Sunday, November 25, 2018

Hungry Ghosts

 "There once was a man who was giving and kind. One day he was about to leave his house when a monk came by begging. The man instructed his wife to give the monk some food. After the man left his house his wife was overcome with greed. She took it upon herself to teach the monk a lesson, so she locked the monk in an empty room all day with no food. She was reborn as a hungry ghost for innumerable lifetimes." (source)

A few months back I heard a Buddhist teacher use a term I'd never heard before: hungry ghosts. In Buddhist and Taoist tradition, hungry ghosts are the wandering souls of people who endured particularly violent or unhappy deaths. Hungry ghosts can also emerge from neglect or desertion of living ancestors--that is, when they've been forgotten by their living relatives. According to tradition, desire, greed, anger, and ignorance in life are all factors in causing a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost, because these behaviors cause people to perform evil deeds.  

Ultimately, hungry ghosts are unable to take in what they desperately need. The problem lies in their constricted throats, which cannot open for nourishment. They wander aimlessly in search of relief that never comes.

This idea keeps coming back to me, especially as I watch the news these days. Desire, greed, anger, and ignorance are in seemingly unending supply. Though I'm a Christian and don't believe in reincarnation or karma based on my actions--good or bad--during my lifetime, I do believe that I will answer for my actions when I die, and I do think the behaviors of previous generations can impact future generations.

I've been learning about and reflecting upon the recent IPCC Climate Report, which states that we have 12 years to limit a climate catastrophe. The world’s leading climate scientists have warned that an increase in temp even half a degree beyond 1.5C will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people. The half-degree difference could also prevent corals from being completely eradicated and ease pressure on the Arctic.

The root causes of this catastrophe? Over-consumption, greed, and a general lack of care for the poor. We have forgotten that the earth is a gift and caring for it reflects our love of creator and neighbor. And our children will bear the brunt of our mistakes.

As we enter the season of Advent, I'm trying to focus myself and my family on the birth of Jesus and not presents and busyness. I'm trying to teach them to be content with what they have and thoughtful about what they give. I'm hoping to show them how to take in the nourishment they need: family time, rest, good food, quiet. Most of all, I'm teaching them to care for others, like we read about today as we celebrated Christ the King Sunday:

"Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you? The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’" (Matthew 25:37-40)

For me personally, that means participating in my 4th Dressember, where I'll wear a dress every day in December to raise funds and awareness for the millions of women and children impacted by human trafficking. For my family, that means coordinating and giving to our church Angel Tree and being mindful of our consumption at the holidays--decreasing our food and paper waste, recycling all we can, and keeping to our Want Need Wear Read gifts rule (even asking the grandparents to join in this year!). 

How are you and your family fighting for what you really need this holiday season?