Shreyas and Preyas in Gita and Upanishads

story of nachiketas shreyas and preyas

Bhagavad Gita and Kathopanishad

It would not be wrong to say that almost all the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita are the most concentrated extract from the teachings of Upanishads.

Sri Krishna delivered Upanishadic Teachings to His friend Arjuna in the form of the Bhagavad Gita.

We find a close similarity of point of reference for the Gita in an Upanishad called Katha Upanishad a.k.a Kathopanishad.

The Kathopanishad is a lively conversation that happened between Yamraj and Nachiketas.

The character, enveloped in confusion, among the two main Sri Krishna and Arjuna, was of course Arjuna.

Similarly, in the conversation that happened between Yamraj and Nachiketas, the one confused with the fundamentals of religion was of course Nachiketas, the young boy.

The background of the Scripture Kathopanishad was constructed through an anecdote.

This anecdote is part of the Taittiriya Brahmana portion of the Vedas that precedes the Kathopanishad.

Intent of the Fire Sacrifice

Vajrasrava Gautama performed a sacrifice called Sarvavedas or also known as Sarvadakshina.

In this sacrifice, the goal is to offer everything that one has, without retaining or holding back any of one’s possessions.

One has to do this activity with total abandonment.

Those were the days of Truth and sincerity.

Who would dare to perform such a sacrifice in these modern days of Kaliyuga?

It is practically impossible.

This sacrifice known as Sarvadakshina was normally performed as preparation for the performer’s last stage of spiritual life.

This was the rigor and norm of those old days when spirit mattered more than possessions.

Strangely, though Vajrasrava Gautama prepared himself for this grand sacrificial ceremony, he had not yet attained the maturity for such a sacrifice.


There was a gap between his inner state and the act that he was about to perform at the external platform.

There was some sort of unpreparedness and deceit which he adhered to.

He wanted to offer only those things in the sacrifice that he did not find useful.

He followed the letter of law of the sacrifice, but discounted the spirit behind the sacrifice.

Nachiketas Observes Duplicity

Strangely, his son Nachiketas was keenly observant.

He noted the duplicity of his apparently religious father.

The boy’s father was giving away old, useless, barren cows and all that which had no return value.

This pained the boy, who was a well-trained Brahmin.

Seeing his father’s hypocrisy, he exclaimed, “Joyless is the place to which the giver of such worthless things goes, I am also your father.

To whom do you plan to give me.”

Instead of appreciating the boy’s Truthful and clean nature, the father was red with rage.

The boy meanwhile repeated this question thrice. “To whom are you going to present me, father?”

Gautama now lost his cool and shot back, “ To Death, I shall hand you over, you wretched one.”

This story outlines the Introduction to the Kathopanishad.

Significance of the Story of Nachiketas

The brief story has many implications.

Modern man is leading a superficial life and does not quite connect deeply within himself.

Man portrays a double character more often than not.

Thus, he leads a double life.

This is exactly what the introductory passages of the Kathopanishad hints at.

While Gautama represents the outer form of religion, Nachiketas symbolizes the inner spirit or spirituality, the heart of religion.

The former attitude expects something from every religious act: ‘What shall I get from my pilgrimage, from a sacred bath, etc.?’

These are the questions of such a mind. ‘If I will not get something, I will not be religious’.

This attitude exhibits a commercial approach that is nothing short of bigotry.

While the outer form is necessary—like the legs of a person who can walk with them but also needs the head to think with.

Having legs without a head is inadequate by itself.

A man can exist without legs, but he shall not live without the head.

The spirit should go hand in hand with the form.

Religion has meaning only when the spirit leads.

The outer form of worship should be an expression of inner surrender, and not a mere symbol.

Preyas and Shreyas in Kathopanishad

Gautama represents short-term benefits, like covering some distance by swimming in the ocean but has no long-term thought, as to whether he can swim the ocean without any preparation.

Such action is thoughtless.

This approach represents Preyas, something that apparently gives you apparent success but is heading towards failure.

What Gautama’s sacrifice lacked was the vision of the Spiritual Domain.

What is the point of desiring the very same things that you are giving away?

It is like trying to row a boat through the water while the boat remains chained to a rod,  rooted to the shore.

On the other hand, there is Nachiketas, who understands the spirit behind the ritual that his father is performing.

His heart is clean and his vision is open.

He sees the shallowness of his father and is ready to give himself away as a gift so that his father is saved from ignominy.

Nachiketas is truthful and straightforward.

He has his vision on Shreyas, long-term well-being.

He is willing to suffer in the short term for permanent benefits that will emerge out of the sacrifice.

Having a heart like that of Nachiketas is as rare as a celestial jewel that is priceless.

The whole world will be sold but the jewel cannot be bought.

This is the value of a character like Nachiketas, rare but priceless.

To get a deeper understanding of the 2 fundamental concepts of Shreyas and Preyas I highly Recommend reading: Kathopanishad Shreyas and Preyas Examples.

Because it has tons of examples and analogies that can clarify all doubts!

Thanks for reading!