Mr. Ranganathan, I. C. S: In Srimad Bhagavad Gita there is a passage: One’s own dharma [swadharma] is the best; an alien dharma is full of risks. What is the significance of one’s own dharma?
Ramana Maharshi: It is usually interpreted to mean the duties of the orders and of the different castes. The physical environment must also be taken into consideration.
D.: If varnasrama dharma be meant, such dharma prevails only in India. On the other hand the Gita should be universally applicable.
Ramana Maharshi: There is varnasrama in some form or other in every land. The significance is that one should hold on to the single Atman and not swerve therefrom. That is the whole gist of it.
sva = one’s own, i.e., of the Self, of the Atman.
para = the other’s, i.e., of the non-self, of the anatma.
Atma Dharma is inherence in the Self. There will be no distraction and no fear. Troubles arise only when there is a second to oneself. If the Atman be realised to be only unitary, there is no second and therefore no cause for fear. The man, as he is now, confounds the anatma (non-Self) dharma with atma (the Self) dharma and suffers.
Let him know the Self and abide in it; there is an end of fear, and there are no doubts.
Even if interpreted as varnasrama dharma the significance is only this much. Such dharma bears fruit only when done selflessly. That is, one must realise that he is not the doer, but that he is only a tool of some Higher Power. Let the Higher Power do what is inevitable and let me act only according to its dictates. The actions are not mine. Therefore the result of the actions cannot be mine. If one thinks and acts so, where is the trouble? Be it varnasrama dharma or loukika dharma (worldly activities), it is immaterial. Finally, it amounts to this:
sva = atmanah (of the Self)
para = anaatmanah (of the non-self)
Such doubts are natural. The orthodox interpretation cannot be reconciled with the life of a modern man obliged to work for his livelihood in different capacities.
A man from Pondy interposed: Sarva dharmaan parityajya maamekam saranam vraja (leaving all duties surrender to me only).
Ramana Maharshi: (All) Sarva is only anaatmanah (of the non-self); the emphasis is on ekam (only). To the man who has strong hold of the eka (one) where are the dharmas? It means, “Be sunk in the Self.”
D.: The Gita was taught for action.
Ramana Maharshi: What does the Gita say? Arjuna refused to fight. Krishna said, “So long as you refuse to fight, you have the sense of doership. Who are you to refrain or to act? Give up the notion of doership. Until that sense disappears you are bound to act. You are being manipulated by a Higher Power. You are admitting it by your own refusal to submit to it. Instead recognise the Power and submit as a tool. (Or to put it differently), if you refuse you will be forcibly drawn into it. Instead of being an unwilling worker, be a willing one. “Rather, be fixed in the Self and act according to nature without the thought of doership. Then the results of action will not affect you. That is manliness and heroism.”
Thus, ‘inherence in the Self’ is the sum and substance of Gita teaching. Finally, the Master Himself added, “If a man be established in the Self these doubts would not arise. They arise only until he is established there.”
D.: Then of what use is such reply to the enquirer?
Ramana Maharshi: The words still have force and will surely operate in due course.