An effective way to curb the tendency for spiritually debilitating envy is to cultivate the quality of satisfaction.
By Brajanatha Dasa
Envy has no place in a life of devotion to Lord Krishna.

The equality of all people is enshrined as a sacred modern value. This contrasts with medieval societies, where hierarchies were often rigid and upward mobility was almost impossible.

While the premise of equality makes upward mobility seem possible, the reality of disparity makes such mobility seem difficult, even impossible. Nowadays, inequality is accentuated by the increased interconnectedness of society, whereby people living in poverty can see others living in prosperity and can feel the glaring disparity. This disparity can incite cravings that if unfulfilled can trigger enormous envy in people’s hearts.

Envy due to disparity arises from the presumption that the trappings of wealth are the providers of happiness. But is that presumption true? That man driving the most expensive car may well be so lonely and miserable that he may drive off the next sharp turn to end his life.

No matter how our mind imagines other people’s lives to be, no one’s life is perfect. Someone who owns a mansion may have a broken family. Someone who has the picture-perfect family may have a terminal disease. Someone who is a comedian may suffer from depression after the laughter.

Cultivating Satisfaction

To put it another way, envy is an indirect admiration of others’ opulence. Rather than getting carried away by images that look good, we need to train our mind for good. Such training centers on looking at the things we have, not at the things we don’t have.

Cultivating satisfaction becomes easier once we understand the spiritual truth that we are parts of the all-attractive ultimate reality, Krishna, and that our ultimate satisfaction lies in our personal loving connection with Him. When we practice bhakti-yoga to develop our inner connection with Krishna, our mind becomes purified (Gita 17.16).

Our desire to delight ourselves separately from Krishna causes us to suffer. This desire is rooted in envy (matsarya) of Krishna, which is the foundation of our material existence.

According to our acharyas, the great spiritual teachers in the line of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, envy is a uniquely bad quality because it can never be used in Krishna’s service. It breeds hatred toward all creatures and is the root of five other major impediments to devotional service to the Lord: self-centered desire (kama), anger (krodha), greed (lobha), arrogance (mada), and delusion (moha).

There is no space in the devotees’ association or in Goloka Vrindavana for persons envious of Krishna or His devotees. In the spiritual realm, envy does not exist. Envy can only exist in the material world.

Duryodhana’s Envy

Krishna takes much more seriously the offense of envy of devotees than offenses against Himself. A vivid illustration of the gravity of envy of the Lord’s devotees can be found in Duryodhana’s story in the Mahabharata. Duryodhana was envious of the Pandavas, the Lord’s devotees, because they, and not him, were the rightful heirs to the throne. He envied Yudhishthira’s royal position, Bhima’s physical power, and Arjuna’s peerless archery. Driven by envy, he conspired repeatedly to humiliate and destroy the Pandavas.

But the effects of envy’s malevolence extend beyond its targets to its hosts. Because of his envy, Duryodhana was not satisfied even when he had deceitfully gotten the Pandavas’ kingdom for himself. While they were living in exile in the forest, he went there to parade his prosperity before them. He wanted to humiliate them by showing them the glaring contrast between his prosperity and their poverty. As fate would have it, his plan boomeranged when he was defeated by celestial beings and had to be rescued by the Pandavas. Those whose humiliation he wanted to see ended up seeing his humiliation.

He could have lived luxuriously in his prosperous kingdom, but envy wouldn’t let him live in peace. Envy tormented him so much that he ended up doing something self-destructive. Actually, not just one thing – his whole life was a litany of envy-impelled actions. Envy kept him relentlessly dissatisfied.

If we entertain envy, it will similarly torture us incessantly. By understanding envy’s nature, we can become determined to adopt a zero-tolerance approach toward it. The Bhagavad-gita (16.18) indicates that envy toward anyone is ultimately envy toward the all-attractive supreme, Krishna.

Although Krishna speaks of the dangers of lust, anger, greed, and other negative emotions, in several verses (e.g., 9.1, 12.13, 16.19, 16.21, and 18.67) He gives special emphasis to envy by saying or implying that the knowledge of Bhagavad gita should not be passed on to envious persons. Therefore we can see why getting rid of envy is so vital. Krishna says in verse 16.19 that He casts envious people into the ocean of material existence in various demoniac species of life. Their only hope for deliverance is mercy from Him.

Misdirected Love

Lust, anger, greed, envy, and so on are the shoots arising from a foundational weakness: misdirected love. The Gita explains that we all are souls who are eternal parts of Krishna and are meant to love Him and delight in that love eternally. Unfortunately, however, instead of loving Him, we are at present loving worldly things.

Why do we misdirect our love? It is not so much because worldly objects are irresistibly attractive; it is because we don’t believe that our love for Krishna will be reciprocated – we doubt whether He cares. Due to this disbelief, we let ourselves be allured by worldly things, believing their promises of pleasure. Lord Chaitanya suggests that we rid ourselves of this deep-seated problem of envy by always chanting Krishna’s holy names.

Envy has taken the place of Krishna in our hearts. We need to make room for Krishna to take up residence there. The litmus test for envy is how Krishna conscious we are. If we are Krishna conscious, we are not envious.

By offering the oblations of our faith and devotion to harinama-sankirtana and chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, we can attract Krishna’s boundless mercy, which dispels envy, as a lamp dispels darkness.

When we practice bhakti-yoga and start relishing Krishna’s names and glories, we learn to see others’ opulence devotionally: instead of being reminded of our inferiority, we are reminded of our Lord’s glory. By such redirection, our devotion intensifies and our envy decreases and eventually disappears. Count your blessings, and you will see miracles every day of your life. Chant Hare Krishna and rejoice!

Brajanatha Dasa, PhD, and his wife, Suvarna Radha Devi Dasi, PhD, both disciples of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, live in Longmont, Colorado, with their two daughters. They are active in book distribution and in serving Sri Sri Radha-Govinda at ISKCON Denver.