Hungry ghosts can’t get enough satisfaction
In the Buddhist psychology, there are a number of realms that all beings cycle through.
- One is the human realm, which can be described as our ordinary selves.
- The second is the hell realm, which contains unbearable rage, fear, and terror; it contains emotions that are difficult to handle.
- The third is the animal realm, which is related to our instincts.
In the hungry ghost realm, the creatures are depicted with large empty bellies, small scrawny thin necks. They can never get enough satisfaction. They are always hungry, always empty, always seeking satisfaction from the outside. This speaks to the part of us, isn’t it?
Just watch the desire in your own mind. It’s always looking for something. There’s a kind of restlessness such that when you’re frightened, you look for something certain; and you don’t know what to do, you feel this momentum of desire that looks for anything to do – eat, smoke cigarettes, read books, watch televisions, look around for this and that.
This is just a force of habit.
When you are not mindful, and when you are not wise, you become easily pulled into these things. When you lead life heedlessly, when you lead our lives without any kind of wisdom or understanding of it, you just get caught up in seeking excitement. When you get bored, you seek excitement. But when you get bored with excitement, you seek annihilation.
You get caught up in these habits.
The false refuges in our lives and never arriving
One of the most pervasive false refuges or substitute gratifications is the never ending effort to improve ourselves. It’s not the kind of improvement that leads us to sensing our creativity and the knowledge we long for, but it’s the kind that stems from a place of deficit. It’s the “I need to be a better person” kind of striving, and that wanting to feel like we’re good enough.
This is what goes on in us and is part of the hungry ghost.
If we’re honest with ourselves, are we really content and feel good enough? This sense of wanting to be good enough is not the same as the impulse to manifest our true potential. It’s the kind of internalised standards we have that make us think we should always look better, do more, and be more.
When we are honest, we realise that for many of us live with the kind of dissatisfaction, a disappointment that our lives aren’t turning out the way we want it to be. There’s a sense of never arriving, as though we’re trying to get somewhere, and we’re not there.
Three levels of suffering
Level 1: We are not satisfied
There’s a whole range of how we experience these hungry ghost energy. Along with that, we have chronic patterns on how we are trying to meet our needs and we do so through different substitute gratifications such as consuming sugar or seeking approval or attaching to our possessions.
As we may know, these are temporary fixes. We’re on a roller coaster. We feel better for a little, but then, the need is back there again.
Wanting begets wanting. It’s like drinking salt water to satisfy thirst.
So, that’s one level of suffering – i.e. we don’t get satisfied.
Level 2: The aversion we have towards ourselves for not being satisfied.
In the Buddhist tradition, we call that the second arrow. The first arrow is “I want, I need, I’m not satisfied”. The second arrow is “I am a bad person for wanting, needing, and feeling that I’m not satisfied”. It’s the self version that we pile on that is a very notable part of the addiction cycle. Eat too much, then feel really bad about ourselves. Feel like such as bad person, and then feel so miserable that we eat more, and return to feeling bad about ourselves again. The cycle keeps getting fuelled like this.
Level 3: Never being present and never arriving
The last level is just like in the casino: when we really want to win but are not quite there yet or when we are seeking approval and when we are trying to in some ways get something we don’t have, we’re not present. It’s kind of like we’re leaning forward, wanting the next moment to contain what this moment does not. We’re not present, and we’re always on our way to somewhere else.
Such wanting, addiction, and attachment is the heart of the suffering that comes with the hungry ghosts.
How many moments of our life is there a sense of we’re on our way to something rather than this moment counts?
A comforting perspective
Our attachment and addiction can be a flag to pause, and deepen our attention to what is here. And if we are willing to pause, and deepen our attention, we can begin to discover that rather than hitching to our addicting habits, the star we felt away from is right here. It is in this present moment. Right here.
Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving,
his sorrows grow like grass after the rains.
But whoever overcomes this wretched craving, so difficult to overcome,
from him sorrows fall away like water from a lotus leaf.
– Dhammapada verse 335 & 336