Acharya das: Namaste and welcome to the third part of this series. The title of the talk today is: “Is Envy Stealing Your Happiness.”

So as usual, before we speak we would just like to do a little yoga sound meditation, this transcendental sound, and the mantra will be on the bottom of the screen and we’ll ask you to join. I will lead in the chanting of the mantra and you can join in with the other people here with us today. Thank you.

Chanting Madana Mohana Murari

Acharya das: So, is envy stealing your happiness? The definition of envy, according to the dictionary, is “a feeling of discontented or resentful longing aroused by someone else’s possessions, their qualities or luck.” And when you use envy as a verb it is the desire “to have a quality, a possession or some desirable attribute belonging to someone else.” In other words, whenever we express this idea, “Oh I wish I looked like that,” or, “I wish my life was like that,” or, “I wish I owned that,” or, “I wish I could experience that,” these statements actually are expressions of envy.

So the big question is, why? Why? Why do we envy? What is it that makes it so that we envy? What is this discontent? What is it that’s driving people to envy others?

It’s fundamentally a recognition of two things. One is that you are thinking, or experiencing the reality that I am dissatisfied, that my life and what I have, I’m feeling that, I’m recognising, that it is not bringing me actual happiness and actual contentment. It’s pretty miserable actually, (laughs) to be living in this world of looking at everybody else all the time and thinking that somehow, someone else got it better than myself. So there is that recognition of my own dissatisfaction and lack of contentment. But it’s also then the idea that someone else is actually quite happy or fulfilled or content and it’s because of something that they have, and because they have that they are feeling content or they are feeling happy.

And so the natural or the logical progression from that is then to desire to have that, too, in the hope that if I could just look like that, or if I could just get this, somehow or other my life would take a big turn and I would be spectacularly happy.

It’s—really the whole social media phenomena has actually really aggravated this, what is actually not a good trait. It’s actually an unfortunate trait that people may have. To envy or to be envious is actually unfortunate. It means I am not in a fortunate condition. I am not in a fortunate state. And it is, as we mentioned, a natural manifestation of this discontent that we have. But instead of trying to find an actual solution we end up diving into this endless opportunity, particularly with our little smart phones and everything, that are not so smart. I don’t know why they’re called smart phones when they are used for a lot of dumb things as well, but you know, people are into the smart phones and they’re trying to fill up this emptiness.

So I’ll read, I’ll just read a few little statements dealing with the issue in relation to social media.

The Human Computer Institute at Carnegie Mellon has found that our passive consumption—you know this term, passive consumption? It’s like when you’re not just actively trying to achieve something, but you’re just sitting there flipping through somebody else’s Facebook thing or flipping through media articles or magazines, just flipping through, just looking, looking, looking, looking. This is passive consumption. Our passive consumption, I’m sorry, “your passive consumption of your friends’ feeds, and your own broadcasts to wider audiences on Facebook and Instagram correlate with feelings of loneliness and even depression.” Meaning the more that you are engaged in passive consumption and the more that you are engaged in broadcasting to your audiences on Facebook or Instagram things related to your life, the more you do that, it directly correlates to a stronger feeling of loneliness and depression. Sorry! (laughs) This is not me doing this. This is scientific study.

Then it states, “Earlier this year two German universities showed that passive following on Facebook triggers states of envy and resentment in many users, with vacation photos standing out as a prime trigger.”

And yet another study, one of undergrads at, in the state of Utah, carried a very self-explanatory title on the study, and the title is, “They are happier and having better lives than I am: the impact of using Facebook on perceptions of others’ lives.”

You know it’s always amazed me how hard people have to try to capture a spontaneous moment, (laughs)where everybody’s just got to do all the things and adjust their clothes and get the pose right, “Okay everybody, ready, ready?” you know, just like pretending that something more wonderful, happier, more spectacular is happening: “Got it!” Kch {camera clicking noise} and then everybody’s sitting there looking at it, you know, “Oh wow, look at that.”
“Yeah, wow that was good.”
“Ooh look.”
“How come you—”
“Look at, that’s really—you look really good there.”
You know. And it’s like, as soon as somebody says, “You look really good there,” it means you actually don’t look very good but here you kind of like look better, you know, “Good one!” You know. (laughs) This is just like fake to the max. It is just like completely ridiculous.

I can remember sitting on an aeroplane once and there were a group of younger women behind me. And this has got nothing to do with women or men. They just happened to be women. And they had been in Japan working and they were returning to their country of origin and then they were having this conversation. They had all these, they were looking through all these pictures, these photos and then one girl was looking and she started showing her friends, “I really look good in this photo don’t I?” (laughs) And it’s like, why do you have to look through so many photos to find one where you think you look really good? All the ones that you rejected are also photographs of your body and the body image and it’s kind of like, you know, you’re just going to look for a really good one that you think is—and you save that one and the rest of it in the trash, pssh pssh pssh. (laughs)This is like creating an imaginary life.

And then when you go on and start looking at and cruising through other people’s social media feeds and then you’re looking at what they’re doing and what they’re eating and where they’re going and what kind of life they’re having and you begin to draw conclusions. The fact that you are putting out a fake representative of your life—you don’t show yourself in bed with a headache, you don’t show pictures of yourself when you are horribly depressed, you don’t show pictures of yourself when you’ve just woken up with dried saliva all over the side of your face and your hair everywhere and really bad breath, you know. I mean, not that you can show that, (laughs) but I mean, you just don’t do that kind of thing. What you want to do is project a so-called “image” of—because you want to feel accepted, loved, whatever, appreciated and feel, you know, throw out this idea that your life is wonderfully happy.

And of course everybody else is doing it and you don’t pick up on the reality that you’re faking it the whole time and everybody else is faking it the whole time, too. And instead of getting absorbed in where everybody else is going and what they’re doing and eating—This habit of taking pictures of plates of food is quite extraordinary. It’s— (opens hands out)

So the reality is that we actually live in a society that promotes envy as being both desirable and normal. This is quite amazing because 50 years ago, 60 years ago, 80 years ago this was not considered normal. In society, in general, if a person was by nature envious, they were envying what others had, then that person was considered someone to sort of like—they were undesirable company. But now it has become absolutely the norm.

And the primary reason that it has become a norm is due to this experiment in consumer economics that actually began in the early part of the 20th century, in the early 1900’s. There is this really wonderful gentleman; his name is EF Schumacher. He was actually a British economist, and he wrote a few words about one of the proponents of the—or actually not just a proponent, he’s considered one of the fathers of the modern consumer economic system. I’m not going to get too much into talking about that system. We’ll do it perhaps in the next lecture that we are going to talk about, the next talk, which has to do with economics and the environment and things.

But there was a gentleman his name is Lord—ahh—yeah he was a lord—Sir John Maynard Keynes and he was considered one of the founding fathers of the consumer economics, of modern economics. He strongly advised that economic progress “is obtainable only if we employ those powerful human drives of selfishness which religion and traditional wisdom universally call upon us to resist.” And those selfish drives are, one is greed and the other one is envy. They were—have always been considered very destructive, destructive to people’s peace, their ability to live a peaceful and happy life. If you are constantly stimulated by both envy and by greed you will not experience in your life actual peace and actual fulfilment. Yet from an economic perspective this John Keynes really promoted that society needs to cultivate these qualities, envy and greed, because then it becomes a driving force, a power house for economic development.

And so because of these ideas that were being introduced and talked about amongst political and economic leaders in the world they really came to this conclusion and understanding that we need to undertake this social experiment and transform people’s values and what they are thinking, what they are desiring, how they are living. I think we have previously mentioned in one of the earlier series that we spoke, on—it was about this Wall Street banker. His name was Paul Mazur and he was with Lehman Brothers. He was one of the first non-family members to join that bank. And he actually stated, he stated that, “We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” Man’s desires must overshadow his needs. So this was part of the need to create this new economic system, this new economic reality.

And so there was a very concerted effort to bring this about, to transform people. And he actually used the term, we must train people to desire. So this led to the modern day phenomena of the advertising model. The advertising model that you see today—and you see it everywhere, it is inescapable. If you removed advertising as an economic activity, you just removed it from the picture things would dramatically alter: society, people and things. So the main principle of advertising is the promotion of envy and from it covetousness. That means desiring. You see what somebody else has and you desire it also, with the idea that if I get it I will become happy.

So first you must look at someone who has or is using a product. And these days the model for advertising is quite often described as lifestyle advertising, where you sometimes don’t even see the product. It doesn’t even feature in the ad. It will kind of show up a little bit later, or at the end of it the brand name will be splashed across the screen or in a jingle or something. And what they do is they really carefully select an ideal model. The ideal model doesn’t necessarily mean the most ideal looking person. It is the person that the target audience—you see “target”? It’s like when you shoot an arrow or a gun. The thing you are shooting at is a target. That’s us, we’re the target, the target audience. They do all of these in depth, what do you call it? They really study people’s reaction to different body types and to different types of clothing and accents, and the way people speak and mannerisms and everything. They get that all down. And then they get that person doing something and they look happy. They look fulfilled. They project being completely contented and then that is tied to a particular product. And so if I am the target audience, that person that I see attracts my attention and I see that they are fulfilled. I see that they are happy. And I see that that is associated with particular product. And so I envy what they have and I desire to have it, too, and I develop this greediness for this happiness, which means, it becomes tied to the particular product.

This transformation in advertising—I mean we don’t even, we don’t even see it as being a very big deal today because we’re surrounded by it all the time. But in the 70’s it was glaringly apparent to middle-aged and older people, what was going on, because they grew up in a different world, where people had a different head space. And they see what is going on. And by the 70’s already it had become a tremendous explosion of this type of media events through advertising which were really capturing people’s minds.

So this British economist EF Schumacher—EF Schumacher, he worked for the British Government. He worked independently. He was part—an economist for the British Coal Board which was a really big institution. And he was sent to Burma, now Myanmar, to try and help them develop their economy. And he had this tremendous—he found it was like this clash of cultures. He had come from a certain background and experience and he went into a country that was very isolated and deeply Buddhist and so the people were very much shaped by tenets of Buddhism and piety and everything, and they didn’t have these big hankerings and longings. He said it deeply impacted his life and really shaped his thinking about things over time. But he, during the early 70’s, he made a statement:

“The modern economy is propelled by a frenzy of greed and indulges in an orgy of envy, and these are not accidental features but [they are] the very causes of its expansionist success. The question is whether such causes can be effective for long or whether they carry within themselves the seeds of destruction.”
E. F. Schumacher, British economist

So here we have someone that’s actually extremely thoughtful. He is a philosopher. He is a philosophical person. He looks upon the world in a slightly detached manner and tries to evaluate what’s going on. And his observation is that the great success of the expanding consumer economic society was being attributed directly to what he describes as a frenzy of greed and indulging in an orgy of envy. Pretty strong statement.

But from a practical point of view we see that in the world today many of us are not very detached. It is almost like people have lost this ability to sit back in a dispassionate, in a quiet sort of manner and contemplate and consider what is going on. We don’t like quietness. We don’t like having to think. What we want is to try and fill up the emptiness. Quick, grab the phone, grab whatever: whphwoo, whphwoo, whphwoo, whphwoo, whphwoo, pcccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk, pccckk. [vocalized mime of swiping and tapping on a smart phone] It’s like, (laughs) what’s happened to people? I mean if somebody went into a coma about 40 years ago and just came out now and then started walking around and noticing how even— I mean, it just, it astonishes me, whether it’s in America, whether It’s in Australia, whether it’s in Asia. I mean I—you go into a restaurant—I went into a restaurant, there were eight people, obviously all friends and office mates, sitting around the table for lunch. Everybody was dead quiet. Every one of those eight people had their phones out looking at stuff, looking at stuff, looking at stuff. And the conversation starts when somebody wants to share something. They go, “Look at that,” (laughter) and then they just withdraw back, and “Can I see? Can I see?” and you know, show it to a couple of other people. Then everyone withdraws back into their little world, and texting and, you know, skyping and doing everything and reading all this stuff. And then the food comes out and then they kind of put it down on the table and they start eating and start beginning to talk, then suddenly you know, a little tinkle or a buzz or a vibrate and immediately I have to respond. I have to look at it. I am controlled because I have lost the plot. I have not been able to really detach and to sit back.

So this feeling of envy, you know, it is not just with people that feel they are the have-nots and they are looking at the haves and desiring it also. It also exists even in the major upper echelons of society. I had the opportunity some years ago to do a lot of travelling. My partner had a couple of private jets. I used to decorate palaces and I got to move amongst that sector of society. And I was astonished, I was astonished. We were on this guy’s yacht. He’s got a 45 million dollar yacht, you know. It’s got the grand piano, and the swimming pool, and the bathrooms, even the toilet and the hand basin’s all gold-plated and, you know, that kind of a realm. And we pulled in at Marseille in France, southern France, at the dock after cruising around. We left Nice and went around. He had brought me to do some business, apparently, but it was like a waste of time.

So we ended up docking and right next to us was the yacht of the governor of Riyadh, who is the current king of Saudi Arabia, and he was a really nice guy and I used to see him just like walking back and forward on the dock, you know, by himself and contemplating whatever he was contemplating. And he came to visit my business partner’s yacht, whom he knew quite well. And he comes in and he’s just like blown out. I mean the place is gold-plated, and it’s just like crazy, you know, Italian marble everywhere and it’s just like so beautiful. And he looks around and everything, and then he’s there for maybe about an hour, cruising around. And then he pulls my partner aside, and he says, “Robert, I’ll pay you 75 million dollars for your yacht.” (laughs) Like on the spot he wants to buy the yacht. He sees something that’s so beautiful and luxurious and thinks, you know, that he’s going to be able to share it with others and he will gain happiness from that fame and people saying how wonderful it was, you know, to be on your yacht.

And it was like this was going on on a regular basis with the type of people that we were encountering and doing business with and there was always this desire to show off, to do something better than others are doing. If I spend 18 million dollars, I’m a woman, I spend 18 million dollars for a necklace and I start wearing it around at my friends’— and I’d be at these places and they would go, “Oh that’s so beautiful,” and the next instant, “Yes, I bought it from such and such, this famous jeweller and it cost me 18 million dollars.” What happens is then those friends are going to go out and look for a 19 or a 20 million dollar necklace that’s even more stunning, as if that is really going to make you happy. This idea that, you know, this envy, it is the the have-nots envying the haves. I tell you, it never it ends, and in fact the more it is fed the bigger the monster grows.

So I’ll just—another quote here from EF Schumacher. He says I suggest that:

“The foundation of peace cannot be laid by universal prosperity, in the modern sense, because such prosperity, if attainable at all , is attainable only by cultivating such drives of human nature as greed and envy, which destroy intelligence, happiness, serenity, and thereby the peacefulness of man.”
E. F. Schumacher – British economist

So this is a very big statement and it is coming from a very thoughtful person. When you consider that these things which he describes, intelligence, happiness, serenity, that these become a foundation also for peacefulness and all of this will be destroyed by the cultivation of envy. That’s quite astonishing.

And then I think about my own situation and if I am one of these passive Facebook cruisers—I mean people, they have forgotten how creepy it is. If I am introduced to someone at a party, for instance and this person happens to be, say he is a scientist or whatever, and then I say, “Very pleased to meet you. Oh, I read one of your papers recently on whatever, whatever. I thought it was quite fantastic. I was very impressed by it.” The other person thinks, “Oh thank you very much,” they feel a little flattered. But if I say, “I noticed that on your honeymoon, you had chosen this particular resort,” and what it was like, you know, and, “You must have had a fantastic time there.” The person would feel a little bit creeped out. “Why are you—?” (laughs) Like this is something I’m sharing with a few people perhaps, but maybe I don’t know about the private features of Facebook and so it’s out there and somebody is looking at it, then they are going to start talking to me about it. I don’t even know who you are.

This is bordering on “stalker-ism”, being stalked by people. And this is actually what’s going on, that people are spending a lot of time just stalking other people, watching what they’re doing, watching what’s going on. And it’s all being fuelled by this lack of contentment, this feeling of dissatisfaction in my life and my envy of other people whom I think are being fulfilled and satisfied. So we need to consider that envy, envy, to envy someone, is actually founded on ignorance. It’s not founded on knowledge. We think it is founded on knowledge. If I look at someone and I think, “Oh they are so happy and their life is so perfect because of this, this and this. If I have that, too, then I will become happy. If that was true, that means my thought process is founded on truth, on knowledge, but in reality envy is founded on ignorance. People envy others because they are covered by ignorance and don’t know their actual spiritual identity.

If I was aware that I am a spiritual being and this body which I am wearing around is a temporary garment, I could not possibly assume that if I decorate this garment, if I find a way to improve this garment that it will actually make me happier. So although we are the spiritual beings, the atmas, or the eternal spiritual souls within the body we mistakenly identify ourselves as this temporary material body or an ever changing mind. We identify with it and say that that is us.

So in the darkness of ignorance we try to find satisfaction and happiness in endless sensual enjoyment. I mean, I think that a certain type of sensual stimulation will make me happy. I try it. I get a sense rush off it, but then almost immediately afterwards or very soon afterwards I’m looking for something else to do because I was not fulfilled. We then envy those people who have more facilities for sensual gratification than we have. We envy them and we think if only I could have what they have I would also be happy.

This is completely opposite to what is the truth, to spiritual reality. There is a famous verse in the Bhagavad-gita in the 2nd chapter, the 70th verse. It says:

“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires—that enter like rivers into the ocean, which is ever being filled but is always still—[such a person] can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.”
Bhagavad-gita 2.70

So we can see immediately here where this clash is. It’s like that person I spoke of earlier, one of the quotes we were looking at from EF Schumacher. It has become lost upon people in the world today that the more you aggressively chase desires, or create desires and then seek to fulfil them, the more aggressively you do that, automatically the less happy and the less peaceful you will become. This is quite a deep subject and we don’t have that much time to talk in-depth but this is a spiritual reality. From the point of view of the ancient yogis and the great saintly teachers, they applied what has been stated in here in the Bhagavad-Gita where the example is given of an ocean.

I don’t know if you’ve seen huge, I mean vast rivers. In America probably the Mississippi, and the Amazon River, and the Ganges, the Ganga, you know. There are great rivers in the world and when they flow out to the ocean they are flowing with such enormous power that even a substantial distance out from the shore you can put down a bucket and pull up fresh water still, even though it’s going into an ocean, because the force is so great. So while the ocean may be constantly “disturbed” by rivers that are flowing into it, it still remains calm and maintains a constant height.

So the idea is that through the cultivation of spirit wisdom, through the awakening of actual spiritual love, by engaging in these spiritual processes and particularly the meditation upon these transcendental sounds that we use, a person can come to this platform, and begin to see things differently and rather than being constantly agitated by this incessant flow of desires, one learns to live in such a manner where they are not simply being dragged around or chasing here and there after these desires, trying to fulfil them in the hope that I will become fulfilled or happy. Our happiness does not lie in this condition. In fact, to resist chasing such desires guarantees a person a greater chance of peacefulness than by running after them.

So in conclusion, if we want to answer the question: “Is envy stealing your happiness?” the answer is yes, definitely. Not sometimes. It will always steal from you the possibility of coming to experience actual peace and actual happiness. Of course it’s not possible just to exist in a vacuum, trying to keep everything out. One must instead begin to engage in positive activity. One must adopt a personal practice of—particularly of meditation that will bring about a purification and a transformation where we awaken an actual higher taste and having tasted another type of happiness the so-called happiness offered by all of these endless desires no longer attracts us.

So that is the end of things for today. I’d like to thank you very much for joining us and as usual we’ll end with this meditation practice, kirtan, and invite you to join along. And the mantra will appear on the screen below.

Gopala Govinda Rama Madana-Mohana Kirtan.

Thank you very much for joining us and I’d like to invite you to our next week’s presentation which will be the fourth and final part of the series. Thank you. Namaste.