"Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?" (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
Class envy forms the basis of much discord and discontent around the world. This has been true since the beginning of time, and upon closer examination, it is revealed that this conflict is unnecessary. No embodied being can be considered poor or rich in the larger scheme of things, so there is no justification for envy or pity based simply off one’s financial disposition. To help us understand this point more clearly, we can look to the wonderful teachings of Shri Hanuman.
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
What causes class envy? First, we must acknowledge that life on earth is miserable. This doesn’t mean that every single person is full of misery, but rather, the end of everything, the ultimate conclusion or result of all activity, is misery. Man’s mortality is proof enough of this point. Those who are not spiritually inclined or those who are unaware of the ultimate objective in life take to fruitive activity as their main business. This engagement is referred to as karma in Sanskrit, and there is a reason that the word translates to “fruitive activity” in English. Karma is work performed that has desired and undesired consequences. The results of this work are referred to as phalam, or fruits; hence the term fruitive activity. Regardless of a person’s religious affiliation, age, or place of birth, there is the penchant for performing fruitive activity.
So is karma bad? Depending on the angle of vision, karma can lead to positive or negative results. Material life is considered miserable because no result from karma can be positive enough to compare to the ultimate reward of salvation. In Sanskrit, salvation is referred to as apavarga, which is the elimination of fear, exhaustion, death, defeat, and bondage. Only Lord Krishna, or God, can deliver a person from these calamities. Apavarga not only removes the negative aspects of life on earth, but it also brings about the soul’s return to the spiritual world. The miseries of pavarga are only seen in the material world, a place where the soul interacts with matter. A life devoted exclusively to interaction with matter is considered miserable because no amount of adjustment, shaping, or accumulation of matter can lead to a positive result in the grand scheme of things. The issues of poverty and wealth serve as great examples in this regard.
The wealthy are deemed to be living the high life. “They have all the money in the world. What need do they have to worry about anything? They drive fancy cars, live in gigantic houses, and have beautiful members of the opposite sex flocking around them.” This viewpoint leads to envy, which then leads to a loss of rationality. Class warfare starts when the non-wealthy seek to punish the wealthy simply because of their financial disposition. “Oh they can afford to pay more. If I had that much money, I surely wouldn’t have a problem spreading the wealth around.” The opposing viewpoint is pity, a mindset adopted by the wealthy. The “poor” are deemed to be suffering; they are viewed as living the low life. “I can’t imagine not having a car and having to worry about how I’m going to eat every night. I feel so bad for them. No one should have to live like that, especially in today’s world where everyone else is so wealthy.”
When these forces combine, you get conflict. The wealthy clash with the non-wealthy; the wealthy fight with the wealthy; and the non-wealthy even argue with the non-wealthy. Every person has their own idea of who is poor and who is rich, and based on these judgments, policies are made. Political campaigns run on the issues of class envy annually. This has been the practice in every country ever since there were elections. “Elect me and I’ll end poverty. I’ll bring back jobs. I’ll make the rich pay their fair share.”
“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)
So what’s wrong with the mindsets of envy and pity? Aren’t the rich well-off? Shouldn’t the poor be pitied? According to high authority figures who follow the Vedic traditions, there is no reason to lament or envy anyone’s situation. The soul is eternal and unbreakable, while the body is taken to be a shell, a dwelling compared to a bubble, something which can burst at any moment. It doesn’t take much to break a bubble that forms on the water, and in a similar manner, the material body constantly goes through deterioration. As soon as a person is born, the dying process begins. Since everyone lives in one of these shells, how can any person be deemed better off than anyone else? One person may have great wealth, but once their bubble bursts, that wealth remains in the material world, where it gets disbursed and transformed into other objects of matter. A person may be very poor, but again, this is just a temporary condition. In fact, in the Vedic tradition, the highest class of men, the brahmanas, voluntarily accept an austere lifestyle. Fewer possessions and controlled eating allow the mind to better focus on areas of spirituality.
The other issue to consider is the law of karma. Not only are there consequences to our actions, but these reactions are distributed in the fairest possible way. Politicians will promise to take a fair share in taxes and then distribute the money to those in need, but this system is anything but fair. A politician is after votes, so their distribution of tax dollars is strategically targeted to garner the most votes in the next election. The system of karma doesn’t work this way. All the reactions that a person receives are completely fair. Once work is performed, the pending reactions are guaranteed to arrive, irrespective of the person’s character, parentage, bank balance, or physical makeup. In this way, we see that the wealthy and the poor are simply reaping the rewards and punishments of their past actions. If their dispositions are determined by karma, what need is there for pity or envy?
The time when it is most difficult to avoid pity is right after a love one has died, as was seen with Tara, the wife of the powerful monkey fighter Vali. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Shri Rama, a non-different expansion of the Supreme Lord, appeared on earth and played the role of a pious kshatriya prince. Searching for His kidnapped wife, Sita Devi, Rama forged an alliance with a monkey-king named Sugriva. Vali was Sugriva’s brother, but the two had hostilities dating back to a previous incident where Vali thought Sugriva had tried to nefariously usurp the kingdom from him. Because of this conflict, Sugriva was living in fear of Vali. After joining forces with Rama, Sugriva asked the Lord to help him regain his kingdom. Rama obliged and killed Vali while the monkey was engaged in a fight with Sugriva.
Seeing her husband lying dead on the ground, Tara gave way to excessive lamentation and grief. To help calm her down and alleviate her suffering, Shri Hanuman, Sugriva’s faithful emissary and legendary servant of Rama, stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. In the above referenced quote, we see that Hanuman is asking Tara why she is feeling pity for someone else when she herself is worthy of pity. Tara was viewing Vali as being poor since he was dead, but meanwhile, she had become poor by losing her husband. Though we are ourselves worthy of pity and lamentation due to our being trapped in a bubble-like body, there is still the propensity to lament the position of others. Here Tara was feeling sorry for her dead husband, but she understandably could be pitied by others for her disposition. This sheds light on a natural tendency of man. During times of economic trouble, polling agencies will often go out and ask the public what they feel about the economy. An answer commonly given is, “Oh I’m alright, but I’m really worried about my neighbor. I’m worried how they’ll survive in these tough economic conditions.” But if we think about it, if we don’t have too much difficulty getting by in tough situations, then surely other people must be the same way. This logical mindset goes against the natural urge to pity others, but it is based on intelligence.
Shri Hanuman’s statement makes perfect sense, but actually applying the principles in real life is a different story. The end of Hanuman’s statement reveals the root cause of our problems: the bubble-like body. Everyone who resides in a body which is like a bubble is deemed to be equally worthy of lamentation. The real pitiable condition is the repeated cycle of birth and death. The supreme spiritual science of the Vedas confirms that the soul transmigrates from one body to another through the process of reincarnation. This system is driven by karma, which is driven by activity with the desire for fruits. If we want to pity anything, we should pity this condition.
“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Kunti Devi speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.25)
Fortunately, there is a way out of this cycle. Those who think of God at the time of death are guaranteed to get moksha, or the release from the wheel of material existence [samsara]. The way to guarantee remembering God at the time of death is to start thinking about Him now. There’s no time like the present, so we should all remember the Lord by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Anyone who regularly chants this mantra and takes up the sublime engagement of devotional service will never have to worry about the influences of the bubble-like body again. By first elevating ourselves to a non-pitiable condition, we can then start to help our fellow man. Everyone is in need of this salvation, regardless of how much money they have in their bank account. God is the deliverer of the poor living entities who mistakenly take matter to be their best friend. Rama’s best friend is Hanuman, so by associating with him we can find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the supreme spiritual sky.