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A Burmese Depiction Of Hungry Ghosts In Torment

A Burmese Depiction Of Hungry Ghosts In Torment

The Asian Tradition Of The Hungry Ghost

In Asian folklore and among many Buddhists, the hungry ghost is described as a spirit who is him- or herself haunted by needs, desires, and longings that went unfulfilled during the ghost’s earthly existence. These sad and frustrated wraiths are doomed to wander the earth in a (usually fruitless) search for the satisfactions that eluded them while they were alive.

In addition to perpetually wandering hungry ghosts, some Chinese people and people of Chinese descent who live in other Asian countries believe that the dead invisibly return from the afterlife to move among the living at certain times of the year. During hungry ghost festivals, which often occur in late summer, people set out food for their returning ancestors as well as for other disembodied visitors who happen by.

It is thought that feeding hungry ghosts not only eases their suffering, but also encourages them to return to the afterworld and refrain from tormenting the living.

People considered to be in danger of punishment through rebirth as hungry ghosts are those who exhibit immoderate greed, gluttony, selfishness, envy, or jealousy during their time as living beings.

Hungry ghosts are often depicted as having skeletal arms and legs and grotesquely swollen bellies that emphasize their starvation as well as tiny mouths and/or pencil-thin necks that make it difficult for them to swallow the sustenance they so desperately crave.

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