Hungry Ghosts and the food of compassion

Introduced in the eighth century and spread during the thirteenth century, esoteric Buddhist priests emphasized spells as the way to feed hungry ghosts. This tradition builds on the story of another of the Buddha’s disciplines, Ananda, who was confronted by a Hungry Ghost who warned him that if he didn’t find a way to feed all hungry ghosts, he too would become one within three days. The Buddha comforts his terrified disciple with a series of spells that expand a food offering to become big enough to satisfy all the hungry ghosts and release them from suffering.

In the Zen Peacemakers, we do both: recite Sanskrit spells and provide food for hungry people in our community. We prepare a food offering and use ancient spells to invite the hungry ghosts into the room and make the food big enough to feed them. We look inside of ourselves and call forth the awakened parts of each of us. We ask how we can make our service to the world big enough to feed as many unmet needs as possible in ourselves and in others.

I had a deep experience of seeing that we are all hungry ghosts: the homeless person on the street, the banker who never has enough money, the jealous spouse. When we bear witness at Auschwitz, we remember the Jews deprived of family, liberty and life and Germans desperately caught up in a cesspool of dehumanization. All hungry ghosts. I felt that the hungry ghosts are me and I vowed to feed as much hunger as possible. [Bernie Glasman via HuffPo]

When you meet a hungry ghost on the road, feed it.  If you meet a Buddha on the road accept the food he provides because he recognizes the hungry ghost in you.  Recognizing and alleviating the pangs of a hungry ghost is a manifestation of compassion.  When you feed a hungry ghost [provide an act of compassion]; your ghosts become satiated.


image via Jeff Wigman