images of Preta by Jeff Wigman
Hungry Ghosts or preta are represented as human-like beings in appearence with huge, distended but ultimately empty and echoing stomachs, unable to be filled. Their scrawny, thin necks and small, toothless mouths symbolize the cause of their unending hunger and craving and their inability to appease it through external means. Pretas can attempt to ingest those things that they crave but it never proves to be enough. Quantity isn’t a remedy. Hungry Ghosts don’t learn the lesson that Tiger Woods evidently just figured out…
“I have a lot of work to do, and I intend to dedicate myself to doing it. Part of following this path, for me, is Buddhism, which my mother taught me at a young age. People probably don’t realize it, but I was raised a Buddhist, and I actively practiced my faith from childhood until I drifted away from it in recent years. Buddhism teaches that a craving for things outside ourselves causes an unhappy and pointless search for security. It teaches me to stop following every impulse and to learn restraint. Obviously, I lost track of what I was taught. As I move forward, I will continue to receive help, because I’ve learned that that’s how people really do change.”~ from Shambhala Sunspace
Hungry Ghosts go through life looking outside itself for satisfaction when the craving is from, and can thus only be quenched from, within. Think Gollum from Lord of the Rings as the ultimate in preta-like fashion and behavior. Constantly craving and led by the ear by empty promises of happiness and comfort; cravings that eventually lead to its downfall. Slamming down religion like Budweiser or gulping down redemption like potato chips doesn’t serve to release you from cravings. The satiation is only temporary. The ego provides us with a large stomach and only a small mouth – it never fills until we look within at the ego and our self.
The process of combating mundane cravings related to external objects by us normal humans (Good ‘ol Tiger Woods would count as one) is explained by Huang Po…
When the body composed of the four elements suffers the pangs of hunger and accordingly you provide it with food, but without greed, that is called wise eating. On the other hand, if you gluttonously delight in purity and flavor, you are permitting the distinctions which arise from wrong thinking. Merely seeking to gratify the organ of taste without realizing when you have had enough is called sensual eating. ~from The Zen Teachings of Huang Po
The lesson taught by Huang Po is similar to the Oryoki practice that many Zen and Shambhala practitioners take part in. In Oryoki the “just enough” practice brings together body and mind through the application of mindfulness to the practice of eating and drinking. During the ritual, everything follows a very precise manner and sequence from the beginning to the end of the meal including an invocation at the end of the meal to appease any pretas about when disposing of the left-overs. The entire practice is an example of combating cravings and desire thus actively fighting against our own Hungry Ghosts as well as to show compassion to those overtaken by them.
Just as with meditation, this aspect of mindful eating can relate to daily tasks. Through the proper preparing and eating of our meals we create little waste and avoid the trappings of the pretas. Now, granted, believing in actual preta is like believing in demons or some such thing but whether you wish to view pretas in a literal or metaphorical sense is completely up to your own practice – The benefits and repercussions of craving are the same with or without belief.
I don’t do anything close to the intricate process described in the video (I have never cleaned my bowl with a pickle, for example). However, when we can attempt to focus on mindfulness and compassion in our daily lives and routines we, in essence, bring the Dharma and our practice closer to us and further away from the cravings and obsessions we experience everyday.
When I sit back and reflect – Both Tiger and I are Bodhisattvas shining through our faults. We are also greedy pretas despite our wisdom. We are beacons of wisdom and centers of cravings. There is no duality between our natures. As we practice we uncover our own Buddha-Nature and rely less and less upon our pretas. The cravings don’t disappear but their stomachs become smaller or do our mouths become larger?
Speaking of big mouths…there was something else I wanted to say. What was it? OhYes!
Suck it Brit Hume!