Working with jealousy

Recognizing and transforming jealousy and envy

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A teaching given during the How to Be A Bodhisattva Retreat in 2015 and recorded for Tricycle Magazine.

  • The painfulness of jealousy
  • What we get jealous about
  • The definition of jealousy
  • Jealousy and self-pity
  • Verses from Shantideva
  • Rejoicing as the antidote to jealousy
  • Questions and answers
07-18-15 Working With Jealousy

Before we actually begin let’s generate our motivation to make sure that we are listening and participating in the Dharma with the correct intention. Let’s make our motivation one to learn about ourselves, and specifically to learn how to identify and then transform our jealousy and how to develop our good qualities, particularly joy and rejoicing, so that we can progress on the path to full awakening. And while we’re on the path, and after we attain full awakening as a buddha, may we act continually for the benefit of other living beings with a mind that cherishes others more than ourselves and a mind that rejoices in the goodness and virtue and good opportunities of others. Set that as your motivation for listening now.

[Teachings lost]

Comparing ourselves to others

Because we’re comparing: “And they’re better than us, ugh!” Who wants to admit that? And jealousy is also incredibly painful. I don’t know about you, but I found it maybe one of the most painful emotions. When you’re jealous you just sit there, you’re stuck in this cauldron of discontent and hatred and ill will. I never feel good when I’m jealous. When I’m angry I feel right. Of course, that’s afflicted and deluded, but I feel right. Jealous, I feel bad and wrong and inferior and it’s just lousy. Plus, there’s something in the back of my mind saying, “Oh, Chodron, you’re jealous.” And it’s like, oh, I don’t want to admit that I am. So, yeah, it’s quite an uncomfortable emotion.

What do we get jealous about? Just about anything, because jealousy is involved with comparing ourselves to somebody. When we compare ourselves with somebody who’s equal to us, that’s called competition. So society says, “That’s okay.” When we compare ourselves to somebody that we’re better than, that’s called pride. Society says, “That’s okay,” even if you’re stuck up and you’re kind of unpleasant.

When we compare ourselves to somebody, but we come out less, that’s jealousy. Okay. And we can’t bear to see them have whatever good quality or good opportunity they have. We can’t bear it. It’s like burning in our heart that they have this and we don’t. So we’ll get jealous over anything. At work, somebody got a promotion that we didn’t get; somebody gets praised; we didn’t get praised. Romantic relationships, my goodness: Jealousy just proliferates. “My boyfriend, girlfriend, looked at somebody else and said, ‘Hello.’ Ahahah!” You know? Can’t stand that.

Even in Dharma circles—sometimes especially in Dharma circles—jealousy comes up and it’s really insidious: “Somebody else got to be with the teacher, got to have dinner with our teacher, and I didn’t. Who is that other person? Why are they so important that they get to do this and I don’t? And how come the teacher knows them and shakes their hand, but doesn’t know who I am? And how come the teacher rides in their car, but doesn’t ride in my car? And look at So-and-so. They are so still when they meditate, perfect, and I’m like this. [laughter] And it’s not fair. I’m jealous that they sit so still. And after they come out of meditation they kind of go – like, they’ve just been absorbed in samadhi or emptiness or, you know, real bodhicitta. And I come out of meditation and I’m just mad, because my back hurts and my knees hurt.” And somebody else, “Oh, they study so well, they know so much. And, you know, I’ve never been very good at studying. I don’t know very much. They know Dharma better than I do.” Yeah, and So-and-so’s done more prostrations than I do. They finished the whole ngondro on prostrations and they’ve done Vajrasattva and they’ve done refuge in guru yoga… And me? [sighs] I haven’t done any of that. I’m a failed Buddhist.” [laughter]

And so we just get jealous, you know, you name it. We get jealous of somebody who’s older when we’re little kids. We get jealous of older siblings because they get to do things that we can’t do. When we’re older we get jealous of younger people, because they look better than we do. Jealousy is just based on discontent and comparison and our heart is never at peace.

We’ll get jealous of other’s possessions. “They have this new flashy, red sports car.” (Then you know they’re a middle-aged man.) [laughter] But we get jealous. “How come they get to have a flashy, red sports car and not me?” Or, “Oh, look what I got?” You know, my husband got me a new diamond ring. You just visualize— [laughter] We look at somebody else’s diamond ring and it’s like, “Oh, that’s terrible. How come their husband got them that and my husband didn’t get me that?”

People get good opportunities that we don’t get. They have good talents that we don’t have. They’re musical or artistic or athletic and they’re better than we are. Anything, we’ll get jealous of. And we’ll just stay stuck in that pain for quite a long time, often plotting how we’re going to destroy their happiness.

I think that’s another reason why we don’t like to talk about jealousy, because when we’re jealous, we want to destroy somebody else’s happiness. We want that happiness for ourselves. But it’s kind of embarrassing to admit that you want to destroy somebody else’s happiness. That’s not such a nice thing to do. But that’s what we want to do. And we’ll sit and plan it out in great detail…sometimes while we’re sitting in perfect meditation position. Planning out how we’re going to destroy their happiness and we’re going to get the recognition instead. And then, of course, we dedicate the, well, there’s no merit. We can’t dedicate that! [laughter] There’s a lot of negative karma; you can’t dedicate that. So you’re kinda stuck at the end of your session. [laughter]

Defining jealousy

What exactly is jealousy? Here’s a definition we have: “It’s a disturbing state of mind that comes from the depths that involves an inability to bear another’s fortune due to being attached to goods and services. It involves hatred and has the function of causing discomfort of mind and not abiding in contact with happiness.” That’s a technical definition.

“An inability to bear another’s fortune.” You know, especially at Christmas time: “May everybody live in peace; may everybody have their needs fulfilled; may everybody be happy and content…. Except that person, who has happiness and contentment and I didn’t even do anything to give it to them! But I can’t stand that they have it.”

Jealousy’s quite contradictory, isn’t it? At Christmas we’re always saying, “May everybody be happy and fulfilled.” We recite the four immeasurables every day: “May all sentient beings have happiness and its causes; may they be free of suffering and its causes; may they never be separated from sorrowless bliss; may they abide in equanimity, free of bias, attachment, and anger.” We have these beautiful wishes for sentient beings. But when they’re happy and we don’t think they deserved it, because we should have it, then throw the four immeasurables out the window. Let’s make this person miserable, because that’s what jealousy wants to do. It wants that happiness for ourselves and it wants to destroy it in other people.

If we talk in terms of non-violent communication, jealousy is kind of a reaction to an unmet need. We have a need, maybe for communication, for recognition, for appreciation. We have some need. We’re not getting our need met, but somebody else is. It’s an unmet need for us, for connection or love or whatever. But we can’t stand somebody else having that need (met).

With jealousy we always come out less than. We’re always inferior. We’re less than. And with some people this becomes a whole way of looking at life. With some people, jealousy is just something that happens from time to time; with other people, jealousy becomes the whole framework through which they view life—always this comparison and always coming out less than and finding others’ happiness or opportunities unendurable.

That becomes very problematic if it’s our whole take on life, because then every time we meet somebody, we can’t approach somebody new—“Oh, here’s some sentient being, maybe we can be friends? How can we create a good relationship? They’re probably of interest. They have new experiences I’ve never heard of.” We can’t approach a new person like that. We always approach a person as if they’re dangerous because they might be better than we are. And they might have something that we don’t have. So we approach any new person always with this comparison coming out less than, being upset, and also feeling sorry for ourselves.

Jealousy and self-pity

Jealousy is also a big breeder of self-pity, and self-pity is so seductive because it’s just like, “Oh, poor me. Oh, they have a better opportunity than me. They’re better looking than me. They’re more talented than me. They’re more popular than me. They’re more skilled than me. People notice them. They don’t notice me. Everything—I just can’t make it on any degree and everybody’s always better than me. And I’m worthless.” And we spend our whole life like that. Anybody here? We have a life-long pity party.

How to notice jealousy’s coming up in mind. There are a lot of different kinds of thoughts that lie behind jealousy, so it’s very good to notice what those thoughts are. Here is where this mental factorintrospective awareness” comes in, because it monitors the mind to see what we’re thinking, what our emotions are. When we have sharp introspective awareness it can find certain thoughts even when those thoughts are lurking beneath the surface, but certainly influencing us very much.

What kind of thoughts are behind jealousy? Well, one is, “How come they get this and I don’t?” I think sometimes that the first words that American children learn—three words aside from mama and papa—are “It’s not fair.” Did you learn to say “It’s not fair” early on? I did. You know, whenever I didn’t get something and my brother or sister did, “It’s not fair!” So you’d grow up with this whole mentality of “It’s not fair. How come they get this and I don’t? How come they can do this and I can’t? It’s not fair.”

That’s a big story that lies behind the jealousy: “Why do they get to go there and I don’t? How come they get to do this and I don’t?” Even the Abbey: “How come somebody else gets to study more than I do? How come somebody else gets to travel and go here and there and I don’t get to?” Always this comparison thing. “Somebody likes them, but they don’t like me. Even when you look at all the pictures of the nuns out there, I’m the ugliest nun.” [laughter] “Everybody else looks bright and rosy and I look… They look better than me. People like them; they don’t like me. Even if I try I’ll never be as good them. The world’s stacked against me. I never had the same opportunity that they had. It’s not fair.”

Also listen for the thoughts that start out, “I never…” or start out, “They always…” “I never get to do that. They always get to do it. I never get recognized, even though what I do is better than them. They always get recognized even though their work isn’t as good. Why do people appreciate them more than me? Why do they have a loving relationship and I’m all alone? How come my boyfriend fell for her when I’m much better?”

It always boils down to comparing ourselves with other people and coming out less. So it’s quite painful. Because we can’t take this to the international court. [laughter] We would like to, because “it’s not fair.” But, nobody’s going to hear our case. In fact, other people don’t really care very much. [laughter] Which is even worse! “Because I’m suffering and they don’t care. It’s not fair. Poor me.” Oh my goodness, you know? Jealously also acts to feed low self-esteem and a sense of low self-worth. “Nobody recognizes me, and that’s because I’m just inferior to start with.”

Getting out of jealousy

How do we get out of jealousy? The first thing we do is we have to recognize it, and we have to recognize the thoughts that lie behind it. If we can’t admit to having those thoughts, then we’re not going to be able to admit to being jealous. And if we can’t admit we’re jealous, then how are we ever going to counteract our jealousy and be free of it?

It’s like if you’re sick, you have to admit you’re sick and go to the doctor before you can get well. Same thing. If we’re sick with jealousy, we need to admit it, and then go to the Buddha, the skillful mental physician, and get the remedy, and then practice it. But if we can’t admit we’re jealous, if we can’t even notice it and recognize it, then we’ve dug ourself into a hole, and not only are we sitting in the hole we dug, but we’re putting a top on the hole so we can’t get out, and then whimpering while we’re in there that it’s not fair.

One thing that I think is very important when there’s jealousy is to cultivate self-acceptance, and just accept, “I am who I am, and (to use Lama Yeshe’s term) ‘that’s good enough, dear.’ I am who I am. I have the qualities and opportunities that I have, and that’s good enough. Of course, I can improve in the future. My situation can change in the future. So, by accepting the present, I’m not saying the future has to be like the present, but the present is what it is. So, rather than reject it, I need to accept it.”

I find what is often a real leveler for me when I’m jealous is that other person created the karma, and I didn’t. So all this whining about, “It’s not fair,” from a karmic view, does not hold. Because I didn’t create the causes. And for me, that really puts my grumbling, jealous mind in place. They created the causes, and I didn’t. So if I didn’t create the causes, but I want that kind of result, then I need to create those causes. And even if the causes don’t come immediately, even if they don’t come in this lifetime – because love, karma, and its effects works, someday I will get those results, but I can be content in knowing that I’m creating the causes right now. So, some kind of acceptance of the situation, some kind of acceptance that, “I didn’t create the causes, and they did.”

We might even look in situations where there’s bias and discrimination, and because of some kind of discrimination or bias, I’m left out, but somebody else gets the opportunity. Those situations are very difficult, because we have a very strong sense of justice in this country, although I’m not quite sure what justice means. So it’s hard in those situations to say, “They created the causes, but I didn’t,” because that sounds as if you’re just giving in to injustice and discrimination and bias and prejudice. And it’s not. You’re not giving in to that. And you’re not buying into the sense of low self-worth that comes with being put in an inferior status, and you’re not buying into the anger that comes with the “it’s not fair” mentality. But rather, saying, “They created the cause in a previous life, but I didn’t.” For me, all that does is it just calms my mind down.

I face a lot of gender discrimination, especially in religion. Religion is usually the most conservative institution in any society—the most backward ones. Even though it has the most beautiful values and wishes the best for sentient beings, if we look in religious structures, they’re often the most backward ones. It’s really strange. So every time I get a letter from somebody who doesn’t know me—they’re just writing to the head of the monastery—it’s always “Dear Sir.” Because the thought never enters somebody’s mind that the head of the monastery could be a woman. It’s always “Dear Sir,” you know? And for many other kinds of things—like getting invited to conferences— “Dear Sir.” And just to say, “Okay. That’s okay.” They don’t need to write, “Dear Madame.” [laughter] I don’t relate to “madame” any more than I relate to “sir.”

I can find my own space in which I can move and be creative and use my talents, and I don’t need to remain hostile in a structure that has bias. Society’s big. The world is big. You can find the space where you can use your talents and abilities, where you can really blossom. We don’t have to remain jealous because other people have an opportunity that we don’t have.

I used to be so jealous of the monks because they got to go to the monasteries in South India and study, and I couldn’t, because I was a woman. The women, the nuns, didn’t have that kind of study when I started out. The monks did. That kind of study program was really glorified by all my teachers. But when I inquired about going there to study, “Sorry. No.” I used to be so jealous. But now, looking back on it, I realized it was actually good that I didn’t go, because if I had gone and done the geshe program, I think I would have become quite arrogant. Looking at my personality, I would have become quite arrogant. So it actually turned out for the better.

I look at some of my friends who speak Tibetan, and I’m jealous of them, because after all these years…. I’ve been a nun for 38 years, and I still have to ask for somebody else to translate when I want to talk to some of my teachers. That’s kind of humiliating. And here are all these young people coming in, and they know Tibetan, and I don’t. Just learning to make peace with that. I didn’t have the opportunity. When I had a teacher, I didn’t have a visa. When I had a visa, I didn’t have a teacher. When I had a teacher and a visa, I didn’t have any money. So that was the situation. That was it. I don’t want to remain jealous and bitter about it.

And it also had some good points, because I think, again, if I had learned Tibetan, I probably would’ve relied a lot on Tibetan jargon. But not knowing Tibetan, I had to really think quite deeply about what words meant, and what concepts meant. So I think, in some way, it actually made me think deeper about the Dharma than I would have, otherwise. Even in situations where you feel like, “I’m more unfortunate than somebody else,” you can always find some fortune in that situation.

I know the time is going to come when I get sick, and I’m not going to be able to do what I like to do, and it’ll be very tempting at that time to look at other people and be jealous, because they can walk in the forest and I can’t. I know that time’s coming, but I have a body that came about due to afflictions in karma, so what else am I going to expect from this body? Of course that’s going to happen. So there’s going to be no reason to get jealous of anybody else for having better health than me, or more mobility than me, or whatever it is, because, hey, I created the cause to have this body, and I created the cause for whatever kind of health I have. So let’s learn what I can from this situation, and use the situation to increase my good qualities, instead of just sit and feel jealous of other people. Are you getting what I’m saying?

Transforming situations

Every situation that we can look at, where we say, “I’m less than,” see what good qualities you can develop in that situation. See what you can learn from it, that you otherwise would never have learned. Because sometimes it’s only through going through hardship that we discover our own internal resources. And we’re not in any competition with anybody to be the perfect person, because, anyway, what does that mean? So I think, really, whatever situation we’re in, using it to learn and to develop ourselves in that.

And this is the blessing of knowing the Dharma, is that we can use every situation for practice. I even think of my teachers, and they were in the middle of their education, and then the uprising happened, and they had to flee. They could’ve sat around and moped, and, “Oh, how come? Other people get to finish their education, and I’m a refugee in India, and I’m broke and I’m sick.” But they didn’t let their minds go there. They said, “Okay, I’m broke and sick and a refugee in a country where I don’t speak the language, so what can I learn? How can I improve? How can I look at this situation, and even rejoice at it, because it’s the ripening of some negative karma that is now no longer going to afflict me and obscure my mind?”

In every situation I think we can transform it, in one way or another. To do this we have to see that the meaning of our lives is to benefit others, and to do that we need to develop our good qualities. The meaning of our lives is not to be the richest, the most popular, the most recognized, the most famous, the most loved, the most appreciated. All that stuff that we get jealous of other people about is not the meaning of our lives. It’s just happiness of this life that comes and goes. We can’t take it with us when we die, and it doesn’t necessarily benefit us so much even when we have it.

You might say, “But wait a minute! Having a lot of money will benefit me, and so-and-so has more money, and they get to go to the Bahamas on a vacation, and I don’t!” Do you think they’re really happy having all that money? If you think people who are really rich are happy, think again. They’re totally enslaved by their money. If you’re really rich, you have to live in a house that has a burglar alarm system. Does that mean that you feel safe and secure, when you have a burglar alarm? No. You also have to be careful of all these relatives who come around, who you’ve never met, who need a loan. You have to beware of people trying to scam you, or people who befriend you simply because you have money and possessions, not because of who you are.

When we compare ourselves to others, and we think, “Oh, they’re happier, and I’m not,” think about what their situation is. They also have new, added problems that you don’t. Rich people have rich people’s problems. Poor people have poor people’s problems. Okay? So, you know, samsara. I’m not saying just accept the situation and don’t try and improve. Try and improve, but you don’t need to be jealous and angry in order to do that. We can also learn something from being in a difficult situation.

Another one that’s very important is, see how much we have already, how much we have going for ourselves; because when we get jealous, we pick on one thing that we lack, instead of thinking of all the things we have going for us. So it’s very important, I think, to think of what we have going for us, and rejoice in that. And actually, learn to rejoice in the fact that other people are better than we are, that other people have opportunities that we don’t. I always tell people that I’m very happy that there are other people that are better than me, because if I were the best that this world had, we wouldn’t have any electricity, because I don’t know how electricity works. And we wouldn’t have any plumbing, because I don’t know how plumbing works. We wouldn’t have cars, because I don’t know how cars work, either. We probably wouldn’t have food, because I don’t know how to grow food. So I’m really glad that there are people who are better than me, because due to other people being better than me, we all enjoy some good conditions. If I were the best we’d be in sad shape.

Then you might say, “Oh, but you’re a Dharma teacher.” Well, I’m actually glad that there are people who know more Dharma than I do, because that way I get to learn. If I were the best one and knew the most, again, we would be in sorry shape, because I don’t have any realizations, and there’s a lot I haven’t studied. I am so happy that there are people who know the Dharma better than I do, who have practiced and have realizations that I don’t have. Because of that, I can learn. I can progress. If I were the best one, again, we’d be really stuck.

I think just being a little humble is good, and see the benefit. We don’t have the pressure that the people who are successful have. Because as soon as you’re successful, then you’re filled with anxiety about how you’re going to maintain that status. Do you think Michael Phelps is going to go into the next Olympics relaxed and at ease? No. He’s going to be filled with anxiety.

It’s the same with us. So it’s good. We don’t have to be the best. It’s good there are other people who are better than us. Let them have the anxiety of trying to maintain the first place. Because when you’re the best there’s a lot of pressure on you. When you’re not, you have a whole lot of freedom. And especially when your values are Dharma values, not worldly values, then let the people have worldly success. It’s not something that you’re terribly interested in, because you realize it comes and it goes.

What you really want is to develop your own inner qualities for the benefit of other beings, and we can do that no matter what situation we’re in, no matter who we’re with or what’s going on around us. There’s always the chance to practice.

Verses from Shantideva

I want to read a few of Shantideva’s verses about how to combat jealousy. This is in Bodhicaryavatara: Guide to a Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. He says,

Having generated the Awakening Mind
Through wishing all beings to be happy,
Why should I become angry
If they find some happiness themselves?

I love Shantideva. He socks it to you. He doesn’t pull any punches. It’s like, you generated bodhicitta saying, “I’m going to become a buddha to lead all sentient beings out of misery to lasting happiness,” and here some poor sentient being has found a little bit of happiness, and you didn’t even do something, and you can’t stand it. What kind of bodhisattva do you think you are? Aren’t you a little bit uppity? Aren’t you full of yourself? You’re not living up to what you promised sentient beings to do if you have that attitude of jealousy towards others. You can’t have bodhicitta and jealousy in the mind at the same time. It doesn’t work.

Then Shantideva says,

If I wish for all sentient beings to become
Buddhas worshipped throughout the three realms,
Then why am I tormented
When I see them receiving mere mundane respect?

He’s great, isn’t he? It’s a good question. I say I’m wishing for them all to become buddhas who are honored, respected, and appreciated throughout the three realms, and worshipped by all sentient beings. And here Joe got three words of praise that I didn’t get and I begrudge him that. It’s like, be consistent with what you’re wishing.

Another verse says,

If a relative for whom I am caring
And to whom I must give many things
Should be able to find his own livelihood,
Wouldn’t I be happy, rather than angry?

As a bodhisattva-in-training we’re vowing to take care of sentient beings and be of benefit for them. If somebody then finds their own way to be happy, and we don’t have to serve them anymore, wouldn’t we be happy? Again, why do we begrudge them some mundane happiness? That doesn’t make any sense if we’re really interested in caring for sentient beings, and really want their welfare to be attained.

Next verse:

If I do not wish for beings to have even this,
how can I wish for them to awaken?”

If I can’t even manage to wish that so-and-so has a little bit of worldly wealth, or worldly respect, or worldly knowledge, if I can’t wish them even to have this, how can I wish them to awaken when they’re going to have all the good qualities and everything? What he keeps pointing out to us, again and again, is we hold bodhicitta, that aspiration to attain full awakening, very deep and precious in our hearts, but that aspiration—if we’re going to try and live it—it doesn’t jive with jealousy. The two can’t and don’t go together. If our heart really is inspired by bodhicitta, then we’ve got to leave jealousy behind.

And where is there an Awakening Mind
In him who becomes angry when others receive things?

It’s so embarrassing, isn’t it? He’s telling me what I do and how contradictory I am, and he’s right. And I can see it as soon as I read the verse, which is why I like Shantideva so much, because you can’t wiggle out of it. He is so direct.

What does it matter if (my enemy) is given something or not?
Whether he obtains it
Or whether it remains in the benefactor’s house,
In either case I shall get nothing.

He’s absolutely right! So why am I jealous? Jealousy is so stupid because I’m not going to get it anyway, whether that person has it or doesn’t have it. Why do I make myself miserable being jealous?

So why, by becoming angry, do I throw away my merits,
The faith (others have in me) and my good qualities?

When I’m jealous, what am I doing? I’m throwing away my merit, I’m throwing away the faith other people have in me, because I certainly don’t look good to other people when I’m seething in jealously. Actually my reputation is going down, not up. And why do I throw away my own good qualities by becoming jealous? It doesn’t make any sense. So he says,

Tell me, why am I not angry (with myself)
For not having the causes for gain?

And he’s right. We believe in karma—or at least we say we do—so why didn’t we create the causes sometime in the past? Why did we let our self-centered mind run the show in the past lives so that we didn’t create the cause to have what we’re jealous of other people having now because they did create the cause?

I really had to deal with this, the time I was really poor. Why? Because I was stingy. Not because dah-deedah-deedah-deedah-dah, but because in a previous life I was stingy. That’s the karmic cause of being poor.

Why aren’t you respected? Because you trash other people and criticize them. I created the cause. If other people don’t respect me as much as I think I deserve it, it’s because I trashed other people, and I was very arrogant and didn’t show respect to the people who deserve respect, and considered myself better than people who were really worthy of respect. That’s why I’m denigrated now. I created the cause. So what in the world am I bellyaching about and making myself and others miserable for? Let’s just accept the situation. And if I don’t like the situation, act differently so I create different karma. Because I can start acting differently this very moment. I don’t have to wait for my external situation to change before I change my mental state. In the very next moment I can start creating the cause to have what it is that I want, if I create the karmic cause.

Let alone not having any remorse
About the evils that you committed, (0 mind),
Why do you wish to compete with others
Who have committed meritorious deeds?

He’s right. Here I am. People who have more merit than me, who are more virtuous, who practice better than me, I’m competing with them, saying, “Why are they virtuous and better than me and have more honor than me,” when I don’t even feel any remorse about all the negativities I’ve created? It’s like I’m wanting the result without wanting to create the cause. And I’m creating the cause for the opposite thing and not even owning that I’m doing that.

Did you get that verse? I think what he says is so true.

Even if your enemy is made unhappy
what is there for you to be joyful about?
Your merely wishing (for him to be hurt)
Did not cause him to be injured.

Very true. Why am I unhappy when my enemy experiences unhappiness—when they’re made unhappy? Because my wishing for them to be unhappy didn’t make that happen.

Then the next verse. This is a really good one:

And even if he does suffer as you had wished,
What is there for you to be joyful about?
if you say, “For I shall be satisfied,”
How could there be anything more disgusting than that?

He’s right, isn’t he? I’m going to rejoice at somebody else’s misery. That’s like about the most disgusting thought we can have, isn’t it? Don’t you think? I’m going to be happy. I’m going to applaud at somebody else’s misery. Ugh! When I look at that, then I say, “Okay, I really have to change. I’m fed up with being jealous.” Because he’s telling me what I’m like and he’s absolutely right. So I better start to change.

This hook cast by the fishermen of disturbing conceptions
Is unbearably sharp:
Having been caught on it,
It is certain that I shall be cooked
In cauldrons by the guardians of hell.

If I’m taking delight at wishing other people have pain, and misery, and poverty, and despair, and that their relationships are horrible, what am I creating the cause for myself to experience? It’s not going to be happiness.

And here are a few of his verses about attachment to praise, because that’s one of the big things that we get jealous of, when other people are praised and noticed and respected and loved and appreciated, but I’m not. Shantideva says:

But whether this praise is directed at myself or someone else
How shall I be benefited by the joy (of he who bestows it)?
Since that joy and happiness is his alone
I shall not obtain even a part of it.

It’s a very different perspective on praise. If you are praising me, you’re the one who’s happy because you’re seeing goodness in others. So if you praise me, you’re creating good karma, you’re seeing goodness in others, your mind is joyful. If I’m getting praised, all that’s happening is the result of my virtuous karma is getting consumed, and I’m not creating anymore virtue, and I might even be creating some nonvirtue because I’m getting conceited. And then when I don’t get the praise, then I get jealous of other people who have it.

But if I do find happiness in his happiness
Then surely I should feel the same way towards all?

If I rejoice that somebody else has a virtuous mental state that makes them praise me, then surely I should feel the same way towards others. Then I should also rejoice when other people are praised. So if you’re doing the praising, and I rejoice that you’re creating merit and you have a happy mind, then I should rejoice at that no matter who you’re praising.

How come I don’t? Because of my own self-centeredness. And that’s a self-centeredness that makes a mess out of my life, so why should I follow it? Why should I do what it says?

And if this were so then why am I unhappy
When others find pleasure in that which brings them joy?

Somebody finds pleasure in something that brings them joy; why do I need to be unhappy about it? Isn’t jealously self-sabotaging? Here’s this perfect opportunity to be happy, rejoicing at somebody else’s talent or good opportunity or wealth or whatever it is, a perfect opportunity to be happy and what do I choose to do? To make myself miserable by being jealous. That’s really self-defeating, isn’t it? So if I want myself to be happy I have to give up jealously because jealousy is making me unhappy.

That’s how I had to start changing, because I used to get so jealous of other people who had more time with our teacher than me. Oh, it was awful. I was so jealous. They would get to go to Rinpoche’s room and do puja with him—only a few people—and I didn’t get to do it because I was teaching a course. Poor me. Ugh! I was so jealous.

And I remember one day sitting out in the garden and just watching all these people have time with our teacher and I didn’t. Just burning, you know. And then realizing, “Wow, I am hurting so much. I am in so much misery. I can’t stand this.” And the whole source is my own jealousy. The source is not what other people are doing. The source is my own attitude. So I had to sit down and have a good long talk with myself, and say, “Look, if you want to be happy, you have to give up this jealousy because it’s torturing you.”

And then his conclusion about praise,

Therefore the happiness that arises
From thinking, I am being praised,” is invalid.
It is only the behavior of a child.

Shantideva’s right again. So what am I going to be proud of? That I’m acting like a child? Ugh, no.

So that’s a little bit about jealousy.

The antidote to jealousy

Rejoicing is really the antidote. And if you practice it regularly, your mind can be so happy, because then everything you look at you feel good about. You vanquish competition and everything you look at—“Oh, I’m so glad so-and-so got the promotion. I’m so glad so-and-so has a really good relationship. I’m so glad so-and-so is having a wonderful retreat, very peaceful. I’m so glad so-and-so, you know, has wealth and they get to go traveling or whatever they’re doing.”

Just again and again, in our minds saying, “I’m so happy, I’m so happy that so-and-so…,” you know? To train the mind to do that, it is mental training. Instead of the habit now of “How come they get and I don’t?” it’s the habit of “How wonderful that is. How delightful—there’s so much suffering in the world and I’m seeing somebody who has a good condition who’s happy, who’s peaceful, who are—they’re able to fulfill what they want.” That’s wonderful. And then you look at the next person and you think the same way. So think, deliberately cultivating rejoicing and training our mind in rejoicing can bring an incredible amount of happiness.

It also creates a lot of merit, because if we rejoice in people who are equal to us, we receive the same merit, simply from the mental act of rejoicing as we would if we did the action ourselves. If we rejoice in their virtuous activities of somebody who’s lower than us, we receive virtue that is greater than what they did, even though they did the action. If we rejoice in the virtues of those who are superior to us, like the buddhas and bodhisattvas, then we get a portion, some fraction, you know, of the amount of merit that they get. They say rejoicing at the merit of others is the lazy person’s way to create good karma. [laughter]

You don’t even need to go out and do the virtuous action yourself. You can sit there on the couch and rejoice. “I rejoice at so-and-so’s generosity in giving their wealth. I rejoice in so-and-so’s generosity in teaching. I rejoice in so-and-so’s virtue created by getting to do retreat. I rejoice in so-and-so’s generosity from being a socially engaged Buddhist. I rejoice in this and that and the other thing.” You feel so happy and you’re just sitting there on the sofa. And you’re creating a ton of merit. It’s really a good deal. So if we want to be happy, we should train our mind in rejoicing.

Questions and answers

Okay. We have a little time for questions.

Audience: Since becoming a Buddhist I have changed from doing one disgusting thing to a different disgusting thing. I’d like to know how to stop that. I used to—when I would see somebody that I would call “evil” who was doing harmful things to others, making others suffer—I would wish suffering upon them, you know.

Now what I do—it may not be that much different—is I say to my wife, “Well, they’re creating a lot of negative karma.” I wish, I pray that that negative karma ripens immediately. So it’s a way of not wishing them harm, but still wishing them harm. Because I realize that they are creating negative karma, but I am wishing that that negative karma will….

Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): Ripen immediately.

Audience: Ripen, yeah. How do I get out of that?

VTC: Instead of when somebody’s doing something unethical or something you just don’t like, no matter what it is, you used to wish that they get hit by a truck, now you just sit there and say, “Well, they’re creating negative karma and may their negative karma ripen ASAP—”

Isn’t that kind of a disgusting mental state? You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to continue having that kind of mental state?” I mean, I want to be able to look at myself and have some sense of integrity, and that mind that rejoices in others’ misery is not going to be the cause of my feeling good about myself. So I need to just leave that way of thinking behind. Then, actually, you should do the taking and giving mediation, and take on the result of that negative karma so that they don’t have to experience it.

Audience: Since I have started this practice I am realizing that a sense of fairness has mixed messages. Especially in our society, which really touts justice, like you were saying, and a sense of fairness and equality. But there are pitfalls with that. What are some situations or skills to maybe utilize fairness in positive ways without falling into those “It’s not fair” mindsets.

VTC: Okay. So how to use the sense of unfairness in a positive way.

Audience: Sure. Yeah.

VTC: Okay. This is not necessarily something I would teach to somebody else who’s in a disadvantaged position, who is not a Buddhist. Because if somebody does not have deep faith in the law of karma and its effect, it’s gonna come out all wrong. It’s gonna come out like, “Well, you’re that way because you created the karma; so too bad, buddy,” which is not the meaning of it at all. So I would never say this to anybody who didn’t have a strong sense of karma and its effects. But in looking at the situation myself, when I feel that there’s discrimination against me or there’s unfairness or whatever, again, to say, “Well, I created the cause for this. In a previous life I might have had more power, more prestige. I was arrogant. I touted to everybody else. So this lifetime I’m born in the opposite position.”

It even says that in the scriptures, when they talk about karmic causes for things. If I’m in this position I created the cause, because I was so arrogant. So I don’t like being in this position.” And “I’m still competitive and jealous and arrogant now I just don’t have as much to be arrogant about as before. But that arrogance is still in my mind. So I need to really work on myself and stop this whole thing of comparing myself to others. And instead learn to look at everybody equally and think that happiness is happiness no matter whose it is and to rejoice in it. Suffering is suffering no matter whose it is; I’m going to seek to remedy it. So I’m going to stop putting myself as number one, because the self-centered attitude, again and again, creates the cause for my own misery.”

I find for me that that works quite well. Or, like I said, you know, sometimes when we’re in a disadvantaged position we can progress, again, in a way that we never would have if we’re in it in an advantaged position. Because when you’re in a disadvantaged position, you can actually develop very strong renunciation of samsara, because you’re not, you know, befuddled and enchanted by samsaric good qualities, thinking, “I want them.” You’re able to see the rottenness of samsara and develop the wish to be free of it. It also gives you the opportunity to develop strong compassion for other people who are even more disadvantaged than we are. If I feel bad because of the impediment I have, imagine how other people feel. Can I look at those people with a kind heart? Can I smile at them? Can I help them feel better or give them something that would enrich their lives?

So you change, you look at the situation in a different way. And it actually helps you to develop your good qualities.

Audience: At the very beginning of your talk you spoke about the mind that compares. What came to me is that comparison is one of the fundamental ways that we learn. And so in terms of children, in terms of new jobs, in terms of formal education, in terms of all these things, we’re constantly comparing and situating our experience within that to make meaning. My question was, specific to the mind of comparison, how do we cultivate practical and applied introspective awareness in terms of that mind of comparison?

VTC: So what you’re saying is in our society we really learn and progress through comparing ourselves with others. And so your question is how do we use the introspective awareness to….

Audience: Stop us from engaging in those detrimental comparisons in which the value judgments arise? We’re still going to compare, but maybe we don’t have to have discourse that creates the infliction of jealousy.

VTC: So how to have introspective awareness to stop the kind of comparison that creates jealousy and pride, because if you want to eliminate jealousy, you have to eliminate pride, too. His Holiness often talks about competing or comparing ourselves with ourselves. Instead of “I’m better than somebody else,” or “they’re better than me,” you know, “I’ve been able to do this. How can I take the next step forward?” And so remaining focused on ourselves and what we’re able to do and not, and say, “How can I take the next step?” Because you’re saying that we learn by comparing ourselves to others, as if that were an efficient way to learn. Actually, it’s very inefficient, because we waste a whole lot of time in jealousy and arrogance.

[Remainder of session not transcribed]

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