Shreyas vs Preyas: “Play the Long-Game”

This week, I was reflecting on the age-old fable of the tortoise and the hare. In case you don’t remember, the hare mocks the tortoise because he is so slow (natural of a turtle!) so the tortoise challenges the hare to a race. The hare is so confident of winning that he literally “sleeps on his competitor.”

By the time the hare wakes up, he’s surprised to see that his racing buddy has surpassed him. Moral of the story: “The race is not to the swift' (Ecclesiastes 9.11). In other words, you can be more successful by doing things slowly and steadily than by acting quickly and carelessly.

I didn’t always possess the mindset of the tortoise. In fact, in my youth, I was more akin to the hare. However, time and experience tend to make you move slower and more intently, in all endeavors. It’s a balancing act to hold a long-term vision, put in consistent effort, and remain patient to the results.

Anything of lasting value takes time and effort — consistency over time. If you’re only playing the short-game, you might have short-term wins, but do they really last? Set your sights on the bigger picture. It may not pay off immediately, but eventually, when it does, it will be built on solid ground.

It’s not always easy to achieve this mindset, because we live in a society that feeds off of immediate gratification. Those instant inputs of apparent success release dopamine and endorphins so we go on seeking the next “hit.” That next bout of success or happiness is dangled in front of us like a carrot. In order to combat this chase, sacrifice is required. You must delay the craving for short-term pleasure in order to achieve your long-term goal. “Eyes on the prize.”

In the ancient Hindu texts, there are two concepts: Shreyas vs Preyas. According to a verse in Kathopanishad (1.2.2), “From between shreyas (that which is good to the Higher Self) and preyas (that which is pleasing to the senses) the wise one always chooses the shreyas.” In modern society, we see the opposite: The immediate pleasure overrides the long-term goal, which carries a long-term return but also requires effort, discipline, and commitment in the short-term.

One stanza in the Kathopanishad states:

The childish go after outward pleasures;

They walk into the net of widespread death.

But the wise, knowing immortality,

Seek not the stable among things which are unstable here (p. 25, v.1).

There’s a balance between effort and ease — taking steady action, yet relaxing and surrendering to the fruits of our actions. Our timeline doesn’t always match up with the universe’s clock. We’re all running our own race; we aren’t in competition with anyone. The seeds sprout when they are meant to sprout. You can’t rush an apple to ripen because you’re hungry now. All you can do is tend to the tree so that when it does ripen, it’s the sweetest, juiciest apple you’ve ever tasted. In the meantime, your job is to keep watering the garden.

So back to the good ol’ hare in the fable. His arrogance took him out— his ego. The turtle probably felt a bit intimidated, naturally, he’s not built for speed! But the tortoise taught us a great lesson: Don’t brag, stay humble—slow and steady wins the race. And if you’re wise, you know, that in reality….you’ve already won.

Stay in your lane, your time will come. Godspeed.

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