The Two Paths For Human Activity

[Krishna's lotus feet]“According to Vedic instructions, there are two paths for human activities. One is called pravritti-marga, and the other is called nivritti-marga. The basic principle for either of these paths is religious life. In animal life there is only pravritti-marga. Pravritti-marga means sense enjoyment, and nivritti-marga means spiritual advancement. In the life of animals and demons, there is no conception of nivritti-marga, nor is there any actual conception of pravritti-marga. Pravritti-marga maintains that even though one has the propensity for sense gratification, he can gratify his senses according to the directions of the Vedic injunctions.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.25.39 Purport)

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1. Pravritti-marga

This is the way for the animals, as they don’t know any better. Neither do they have the potential to think rationally, to question why they behave the way they do. For instance, the lion cannot make the following inquiry:

“Why must I search out other living beings and kill them? I do so in a sneaky way, without announcing my presence. The entire objective is to surprise. If my prey knew I was coming, if they were alerted as to my imminent arrival, it would make life more difficult for me.

“The obvious question relates to survival. If I don’t hunt then I won’t eat. Without eating I won’t live very long. At the same time, I see other animals are satisfied taking a little grass. They don’t actively seek out other moving living beings. Why can’t I follow the same?”

In fact, even if an animal were to be kind towards other innocent life, they stay on the pravritti path, which is enjoying the senses. They may live in what appears to be austere conditions, like the monkey in the jungle, but the spirit of enjoyment is there all the same.

The human being follows this path in one of two ways. The first is based on instinct, chosen by default, lacking outside intervention. Like the child who simply plays the entire day. At a young age they put everything into the mouth, not knowing what is proper for consumption and what is not. Later on they choose to watch television, play games, or run around outside. It is not until someone compels them to learn that they sit down and do the difficult work necessary for increasing knowledge.

[prasadam]The other way of pravritti-marga is for religious life. Dovetailing the enjoying tendency for advancing towards a better destination, both in this life and the next. Engage in sex life in a regulated manner, for begetting children. Eat food that is first offered in sacrifice, yajna.

यज्ञ-शिष्टाशिनः सन्तो
मुच्यन्ते सर्व-किल्बिषैः
भुञ्जते ते त्व् अघं पापा
ये पचन्त्य् आत्म-कारणात्

yajña-śiṣṭāśinaḥ santo
mucyante sarva-kilbiṣaiḥ
bhuñjate te tv aghaṁ pāpā
ye pacanty ātma-kāraṇāt

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)

2. Nivritti-marga

This is renunciation. Putting a halt to urges. The human being follows hints of this path when undergoing austerities for completing a higher objective. Consider eating restrictions for weight loss, excessive exercise for physical training, and long hours in the library for passing an important examination.

Nivritti-marga is meant for spiritual life, restricting sense enjoyment for the purpose of purifying the consciousness. Limited-to-almost-no interaction for the goal of a clear consciousness. The purest consciousness is the one connected to the Divine. This is known as yoga, for which every living being has the potential, but for which the human is best equipped.

In the course of a lifetime there will be a little of each path, but the proper knowledge descends from authority. The acharyas pass down wisdom for discerning what should be accepted and what should be rejected. The person attached to Shri Krishna, the Supreme Lord, in consciousness automatically receives help. The ocean of suffering is difficult to overcome, but those devoted to Bhagavan can easily cross it.

दैवी ह्य् एषा गुण-मयी
मम माया दुरत्यया
माम् एव ये प्रपद्यन्ते
मायाम् एतां तरन्ति ते

daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāṁ taranti te

“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14)

[Krishna's lotus feet]And so even the confusion as to what should be enjoyed and what should be renounced gets resolved without much effort.  The mercy of the Divine is limitless, and fortunate are those who take advantage of the distribution.

In Closing:

In the animals but humans too,

Life boiling down to choices two.

To enjoy the senses whether,

Or in spirit breaking the tether.

At birth pravritti natural way,

Restriction only when others to say.

Shelter of acharya wisdom the best,

Discerning Divine mercy from the rest.

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