Two Paths of Life

From The Paths of Pavritti and Nivritti, Swami Niranjanananda Saraswati

Everything depends on how you live your life. The style in which you live your life determines what your aspiration, determination and sankalpa will be. In our tradition, the sages have defined two paths. One is the path of pravritti and the other is the path of nivritti.

The path of pravritti leads you to the dimension of the senses and sense objects and the path of nivritti leads you away from the dimension of the senses and sense objects, towards the City of Light or the transcendental dimension. These are the two paths that every human being has to walk.

The common factor in the two terms, pravritti and nivritti, is vritti. Vritta means a circle and vritti means the circular movement of the mind. What is the meaning of the circular movement of the mind? When the mind is unable to extract itself from a particular experience, then it is caught in a whirlpool, a vortex, and becomes sucked deeper and deeper into that field of experience. This is known as vritti.

When the prefix ‘pra’ is added and vritti becomes ‘pravritti’, it means a deep identification, a deep connection with the world of senses and sense objects. When the word ‘nivritti’ is used, it means disidentification, disconnection from the world of senses and sense objects.

How can you disconnect from the world? For as long as you are a traveler upon earth, you have to use the tools with which you have come. These tools are the body, the senses, the mind, the intellect, the sentiments. You have to utilize the faculties of this equipment to survive, whether to bind yourself in the mire of the world or uplift yourself from it.

The tools are the same for both. A person who is totally engrossed in the world is using the body, the senses, the mind and the intellect to survive in the material world, and the person who wants to extract himself from the effects and influences of the material, sensual and sensorial world also has to utilize the same tools of the body, senses, mind and intellect.

The tools are the same for a person engrossed and involved in the world of senses and for one who is spiritually enlightened.

Completing the journey

What is it that makes a difference in the understanding and perception of these two groups of people? It is the lifestyle. The way or style in which you live and express your life is what is important in walking the path of either pravritti or nivritti. The path of pravritti leads to bondage and that of nivritti leads to freedom.

What is meant by style of life or lifestyle? There are different lifestyles that people follow in both the paths of pravritti and nivritti, but what is lifestyle? It is an expression of mentality, behaviour and performance. When these three combine together and govern an individual’s life, they create a pattern of living, of viewing, perceiving and responding to the world.

You have to understand lifestyle in relation to upliftment of life and deterioration of life. The pravritti path incorporates different styles of living and the nivritti path also involves different styles of living and perceiving the world. Therefore, the term ‘lifestyle’ indicates that there is always scope to improve the mentality, behaviour and performance in the expression of life. If you feel that you cannot improve your lifestyle, you are stagnating. You have lost your direction and clarity. However, if there is even the tiniest inclination that you have the courage, strength, will, motivation and inspiration to change your lifestyle, it is an indication that you can complete your journey to the City of Light.

It is this thread that you have to hold on to – the thread of inspiration and motivation, in order to manage the distorted conditions of life.