Question: I’m embarrassed to admit this, but sometimes I don’t even want to be around my best friend anymore because she is so attractive, smart, funny, and successful in her career, whenever we go out together I feel almost invisible compared to her. Not only do I feel like I’m losing my friend, but it’s burning me up inside. How can I become free from this envy?
Jagad Guru: People envy others because they are covered by ignorance and don’t know their true identity. Although we are atmas, eternal spirit souls, we mistakenly identify ourselves as the temporary material body or ever-changing mind. So in the darkness of ignorance, we try to find satisfaction and happiness in endless sense enjoyment. We then envy those people who have more facilities for sense gratification than we have.
In your case, rather than being happy for your friend’s good fortune, you feel envious.
Whenever we experience frustration or pain when someone else has something we don’t have, this is envy. We may envy people because they have more money, fame, power, beauty, talents, personality, good connections, luck, etc. Sometimes an unhappy person who is envious of a happy person’s happiness does whatever he can to make the happy person unhappy. There’s a saying, “misery likes company.” The miserable person is envious of the happy person and wants to make him miserable, too.
Envy is like a thorn constantly pricking at our heart and mind. It’s impossible to have inner peace when we are being poked with this thorn of envy.
Few things create as much unhappiness and disharmony as envy. Because enviousness can be so destructive, it is imperative that we understand and do our best to dig out envy at its roots.
From the yoga point of view, the root cause of enviousness is lack of wisdom and a heart devoid of inner spiritual satisfaction and happiness. If we are spiritually empty, we will always be hankering for what others have that we do not. It may be another’s youth, beauty, intelligence, academic achievements, power, riches, fame, sense of humor, size, weight, ad infinitum.
Some well-meaning people mistakenly believe enviousness could be eradicated from society if everyone had everything that everyone else has. They imagine that if everyone had identical apartments, bicycles or cars, bank accounts, salaries, etc., then no one would have any reason to be envious.
Of course, such a “solution” is impossible and impractical. It is impossible for all of us to have exactly what everyone else has or to be in exactly the same situation. An old person cannot be young again. A young person cannot suddenly be old and wealthy. A middle-aged person cannot be young or old. A woman cannot be a man, and man cannot be a woman. Indeed, we have heard women express their envy of men because men don’t have their menses every month.
And even if everyone had the same income, people’s jobs would all be different. Will a street-sweeper not have cause to envy the office worker, or the office worker not envy their boss or leader; or those who are working on a farm not envy those who get to work in a factory, or vice versa? Will not-so-pretty girls not envy the prettier girls? Will the short guys not envy the tall guys, or the slow not envy the fast? Will the stupid not envy the smart and the smart not envy the smarter?
Ultimately, all such efforts will be doomed to fail; not only because they are impractical, but because even if they were achievable, they would still not eliminate the spiritual emptiness that is the root cause of envy.
It is only a person who is empty within who envies other people. A spiritually satisfied person will envy no one. So according to yoga, the only way to reduce enviousness in ourselves and in society is to cultivate our wisdom and spiritual love.
It is only through the cultivation of wisdom and spiritual love that our minds and hearts can be freed from such envy. Through the cultivation of wisdom and spiritual love, our hearts become filled with the deepest kind of happiness, and thus whatever envy we have of others disappears. This is the condition of self-realization or enlightenment.