Jealousy & Envy: Table of Contents

Friendvyby Joan Duncan Oliver
Middle Way Manager, by Shozan Jack Haubner
The Curse of Mittavinda, a cartoon by Paul Hostetler
In Defense of Envy, by Louisa Kamps
Someone Is Jealous of You, by Reverend Patti Nakai
Envidia, by Daisy Hernández
Transforming the Green-Ey’d Monster, by Judith Simmer-Brown

There are certain emotions that appear again and again in Buddhist literature. Anger is one. Happiness is another. We might consider emotions like these to be the “primary colors” of our emotional lives; from their combination spring shades of all different kinds of feelings. At Tricycle we have devoted many articles, and in some cases entire sections, to these primary emotions. In this special section, however, we have gone beyond the basics to explore one of the most complicated secondary shades: jealousy and envy.

Jealousy and envy occupy a unique space on the spectrum of emotion in that they are simultaneously ubiquitous and invisible. These feelings, while not a centerpiece of Buddhist teachings, are a frequent visitor in our own thoughts and behavior. There is no territory that they cannot enter: we may just as well be jealous of someone’s romantic partner as we are envious of another practitioner’s spiritual insights. But there is perhaps no other emotion that we are as loath to admit feeling. As many of the contributors in this section attest, jealousy and envy almost always come with a dose of guilt and shame.

Jealousy and envy, a complicated mix of desire, resentment, unhappiness, and apprehension, are complicated even to define. The standard understanding of the terms is that jealousy involves a trio (you, someone or something you have, and another who wants it), while envy involves a duo (you and another who possesses something you want). Even dictionaries differ in their explanation of the words. It is perhaps a little vague but still fair to say that we can consider jealousy to be more colored by fear (of what you might lose) and envy by desire (of what you hope to gain).

Both jealousy and envy are explored throughout the section, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. Our contributors, who come from a range of Buddhist traditions, grapple with their meanings while exploring what jealousy and envy look like in personal experience. Indeed, one of the section’s goals is to shine a light on an emotion that so often hides in the dark, away from public or social view, and even away from our own awareness. (As we found out in preparing the section, there are plenty of us, Buddhist teachers included, who don’t like copping to our own little jealousies.)

The traditional Buddhist perspective on emotions like jealousy and envy is that they are destructive, or at the very least, unwholesome. The Buddha included both jealousy and envy on his list of the 16 defilements of the mind, along with hypocrisy, fraud, and arrogance. Eastern and Western art are rife with depictions of what happens to us when we find ourselves in the grip of jealousy or envy (in fact, you’ll see a lot of it in the following pages). In this section we offer plenty of writing that aligns with this view, as well as various Buddhist practices that serve as antidotes to the harmful qualities of jealousy and envy. But we also offer perspectives from the other side to explore jealousy and envy’s potential for positive outcomes. As some Buddhist traditions teach, it’s never the emotion itself that’s the problem—only what we do with it.

Parul Sehgal, an editor at the New York Times Book Review, said in a 2013 TED talk on jealousy in literature that “Jealousy is a quest for painful truth. Jealousy reveals us to ourselves.” Indeed, if we can resist the urge of jealousy and envy to pull us deeply into the fantasies we weave about ourselves and others—“she has this or that, and I have nothing”—we can see them as signposts that point the way to a truth about ourselves, and use their appearance as an urgent call to look within. What we find there may not be what we expect. But that’s the whole Buddhist project, isn’t it?