recognise these types and how to provide them with work suited to their nature - is a problem that cannot be solved. We have to leave work based on psychological type as an ideal arrangement in a more rationally organised society of the future. There is no other way today but to understand Svadharma as the duty devolving on oneself in society, inclusive of the profession one follows. If that is done well with God in view, and not merely for remuneration or with a worldly master in view, then one may be said to follow Svadharma.

Commentary on Gita 18.47 by Swami Tapasyananda in his English translation of Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

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    So basically, verses like 18.47 have no use for and are actually cause for major confusion in the current times? – Say No To Censorship Apr 6 '18 at 16:11
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    You can probably post the same answer here (How can one know their dharma?) – Say No To Censorship Apr 6 '18 at 17:06
  • I have posted the same answer in 'How can one know their dharma?. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Apr 7 '18 at 12:54
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I can answer you.

Simply as it is.

Bhagavad Geeta do promotes Detachement from the fruits of your job.

Capitalism of the West, which is poisoning India, is promoting exactly the opposite.

To know more about Why Western system is wrong, consider please to read another of my answer to a question related to Yog practices. Here: https://hinduism.stackexchange.com/a/44112/22667 In that I mention how Devolved, Downgraded and Failed is a system which is Not spiritual at all and only believes in God of the Money Banks.

Suggested readings: Manu Smrtris [The Laws books of Manu]

Bhagavad Geeta

Consider also Michael Cremo books or Conferences [he did a famous Conference for Google Company] about the human Devolution and how the Vedas are The Perfect books for the system of all the societies and how Vedas but also Smrtris and some Puranas, do explained that human beings did Devolved, not evolved.

Varna system was different than casteism.

Leave out any dramatic leftist political ploy and be sincere: capitalism is equal to more sorrows.

Varna Dharma is NOT to be confused with English casteism. That last is the Failure in India.

Read also the book "Brainwashed Republic" to know more about it.

About your : "It is a common belief that nepotism and similar practices lead to the lowering of efficiency and are not ideal for Darwinism—and by extension capitalism, which is by far the most successful socio-economic model we have devised as a species. The best example can be given by the Indian political situation itself."

I truly wish that you live inside Europe to know how much you are wrong about being enthusiast on our [I am European] capitalistic model.

Sources: https://archive.org/details/brainwashed-republic-indias-controlled-systemic-deracination-by-neeraj-atri-munieshwar-a-sagar

How Nehru definitely did ruined India educational system.

And why Khan Firoz Maino are NOT the solution to that is the obvious consequence of that very long process.

http://www.srimatham.com/uploads/5/5/4/9/5549439/how_the_british_ruined_india_.pdf

https://www.preservearticles.com/history/british-destroyed-the-indian-economy/1038

And about that:

" I have not read (nor do I understand) the Sanskrit version of Gita. I have only read the above English version. My questions is whether any of the following situations are possible:

The English translation is extreme and conveys a false/misleading meaning.
My interpretations of the verses are wrong.
Lord Krishna said this for that time, place and circumstance.

Otherwise, can you provide an explanation for why Lord Krishna said something that directly harms his followers and a "dharmic" society?"

My dear, Bhagavad Geeta teachings are Immortals.

It is up to you to live in order to only satisfy your physical body or to content with the enough, living Detached and making more karma yoga.

About English:

https://www.indiatoday.in/education-today/gk-current-affairs/story/max-muller-839064-2016-12-06

Oh yes! Christian Anglicism did penetrated the Shastras, in order to win obedients masses.

My dear Indians, please, do not be "Wanna be Western".

Myself I am " Wanna be 6.000 years ago Indian".

Happy of that and I think that you will be happy too.

Sanataan Dharma Kee Jay

Capitalism is Adharmic. Krishna knows that very well and Europeans [far less rich in money than your fantasy or imagination do expect] know it well too.

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It is very clear from the Purport on this Verse from the Same edition of 𝐁𝐡𝐚𝐠𝐚𝐯𝐚𝐝 𝐆𝐢𝐭𝐚 𝐀𝐬 𝐈𝐭 𝐈𝐬.

❞ One’s occupational duty is prescribed in Bhagavad-gītā. As already discussed in previous verses, the duties of a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya and śūdra are prescribed according to their particular modes of nature. 𝐀 𝐦𝐚𝐧 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐢𝐬 𝐛𝐲 𝐧𝐚𝐭𝐮𝐫𝐞 𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐫𝐚𝐜𝐭𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐤𝐢𝐧𝐝 𝐨𝐟 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐤 𝐝𝐨𝐧𝐞 𝐛𝐲 𝐬𝐮𝐝𝐫𝐚𝐬 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 brāhmaṇa 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 brāhmaṇa. For a kṣatriya, or administrator, there are so many abominable things; a kṣatriya has to be violent to kill his enemies, and sometimes a kṣatriya has to tell lies for the sake of diplomacy. Such violence and duplicity accompany political affairs, but a kṣatriya is not supposed to give up his occupational duty and try to perform the duties of a brāhmaṇa.❞

In 𝐕𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐧𝐮 𝐏𝐮𝐫𝐚𝐧𝐚 𝟑.𝟖.𝟗 it is said about the purpose and goal of Varna Asrama Dharma :-

varnashramacaravata purushena parah puman vishnur aradhyate pantha nanyat tat-tosha-karanam

❞𝐓𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐮𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐦𝐞 𝐏𝐞𝐫𝐬𝐨𝐧𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐭𝐲 𝐨𝐟 𝐆𝐨𝐝𝐡𝐞𝐚𝐝, 𝐋𝐨𝐫𝐝 𝐕𝐢𝐬𝐡𝐧𝐮, 𝐢𝐬 𝐰𝐨𝐫𝐬𝐡𝐢𝐩𝐞𝐝 𝐛𝐲 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐩𝐫𝐨𝐩𝐞𝐫 𝐞𝐱𝐞𝐜𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 𝐨𝐟 𝐩𝐫𝐞𝐬𝐜𝐫𝐢𝐛𝐞𝐝 𝐝𝐮𝐭𝐢𝐞𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐬𝐲𝐬𝐭𝐞𝐦 𝐨𝐟 𝐯𝐚𝐫𝐧𝐚 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐚𝐬𝐡𝐫𝐚𝐦𝐚. 𝐓𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐞 𝐢𝐬 𝐧𝐨 𝐨𝐭𝐡𝐞𝐫 𝐰𝐚𝐲 𝐭𝐨 𝐚𝐭𝐭𝐚𝐢𝐧 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐋𝐨𝐫𝐝.❞

Again from the purport:-

❞ One should act to satisfy the Supreme Lord. For example, Arjuna was a kṣatriya. He was hesitating to fight the other party. But if such fighting is performed for the sake of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there need be no fear of degradation.❞

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