Both the good and the pleasant path approach man. The wise man discerns between the paths, and chooses the good over the pleasant. But the ignorant man chooses the pleasant for the sake of the body, motivated by desire to acquire and attachment to keep. —Kathopanishad 2:2
It’s a beautiful sunny Monday morning in the Spring. As you look outside into your backyard, you wish you could do some gardening instead of going to work. You’re tempted to call your office and tell them that you’re not feeling well and can’t come in today. Will you?
Or, your elderly neighbor asks you to accompany her to the doctor for her routine checkup. You know that it will take at least two to three hours. You had other plans for the day. What should you do?
Everyday, we face situations that require us to decide between two opposing choices—one requiring us to put aside our own likes and dislikes, and another that tempts us to give in to them.
In the ancient spiritual writings of the Hindus found in the Kathopanishad, it is said that in every decision, we are faced with choosing the Path of the Good or the Path of the Pleasant
What you value or what you like
The Path of the Good is the higher path. It is motivated by what you value. The Path of the Pleasant, on the other hand, is motivated by what you like.
In the situations above, adherence to your professional duty is something that you value, while getting the gardening done is what you like. Being there for a person in need is what you value, while giving up your time for your neighbour is what you dislike.
In both these situations, the first choice is taking the Path of the Good and the second, the Path of the Pleasant.
Taking the Path of the Good can be difficult, unpleasant, or inconvenient. It requires making a sacrifice now, but brings happiness in the form of peace of mind, satisfaction and inner growth in long run.
The Path of the Pleasant is the easy path. As its name suggests, it is pleasing, attractive and convenient. It temps you to take immediate and impulsive action in order to gain some joy or satisfaction in the present, unmindful of the consequences in the long run. It doesn’t bring peace of mind, enduring happiness or inner growth.
Your decision to take the Path of the Good or the Path of the Pleasant would depend on whether your goal is long-term happiness or short-term satisfaction.
Following the Path of the Good
Here’s another scenario that will make these two paths clearer: Terry is a mother of three young children. She’s out shopping at a department store that’s having a great weekend sale. Seeing how low the prices are, she picks up more than twelve items of clothing for herself and her family.
There are long lines of people at the checkout where she waits to pay for her purchases. Finally, she gets to the front of the line. The store associate scans the items and tells her the total amount that she has to pay. Terry is pleasantly surprised to see how reasonable her bill is.
As she hands him her credit card though, she gets a vague feeling that something may be amiss. There could be a mistake on the bill.
Not wanting to hold up the line by examining her receipt right there, she gathers her bags and goes back to her car. She begins to crosscheck her items with the receipt. She discovers that the store associate had missed scanning a pair of pants worth $13.99.
At that point, Terry has two choices—she can go back into the store and pay for the pants or she could chalk up the mistake to good luck and drive away. Her first instinct tells her that she should pay for them, but the thought of battling the crowds and standing in line to pay, turns her off.
So she decides that she won’t go back in. “After all,” she tells herself, “I didn’t take them on purpose. I would have paid for them had they been on the bill.”
Even as she thinks in this way she squirms uncomfortably in her seat. She knows paying for the pants is the right thing to do. She tries to cover up her uneasiness by justifying why she needn’t go back into the store: “It’s not my fault that he missed scanning the pants. It’s not a lot of money, anyway. At the end of the day, no one will ever know.”
A little voice reminds her that even though her children were not with her, she had been teaching them to be honest. What kind of a role model would she be if she was saying one thing and doing the exact opposite?
This thought immediately empowers her. She sits up straight in her seat. That’s true! “What a hypocrite I’d be!” She makes a firm decision that she will pay for the pants.
She decides that she will come back after the weekend sale when the store would be less busy. She’ll go back home now, show her children her purchases and explain what happened. That would be the perfect opportunity to reinforce a lesson in honesty. Maybe she would even take them with her when she went back to the store.
Having made that decision, Terry felt strong and very good about herself. This was following the Path of the Good. Had she succumbed to the temptation of keeping the pants without paying for them, she would have taken the Path of the Pleasant.
Like two different mountain trails
Following the Path of the Good can be challenging because the easy way out is very tempting. But if you choose to stand by your values in spite of the difficulties, it strengthens your character and brings spiritual growth
The Path of the Pleasant is the path of least resistance. It weakens your inner resolve and often leads you to regret your actions afterwards.
You can imagine these two paths as different trails on a mountainside. The Path of the Pleasant is a clear, wide, and downhill trail, lined with colorful flowers. Most travellers happily take this course, only to be frustrated to find that it ends at a dark and dreary cave.
In contrast, the Path of the Good is a narrow, uphill trail that is hard to make out, rocky and challenging to climb. However, the few strong travellers who take it and persevere, are rewarded by a spectacular view of the surroundings.
When making your next important decision, which path will you choose? Please share your thoughts and leave me a comment below.
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