Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book three verses 34 – 35

Scripture Study: Bhagavad Gita, book three verses 34 – 35 March 23, 2017

We are doing a scripture study together: reading along through some scriptures and discussing the passages. Here are all of the posts on the previous verses for the Gita: Bhagavad Gita Study

From the Winthrop Sargeant translation of The Gita

34. Passion and hatred are seated
In the senses in relation to their objects.
One should not come under the power of these two;
They are indeed one’s enemies.

35.Better one’s own duty though deficient
Than the duty of another well performed.
Better is death in one’s own duty;
The duty of another invites danger.


Notes on the Sanskrit

“Objects” is artha: object/purpose. Is this the same “artha” as one of the four goals of marriage? Wealth/physical success?

passion is raaga, though it isn’t clear from the dictionary definition what the subtle aspects of this word are. I’m curious to see in commentaries more about what kind of passion we are talking about here.

Commentaries and Thoughts

I didn’t know that verse 35 about performing one’s own duty is used to justify caste discrimination. That’s disappointing to hear. Though the Sargeant Gita gives the definition of the word duty as specifically caste duty, the translation by Sri Adi Shankara says “Superior is the law of one’s own nature.” And in last week’s verses he gave the definition of “nature” not as birth but as the build up of habit. In the commentary to verse 34 Shankara also gives more context for verse 35. He says that the senses will always have attachments and aversions to the objects they are sensing. Man’s job is to not be swayed by those attachments and aversions. As long as one is pulled back and forth by the senses and their attachments and aversions, one is under nature’s thrall and will behave according to those attachments and aversions rather than following internal law.

So it seems that one’s own duty can only be clearly understood when one is able to rise above the, shall we say, opinions of the senses. When we are believing the attachments and aversions of the senses we act to move towards the attraction and away from the aversion. In so doing, we are often breaking the natural law of our higher Self.

On verse 35 Shankara has this to say: “Moved by attachment and aversion, man may misconstrue the contents of the shastras and maintain that even an alien law of conduct, being a law, after all, has to be observed. This is wrong… Death while adhering to the laws of one’s own nature is superior to a life devoted to the law of another’s nature. Why? An alien law brings fear in its train.”

So I don’t know if Sargeant is right or wrong about the “duty” here referring to a caste duty. I would guess that perhaps the word eventually took on that meaning as society and those in power wanted to keep people separated into social spheres. Shakara definitely sees it as tuning in to your Self and following the internal moral compass rather than something outside.

Bhagavad Gita Bhaasya of Sri Shankaracharya

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  • Shiva

    3:35 Krishna gives the direct answer to Arjuna. When Arjuna asks the question in 3:01 – you have said intelligence (jnana yoga) is better than action (karma yoga) why should I participate in this battle? Participating in the battle is Arjuna’s Karma yoga. The direct question which Arjuna is asking here is which one is more superior is it Karma yoga or is it Jnana yoga? This is most evident in 3:02. For explaining this Krishna is saying Karma yoga is more superior compared to Jnana yoga hence the entire chapter 3 is termed Karma yoga. In 3:35, Krishna says Swardharma (Karma yoga) is superior (he makes use of the word Shreyan which means superior) compared to Paradharma (jnana Yoga). Hence the implied meaning here is Karma Yoga is more superior to Jana Yoga which is a direct answer to the question which Arjuna asked in the beginning of the chapter. Hence this sloka 3:35 should not be confused with caste. To iterate it more clearly Krishna says our duty (swardharma or Karma yoga) is more superior to Sanyas (paradharma or Jnana yoga). Hence we should always go on the path of performing our Karma yoga and not in the path of Janan Yoga. There are other reasons as to who should perform Jnana Yoga which is beyond the scope of this context.