The Karma of Swadharma
Question: What is swadharma?
Answer: Swadharma means our self-duty. This is the karmic duty with which we are born. Each one is born in this world because of karma, because of past actions; and due to our karma, we are born with certain things that we are supposed to do in this life. We are born with a vocation and that vocation is called our self-duty, our inborn duty. It is not a duty that is given to us from the outside and it is a duty with which we are born, and this is the main thing that we are supposed to do in this life. And it is mainly due to past karma. The duty with which we are born in this life is determined by different things.
First, our duty is determined by the structure of our mind, which means what is the predominant guna, or quality in our mind — whether it is sattva guna, or rajo guna, or tamo guna. The structure of the mind with which we are born, and the second thing is our karma. It is not just the second thing, it is a main thing. Due to our karma, which is ripening now, and takes the shape of this life, we are born with certain duties, which we are supposed to fulfill in this life for the evolution of our own soul. This is for our own evolution, but also, in order to benefit others.
This creation works like a tapestry. Every creature is supposed to fulfill a certain duty, and together, we are taking care of this creation. Each one has a certain job that he is supposed to do. And if each of us is doing their own job, selflessly, we are going to have a happy, peaceful, and wonderful creation. And also this will, be conducive to the attainment of our ultimate goal in life—the ultimate goal of human life is Self-Realization.
But it is impossible to attain Self-Realization if we are not fulfilling our inborn duties; those karmic duties for which we were born. We have, relative duties, which are karmic, and then we have an ultimate duty, which is Self-Realization. And we must fulfill our karmic duties, in order to purify our mind and heart, and this is a condition that we fulfill our karmic duties, selflessly. If we fulfill our karmic duties selflessly, our heart and our mind will be purified, and this heart and mind will become fit instruments to take us on a journey toward our ultimate duty, which is Self-Realization.
Swadharma, self-duty, that duty with which we are born, that vocation with which we are born, which is karmic, this is what we call swadharma.
Some people are born to be priests, spiritual leaders; some people are born to be business people. To be a business person is necessary for society. According to the Vedic tradition, the purpose of the business people is to take care of the welfare — material welfare — of society. Some people are born to be administrators; some people are born to be doctors, or healers, and so on. All of us have some relative duties for which we are born. And it is good to know what they are. And then all of us have this ultimate duty, which is called Self-Realization. This is common. This is what is called swadharma.
Swami Swaroopananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda. A practicing yogi from a very young age, Swami Swaroopananda has dedicated his life to the practice and teaching of yoga. He taught in Yoga Teacher Training Courses around the world and is currently teaching advanced yoga philosophy courses and lectures internationally. He is Director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Retreat and acharya (spiritual director) for the Sivananda centers and ashrams in the Bahamas and the Middle East. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Centres.