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Envy may be the central cause for violence and war


Yesterday morning, I was walking with a small group of friends and being led through a smallish housing estate with spectacular houses, splendid gardens and manicured lawns. I became aware of feeling envy aroused and arising by these properties: a bitter state induced by others owning a higher standard of house than myself. Upon reflection, I concluded that ‘envy’ may be the central cause for much of the violence and war on our precious planet. My view of the world is shared by Hans Hermann Hoppe, and this reality is recognised in the Bible and the Buddha’s teachings:

For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. ~James 3:16

You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions. ~James 4:2-3

I now turn to Buddhism as it is there that I’m on more solid and safe ground. I begin with mindfulness that full body-and-mind awareness of the present moment: achievable by paying attention to the physical and emotional sensations in our body and accepting these for what they are. Yet, accepting feelings is not ignoring them or avoiding them, but welcoming them; Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (Tik · N’yat · Hawn) recommends we say, “Hello [Envy], how are you today? Come, sit by me and I will take care of you.”

Be alert that feelings can be indirectly influenced by our behaviour. Doing something repeatedly may give us confidence whereas constant complaining may stimulate feelings of resentment such as envy. Our actions often precede, rather than follow, feelings.

Further, we can no more control our thoughts than we can control the weather, as both are phenomena of the most amazingly complex natural systems. And if we have no hope of controlling our emotions, we can hardly be held responsible any more than we can be held responsible for feeling hot or cold. We do, however, have complete dominion over our behaviour, and that is a sacred responsibility.[1]

Metta is loving kindness. You might begin this practice with loving kindness for yourself. Deep inside you may feel insecure, frightened, betrayed, or even ashamed, and these feelings are feeding your misery. Learn to be gentle and forgiving with yourself. As you practice metta, you can learn to trust yourself and be more confident in yourself. In time, when you are able, extend the metta to other people, including the people you envy. Envy is like a toxin poisoning us from within. Let this go, and make room for loveliness instead.

Many traditional Western approaches advocate ‘working on’ your thoughts –  to change or even stop them. My approach is based on the strategy of accepting them and shifting one’s attention to something constructive or purposeful. Rather than fixing on our mental ruminations, we work on doing the things that help us live a fulfilled and meaningful life. We take our feelings/emotions with us as we strive to live well and do what’s important. How empowering this is! Our feelings/emotions no longer interfere with taking appropriate action. Wake up to the traditional Western approach of ‘working on’ your thoughts.!

[1] Shoma Morita

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