Reflections on Hungry Ghosts

Charles Chalmers reveals these restless, voracious beings

I see our loss of faith in the unseen worlds as one of the greatest difficulties that modern people face. Recently, a high-ranking official of the Catholic church publicly stated that the church council had not yet decided if there was, in fact, a God.

I believe in Africa even though I have not been there since I have no reason to disbelieve the reports of people who have been there. In the same way it is possible to believe in other things that we have not seen if we have trust in the authority of those who report their experiences. So when the Buddha teaches that we share our world with hungry ghosts and other beings, I have faith in this, and, when appropriate, I investigate for myself. It is important to understand the nature of these different beings so that we can cultivate accordingly, and at the moment of our deaths consciously choose how and where we will be reborn.

If we live a life avoiding evil and doing good, the chances are very good that we will have a positive rebirth. There are, for example, countless heavens and so the odds of being reborn into one of them are high. However if a person neglects to cultivate virtues and feels despair or hopelessness at the moment of death, they can be reborn as a hungry ghost.

Being reborn as a hungry ghost is something we should work hard to avoid. They are far less spiritually advanced than humans and are unable to find or produce any kind of nourishment for themselves. Not only are they unable to find food, they are also unable to feel a cool breeze or listen to music or see colors or communicate effectively among themselves. Their existence is one of abject misery. We have no need to fear them, and should rather do ou r best to help them.

One way to help hungry ghosts is to recite sutras, chant mantras, or read from any Holy books. The vibrations resulting from such deeds will be felt by the ghosts and will benefit them. This practice is, in fact, a very effective and compassionate form of spiritual charity, which you may find brings you great joy,

The other evening, after saying my evening prayers, I sent my blessing to the hungry ghosts. Immediately I felt that they had received my energy. The result was that they all began weeping. They were like a sea of clay figures whose mud was being washed away by their tears. I understood that one of the reasons that they couldn't eat was that they were already too full, and that the task that they face is that of spiritual cleansing. If you need a way to conceptualize hungry ghosts, imagine them as luminous pearls that have been completely encrusted in layers and layers of dirt.

Despite the knowledge of their profound suffering we should not become disheartened by the existence of hungry ghosts. We should instead be happy that we are able to find exhilaration, joy and even bliss. Happiness is our natural state of being and we should enjoy our lives, for if we are ourselves unhappy and suffering we will be unable to help those who need it.

Donít spend too much meditating on hungry ghosts. Certainly, there are many questions that we might formulate, but this is not a healthy curiosity. It is far better to turn our minds to celestial beings, Boddhisatvas or Buddhas, who will tell you clearly that it is a great gift and a marvelous opportunity to be alive, as you are.

Charles Chalmers practises the Shaolin Arts under Grandmaster Truong Van Bao and Grandmaster Wong Kiew Kit. He graduated from the University of Victoria and has studied at Kwantlen College. His publications include a maxi-chapbook, abed, (Intrepid Tourist Press) and Walkups (Conundrum), with Lance Blomgren. His work has previously appeared in ascent, filling station, and Matrix.

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