PRAVṚTTI-MĀRGA: NIVṚTTI-MĀRGA, In ancient religious texts four mārgas or paths or roads to life are demarcated : the path of action for personal gratification, leading to sensuous pleasures (cf. BG XVI. 16); (ii) the path of action in the form of observance of religious rituals, with a view to reaping the fruit thereof (cf. BG II. 42 43; IX.20); (iii) the path of knowledge leading to the realization of the Supreme Spirit and the sense of detachment to the mundane pleasures resulting in total renunciation of worldly objects and actions; (iv) the path of action following attainment of knowledge with a sense of detachment to the result of the action performed. The first two of these paths are considered to lead a man to hell and heaven respectively, while the last two are described as resulting in the emancipation of the spirit from the bonds of birth and death, and as such are termed as niṣṭhās, the paths leading to the final beatitude (cf. BG III.3; V.2; XIII24).
It is with reference to these last two paths that two distinct lines of thought have been pursued in the Indian religio-philosophical tradition. These lines of thought, evidently opposed to each other, have been named respectively as nivṛtti-mārga, the path of renunciation or inactivity, and pravṛtti-mārga, the path of activity or of taking an active part in worldly life (cf. BG XVI. 7; XVIII. 30; MB XII. 40. 69-70, 72-72; 217. 2-3; 241. 6; XIV. 43 25).
The Rigvedic religion advocated the philosophy of optimism which was based on the way of living actively. Subsequently, however, there arose, in the period of the Brāhmaṇa texts, a system of complicated rituals, observance of which assured one of the attainment of heaven hereafter. This ritualism was reacted upon by the Upanisadic philosophy of the knowledge of the Supreme Spirit on the one hand and the Jain and the Buddhist view of detached life on the other hand. Both these reactions put a stress on the life of renunciation born of the realization of the true nature of the world. Whereas the former of these streams believed in the existence of the Spirit pervading the universe, the latter denied it or at least observed silence on this Point. The path advocated by these philosophers, later joined by the Sāṅkhya theorists, became known as nivṛtti-mārga which stood for abstaining from all Kinds of action, which only resulted in bondage of the spirit and as such was not conducive to its liberation that was attainable only through knowledge. It is on account of the emphasis put in this system on knowledge that this path is also termed as jñāna-yoga, (BG III.3) the path of knowledge, or the sāṅkhya-yoga (BG III. 3; V.5 etc.). Most of the Upaniṣads glorify this path and recommend its pursuance in life. However, there are exceptions, too. For instance the Īṣāvāsya Upaniṣad, which forms a part of the Yajurvedasaṅhitā of the Mādhyandina school, enjoins that "one should aspire to live for hundred years whilst performing one's duties in life, for this kind of performance of action does not bind a man to the worldly fetters" (verse 2). This Upaniṣadic text further says, "those who engage themselves in the culture of action only enter into the dark regions, and still darker regions await those who are engaged in the culture of knowledge only (verse 9; c. Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad IV. 4.10). He, however, who pursues both action and knowledge side by side transcends the cycle of repeated births and attains immortality or eternal bliss" (verse 11; also c. Chhāndogya Upaniṣad VIII. 15.1).
Barring these sporadic references, the Upaniṣadic prescription favours on the whole retirement from active life and pursuit of knowledge at the last stage of life, for according to it, knowledge alone can lead to the final liberation of soul (cf Muṇḍaka Upaniṣad I.2.11; Śvetaśvātara Upaniṣad III. 8; Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad III5.I; IV.4.22; also Manu-smṛti VI. 95-96; MB XII. 241.7, 11-13; XIV. 46.39; 47:11). This theory of nivṛtti was later elaborated and reinforced by the Vedānta school of Indian philosophy and, in particular, by its erudite interpreter, Śaṇkara (AD 788-820). Śaṅkara, who wrote his commentary on the prasthāna-trayī, i.e., the Upaniṣads,, the Brahma-sūtras and the Bhagavadgītā, interpreted the last work of the trio in a way as to give the impression that it stood for the path of renunciation born of knowledge instead of action rooted in knowledge.
All evidences, including the circumstantial one, obtainbale from the Bhagavadgītā, however, point to the unmistakable proclivity of this most important religio-philosophical text of the Hindus to pravṛtti-mārga or the path of active life, which has also been termed as karma-yoga (BG III.3,7; V.2; XIII.24) or simply as yoga (BG II.50; IV.42; V.1, 5; VI. 17 etc.). The aim of the great sermon that Lord Kṛṣṇa gave to Arjuna was to activise him— a dejected soul inclined to make an escape from the realities of the situation he was faced with in the battlefield of Kurukṣetra. Starting from the premise that none can remain without action even for a moment, for everyone is helplessly driven to it by nature born qualities (cf. BG II. 5; also cp. III.8; XVIII. 11), Lord Kṛṣṇa puts forth his own example and also quotes instances of Janaka and others who pursued the path of active life, even after attainment of knowledge, so as to maintain the world order (BG III. 20-24; cp.IV.15 also), and sets out to enunciate his doctrine of karma-yoga. This doctrine ordains that "your right is to action only, and never to the result thereof, let not the result of the action be your motive, nor should you drift to inacation " (BG II.47). Lord Kṛṣṇa exhorts Arjuna to perform action, abiding in yoga and abandoning attachment with an even mind in the face both of success and failure, for it is evenmindedness which is called yoga (BG I1.48). According to him, "He who acts, offering all actions to God and shaking off attachment, remains untouchd by sin as the lotus leaf by water (BG V.10… One engaged in action with a sense of detachment to the result thereof attains bliss and one who works with a selfish motive, being attached to the fruit of actions through desire, gets tied down" (v.12). The Bhagavadgītā, of course, recognizes the path of renunciation also as leading to emancipation, but its predilection is unmistakably for the yoga of action (cf. v.2), for it declares that one who, controlling the sense organs by the mind and remaining unattached, pursues the path of action through those organs is superior to one who outwardly restrains the sense organs and mentally dwells on them; the latter, a man of deluded intellect, is rather a hypocrite (III. 6-7). As stated above, the karma-yoga of the Bhagavadgītā is founded on the solid rock of knowledge and does in no way stand in opposition to it. Lord Kṛṣṇa, extolling knowledge, says, "All actions, without exception, culminate in knowledge... As the blazing fire reduces fuel to ashes, even so the fire of knowledge reduces all actions to ashes. There is nothing on earth equal in purity to knowledge..." (IV.33 cd,37,38ab). He says that "those who, possessed of knowledge (evenmindedness), renounce the fruit of actions are freed from the shackles of birth and attain blissful supreme state" (lI. 51). He further says, one who has renounced the bonds of karman (i.e. the fruit of all actions) in accordance with the spirit of karma-yoga and whose doubts have been dispelled by knowledge and, again, who is self possessed is not tied down by actions" (IV. 41; also cf. Manu-smṛti VI. 74), and, significantly enough, exhorts Arjuna to cut asunder, through the sword of knowledge, his doubt (with regard to his duty) born of ignorance, and to establish himself in karma-yoga (in the form of evenmindedness) and stand up to the performance of his duty (IV.42). This doctrine of karma-yoga gets a balanced support in the work of Manu who states that amongst the Brāhmaṇs those endowed with erudition are the best; amongst the latter, those of resolute mind are the best; amongst the latter, again, those engaged in action are the best; and amongst the latter the best are those who have realized the supreme knowledge (cf. I.97; also cf., XII. 89; Hārīta-smṛti VII. 9-11). The entire Yoga-vaśiṣṭha has been written to elaborate and to bring into sharp focus this view of life.
This doctrine of karma-yoga or the pravṛtti mārga,which forms the keynote of the teachings of the Bhagavadgītā, is in perfect consonance with the main tenor of the great epic, the Mahābhārata, of which it constitutes a part. This great epic frequently expresses itself in favour of karma-yoga (cf. XII. 217. 2-3; 235.30; 269.10-11; 320.38- 40; 347.83; XIV. 506), with of course a few exceptions where it tends to advocate the philosophy of renunciation (cf. XII. 1 78.11; 241.7, 11-1 3; XIV. 46.39; 47.11). It is pertinent to note that this epic, mowing the socioreligious scheme laid down in the Dharmasastras (cf. Manu-smṛti, III.77), exalts the second of the four stages of life, that is, that of a householder (gṛhastha), as the final concourse of all of them, viz., brahmacharya. gṛhastha, vānaprastha and saṅnyāsa (cf, XII. 269.6). Elsewhere (XII.295.39) it asserts after Manu (VI. 90) that as all rivers, both great and small, find a resting place in the ocean, even so men of all orders or stages find protection with the householder. Other woks of classical Sanskrit literature join it in its glorification of this āśrama. This fact emphasizes the supernal claims of the family life and underlines the greatness of the pravṛtti-mārga as the path which, apart from maintaining the world order and sustaining the social life, leads to final beatitude. Even when the ascetic stage (saṅnyāsa āśrama) was recommended in the Dharmaśāstras and the religio-philosophical works, it was emphasized that one should take to the monastic way of life only after discharging one's obligations towards one's family and society (cf. Manu-smṛti VI. 37; MB V.37.39; XII 277.6; Bhāgavatapurāṇa VI.5.35ff).
It was only after Saṅkara that asceticism or a monastic way of religious life gained popularity and became, in the medieval period, one of the leading trends in the religious life of India. When Gurū Nānak appeared on the scene, this trend tended to dominate the socio-religious structure of the country. Fully convinced with the negative impact it made on the socio-religious life of the people, the Gurū denounced this path of renunciation and made a strong plea for taking to family life even in case of those who aspired for living a spiritual life aiming at liberation from bonds of birth and death. He impressed upon the people that "there can be no worship without good actions." Good actions benefit the performer and at the same time contribute to social welfare. "Those who eat the fruit of their earning and bestow a part from it", he said, "recognize the true way." At the end of his travels, Gurū Nānak settled at Kartārpur "putting aside all garment of renunciation and found time to attend to agriculture."
When asked by Jogī Bhaṅgarnāth why he, a holy man, led a family life, he replied, "You have become an anchorite after abandoning the family life and yet you go to beg to the houses of family men. When you do nothing here, what can you obtain hereafter?"
Gurū Nānak rejected asceticism not only in theory but also in practice, and those who succeeded him to the seat of the Gurū followed him in this respect as in other matters.
Dharmendra Kumār Gupta