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 abhyudaya (अभ्युदय), socio economic welfare and nihsreyasa (नि:श्रेयस), spiritual freedom of all being.
Both action and meditation are needed for human well-being. If only one or the other is there, there will be no health, individual or social. Through pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति), one establishes a welfare society by improving the economical and political system. Through nivrtti (निवृत्ति) one achieves a value-oriented life that comes from humanity's inner spiritual dimension.
There is stress in modern civilization because there is emphasis only on pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति), and not on nivrtti (निवृत्ति). German philosopher Schopenhauer said: 'When men achieve security and welfare, now that they have solved all other problems, they become a problem to themselves'. When there is the endless pursuit of money, power, and pleasure, the result is creation of widespread value erosion and increasing violence. All this is because of lack of nivrtti (निवृत्ति).
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.
KS Narayanacharya explains Pravrtti as the "forward path" of life in all its continuity. Wedded to progeny, earnings, social and political welfare, and worldly affairs of all kind.
An important difference between pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति) and nivrtti (निवृत्ति)
Swami Ranganathananda explains: 'Pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति) is not required to be taught because we are naturally pravrtti prone. A child jumps up, runs about engages in pushing and pulling things; so pravrtti (प्रवृत्ति) is natural.But nivrtti (निवृत्ति) needs training'.
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
- Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea
- Insights Into the Taittiriya Upanishad, Dr. K. S. Narayanacharya, Published by Kautilya Institute of National Studies, Mysore, Page 75 (Glossary)