Getting Beyond Envy
One of the greatest problems of materialistic society is the tendency to compare yourself with others. “I’m not as successful as this other person.” “I’m not as attractive as that other person.” “On social media this person has so many more likes than I do.” “I need a better car than my neighbor." "I need to go on better vacations than my colleague.” “I’m valuable, if I am better.” However, comparing yourself with others is bound to lead to the impression that you are a failure because there is always someone who is more successful, intelligent and interesting than you. As Søren Kierkegaard said, “Comparing is the end of happiness and the beginning of discontent.” The moment you start comparing you enter the land of frustration. The mentality of comparing breeds the greatest obstacle for spiritual life: envy.
Enviousness is the exact opponent of love. In the philosophy of our tradition it is said that all suffering arises from envy. What is envy? It means to feel a slight pleasure when you see others suffering. An ancient story illustrates this problem:
There was once a poor man who didn’t have enough resources to supply his family with enough food. One day he sat under a tree in the forest and contemplated his situation. Suddenly, he heard a voice: “I’m the owner of this forest - I’m a powerful forest spirit - I noticed your poverty and have decided to help you. I will grant you any wish you have under one condition: with every wish I fulfill for you, I will grant your neighbor twice as much of the same thing.” The man replied with “Yes, of course, yes if I can get anything I want, I take your blessing!” When the man returned to his home he made his first wish: “Dear forest spirit, I have a few more kids than we planned for and our house is too small. Could you please make it bigger?” And – whoosh – his house had three more rooms! He was very happy.
The next morning he left the house to work on his field and noticed that the house of his neighbor had grown so much, that it was twice as large as his own. He called over to him “I’m happy for you!” Then he started to work and meanwhile thought about how his neighbor didn’t have to work for his benefit at all – “I was the one who met the forest spirit.” In the evening he again addressed the forest spirit: “My family will continue to grow - more children, grandchildren, visitors - please turn my house into a three-story house!” Whoosh – there it was! He walked through the new stories and rooms with his family, everything was so pleasurable, they were very happy. Before going to bed that night, he went to the bathroom and looked out of the new window. Gazing into the landscape he noticed that the house of his neighbor had grown so much that it now had six stories! ‘Good for him,’ he mumbled.
The next morning he issued his next request to the forest spirit: “My field is too small to provide for my family sufficiently. Please make it 10 times larger!” Whoosh – his field was 10 times larger and filled with crops. But, he also saw that his ‘rascal’ neighbor had gotten a field the size of 20 soccer fields without having to do anything for it! At that moment he fully felt the pain of envy – he felt miserable about the good fortune, wealth and happiness of his neighbor and decided to put an end to it. For one week he devised a plan. Finally, he went to the tree and requested the forest spirit: “This is an unusual request, but please, take one eye away from me.” Whoosh – so it was! As he went home, he only wanted to see one thing: the face of his neighbor and when he saw that two of his eyes were missing, he felt an evil pleasure.
You can see: envy is a great problem and materialistic society is giving it a lot of fuel. According to Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu you only need to practice three things in order to make spiritual advancement: 1) sing the Names of the Lord and in this way always think of Him and keep Him in your heart, 2) serve others who are on the path and 3) think of the welfare of others and do something for their good. Point number 3) can be seemingly small acts of service like greeting someone in a friendly way or helping an old lady carry her groceries across the busy street.
These are the three pillars of our movement and all three of them are destroyed if we harbor envy in our heart. How can an envious person chant the Holy Name? It is not possible due to the offenses against devotes this person will commit. How can an envious person serve and think of the welfare of others? It’s not possible because the person will become unhappy when others flourish. Non-enviousness is freedom and envy is bondage! Not needing to compare yourself with others, but being content in yourself will make you a free person! What can you do in order to become content in yourself so that you don’t need to compare yourself to others?
The beginning of deep satisfaction, of feeling totally content in yourself, of not needing anything else is always the way inside, discovering who you really are behind all your masks and in this way connecting with an everlasting source of energy and inspiration. The Bhagavad-gita (13.34) describes “As the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.” You are like a sun – eternal, full of bliss, that is the self – but it is covered with the body and a plan for your life that is aimed at making you happy, however, you cannot find happiness in the material world!
The scriptures tell us: The rasa you are looking for is not here, it is there! You are a part of Krishna, you are meant to taste spiritual things, bliss and happiness, but you can’t find that here. And the way to become content in yourself so that you don’t feel the need to compare yourself to others is to become absorbed in the spiritual reality. Become absorbed in your spiritual practice, so that you touch a bit of eternity, that spiritual taste, every day! But here is the thing – everyone in the Hare Krishna movement has a spiritual practice, but you see many unhappy devotees. What are they missing?
It’s the one thing that is so important: absorption. You must be able to withdraw your mind from material issues and deeply absorb your mind into the spiritual. Only when the mind is absorbed, does it absorb qualities. Otherwise, it is covered with a hard shell and spiritual nectar cannot enter.
Another helpful practice is to make it a point not to criticize others. Criticizing brings you into the wrong place. Better exchange it with appreciation - “Okay, the person does some thing that might not be my style, but there are these other good things about him or her…” Then your mind will not go into the dangerous arena of envy.