By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
Viveka is the ability of human discernment and discrimination. It is one of the core psycho-spiritual skills necessary for obtaining liberation from the bondage of maya. Maya is a Sanskrit term that refers to the temporary and illusory nature of this physical world. Using our divinely given power of viveka, to determine what is pleasurable from what is beneficial, helps us to align our lives with the highest principles of spiritual beauty. In the Vivekachudamani, a long Sanskrit poem that presents Advaita Vedanta in rich detail, the sage Shankara tells his disciple that the development of viveka is one of the primary tasks of spiritual life, and one of the most important skills to develop for obtaining liberation.
A keenly developed sense of viveka allows a Yoga practitioner to discern between the preyas and shreyas. In Yogic philosophy, the preyas refer to actions and thoughts that are enticing and pleasurable in the short term, but are harmful in the long run. Shreyas, on the other hand, are actions and thoughts that are filled with nobility and divinity. Some of the virtues of the shreyas are compassion, love, sacrifice, and dharmic livelihood. Shreyas enhance spiritual growth. The pursuit and engagement in preyas generally brings us further away from resting in divine oneness. The ability to discern clearly between the preyas and shreyas is considered to be one of the “crown jewel” attainments along the path to moksha or liberation.
In our daily lives, there are many opportunities, both large and small, to choose between what is temporarily pleasurable or beneficial and uplifting in the long run. For instance, when it is time for a young child to go to bed, he or she may protest loudly and with great emotion demand to stay up for “just one more television show.” As a parent, we know that what is best for the child is to get enough rest, so that the child feels well rested the next day. To allow the child to stay up late is a choice to relieve the incessant protestations in lieu of what is ultimately beneficial. This would be a choice that favors the preyas over the shreyas.
In the same way, pushing yourself past your physical limits in Yoga class, in order to achieve a pose that has previously eluded you, may be pleasurable in the moment, but the disregard for your physical abilities may have negative consequences on you in the long run if you injure yourself. Applying viveka to situations that arise in your daily life, both large and small, will help you to become aware of when you are choosing the path of immediate pleasure and gratification over thoughts and actions that will ultimately uplift your heart and enhance spiritual growth.
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