Vanity thought #1191. Deadly sins – envy

Just watched the second episode of 7 Deadly Sins, this one about envy, it was largely disappointing. It again had three segments, and since the first one featured some very explicit images I’m not going to link it here.

While they haven’t done anything wrong, they somehow misrepresented envy as an innocent domain of harmless freaks. In their presentation it wasn’t deadly at all but we are encouraged to rather show pity on them, maybe with tints of outrage here and there.

Envy is born of coveting something possessed by others, we are all affected by it and it affects our perception of the world, makes us “green with envy”, it leads to anger and aggression. Not according to this show, however.

Their first segment was about men fantasizing about being women, or, specifically, a small family business selling fake “female skin” suits that one can pull on and look just like a woman, with all anatomical details, full face with only slits for eyes. One can then admire himself in the mirror or take selfies, put on female clothing and so on. I seriously doubt people venture out in public dressed like that so it’s a private pastime only.

However despicable, there’s no great harm in that. It’s a fulfillment of one’s desire and so does not directly leads to anger, it rather gives an outlet for the crossdressers and transgenders or whoever is into this thing. I don’t think these people are even particularly envious of women, they are rather full of admiration for female form.

The man interviewed for this segment, in full “femme skin” outfit looked like a harmless freak, not someone green with envy. It’s cute how he tries to describe himself as normal but unusual because term “freak” offends him.

Second segment is even less provocative, it’s about a man who wants to be disabled. He got himself a wheel chair and he spends all his free time in it, pretending his legs don’t work. Again, not the best presentation on envy. He is not doing it for handicapped parking, though he is probably pleased with attention and service he sometimes undeservedly gets. He doesn’t often go outside, though, mostly wheeling around his apartment. Harmless freak again.

Come to think of it, I might have something in common with his affliction when I fantasize about being stripped of all the possessions and being forced to rely only on the Holy Name to survive and to entertain myself. It would be an artificial renunciation for me and I’m sure I wouldn’t last a day like that, I’m also not sure if it could be described as envy. Is it?

Am I really envious of real renunciates? Are they even real renunciates as opposed to those who engage material facilities in service of the Lord? In any case, it looks more like an aspiration to me than envy. Snow White was poisoned out of envy while I don’t feel any negative emotions like that at all, nor do I attach this renunciation to any particular person to be envious of.

This is an important point about envy – it must be directed at someone. Simply desiring wealth, for example, is not envy, it becomes envy when one fixates on a particular person whose riches he wants to surpass or emulate.

Third segment was about women buying very realistically looking baby dolls, so realistic that one can put them in a stroller or carry them around and people wouldn’t even suspect it’s not a real child. Women interviewed there all had their own children already, one had five of them, another is too old to have any more, so what’s the harm of them playing with dolls? Who are they envious of? Themselves in their younger age?

There are worse manifestations of Kali yuga affected obsessions than unfulfilled maternal instinct, as long as they are not stealing other people’s babies they are fairly innocuous. Freaky, but innocuous. There were shop assistants caught in this video who remained totally untroubled by adult women carrying baby looking dolls and trying baby dresses on them. Like I said, there are bigger problems in this world than excess of material feelings.

What all these presentations miss is that envy is not just for freaks, its domain is in everyone’s heart and we are all affected. What they also missed is showing how envy can ruin one’s life, so they made into a non-issue unrelated to our everyday lives. How did it become one of the deadly sins then? Unlike gluttony, there’s nothing deadly or harmful about it here.

Well, if they failed to demonstrate what envy really is and why it is dangerous, so what do we, as devotees, know about it? We know that we should be free from it, and that it’s our original envy towards God that brought us down to the material world, but that is obviously not all that there is to it.

I, for example, can’t explain myself why envy is supposed to be deadly, apart from general understanding that cultivating attachments is bad for spiritual progress. Perhaps envy compounds it by forcing us to commit offenses against people we are envious off, or at least to maintain offensive attitude.

There’s this curious verse to add more confusion to the matter (CC Adi 5.35):

    As through devotion to the Lord one can attain His abode, many have attained that goal by abandoning their sinful activities and absorbing their minds in the Lord through lust, envy, fear or affection.

One can attain Lord’s abode by absorbing his mind in the Lord through envy??? Originally, this verse is from Śrīmad Bhāgavatam and translation there does not have the word envy (SB 7.1.30), dveṣāt there is translated as hatred, and this is not the only case of Prabhupāda using these meanings interchangeably.

There’s this phrase in purport to SB 4.25.24:

    The symptoms of rāga and dveṣa (attachment and envy) are described in Bhagavad-gītā (3.34)

but in the Gītā verse itself Śrīla Prabhupāda translated dveṣa as detachment and aversion (BG 3.34).

I don’t think we can make any clear conclusions as to why Prabhupāda used envy and hatred as synonyms and whether we can always treat them as such. Bhāgavatam verse is interesting because it mixes lust and envy as possible means of attaining the Lord but actual examples are at the opposing ends of devotional spectrum. Gopīs achieved Kṛṣṇa through lust while envy was displayed by Śiśupāla. Kaṃsa reached Kṛṣṇa by fear. Are we allowed to emulate them? Obviously not, their absorption in the Lord is not bhakti and therefore should be rejected.

There’s a place for envy in the spiritual world, but we can’t emulate that down here either. For us, envy is inadmissible in any shape or form. Kṛṣṇa makes non-enviousness a condition for receiving His message or for spiritual advancement in general. In one of His last instructions to Arjuna He says that one should listen to Bhagavad Gītā without envy (BG 18.71):

    ..one who listens with faith and without envy becomes free from sinful reactions and attains to the auspicious planets where the pious dwell.

WITH faith and WITHOUT envy. Two conditions, what can be clearer?

In addition, Śrīla Prabhupāda often stressed that one must not be envious of an ācārya, which is easy to understand, too. It’s a bit more difficult to spot envy in our hearts, though. Our material life is based on envy of Kṛṣṇa and so envy becomes all-pervasive, to the degree that we don’t even notice it anymore. How often do we notice that we want to remember ślokas like others, or make compelling arguments like others, or even better than others? How often do we want to offer corrections to Bhagavatam speakers or other devotees? How often do we catch ourselves trying to be more knowledgeable than others or more respected than others?

I think all these feelings have something to do with underlying envy. I mean every time we feel any discomfort caused by comparing ourselves to other people it is envy by definition. Sometimes it’s irrational and impossible to contain, we just wants it.

How to deal with it? Simple, really, it’s one of those deep seated impurities in our hearts that is cleaned out by chanting. Just like any other desire for sense enjoyment, satisfying it, or dealing with symptoms, would bring only a temporary relief while the root cause must be dealt on a fundamental level.

As for symptoms, there’s a neat trick to contain envy. Latin word for envy is invidia, or literally “absence of vision”. It’s born of ignorance of our position and lack of appreciation for what is given to us. Out of envy we desire things we don’t need, once we understand that we would stop coveting them. That’s why in Bhagavad Gītā envy is contrasted with equal vision. “I’m not envious of anyone, I’m equal to everyone,” says Kṛṣṇa (BG 9.29). Or take this verse (BG 4.22):

    He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady in both success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.

Basically, we just need a little knowledge and we need to accept that Kṛṣṇa has provided us with everything we require for our progress. Satisfied in this knowledge we will have no reason to envy anyone.

I don’t think I’m ready to talk about our original envy of Kṛṣṇa but as far as every day situations in the material world these simple instructions should do the trick.

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