Verse 35 chapter 3 in the Gita can be confusing. Krishna has said that it is better to do one’s own duty badly than to perform someone else’s duty well. Prima facie, it sounds silly. When I’m able to do someone else’s work well, why should I then waste time doing my own work even if done poorly? Does this not bring down efficiency, productivity and quality of the end result? Granted that this can be a bit controversial, but here’s my take on it.
Firstly, the entire Gita talks only about how to work, and never once talks about the type of work itself. Therefore, the focus is on us, the worker, and not the work. Secondly, while we may be great at a neighbour’s job, we may not have the ready opportunity to work there. We can certainly try for a job switch – but whether that fructifies or not, may not be in our control.
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, karma yoga is all about treating work as worship. It is a means of attaining the Lord – by not just giving up the results, but by also giving up doer-ship. This is only possible when I do work that is comfortable for me, and that plays to my innate nature. I might love being a librarian for instance, because it gives me peace of mind – reading books, comparing them, learning from them. However, it might seem like a low-paying job, and so I might want to use my bookish knowledge to become an author – which might give me money, but leave me unable to tackle the associated fame. Here our focus must be clear – are we doing the job for our love of books? Or for the money?
In the Gita with Krishna talking to Arjuna, the Lord says that Arjuna might make a great saint, but that as a warrior, it is his duty and innate nature to fight. He adds that it is better to die performing one’s own duty than running after another’s duty. If the work we are doing, feels more like play than work, then we are likely in the right profession. Running after someone else’s work might seem attractive at this moment, but could bring much despair in the future.
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