Fighting Duryodhana is Dharma . Fight Duryodhana in the way you can, that is swadharma . Dharma is the same for everybody, but swadharma varies according to your physical, social, temporal conditions. But remember that swadharma can never be in contradiction of Dharma ; swadharma will always be something within the ambit of Dharma .
स्वधर्ममपि चावेक्ष्य न विकम्पितुमर्हसि । धर्म्याद्धि युद्धाच्छ्रेयोऽन्यत्क्षत्रियस्य न विद्यते ॥
Even considering your own duty you should not waver, since there is nothing else better for a Kshatriya than righteous battle.
—Shrimad Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verse 31
Questioner (Q) : After explaining to Arjuna that he should not grieve for the embodied beings in verse 31 of the 2nd chapter of Bhagavad Gita, Shri Krishna says, ‘Even considering your own duty you should not waiver, since there is nothing else better for a Kshatriya than a righteous battle.’
Being born into a Kshatriya clan, fighting represents Arjuna’s conditioning and training and what he has become good at. Does conditioning have a role in discovering one’s duty or one’s swadharma ? Is adhering to one’s swadharma the same as liberation?
Acharya Prashant (AP) : You see, liberation is Dharma . To move to the point where one stands liberated alone is Dharma . But when we define Dharma this way, then we are talking of only one point: the point which you have to reach. We are calling that as the point of liberation.
Nobody stands at a position called ‘no position’, we all stand somewhere. Wherever we stand, that point is actually a point of conditioning. Had we not been standing somewhere, there was no need to travel to be liberated.
You could consider the point of liberation as the origin, (0,0). Basic x-y coordinates. So, liberation is at (0,0), the origin, and you have to go back to that very origin where everything comes from. But where are you currently located? You are located somewhere, you have some coordinates, (x,y). Or if you take three dimensions, then (x,y,z). How many various kinds of coordinates are possible? Infinite. The (x,y,z) combo can take infinite distinct values, correct?
Wherever you are currently located, from there you have to come to the origin. So, coming to the origin is Dharma , but swadharma is coming to the origin from where you are. Therefore, each person, each (x,y,z), will have his own particular path to come to the origin. That’s why it is called swadharma , not just Dharma .
Swadharma means your Dharma . Swadharma is not really different from Dharma , but Dharma merely says, ‘Come to The origin, come to zero. Come to the point where everything is dissolved, where nothing exists. Become zero.’ Swadharma clarifies things a little more. Swadharma says, ‘Yes, you have to come to zero, but you have to come from (4,5,8), (x,y,z).’
So, now things stand clearer: From (4,5,8) you have to come to zero, and now you can find out a route. Obviously, the shortest route is a straight line, but maybe the configurations, the situations stand in such a way that a straight line is not even possible, so you figure out some other route, whatever it is. The thing is that now you know that you have to move from (4,5,8) to (0,0,0).
Arjuna, too, stands somewhere. Had Arjuna not been standing somewhere, then Arjuna would have been standing at (0,0,0); then there would have been no need for any Krishna or any Gita as Arjuna is already at the origin. But where is Arjuna standing? Arjuna is standing where his body and the norms and situations and the customs and the conditioning of his time have made him stand. Krishna has to take that particular place into account, otherwise he would just be talking theory that would not be of much use to Arjuna.
So, Krishna not merely talks of liberation and freedom; he also keeps referring to Arjuna’s Kshatriya clan. If you are really interested in covering a distance, you must know both the ends. Krishna must talk of the origin, (0,0,0), and Krishna must also equally, seriously talk of (4,5,8), which is Arjuna’s configuration, coordinates at that point. That is why he repeatedly refers to Arjuna’s Kshatriya caste.
Now, let’s say, Krishna is talking to somebody belonging to the other varṇas. He would be advising everybody, irrespective of whether he is a Kshatriya or a Vaishya or a Brahmin or a Shudra, to go to (0,0,0), but all would be advised to go to (0,0,0) starting from where they are actually and practically situated.
If you are standing at (4,5,8), you can’t be told the same route that was told to someone who was standing at (2,3,11). If that route is suggested to you, you will never reach (0,0,0); you will fail, totally fail. So, now when he is talking to Arjuna, he is saying, ‘You see, over the passage of time in the game of Prakriti, in the entire play of Maya, you have become a Kshatriya.’
Now, all that is just a superficial thing. The entire varṇa system has no depth; it is just a superficial arrangement made by man himself. But whatever it is, the thing is that it is taken as an identity statement by somebody like Arjuna—in fact, by all who were present at that time. They take their varṇa- identity as important.
Now, since they take it as important, Krishna tells them that according to your varṇa-identity—which is according to your present coordinates—this is how you should move to (0,0,0); you have to fight.
If a Brahmin is there on the same battlefield, Krishna would advise him to resist the Kauravas but in some way that is most suited to the Brahmin’s own conditioning. If he tells the Brahmin to pick up the bow and arrow or mace and start fighting Duryodhana, then the war is lost already. So, the Brahmin will have to fight Duryodhana, no doubt, but in the way of the Brahmin. The Vaishya and the Shudra, too, will have to fight Duryodhana but in their own respective ways.
What is important is that when you reach (0,0,0), then the Kshatriya is no more a Kshatriya; he comes to learn that all this varṇa and caste thing is some kind of a man-made joke. But how will he learn that standing at (2,4,8)? Standing at (2,4,8), he is taking his caste very seriously. He says, ‘I am a Kshatriya.’ When will he be able to doubtlessly and convincingly say, ‘I am not a Kshatriya—I am not even a body! How can I be a Kshatriya?’ When will he be able to say that? Only when he reaches (0,0,0). But to reach (0,0,0), he has to start from being a Kshatriya.
So, even to come to the point where Arjuna is no more a Kshatriya, he has to start from a point where he indeed is a Kshatriya. In a way, Krishna is using the varṇa of Arjuna to bring him to a point where he is liberated from the varṇa system altogether. But even to liberate him of his class or caste or conditioning, he has to start from where he actually and practically is standing right now.
Krishna is doing something very wise and very practical at the same time. When you come to that origin point, differences cease to exist: There is no difference between a Brahmin, a Vaishya, a Shudra, a Kshatriya, anybody; there is no difference between a man and a woman; there is no difference at all. But in this world that we see all around us, first of all there are physical differences of age, of gender, of race, and then there are social differences: caste, creed, ethnicity, nationality, religion. We live in a world of differences.
Even to bring someone to a point where he would be liberated of differences, you have to see what his current configuration is. If you are not mindful of his current configuration, then your attempts to help him will fail— and Krishna is not someone who is going to fail. So, he repeatedly reminds Arjuna that he is a Kshatriya. His identity is repeatedly evoked: ‘Arjuna, you are a Kshatriya, and the Kshatriya must fight.’
Now, both the things are at play here, Dharma and swadharma . In what does Dharma lie? Dharma lies in fighting Duryodhana. In what does swadharma lie? Swadharma lies in fighting Duryodhana like a Kshatriya.
Let’s say, if a Brahmin was present at the battlefield, Dharma would remain the same for Arjuna and that Brahmin: Dharma is to fight Duryodhana because Duryodhana is representing adharma. But swadharma will be different: Arjuna’s swadharma will be to fight Duryodhana like a warrior, and the Brahmin’s swadharma will be to fight Duryodhana like a scholar.
So, Dharma is the same for everybody, but swadharma varies according to the kind of personality you have taken. According to your physical, social, temporal conditions, swadharma varies, but remember that swadharma can never be in contradiction of Dharma ; swadharma will always be something within the ambit of Dharma .
Dharma is: fight Duryodhana. Swadharma is: fight Duryodhana with bows and arrows. Why with bows and arrows? ‘Because Arjuna, that is all you can do. What else will you do? Over the last 45 years, Arjuna, if there is one thing that you have learnt—and there is only one thing that you have learnt—it is to fight. There is only one thing you have continuously practised, which is your bow and arrow. So, now that you have to fight Duryodhana, what other method or weapon do you have? You have only one excellence; there is only one thing that you know. There is only one way in which you can fight Duryodhana, which is your Kshatriya way, because there is no other way that you know. So, fight Duryodhana in your own way.’ That is swadharma .
Fighting Duryodhana is Dharma . Fight Duryodhana in the way you can, that is swadharma .