In the Katha Upanishad, Nachiketa seeks divine knowledge from Yama – God of Death. A long dialogue ensues between them. Katha Upanishad, 2nd Mantra, Canto 2 reads as follows:
श्रेयश्च प्रेयश्च मनुष्यमेतः तौ सम्परीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः ।श्रेयो हि धीरोऽभि प्रेयसो वृणीते प्रेयो मन्दो योगक्षेमाद्वृणीते ॥
It means: Both Shreya and Preya approach man; the dhira (wise man), examining the two (well), discriminates between them. The wise man verily prefers Shreya to Preya; but the foolish man chooses Preya through the love of gain and attachment.
Shreya means satvik, good. Preya means pleasant.
Aren’t we facing such a dilemma every day? In the morning, we have two choices: wake up early and begin a healthy day or sleep a little more and enjoy the sweet morning nap. Of course, the first option shows Shreya, good. The second one is Preya, pleasant. Mostly we fail to choose the first one and end up choosing what is pleasant, what we enjoy.
Similarly, during childhood, one has to choose between study and games. A child might be serious and dedicated to studies. He might know the importance of studying well. But the attraction of spending time in a pleasant way, in games, is overpowering. Most of the parents get tired of reminding a child to focus on study. But is it a fault of the child? Or is it human nature?
Even in making friends, we seem to like those who are fun-loving and give us pleasant time over those who could guide us and give useful advice. Because the good ones may be boring and pleasant ones cool. We tend to choose a cool type of friends. Means, choosing Preya over Shreya.
In business, sometimes profitable, gainful options do not conform to ethical business practice. In such a situation, a wise person will certainly choose ethical business practice over profitability.
While choosing a life partner, handsome, sexy one attracts us more than a kind, caring and understanding one. We may not make this decision hastily. But attraction is always towards what appeals to our liking. Love, at first sight, is an example of Preya?
Yet, it is not correct to compartmentalise Shreya and Preya as in black and white, right and wrong. Because it is possible that what is Shreya has also characteristics of Preya i.e. is likeable, pleasant. There is always a combination of the two in any choice. It is mostly a difference in degree than in kind. In such a situation, one is bound to argue in favour of Preya.
Therefore, it is said that a wise man examines the two and discriminates them appropriately. While examining any situation or individual, it is important that we remain as much objective as possible. The mind makes analysis based on the inputs given by our knowledge organs, five senses. Therefore, it may be biased as well towards the more appealing choice. But wisdom is in remaining patient, detached and composed; giving ourselves enough time while discriminating between the two options. Choosing the satvik, good, Shreya over pleasant, likeable, Preya is advised by Katha Upanishad.
Let’s implement this analysis in our lives, whenever we have two options to chose from. It is certainly a spiritual lesson but can be applied as a modern life management mantra.