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Ganesha and the defect of vision

Gloria Arieira

October 2020

In the Western months of August-September, the day of Ganesha, or Ganapati, is commemorated.  Gana means ‘group’.  Whether it be a group of people, animals, professionals, it is a group of living beings. Isha and pati mean ‘lord’, ‘chief’. Therefore, gana + isha = ganesa, and gana + pati = ganapati, the lord of all living beings. All are protected by Ganesha.

Once, I had seen an image of Ganesha holding various weapons, which was worshiped by thieves and dacoits. Before going to their occupation, they prayed for everything to go well, for the robbery to be conducted without anyone getting hurt.  Ganesha protects all his devout! Around the world there are those devout to him, with either temples in his name or temples where he is in a place of honor, since he is considered the remover of obstacles. That is why before any endeavor, the devout pray that the obstacles be removed and that the object of one’s action be attained.

In India, especially in the South, there is a form of Ganesha with 3 eyes, the third being between the eyebrows. It is called drshti ganesa or drshti ganapati and is often placed at the entrance to a house or shop, or on the panel of a taxi. Its purpose it to scare away what is called the “evil eye” in Brazil, or drshti-dosha.

And what exactly is drshti? Drshti means ‘vision’, dosha is a ‘defect’. The defect of a vision is the look that can cause some damage to another. It is the look of envy.

In our relations with the universe we make an impact and the world also makes an impact. These impacts can be of admiration or of disgust. When we admire an object, or person, liking what is seen, we may wish to possess it. This is the look of envy.

Admiring something and desiring it is natural and can be an inspiration for us. However, when we see what we don't have, we can feel needy, insecure, undervalued and the desire to possess it too. It is a natural feeling, but it can be exaggerated and get out of control.

Envy is a feeling that is often mistaken for jealousy, but the two are different. Jealousy involves a third factor, a person who is seen as a rival for attention or affection. It is an emotion evoked when one feels one is receiving less love or attention because there is another person, a third person, whether in a loving relationship, of friends or between siblings and parents. Jealousy is triangular because one wants to possess another more than the third person has.

Envy, on the other hand, is very basic, immediate and natural, and it involves two people. It is directed at what is seen in someone else, be it a possession or quality that is desired. Envy—or the desire for something another possesses that I would like to have—can provoke hostility towards another. It is the desire that a quality or possession be removed from another and appropriated by me, and that is why it can have the force of hostility. Colloquially, it is said that envy is the desire for what another has, thereby it "dries out" that other person.

The problem with envy is that it is not just the simple desire to have something; seeing that something desirable in another, it is imagined that, in order for me to possess it, that person will have to stop having it, as if leaving the other and coming to me. Upon that thought, there is internal comparison, a dispute and a hostility. That is all that envy carries. It is not a simple inspiration and a desire, but the desire for exactly what the other possesses.

The power of the envious person's desire can be dangerous, because it is as if one wants to take that shine from another and transfer it to oneself. Envy incapacitates a person to appreciate the quality or possession of another; and there may even be a desire to destroy the person or the quality, so that the envy that causes such discomfort can disappear. The object of admiration and desire can become an object of anger!

Yet everything carries a message, even envy; it can help us understand more about ourselves. What can envy say? Envy talks about how the person feels. When seeing something beautiful, if it is not possible to appreciate beauty and to be inspired by it, there is a dissatisfaction and emptiness in relation to oneself. The person cannot only admire beauty, but must possess it, because one feels small for not having it. And seeing the emptiness in itself irritates, enrages, and revolts.

Moreover, the comparison with another person is especially unwarranted, because it focuses on a single aspect, a "window" of another individual, an isolated part, and not the person as a whole. Everyone will have special abilities and possessions that will make the person shine and be delightful. And at the same time, inevitably, the same individual will have other characteristics that are unadmirable. When you think, I would like to be like that person, or you would like to have what another has, it is gazing upon something in particular and isolated from the whole—which means that you don't realize everything that it cost or costs to be like that.

The desire is placed upon that special shine, and not upon the cost that it has or had in the life of that person. And if that cost were seen, you might not be prepared for it. It is true that sometimes a person is born with a certain shine, but that does not make one superior to another, because having something hardly means having everything. That is why any such comparison and the desire to possess or to be like another person is unwarranted.

The look of envy in India is called drshti, which in a literal translation means ‘vision’ or ‘looking’. To envisage another, wanting to be like that person or to have what they have, stems from the feeling of being insufficient and the consequent desire to be appreciated and loved as a person. However, an individual can serve as an inspiration and not rendered an instrument for the feeling of worthlessness. Inspiration does not have a look of desire; it is a look of admiration, and perhaps the confidence that, if the one wants, it can also be attained.

Everyone is inevitably a combination of things that are admired and admonished by oneself and others; no one will ever please completely.  The universe is multiple in its forms and possibilities, the plurality in each one is its beauty. The varied expressions belong to Ishvara, That which is Everything. There is a choice regarding action, karma, which may or may not follow dharma, an action guided by the universal values ​​of speaking the truth, non-violence and respect for others. Action can be deemed appropriate or inappropriate according to the circumstances under which action was taken.

In relation to the characteristics and possessions with which one is born, each is a set that makes up a unique work of art, the work of art by Ishvara. In our relationship with the universe, we can appreciate its beauty, be inspired by it without the need for possessing it. On the contrary, envy can be evoked in the desire for what we see. It is important to point out that desire is not always envy: desire can lead to action because a person is inspired by what one sees in another.

To be free from envy, a person needs to be friends with oneself, and not look at oneself disparagingly. It is necessary to be objective about the whole person one is and to appreciate one’s own qualities, accepting one’s limitations and appreciating one’s beauty as a whole. Sri Krshna explains in chapter 6 of the Bhagavadgita that such is the mind of the yogi: a mind that can meditate and be at peace with oneself and the world. The yogi realizes that feeling fear, desire, anger, attachment is natural and useful, because it brings the message of how the world is affecting him. Each of these emotions needs to be looked at in context without an isolated judgment of the emotion. And looking at the emotion objectively, with a little distance, one can understand what needs to be done and then take action accordingly. It is unfair to compare yourself to a person on a single issue, since everyone is an indivisible whole. Yet, there is a possible look of judgment upon oneself and simultaneously the desire for a characteristic or possession that someone else may have. The look of wanting what the other has, drshti dosha, is natural, and it can happen without the person realizing it. Therefore, Ganesha drshti is ready to neutralize that desirous look that comes from another. And since that gaze can appear uninvited or unexpected, Drshti Ganesha is always on hand to prevent drshti from reaching the person who might be caught unprepared for such a look upon another.  

Once again, we seek the protection of Ganesha.

Hari om,


Gloria Arieira

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