In the Jataka Tales there is a story about jealousy, called The Curse of Mittavinda, which is about a monk who lived in a tiny monastery in a little village. His alms food was always provided by the rich man of the village. In fact, all of his needs were looked after by the rich man, so the monk was calm and peaceful in his mind. There was no desire for greater comforts and pleasures. Instead, he was free to practice the correct conduct of a monk, always trying to eliminate his faults and do only wholesome deeds.
One day an elder monk arrived in the little village. When the rich man saw this unknown monk, he gave him food to eat, and he thought himself very fortunate to hear a short teaching from him. He then invited him to take shelter at the village monastery. When the visiting monk arrived at the monastery, he met the village monk. They greeted each other pleasantly. Then the village monk asked, “Have you had your lunch today?” The other replied, “Yes, I was given lunch by the supporter of this monastery. He also invited me to take shelter here.”
At this point, the village monk, who had been so contented, allowed the poison of jealousy to creep into his mind, he lost his former mental calm. His mind became disturbed due to his jealousy – the fear of losing his comfort and his daily food.
The next day, when it was time to go collect alms food from the supporter of the monastery, the village monk rang the temple gong, but he rang it by tapping it lightly with his finger nail. Then he went to the visiting monk’s room and knocked on the door, but again he only tapped lightly with his finger nail. Having done his courteous duty in such a tricky way, he went to the rich man’s home. The man bowed respectfully to the monk, took his alms bowl and asked, “Where is the new monk, our visitor?” The village monk replied, “I have not seen him. I rang the gong, I knocked at his door, but he did not appear.”
The rich man then said, ”Honourable monk, our holy visitor must be worn out from travelling. Please take my humble alms food to him.” Saying nothing, he accepted the generous gift of food. On the way back to the monastery he saw a field that had just been burned by farmers to enrich the soil. It was covered with hot glowing coals. So he threw the rich man’s generous gift on the coals. The alms food burned up without a trace.
When he got back to the monastery, he found the visitor had gone, and so had his peace of mind! So, afraid of losing his easy daily food, he had thrown away his peace of mind. For the rest of his life the rich man continued to support him. But his mind was filled with torment and suffering, and because of his jealousy he felt doomed like a living hungry ghost.
That is the power of jealousy. It destroys our piece of mind, causes us to lose control and brings us untold suffering. In the English dictionary one definition of jealousy is ‘an unhappy or angry feeling of wanting to have what someone else has, or an unhappy or angry feeling caused by the belief that someone you love (such as your husband/wife, friend and suchlike) likes or is liked by someone else.’
The definition in Buddhism goes further than this and explains that jealousy stems from attachment to an excessive preoccupation with ‘me’, ‘I’ or ‘a permanent and solid self.’ So, it not only explains what jealousy is, but also explains why we become jealous.
The problem is that we think ‘I’ am special and no one can do something, or love someone, as good as ‘I’ can. For example, people tell you that you cook great food and you start to believe you are the best cook around. Then one day, a friend cooks a meal and everyone says it is the best food they have ever tasted, you become jealous because your attachment to a sense of ‘I’ has been dented. Your feeling that you are special has taken a knock.
Another example is when we are in love and we think our partner only loves us, and we cannot believe they would ever love anyone else. When they leave us for another person, because of our attachment to ‘I’, we become wildly jealous.
Instead of rejoicing in other people’s good fortune, because of jealousy, we become resentful, envious and are overwhelmed by destructive emotions. This is because jealousy is the inability to bear someone else’s achievement and we actually wish we could achieve it instead
The monk in the story above was attached to his good life and didn’t want anyone to muscle in on his relationship with the rich man. This also goes back to him being attached to a sense of ‘I.’
All these variations of jealousy stem from our attachment to the feeling of a permanent and solid ‘I.’ The way we can alleviate the problems and suffering caused by jealousy, is to treat the underlying misconception concerning ‘I.’ We have to start seeing everyone as equal. We need to understand that everyone has the same wish to be happy and not suffer. Also, it is important for us to realize that everyone has the same right to be happy and not to suffer. So, in this way, there is nothing special about ‘me’ in this regard.
When we learn to view everyone as equal it becomes easier to relate to someone who has either succeeded more than we have, or who has succeeded when we have not. We rejoice in his or her success, since we want everyone to be happy and not to suffer. Also, instead of gloating about having more success than someone else, we try to help them do well. This will help you to stop clinging to a sense of ‘I’ and, in turn, reduce your feelings of jealousy and give you peace of mind.