“The Supreme Lord said: My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most secret wisdom, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.1)
“You only get one life. This is it. This is your moment. Make the most of this unique opportunity. You will never get it again. Don’t let a minute go by where you’re not enjoying life to the fullest. Why fret over this and that when the time is so short? Where you will end up later is a mystery, as is your previous location. What you can control is the right now, so don’t squander the chance.”
“Hmm, if we all get one life, why are some people better off than me? They must be living out the dream, while I am not. It’s not fair. They shouldn’t have it so good. They should let others get a taste of the good life too. We won’t be on this earth much longer, so if everyone is meant to enjoy, why not hoard as much as possible?”
The latter is a natural response to the former. If you’re told that you only have this one life to live and that you should make the most of it, how could you not be envious of others who are apparently enjoying more than you? And yet is a life lived in envy good? Should we be consumed with jealousy over what others have? They didn’t get to choose their parents, and neither did we. Should we be envious of a situation that others couldn’t control?
The wise know that a life lived in envy isn’t much fun. It’s like having a nagging thorn stuck in your side. It keeps a constant pain alive which tears at you and causes you to bleed. With that unwanted distraction, you can’t even enjoy something as simple as listening to music. You can’t relax on a warm beach or sleep in peace because of this pain.
If you are to enjoy life, it would be best to root out envy. If you could live without being threatened by where others are in their lives, you would have less distractions. Yet this envy can only be completely removed with real knowledge. The claim that this is the only life we’ll get is incorrect, and its invalidity is further underscored by the envy it creates.
Let’s look at the Vedic point of view. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India. Originally they are not known as such. They are known as the truth; real knowledge. That knowledge was passed on to the first created living being through the medium of the heart. He accepted that information and then acted off of it. To help others follow their occupational duty, he set up a system where the information was passed on through a chain of disciplic succession. The worthiness of the recipient is taken into account with this transfer. Just as the relay runner passes the baton to a member of his own team, the keepers of the ancient wisdom of the Vedas make sure to pass it on only to those who are on the same team, i.e. those who have the proper motivations.
From this confidential information, which happens to be concisely and flawlessly revealed to a worthy recipient named Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, we learn that the soul is the essence of identity. Every object has its essence; its defining feature. In all beings that we consider to be life, the essential ingredient is the soul. The soul also has its essence; it is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. The first property immediately dispels the false claim that there is only one life to live.
What we deem a life is actually just a relative measurement, a chunk taken from the time continuum of the living entity. If someone asks us, “How you been?”, a clever and valid response is, “I have always remained who I am at the various points in time of my existence. In my youth I looked like a child, but I was still myself. In adolescence, I looked different, but again I was who I am. And right now I am myself, which in the future will be who I was.”
The “I” referred to here is the soul, or atma. The “I” in me is the same in quality as the “I” in you. It is the same in quality in the dog, the cat, and the cow. The distinctions we make are based only on the outer coverings to the soul. These coverings are made of matter; they are dull, lifeless, and susceptible to change at every second. Think of your own body and how it changes all the time. Just based on the passage of time, your eyes degrade to the point that you need glasses. Your joints start to wear down, your memory lessens, and your energy levels diminish. You haven’t done anything to cause this; your body just changes with time.
If I know that every being is an eternal spiritual force, what need is there to envy anyone else? Why should I worry that someone else has more money than me when I know that money is only temporary? Why should I take pleasure in someone else’s fall from grace when I know that my own fall can take place at any moment? Without knowing the soul, however, avoiding the envy that consumes many of us is nearly impossible.
When we are free of envy, we become eligible to hear the most confidential aspects of the Vedic literature. The information about the soul and its eternal nature is available to any person who is sincere in their desire to understand. Yet only one who is free of envy can understand the next vital piece of information, namely the source of the spiritual force. There especially must be a lack of envy towards God. If we envy others, why wouldn’t we envy God as well? In fact, the competition to enjoy as much as possible under the erroneous assumption that we only get one life is an indication of a subtle envy of the Supreme Lord. The more egregious versions of that envy rear their ugly head when one hears about God and then willfully ignores the instruction offered to them.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, reveals the king of education to Arjuna because Arjuna is not envious of Him. And that knowledge frees one from the cycle of birth and death. If you know Krishna, especially how His body is spiritual and how He appears and disappears on this earth to teach lessons and to give pleasure to the devotees, you will never have to take birth again.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
Taking birth is considered detrimental because at the time of birth there is ignorance that covers the otherwise knowledgeable soul. In ignorance only do ideas such as “one life” and “no God” come to be. They are concocted by the ignorant and then accepted by the ignorant. That future ignorance can be avoided by knowing God, who can only be understood when one is not envious of Him.
The entire combination of requirements can be acquired easily through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This is a direct approach towards transcendence rather than a methodical march. The benefit is that there is an immediate connection with Krishna, the universal Lord. Through His association, internal impurities gradually vanish. The knowledge of the soul is understood through concentrated action rather than sole philosophical deliberation. The envy of God lessens because chanting the names of the Lord in this way is a kind of service. Envy doesn’t survive for long in one who is humble in their service of another.
Through this service, which is known as bhakti-yoga, Krishna gradually reveals Himself. Since He is all-attractive, seeing Him more clearly only benefits the individual more. Accepting the most confidential knowledge of the Vedic literature, the soul immersed in bhakti-yoga takes it upon themselves to find other sincere souls to whom to pass on the knowledge. This is the true sign of lack of envy, as the pure devotee firmly believes that others should take the invaluable gift of devotion to God and use it to serve the Lord even better than they do.
If I only have one life to live,
Why to others in charity to give?
Why not as many possessions make,
Money and enjoyment endlessly take?
Envy surely to crop up at the same time,
Others’ lives more fulfilling than mine.
Only from true knowledge know,
That soul situated eternally so.
One life concept valid is not,
No need to envy what neighbor has got.
Without jealousy understand Vedic teaching,
At end supreme abode of Krishna reaching.