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