Envy – The vice that drives most ill deeds

(with due respects to Shri Gurucharan Das whose thoughts I also echo here)

Why should one like you envy Yudhishthira, dear son? You have all he has. He respects me and loves you. He has earned his wealth through righteous means. Be content with what you have. Stay with your own dharma. That is the road to happiness.“, said Dhritarashtra.

What man of any self-respect and capability would stand to see his enemy prosper and himself decline? Whenever I remember their fortune, and that splendid hall of illusions and the mockery that I yielded to, I burn like the fire.“, replied Duryodhana.

Duryodhana is one of the most powerful princes of Bharata land. He enjoys ultimate power. He has wealth. He draped himself with the finest clothes and silk. He slept on the opulent beds. He ate the choicest food, possessed innumerable best breed horses, had a hoard of charming women to serve him. For long he was happy with the thought that Pandavas, though he would preferred them dead, were badly off with the worst part of the kingdom. The attendance at Rajasuya yagya changed all that.

Duryodhana was in charge of the welcoming the guest kings. He was in charge of the treasury of the yagya. He saw wealth that he did not himself possess. “I had to turn many opulent gifts from various kings because there was no place to keep this pouring wealth.” He could not believe what he saw. Yudhishthira donated away huge wealth to Brahmins and yet there was no end to it. Suddenly he felt like a pauper in comparison.

After the yagya, he happened to visit the miraculous hall built by Maya danava. He was amazed at the creation. He doubted whether Indra himself possessed anything better. Then came his complete humiliation. He waited behind a false wall that was really a door, dashed against wall what he thought was a door. He raised his lower garments so as not to get them wet at what he felt like walking into a pond when it was not there. At the next place, he walked into what seemed like solid ground and plunged right up to his waist into a real pond. The Pandavas had a hearty laugh while the guards smirked behind impassive expressions.

Realisation hit with deep insult. He was just another ordinary prince. Pandavas were rich and far more powerful beyond imagination. He simply was no match.

Envy sets in when one compares self to others. In most people, envy remains deep inside and they resign that to the fact of life – something that they don’t like but can’t do anything about. But a powerful and ambitious person like Duryodhana cannot let this go. Deep envy leading to hatred makes them commit heinous crimes.

Duryodhana pooh-pooh’s his father suggestion of peace with his brothers and being content.

The man who is content cannot attain prosperity. I wish to attain more prosperity and power. That is why I am dissatisfied. O King, only those who dream and try to reach for the heights are capable of achieving. I do not consider selfishness as a vice. Should we not pursue selfish means when we have the power or are rich?

His envy forces the game of dice. In a final blow of words he makes envy a virtue. Dhritarashtra himself was not immune to jealousy – he guarded it well within himself. His son was his world, his vehicle to riding to power, his ambition and denied right. The father caved in.

The game of dice, to excuse the pun, cast the final dice that led to the war. The bone of contention was the right of the kingdom, a claim that was dubious on both sides.

Duryodhana is the eldest son of the eldest son who should have been the king had he not been blind. Yudhishthira was the eldest prince amongst the 105 heirs to the throne and the eldest son of the previous king. Duryodhana was the natural born son of one brother; Yudhishthira was a surrogate child. But if that was the case, then Dhritarashtra and Pandu too should have had no claims to the throne. Where was the case for the first niyoga wherein Vyasa impregnated Ambika and Ambalika? Now that there were no heirs after the death of Vichitravirya, and Bhishma having vowed to stay away, the throne could/should have gone to a real descendent of the Kuru line, say someone from Bahlika’s clan.

The Kuru elders, including King Dhritarashtra, knew and recognised the right of Price Yudhishthira. Otherwise, why was he crowned the heir apparent? Dhritarashtra was not happy about it but then he should have stated his opinions then. He didn’t because he knew deep in his heart that he was not correct. Be it as it may, whatever the claims earlier, dubious or real, all matters and claims to the thrones ceased when the kingdom was partitioned by agreement of all. Duryodhana too had agreed to the partition thinking that the Pandavas would get the worst portion of the land. He later went back saying that he was young and naive at that time and was rather forced into the decision. But these are hollow excuses.


Duryodhana’s envy makes him hate the Pandavas. He became pale and sickly at the thought of his cousins’ opulence. He gives in to feelings of rancour, malice, and anger. That is understandable. At least Duryodhana was open about his envy. But his father’s envy is hidden. It is so well hidden that the blind king himself does not know it, let alone admit it. He blames his son for the high handedness and excuses himself on all mishaps. He blames destiny for all the events that unfold. He tells his son to be pious, rightful and sticking to amicable behaviour. Yet when he sees his son is winning, he cannot hide his glee.

Who has won? Who has won?” he questions gleefully at each round of the dice, asking the question to Vidura.

Dhritarashtra is a hypocrite. Such hypocritical envy is more dangerous than open hatred as shown by Duryodhana.

Is envy bad?

No. There is a case for healthy envy, if it is possible. Envy amongst students makes them study harder to outdo their opponents. Envy to be richer than your neighbour can make you work harder and trying to earn more money. The drive to become prosperous can make people gather more skills and perform better.

Unfortunately the position at the top has a place for one person only. The healthy envy usually dies at the end of student life. Envy is not a mere human frailty. But there should be institutions that ought to diminish this particular feeling and teach human to control it or to make themselves better. Else the results are too clear as exemplified not just from the epics but from history also.

  • Helen of Troy is describe as the face that launched a thousand ships. But like Draupadi, she was a pretext. It was Agamemnon and his burning envy of Troy plus the wish to expand his kingdom that launched the Trojan war.
  • Mary Antoinette casual remark “people should eat cakes if they don’t have bread” did not cause the storming of the Bastille in 1789 (it is debatable whether she even said that).
  • Envy and hatred caused Idi Amin to drive away all the Indians (mainly Gujaratis) from Uganda because they owned most of the business.
  • Jews were prosecuted since the days of Moses. For 2000 years they roamed throughout the world. Wherever they settled, they rose high due to sheer hard work, talent and acumen.
  • In Vienna and Berlin, 9% Jews controlled 60% of the shops, over 50% of the medical profession, over 90% of the advertising, etc. Was is any surprise that antisemitism and Nazism started from these two cities?

But prosecuting Jews and taking away their wealth was not sufficient for the Nazis. They wanted the Jews to suffer badly. They wanted to humiliate them completely before killing them. Jews were made to wipe the cobblestones of the streets with toothbrushes, clean toilets and floors, all while the Nazis urinated on them. See the similarity to Mahabharata? Duryodhana wanted to not take away the Pandavas kingdom, he wanted to humiliate them completely.

Kauravas and Pandavas plunged into a apoplectic war because of Duryodhana’s envy.

Back home in recent times we have our own examples of this Duryodhana like tendency. Datta Samant, the firebrand union leader, wanted all the textile mill owners to sink. He considered them as evil capitalists – the bourgeoisie. He took his hatred to the extreme. He did not care whether his own union people and ordinary workers were without livelihood later.

Communism in Kerala and West Bengal in the 70s till late today, caused all the industrialists to move away from these two states. If Kerala is God’s own country, then why is there not a single large industry of any name present? Please do not mistake me. I love the serene beauty of Kerala, those majestic rolling tea hills, the forests and reserves, the backwaters, the house boats, the sheer natural beauty, etc. But the wealth of Kerala comes from the repatriations by its UAE expats.

If greed is the sin of capitalism, then envy is the vice of socialism. You cannot attain equality by “soaking the rich” as is preached by Marxists/Socialists. Most socialists do not suffer from envy but a deep resentment of so-called unjust division of income and power. Eminent people like Arundhati Roy said that Americans deserved 9/11. She said it was a direct result of America’s foreign policy and its economic bulldozing of the world order. She probably also thinks that the Mumbai attacks of 26/11 are justified. Sadly, Arundhati Roy is unable to rise beyond petty politics and see the pain of families of the 3000+ victims of 9/11 or 170+ victims of 26/11.

When a person cannot tolerate the good and prosperity of others, he/she makes every effort to spoil it for everyone. Like Duryodhana, they plunge the society into a mess and terrible carnage.

Post Author: Prasanna Bhalerao

1 thought on “Envy – The vice that drives most ill deeds

    Rohit Mishra

    (October 19, 2018 - 6:33 pm)

    Wonderful read and you’ve compared the incidents of Mahabharata and current in well manner.
    Yes, envy is good sometimes when it practices with honesty and became Yama when someone making it filthy with his dirty thoughts.

    Thanks

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