Ignorance and Want

From the foldings of its robe, the Ghost of Christmas Present brought two children;
wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, miserable. They knelt down at its feet, and clung upon the outside of its garment.

‘Oh, Man. look here. Look, look, down here.’ exclaimed the Ghost.

They were a boy and a girl. Yellow, meagre, ragged, scowling, wolfish; but prostrate, too, in their humility. Where graceful youth should have filled their features out, and
touched them with its freshest tints, a stale and shrivelled hand, like that of age, had pinched, and twisted them, and pulled them into shreds. Where angels might have sat enthroned, devils lurked, and glared out menacing. No change, no degradation, no perversion of humanity, in any grade, through all the mysteries of wonderful creation, has monsters half so horrible and dread.

‘Spirit. are they yours?’ Scrooge could say no more.

‘They are Man’s,’ said the Spirit, looking down upon them. ‘And they cling to me, appealing from their fathers.
This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased. Deny it.’ cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the city. ‘Slander those who tell it ye. Admit it for your factious purposes, and make it worse. And abide the end.’

‘Have they no refuge or resource.’ cried Scrooge.

‘Are there no prisons.’ said the Spirit, turning on him for the last time with his own words. ‘Are there no workhouses.'”

The children—by this time we might suspect they represent Scrooge’s inner child—are aptly named Ignorance and Want. I am astounded that in 1843 Charles Dickens could so precisely point his finger at the two points that keep the wheel of samsara turning. Ignorance is where the 12 links of Dependent Origination begin turning the wheel. Want, or the more familiar term, Craving, the seventh of the 12 links, is where samsara gets traction and cements our bad habits.

The first translation of Buddhist texts into English was a minor event in 1844 that disappeared with a burp. The true “first” translation was the Dhammapada in 1869 and other texts in the 1880s.

This entry was posted in DHARMA REFLECTIONS on by .

About cherylwilfong

Cheryl Wilfong teaches mindfulness meditation at Vermont Insight Meditation Center when she isn’t rearranging one of her 28 flower beds or tending her out-of-control vegetable garden. Master Gardener and mistress of metaphor, she delivers the Dharma into daily life in the garden.

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