Jan 26, 2016

Posted by in Eastern Practices, Mythological Creatures, Paranormal | 0 Comments

Hungry Ghosts of Chinese Folklore

Hungry Ghosts Scroll

In Chinese Buddhism and traditional Chinese religion, deceased ancestors all become a regular ghost when they die. However, in exceptional cases when the spirit has suffered a very tragic death or has no living family to venerate it, something very different can arise. These beings that are driven by very intense emotional needs can become animalistic creatures known as “hungry ghosts”.

While both Buddhism and Taoism believe that desertion or neglect of ancestors can lead to the creation of a hungry ghost, the Hua-yen Sutra assert that an evil soul will be reborn in one of six realms. The lowest degree of evil deeds, such as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct, ensures that a soul will become a hungry ghost. Greed, desire, ignorance, and anger are all factors that cause a soul to be reborn as a hungry ghost, as well.

According to Chinese folklore, the soul is believed to contain both yin and yang elements. The demon part of the soul is the yin, or kui. The spirit part is known as the yang, or shen. When a person dies it is thought that the shen should return to the grave to watch over descendants and provide good fortune when worshipped properly. The kui is believed to return to the earth, and if a ghost is neglected by its family it will become a kui.

Buddha Dharma claims that there are three major groups of hungry ghosts depending on their degree of wealth. The ghosts with no wealth are divided into three additional groups. The first group is those with a flaming mouth, and everything that they eat or drink becomes flames. The second group is known as needle mouths and their throats are too tiny for food to pass through. The final group is called the vile mouths, and they cannot ingest any food because their mouths are so decomposed. Ghosts who have small amounts of wealth are allowed to eat small amounts of food, and ghosts who have great wealth may eat from sacrifices offered by humans and lost objects from the human world. Most hungry ghosts have very little or no wealth, making them extremely hungry.

It is believed that sixteen hungry ghosts live in a region of hell, but are able to leave and wander in the human world. These creatures can be found looking through garbage and human waste on the outskirts of towns. Though they are visible at night, they are said to be invisible during the daylight hours. Some angry ghosts are doomed to eat only human corpses.

A festival called the Hungry Ghost Festival is held annually to honor the hungry ancestor ghosts that have not been given sufficient offerings by their living relatives. Food and drinks are put out as offerings to satisfy the needs of the spirits. The Hungry Ghost Festival is celebrated each year during the 7th month of the Chinese calendar. It is believed that during this month the gates of hell are left open for hungry ghosts to pass through and roam in the realm of the living to seek entertainment and food.

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