The Hungry Ghosts Inside Us (Buddhism)

Published in Science, Spirituality on 9th December 2018
The Hungry Ghosts Inside Us (Buddhism)

Hungry ghost is a concept in Chinese Buddhism and Chinese traditional religion representing beings who are driven by intense emotional needs in an animalistic way. The term 餓鬼 èguǐ, literally “hungry ghost“, is the Chinese translation of the term preta in Buddhism. “Hungry ghosts” play a role in Chinese Buddhism and Taoism as well as in Chinese folk religion. The term is not to be confused with the generic term for “ghost“, guǐ (i.e. the spirit of a deceased ancestor). The understanding is that all people become such a regular ghost when they die,[1] and would then slowly weaken and eventually die a second time.[2][3] Hungry ghosts, by contrast, are a much more exceptional case, and would only occur in very unfortunate circumstances, such as if a whole family were killed or when a family no longer venerated their ancestors.[3]

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With the rise in popularity of Buddhism, the idea became popular that souls would live in space until reincarnation.[3] In the Taoist tradition it is believed that hungry ghosts can arise from people whose deaths have been violent or unhappy. Both Buddhism[3] and Taoism[4] share the idea that hungry ghosts can emerge from neglect or desertion of ancestors. According to the Hua-yen Sutra evil deeds will cause a soul to be reborn in one of six different realms.[5] The highest degree of evil deed will cause a soul to be reborn as a denizen of hell, a lower degree of evil will cause a soul to be reborn as an animal, and the lowest degree will cause a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost.[6] According to the tradition, evil deeds that lead to becoming a hungry ghost are killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. Desire, greed, anger and ignorance are all factors in causing a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost because they are motives for people to perform evil deeds.[1]

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