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Freedom from Envy – Qualification for Bhakti
Articles by Satyanarayana Dasa Bhakti

Freedom from Envy – Qualification for Bhakti

Devotees praying

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 in general require some amount of detachment, or dispassion. But, the path of bhakti primarily requires one thing: freedom from envy. 

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)

  1. Do you talk about a devotee’s seva in a negative way?
  2. Do you raise doubts about devotees who were successful in some way?
  3. Do you downplay the positive contributions of others?
  4. If there is a project that you are involved in and something goes wrong with it, do you blame another devotee for the problem, overlooking your own part in it?
  5. When you try to “get to know” a devotee, do you have a lot of spontaneous interest in learning about their flaws or weaknesses?
  6. If you openly criticize or reprimand a devotee, do you feel happy that you “set them straight”? 
  7. Do you refrain from supporting a devotee who is doing a seva that you don’t see the value or importance of?
  8. Do you only associate with devotees who are associated with your seva?
  9. Do you feel a sense of happiness when a rival devotee faces trouble or is reprimanded by a senior devotee or guru?
  10. Do you feel uncomfortable, or a burning sensation in the heart when you see a devotee doing better than you?
  11. Do you feel troubled in your heart when your guru or other devotees appreciate another devotee?
  12. Do you feel uncomfortable when you see another devotee in close association with the guru?
  13. Do you question the guru’s judgment in terms of some of his decisions and actions?
  14. Do you sometimes get annoyed with your guru’s behavior?
  15. Do you block other devotees from having a chance to be in close association with guru
  16. Do you avoid, or ignore a devotee whom guru appreciates? 
  17. Do you imitate a devotee whom the guru or other devotees seem fond of?
  18. Do you feel a sense of pleasure when you hear a devotee being criticized?
  19. Do you think you are free from envy?

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.”  


  • Rati April 21, 2019

    Thank you for this very nice article and the opportunity to introspect. When we see the envy in our own heart, what is the recommended means to overcome it? Is there some particular recommendation like service to the individual who we feel envious of? It seems that combating an anartha of this depth requires some committed action, not just fighting it within mind.

    • Jagatsevak April 23, 2019

      Thank you Bhabaji for the article. I have often referred to the envy you speak of as ‘spiritual jealousy’, something that has gnawed at my heart.
      And thank you Rati for the question, which I also am interesting in understanding.

    • Babaji April 23, 2019

      Can you explain why do you call it spiritual jealousy? I am unable to understand what is spiritual about it. Thank you.

    • Babaji April 23, 2019

      There are various steps that can be taken, some related to your own mind and some related to others.
      1. Once you have ascertained that you are envious of someone, then by using your own buddhi, think what benefit are you deriving from it. If you are not benefitting from it, then make a verbal decision that you want to give it up. Then, become aware of it. Whenever it arises in your mind, remind yourself of your decision. You have to be on the look-out all the time.
      Did you come to spiritual life because of being superior to this person? Does your spiritual status depend on this person being inferior to you? If not, why are you now concerned if he/she is doing better than you? The spiritual world is unlimited and it can surely accommodate both of you. Being envious does not please Krsna. So by being envious, you are neutralizing your efforts to please Krsna.
      2. Associate with non-envious devotees and take inspiration from their behavior.
      3. Do service to such devotees.
      4. Make friendship with the person you are envious of and do something to please him/her.
      5. Read about great devotees, how they cooperate with each other.

    • Jagatsevak April 23, 2019

      Blessings Babaji,
      Thank you for your question regarding the term ‘spiritual jealousy’. It is specific type of jealousy. It refers to the jealousy a person has for another’s spiritual experiences, path, relationships, community, development and/or advancement, much like the envy you described in your post. The jealousy is specifically focussed on matters related to ‘spiritual’ elements in another’s life. It can manifest in the mind of the individual as a sense of a perceived loss of external or internal spiritual ‘status’ (ie. “I’m no longer the guru’s favourite” or “I’m not the best bhakta in the room”.) I think the internal dialogue will have a fair amount of “I am…” and “he/she/they are…” type statements.

      When it is spiritual envy, it can manifest in the mind of the individual as a sense of ‘not being or having enough’ in relation to another’s spiritual life and/or wanting ‘more than’ in relation to one’s current situation.

      Perhaps another way of seeing the terms spiritual jealousy or spiritual envy is in relation to the gift(s) that they both reveal for bringing more light into our inter and intra-personal awareness. This is in line with your teaching of the benefit of “when envy reveals itself … because we need to identify and eradicate it before we can become stable and advance in bhakti.” In this way, the terms reveal the possible latent gifts of jealousy and envy in our lives.

      Bowing with respect.

      Prem and Shanti

      nb: thank you as well for offering various steps we can take in weeding out the envy in our hearts.

    • Babaji April 25, 2019

      Thank you, Prabhu, for the clarification.

  • Rati April 23, 2019

    Thank you Babaji for breaking it down into practical suggestions. I especially appreciate this idea of firm resolution, and also that there is enough room in service to Krishna for everyone – wonderful!

  • Premanidhi dasa April 24, 2019

    There is perhaps no phenomenon which contains so much destructive feeling as moral indignation, which permits envy or hate to be acted out under the guise of virtue. Jealousy is the only vice that gives no pleasure. Jealousy is the very reverse of understanding, of sympathy, and of generous feeling. Never has jealousy added to character, never does it make the individual big and fine.

  • Vinode Vani April 26, 2019

    Very important article, Babaji.

    Pertinent points from the article:

    “Envy manifests toward those whom we perceive as our equals…therefore, sometimes when we are not in the company of devotees 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.”

    “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.”

    Couple these with several of the questions that pertain to association: “Do you only associate with devotees who are….xxx?”

    What came up for me is the self-segregation that I may do to avoid certain devotees because:
    1. They aren’t “nice” to me;
    2. They have some character trait that annoys me;
    3. I don’t like their activities or seva and want to signal my disapproval by refusing to acknowledge them;
    4. They are seemingly so advanced that I feel awkward in their presence;
    5. I’m afraid that they will ignore me, challenge me, insult me, etc;
    6. I hesitate to reveal my mind to some devotees for fear that the exchange will not remain confidential;
    7. I put my own ease ahead of the pleasure of Krishna, and avoid the challenges of cooperation.

    The end result is that I may effectively rule out associating with devotees for petty reasons, and thus self-isolate. I guess my question: is it envy to avoid the association of devotees of the same caliber because it may be troublesome or awkward? The mind plays tricks; am I envious? Are they envious? Are we both envious?

    As Babaji says, the movement of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is based on cooperation with other devotees in the service of Krishna. Learning to cooperate requires association.

    • Babaji April 26, 2019

      Very good insights about why you avoid association. In my article, however, I am not dealing with this issue. Association with devotees with proper awareness of these issues will help you to resolve them. I think most of them are related to your pride and honor as a devotee. We naturally are protective of our honor and status and we would avoid any situation that poses danger to them.

  • Sandipa Krishna Dasa April 26, 2019

    Thanks so much Babaji Maharaj, for writing on a topic that can become roadblock in one’s spiritual journey and progress.

    The self assessment questionnaire at the end are superb and some of the questions and your answers to them are insightful.

    Sometimes in life one gets stuck in a group/organisation/setting where one is hardly learning anything and not being able to make any spiritual progress. This may be due to not having adequate knowledge. However as one gets relevant knowledge and proper association one may want to shift tracks or as is said in the Navy do “Course Correction”.
    When one does so, the people in his/her previous group label the person as “Envious/Jealous/Ungrateful etc. etc of the leader/ founder etc. Sometimes the same kind of phenomenon is also seen in office politics.

    It is best to ignore this and “Move On” but as the comments/remarks keep coming so at times one gets affected, not because one is envious/jealous but on the contrary maybe others are envious/jealous of him/her.

    So my question is that Sastras give very nice ways and means to overcome envy within one’s own heart.
    Do the Sastras suggest something for dealing with others envy towards oneself?

    • Babaji April 30, 2019

      Read SB 2.45,2.48,2.57, 12.15-19, 14.22-25, 18.53 of Bhagavad Gita, and the story of the Pandavas in relation to Duryodhana.

  • Shrivasangan Devi Dasi May 2, 2019

    Thanks for this article and the test. Finally, to speak openly about these hidden images that repel the soul from the so-called bhakti / in the material, we saw what it means to be the bhakta / of this hypocritical behavior that led to this process not of following, but of imitate bhakti -yoga. The situation is serious, because while we are interested in the progress in our spiritual life imitating the label well … we can be not only very behind, but we are not moving in the right direction. Let each one of us who at least once blamed someone – you know what it means – to go and apologize to him and openly to shake his head with ashes … Thanks for this support and theme – so important to every soul on this road ….. Otherwise where are we going, the most to get to the market and there to sell cucumbers ….

  • purushottam das May 2, 2019

    just like to cite an example of Pandavas and duryodhana. Pandavas were given a desert land to build their kingdom and with the help of Krishna, they were able to get the most spectacular kingdom so much so that again D became very envious and tried to snatch their kingdom in the gambling match and was successful w the help of his maternal uncle. knowing this story, though this is a crude exmple in the sastras. and there are many more. so when i read a story, i try to reflect what message this story is telling me that can help me to advance. it is all about learning to introspect on continuous basis in all our interactions.

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