The Little-Known Buddhist Realm Of Hungry Ghosts
In Buddhist cosmology, there are six realms. The mandala, or the Buddhist wheel of life, goes through each of them. One of them is the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. It’s a description, really, of us in this state. It’s supposed to reflect human characteristics.
This realm just happens to have beings depicted in it that are shown as having narrow necks so that no food can pass through and huge bellies to house all that desire. These creatures are really reflecting an endless desire for satisfaction and inability to be satisfied. It’s an exaggerated version of human craving. Picture that gnawing sensation, when you’re really desiring for something. It makes your fists clench and that clenching sensation is sent through your entire body. The desire is a desperate feeling as if you’ll lose it without having the object of your affection. It could be alcohol, food, people, or more. These are our attachments and addictions.
Due to this craving, we all move through life as if something’s missing. We live with a gnawing dissatisfaction. A disappointment that our lives aren’t turning out the way we wanted. There’s a sense of never arriving. We’re on our way somewhere, but we never get there. It’s often referred to in addiction circles as the hole in the soul. This hole is endless, so we spend our entire lives trying to fill it to varying degrees. Addicts aren’t the only ones who experience this though, as we all do on some level. Living in that chronic sense of “something is missing” and “I need something more to be okay,” we reach for our vices. Whatever those vices, they keep us from living a full life.
What to Do with Craving
Although we may never be able to arrest the craving, it’s possible to work with it. We can start by acknowledging that to some degree, our actions are very normal. It’s the human condition to yearn for things. Desire is even natural to procreate and to live on this planet.
We have to accept that we’re going to have a desire that goes awry. We all have hungry ghosts in us for different reasons, but it generally boils down to what we have not being enough. So, next, we must acknowledge the first noble truth: there is suffering in this life. We’re going to crave and it’s okay. It doesn’t make us bad or messed up. It’s the experience we’re supposed to be having at this time. Just having awareness of our condition makes the ghosts lose some of their power.
I don’t have a magic solution for you. Rather, it’s a whole lot of noticing. Take notice when your hands are clenched tight. See when the desire is strong. Look at where the tension lies in your body. Give your ghosts some serious attention and watch them shrink down. They’ll never fully go away. You’re stuck with their big bellies and narrow necks, but you’re certainly able to find some peace if you practice awareness.
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