“He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady both in success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.22)
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यदृच्छालाभसंतुष्टो द्वन्द्वातीतो विमत्सरः ।
समः सिद्धावसिद्धौ च कृत्वापि न निबध्यते ॥
samaḥ siddhāv asiddhau ca
kṛtvāpi na nibadhyate
“I have reached a certain conclusion, based on my own speculation. This is in relation to developing transcendental qualities. I certainly desire to reach that standard. I am not satisfied to eat, drink, and be merry. I want something better. I think the human being should utilize the wonderful gift of reason, of rational thought, of deliberating on higher subjects, for the ultimate purpose of improving the life experience.
“The conclusion I have reached is that there are two qualities which are nearly impossible to attain and maintain. The first is humility. You always hear this admonishment, that those who have achieved should be more humble in their presentation. They should not boast of their accomplishments. They should recognize the dutiful contribution others have made.
“A person can joke about being proud of how humble they are. This highlights the difficulty in acquiring this particular trait. Because you do not want the humility to prohibit action. You still want to proceed forward with prescribed duties. But if you think that you are nothing, that you have no ability, how will you feel impelled to act?
“The second quality I find impossible to keep is lack of envy. I have a particularly difficult time with this one. I am envious of so many people. That husband who has the wife that serves lovingly and without conflict. The honest laborer who gets to travel to the office or jobsite and spend the entire day without obstruction. The yogi who resides in a sacred place, free from botheration.
“The list is endless. If I hear that someone earns a higher salary than me, I am not necessarily happy for them. Just imagine if your best friend should one day win the lottery. What would happen to the friendship? Would it continue on? I think there would be issues moving forward.
“I am not looking for a utopia. I understand that human beings are flawed. I have heard it said that there is a transcendental version of envy. How does that work, exactly? It is okay to be a little jealous of someone else’s advancement in spiritual life? Will that not lead to the same negative consequences that we see driving conflict in the material space?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that the difference is in the lack of malice. There is envy in the spiritual world. Everything we witness in the material world is a reflection of what exists in the eternal realm. That realm is not destroyed at a set time. It is not subject to the cycle of appearance and disappearance, which occurs across a span of billions of years.
परस्तस्मात्तु भावोऽन्योऽव्यक्तोऽव्यक्तात्सनातन: ।
य: स सर्वेषु भूतेषु नश्यत्सु न विनश्यति ॥
paras tasmāt tu bhāvo ’nyo
’vyakto ’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu
naśyatsu na vinaśyati
“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.20)
In our experience, malice tends to accompany envy. Instead of wishing someone well, we hope for bad things to happen to them. Maybe not at a catastrophic level, but just enough so that we no longer envy their position.
We belittle the accomplishments of others. We make excuses as to why we are not able to replicate the same. The grapes are sour, after all. We try to negate their happiness by pointing out the existing flaws. These then cancel out whatever gains have been made; at least in theory.
Envy without malice is not difficult to understand. The gopis of Vrindavana exemplify this mood. They see that someone has pleased Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They make the assessment based on the time of interaction, on the response of the worshiped party, and basic observation.
The gopis do not think that others should be put down. While they may feel inferior due to the envy, they utilize the juxtaposition to further increase their service. The gopis wish to do better, to make Krishna even happier. This is not at the expense of any other gopi.
Within our regular work, there is no need to envy others to that degree. The wise person understands that the results to action are not entirely under our control. Material nature must first cooperate. There is someone in charge of that nature.
Krishna explains that someone who works without envy, following prescribed duties, is not entangled by that work. When they are free of envy, they are not so interested in what others accomplished by comparison. Whether it is a lot or a little, they continue in that work. They are not affected negatively by the outcomes.
Because of that mindset, they are in the transcendental position. When following devotional service, I may be envious of another’s ability. That person over there cooks so well. The prasadam distributed to others is surely infused with a transcendental potency that cannot be accurately measured.
That other person can recite Sanskrit verses so well. Their pronunciation is near flawless. They must be in touch with the original sound, as first spoken in ancient times. Because of this sound, they must be more in the transcendental consciousness than I am.
If this kind of envy lacks malice, there is no harm. It will actually benefit me, as I am both appreciating others and pushing myself to reach new heights. As spiritual life does not have the limitations of the material world, the service can go on increasing, with the object of worship being more and more pleased.
Like tight grip not releasing,
In tune with service increasing.
Because example of others to see,
How superior in ability to me.
Envious but not maliciously so,
To higher level I can go.
Purpose Shri Krishna to please,
Who our determination sees.
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