The Realm of Hungry Ghosts


Buddhism’s Wheel of Life

A friend from my local sangha requested that I write a blog post about something I mentioned at our meeting last week regarding the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts.

I am  new to Buddhism (yes, this post starts with a rambly pre-amble). I have studied Zen Buddhism for around 5 years with varying degrees of enthusiasm. One thing that I know, after all of these years of being exposed to the Dharma is that it totally and completely resonates with me. One of the teachings that I have been recently enjoying  is the Six Realms. This is not a Zen teaching, it’s origins are based in Tibetan Buddhism. Regardless, it still has been very helpful for me. We have only discussed 4 of the realms so far (and in this order): Hungry Ghost, Human, Heaven, and Titans.

All in all there are six realms and taken together it is the Wheel of Life. The idea is that we are reborn into these realms. Some Buddhists  take this idea literally but it can be taken metaphorically. We are reborn moment by moment, karma and rebirth happens continually and, therefore, we can enter into one of these realms several times a day. This is definitely true for me.

So. Hungry Ghosts. The Realm of Hungry Ghosts is a realm of desire. It is the realm of unslakable thirsting. The ghosts in this realm are trying to eat but the food turns to fire. They have skinny necks so that food can’t get into their bellies. They are wanting but never satiated. I find myself in this realm often for a variety of reasons.

There is good news. There is a way out! In Buddhism, there is always a way out,  nicely laid out for us in very detailed steps. It’s actually rather simple, too. Each realm has a buddha (or teaching) that represents the way out of that realm. For the Realm of Hungry Ghosts, that “teaching” is simply gratitude. There is probably more to it but I can’t seem to find information online about the buddhas of each realm. But the big takeaway for me when this was taught to me a month ago is that gratitude is the way out of this realm. Guess what? It works!! like magic. I tried this as a practice this past month. When I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t be satiated, I would sit and think about all the things in my life I am grateful for and the suffering of that realm dissolved.

Last night we continued our way through the Wheel of Life. We learned about the Realm of the Titans. This is the realm of envy, competition, and obsession. I find myself here more than I care to admit. It was interesting and helpful to learn about this realm, as well. I want to write about my thoughts about it but I think I will save those for another post. I think I want to let the teaching sink in for a few days first.