Scrooge goes to his cold bed, but is awakened by the vision of his business partner, Jacob Marley clanking about in chains.
“You are fettered,” said Scrooge, trembling. “Tell me why?”
In Buddhism, we use the word “fetters” to refer to those mental habits that bind us to the wheel of samsara.
The 10 fetters are:
1.belief in a self
2. doubt or uncertainty, especially about the teachings
3. attachment to rites and rituals
4. sensual desire
5. ill will
6. lust for material existence, for material rebirth
7. lust for immaterial existence, for rebirth in the immaterial realm
“I wear the chain I forged in life,” replied the Ghost. “I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Is its pattern strange to you?”
“Or would you know,” pursued the Ghost, “the weight and length of the strong coil you bear yourself? It was full as heavy and as long as this, seven Christmas Eves ago. You have labored on it, since. It is a ponderous chain!”
Scrooge glanced about him on the floor, in the expectation of finding himself surrounded by some fifty or sixty fathoms of iron cable: but he could see nothing.
“Jacob,” he said, imploringly. “Old Jacob Marley, tell me more. Speak comfort to me, Jacob!”
“I have none to give,” the Ghost replied. “It comes from other regions, Ebenezer Scrooge, and is conveyed by other ministers, to other kinds of men. Nor can I tell you what I would. A very little more, is all permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My spirit never walked beyond our counting-house — mark me! — in life my spirit never roved beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; and weary journeys lie before me!”
“You must have been very slow about it, Jacob,” Scrooge observed, in a business-like manner, though with humility and deference.
“Slow!” the Ghost repeated.
“Seven years dead,” mused Scrooge. “And traveling all the time!”
“The whole time,” said the Ghost. “No rest, no peace. Incessant torture of remorse.”
“You travel fast?” said Scrooge.
“On the wings of the wind,” replied the Ghost.
“You might have got over a great quantity of ground in seven years,” said Scrooge.
The Ghost, on hearing this, set up another cry, and clanked its chain so hideously in the dead silence of the night, that the Ward would have been justified in indicting it for a nuisance.
“Oh! captive, bound, and double-ironed,” cried the phantom, “not to know, that ages of incessant labour, by immortal creatures, for this earth must pass into eternity before the good of which it is susceptible is all developed. Not to know that any Christian spirit working kindly in its little sphere, whatever it may be, will find its mortal life too short for its vast means of usefulness. Not to know that no space of regret can make amends for one life’s opportunity misused! Yet such was I! Oh! such was I!”
“But you were always a good man of business, Jacob,” faltered Scrooge, who now began to apply this to himself.
“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
“At this time of the rolling year,” the spectre said “I suffer most. Why did I walk through crowds of fellow-beings with my eyes turned down, and never raise them to that blessed Star which led the Wise Men to a poor abode! Were there no poor homes to which its light would have conducted me!”
Jacob Marley is condemned to drag his heavy iron chains for eternity, through a hell-realm of his own creation, as he now sees. We don’t need to see this as a Christian hell, though that is the era in which Dickens wrote. Nowadays, we might call it psychological hell or think about the graphic descriptions of the Tibetan hell-realms.
Jacob Marley’s hell is not divine retribution, but instead “are of their own making,” of his own manufacture.
This observation is easily associated with conditionality (“dependent origination”). Our actions DO have consequences, and it’s our responsibility to choose wisely in every moment. Thus yesterday shapes today, and who we are or choose to be today defines who we will become tomorrow.
We are setting up our own karma with each thought, word, and deed. By acting on skillful intentions, we begin to loosen our own fetters. Now.