What does the term "Svadharma" mean? What do the scriptures say about the term? Is Varna exclusive of "Svadharma"?
What does the term "Svadharma" mean? What do the scriptures say about the term?
Svadharma (स्वधर्म) means One's own duty
स्वभावनियतं कर्म (actions as dictated by one's own nature)
This is discussed in Bhagavad Gita (mainly in 18.40 - 18.49, 3.35, 2.31), few Puranas and in Manu Smriti.
Does Svadharma include Varna?
It's related as mentioned in Bhagavad Gita 2.31:
स्वधर्ममपि चावेक्ष्य न विकम्पितुमर्हसि।
धर्म्याद्धि युद्धाछ्रेयोऽन्यत्क्षत्रियस्य न विद्यते।।2.31।।
2.31 Further, considering also your own duty, it does not befit you to waver. For, to a Ksatriya, there is no greater good than a righteous war. ~English Translation By Swami Adidevananda
It's स्वभावनियतं कर्म (actions as dictated by one's own nature), so should not be treated as birth based only as Narada Muni says:
If one shows the symptoms of being a brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya or śūdra, as described above, even if he has appeared in a different class, he should be accepted according to those symptoms of classification. (Source: Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Bhāgavata Purāṇa) 7.11 The Perfect Society: Four Social Classes)
Bhagavad Gita 18.41 too says similar thing;
ब्राह्मणक्षत्रियविशां शूद्राणां च परंतप।
कर्माणि प्रविभक्तानि स्वभावप्रभवैर्गुणैः।।18.41।।
18.41 The duties of the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and the Sudras are clearly divided, O Arjuna, according to Gunas, born of their nature. ~English Translation By Swami Adidevananda
Also, as discussed here, we have examples where birth based varna got changed.
What is the meaning of Svadharma? What do scriptures say about the term?
Gita explains the term Svadharma in Gita 18.47.
One's own duty, even if without excellence (i.e. inferior in the scale of worldly values)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.
Does Svadharma include Varna?
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.
Swadharma in scriptures means the duties (Dharma) prescribed for someone (Swa) based on his Varna.
It is one set of duties for a BrAhmin, another set for a Kshatriya and so on.
Here is a verse from Manu Smriti that is quite clear in explaining the concept:
Varam swadharmo viguno na pArakyah swanushthitah |
Paradharmena jivan hi sadhyah patati jAtitah ||
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
Opposite of Swadharma is Paradharma (someone else's duty).
So, according to the above verse, one should be following those duties that are prescribed for one's own Varna and not those that are prescribed for others. If someone, by discarding one's own Varna Dharmas, follows those of others, then that results in loss of caste.