36 types of hungry ghosts – Part 1 of 3

One of my 1st Buddhist lessons was about ghosts. (That was 30 years ago). In our modern curriculum, we tend to whitewash this topic because the modern people do not really believe them or take it seriously anymore. Plus not all audience are ready for it…..

The reason why we were taught about hungry ghost is because, we (the kids) begged the monks to tell us ghost story!😂

Later on, I found that this topic actually equipped us with some knowledge about the negative influences of ghost (negative energy). Such supernatural knowledge is not compulsory for Buddhist studies but I find them intriguing and useful at times. So here’s some sharing during the hungry ghost festival.

By the way, some of these beings like to impersonate celestial gods and goddess (any religion or faith) , Buddha and Bodhisattva. In short, similar to scammers. By knowing about them, we will be more alert to their scheming influences too. You may be able to identify spiritual practitioners who are already victims.

Another trick of these ghosts is to impersonate deceased relatives. When a person lost someone dear and yearn to connect with the spirit of their love ones, it creates an opportunity for the ghost to influence them.

Reference is made from Saddharmasmṛtyupasthānasūtra (Sūtra of the Foundations of Mindfulness of the True Law), the Zhengfa nianchu jing 正法念處經.

The lifespan of ghost is about 500 years. Their one day is equivalent to our 10 years. Not all spectra beings are ghost. Sometimes people with keen sixth sense confuse or mistaken tutelary deities or terrestrial angels to be ghost. That’s another topic…..

Cauldron body ghost鑊身鬼迦婆離

These ghost have body twice the size of human and extremely large stomach. They basically live a life of miseries and sufferings. This is because they have extreme hunger that is insatiable but yet food is scarce. This is a retribution rebirth for people who are extremely greedy and steal from others or refuse to return things to their rightful owners.

Needle-mouth ghost針口鬼蘇支目佉

Similar to the above except these ghosts have needle size throat. Therefore even when they find food, it is very difficult to swallow, thus increasing their torment. Retribution rebirth for people who are rich but pretend to be poor so that they do not have to give to charity. (stinginess)

Vomit-eating ghost食吐鬼槃多婆叉

These ghosts perceive human vomit as delicacy and food. Therefore they tend to hang around places where vomit are likely to be found. Usually harmless, may attach to people who enjoy heavy drinking and puking thereafter. May become dangerous if the ghost develop ability to influence weak minded people to engage in acts of vomiting.

This retribution rebirth of people who only share “inferior” (non delicious food) with others while keeping delicious stuff for themselves. (especially when offering to charity and holy man/woman)

In line with this thinking, we should not donate unwanted stuff to temples.For example, when we buy a new computer, we “donate”our old one to the temple or charity….

Excrement-eating ghost食糞鬼毘師咃

The name is self explanatory. Usually hang around unclean toilet or places with excrement. Some may notice a dark aura in these places or feel like someone watching you in the toilet when there isn’t anyone. Retribution for people who offer unclean food to charity or holy people. Unclean refers to food of bad quality or spoilt food. It also mean non suitable offering, for example, intentionally mixing meat into a vegetarian meal and taking delight that the Vegan is eating meat, likewise pork for a muslim or beef to a Hindu. One offer with malicious intent.

Again, they are usually harmless and pitiful. However, if they gain ability to influence the mind of people to make people crave laxative drugs etc, then it become dangerous.

Foodless ghost無食鬼阿婆叉

Retribution for people who starve others to death.

Odour-eating ghost食氣鬼揵陀

These ghost feed on the smell of food offerings made by humans to “gods” at trees, stones, riversides etc. Gods here refer to any form of religious belief or spiritual belief. The implications are quite wide.

Celestial and terrestrial spiritual angels do not need our offerings and sacrifice at trees, rocks, riversides etc…

Dharma-eating ghost食法鬼達摩婆叉

These ghosts find relieve by listening to Buddha dharma. The retribution rebirth of people who spread false doctrine as Dharma. They tend to gather when there is a Dharma talk. Remember to dedicate merits to all unseen beings after a Dharma sharing session.

Water-eating ghost食水鬼婆利藍

They tend to live by drains or river side. They perceive water as their food. However, they have rigid dry body and can hardly consume the water.


These ghosts are attracted by the grief and delight at funeral food. Usually harmless unless they can influence people negatively. Retribution for people who profit by abusing the misfortune of others.

Spittle-eating ghost食唾鬼㖉吒

Similar to the vomit eating ghost. Attracted by spittle, they tend to follow people who have a habit of spitting indiscriminately in public places. Buddhist in Asia tend to refrain from spitting if they are aware of this type of ghost.

Garland-eating ghost食鬘鬼 摩羅婆叉

These are ghost with supernatural powers. They are attracted by religious offerings but the offerings turns into object of torment that is attached to their body. For example burning flowers, religious articles etc. This is retribution rebirth for stealing from religious places. However, this type of ghost is considered formidable because they have the ability to influence the dream of people to corrupt their mind. Some people worship such spirits unknowingly. So if you see a “god” or deity with flaming stuff attached to their body in your dream, that is a “scammer” spirit. (Not the true god of your religion)

Blood-eating ghost 食血鬼囉訖吒

Another type of ghost with supernatural power. They are attracted by blood and blood sacrifice. Some people mistaken them as gods and make blood offerings to them and pray to them for material gains.

Blood offerings are not limited to blood in a chalice on the table. For example, the ghost may influence the mind of its believer to self inflict wounds. Such as self whipping until one bleeds etc.

Like the monk in class said, to the celestial beings, our body is considered course and filthy. Surely, we cannot be foolish enough to think that they crave for our blood?

Okay, that’s all for part 1.

May all be well and happy.

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