A Hungry Ghost Story

by Jim Britell

The ecological damage from clearcutting is widely documented, but what about the spiritual effects of this destruction on practitioners?

The ecological damage from clearcutting is widely documented, but what about the spiritual effects of this destruction on practitioners? According to Mayayana Buddhism of Tibet, whether one improves one’s spiritual condition in future lives depends in part on whether one takes and destroys or preserves and protects life. Much killing occurs in present logging practices. A mature fir tree has 60 million needles with a needle surface of an acre. Imagine how many lives are involved with a single tree and how many are extinguished when one is cut down. A person who has the good fortune to be born a sentient human risks being reincarnated into lower realms by a disregard and disrespect for fellow living things.

In Mahayana Buddhism terms a human being in Oregon today with a functioning mind would be considered to be in a very auspicious situation, the result of eons of good lives and acts. This is because we are fortunate to meet the basic conditions for being able to proceed further in spiritual development. Those conditions being; living in a country or location where religious teachings are available, being able to study them, and possessing a mind that can grasp them.

According to this tradition ordinary existence (samsara) is divided into six realms or psychological states. Our daily life is spent in one or another of these realms, and after death we are reborn into one of them. One of these realms is that of the “pretas”–the hungry ghost realm. It seems to describe the state of some of our timber industry friends and supporters.

If one examines the writings and speeches of clearcutters and deforesters two themes emerge: there is an intense hunger to find forests to cut and simultaneously the last few years have broken all records in the amount of forests cut down. What we are seeing is a simultaneity of poverty and richness. A special kind of insatiable hunger where the more you possess the more deprived you feel. This is the emotion that dominates and pervades the realm of the hungry ghosts. The physical representation of this state is the image of a being with a gigantic belly, a very thin neck and a tiny mouth. No matter how much the hungry ghost eats, its stomach can never be filled. It is said that beings about to be born into the Hungry Ghost Realm are attracted by visions of; burnt wood, black shapes, forest wastes, stumps and the color yellow.

Mayahana Buddhists believe that the proper attitude for forest activists to have towards clearcutters and deforesters is compassion. While they are causing great damage to the external physical environment they also create internal spiritual damage to themselves.

But it is not only clearcutters who have much to lose. Environmentalists must be conscious of the ways in which they engage and enmesh themselves in issues. Environmentalists who react to deforesters with paranoid intrigue instead of compassion can bring about spiritual problems for themselves-possibly by entering another of the six realms the realm of the “Asuras” or “Jealous Gods”. In this realm the things seen prior to reincarnation are wilderness, forest groves and revolving rings of fire. If someone dropped you in the middle of a wilderness you would have to be on guard against everything, danger could come from any place at any time. This is the realm of pure politics, of high intelligence and communications; of relationships as lifestyle and livelihood. The realm of the diplomat. Intrigue and winning become occupation and entertainment. Fighting and quarreling bring continuous misery. The primary color that dominates the jealous god realm is red.

Altogether there are six realms of Samsara, in ascending order they are. 1.Hell, 2.Hungry ghost, 3. Animal, 4. Human, 5.Jealous Gods, 6.Gods.

If foresters avoid the Hungry Ghost realm and environmentalists avoid the Jealous God realm we will improve the environment and ourselves.

©2008 Jim Britell
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