Coping with envy
By Vraja Bihari Dasa
‘Neighbor’s envy…owner’s pride.’ We grew up at an age when television was a new phenomenon and thisadvertising slogan had really caught the imagination of the public. Owning Onida T.V was considered all the more glorious because the one’s who didn’t possess it would envy you. However, as practicing devotees, envy is no cause of joy. It is a burning burden, threatening to destroy the tender creeper of bhakti growing in our heart.
What ails us?
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 the other colleagues who have been overlooked for the coveted post and raise. How can we know our heart is plagued by envy?
In social circles people are often seen to be joking and belittling others, especially those not present in the party become the object of ridicule. 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 lot of money by doing away with the lids for the containers. There is no fear of the crabs escapingbecause 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. Gopal Chapala, seething with envy at the popularity of Srivas Thakur attempted to demean him by displaying obnoxious substances meant for tantric worship, outside his house and ascribing it to Srivas’s own dubious nature. Although Srivas was humble and didn’t take offense, the Lord didn’t forgive Gopal Chapal. Gopal suffered from Leprosy, and Lord Chaitanya 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 Krishna consciousness. When other Vaishnavas 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.
Causes of Envy?
Our envy towards others is rooted in our envy towards Krishna. Since all good qualities are coming from Krishna, when we see a devotee excel in any aspect of spiritual life, we are actually witnessing Krishna’s mercy showered upon him. Thus to feel envious of another means we are actually envying Krishna, 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 in repeated such attempts, when we wake up to our original consciousness and act as servants of Lord, we become eligible to go to the spiritual world. Meanwhile 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.
The author is a celibate teacher at ISKCON ashram at Chowpatty, Mumbai
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