I was pleasantly surprised to see a recent article on ISKCON News: “Christmas Drama Has Audience Enthralled.” I understood immediately that the Bhaktivedanta Players wanted to bring the sacred elements from the East and the West together in their performance from the East The Bhagavad Gita,and A Christmas Carol from the West. I understood because these texts also hold a special connection for me. I’ve offered performances based on them, playing the roles of Arjuna and Ebenezer Scrooge respectively. And both texts embody very powerful and similar lessons.
Bhagavad Gita, India’s endearing holy book, was spoken 5000 years ago by the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna to the warrior prince Arjuna right before the great battle at Kurushetra in northern India. Arjuna is hesitant to fight. On the other side of the battlefield, his cousins, consumed by greed and power, are ready to kill him and his brothers for the kingdom. In his great compassion, Arjuna is very saddened. Why does it have to come to this? His famed Gandiva bow slips from his hands. He is ready to turn away from the battlefield and let his wicked cousins have whatever they want. Krishna takes this opportunity to teach Arjuna the science of self-realization. Nowhere is there a more lucid and comprehensive description of how to approach and understand our responsibilities in the world and our relationship with God than on the pages of Bhagavad Gita.
In the West, one of the most endearing expressions of Christmas is A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, published a week or two before this holy day in 1843. The book became an instant classic. Its first run of 6000 copies were sold out before Christmas. I don’t know if Dickens was aware that many of the book’s essential elements harken back to the principles of Sanatana Dharma, found in the Vedic literatures. The ironic part is, at the time of the book’s publication, the British in India were busy undermining Vedic culture along with its Sanskrit literatures.
But Krishna is the supreme trickster and mystic, and these same universal principles of His Bhagavad Gita (karma, selfless service, eternal joy, and conquering death) could not be suppressed in India by any means. And, by Krishna’s arrangement, they even found their way into the pages of A Christmas Carol. The book is still revered today by readers all over the world and has been made into numerous films. On the live stage, it is one of the most often performed plays, and now, even adapted by the Bhaktivedanta Players.
Dickens’ story takes place on Christmas Eve. The book opens with the proclamation that Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s business partner, was dead. Dickens is emphatic: “Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail.” Scrooge lived a lonely and miserly existence. So later, in his dreary quarters, we’re not too surprised that Scrooge is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley. Marley had died seven years earlier. On Christmas Eve, in fact, and he now came before Scrooge bound in heavy chains.
The chains represent Marley’s karma, his attachments, and misdeeds. And he’s come to warn Scrooge. Marley tells him, “I forged these chains in my life, I made them link by link, and of my own free will I wore them.” The ghost reveals something else to Scrooge. “Your chains are much heavier and longer than mine. Yours is a ponderous chain!”
The ghost becomes restless, saying, “I cannot linger anywhere. In life, my spirit never roamed beyond the narrow limits of our money-changing hole; but now, weary journeys lie before me! . . . No rest, no peace. I could have been kinder. I am tormented by the regret of life’s opportunities misused.“
Before he leaves, Marley offers Scrooge a ray of hope. “You will be visited by three spirits. Without their guidance, you cannot shun the path I tread.” And with those words, the ghost flies out the window and disappears into the dead of night.
And so the spirits show up, one after another. They guide Scrooge in his journey toward redemption. The first, the Ghost of Christmas Past. The second, the Ghost of Christmas Present. The last, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. This last spirit is covered in black. He speaks not a word. He only points, with a boney hand, in one direction and then another, beckoning Scrooge to follow. Finally, the spirit brings Scrooge to a lonely graveyard. Scrooge becomes fearful when he is shown his own grave. We all require guides to help us in our life’s journey. None of the spirits, however, teach Scrooge the first lesson in spiritual life. This is explained early on in the Bhagavad Gita; that even though the body dies, our real self, the atma or spirit-soul, is eternal and indestructible and joyful.
Our story, which began with the mention of Marley’s death, seems to finish with Scrooge contemplating his own demise. But then, Scrooge suddenly wakes up to a bright Christmas morning. Resurrected, Scrooge jumps up, dances for joy, and throws open the shutters of his bedroom, eager to embrace the day.
From the three spirits, Scrooge learns a deceptively simple lesson. Our time and our wealth are not for our own enjoyment but are meant to be used to help others. And from that time forth, Scrooge transforms from selfish to kindhearted; from mean-spirited to a lover of people and life. He becomes a good friend, a good master, and a good man. And as Tiny Tim observes in the book’s end, “God bless us, everyone!”
A Christmas Carol and the Bhagavad-Gita both urge us to remain always joyful, equipoised in the midst of difficulty, and to be a kind friend to all. In their own ways, they tell us to become free from karmic reactions, to give up the mind’s constant fluctuations of hankering and lamentation, and to transcend even the endless cycle of birth and death. But only one of these books provides us with the complete process.
Spiritual realization calls for action, for a change. And yes, in the texts, both Arjuna and Ebenezer are transformed. To one degree or other, their illusions are dispelled. Ebenezer is prepared to give up his wealth to help others. Arjuna picks up his mighty bow and prepares for battle. You can’t become self-realized and do nothing. Dag Hammarskjold fittingly writes, “In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.”
The sages of the world’s religions remind us to think and act for the welfare of others. The sages of India offer a blessing: sarve sukhino bhavantu – May all beings be happy. But more so, Krishna explains the essence of bhakti yoga, selfless service, which is the very source of our happiness. “O son of Kuntī (Arjuna), all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.”(Gita 9:27).
Krishna reveals who He is: “Know that all beautiful, glorious, and mighty creations spring from but a spark of My splendor.” (Gita 10:41). As well as in other places, including, “I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Gita 15:15)
In the Gita, Krishna takes the connection of service and redemption, as expounded in A Christmas Carol, to it’s logical conclusion in the form of bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is an act of defiance against the onslaughts of the material world. Bhakti yoga is the act of rendering loving service to the Supreme Lord. Bhakti yoga is the predominant theme of the Gita. Krishna sums up His teaching, “Always think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this because you are My very dear friend” (Gita 18:65).
During this Christmas season (and this continued season of Covid 19), it’s a valuable, joyous, and liberating lesson. Krishna tells us that by studying the sacred conversation of the Gita we can draw closer to Him. And we also have Sanjaya’s epiphany with his closing words in the Bhagavad-Gita: “Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality. That is my opinion.” (Gita 18:78)
And so my friends, in closing, I wish you Merry Christmas and a Hare Krishna to all the world.
Sankirtana Das is a longtime resident of New Vrindaban and an award-winning author and storyteller. Years ago, he and Lokamangala developed a two-man Mahabharata drama which they performed Off-Broadway in NYC and toured to colleges and temples. Sankirtana Das also developed a solo performance of Ebenezer Scrooge which was part of his repertoire to schools, libraries, and churches. His most recent book, Hanuman’s Quest, is acclaimed by scholars and has received a Storytelling World Resource Honors. For more info about his work see www.Mahabharata-Project.com
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