My teaching is over for the summer and it's time to return my attention to yoga studies. I'm a student again and it feels good. (I'm always a student, but sometimes, I wear a teacher's hat.) I've been spinning and reading and thinking about yoga matters; I'm all over the map today. So, all over the map is where I'll go-for some reason, I've been thinking about Hungry Ghosts, how they affect me and how I can move away from being one.
The Hungry Ghost is a Buddhist concept which, in Western terms, is often used to illustrate an insatiable appetite for possessions and worldly pursuits. Hungry Ghosts are described as having huge stomachs, long narrow necks, tiny mouths and grasping hands. No matter how much nourishment they obtain, it is never enough. They consume and consume and consume, never soothing their appetites. Because they are consumed by consuming, they constantly look ahead for the next thing which might satiate those voracious appetites. The result is that they miss the opportunities they have Now.
I was fascinated by the Hungry Ghost image from the moment I first heard of it. The parallels to our capitalistic, consumer-driven culture seemed obvious and I could see how such Ghosts exists in many, many people. More importantly, I recognized that Hungry Ghost in me and began to study it.
Some years after my Hungry Ghost manifested itself, Colin mentioned a book in one of his yoga classes. That book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism, shook my world. I discovered that, not only could we become possessed by objects we purchase, we can become consumed by our intellectual and spiritual pursuits. The search for our deeper spiritual self can become just another adventure in shopping around, another possession to add to our collection, if we look for a reward or specific result to our seeking.
Our society is run by Hungry Ghosts. We are encouraged to always want more, to be in search of the next big thing, to stuff ourselves with food, haunt the clothing racks, build big, big houses, drive big, big cars, to grasp, to cling. We look down on those without money; if we have money, it's never enough. Anything without monetary value, anything given away must be worthless. If you need something, but don't have the coins to buy it or if you choose to hand over the goods without taking the coins, you must be doing something wrong.
Our Hungry Ghosts can become Zombies, attempting to nourish themselves by destroying others. Zombie Ghosts bring a lot of pain, to the people around them and to themselves. They climb up the ladder on the backs of others, consuming everything around them as they go. Zombie Ghosts may reach the top of that ladder, only to wonder why the view from the summit is not high enough. Worse yet, they find themselves isolated and lonely and still not satisfied. At that point, the only way out is down, which can be a very bumpy ride.
I am as deeply consumed by my Ghost as the next person. (Just ask me about haunting the vendors at Fibre Week!) I want things and sometimes, I get things, and then I want more. I'm especially driven by spiritual spirits-the ghosts which push me towards a deeper Self. I read and I study and I practice. I still don't get It, so I look for more. This led to a rude awakening several years ago, when the things I thought would protect me, the practices I'd followed since I was a girl, were of no help when my world came crashing down. The resulting mindful slap upside my head forced me to rethink everything I'd ever wanted or believed to be true.
If you're chased by a Holy Ghost, or have become one, in your material or spiritual world, there's no need to beat yourself up or cast aside the things and practices which are dear to you. But, sometimes, if it seems that what you're doing and how you're doing it are not working, if the stuff you have or the things you seek are not giving you satisfaction, you may want to glance over your shoulder. There may be a Hungry Ghost hovering nearby. Take the time to examine how you might truly soothe her, before she becomes a Zombie.