Discovering One’s True Inner Calling
Swadharma literally means our very own dharma, or what is right for us. Swadharma may be roughly translated as sacred duty. There are certain principles that are almost universal, but there are some variations that apply to individuals because of the unique situation in which they are placed. For example, in general it is wrong to kill, but not so for a soldier in the battlefield because killing in that situation is his swadharma. That is what Krishna tells Arjuna when he hesitates to fight in the battle of Kurukshetra. As a kshatriya, it was Arjuna’s swadharma to protect the society from evil and injustice, and to do that if it was necessary to fight, fighting was part of his swadharma. It is better to follow one’s own swadharma, even if defective, than somebody else’s much better swadharma, says the Gita (18:47). Acharya Vinoba Bhave, in his talks on the Gita, explains this through a few striking analogies. The frog who tries to blow himself up in order to grow as big as a bull explodes itself to death because the swadharma of a frog is to remain a frog. The swadharma of a fish is to live in water. Milk may be better than water, but a fish that insists on living in milk will die. Sun is the source of the energy that the earth gets. But if we try to leave the earth to be closer to the source, we will be burnt to death because our swadharma is to live on earth. We should certainly try to find work that is in keeping with our swabhava (aptitude), but having done that we should take pleasure in doing the work required in the situation in which we are actually placed. For example, a person who is fond of teaching but does not like administration may one day become the head of an educational institution. His role now offers him some opportunities to teach, and plenty of opportunities to help improve the standard of teaching in the institution, but he now has also the role of an administrator. He cannot abandon that role just because it is not in keeping with his swabhava. “All human work is subject to fault, defect or limitation; but that should not make us abandon our own proper work and natural function”, says Sri Aurobindo in Essays on the Gita. Our swabhava and swadharma together give us clues to the work we should do. Using these clues, the work that we do will give us joy, will be done well, and will be useful to others. However, this work may still be our “temporary occupation”, as the Mother puts it. If we “give ourselves to this occupation with conscientiousness and perseverance”, says she, we will one day discover our true inner calling. For example, for Sri Aurobindo, the teaching job at Baroda and his involvement in the freedom struggle were “temporary occupations”, whereas his true calling was his spiritual mission at Pondicherry. For Mahatma Gandhi, his work as a barrister in South Africa was a “temporary occupation”; his true calling was to lead the country towards a non-violent struggle for independence. For Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, his true calling was that of a teacher; everything else that he did before that were temporary occupations. All these great men discovered their true callings because they gave themselves completely to their temporary occupations with “conscientiousness and perseverance”.