Jealousy: The Forbidden Emotion

Since I have started to read about Buddhism, I have begun to think about emotions a great deal. I not only think about what emotions I have at a given time, but also how the country I live in, the United States, views emotions.

I have found that while in Buddhism there are three poisons: ignorance, aversion, and greed; this is not so in the United States. Let’s take them one by one.

Ignorance is seen as OK in many situations. Hell, people have even used it as a defense for crimes even at the highest level of leadership. “I had no idea they were stealing money, torturing people, etc.” Even though it was my god damned job to know. Even if I was paid a lot of money because this is a huge ass responsibility, I didn’t know. No, I am not ashamed of this. It was an honest oversight. Now leave me alone so I can go back to my ranch.

I won’t say much about greed. Not only is it OK, but to not be greedy is seen as impossible. Therefore to express lack of greed in any way will really mean that you are lying. Lying about one’s feelings is bad. Lying about other things is usually OK, however, in the US at this time. In fact, in many cases it is expected. For example, people are OK that ads lie, and in fact at least one corporate spokesperson expressed that there was a constitutional right to lie. The US military also publically admits to a program that’s entire purpose is to lie. In fact, honesty is actually seen as a kind of weakness in modern times.
Finally, we get to aversion. This is also OK in modern times. This could mean anything one wants to get away from or anything that anyone does not like. It is seen as a kind of poor character if one is not aversive to nationals from countries that the US govt currently speaks badly of. For example, a few years ago, it was trendy to express aversion to anything from the region of Europe commonly known as France. In fact, France was so adversive that food items that were related to France only in a linguistic coincidence were renamed. The very sound of the word itself was seen as adversive. This was a reverasal of previous policy. This policy has been flip flopped, again, I believe. It is hard to keep up especially when one avoids the news. Avoiding the news is itself a type of aversion.

When I grew up in the 1980’s, it was considered to be good manners to express hatred and aversion to Russian. This was funny because my grandfather was Russian. Because I knew he was a good person, I realized that the entire custom of hating others was stupid. Therefore, I do not hate people from Iran which is currently the trendy place to hate. To most Americans, this shows poor character.

Jealousy is an interesting emotion because it seems to have dual roots. In one case, it is rooted in greed. In another it is rooted in hatred. In the US, jealousy is seen as shameful. Though it is OK to publically express some forms of hatred and greed, if you combine them together into jealousy, this emotion must be concealed to be socially correct. I find this to be strange. However, you need to realize that there is a strong belief in the US in economic karma. That is, whatever wealth people have, they deserve 100%. That is, the economy is completely perfect in translating one’s efforts into cash rewards. This belief only seems to be incredible because it is usually not articulated as such. It is usually assumed to be true. However, to speak of this belief at all is seen to be bad manners.

Although it is bad manners to feel jealousy and even worse manners to publically reveal this feeling, it is OK to notice this feeling in others. Often when people are criticized for theft, bad manners, violence, or ignorace, they will defend themselves by pointing out that their critics are experiencing a feeling of jealousy. Since this is such a taboo emotion, immediately all criticism is supposed to cease, and we are supposed to focus our attention on how terrible it is to experience jealousy.

In my practice to understand and deal with my emotions better, I will often express them freely. That is, if I am jealous, I will say, “I am jealous.”

However, often people have accused me of feeling jealous when I thought I was feeling justified outrage which is a form of aversion. I find this interesting that other people are so confident that they can determine my emotions even better than I can. I am not sure whether they are correct in these cases or not. I wonder if it is possible to feel an emotion and to not label it properly.

One final note, all the above poisons even the ones that are permissible in the US are considered to be a diseased state of mind in Buddhism. They are called kleshas or mental defilements. Much of Buddhist practice is working with these mental states in the hopes that they will weaken and subside.

Because it is not only seen as good manners but at times obligatory and in some cases inevitable to feel certain mental poisons, experienced Buddhists will be seen as having bad character in the United States.


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