A curious notion in the minds of many in some modern sects of Caitanya Vaiṣṇavism is that they are in the material world because they envy Śrī Kṛṣṇa. The explanation proffered is that one’s desire to be the center of attention reflects an intrinsic desire to take God’s place. This notion brings to mind the concept of the ‘devil’ which is prevalent in Abrahamic traditions. Yet, the notion of envy for God is totally foreign to traditional Vedantic thought.
Definition of envy or matsara
The Sanskrit word for envy is ‘matsara’ which shows up in the second verse of the Bhāgavata purāṇa (1.1.2). Śrī Jīva Goswami discusses the verse in different places in the Sandarbhas, and particularly in Annucheda 95 of the Bhagavat Sandarbha. There he cites the following definition (which is also present in Śrīdhara swami’s commentary) of matsara:
phala-kāmukasyeva parotkarṣāsahanaṁ matsaraḥ: matsara (envy) means intolerance of the value found in others, which is typical of those who hanker for the fruits of their actions.
He then relates this to the word ‘nirmatsara’ present in the verse SB 1.1.2 as follows:
nirmatsarāṇāṁ= tad-rahitānām eva, tad-upalakṣaṇatvena paśv-ālambhane dayālūnām eva ca, satāṁ sva-dharma-parāṇāṁ vidhīyate iti = nirmatsara means an “absence of this envy” and by extension also includes those merciful people who do not kill animals.
Thus, according to Śrī Jīva, envy is the tendency to devalue other beings, which reflects an ego-centered and ego-fortifying affliction. If one is afflicted by envy, then one’s attention is turned toward competing with others. Such an attitude is opposed to the mood of service, which is the essence of bhakti. As such, envy makes it difficult for genuine, unmotivated bhakti to take root in the heart.
Envy for Kṛṣṇa is impossible
In all his writings, Śrī Jīva never ever suggests that envy for Śrī Kṛṣṇa is present in the jīva, nor does he bring the topic up in the central verse of the Bhāgavata purāṇa (1.1.2) where this word shows up, nor do the several commentators in the Bhāgavata tradition. The envy in the definition above is ‘for others’ (para), not for Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Envy arises when one knows another person. This is why envy is common between competitors. Even the more advanced sādhakas who have been in the sphere of bhakti for some time have no direct experience of Śrī Kṛṣṇa but possess only theoretical knowledge. As such, nobody can really envy Śrī Kṛṣṇa, even if they tried. One cannot envy another person whose existence is only a theoretical construct. Further, experience of Śrī Kṛṣṇa cannot occur in a heart which has envy for anyone. Thus, envy for Śrī Kṛṣṇa is altogether an impossibility.
To those who think people ‘fall’ from the spiritual world, the notion of envying Kṛṣṇa makes perfect sense. The problem, of course, is that in the spiritual world, envy is impossible because envy is a function of the material mind (see Gītā 13.7), and there is no material mind in the spiritual world. The mind in the spiritual world is made of Śrī Kṛṣṇa’s svarūpa śakti, which has only one function – to serve Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
This is not to say, of course, that envy for Śrī Kṛṣṇa is not present in the asuras like Putanā. Naturally, the asuras who are present in His līlās know of Him as tangible reality and not just a theoretical construct, whom they seek to fight and defeat. Without such emotions in His opponents, His līlās would not be possible at all. But such envy is utterly irrelevant for a sādhaka.
Envy for other bhaktas is certainly possible, and is actually an aparādha. This kind of envy comes under the definition given above.
Laboring under the guilt of being envious of Kṛṣṇa is unhealthy
Bhaktas who labor under the notion that they are to blame for their envy to Kṛṣṇa tend to indulge in self-flagellating emotions which are unhealthy and counter-productive to bhakti. Guilt is not a useful emotion in bhakti. Those who ‘guilt’ themselves into doing bhakti, may end up achieving only self-hate for their efforts, and ultimately, a dislike for bhakti. Their attempts at service may not be out of an attraction for bhakti nor a genuine desire to serve, but may be a way to punish themselves and atone for their imaginary envy.
The propagation of such false notions is also an aparādha to the śāstras, which further impedes advancement in bhakti. Furthermore, one cannot solve a problem that does not exist. Envy for Kṛṣṇa does not exist, and is an imaginary problem that cannot be solved. Wanting to be the center of attention is simply a type of competition with others, not a desire to ‘be God’.