Monday, March 31, 2014

Worldly Passions - Envy / Ignorance

                         When we lose out on what we really wanted to our rival, we can often feel bitter envy toward that person. We believe that their happiness should have really been ours, and so now we want to take it from them. 

                          In highly competitive sports, our fierce drive to victory can often get our blood boiling when we fall just a few points behind. It pains us to see someone else win the praise and recognition that we were so desperately wishing for ourselves.

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                           Even if our very good friend shows off their wealth buying the very latest smartphone, we still get a little jealous inside. When that annoying neighbor of ours keeps parking his fancy car in our driveway, we can't help but hold a grudge against him and ceaselessly complain about his rudeness. If the person we can't stand also happens to be in a position of authority like a boss or a teacher, it can fester into resentfulness. After these negative feelings go unresolved for too long, hatred can emerge

                             And then when we're in a better position, we begin to look down on others. From a distance, we can even become amused by the suffering of others. Let's say our recently-promoted coworker is fired shortly after her appointment. With the position now available, we smile and quickly see her loss as our gain. Though we may not think so, we are taking delight in others' misfortune unknowingly in our day-to-day lives.

                           This toxic mindset within us that curses others for their happiness and takes pleasure in their misfortune represents the last of the Three Poisonous Passions, the worldly passion of envy/ignorance.

                         An envious mind has a total lack of awareness because its actions do not actually lead to real happiness. It is foolish because it only brings about more suffering. For this reason, this worldly passion is also known as ignorance. Even Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, "Envy is ignorance."

Photo by mtchlra (edited to remove brands), original available on

                         Yet we continue to fall victim to envy because we fail to fully grasp the Law of Cause and Effect. When we envy others for what they received instead of us, we are rejecting the notion of karma. The reason we challenge Causality is we doubt the relationship between a Cause and Effect we have experienced.

Good deeds bring good results.

Bad deeds bring bad results.

Your own deeds bring your own results.

                            When things are going our way, we of course have no problem agreeing with the words of Sakyamuni Buddha. But the moment we lose out on what we really, really wanted is the very same moment we instead go looking for someone else to blame. That's when a multitude of vengeful feelings rise up in us all aimed at that miserable person who we think is really at fault for our troubles.

                           In our minds, we feel downright entitled to what they have. They don’t deserve it as much as we do, we think. And so we begin to envy them and have a lot of animosity toward them. However, putting others down for their own results shows a complete disregard of the truth.

                           Because what must be understood about karma is that without even a single exception, all happiness is the result of a past action. Whenever something good happens to us in our life, it is only because we must have done something good in the past. 

                             Everything that occurs in the universe has a cause. So all happiness in our life must have its own respective cause. People who are happy right now are feeling that way because they themselves produced a past cause for their current happiness. And that cause was performed by that very same person who is now happy. Still we can learn about this and say we understand the foundation of Buddhism, but only when it’s convenient to us. The more we sincerely look into our nature, the more we discover that we are not able to think this way all the time.
                 Deep down, we still demand to know why that person is better off right now and not us. We think they couldn't have worked as hard as we do, or they simply don’t deserve it as much as we do. Our jealousy and spite churn us up and make us feel worse inside. In the end, this mentality will only lead to more regret, because performing more bad deeds will always bring more bad results. 

                          So whenever we fail to achieve something, we must look within and begin to take our own steps toward happiness. Remember, envy does not get us to the finish line any faster.

Original Photo by lanier67 available on
                          What's stopping us is that we are unwilling to confess that we’re unhappy about our own shortcomings. Maybe we didn’t try hard enough, we fell short of our goal, or we gave up on it. But in the end, we didn’t yet plant that right seed that was needed to get what we wanted when we wanted it.

                          Even if we feel we've been dealt a bad hand, the Law of Cause and Effect tells us that something we did in this life or a past life earned us those unfavorable cards. Rather than accept bad fate as our own and plant good seeds as quickly as possible, we prefer to point the finger and harness our misery toward someone or something in the outside world. We call it bad luck to avoid taking any responsibility. 

                           But it is our present thoughts, words, and efforts that direct the flow of our future happiness. No matter to what degree our suffering persists, we must continue to perform good deeds in order to get good results.

                             The envious mind thinks that our bad results are caused by the deeds of others. But this kind of mindset adamantly defies the truth. We know from the Law of Cause and Effect that our own bad deeds are what bring our own bad effects. So of course thoughts, words, and efforts made in the outburst of an envious wrath will only produce bad results for our future.  

                          Even so because of this worldly passion, we can still justify to ourselves doing wrongful actions. Say the car behind you speeds up and cuts you off dangerously. You think to yourself, “Oh, they think they can do that to me! No way!" Your foot hits the gas pedal to the floor. "Now, I’m really gonna show them,” you mutter as your odometer climbs. Your car then zooms by with the roar of your engines. As you quickly swerve back into the lane, they slow down and vanish down the other road. "There! I really showed them. My cutting them off must have been OK to do this time!”

                             But “this time” is once again that mind of ignorance at work. Whenever we don't see immediate results, we doubt the Law of Cause and Effect as being flawed in some way. There must have been an exception of some kind, we believe. However, the Buddha assures us this universal truth is constant and transcends all time and space.

                           To explore further, let's review the story of the thief who blamed the rope. The thief, bound by the rope, blames the tightness around his wrists for his present suffering. But it was the thief himself who stole. Now in custody, he is supposed to be reflecting on his past wrongdoings. Instead, he holds a grudge on the rope that he sees confining him at the moment. It’s not just the thief who thinks this way. We're all the same way. Everyone blames their misfortunes on the rope. Whenever we blame others, we are blaming the rope. 

                            Take the case of the good wife who has a good-for-nothing husband. The husband never works, drinks all the time, sleeps around, and yells a lot. We think that the husband is the obvious cause of the wife’s suffering. But the cause for her suffering is actually her own past actions. Why did she have to marry that man, out of all the potential suitors she could have loved instead? She’s suffering now that she is married to him. If she hadn’t married him though, she wouldn’t have suffered. She liked him and chose him. This created her karma.

                         Our suffering comes from our own past causes. This wife may blame her husband and say that it’s all his fault. But she is still believing that the rope is the main cause to blame for her suffering. 

                         So as we have learned, the worldly passion of ignorance is in direct conflict with the Law of Cause and Effect. The opposite of this ignorance is wisdom. Sakyamuni Buddha taught it as one of the Six Paramitas

Six Paramitas

              1.) Kindness  2.) Keeping your Word  3.) Patience  

4.) Effort  5.) Self-Reflection  6.) Wisdom

                         Wisdom is believing steadfastly in the Law of Cause and Effect. It’s the mind that is determined toward doing as much good as possible and avoiding all that is evil.

                          We hear that good deeds bring good results, and bad deeds bring bad results. But occasionally, results don’t come soon enough. If we don’t get our reward right away, we think it was a waste of our time doing the work. But this is still ignorance. Let's listen to a short story that helps us understand why cause and effect can be so hard for us to grasp.

                   "One October, a man went on a trip to the East. A cool breeze blew through the fields of ripened grain that stretched in waves of gold as far as the eye could see. Nearby a farmer was leisurely at work, smoking a pipe, his face creased in a smile.

Original Photo by Shinsuke JJ Ikegame available on

                   Later the man returned to the same country, and found waves of gold harvested into neat sheaves, lying piled by each house. From within came the sounds of contented conversation and laughter. The man said to himself, 'This is a paradise. Imagine that -- people here reap a great harvest with no trouble!' He could only envy such good fortune, and went and told his neighbor all about it.

                His neighbor decided to take a look for himself. He set off at the beginning of May and arrived to find everyone covered in mud and sweat, hard at work. Thinking this was strange, he finished his business and went home. When he came by the following month, he found people sweating buckets in the hot sun, hard at work as before, with no golden waves in sight and no sheaves, either. He fumed, 'My neighbor pulled a fast one one me. This is no paradise -- it's a perfect hell.'

Original Photo by Krish Dulal available on Wikimedia Commons

              Hidden in every success story are tears.

              A seed that is not planted cannot grow. People ignorant of this fundamental law of cause-and-effect are greatly to be pitied."
(Something You Forgot Along the Way, pg. 168)

                            Without first planting the seeds, we can never receive the results. Even if we don’t receive them immediately, they will surely come. Most of us give up early on doing good if it doesn’t pay off right away. When very bad times come, we feel foolish to do good at such a desperate time. Yet it is the most crucial time for good to be done. 

                             Ethics and morals aren’t the only fields where the Law of Cause and Effect is applicable. Science, medicine, politics, economics all study the relationships between the causes and effects of our world. Cause and effect works everywhere, all the time. It applies in both of the Americas, in China, the United Kingdom, the Pacific Islands, even the North Pole, and out on Mars too. It applies whether people know about it or not. 

                             Now that we know about it, the key to create our own happiness is to strive toward performing positive virtues like the Six Paramitas everyday. That way, we can accumulate and enjoy future happiness as a result of those actions.

The outcome of others is dependent on their efforts. 

***Our outcomes are dependent on our own efforts.***

                       All too often the people we live with are the ones with which we also argue, blame and compete with the most. This next short story illustrates how reflecting on our own past actions during conflict can help reach better harmony in the home.

                       "A family that was always at loggerheads lived side by side with a family that was as peaceful as could be. A, the head of the quarrelsome family, was mystified by how well everyone got along next door. Finally one day he called on B and said in desperation, 'Our family is always quarreling, as I'm sure you can tell, and I don't know what to do about it. I see that everyone in your family gets along beautifully. Please tell me what your secret is.'

                        B replied, 'There's no secret in particular. It's probably because everyone in your family is always in the right. Over here, all of us are always in the wrong, so there's no quarreling. That's all there is to it.'

                        Certain that he was being ridiculed, A was about to explode in anger when a loud crash sounded from inside the house. It sounded as if a piece of crockery had fallen to the floor.

Original Photo by Kristian Th√łgersen available on

                        The voice of a young woman said penitently, 'Mother, I'm so sorry. All because I didn't look where I was going, I went and broke that dish that meant so much to you. It's my fault. Please forgive me.'

                        'Nonsense,' said the voice of her mother-in-law. 'It's not your fault at all. I kept meaning to put the dish away, and never got around to it. I never should have left it there in the first place. I'm the one who has to apologize.'

                         Then it dawned on A: 'I get it. Everyone in this family is always in the wrong, and says so. That's why there is no quarreling.'

                          I cannot condemn others though their sins be red as wine,

                          For their offenses pale next to those of mine."
(Something You Forgot Along the Way, pg. 168)

                       So we really don’t need to worry all that much about who’s right and who’s wrong. Because we're all made of worldly passions, we're all wrong in some way or another! We practice wisdom when we choose to not blame others, and instead choose to look within at our own causes that contributed to our own suffering.

Original Photo Art by Celestine Chua available on

                        Instead of feeling resentful about what others have or their superior ability, work harder toward developing your own skills and you will reap the results. The only way to get better at any endeavor in life is to keep practicing at it.

                      Every one of our efforts will be rewarded. But if we don't try toward those goals, then of course we can’t possibly succeed at them. Effects can’t happen without a cause. 

                       But still no matter how much we try to perfect this, we as human beings always remain with the worldly passions of desire, anger, and envy/ignorance.

                      Yet another troubling aspect of our envy/ignorance is that it causes us to take pleasure when people under us experience setbacks. We can all think this way, even if the misfortune seems particularly amusing to us.

Photo by woodleywonderworks (edited to remove brands, resized) original available on

                   “The Germans even have a word, schadenfreude, which means delight in others’ misfortune. We enjoy seeing someone caught in a rain shower with no umbrella, we laugh at someone frightened by a barking dog, and we are tickled by the sight of a well-dressed woman on the verge of tears after being spattered with mud by a passing car. On the way to a fire, we are disappointed to see that it has been put out. The Japanese have a saying that, ‘away from home, the bigger the fire, the greater the fun.’ Likewise, to ‘watch a fire on the opposite bank’ means to look on others’ troubles with unconcern, as having nothing to do with oneself. To take pleasure in such tragedy is indecent, we know, yet despite ourselves we are morbidly fascinated, enjoying the spectacle and incapable of working up any sadness. What does it say about people that viewer ratings and sales of tabloid newspapers never fail to go up when some big scandal or atrocity occurs.
Reports of another’s good fortune, whether it be a promotion, a wedding, or a new home, leave us resentful. In contrast, on hearing that someone has failed in business, gotten a divorce, or suffered some other misfortune, we secretly smirk. What if our inmost thoughts were laid bare for all to see? People would surely call us monsters and flee our presence.”
(You Were Born for a Reason, p. 129-130)

                Jealousy, envy and resentment are all feelings that repulse us when other people do it to us. But it is so difficult to observe in ourselves when we're the ones doing it. 

                             Out of a total awareness of this horrible mindset within him, a Pure Land Buddhist monk by the name of Master Shinran came to the following conclusion about his true nature.

               ‘Therefore I am neither good nor wise, nor do I have any intention of being diligent. My spirit is one of nothing but indolence, and inside I am nothing but empty, deceitful, and fawning at all times. It has been impressed upon me that there is no truth in me.’
(You Were Born for a Reason, p.130)

                 So our True Self, according to Pure Land Buddhism, does not actually contain any truth in it at all. Even after many, many hours of deep self-reflection, at our core we as humans beings are continually stirred by desire, anger, and envy/ignorance. We are these Three Poisonous Passions and nothing else.
                 Buddhism encourages us to reflect deeply on our mindset so we can make the right decisions to plant good seeds. By listening deeply to the teachings and practicing the Six Paramitas, not only do we bring ourselves more happiness for our future, but we simultaneously uncover vain and self-interested thoughts we never knew we had before. 

                             Then all at once -- in a split-second moment -- our True Self will be revealed to us exactly as it was for Master Shinran. We will see clearly all the ugliest aspects of our desire, anger, and envy/ignorance. We will know ourselves fully for the first time as we really are. Knowing the true reality of ourselves is the only way toward finding a real and everlasting happiness. So let us listen to the teachings earnestly until that moment when we find it for ourselves.

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