Hungry Ghosts

Sitting in view of a spectacular mountain, sipping coffee, I find my mind wandering to things I want. How is that possible? How could I be dissatisfied in this moment, in this place?

Let me share some thoughts inspired by Jessica Semaan’s article “The Hungry Ghost and Always Wanting More.

Buddhists often leave food on an altar outside as an offering to what they refer to as hungry ghosts. According to the article, in Buddhist teachings, “hungry ghosts are unable to take in or assimilate what they desperately need. The problem lies in their constricted throats — which cannot open for nourishment. They wander aimlessly in search of relief that is not forthcoming.”

I think we are all visited by hungry ghosts at times, like when I am with family and friends and find myself wanting them to be different (usually in terms of being “better”). Or when I find it hard to accept that what I have is enough, and I should be grateful for it. These ghosts also visit when what I have achieved or acquired is still new, and yet I am thinking about what comes next.

Sometimes we let hungry ghosts overstay, and they take over our home.

The hungry ghost is a normal manifestation of a mind that seeks survival and is inundated with a culture of consumption and comparison. It can never be satisfied. We can feed this ghost, but it will never be enough. In my effort to fill its belly, the food in my own mouth turns sour.

So I ask myself, “Do I have what I need right now?”

I do. I have more than I need. Focusing on this thought, a wave of gratitude washes over me. The hungry ghost moves on. I know he will return with an always-empty stomach. I will acknowledge him but not let him turn my home into his.