What are hungry ghosts?
Hungry Ghosts are found within various Buddhist teachings, representing a condition or realm that people may find themselves in after they die. Also known as, "preta" in Sanskrit, a hungry ghost is often depicted in Tibetan Buddhism as having large, empty bellies with thin necks and small mouths. An obvious metaphor, depictions of hungry ghosts illustrate the idea that human beings can be consumed by desires such as greed, envy, obsession and addiction, all of which never satisfy. In other words, the stomach always hungers but is not satisfied. This is the meaning behind the portrayal of people after death as sometimes becoming "hungry ghosts."
The Condition of Hungry Ghosts
It is believed that hungry ghosts will continue to strive for satisfaction until they learn to leave their earthly desires behind. It is only then that they can be healed of their hunger for physical desires that are no longer able to be satisfied. Because of the hungry ghosts' strong connection to the past, they are unable to live in the present moment, according to the basic psychology of Buddhism. As a tradition, some Buddhists still offer food on altars for the hungry ghosts that may come to them for help.
Other Religious Beliefs About Hungry Ghosts
Interestingly in Taoism, hungry ghosts seek physical desires from the living but especially drain energy from people who fear them. This idea about ghosts is often shared today by many paranormal investigators who believe the presence of ghosts around people can be draining, even to the point of causing physical ailment. In Taoism, the hungry ghost is usually appeased by chants and food offerings in the hope that the spirit will have what it needs to move forward in the life-journey.
Hungry Ghosts are also found within Chinese festivals, especially in ancestor worship. Asian festivals that commemorate and honor hungry ghosts also feature food and drink offerings as well as pleasurable entertainment for the lost spirits. It is believed that the hungry ghosts of ancestors return to their relatives' homes once a year to eat and drink. In China, ancient ancestor worship was eventually combined with the Hindu/Buddhist belief in hungry ghosts. Hinduism, from which Buddhism sprang, teaches that hungry ghosts are spirits driven by passion for certain objects of the spirits' desires.
Conclusions Drawn From Teachings About Hungry Ghosts
Modern day ghost investigators know that ghosts often make their presence known in order to receive help. Ghosts are people who are temporarily lost in this world. Very similar to the descriptions of hungry ghosts, human spirits often want our help in order to find peace. It is right that we acknowledge them, seeking to assist them onward in their journey. Just like the teachings about hungry ghosts, many specters are mentally held captive by their own mind's desire and strong connection with the past. Such ghosts are often unable to easily find freedom in the present moment. The sooner we recognize our connection with this sometimes forgotten piece of humanity, the sooner their suffering may end...
Learn more about how to communicate with ghosts by visiting Helping Ghosts.