Identifying and overcoming the root cause of our material existence.

Coping with Envy

'Neighbour's envy, owner's pride,' Growing up in an age when television was a new phenomenon, this advertising slogan caught the imagination of the public. Owning that particular brand of T.V was considered all the more glorious because the ones who didn't possess it would envy you. However, for practicing devotees, envy is no cause of joy. It is a burning burden, threatening to destroy the tender creeper of bhakti growing in our hearts.
Envy means desiring to possess the object and position enjoyed by someone else A student coming first in class is envied by his classmates who narrowly missed it. Your promotion in office is envied by other colleagues who were overlooked for the coveted post and the raise. In social circles, people are often seen to be joking and belittling others, especially those not present at the party. Taking pleasure in finding faults is a symptom of our envious nature. This pulling the one superior to us, to our level is akin to the crab mentality. Crab exporters save a lot of money by doing away with the lids for the containers. There is no fear of the crabs escaping because when one attempts to jump out, the others pull him back. This trend is not uncommon in human societies as well.
Devotees hear historical instances of personalities suffering due to their envious nature. Gopala Capala, seething with envy at the popularity of , Srivasa Thakura attempted to demean him by displaying obnoxious substances, meant for tantric worship, outside his , house and ascribing it to Srivasa's dubious nature. Although Srivasa was humble and didn't take offense, the Lord didn't forgive Gopal Capala. Gopal contracted leprosy and Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu declared he would have to suffer this reaction for millions of lifetimes.
When we hear such extreme cases of envious outbursts and consequent reactions, we might falsely console ourselves, "Well if this is envy, I am certainly not envious because I would never do that". For practicing devotees however, envy manifests more subtly. We can smell traces of envy within our hearts when we feel no joy at others' progress in Krsna consciousness. When other Vaisnavas are glorified how do we feel? Although not scheming to harm others, one might wish another devotee to face some failures and struggles so that one's own position as someone better is revealed to the world. When others prosper materially and spiritually, a neophyte devotee feels insecure and threatened by their achievements.
Our envy cowards others is rooted in our envy towards Krsna. Since all good qualities are coming from Krsna, when we see a devotee excel in any aspect of spiritual life, we are actually witnessing Krsna's mercy showered upon him. Thus, to feel envious of another means we are actually envying Krsna, and this is the very cause of our conditioned material existence. Desiring to be the enjoyer and controller, the soul is struggling in the material world. After failing repeatedly in such attempts, when we wake up to our original consciousness and act as servants of Lord, we become eligible to go back to the spiritual world. On the other hand, by nursing envy and hatred, we simply prolong our sufferings here. It is , therefore not surprising to find Srila Prabhupada repeat in almost every lecture, conversation. and in his voluminous writings. about the dire need to cast off this deep rooted tendency to be the enjoyer.
We often hear of lust being a deadly enemy of an aspiring devotee. A devotee falling down due to lust is generally seen to lament and accept his weakness. However a victim of envy, most often is unaware that he is envious. He assures himself and others he is not envious but on the contrary, he is only 'helping' by pointing out the obvious faults.
Sisupal was envious of Krsna and also convinced that his blasphemy of Krsna in the Rajasuya assembly was justified. It surprised him to see others not sharing his understanding. Thus envy blinds a person to his own faults. When lusty thoughts spurt up in heart, a devotee might feel humbled and fallen. However a gush of envious feelings simply increases our false pride and builds a high although wrong estimation of ourselves. Envy also implies lack of faith in Krsna. In the modern competitive environment, if one comes first, it is natural for others to feel envious because they might have missed the bus. However in Krsna consciousness there is no cause for envy because Krsna is unlimited and if someone else gets lots of mercy, it in no way inhibits our own advancement and access to Krsna's benevolence. Krsna's stock of mercy doesn't reduce and others' success is a cause of celebration as it reveals Krsna's most wonderful opulences, manifest through His devotees.
The most confidential knowledge within the Bhagavad Gita is contained in the ninth chapter and Lord Krsna cites the qualification to understand this The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most confidential knowledge and realization, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence. (B.g. 9.1)
While one could use anger or greed in Krsna's service. envy alone finds no place amongst all the anarthas in the spiritual realm. Krsna assures that if we follow the process without envy, we become free from the bondage of fruitive actions. However, if we act out of envy we will be 'befooled', 'bereft of all knowledge' and 'ruined' in our endeavors for perfection. (B.g. 3.31 &3.32). Nursing this envy ensures we don't taste the nectar of bhakti, although we might go through the externals of the process. It is like licking the bottle of honey from outside.
Therefore the first and most important step in overcoming envy is to acknowledge the existence of the enemy within. It requires courage and humility to accept one's fallen condition and make a sincere endeavor to rise from that level. Srila Prabhupada writes about the need to make the kingdom of God as the goal of life and fixing this as the goal helps one abandon envy as it is a sure deterrent on the path. It also helps a sadhaka to meditate on how his devotional life is resting on a 'life support' system of causeless mercy. The more we remember how we are dependent on mercy of devotees and Krsna, the less we will cultivate envy in our hearts. This is because our own fragile state will be revealed to us and the dangers of cultivating this anartha will be obvious. A culture of prayer is certainly beneficial. Calling out to Krsna to help us from this diseased mentality is purifying and if we also pray for the success of the person we are envious of, our heart becomes softer.
We are rotting in the material world because of the forgetfulness of our relationship with Krsna. Therefore we have to fervently pray for remembrance of our constitutional position of being a servant and then, act on this platform. Constantly reminding ourselves of our precarious condition in this material world and rendering loving service to other Vaisnavas is most pleasing to Krsna and being pleased by a devotee's service, He will certainly bestow the gift of love and non enviousness upon him.
Vraja Bihari Dasa, MBA, serves fulltime at ISKCON Mumbai, and teaches Krsna consciousness to students in various colleges.