By Satyanarayana Dasa
Different spiritual paths have different requirements for success. The path of karma yoga requires tenacious adherence to the Vedic injunctions. The path of jñāna yoga requires full renunciation from material attachments and sense pleasures. All paths
Śrīmad Bhāgavata (SB 1.1.2) opens by saying that the path of bhakti is meant for those who are “nirmatsartā.” This word means “without matsara.” Matsara means, “unhappiness at the success or fortune of others.” In English we usually express this as “envy.”
Here in the very beginning of Srimad Bhagavata, which is the book that delineates prema and is the culmination of all Vyāsa’s efforts, Śrī Vyāsa himself says that one has to be absolutely free from envy to embark on the path of bhakti. Water turns to steam at 100 degrees centigrade, but not at even one degree less. Similarly, prema manifests in the heart when one is completely free from envy. There cannot even be a trace of it left in our hearts. Not even a trace!
Why does envy disqualify us from the path of bhakti? Because it is antithetical to bhakti, love—which is the state in which one attains happiness by being instrumental in the fortune and success of others.
Envy is marked by rivalry. Love is marked by cooperation. On the path of bhakti, we cooperate with other devotees, who are instrumental in bringing prosperity to, and fulfilling the goals and desires of Kṛṣṇa. A bhakta would especially never be envious of those who can bring Kṛṣṇa happiness.
Envy is absent in the world of bhakti, but ubiquitous in the material world. The reason is that in the material world, resources are limited and demand is more, forcing people to compete with each other. Bhakti gives happiness by seeing the prosperity of others. Envy is the opposite. If our rival competitor suffers and fails, we feel happy. Thus, in truth, we spend a lot of time, energy, and even money, to make others suffer.
Some psychologists suggest that there are two types of envy: malicious and benign. Malicious envy is completely detrimental, and fixates us on desiring the failures and misfortunes of others. Benign envy can act as a positive inspiration and motivation. We see someone who has what we want, and it fixates us on improving ourselves. Benign envy can be more or less pure. In a less pure form, the motivation is merely to surpass the object of envy. In a pure form, the motivation would purely be self-improvement—using the object of envy merely as a measure of success, and thus not being fundamentally opposed to any further success or progress that object may attain.
Pure benign envy is highly rare, and perhaps not found at all in the material world. Malicious envy, and even impure benign envy prevents us from truly participating in bhakti. By its very nature, it is the opposite of bhakti, and thus does not please Kṛṣṇa and is repulsive to true devotees.
Kṛṣṇa loves all of his devotees and he does not want to see any one of his devotees being harmed or even despised by another devotee.
The gopīs of Vrindavan epitomize complete freedom from envy. All the gopīs love Kṛṣṇa, but they do not envy each other. This is very rare because envy is most common and intense in romantic affairs. Indeed, one Sanskrit word for “enemy” is sapatna (see Gītā 2.8). It comes from the word sapatnī, which means “co-wife.” Typically, when two girls love one boy, they wind up hating each other and trying to defeat each other. In the process, they may even harm the boy.
If one understands the basic definition of love, which is to give pleasure to the object of love, why should one girl hate another girl who also wants to please her boyfriend? Actually, if her love is pure, she should be happy that someone else wants to please her object of love, and she would befriend that person.
This seems extremely over-idealistic in this world, but it is exactly how it is in Vrindavan. One gopī becomes happy to see another gopī pleasing Kṛṣṇa, especially if that gopī can do so differently or better than she.
When Kṛṣṇa left the rasa dance, the gopīs went in search of him. When they discovered that he had taken Rādhā with him, they felt very happy for her and praised her, saying “Indeed, he left with her because she pleases him so much more than we.”
My personal experience is that envy is the most prevalent disease in all communities of devotees. This causes a politics. Sometimes a disciple even shows envy of his own guru!
Envy directly results in slander, which you will unfortunately find everywhere in all circles of devotees. Slander results from envy because envy can be relieved only by either surpassing the object of envy (benign envy), or pulling them down (malicious envy). The first is far more difficult, because it requires some humility and self-improvement. The second is the very easy. All you have to do is talk.
Envy often affects the way devotees serve their guru. People tend to become envious of a person the guru gives more confidence, time, attention, or affection. It becomes complex in circles of devotees, because they usually know that envy is an undesirable trait, so they repress it and refuse to admit it to themselves, pretending they are more advanced than they actually are. Yet, they start to gossip and criticize the object of envy amongst other disciples and even directly to the guru. They would not praise the devotee of whom they are envious of. They would not support her in her seva. In fact, quite the contrary—they will go out of their way to ignore her and play down her seva. When envy becomes extreme, they will not even return her friendly greetings when crossing paths. Furthermore, they would do things to sabotage her service. Or, if they are political minded, they would cleverly praise her, but just as a façade to cover their burning envy inside. However, their envy will manifest anyway at some point in their actions.
It should be noted that envy manifests toward those whom we perceive as our equals—for equals are our primary competitors and rivals. Envy does not arise strongly toward those we see as superior to us (for we tend to see them as sources of aid), nor toward those we see as very inferior to us (for we tend to see them as inconsequential, or as potential followers). A beggar is not as envious of a millionaire as he is of another beggar who is doing better than him. Therefore, sometimes when we are not in the company of devotes of our own caliber, we may feel free from envy. But the envy may be latent in our heart and will become manifest when we meet another devotee of our caliber.
Devotees want to have Kṛṣṇa in their hearts, but Kṛṣṇa will not sit in the heart of an envious person. His limbs are very tender and sensitive, but the heart of envious person is very rough and acidic.
Kṛṣṇa says that He appears in the material world to establish dharma (Gītā 4.8). The various types of dharma he teaches can be grouped into two categories: varṇāśrama (worldly) and parama (transcendant). Ultimately, parama dharma is the path of bhakti or love, also known as bhagavata dharma, parama dharma, uttamā bhakti, ananyā bhakti, vraja bhakti, gopī bhāva, or mañjarī bhāva.
To establish the highest form of parama dharma, Kṛṣṇa himself came to earth as Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. He emphasized the importance of saṅkīrtana, which means to sing the praises of Kṛṣṇa by many people together, using musical instruments. To do that, the participants have to cooperate with each other. If there is no cooperation, it will be just noise. Generally we see saṅkīrtana, as singing, but if we look carefully we will see it is founded on cooperation and non-envy. When devotees cooperate with each other in the service of Kṛṣṇa that is the real music. There is harmony, peace, and happiness. This is what Śrī Caitanya Mahaprabhu propagated and wants from his followers. This is the internal and external meaning of His appearance.
Keeping this goal of saṅkīrtana in mind, Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu also prescribed the qualification for doing it in Śikṣāṣṭaka. He said that one should be humble, tolerant, respectful, and not expect respect for oneself. If one is envious of other devotees, one would not be humble or tolerant, nor would one give respect. One would only expect honor and respect for oneself. Therefore, this verse from Śikṣāṣṭaka repeats the same prescription from the beginning of Śrīmad Bhagavata: “You must be free from envy.” Every devotee should keep this in mind always to achieve the goal of prema.
Envy can hide in our hearts if we do not interact much with other devotees. Thus it may persist even longer. When we try to serve in cooperation with others—this is when envy reveals itself, which is good, because we need to identify and eradicate it before we can become stable and advance in bhakti.
I would suggest and request each and every devotee who is sincere on this path, to please introspect and determine just how envious you are. I have been cautious in writing this because I can see how my words may appear as condescending and critical of you, although that is not my intent. If you take my words in this way, please forgive me. My intention is not to criticize you. I just wish to help you to be aware of this all-pervasive anartha so that you can uproot it. Only a devotee who is situated in prema is free of it. This article is certainly not written for them.
Here is a small questionnaire that I have created for you to introspect on your own envy. These points are just my ideas from my own experience of seeing how envy manifests in devotee communities. It is not an absolute guideline, nor have I ever tested these questions on anyone. So, please take these questions as a starting point. You may like to introspect in a different manner, with a different set of questions.
Just How Envious Am I? (The “JHEAI” Survey)
If you have scored 10 or more, then you have a serious problem of envy. I suggest that you work on the areas for which you have said “yes.”
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