Krishna has been telling Arjuna about the difference between jnana yoga, the way of contemplation, and karma yoga, the way of selfless service.
It is better to strive in one’s own dharma than to succeed in the dharma of another. Nothing is ever lost in following one’s own dharma, but competition in another’s dharma breeds fear and insecurity. (BG, 3:35)
Krishna is telling Prince Arjun that he is a prince—he doesn’t need to long for the life of a monk. One path is not superior to another, but one path is enough to occupy you for a lifetime. I hear a similar idea reflected in Paul’s writing:
If the foot says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not a hand,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the ear says, “I’m not part of the body because I’m not an eye,” does that mean it’s not part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, what would happen to the hearing? And if the whole body were an ear, what would happen to the sense of smell? But as it is, God has placed each one of the parts in the body just like he wanted. (1 Corinthians 12:15-18)
In Paul’s day, some Corinthians were telling the others that to be a “real” Christian, to level up, they needed to speak in tongues. Paul’s response was that “real” Christianity is not a competition in the spiritual Olympics. It is all about love (1 Corinthians 13).
Paul is talking about spiritual gifts, whereas Krishna is describing different schools or paths toward enlightenment. They are talking about slightly different things, but both are about envying someone else’s spirituality or role in society.
What happens is this: we feel dissatisfied. Rather than notice the dissatisfaction as prompt to look inward, we look outside of ourselves to something we refer to as “religion and spirituality,” and we see something we admire in someone else. We think, “Aha! If only I were more like ______, I would be satisfied.” It doesn’t help that there are whole industries built on this dissatisfaction selling us notions of how we should be and telling us we are not good enough.
Most of us can’t see the areas in which we excel, because they are natural for us. Our brains are problem-solving organs, so they look for problems to solve. For example, if managing money comes easy for me, I just assume it’s easy for everyone. I’m not aware of my strength. But I may be very conscious of my poor communication skills, and decide I need “fixing.”
The fact is, all of us have God-given strengths. We do not all have the same skills, roles, or spiritual antennae. Some of us will grow closer to God if we pray or meditate for 2 hours a day, others will be social justice warriors, others will be scholars, others will do acts of service. All will do some, and some will do all. But your path is right for you.
God of many gifts, I celebrate those gifts you give me.