The Hungry Ghosts Within

by Sarah

This weekend at teacher training was a workshop with Michael Stone called Awake in the World: Using Yoga Postures, Meditation and Study to Wake Up! We walked through postures, stopping for demonstrations (STOP, that looks awful, come up close and watch), working with getting to the end of the exhale and the very top of the inhale, staying present with the sensations, good or bad. We also talked a lot about death. We wrote death poems (5 lines and they CANT be beautiful, Michael writes one every year on his birthday, I will not be…). We talked about the never-ending search for bliss, and that humans are always looking for this ‘bliss’ and ignoring all other sensations…we don’t want to feel anything but good. Maybe I’ll rethink the name of my blog.


However, one of the most interesting tangents Michael went on for me was a teaching about The Hungry Ghosts. This teaching exists in many spiritual paths, but this particular version comes from the perspective of the Buddhist philosophy. The Hungry Ghosts are portrayed as having massive stomachs and tiny tiny necks. They are always hungry and never satisfied. Even trying to force the tiniest sunflower seed (the object that brought Michael into this tangent) into the gaping stomach is a painful experience, and only comparable to a drop of rain in a 5 gallon bucket. 


A story of the Hungry Ghosts tells a tale of many ghosts sitting around a long buffet table, filled with the richest, most delicious looking food. And each ghost is equipped with a beautiful, four foot long golden utensil with which to eat. They dig into a dish, bring the food towards their mouth…and end up throwing it over their shoulder. A four foot long fork is impossible to feed yourself with. It is…however, the perfect length to feed others with. But their never ending hunger distracts each ghost from any thoughts other than getting the food on the table into their empty, aching stomach. 

Each of us have a tiny hungry ghost living in us. A part of us that will never be satisfied. A hole that no matter how much chocolate we nom, how nice of car we have, how meaningful our career is, how deep our forward fold gets, will never be filled. There’s no puzzle piece to fit that gap, and the more focused we get on it, the more food we fling over our shoulder with our four foot long fork. What a mess. 

This story has been appropriated for the study of addictions, but each of us can relate in a less drastic way. By recognizing that this ache will never be satisfied, the moremoremore voice will never be silenced we can start to focus on our true needs, and the needs of others. So pick up a big forkful of mashed potatoes and help your neighbor to it. We can all use a little more satisfaction.