A Hare Krishna Christmas by Sankirtana Das

8333355270?profile=RESIZE_400xThis year is an unusual year. One of its many unusual features is that Christmas and Gita Jayanti, the speaking of Bhagavad-Gita (The Song of God), are celebrated on the same day. This is a special opportunity to connect East and West.

The Gita, India’s endearing holy book, is 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, overtaken by greed, 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 relationship with the Supreme Lord than in 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 so before this holy day in 1843. The book became an instant classic. Its first run of 6000 copies 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 Sanskirt 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.

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. Now he came before Scrooge bound in heavy chains. These chains represent Marley’s karma, his attachments and misdeeds. And he’s come to warn Scrooge.

He 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 then 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 awareness. 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 the other, 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 that even though the body dies, our real self, the atma or spirit-soul, is eternal and indestructible.

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, Every One!”

A Christmas Carol and the Bhagavad-Gita both urge us to remain always joyful, equipoised, and kind to all, to become free from karmic reactions, to give up our mind’s tendency to constantly hanker and lament, and to transcend even the endless cycle of birth and death. But only one of these books provide us with the complete process.

Spiritual realization calls for action, for a change. In the Gita, Arjuna’s illusions are dispelled by Krishna. 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. And Krishna explains the essence of bhakti yoga, selfless service – “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me” (9:27).

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 as well as to the Lord’s multifarious expansions. Bhakti yoga is the predominate 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” (18:65).

During this Christmas season, and this 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.”

And so my friends, in my closing here, I wish a Merry Christmas to you and a Hare Krishna to all the world.

Sankirtana Das is a longtime resident of New Vrindaban and an award-winning author and storyteller. For many years his solo performance of Scrooge was part of his repertoire to schools, libraries and churches. He recently published Hanuman’s Quest, acclaimed by scholars and authors. For more info about his work see www.Mahabharata-Project.com

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of ISKCON Desire Tree | IDT to add comments!

Join ISKCON Desire Tree | IDT