“One who follows the instruction of the Gita, as it is imparted by the Lord, the Personality of Godhead Himself, becomes free from all doubts by the grace of transcendental knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.41 Purport)
“This person sucks. That person stinks. Look at the way that person walks into the room and plops themselves on the floor. Look at the way that person dresses; what are they thinking? Look at the way that person talks. They are so weird. Notice that such and such person didn’t say ‘hello’ to us before. They are very rude. Remember when that person did that? You should always remember that, because that incident shows who they really are.”
In the ancient scriptural texts of India, a person constantly providing such criticism is compared to a crow. The crow stays amidst garbage. The weeds and the rubbish within it are what the crow prefers. It doesn’t think that there is a better way to live. It doesn’t know that the swan has it much better, for the swan stays with purity. One of the earliest mentions of this exact comparison is found in the sacred Ramayana, where it was offered by a princess of the swan-like variety who was being wooed by a crow-like fiend.
“How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)
The crow-like attitude is very easy to adopt, and if we study the matter a little further, we see that it is rooted in envy. To constantly criticize others, to the point of excess, especially when it is applied to those we hardly know, indicates envy, which challenges the ego. The envy is rooted in ignorance of the self, for if one truly knew who they are, they would empathize with everyone instead of trying to compete with them. Fortunately, there is a way to curb envy, and not surprisingly it involves the acquisition of real knowledge.
Are we saying that envy is the root cause to the difficulties we see in society?
Absolutely. The politician is envious of the other politician. Why should one person be more famous than another? The competitive athlete is jealous that another athlete is rising to prominence. The uncle is jealous that the nephew living nearby has a larger home. The younger brother is envious that the elder brother has made something of his life. The wife is jealous of the success of the husband. Neighbors are also jealous of one another, as are nations, who are nothing more than larger collections of neighbors.
What is the nature of the knowledge we need to get?
Real knowledge can dissipate envy because it gives information of the self. I am envious of another because I don’t know who I really am. I think that I am this life force who has randomly entered an area where the goal is to compete with others for resources. I also think that this life, as I choose to define it, will be the only one I receive. “Get as much as you can, right now, today, otherwise you will lose out.”
Are the parents proud when their children grow up to be ordinary laborers or when their son or daughter becomes a doctor or a lawyer? What is the real difference anyway? Both occupations pay a salary. Both sides are workers. One may earn a lot more money, but at the end of the day the purpose to working is to have food to eat and a place to stay. If someone does menial work to secure the basic necessities in life, what is the harm?
If the comparison for greatness is based solely on material acquisition, then of course there will be so much envy. The introductory biology class in a large university typically has several hundred students, and the class is made very difficult precisely to weed out the pretenders, the students who aren’t serious. This means that there will always be fewer doctors than ordinary laborers. There will be fewer lawyers as well. Those who don’t make it to the end will feel a little envious. And we know that envy is not good because it is rooted in ignorance. I think that someone else is happier because they have a bigger house, but that isn’t necessarily the case. The bigger house brings more responsibilities and more sources for tension within the family. Those who have less don’t have as much to defend.
In the Bhagavad-gita, which is also known as the Gitopanishad, one learns about their true self. They do this through two different ways. They get explicit instruction on the identity of the individual. It is said right at the outset that the spirit soul is what identifies each person; not the body. The body goes through changes, starting from childhood. The final change occurs at the time of death. The soul is not altered at any time. Despite the changes to the body, the soul is always full of bliss and knowledge.
If the body changes, then so also must the objects it is attached to. The body is the outer covering to something that is spiritual. Dull matter is itself lifeless for the very reason that a soul is required to give it life. In the higher understanding we know that the impersonal spiritual force pervades every atom and thus every aspect of matter as well, but as far as individual living entities go, they only reside within bodies that are considered to be with life; their very presence gives it life.
The readers of the Bhagavad-gita, properly translated and commented on for the people of the time who lack the necessary culture to understand the complex and confidential truths, also find out about their true self by learning of the origin of spirit. He happens to be the speaker of the Gita as well. His spirit soul is also full of bliss and knowledge. It is eternally so. A key distinction, however, is that His body is not different from Him. It does not undergo the same changes we are accustomed to. His soul also resides within everyone. He doesn’t break up into pieces for this to happen. He simply expands Himself while remaining original and completely individual in His personality as Shri Krishna.
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
From further practice of the principles presented in the Bhagavad-gita, one learns that they are intimately connected to Krishna through both physical proximity and constitutional qualities. He is residing within us right now, though He is more of a neutral observer. That spiritual force is invisible to the eyes, but it is still with form. The outward form, known as either the incarnation or the original personality itself, is visible to the eyes, provided one is fortunate enough to have a glance at it. It is all-attractive; hence the name Krishna is appropriate in addressing it.
Intimate connection to the Supersoul representation within the heart takes place through meditational yoga, and the outward form is found through bhakti-yoga, or the yoga of devotion and love. The latter path is superior because it automatically gives cognizance of the Supersoul, whereas the former does not bring connection with the original personality who has a visible form. The best means of practicing bhakti-yoga, especially in the modern age, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
The expert yogi in bhakti is known as a paramahamsa. The components of the Sanskrit word translate to “supreme swan.” The attitude of the paramahamsa goes something like this:
“I can’t believe how great Krishna is. Though He is known by many different names across the many spiritual traditions, He is still one. He is so kind that He allows us to serve Him at any time and at any place. All around me I find only good people. They are all related to Krishna in some way. There are those who serve Him. They are known as devotees, and from their example I know for sure that God exists. From the behavior of the envious I also get proof that Krishna exists. They validate the claim that the material world acts as a sort of prison house to reform the souls who are envious of the Supreme Lord, who has everything. Such envy never works out because nothing can be done to change the situation. Why try to compete with God when He can give you everything in a second if you so desire? Why envy Krishna when serving Him is the source of the greatest pleasure? Nevertheless, even the miscreants are good at heart; they just don’t know any better. They are presently under the sway of Krishna’s material energy known as maya. Once they have the fortune of meeting a devotee and getting the seed of the creeper of devotional service, when they will water it regularly with devotional practice they will be free of all bad things, including envy.”
Thus we see that only through high knowledge acquired through connecting with Krishna, or God, can the crow turn into a swan. If I know the Supreme Lord I will also know myself. And if I know myself, I will know others too. I will then know that envy of others is not necessary, as we are all meant to be eternal servants of the all-merciful Supreme Lord, whose Bhagavad-gita directly represents Him and is a sign of His causeless mercy.
Without my true identity to know,
In envy to act like a crow.
In criticizing others I won’t quit,
Find fault with their walk and how they sit.
Identity from Bhagavad-gita understand,
Soul not tied to body’s face, legs or hand.
Also the Supreme Lord to rightly see,
His true nature from maya’s influence is free.
In real knowledge turn from crow to swan,
Without doubt others’ goodness only dwell upon.