O.P. Jindal University: Myths around Law of Karma, and the difference between duty and Dharma
The following is an excerpt from a samvaad (dialogue) session with Acharya Prashant.
Questioner (Q): How to distinguish between kartavya and Dharma? Can you give a quick distinction between the two?
Acharya Prashant (AP): 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…