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Saturday, October 16, 2021

Karma Sutra: What is envy, but poor mental hygiene

Different cultures are known to have their unique way of dealing with envy.

Written by Ritu S | New Delhi |
Updated: June 22, 2016 3:20:16 pm
mahabharata, life philosophy, life hacks, what is envy, what is jealousy, A classic case of someone who suffered from such envy is Prince Duryodhana from the great epic Mahabharata. Seen here is a painting of the Kurukshetra War between the Pandavas and Kauravas. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

According to Vedanta, we humans are susceptible to six contaminations, or weaknesses, namely – kama (desire), krodh (anger), lobh (greed), moh (attachment), madh (arrogance) and matsar (jealousy).

While each of these weaknesses are present in all of us, at least one of them is a predominant part of our personality. And this weakness, if not kept in check, becomes the reason for our downfall in life. The one weakness, which is totally self-inflicted, is that of envy.

Envy, that feeling of resentment aroused by what others have and we don’t, eats into us like a parasite. It blinds us to all the gifts and qualities that we may possess and makes us obsessed with what the “others” have. Although, it is natural to feel a certain degree of envy when life has endowed certain people with more gifts than it has to others, but to envy people when we ourselves have been blessed with much is when the weakness begins to harm us.

The resentment we have for others’ success becomes the repository of our existence. This envy is destructive because not only does it ruin our peace and health, it is also directed at harming and wiping out the object of our envy.

A classic case of someone who suffered from such envy is Prince Duryodhana from the great epic Mahabharata. When his father, the blind King Dhritrashtra sees his son scorched by envy of his cousin Yudhistra, he tells his son, “Why should one like you envy Yudhistra”?

And indeed, Prince Duryodhana had the best at his disposal; he had no reason to envy. But it was not enough for him. Seeing his cousin Yudishtra enjoying imperial power, he justifies his outrage by saying, “Discontent is at the root of prosperity. That is why I want to be dissatisfied.” He turns his vice into a virtue. His awesome grudge against his cousin’s paramount power has him burning day and night. His description of the effect that envy has on him is almost poetic, “I am drying up like a shrunken pond in the hot season”.

Read all the Karma Sutra columns here.

The ancient Greeks believed that men were naturally envious. In a study of human behaviour, author Peter Walcot observed that envy was a part of man’s basic character and disposition. This is because we humans have a tendency to evaluate our well-being by comparing it with that of another.

Different cultures are known to have their unique way of dealing with envy. The Greeks would ostracise successful people for at least 10 years; Indians coped with it by practising renunciation and hoped for compensation in another world. The Chinese, on the other hand, had the most intelligent way of dealing with it. They were excessively modest so as to not offend the others. They would undermine their achievements and regard it as being of little worth.

Envy is known to waste our mental energy and is associated with ill-health. It is the root cause of many a health problems. Our negative emotions, of which envy is one, is a natural and universal part of who we are-“humans”. But for them, we would be divine. Our human flaw is not so much these negative emotions but our stern denial of them. We refuse to admit, even to ourselves that we could infact suffer from these weaknesses. As long as we live in denial these emotions will continue to grow and thrive in us like the venom in a serpent’s tooth.


Let us accept our human frailty. The Mahabharata does not think of envy as a sin, it merely calls it “poor mental hygiene”, a term phrased by writer-editor, Joseph Epstein.

Let us keep our minds clear of these contaminations and improve our overall health. After all, human happiness comes from a healthy mind and a healthy body.

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