Many years ago, while a Swamiji was traveling by bus in India, a poor beggar man was sitting by his side. They happened to get down at the same bus stand. When he saw this person limping, he felt sorry for him. He looked down at his feet and discovered that he was wearing a high-heeled sandal on one foot and the other foot was bare. So, the Swamiji asked him, “My dear fellow, I am so sorry to see that you have lost one sandal.” He said, “No Swamiji, I found the sandal.” In other words, he found one sandal and chose to wear it, thereby bringing misery onto himself.
Very often the misery that we experience is also brought on to us by the wrong choices that we make. Let us hone in on that on the tenth day of the Happiness Challenge, by talking about one important piece of Vedic wisdom that will enable us to make better choices in life. The Katha Upanishad of the Vedas states that there are two kinds of happiness available.
अन्यच्छ्रेयोऽन्यदुतैव प्रेयस्ते उभे नानार्थे पुरुषँ सिनीतः ।
तयोः श्रेय आददानस्य साधुर्भवति हीयतेऽर्थाद्य उ प्रेयो वृणीते ॥ १ ॥
श्रेयश्च प्रेयश्च मनुष्यमेतस्तौ संपरीत्य विविनक्ति धीरः ।
श्रेयो हि धीरोऽभिप्रेयसो वृणीते प्रेयो मन्दो योगक्शेमाद्वृणीते ॥ २ ॥
anyacchreyo’nyadutaiva preyaste ubhe nānārthe puruṣam̐ sinītaḥ |
tayoḥ śreya ādadānasya sādhurbhavati hīyate’rthādya u preyo vṛṇīte || 1 ||
śreyaśca preyaśca manuṣyametastau saṃparītya vivinakti dhīraḥ |
śreyo hi dhīro’bhipreyaso vṛṇīte preyo mando yogakśemādvṛṇīte || 2 ||
There are two paths—one is the ‘beneficial’ and the other is the ‘pleasant.’ One is “śhreya” and the other is “preya.” Preya is that kind of happiness which is sweet like nectar in the beginning but transforms into bitter poison later on. Śhreya is the reverse—it is bitter like poison in the beginning but subsequently, it becomes sweet like amrit (nectar).
An example of preya is overeating—enjoying the fifth gulab jamun. When we do so, we may experience great gratification of the senses and the pleasure therein. But later on, when it results in a stomach upset and we have to fast and skip the next meal, we would say this was a terrible experience. So, preya happiness is that—which is sweet in while doing, but bitter subsequently.
Śhreya happiness is that which is bitter in the present. For example, if a student has to apply himself or herself to studies, that requires focusing the mind, abstaining from the distractions, and the pleasures of the senses—it is bitter—it is a bitter pill to swallow. But subsequently, when that results in admissions into a good college, a brilliant career in the future—all that austerity comes back as sweet nectar.
So, the struggle in life, in childhood while growing up, and today is always between these two options. For example, parents and children quarrel over this—parents want the child’s long-term benefit while the child wants immediate gratification and the parents then explain, “Āmle kā khāyā aur baḍoṅ kā kahā, bād meṅ patā chalatā hai.”
Watch this interesting video by Swami Mukundananda –
Āmlā is the Indian gooseberry which contains the vitamin C equivalent of ten oranges and is rich in antioxidants. So, if we take the āmlā every day, our chances of catching a virus or infection reduce to five percent. However, there is a catch to it—that beneficial āmlā is bitter to taste. And when the mother gives it to the child, the child does not wish to eat it. That is when the mother says, “My child, the benefits of both these—eating of āmlā and the advice of the elders—are experienced in the future.”
Interestingly, we only need to keep the morsel of āmlā in our mouth for two minutes and then it turns sweet. In other words, the bitterness merely had to be tolerated for a little while. It is from that austerity that we shirk. Our mind and senses are like children—they seek immediate gratification and the intellect looks for long-term benefits. So, the struggle ensues between the intellect, mind, and the senses—what do we choose in this scenario—immediate gratification or long-term welfare?
This same option continues all the way in life. Interestingly, any worthwhile happiness that is uplifting usually lies upstream of us. And that is why we need to make proper choices. And if we can develop the quality of discipline, we will more often choose śhreya than not.