Yesterday is history,
Tomorrow is a mystery,
But today is a gift.
That’s why we call it the present.
That’s a well-known ancient saying, made epic by Master Oogway of the Kung Fu Panda films! As the quote suggests, the power of being in the now or present moment is immense. Like all spiritual realities, one must experience the same to understand it.
At this point, there’s a lot of material out there about mindfulness and the power of now. So, I won’t venture into those details. My focus here is on a not-so-nice side effect of thinking only about the present moment.
The End of My Singing Career
I started training in Carnatic classical music when I was about 4-years-old. With time, my talent saw significant growth. At one point, I began learning from a couple of reputed musicians. During my middle and high school years, I’ve won numerous awards for my singing.
My parents and relatives were delighted and incredibly proud of my achievements. Most social gatherings never ended without me performing at least one number. It became a norm for many adults to surround me, get me to sing, and then heap praises in abundance. No surprise that I got a lot of advice and criticisms too.
Truthfully, I really enjoyed the appreciation part. But, it also started putting subtle pressure on me. Slowly, I began dreading my public performances. With time, I resisted even my music classes. Around that time, I almost landed an offer to sing in Tamil films from a music director named Vidyasagar. The person who was ready to get me that opportunity was the renowned lyricist Vairamuthu. In short, it was pretty much a done deal.
That day, the adverse effects of social pressure (plus nervousness) kicked in, and I had had enough. Without giving any reason to my parents, I declared that I would quit singing. True to my word, I never returned to it for years! From then on, I sang only for the Divine at my altar. Even a few times I sang during festivities at home felt like a nightmare. And, the only time I ventured to sing for Swami, I ended up crying.
When I was in the Ashram for 40-days, Mohit Om, Sushree Diya Om, and Meenakshi Aunty gave me immense encouragement with my singing. Whenever the temple was almost empty, I sang for Sri Hari. They heard a couple of my sessions and supported me. Their love healed me out of my internal turmoil. Now, after more than two decades, I finally managed to upload a couple of songs on my YouTube channel. Of course, I’ve been out of touch for decades and have lost a great deal of talent there.
So, what does my story have to do with the present moment? Enter the Upanishadic concept of Preyas and Shreyas.
Preyas, The Pleasurable
Preyas is a derivative of the root word Prii, which means pleasure or comfort. Thereby, Preyas means performing pleasure-oriented activities. In other terms, it means we think of instant gratification in everything. Some thinkers also define this lifestyle as Bhoga or indulgence.
The appreciation my parents got for me was Preyas. I was nowhere close to being an expert. My career was starting, and at that time, a young mind wasn’t ready for handling success. Candidly, there was nothing wrong with what they did, just that they didn’t think beyond the present. Their notion was – My daughter is singing well. So, she deserves to get all the applause now.
Unfortunately, my parents didn’t have the spiritual guidance on the nuances of parenting from Om Swami! If someone had encouraged them to think about Shreyas, things would’ve been very different with my singing. Perhaps, that might’ve even been my career.
(Not to say I’m perfect! I’ve made similar mistakes with my son as well. Due to my over-enthusiasm, he isn’t as fond of Sanatana Dharma and has converted to Buddhism. Luckily, the religion he chose is a progressive and compassionate one. So, things worked out well there.)
Shreyas, The Progressive
Shreyas is a derivative of the root word Shri. Shri (Sri) means divinity, auspiciousness, grace, radiance, prosperity (spiritual and material), and so on. In general, anything that takes us towards Shri is Shreyas. That includes building good habits and pursuing virtues like compassion, love, patience, and empathy.
Carrying on the example of my life, if my parents had refrained from flaunting my talent to their social circle, I would’ve continued my music lessons. Possibly, I might’ve explored and enhanced my creativity on that front. Who knows? I may have even accepted that offer to sing in Tamil films. Maybe, the fulfillment I would’ve experienced could never match what their social circle could offer.
When we opt for a Shreyas-oriented life, we find ourselves confident and peaceful. We learn to think of long-term benefits rather than instant gratification. Nevertheless, such a lifestyle needs disciple, patience, and spiritual maturity. Hence, the scholars also define this lifestyle in one word as Tyaga or sacrifice.
A verse (1.2.2) in the Kato Upanishad speaks about Preyas and Shreyas. It goes – If a wise person had to choose between Shreyas and Preyas, they would examine the situation from all sides. Then, they typically select Shreyas. It is the slow-witted person who favors Preyas without considering all the benefits.
So, what does that mean? Should we never enjoy this short life that may forsake us at any time? Must we always tie ourselves to many principles that make us inflexible? Not at all! As the verse says, the wise don’t automatically choose some doctrine or norm as Shreyas. They consider all options and pick what they think is progressive.
As we’ve seen, planning our life in the direction of our long-term benefit is Shreyas. Executing that goal with awareness is living in the present moment. Accepting failures with grace yet never giving up on our aim is surrender. Then, rewarding ourselves to celebrate success is Preyas put to good use. Ultimately, that’s the secret recipe to a fulfilled life. In summary, our peace lies in balancing Shreyas and Preyas.