Karmapas thoughts on envy - 03.11.2020

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My thoughts…on env

Isn’t it curious to see how sometimes, almost out of nowhere, we may suddenly become envious of the most unexpected things? How, out of the blue, we may develop this emotion or feeling of “I wish I had that”?

And isn’t it equally curious to observe how that envy has the potential to transform into jealousy, which then carries the risk of turning into something even more malevolent and potentially destructive – the feeling that “If I can’t have it, nobody else should have it either”?

This human condition that we currently depend on provides a platform to feel an abundance of emotions – so it is safe to say that it is natural for us to feel envy.

When we explore the emotion of envy, we see that it has no limit in terms of how far it can extend – we are capable of envying almost anything, far beyond the obvious objects of envy.

And what we sometimes overlook, is that everyone experiences envy – those at the very peak of human existence (the ones who seem to have it all), just as much as those whom we consider to be the most deprived and underprivileged people.

In short, the poor and the rich, the wealthy and powerful, and the ones lacking in the most basic needs, all experience envy, simply because they all share the human condition. All beings in samsara (a cyclic existence lived in constant fear of losing control) continuously cycle through all of these states – nobody remains rich or poor, powerful or powerless forever.

The so-called liberation that Buddhists talk about means coming out of that cycle. In accordance with the shared experiences of the Bodhisattvas, the teachings advise us that as practitioners we need to learn to ‘work with our emotions’.

So, is it possible that the envy we experience is one of these emotions that we can tap into? Is it possible that so far we haven’t tapped into this quality – our envy – which is present in the most obvious, natural way?

Maybe the only ones who have tapped into it are the Bodhisattvas, so perhaps we can learn something from them.

What does ‘tapping into our envy’ involve?

It involves, first of all, seeing that being able to experience envy is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with us. In a way, it’s quite the opposite – it means that we are healthy, fit, alive.

But at the same time this doesn’t mean that we have to give in to it. We might even try to go that way, and end up having the most amazing trip. We will find that wherever we go, there is no way to overcome envy.

If we become rich, we will envy the poor.

If we become poor, we will envy the rich.

So we will never find satisfaction by giving in to envy, no matter how far we manage to go – just like we will never be able to quench our thirst by drinking salty water.

So how, as Buddhist practitioners, do we go about envy, when for the time being we are dependent on this human condition?

We do it by taking our particular emotion of envy as a cue, knowing that it’s part and parcel of the human state.

At this point it might be helpful to remind ourselves of the practice of equanimity.

There is a good reason why we are encouraged to practice equanimity in Buddhism: it is because we all share a most basic, deeply rooted sense and conviction of ‘this is me, these are my feelings, this is my body’ – what we commonly refer to as ‘ego’, that which makes one feel that ‘this is me’.

And if we take the time, we come to see that just as we are feeling this conviction, so are all others in exactly the same way, and in that sense there is no difference at all. So we can begin by using this conceptual logic, but just as a sort of stepping stone, in order to help us gain the direct experience and realisation that this is no fantasy; this is as real as it gets.

Let’s take a very simple, everyday example: You are in the office cafeteria with a colleague and have ordered a cup of tea, whereas she is drinking coffee. You suddenly realise that you would actually prefer to have coffee, too, but it’s too late now, because your cup of tea is already paid for and standing in front of you. (Of course you could always trash the tea and buy a coffee instead, but I feel that this would be a way of giving in to envy, rather than working with it.)

So you don’t need to reject or push away the feeling of envy, but instead let it rise and face it, and use it as a cue to give rise to happiness and appreciation in this way: you can actually enjoy your colleague drinking that coffee, because you know that person has the same condition as you. On another day, she might have ordered tea, but today it just so happens that you have ordered tea, and she is drinking the coffee. And in a way it’s almost like a load off your shoulders: you don’t have to go out of your way to drink the coffee on top of your tea; instead someone else is enjoying it for you.

Once you get into that mode of practice, then you can actually pretty much enjoy anything. In this particular instance, you might not get the full enjoyment, because you don’t get to taste the full texture of the coffee. So maybe you get only half of the concrete enjoyment of having the coffee, but beyond that, the texture of the pleasure you enjoy is actually even greater, because it opens a part of yourself where you can begin to relax.

Of course, it’s not just about the coffee – it’s about much more than that: you have opened a door to a new source of enjoyment which can be applied to almost everything: a better car, a better house, a better family, a better lifestyle – all of the assets that we might think of as parts of happiness. All of these fixtures of enjoyment and happiness, all of the lives we couldn’t even imagine, – now, with the help of this new tool, we can enjoy all of them, simply by appreciating that others are living them for us.

So we simply continue doing what humans do: it is normal for humans to enjoy life, and we can now use the emotion of envy to enjoy almost everything, in a very lazy and a carefree way, without having to work for it.

In this way, if we learn to tap into our envy and use it as a cue, it is possible to live lives beyond our imagination, all within our single human existence.


source: www.karmapa.org/my-thoughts/

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