shreyaansvadharmo vigunaha paradharmaatsvanushthitaat |
svadharme nidhanam shreyaha paradharmo bhayaavahaha || 35 ||

Following one’s own nature, though imperfect, is still better than following another’s nature that is perfect. Even dying in one’s nature is better, and the nature of another leads to danger.

shreyaan : is better
svadharmah : following one’s nature
vigunaha : imperfect
paradharmaat : compared to other’s nature
svanushthitaat : perfect
svadharme : in one’s nature
nidhanam : dying
shreyaha : it is better
paradharmo : other’s nature
bhayaavahaha : cause of fear and danger

On the surface, this shloka seems to contradict the previous shloka where Shri Krishna advocated that we should not let our likes and dislikes, i.e. our nature, take us away from our goal. Here, he seems to say that we should follow our nature instead. Let us try to analyze this paradox.

Earlier, we came across the notion of svadharma, which is work that one enjoys doing, has the aptitude and training for doing, and is not illegal or unethical. Svadharma is nothing but our strongest likes and desires, and only we can judge what they are.

Upon self-examination, we may find that we gravitate towards a career in art, or music, or science and so on. Let’s say we determine that science is our strongest like. That now becomes our svadharma. We use the enormous pressure of our interest in science in the service of a higher goal, by becoming a researcher, for instance.

Another implication of this message is that the force generated by our svadharma should be used in evolution of our personality. A person with a strong desire to fight can become a soldier if he uses his svadharma in the service of his country. But he can also become a gangster if his svadharma is not dedicated to a higher ideal.

Therefore, what this shloka says is that once we have selected a strong desire as our svadharma, we should not let weaker likes or dislikes distract us from the svadharma. For example, let’s say we are pursuing a PhD in science. We may come across someone following a different profession and who earns significantly more money. We should not cause our liking for more money to change our path. Not only will it help us reach our spiritual goal, we will have peace of mind too.

What is unique about this approach is that it emphasizes introspection over blind faith. The beauty of the Gita’s teaching is that takes care of every person. There is no fixed rigid path – each one arrives at their own path through self-analysis. It is like a kitchen where each spice is unique, but has a distinct role to play in making a meal.