The following article was originally delivered as a Satsang Sermon by Acharya Hersh Khetarpal on September 1, 2002.

One of the most stirring Yogic scriptures, the Kath Upanishad uses two marvelous words to help us see which course of action will lead to trouble in the long run and which will lead to detached, loving living. These words apply to every choice, in every circumstance, so they dispel the haze that often surrounds a difficult situation.

Whenever you have a choice, ask yourself this question: “Which is Preya and which is Shreya, the long term good?”

Preya is what we like, what pleases us, what offers immediate gratification to senses, feelings, on self-will. Shreya is simply what works out best in the end.

Preya is the “pleasure principle”: doing what feels good, no-matter the consequences.

Shreya means choosing the best consequences, whether it feels good or not—often forgoing a temporary pleasure for the sake of a lasting benefit.

Junk food is one of the clearest illustrations of Preya: sugar, salt, and saturated fat so fast and easy that you don’t even have to sit down for it. The consequences are all equally clear.

Or look at exercise: “no pain, no gain” training and toning the body often is not pleasant. We do it for the sake of its long-term benefits, because later we will really feel good in a deeper, longer lasting, more satisfying way.

That is Shreya—choosing what is best.

When we learn how to look for it, we see this choice between Preya and Shreya comes up in every moment, in virtually everything we do.

There is no escaping it.

The moment dawn breaks, the choices begin: “Shall I get up for my meditation, or shall I pull the blanket over my head and stay in bed a little longer?” It starts there and it goes on until you fall asleep at night.

Early morning, therefore, have your meditation right on time. It sets the tone for the rest of the day. The Bhagavad Gita, in a verse assures us that regular meditation will protect us from life’s gravest dangers– “Svalpampasya dhalmasya trayate mehato bhayat”: even a little meditation will guard you against the greatest fears, “…against physical ailments, emotional problems, disrupted relationships, spiritual alienation.”

Most critical, perhaps, meditation slowly opens our eyes and hearts to the needs of those around us. That is discrimination and there is no better protection against the mistaken choices that can so burden life with guilt and regret.

With all the conditioning of the media, where eating is concerned, right choices are not easy. Food has become a kind of religion and business is quick to cash in on it.

To choose wisely, your senses must listen to you. That is the essential prerequisite. And for your senses to listen to you, you must listen to you; your mind must listen to you. That is why, as you train your mind in meditation, your eating habits come under your control. Likes and dislikes begin to change and choices open up everywhere.

Yet discrimination, of course, extends not only to eating but to everything. In the scriptures, we are said to eat through all the senses. Just as we learn to be discriminating about what we put into our mouths, we learn to be vigilant about the books and magazines we read, the movies and television we absorb, the conversation we indulge in, the company we keep; in short, in everything we do and say, ultimately this extends even to what we think. We have a choice in all these things: this is what is meant by “intentional living.”

For example, even where highly recommended books are concerned, we have to be exceedingly judicious about what we put into our minds.

The fact that a book has become a best seller is no guarantee at all of quality. It is not about morality now but simply about the effect on the mind.

Why spend half an hour every morning in meditation, going through the agony of teaching our unruly mind to be clamed and clear, and then go out and stir up all its appetites again in the name of relaxation?

There are drugs that injure the body and there are books that injure the mind.

There is a Gita verse about the discriminating faculty: “When you keep thinking about sense objects, attachment comes. Attachment breeds desire: the lust of possession which, when thwarted, burns to anger. Anger clouds the judgment. And robs you of the power to learn from past mistakes. Lost is the discriminating faculty, and your life is utter waste.”

As our minds fill up with junk thoughts and junk feelings, we get addicted to them. We lose our discrimination and as these junk thoughts fail to satisfy—and they must—the cravings for them become more and more acute.

But we are hooked; we can’t get them out of our head, out of our relationships.

Every day, in everything, we have a choice. Nobody can say, “I am not free to choose.”

These two words from the Upanishads can always help us see our choices clearly: Preya, that which is pleasant but which probably benefits nobody even ourselves, and Shreya, that which is of lasting benefit to all.

Shall I reply curtly to her rude remark, or shall I speak kindly? Shall I spend the afternoon doing something I like, or shall I work at something that helps a few others? Every where we have choices like these, an discrimination comes when we start choosing what brings lasting benefits even at the cost of a few private, personal satisfactions.

Every selfish activity becomes a chain. At the outset we have no intention of disliking or avoiding and manipulating. But in the end we find ourselves with very little choices.

When we do not know that life’s fulfillment lives within us, we cannot help reaching for what is outside. And the more these attempts fail to satisfy, the more insecure we become. That is why so many spend their lives in some kind of hoarding; many possessions, pleasures, memories, always trying to reassure themselves with something more.

Of course, money has a place in life. But it is not the very goal of life. Our real wealth is our inner resources, which are infinite because the core of our personality is divine.

And the purpose of life is not to accumulate physical tokens of wealth but to mine these deeper resources for the good of all. That is the supreme goal of our existence and the only source of lasting value.

By accumulating, greed increases. Gandhi said, “There is enough on this earth for every man’s need, but not for every man’s need.” Discrimination means understanding that the welfare of each of us is part of the welfare of us all.

The vast majority of us, of course, are not so greedy that we would choose to let others suffer to get what we desire. But when a person gets wrapped up in personal interests, other people become shadows. And as far as most of us are concerned, our love is constrained to what we can see. If we are not aware of anybody suffering on our block, on our side of town, we feel content not to think about it further.

Much of the art of living rests on the rare ability to discriminate between what is in harmony with this central law of life and what violates it. What is Dharma and what is Adharma.

To act wisely, we must see clearly. “Does this particular choice resolve a conflict, foster clean air, bring peace to my mind or to people around me?”

If the answer to such questions is “yes,” that course of acting is in harmony with the unity of life.

To grow spiritually, we need both the detachment to see clearly, the discrimination to know what is of lasting value, and, of course, the will power—the determination to put our insight into action.

Without discrimination, by contrast, “anything goes;” one of the warnings in the Yogic scriptures states, “Lack of discrimination is the source of the greatest danger” to the health, to security, to personal relations, to life itself.

In daily living, discrimination means making wise choices, knowing what to do and what not to do.

“Learn to discriminate between what is permanent and what is passing. Chose every day to do things that improve your health, promote lasting security and deepen relationships—things that in the long run contribute to the well being of your society and the world. In this lies your happiness, your salvation, your very future.”

5 Responses to “Two Types of Action: Preya vs Shreya”

  1. LIsa Goodwin Says:

    Thank you, I enjoyed reading every word.

  2. Yagnesh Purani Says:

    wonderful, excellent, will try to choose “shreya” over “preya”. thank you.

  3. Mistry Ashvin Says:

    Thanks, Very much helpful in making choice.

  4. Jerrold Neglia Says:

    I am really thankful to this topic because it really gives up to date information ;,.

  5. Preya / Shreya: What it is and why it’s important Says:

    […] Source […]

Leave a Reply