Nihsreyasa (Samskrit : नि:श्रेयसम्) is the quest for oneself. It is the search of innate spirituality within oneself. It is said to be the highest goal of mankind.
dvividho hi vedokto dharmah; pravíttilaksano nivritti-laksanah ca.
jagatah sthiti karanam praninam abhyudaya nishryasa hetuh
Translation: The dharma (धर्म) taught in Vedas is of a two-fold nature, characterized by pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति), which is outward action and nivrtti (निवृत्ति), which is inward contemplation. Dharma (धर्म) brings about even stability of the world, which are meant to ensure the true abhyudaya (अभ्युदय), socio economic welfare and nihsreyasa (नि:श्रेयस), spiritual freedom of all being.
Therefore Sankara emphasises on Praninam saksat abhyudaya-nihsreyasa-hetuh - a philosophy of life which integrates social welfare and spiritual freedom through action and meditation.
Adi Sankara says that this Vedic philosophy with its twofold ideology of pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति), and nivrtti (निवृत्ति), makes for the abhyudaya (अभ्युदय) of men and women on the one side, and nihsreyasa (नि:श्रेयस) on the other. This is a better definition of welfare state and there is nothing utopian about it.
Swami Ranganathananda Explains Nihsreyasa
Swami Ranganathananda says: 'One may achieve all the comforts of life—house, education, clean surroundings, economic strength. and varieties of pleasures. Yet there will be no peace of mind because one has not known one's true Self, the spark of innate divinity. Your centre of gravity is always outside. You miss your true dignity and have become a slave of things. This race for materialistic pursuits causes inner tensions, crime and delinquency and slowly decay sets in. This can be avoided when we add the second value nivrtti (निवृत्ति) to life. Through nivrtti (निवृत्ति) one comes in touch with the ever present Divine within'.
Swamiji further says: 'The more inward you go, the more you become capable of penetrating into other human beings, and establishing happy relations with them. When you go deeper into your inner nature, you go beyond the tiny ego controlled by the genetic system and come in contact with the larger Self which is the Self of all'.
Thus, this combination of pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति), and nivrtti (निवृत्ति), of abhyudaya (अभ्युदय) and nihsreyasa (नि:श्रेयस) contains a philosophy for total human development. Adi Sankara did not say that it is only for Hindus, or only for the people of India but for praninam - 'for all human beings'. That is its universality. By adding nihsreyasa (नि:श्रेयस) to abhyudaya (अभ्युदय) , the Gita prevents human being from becoming reduced to mere machines.
Swamiji further says: 'Abhyudaya and nihsreyasa together constitute the means for the maintenance of this world on an even keel. Stress one and neglect the other, it will tilt to one side or the other, like a boat. India in recent centuries tilted to nihsreyasa side, and neglected abhyudaya side. While the modern West tilted to abhyudaya side - the modern Western civilization is based entirely on pravrtti till now'.
By pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति) one achieves social welfare and material well-being. For being peaceful, harmonious, fulfilled, for having capacity to love people and to live in peace with them we need the blessing of nivrtti (निवृत्ति). Gita teaches us how nivrtti (निवृत्ति) inspires pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति). Nivrtti is required to stabilize and purify our thinking. It brings in the moral dimension and we ask questions to ourselves before any action - Why should we do this?
- Swami, Ranganathananda, Universal Message of Bhagavad Gita: An exposition of the Gita in the Light of Modern Thought and Modern Needs. Volume 1