A Buddhist Carol
Keeling, Paul M., Buddhist-Christian Studies
I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future! The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me.
--Scrooge on Christmas Day
To the Buddhas of the past, present and all future time ... I will prostrate and bow.
Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol is one of the greatest tales of human redemption known in the Western world. As a child I heard it read aloud every Christmas, and there was always a thrilling magic to rehearing the story of Scrooge's moving spiritual transformation. Yet, the story raises an important spiritual question: Scrooge is a new man on Christmas day, but what about after that? We often vow to be better people and fail. Why is this? A Christmas Carol is, of course, pure fantasy--a deeply heartwarming fantasy that bears repeated hearings--but it nonetheless does raise a real question about how spiritual enlightenment is actually achieved.
I still appreciate A Christmas Carol as much as I did when I was a child, but as I have grown older, and after having encountered Buddhist philosophy, I have also begun to contemplate the story of Scrooge's spiritual transformation in a new light. The Buddhist notion of karma entails that, even if we are deeply moved now to change our ways for the better, the unexamined patterns of thought that underpinned our past actions retain a latent force in our mind stream that can influence us unexpectedly. If we are not observant of these patterns of thought, we are likely to repeat the kinds of actions we have performed in the past. Because the force of karma can be very strong, "overnight" spiritual and moral transformations are comparatively rare. On a Buddhist reading, the end of A Christmas Carol is where the spiritual journey for Scrooge actually begins.
This underestimation of the force of karma on Dickens's part was, of course, a necessary case of artistic license, but is somewhat conspicuous given that a realization of the …
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Publication information: Article title: A Buddhist Carol. Contributors: Keeling, Paul M. - Author. Journal title: Buddhist-Christian Studies. Volume: 31. Publication date: Annual 2011. Page number: 25+. © 2008 University of Hawaii Press. COPYRIGHT 2011 Gale Group.
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