Jacob Marley’s Dharma talk on Generosity

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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 Mahttps://i0.wp.com/1165zu1detk02ou3wq2bi99o.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/uploads/jacob-marley.jpgrley 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

https://i0.wp.com/michaelmay.us/10blog/06/0614-unclescrooge.jpgScrooge’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.

A Christmas Carol — the characters

https://dc-cdn.s3-ap-southeast-1.amazonaws.com/dc-Cover-e0ihugrj1lj74hlv8s6cu95ph7-20160305113317.Medi.jpegA Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens will soon be coming to a stage near you, and i highly recommend going to see this Buddhist parable. A few years ago, i thought, Oh, no. Not Christmas Carol again. But our local theater company delightfully reworks this old chestnut every year, bringing more and deeper meaning to it.

To set the stage, so to speak, let’s first glance at the characters. The familiar Scrooge, who in modern-day parlance, represents the “Screw you” approach to life. Scrooge is a stingy man who worships the god of gold. His first name Ebenezer alerts us to the plot because Ebenezer means “stone of help.” Ebenezer Scrooge is a stone who, eventually, does help those around him.

Scrooge’s nephew is named Fred. If we trace Fred’s name back to the German Friedrich, we can easily see that Fred is a peaceful man (Fried). The -rich of Friedric harks back to the German word for ruler. (Think: Reich.) Eventually, Fred’s heartful attitude does come to rule even old Uncle Scrooge.

Tiny Tim lives up to his name, which means “honoring God,” when he utters the closing words of the play “God bless us, every one.”

Big Rocks

Have you heard the story about the meditator who goes to talk with her Zen master and says, “I just can’t find the time to meditate.”

The master takes a large jar and fills it with big rocks. “Can i put any more in?” he asks.

“No,” she says.

He takes a handful of gravel and sifts it down between the rocks. “Can i put any more in?”

“No?” she says doubtfully.

He takes a handful of sand and sifts it down between the rocks and the gravel. “Can i put any more in?”

“No,” she says.

He fills the jar with water. “What’s the lesson here?” he asks.

“Well,” she sighs. “I can always fit in one more thing.”

“No,” he says. “Put the big rocks in first.”

What are your big rocks? My big rock is going on retreat. As i approach the end of the year, i’ve just scheduled my retreats for the coming year–3 in March, 1 in May, 2 in July, 1 in September, and 1 in November. Now that that’s settled, i can schedule other important things, like going on vacation with my sweetie, and staying home in April and May (mostly) to garden.

Life will fill up any remaining spaces.

What are your big rocks?

101 Dalmations

I recently did a five-day study retreat with Culadasa, author of The Mind Illuminated. His very specific meditation instructions reflect his former career as a neuroscientist.

He points out that the five sense doors—seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, and tasting—do not communicate with ea34232314ch other, and are only known to each other through the clearinghouse of the conscious mind. Likewise, the unconscious mind, and there are many, many of them, do not communicate with each other.

When I am teaching introductory meditation, I often use the example of the puppy mind. “The puppy mind wanders away.” Our teachers often say “the monkey mind,” but we don’t live in a culture that knows much about monkeys. We think of them as cute rascals, but people in the tropics know them to also be destructive vandals. In this culture, we do know about puppies, so I find “the puppy mind” to be a clearer image, one that opens our hearts to our own self-judgments.

After listening to Culadasa, I realize that it’s not simply “the puppy mind.” There are 101 Dalmations in there! Ninety-nine may be cavorting around. Maybe one is snoozing. But when you catch one puppy fetching mindfulness back to your conscious mind, you want to reward it. Good puppy-mind. Never mind those hundred other wandering puppy-thoughts.

We are training one puppy mind at a time with intention. We start with the intention of mindfulness, and take time to savor and be glad that at least one puppy fetched us back to consciousness.

Pure Pesto

PestoI made almost a gallon of parsley pesto and stored it in half pint containers. That means I have a dozen containers in the freezer, which translates into a dozen meals of parsley pesto pasta this winter.

Parsley pesto–just the paste of parsley plus olive oil that comes out of the food processor–is so green. It’s St. Patrick’s Day green. In contrast to basil pesto, which turns brownish-green when it comes in contact with the air. (i.e., almost immediately). Parsley pesto loses its strong parsley flavor and fades into the background, mixing very comfortably with garlic and Parmesan.

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Living History

Flying across the Pacific Ocean, on our way to Burma, the 3 of us were reading like fiends.

One advantage of traveling with 2 other people is that they bring different books than i do. As soon as i’ve finished a book, i pawn it off on them. Of course, when they finish a book, they offer it to me with a gleam in their eye.

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Homestay in Yangon

When we arrived in Yangon, our friend Pwint was at the airport to meet us. She had brought her nephew who hauled our big suitcases into a van and then drove us to Pwint’s condo. For the past few years, i have addressed Christmas cards to Pyay Gardens in Yangon, and now i got to see the address in the flesh: 3 yellow 5-story buildings across the street from the Insein General Hospital.

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Trimming Fingernails in Vientiane

After i’d been traveling for two-and-a-half weeks, i really needed to have my fingernails cut, so i walked a couple of blocks in Vientiane, Laos into the nearest hairstylist. She did my fingernails and cfingernails mommosttraveled.comleaned up my feet, which had been in flip-flops for 16 hours a day. Those lavender flip-flops were already brown with dust, so perhaps you can imagine my feet.

The Vientiane hairstylist had lived in Philadelphia for 7 years, so she told me all about the politics of her country (sound familiar?), but more particularly about China. “How can a country like that become powerful? The way it treats its people!”

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