The Ghost of Christmas Past Ghost of Christmas Past shows Scrooge memories of his childhood and as a young man. Scrooge loved his sister (the mother of his nephew Fred). He loved a young woman, Belle, who rejected him when she realized that money was more important to him than she was. He loved his employer, Mr. Fezziwig, from whom he inherited his business.
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Jacob Marley’s Dharma talk on Generosity

Before we move on the the Ghost of Christmas Past, i want to highlight Jacob Marley’s Dharma talk on generosity.

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!”

Nowadays, social media has the effect of selfing. We want our “self” to look good to the world. As one techie told me,

Facebook—Who I am.

LinkedIn—Who I am professionally.

Twitter—Who I am right now.

Pinterest—Who I want to be.

Google Plus—What I think.

Instagram—Romancing my life. How I want to be perceived and received by the world.

Throwing off the shackles, the fetters of cyberspace is not easy. In our heart of hearts, however, we are indeed interested in the greater good. And Jacob Marley eloquently states the conundrum we still find ourselves in, 175 years after Dickens published this timeless story.

Today, we use a different vocabulary than Marley’s charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence. We might say generosity, compassion, patience, and kindness. These are the true qualities our heart aspires to. These are qualities that we seldom exercise when we are in cyberspace.

Look someone in the eye today. Make a note of the negative judgments, the assumptions you are making about this person. Instead, look for the good in them, and in everyone you meet today.

Let me know what you find.

Christmas Carol Dharma–The Fetters

Scrooge goes to his cold bed, but is awakened by the vision of his business partner, Jacob Ma 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

8.  conceit

9.  restlessness

10. ignorance

“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.

A Christmas Carol Dharma Talk’s nephew Fred gives Scrooge and us, the audience, a lovely Dharma talk on generosity when he says:

But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time…. as a good time;

a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time:

the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year,

when men and women seem by one consent

to open their shut-up hearts freely,

and to think of people below them

as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave,

and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys.

And therefore, uncle,

though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket,

I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good;

and I say, God bless it!”

Compare Fred’s sentiment to something the Buddha said.

“Think not lightly of goodness,
It will not come back to me’,
for by the falling of water drops
a jar is filled.
The wise fill themselves with goodness,
as they soak it up little by little.”

We are not talking here about being good, but about doing good in hundreds of tiny ways as we go about our daily life. The Metta Sutta on Loving-Kindness begins with a list of skills to engender our own goodness. Yes, skills. Goodness is a skill that we can learn. Here’s the list of skills that we can develop.

This is what should be done

By one who is skilled in goodness,

And who seeks the path of peace:

Let them be able and upright,

Straightforward and gentle in speech,

Humble and not conceited,

Contented and easily satisfied,

Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.

Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,

Not proud or demanding in nature.

Let them not do the slightest thing

That the wise would later reprove.

Wishing: In gladness and in safety,

May all beings be at ease.

Choose just one of these skills–or sometimes i will take a pair–and contemplate them throughout the day.

Drop by drop, moment by moment, we re-wire our own neural networks with goodness.