CHENNAI: The Vedas posit that man has a choice of two paths in this world: Sreyas (preferable) also called Nivrtti, and the other Preyas (delectable) which is also known as Pravrtti. Sreyas is said to be preferable because the end (Self-knowledge) that is sought is permanent and hence there is no return to the world of bondage. The Vedas prescribe Preyas as a legitimate pursuit for fulfilling desires pertaining to both the world and the heaven through the performance of various sacrifices (Karma) with Dharma as the guiding principle in their advocacy. The fruits of Karma can be enjoyed relatively quickly but they are not long-lasting because they remain only till the merit is exhausted.
In his discourse, Sri Mani Dravid Sastrigal said the Katha Upanishad illustrated through the story of Nachiketa that an intelligent man would opt for the path of Sreyas. When Nachiketa reached Yama’s (god of Death) abode after he offered himself as a gift in a sacrifice his father performed, he was made to wait for three nights there. Yama welcomed the young boy and granted three boons to recompense for his lapse of making him wait without food and water for a guest was verily God. Nachiketa was sharp and immediately understood he did not have to seek a long life. So with the first boon he sought that his father should welcome him happily when he returned (for no one would a person returning from the land of Death) because it was in a fit of anger that he had offered Nachiketa to Yama.
With the second boon he sought to know the “Fire” that led to heaven and Yama not only taught him that sacrifice but also named it after Nachiketa. And finally he wanted to know “of that thing about which people entertain doubt in the context of the next world (state after death), the knowledge of which leads to greatness (eternal bliss of Self-knowledge).”
Yama was baffled that such a young boy should seek that which even sages found difficult. He dissuaded him by offering all kinds of riches and sensory pleasures but Nachiketa was not swayed by them. Convinced that he had detachment and thus qualified to receive spiritual knowledge Yama taught him the highest wisdom that is the goal of Sreyas.