Pravrtti and Nivrtti (प्रवृत्तिः निवृत्तिः च)

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Pravrtti (Samskrit: प्रवृत्ति:) is outward action and Nivrtti (Samskrit: निवृत्ति:) is inward contemplation. These two when governed by dharma (धर्म:), bring about stability of the world.[1]

परिचयः ॥ Introduction

According to the Bhagavata Purana (Skandha 7, Adhyaya 15), karmas prescribed in the Vedas are of two kinds:

  1. Pravrtta: leading to enjoyment of worldly life
  2. Nivrtta: leading to spiritual life

It is said that by performance of Pravrtta karma, a person is born again in Samsara, while by Nivrtta karma he attains moksha.[2]

प्रवृत्तं च निवृत्तं च द्विविधं कर्म वैदिकम् | आवर्तते प्रवृत्तेन निवृत्तेनाश्नुतेऽमृतम् ||४७||[3]

pravr̥ttaṁ ca nivr̥ttaṁ ca dvividhaṁ karma vaidikam | āvartatē pravr̥ttēna nivr̥ttēnāśnutē'mr̥tam ||47||

विषयविस्तारः || Subject Matter

Adi Shankaracharya in the beginning of the introduction to his commentary on Bhagavad Gita mentions:

द्विविधो हि वेदोक्तो धर्मः, प्रवृत्तिलक्षणो निवृत्तिलक्षणश्च, जगतः स्तिथिकारणम् | प्राणिनां साक्षादभ्युदयनिःश्रेयसहेतुर्य...[4]

dvividhō hi vēdōktō dharmaḥ, pravr̥ttilakṣaṇō nivr̥ttilakṣaṇaśca, jagataḥ stithikāraṇam | prāṇināṁ sākṣādabhyudayaniḥśrēyasahēturya...

Meaning: 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:) ie. socio-economic welfare and nihshreyasa (नि:श्रेयसम्) ie. adhyatmik 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, one establishes a welfare society by improving the economical and political system. Through Nivrtti, one achieves a value-oriented life that comes from humanity's inner adhyatmik dimension.[1]

There is stress in modern civilization because there is emphasis only on Pravrtti, and not on Nivrtti. German philosopher Schopenhauer said,

'When men achieve security and welfare, now that they have solved all other problems, they become a problem to themselves'.[5]

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.

Therefore, Shankaracharya emphasises on prāṇināṁ sākṣāt-abhyudaya-niḥśrēyasa-hētu, a philosophy of life which integrates social welfare and adhyatmik freedom through action and meditation. Adi Shankaracharya says that this Vedic philosophy with its two-fold ideology of Pravrtti and Nivrtti, makes for the abhyudaya of men and women on one side, and nihshreyasa, on the other.[1]

K. S. 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. While Nivrtti is explained as "The return path to Divinity"; renouncement of all social and political obligations.[6]

प्रवृत्तकर्माणि || Pravrtta Karmas

The Bhagavata Purana (Skandha 7, Adhyaya 15) enlists Pravrtta karmas as follows:

हिंस्रं द्रव्यमयं काम्यमग्निहोत्राद्यशान्तिदम् | दर्शश्च पूर्णमासश्च चातुर्मास्यं पशुः सुतः ||४८||

एतदिष्टं प्रवृत्ताख्यं हुतं प्रहुतमेव च | पूर्तं सुरालयाराम कूपा जीव्यादिलक्षणम् ||४९||[3]

hiṁsraṁ dravyamayaṁ kāmyamagnihōtrādyaśāntidam | darśaśca pūrṇamāsaśca cāturmāsyaṁ paśuḥ sutaḥ ||48||

ētadiṣṭaṁ pravr̥ttākhyaṁ hutaṁ prahutamēva ca | pūrtaṁ surālayārāma kūpā jīvyādilakṣaṇam ||49||

Meaning: Ritualistic ceremonies known as Agnihotra (maintenance of daily domestic fire worship), Darsha (yajna to be performed on the New Moon day), Purnamasa (yajna on the Full Moon day), Chaturmasya (a yajna to be performed at the beginning of a quarter - four monthly division - of the year), Pashu-yajna, Soma-yajna, etc involve violence and offering of valuables, especially foodgrains for the fulfillment of material desires and hence are called Kamya but they create anxiety. Such yajnas as well as oblations to Vaishvadeva (offered before taking meals) and Bali-harana (offering of food to deities, household divinities, men and other creatures) constitute ishta-karmas; while construction of temples, gardens, tanks or wells and booths for supplying food and water are known as Purta-karmas (done for the benefit of people). And, both ishta and purta karmas are included under Pravrtta karma.[2][7]

निवृत्तिविशेषः || Nivrtti Explained

Vedanta recognizes a super-conscious level of cognition, besides the conscious, the pre-conscious, the sub-conscious, and the unconscious. Nivrtti refers to that super-conscious level with respect to human creativity. Nivrtti helps to manifest the adhyatmik energy that is within every being in the form of inherent divine spark.[1]

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 to life. Through Nivrtti one comes in touch with the ever present Divine within.'[1]

He 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.'[1]

Thus, this combination of Pravrtti and Nivrtti, of Abhyudaya and Nihshreyasa contains a philosophy for total human development. Adi Shankaracharya did not restrict this philosophy to few. He mentions prāṇināṁ - 'for all human beings'. That is its universality. By adding Nihshreyasa to Abhyudaya, the Gita prevents human being from becoming reduced to mere machines.

प्रवृत्तिनिवृत्त्योः भेदः || Difference between Pravrtti and Nivrtti

Swami Ranganathananda explains that Pravrtti 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 is natural. But Nivrtti needs training.[1]

By Pravrtti 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.[1] Gita teaches us how Nivrtti inspires Pravrtti. 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 ?


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 Swami, Ranganathananda, Universal Message of Bhagavad Gita: An exposition of the Gita in the Light of Modern Thought and Modern Needs. Volume 1
  2. 2.0 2.1 Ganesh Vasudeo Tagare, The Bhagavata Purana (Part III), Ancient Indian Tradition & Mythology (Volume 9), Edited by J.L.Shastri, New Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass,
  3. 3.0 3.1 Bhagavata Purana, Skandha 7, Adhyaya 15.
  4. The Bhagavad-Gita Bhashya (Volume 1), The Works of Sri Sankaracharya (Vol. 11), Srirangam: Sri Vani Vilas Press.
  5. Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Idea
  6. Insights Into the Taittiriya Upanishad, Dr. K. S. Narayanacharya, Published by Kautilya Institute of National Studies, Mysore, Page 75 (Glossary)
  7. A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Srimad Bhagavatam (Seventh Canto), Part 3-Chapters 10-15, 1976: Bhaktivedanta Book Trust.