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The difference between duty and Dharma? || O.P. Jindal University (2021)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
4 min
141 reads

Questioner: How to distinguish between kartavya and Dharma. Can you give a quick distinction between the two?

Acharya Prashant: You see, when you do not really know what to do, when you are not in direct touch with Krishna, Brahman, Ātman, Satya, then you need to be given duties and responsibilities. So, kartavya is only for those who do not know Dharma. Once you have the desire, the intention to be in direct contact with the Truth, then kartavya is actually an obstruction.

Seven or eight years back, I was conducting this course on the Bhagavad Gita , and there is one video from there and it is titled Kartavya saja hai nasamjhi ki (duty is the punishment for lack of understanding). Because you are not wise enough, you do not understand things, therefore you are given duties and responsibilities. And it is good that you be given duties and responsibilities because you anyway do not understand. So, to help you, some code of responsibility is handed over to you and you are told to live by it, abide by it.

But then comes a point, as had come in the life of Arjuna, when you choose to be in direct contact with Krishna, when you bow down to Krishna and say, “Well, sir, I am prepared to slaughter even my own kith and kin if you so advise.” And then Krishna says, “You keep aside all your duties and responsibilities, and come to Me. Mām ekaṁ śharaṇaṁ vraja. Keep everything else aside, come to Me.”

So, that is the distinction between kartavya and Dharma. Kartavya is not something abominable or despicable; it’s just that it is very inferior to Dharma. Kartavya is far better than just living by your whims and fancies and wanton desires. That is the way of the animal: it lives just by its prakritik composition, its intuitive urges and desires. So, man is given something higher than that, and that is kartavya. But Dharma is higher even than kartavya.

The problem with people like Arjuna is, they allow their kartavya to become an obstruction in the way of Dharma. Now, for example, it is your kartavya to not fight your brethren. It is a kartavya —do not fight your brothers, do not place property higher than blood relations, and that is what is confounding Arjuna. He says, “But I have been taught that it is bad to kill. Why should I kill for property?” And that is what he is saying in Chapter One, Vishad Yoga : “What will I gain by slaughtering those who have been so near to me?” And all that is kartavya. A lot of that is just pure morality.

So, Krishna says, “What you are saying holds good at one particular level of mind. Now, what I am giving you is higher than that. What I am telling you is, Krishna is higher than your brothers, your teachers, or your great grandfathers; you might have certain responsibilities towards them, and that is kartavya , but your responsibility towards the Truth is higher than your responsibility towards anything.”

The responsibility towards Truth is called Dharma , and that responsibility can actually be called as love rather than a responsibility.

So, that responsibility is a higher responsibility than the responsibility that you have towards the state, society, civilization, family members, employer, your boss, your students, your neighbor, or towards anybody. And obviously, as citizens we do have responsibility towards this and that. But if at any point in life there is a competing situation, then we must know what to pick.

The Truth is higher than any other responsibility that you have. In fact, all your miscellaneous responsibilities should flow from your first responsibility, Dharma , your love for the Truth. Let your love for Truth decide what your kartavya is. Let Dharma decide your kartavya. Instead, we allow kartavya to become an obstacle in the way of Dharma , and that is a great problem. That should not happen.

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