Hungry Ghostbusters

Via on Oct 24, 2010

The ceremony of Segaki is when we, as Buddhists, take time to offer compassionate respite to the restless spirits or “hungry ghosts” that surround us through the offering of chants, prayer or physical items. The Halloween season seems to provide the requisite amount of spirits, energy and atmosphere so it is as good a time as any to practice.  Also with a tidal wave of candy-snacks rolling in, perhaps feeding my pretas beforehand may lead to less gorging.

According to Buddhist myth, hungry ghosts are creatures with large distended stomachs, small mouths and pencil-thin throats that are never able to satisfy their hunger or thirst.  While these sorrowful and troublesome entities can be taken in the literal, figurative or metaphysical, I see the hungry ghost as symbolizing my own karma of the past, present and (probably) future.  Whether by hook or crook, actions taken in the past have a tenacious ability to show up again in the present.  By participating in this ceremony, I am able to engage my willingness to atone, bring resolution to and work towards a peaceful acceptance of the actions on which I stand.

What frightens me most about his time of year?  More so than ghosts, goblins, spooks, specters and naughty maids are the actions that I have taken in the past that have caused some harm to others.  But it is not a simple correspondence.  It isn’t that one foul equals one harm.  Like interest on a defaulted loan, my actions have the potential to continue to cause harm to others and to myself.  One statement or action, while fleeting in my memory, may not be so transient for someone else.  Like a worm burrowing deep into the heartwood of a tree, one time harmful actions or words are easily forgotten but continue to rot away at the substance around them.

And a hungry ghost is manifested, to forever haunt your periphery.

While hungry ghosts are considered inhabitants of one of the six realms of being; I take a more figurative approach in that each of the realms can exist at any moment.  If you take a more literal interpretation of pretas then by providing offerings and chants you can momentarily alleviate some of their hunger and thirst while at the same time manifesting generosity and kindness.  But by my understanding when driven by desire or unskillful action we take the aspect of a hungry ghost and exist for I time in their realm.  I  can move through the six realms in this very life. Hour by hour.  Moment to moment.  When I am being particularly meritorious or charitable then I exist in the realms of heaven.  When self-righteous, I manifest the realm of asuras.  When fearful or acting on instinct I enter the realm of beasts.  When vindictive and hurtful I enter hell.  But for the most part I dance in the gray of this human realm.

Hungry ghosts may be ignored and forgotten for most of the year, but this is the season to bring them out into the open.  While most of the time I do this practice in private.  My usual crew of home-practitioners (a wide array of asatuar, wicca and hindu) each provide offerings and prayers as is common in their form.  Mine follows as thus…

3 prostrations to the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Simple respect for the opening of practice.


Chant Enmei Jukku Kannon Gyo x3. For recognition of my general health and wellbeing.

Kanzeon na mu butsu
yo butsu u en
yo butsu u en bup po
so en jo raku ga jo cho nen
kanzeon bo nen
kanzeon nen nen ju shin
ki nen nen fu ri shin.

(Translation)
KANZEON! At one with the Buddha
Related to all Buddhas in cause & effect.
And to Buddha, Dharma and Sangha.
Joyful, pure, eternal being!
Morning mind is Kanzeon
Evening mind is Kanzeon
This very moment arises from Mind
This very moment is not separate from mind.

Recitation of the Gatha of Atonement x3 as, in all likelyhood, any hungry ghosts around me are due to my actions and I should take some responsibility in their creation and existance.

All evil karma ever committed by me
since of old. On account of my beginningless greed,
anger and ignorance. Born of my body, mouth and thought.
Now I atone for it all.

Recitation of Daio Kokushi’s “On Zen.” As a gentle reminder that physical desires do not lead to realization.

There is a reality even prior to heaven and earth;
Indeed, it has no form, much less a name;
Eyes fail to see it; It has no voice for ears to detect;
To call it Mind or Buddha violates its nature,
For it then becomes like a visionary flower in the air;
It is not Mind, nor Buddha;
Absolutely quiet, and yet illuminating in a mysterious way,
It allows itself to be perceived only by the clear-eyed.
It is Dharma truly beyond form and sound;
It is Tao having nothing to do with words.
Wishing to entice the blind,
The Buddha has playfully let words escape his golden mouth;
Heaven and earth are ever since filled with entangling briars.
O my good worthy friends gathered here,
If you desire to listen to the thunderous voice of the Dharma,
Exhaust your words, empty your thoughts,
For then you may come to recognize this One Essence.
Says Hui the Brother, “The Buddha’s Dharma
Is not to be given up to mere human sentiments.

Chant for the Hungry Ghosts x3 A call to offering.  Dinner is served.

Calling all you hungry ghosts
Everywhere through endless time
You who wander, hunger and thirst
I offer you this bodhi mind.

Calling all you hungry spirits
All that are lost and left behind
Calling all you hungry hearts
Everywhere through endless time
Gather round and share this meal
Your joy and your sorrow, I make it mine.

Offerings made:

  • Bundles of fragrant sticks for the fire (each provided with reflection plus one for unknown transgressions againt others).
  • A bowl of food.
  • A glass of homemade sake (as it is not fit for human consumption).

Ending Recitation of Liberation from all Obstructions

In the presence of Sangha, in the light of Dharma, in oneness with Buddha – may my path to complete enlightenment benefit everyone. In this passing moment karma ripens and all things come to be. I vow to affirm what is: If there’s cost, I choose to pay. If there’s need, I choose to give. If there’s pain, I choose to feel. If there’s sorrow, I choose to grieve. When burning, I choose heat. When calm, I choose peace. When starving, I choose hunger. When happy, I choose joy. Whom I encounter, I choose to meet. What I shoulder, I choose to bear. When it’s my birth, I choose to live. When it’s my death I choose to die. Where this takes me, I choose to go. Being with what is, I respond to what is. This life as real as a dream. the one who knows it can not be found; and the truth is not a thing, therefore I vow to choose thi Dharma entrance gate. May all Buddhas and Wise Ones help me live this vow.

Of course, afterward I plan on dressing up as Bill Schwartz and hitting the town like a wrecking ball.  As a point of caution, I am neither a wizard nor a priest so before you envoke something from the nether-realms be sure to invite a skeptic to your party…when they are around nothing supernatural happens!

Cheers!

Images are from Timothy’s Scetchpad.

About John Pappas

John Pappas is a struggling Zen practitioner with a slight Vajrayana palate (but he won't admit it) stumbling between the relative and absolute through the Buddhist Purgatory otherwise known as the Great Plains of South Dakota. Emerging writer, librarian and aspiring hungry ghost, John spews his skewed perception of the dharma all over his personal blog, Subtle Dharma Mouth Punch as well as on the ephemeral Elephant Journal and occasionally (while having no artistic ability to speak of) on Dharma/Arte. John also loves tacos, homebrew, yoginis and obscure Cthulhu references. You can follow him on twitter under the handle @zendustzendirt

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2 Responses to “Hungry Ghostbusters”

  1. elephantjournal says:

    Love the last line! Love the whole thing. Good to see you back on here. For more on Hungry Ghosts, from Trungpa Rinpoche: http://www.chronicleproject.com/stories_112.html ~ Waylon

  2. Brianna says:

    I really like this idea :) Thanks!

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