Gita Life

Bhagavad Gita – Chapter 1 – Greed Vs Envy

Explore Gita's profound teachings on greed vs. envy and their consequences in this insightful analysis of Bhagavad Gita Chapter 1

Before we dive into the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 1, let’s start this chapter with the story of ‘The 99 Club.’ 

Once upon a time, there was a King who, despite his luxurious lifestyle, was unhappy.  One day, he noticed a servant who was happily singing.

The King asked, “What makes you so happy?” 

The servant replied, “Your Majesty, I don’t have needs. I am happy with a roof over my head and warm food for my stomach.”  

Not satisfied with the answer, the King sought the advice of his advisor, who said, “Your Majesty, the servant has not passed the 99 Club.”

What exactly is that?” the King inquired.  

Your Majesty, place ninety-nine gold coins in a bag and leave it at his doorstep. I will then explain what the 99 Club is.”  

The King immediately ordered his people to do it.  When the servant found and opened the bag, he jumped with joy and began to count the coins. When he counted ninety-nine gold coins, he wondered, “There has to be a hundred. Where is the last one?” 

He looked everywhere but in vain.  Finally, exhausted, he decided to work harder than ever to earn that last gold coin.

He started overworking and differed from the happy servant who once sang in the palace. Witnessing this drastic transformation, the King asked the advisor what he did to the happy servant. 

Your Majesty, he has now officially joined the 99 Club,” the advisor said, “This is a club of people who have enough to be happy but are never content.  They are  always unhappy about that extra one they do not have.”

Does that mean that aiming for one more gold coin is wrong? Should we give up everything and live in austerity to be happy?

Not really. Let’s meet Kabir, who is wealthy but not in ‘the 99 Club.’

Kabir, an entrepreneur, loves comfort and works hard for it by running his own company. He is rich but not a multi-millionaire, and he knows it does not have to be that way. His lifestyle revolves around traveling the world, loving his wife, and sleeping peacefully at night.  In short, he is the happiest man that I know of today.

What’s your trick?” I once asked, to which he replied, “I know the thin line between ambition and greed.”

What is that?

Purpose!  Whatever I do, there is a noble purpose attached to it for everyone’s benefit, and I benefit too. I don’t look for ways to exploit anyone for my needs. That will only lead to my downfall.

Why, downfall?

Imbalance!  Imagine we are given a pot filled with gold coins, some got a bigger pot, and some a smaller pot based on our skillset. We are all satisfied with whatever we have.  If I start stealing gold coins from someone else’s smaller pot to fill my bigger pot, won’t it cause an imbalance in the ecosystem? That’s when the Mahabharat (fight) starts between the survivors and the suppressors.”

What Kabir was suggesting about the ‘imbalance in the ecosystem’ was the crux of the story of Mahabharata. King Dhritarashtra divided the country in two, giving the prosperous nation Hastinapur to his son Duryodhana and a barren land Khandavprastha to his nephew Yudhishthira. 

The Pandavas accepted their uncle’s offer, worked hard, and thrived by converting Khandavprastha to Indraprastha. Seeing the progress of his cousins, the greedy Duryodhana, conspired the game of dice, which was the turning event in the story that eventually led to the Kurukshetra war.   

Before we move to the story of Mahabharata, let’s try to understand if greed is indeed unreasonable. 

In the Hollywood film Wall Street (1987), Gordon Gekko says,

Greed, for the lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all forms; greed for life, money, love, and knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”  

So, if greed is part of our evolutionary programming, and desire is our effective strategy to prosper in life, why is greed considered so bad?

Let me go back to Kabir’s story again. Born in a middle-class family, had it not been for his greed for success, he would not be a millionaire today.  But he firmly believes that excessive desire is no longer an optimal strategy for growth. 

He says, “Greed is a complex and misunderstood emotion.  There is creative greed. Creative greed motivates me to be creative and innovative.  And there is destructive greed!

Destructive greed?

Yes, destructive. That comes with envy.  It gets destructive when you see others around you with more money, leaving you feeling inadequate.  If you see people doing better, and you are inspired and set goals to reach there, then that is not destructive.  But if you want what others have because you think you are entitled to success, money without much effort.  That’s when you get into destructive greed. I call it envy.

So, how is envy different from greed?

In many ways, greed and envy are twins. However, envy goes one step further with a strong passion for the harm of others as well.  Greek storyteller Aesop explained the folly of two vices with a fable of two greedy and envious brothers. 

Both aspired to be wealthy. So, they decided to please the Lord by offering up their prayers.  One day, the Lord appeared before them and asked for their wishes with a condition, “Whatever the first one asks, the other will have it double.”

Upon hearing this, the greedy brother abstained from asking first, hoping that his brother would sympathize with him.  He wanted to receive a double of whatever his brother asked for. By this means, the envious brother had no opportunity of preferring his petition first, which he had aimed at. So, without much hesitation, he asked for having one of his eyes put out, knowing that, of consequence, his brother would be deprived of both. Both the brothers returned with no fortune, but one being blind and the other with one-eye.

That is the nature of envy. The envious man, though he has the power of calling for good things, without measure, to himself or others, chooses to punish himself if that may bring down the other.

That was who Duryodhana was!

He was envious of his cousins, so much so that he did not care for his destruction if that harmed Pandavas.  Here is another story about Duryodhana’s destructive envious nature.

When Pandavas were in the jungle, they led a modest lifestyle. The envious Duryodhana enjoyed stories about Pandavas’ miseries from his spies.

One day, he desired to flaunt his magnificence before the Pandavas. On the pretext of hunting, he and his cohorts went near the spot where Pandavas were encamped. They partied, made a loud noise, and did everything to taunt the Pandavas.

On a particular day, Duryodhana insulted a band of the Gandharvas tribe in the jungle. The angry Ghandarvas fought against Duryodhana, defeated him, and took him as a prisoner.

When the Pandavas found that Duryodhana had been taken as a prisoner, they fought the Gandharvas. The Pandavas won and compelled the Gandharvas to release the prisoners. Yudhishthira called Duryodhana his brother, and this approach surprised Duryodhana for a second, but his pride was humiliated.  He almost killed himself, but for the hope that the day would come when the Pandavas would be avenged, he decided to return to Hastinapur.  He never learned from his mistakes. Instead, he became more envious of the Pandavas over the years and did everything to harm them at the cost of harming himself and his clan.     

Bhagavad Gita Chapter 1

And that’s precisely how Bhagavad Gita starts.

It opens with an inquiry from Dhritarashtra asking his trusted secretary Sanjaya about the events unfolding at the battlefield of Kurukshetra.  Through Sanjay’s narration, readers are introduced to Duryodhana’s pride and ignorance as he spoke about the combined strength of his army and how his victory was inevitable.

The next few verses further highlight Duryodhana’s inability to empathize, his lack of genuine interest in the feelings of others, and his unwillingness to take personal responsibility for his behavior. All these traits of an envious man had made Duryodhana so blind that he could not see the end of him and his entire clan that was waiting on that battlefield. 

Once Bhagavad Gita establishes Duryodhana’s overly self-centered, overconfident, and envious character, it moves to Arjuna.

To be cont’d….

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