Keeping moksha (self-realization) as the primary end in life, the Vedic culture provides two committed lifestyles a person may follow.
- One is a life of activity and duties called pravrrti marga wherein one enjoys a disposition of karma yoga.
- The other is a life of renunciation called nivrrti marga.
While the former provides a lifestyle conducive for one’s inner growth, leading to self knowledge, the latter is a life exclusively committed to self knowledge. Ultimately, both of the lifestyles are meant for moksha.
In the life of pravrrti one is primarily committed to dharma. In keeping with the Vedic dharma, one performs actions to achieve artha (wealth) and kama (desires) in this life and in the hereafter.
- Karmas that aid in fulfilling one’s desires are known as kamya karmas. E.g. performing putrakameshti yaga=a ritual to obtain a child, King Dasaratha did this yaga to obtain Rama.
- Karmas that are done daily are called nitya karmas. E.g. eating, bathing, cooking, cleaning, going to school/work, showing hospitality to surprise guests, etc.
- Karmas that are done occasionally are called naimittika karmas. E.g. Sraaddha, karma to propitiate ancestors.
These karmas are considered to be binding when one is impelled to act due to one’s likes and dislikes. On the other hand, when the same karmas are performed for purification of one’s mind, they become a means for growth, leading to moksha i.e. when they are performed with devotion (bhakti) for the sake of the Lord, they can bring inner maturity. This attitude helps neutralize one’s likes and dislikes and the very karma becomes an offering, known as a yagna. The results thereof are received as the grace of the Lord (prasada).
Since the Vedic rituals cover all phases of life, the life of a Vaidika (one who follows the Vedic tradition) is a religious life. In the vision of Vedas, the cosmic laws are functionaries, known as devatas (gods-sun, moon, fire, water, wind, earth etc.). The Lord is propitiated as these cosmic forms and through the Vedic yagnas one comes to understand and appreciate the inter-relatedness of all that exists in the creation. Thus, a Vaidika’s life is committed to yagna, which brings about harmony between the individual and the creation. Such a prayerful life leads to inner maturity and prepares the person for the discovery of self knowledge and freedom.
The second lifestyle prescribed by the scriptures is that of nivrrti or sanyasa, renunciation. The scriptures absolve the sannyasi from the performance of nitya and naimittika karmas. Such a person is/should be committed to the pursuit of self knowledge only to the exclusion of all other activities.