We are but a sum total of the choices we make.
Life is all about choices. From the food we eat, to the clothes we wear, to bigger decisions such as the career we choose, to where we live, even our life partners. It is said that we humans are the only beings on the planet who can make a conscious choice – who can think, evaluate a situation and then arrive at a decision. But how many of us truly make conscious choices?
You are browsing Zomato to look for options for dinner tonight. As you scroll through, images of succulent burgers and cheese-filled ‘delicious’ pizzas waltz by. An occasional healthy bowl of salad drops in, but you quickly pass it, since today is a ‘cheat-day’. A burger it is!
These seemingly innocent options may just give you an introduction to Preya and Shreya.
The Kaṭhopaniṣad (Katha Upanishad) says that the human body is like a chariot drawn by five horses, which represent the five senses of sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. We run behind what appeals to these senses, for short-term gratification. This is preya. Attractive, delicious, much like that juicy burger that you got tempted to order. Shreya, on the other hand, is not as appealing, but is good for you – gives you long-term benefits (like the salad you passed by).
Eknath Easwaran describes preya as ‘the passing pleasure that seems pleasing to the senses but soon fades into it’s opposite, is what we choose when we indulge in injurious physical habits or retaliate against others. Shreya, the good that leads to lasting welfare for the whole, is what we choose by cultivating healthy habits…by putting the happiness of those around us first.’
Think about it. The more you give into your senses, and indulge in binge-eating, or substance abuse, or late-night partying, the more you crave for it.
It becomes a never-ending cycle, each time making you feel less good that you felt the last time around, and hence you want more of it to achieve the same high. Smokers would relate to this. At one point, cigarettes stop giving you a ‘kick’, unless you increase the number you smoke – the same goes for drinking too.
Shreya, on the other hand, is quite the unattractive option, but leads to long-term benefits. We know that we need to discipline our mind and senses, and live a balanced lifestyle: eat right, meditate, sleep and speak well; whilst promoting harmony and peace in our relationships – following this path is shreya.
This pandemic has given us ample time to think, and reflect on many aspects of our life. Now think of most of the choices that you make – would they classify as preya, or shreya?
We must learn to discriminate between what is good and lasting, and what is temporary and passing. The path is difficult, but you end up being healthier, happier and more at peace. And these factors are a collective benefit – a healthier, happier and peaceful you, leads to a better family and a society at large. We have been following preya for long – buying indiscriminately, eating junk food, abusing the environment, and the results are showing. The most technologically-advanced generation to walk this earth, does so in masks and sanitisers.
So here is a small exercise that you can practice whenever you are faced with a choice – however small that is.
Breathe in and out deeply, a couple of times – and close your eyes, and think for a minute –
is what I am going to choose shreya, or preya? Will it truly benefit me in the long-term?
Do a Marie Kondo on your choices – and you will get the answer.
You always have had the answer. It’s only that you failed to choose it earlier. Now you can. And you should:)
अन्यच्छ्रेयोऽन्यदुतैव प्रेयस्ते उभे नानार्थे पुरुषँ सिनीतः ।
तयोः श्रेय आददानस्य साधुर्भवति हीयतेऽर्थाद्य उ प्रेयो वृणीते ॥ १ ॥
anyacchreyo’nyadutaiva preyaste ubhe nānārthe puruṣam̐ sinītaḥ |
tayoḥ śreya ādadānasya sādhurbhavati hīyate’rthādya u preyo vṛṇīte || 1 ||
The good is one thing, and the dear is another,
Though they both, with various goals, seize the soul.
Those who choose the good achieve well-being.
Those who choose the dear fall short of the real goal.
My feathered friends, as usual, do not indulge in apparent choices. They just follow their natural instincts and end up wiser than all of us…