Hungry Ghost (Preta):
Characterized by – Greed; Insatiable cravings; Addictions.
“I want this, I need this, I must have this”.
This is the realm of intense craving. The Hungry Ghosts are shown with enormous stomachs and tiny necks – they want to eat, but cannot swallow; when they try to drink, the liquid turns to fire, intensifying their thirst. The torture of the hungry ghost is not so much the frustration of not being able to get what he wants, rather it is his clinging to those things he mistakenly thinks will bring satisfaction and relief.
The Buddha, in this Realm, holds a bowl from which the ‘gifts of the gods’ are distributed. This is to entice the hungry ghosts to desire for the Truth which is the only way that the deepest longings and hungers can be satisfied. And unlike ghosts and demons described in other religious traditions, the Pretas found in Buddhism are generally not seen as frightening or malevolent spirits. Rather Buddhists often feel pity for these beings and try to help them by offering them food on special festival days in some cultures.
Now I am not saying that I believe in other realms, spirits or demons. But I also know that I could not possibly deny the potential for their existence.
Personally, when I read stories that include such things, I see them as parables which hold a powerful message that applies to this life.
When I look at this example of a “Hungry Ghost”, I try to do a little self-examination. Call it a “spiritual check-up” if you like.
Am I truly being mindful and selfless in my daily life. Have I got so much already in my life, yet dream or yearn for even more? Am I genuinely charitable and compassionate towards others, or do I give minimally just to give the appearance of generosity?
Do all of us sometimes fool ourselves into thinking we are something we are not?
I guess it’s like the rappers say nowadays, “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.
Because I think a critically important component is that our practice needs to involve self-awareness and examination. Yes we should accept and love ourselves, but with honesty and sincerity. And if you see that you are not the genuine and Noble friend that you present yourself as, than accept that and be mindful.
The greatest of who we are is yet to be revealed. And I strongly feel that this is accomplished, in no small part, with loving kindness towards the self.
Nourishing your own goodness and compassionate nature is to plant the seeds of love within your heart.
This life or next life, the choice is yours. Nothing remains the same, and it is truly by our own actions and intentions that we become who we are.
For both of us, I hope it is not a “Hungry Ghost”!
May you be well, happy and peaceful