Shreyas and Preyas (श्रेयः प्रेयः च)
Shreyas (Samskrit : श्रेयः) and Preyas (Samskrit : प्रेयः) are two-fold approaches optionally available to mankind in the journey of life as explained in Kathopanishad. Applicable to all beings even in the present day society, Kathopanishad highlights the ability to discern between needs and wants or essentials and desires.
Yama and Nachiketa samvada explicitly depicts the desirable qualities of a disciple seeking brahmavidya. For his exceptional courage to face death, Yama grants Nachiketa three boons and the dialogue between them forms the essence of brahmavidya as elucidated in Kathopanishad belonging to Krishna Yajurveda shaka of Taittriya Samhita. While brahmavidya is the essence of Vedanta, different aspects of it have been discussed in various Upanishads as dialogues between two persons.
- 1 Yama Nachiketa Varapradana
- 2 श्रेयो शुभकरः प्रेयो सुखकरः॥ Qualities of Shreya and Preya
- 3 श्रेयो धीरः वृणीते ॥ Wise choose Shreya
- 4 प्रेयो मन्दः वृणीते ॥ Unwise choose Preya
- 5 विविनक्तः ॥ One with Discerning Power
- 6 References
Yama Nachiketa Varapradana
Kathopanishad reveals the secrets of Death, in the dialogue between Yama and Nachiketa. In this context, Nachiketa asks Yama to grant him Atmajnana or brahmavidya as his third boon. Yama, in an attempt to dissuade him from seeking the knowledge of Self and secrets of death, allures him by offering pleasures of life, kingship, wealth, progeny and cattle. Nachiketa with steadfastness says "O Yama! I am not to be seduced by the lure of sons, wealth, cattle and kingdoms. What are these to a sensible man who realises that worldly pleasures are transient in nature?"
Greatly impressed by his non-attachment to worldly pleasures at such a tender age, Yama imparts the secrets of death and the path of ascent of soul to higher planes to Nachiketa.
श्रेयो शुभकरः प्रेयो सुखकरः॥ Qualities of Shreya and Preya
The first adhyaya second valli (6 verses) of Kathopanishad teaches the concept of Shreyaha and Preyaha, where Yama talks about how the discerning power of the mind enables man to take either the path to worldly prosperity or to immortality.
अन्यच्छ्रेयोऽन्यदुतैव प्रेयस्ते उभे नानार्थे पुरुषँ् सिनीतः । तयोः श्रेय आददानस्य साधु भवति हीयतेऽर्थाद्य उ प्रेयो वृणीते ॥ १॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.1)
anyacchreyo'nyadutaiva preyaste ubhe nānārthe puruṣam̐ sinītaḥ । tayoḥ śreya ādadānasya sādhu bhavati hīyate'rthādya u preyo vr̥ṇīte ॥ 1॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.1)
Meaning : The preferable and pleasurable are indeed different things. Both of these, serving divergent purposes bind men (chosen by will), however, Shreya brings about wellness to him who accepts it among the two. One who chooses Preya (pleasure) falls down from the eternal supreme goal.
It is clear that every being chooses his own path at his own will. Preyas is that which attracts us at the first sight because it can give us immediate pleasure. Shreyas is that which does not attract us but is good for us. These two, though related severally to the human goals (prosperity here in this world and in after-worlds), they are opposed to each other as much as the nature of knowledge and ignorance. Thus, it is a choice of the two, as both cannot be performed together by the same person.
श्रेयो धीरः वृणीते ॥ Wise choose Shreya
श्रेयश्च प्रेयश्च मनुष्यमेतः तौ सम्परीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः । श्रेयो हि धीरोऽभि प्रेयसो वृणीते प्रेयो मन्दो योगक्षेमाद्वृणीते ॥ २॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.2)
śreyaśca preyaśca manuṣyametaḥ tau samparītya vivinakti dhīraḥ । śreyo hi dhīro'bhi preyaso vr̥ṇīte preyo mando yogakṣemādvr̥ṇīte ॥ 2॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.2)
Meaning: Both wellness and pleasure are approachable to mankind; the wise man examines and distinguishes them. The wise man prefers Shreya (wellness) but men of poor intellect accept Preya (pleasures) for the sake of protection of the body.
धीरः ॥ One with intellect, having surveyed fully, i.e. having fully analysed discerns between Shreya and Preya, and opts for Shreya (wellness that takes one on path of Paratattva and Moksha) while मन्दः ॥ one with poor intellect, lacking in discrimination, opts for Preya for he seeks the wellness of his body. The path of preyas is the path of ignorance and that of shreyas is the path of Knowledge.
श्रेयः निवृत्तिमार्गः ॥ Nivrtti Marga (Moksha)
The other path is that of Shreyas which leads to Self Realisation (Nivrtti marga). Here the focus is on the welfare of the Atma and not the body. Realisation (Moksha) is reached through renunciation. Nachiketa symbolises discrimination who chooses Shreyas, that which is good and right and rejects Preyas though the latter appears very inviting and appealing.
प्रेयो मन्दः वृणीते ॥ Unwise choose Preya
स त्वं प्रियान्प्रियरूपांश्च कामान् अभिध्यायन्नचिकेतोऽत्यस्राक्षीः । नैताँ् सृङ्कां वित्तमयीमवाप्तो यस्यां मज्जन्ति बहवो मनुष्याः ॥ ३॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.3)
sa tvaṁ priyānpriyarūpāṁśca kāmān abhidhyāyannaciketo'tyasrākṣīḥ । naitām̐ sr̥ṅkāṁ vittamayīmavāpto yasyāṁ majjanti bahavo manuṣyāḥ ॥ 3॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.3)
Meaning : Oh Nachiketa! after careful deliberation you have not accepted and discarded, all the desirable things that are themselves delightful or are producers of delight. You have not accepted this path of wealth in which have many men perished.
प्रेयो प्रवृत्तिमार्गः ॥ Pravrtti Marga (Samasara sukha)
The path of worldly enjoyment, Preyas is also known as the Pravrtti marga. It is very easy to get drawn into this path for seeking material gains which are no doubt pleasurable. But our sense of discrimination will tell us that these gains are not only transient but also do not help us attain Moksha.
विविनक्तः ॥ One with Discerning Power
दूरमेते विपरीते विषूची अविद्या या च विद्येति ज्ञाता । विद्याभीप्सिनं नचिकेतसं मन्ये न त्वा कामा बहवोऽलोलुपन्त ॥ ४॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.4)
dūramete viparīte viṣūcī avidyā yā ca vidyeti jñātā । vidyābhīpsinaṁ naciketasaṁ manye na tvā kāmā bahavo'lolupanta ॥ 4॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.4)
Meaning: Yama says "These two, अविद्या (ignorance) and विद्या (knowledge) are wide apart, contradictory and follow divergent paths. A ज्ञाता ॥ learned ascertains अविद्या ॥ Avidya - as one which has objects of pleasure while विद्या ॥ Vidya - is one that has objects of knowledge. I consider that you Nachiketa are desirous of knowledge, because the (enjoyable) desires although many were offered, did not tempt you. According to Sri. K. S. Narayanacharya - A Manda (dull) person is one who does not have a vision of his future. The integral knowledge that connects the past, present and the future and contemplation on such knowledge is called Pragya. Manda or dull is the opposite of Pragya. A manda desires for Yoga Kshema, unaware of his past, thinks only about the present and future. For him Yoga is achievement of the unreachable pleasures (like the heavenly pleasures) and Kshema is protecting and enjoying them all of which eventually are a cause of unlimited anxiety.
अविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः स्वयं धीराः पण्डितंमन्यमानाः । दन्द्रम्यमाणाः परियन्ति मूढा अन्धेनैव नीयमाना यथान्धाः ॥ ५॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.5)
avidyāyāmantare vartamānāḥ svayaṁ dhīrāḥ paṇḍitaṁmanyamānāḥ । dandramyamāṇāḥ pariyanti mūḍhā andhenaiva nīyamānā yathāndhāḥ ॥ 5॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.5)
Meaning : Living in the midst of ignorance (of worldly pleasures) and considering themselves intelligent and enlightened, the मूढाः ॥ senseless ignorant persons follow about in circles adopting crooked courses, just like a blind who leads another blind.
न साम्परायः प्रतिभाति बालं प्रमाद्यन्तं वित्तमोहेन मूढम् । अयं लोको नास्ति पर इति मानी पुनः पुनर्वशमापद्यते मे ॥ ६॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.6)
na sāmparāyaḥ pratibhāti bālaṁ pramādyantaṁ vittamohena mūḍham । ayaṁ loko nāsti para iti mānī punaḥ punarvaśamāpadyate me ॥ 6॥ (Katha. Upan. 1.2.6)
Meaning : The other worlds attainable after the fall of the mortal body does not get revealed to a non-discerning person, whose blundering mind is attracted and deluded by the darkness of wealth and pleasures. "This is the world" he thinks and "there is no other" - thus he (is born) again and again and comes under my (Mrityu) control.
A wise man understands that both paths, Shreyas and Preyas are opposing paths and as one traverses the path, one realizes that the gap between the two progressively increases. It is also clear that the two paths can never meet. The knowledge of Brahma is not easily attainable by many even when heard and many do not understand even when such knowledge is imparted by wonderful expounder. Rarely does a soul becomes a Knower, after being instructed by a proficient teacher.
While Preyas may be functionally useful it also becomes the cause of Bondage. One who chooses Shreyas as one’s life goal is benefited and one who accepts Preyas would be bereft of the highest achievement.
- Swami Sivananda Saraswati, (1936). Dialogues from Upanishads.Amritsar: The Star Press
- Swami Gambhiranand, (1957) Eight Upanishads, With the Commentary of Sankaracarya, Vol 1. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama
- Swami Sharvananda, (1983) Kathopanishad (Telugu Translation) Madras: Sri Ramakrishna Math
- Narayanacharya, K. S. (2011). Veda Sanskritiya Parichaya, Part I. Hubli:Sahitya Prakashana.