Envy is a type of distress people feel at the thought that they lack something that others— seen as rivals—possess. Sometimes envy also involves a desire that the rival not possess that good.

Traditional Judaism condemns envy and jealousy on the grounds that these emotions amount to idolatry. Through envy, individuals manifest disbelief that God wanted the rival to have the object—a disbelief that God is in control of everything. Jewish authorities regard such doubt as a form of idolatry, for to “imply a denial of . . . fundamental [Jewish] beliefs” is idolatrous (Avodah Zarah 2:4; Kaplan 1979, 29).

In an illustration of the negative Jewish view on envy, there is an amusing Midrashic commentary on the Biblical passage (Genesis 1:16): “God made the two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” According to the story, when God originally created sun and moon, they were the same size, but the moon was envious of the sun for receiving the same degree of honor the moon received, and objected that they ought not be the same size. God therefore made the moon smaller—as a punishment— instead of making the sun smaller, as the moon had hoped.

Tractate Pirkei Avot of the Talmud expresses a number of Jewish teachings that implicitly condemn envy and jealousy; for example, “Who is rich? He who is happy with his lot . . .” (4:1). A man who is happy with his lot is, of course, also one who does not envy others for their wealth.

Pirkei Avot teaches that one must avoid envying those who receive greater honor than oneself. Such envy might easily arise among religious Jews due to the strong duty in Judaism to honor parents, teachers, and rabbis. But one can learn not to resent the fact that others are honored by understanding that honoring others is a way of honoring God and receiving honor from God in return, as it is stated “Who is honored? He who honors others, as it is said, ‘I will give honor to those who honor Me [by honoring My creatures] . . .’” (Pirkei Avot 4:1 in Wein 2003, 147).

Pirkei Avot (6:6) maintains that a person who lives correctly is one who, among other things, “knows his place.” Such a person has no envious desire to be in someone else’s place, enjoying benefits not deserved, but which the other person properly enjoys and deserves.

Envy, according to Christianity, is one of the seven deadly sins. It is explicitly described as an evil by Jesus: “For from within . . . come evil thoughts . . . theft, murder, adultery, greed . . . envy. . . . All these evils come from inside” (Mark 7:21-23).

An illustration of Jesus’s teaching against envy is found when his disciples enviously argue with each other as to which of them is the greatest. To one who would envy another for being greater, Jesus says, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all” (Mark 9:33-36).

Saint Paul regarded agape (love) as one of the chief virtues within the early Christian community. The oneness and love which Paul saw displayed within that community precluded indulgence in such emotions as envy and jealousy.

In later Christian thought, the nineteenth-century Danish philosopher S0ren Kierkegaard put a twist on the Christian condemnation of envy in his Journals. Starting with the presumptions that “to be loved by God and to love God is to suffer,” and that all those whom God really loved, such as the apostles, had to suffer in this world (Dru, 1958, 226), Kierkegaard concluded that humility prevents one from “desiring the gifts of an apostle,” but instead allows envy of an apostle for his suffering. (Dru 1958, 228) Thus, Kierkegaard inverts the worldly concept of a “good” so as to tolerate envy of those who are “burdened” with what is ordinarily taken to be an evil.

The nineteenth-century German philosopher Nietzsche regarded envy as one of the chief reasons why Christianity became a popular religion. The slaves of the Roman Empire were the first sizable group to become Christians. These slaves felt great envy and hatred toward their masters, and were attracted to the “slave morality” of Christianity, which made virtues of humility and pacifism necessary. The slaves yearned for a heaven from which they could watch their masters, whom they envied and hated, burning in hell.

Jealousy is interpreted as hasad in Arabic and is also linked with envy or ghibtah. There are many hadiths, reports of sayings of the Prophet and those close to him, which are critical of jealousy on account of its destructive-ness. Sura 113:1, 5 is often recited as a preventive measure: “Say, I seek refuge with the Lord of the Dawn . . . from the mischief of the jealous one as he pursues jealousy.” Sura 4:54 points out that God has provided people with different amounts of wealth and talent, and it is inappropriate to feel envy for those that God has decided to reward. Sura 43:32 makes clear that it is not for the created to question the decisions of the Creator, and so jealousy and envy are ruled out as valid emotions. Imam al-Nawawi, in his celebrated commentary on the hadith, points out that envy might be acceptable if it inspires the individual to improve his religious performance by emulating those whom he envies, but can only be morally allowed if the individual does not wish harm to come to those whose piety and learning inspire the jealousy in the first place.

Jealousy in Islam implies disagreeing with the divine arrangement of the world. This emotion also becomes embedded in an individual, influencing his or her decisions on a range of topics and actions, and so works to change the personality of the person in a negative way. Islam stresses the significance of peace and balance in human behavior, and anything such as jealousy that disturbs this equilibrium should be rejected. One of the virtues that Islam promotes is self-control, and emotions like jealousy are character flaws according to such a view. The graphic image of the devil whispering into one’s ears is often employed—such whispering having the effect of inflating emotions and initiating behavior and attitudes that would otherwise be rejected.

The early Buddhist account of desire requires the elimination of envy. Desire, especially for sense pleasures or material wealth, is low and vulgar and leads to suffering, according to early Buddhist doctrine. A person who envies another for his pleasures or wealth is, then, a victim of vulgar attachments. The Buddha himself had found it necessary to abandon his home, with its many sense pleasures and possessions, in order to advance on the spiritual path toward salvation—liberation, enlightenment, or nirvana—which requires the eradication of greed, hatred, and delusion. Envy—which may be regarded as a type of greed—is therefore a definite obstacle to the achievement of the ultimate Buddhist goal of nirvana.

The Buddhist view of those who envy others —or, more generally, those who are attached to sense pleasures—contrasts sharply with that of the Brahminists, who were the dominant social and religious force at the time of the Buddha. For these Brahminists, “sensual pleasure is one of the ideals of the householder, to be pursued until it conflicts with higher ideals of duty or interest” (Gombrich 1988, 61). For Buddhists, on the other hand, desire—including envy of what others have—is the cause of suffering, and this insight constitutes one of the Four Noble Truths. These Truths also refer to a method for eradicating desire, known as the Noble Eightfold Path, which takes one through the stages of morality, meditation, and wisdom. The passions, including those that lead to envy, are quieted through the attainment of enlightenment, upon which one internally realizes—in a manner that is not purely intellectual—the Four Noble Truths. The Buddhist path, then, requires more than mere philosophical study. Arduous meditation practices are necessary for achieving true freedom from the passions.

According to the Buddhist Chain of Dependent Origination (paticca-samuppada), it is ignorance that causes desire. Ignorance, in the form of delusion, also counts as one of the three roots of evil. Realization or enlightenment, which removes ignorance, gives human beings freedom from desire, including envy, through disenchantment with everything in the material world.

Another avenue to grasping the early Buddhist method for overcoming desire—including envious desire—is by considering that humans lack souls, or selves. When a person comes to know that there is no self, selfishness becomes impossible, and all forms of desire, including envy, disappear.

In the twentieth century, the influential Tibetan Buddhist author Chogyam Trungpa employed a common Buddhist metaphor that depicts envy as a stage in the development of the ego. At the first stage of this development, humans are like a monkey trapped in a house “with five windows representing the five senses.” The monkey struggles to escape, but fails. This leads him to imagine a God Realm in which he can live a life of freedom and ease. However, because he wishes to maintain his state of bliss, he next envisions the Asura Realm, in which he envies anyone who might have more pleasure than himself. In this realm, the monkey constantly compares himself to others and becomes deeply involved in “fighting for mastery of his world” (Trungpa 1973, 142). Thus envy, for Trungpa, is a natural development of the ego. But the anxiety of living in a state of envy leads the monkey to return to the human realm. Eventually, the monkey begins to “question the whole process of struggle.” He then realizes that his own attitude—”the separation of ‘I’ and ‘other’”— created the problem (Trungpa 1973,146-147).

Texts of Hindu yoga, like Jewish and Christian scriptural sources, condemn envy. For example, the classical Yoga-Sutras compiled by Patanjali in approximately 200 CE rec -ommend “cultivating attitudes of friendship towards the happy . . .” (1:33). As a commentator notes, because of envious and “censorious” feelings that surface toward happy people, Patanjali urges counteraction to this tendency by cultivating friendliness toward them. For example, instead of envying those who prosper through their work, the response should be, “May they continue to prosper . . .” (Govindan 2001: 43-44). Patanjali also considers, as part of the yoga path, certain restraints (yamas), including nonviolence (ahimsa, which also connotes nonharming) and greedlessness (aparigrahah). Envy is believed to be something overcome through discipline.

The Bhagavad Gita, another classical Hindu text, also implicitly condemns envy. In this work, Krishna states (16:1-2) that “one who will attain a divine state” has the quality of “not coveting what others have.” Hindu Tantric texts agree with Patanjali and the Bhagavad Gita concerning envy. For example, in the Sharada-Tilaka-Tantra, as interpreted by the fifteenth-century commentator Rhagava, envy is regarded as a vice to be eliminated through non-harming, compassion, rectitude, and patience.

Sri Aurobindo (1872-1950), who had a strong influence on the development of the intellectual as well as practical aspects of yogic spirituality in the twentieth century, regarded envy and jealousy as emotions associated with a typically human, nondivine “way of vital love,” which he characterized as a “way of ego and desire.” Due to envy and jealousy that naturally accompany this type of love, and to the frustration that results when its demands are not met, the outcome is sorrow, anger, and disorder. For Aurobindo, envy and jealousy are destructive—though natural and typical— features of human nature. Aurobindo shares the classical Hindu yogic perspective that yo-gic discipline enables one to overcome envy and other vices.

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