Recently, I read an article by Kavitha Chinnaiyan M.D. on Preyas and Shreyas. It’s not an approach I’ve explored before but one that can shed some insight.
Preyas means pleasing, desired, gratifying, a lover; what appeals to the senses.
Shreyas comes from the root “shri,” which means auspiciousness or radiant and also support. In a spiritual path we seek the support of the auspicious like an enlightened master or natures support.
In the opening of Krishna’s discourse to Prince Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita or Song of God, he outlines the key:
Contacts (of the senses) with their objects, O son of Kunti, give rise to (the experience of) cold and heat, pleasure and pain. Transient, they come and go. Bear them patiently, O Bharata!
That man indeed whom these (contacts) do not disturb, who is even-minded in pleasure and pain, steadfast, he is fit for immortality, O best of men!
– Bhagavad Gita 2:14-15
Contact of the senses (process of experience) with their objects creates experiences. When the subject is identified with the content of the senses, we are driven by these experiences. When we spend life seeking pleasure, we are chasing such experiences. This is following the path of preyas.
This is so deep that our preferences can define our sense of self. I am Fred and am a barber who likes Chinese food and sports, for example. This is both our story and how we seek pleasure, preyas.
It may surprise us how much of our sense of self is defined by what we like and don’t like. And how much we dedicate our life to this.
Even the acquisition of spiritual knowledge can fall under preyas. Often it is ego gratification that drives studying books, blogs, and teachings. We can say “I prefer the Advaita approach and like Ramana.” But is this because you’re getting results or because it offers tidy answers that satisfy the mind? If the latter is predominant, we remain under the grip of preyas. It doesn’t matter the teaching. If we’re chasing ideas to satisfy the mind, we may be missing the point.
Kavitha quotes the Shiva Sutra 1.2:
Jnanam bandhah, Knowledge is bondage.
I’ve often quoted the saying “Knowledge in books remains in books.” It’s not until it is your direct experience that you know. Spiritual teachings can serve as a pointer but if you turn it into a story, it can become a barrier to direct knowing.
When we’re identified with sense objects, preyas is a barrier to shreyas.
We find shreyas in surrendering, in letting go of self-concepts, in not knowing, in simple being. From a more devotional place, shreyas comes from aligning with the Divine.
They also offer it in satsang and darshan but that depends on how we sit with a teacher. Do we rest in presence and allow the silence to hear silence speaking? Or do we listen with the mind, seeking the “right answer”? Same with meditation. Does our practice draw us within, beyond the mind? Or is it just more subtle mind games?
When we step back from the mind, knowledge can come from much deeper places, beyond what the mind itself can access. Then the mind can be a tool to help give it words after.
This isn’t about perfection. We remain human and life is meant to be enjoyed. There’s nothing wrong with enjoyable pursuits. But we have to look beyond those to discover who we are and awaken a much deeper fount of joy.