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Practical Companion – 16

Pretas

Previously, we have examined the dire state of being reborn in hell. The cause of reborning in hell is anger and aggression. The factors that trigger anger in our minds are many. In the previous post, we examined “unfounded fear” as an example. Then I also shared a passage that describes how the mirage of our loved ones can lead us through hellish suffering. Some readers may be left scratching their heads.

Well, it is actually pretty common in our current life too. “Remember that slapping incident in Hollywood?” Not saying who is right or wrong here. But sometimes our love for someone can be a cause for anger in our minds too. That anger results in violence. And violence is hellish.

In another example, my platoon mates fought and bloodied each other because a casual remark was taken out of context and interpreted as an insult against one’s mother.

Instead of brushing off Buddhist literature about hell as rubbish or fairy tales, we might actually learn something from them if we bother to think deeper.

In this post, let us examine the preta realm.

Preta is also known as hungry ghost. These beings have mouths and throats the size of a needle but bellies that are huge as a mountain. They suffer from intense hunger and roam about in search of food and water. They perceive their environment as a huge expanse of desert. If they manage to find food and eat it, the food turns into hot coal to burn them. Water would vaporize when brought to their mouths, As we imagined thus, it is apparently a wretched and painful existence.

The cause for rebirth as a preta is miserliness and craving. It is a deep-seated state of discontentment. I hope all of us do not suffer from such a state of mental agony as graphically described previously. Again, “modern” Buddhists may find such literature irrelevant when we read it at face value. Then we think, “Nah, such kind of beings must be a fairy tale.” So we simply brush it aside.

But if we contemplate deeper, we might be alarmed to find ourselves sharing some similarities with these unfortunate pretas.

Foremost, the preta does not have a physical body. Therefore, why do they need food to survive? In other words, the subject of their cravings is actually not “crucial” or not a “must-have”! How many of us are currently tormenting ourselves with desires for stuff that are non-crucial to our survival? For example, instead of being content with a bicycle, we desire a Porsche. Instead of a simple bag, we desire a Hermes. And for some of us, we desire our supervisor’s position. Or we crave the respect of others. In that manner, we wander and search for our objects of desire, tormented by our cravings along the way.

And when we finally own something we desire, do we take them for granted after a short while? It is almost as if that object of our desire vanishes or vapourised, isn’t it?

Then we desire something else. And even before that, the object of our desire can be a source of further suffering. Just like how food turns into coal within the mouth of a preta. For example, fearing that our Porsche or Hermes bag will be accidentally scratched? That kind of stress is unnecessary in the first place, isn’t it?

If we contemplate in this manner, the existence of a preta is no longer a fairy tale but something relatable. And some unfortunate people might already be living their life in this manner.

In the context of Buddhist practice, we need to remind ourselves that such a manner of existence is possible. Such a kind of suffering is possible. Therefore, we have to practice diligently and end our rebirth in Samsara. This is because the characteristics of Samsara are Craving, Hatred, and Ignorance. As long as we remain in Samsara, there is always a possibility for us to encounter such suffering.

Fortunately, we have encountered the Triple Gems. According to the Buddhist scriptures, our heartfelt decision to take refuge in the Triple Gems already guarantees us against the lower realms. Therefore, we mustn’t forget our refuge in the Triple Gems but must remember them constantly.

This summarises the practice of contemplating hell and preta realms.

May all be well and happy.

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