Last Wednesday evening, we fed the hungry ghosts in a ceremony called Sejiki. We invited them in. The Abbess made food for them. We tried to make the Buddha Hall safe so they could come forth and eat without fear. We put up images they could relate to. We covered up the usual spiritual icons. We chanted continuously for half an hour, calling them to feast. We read their names. All for the sake of a fairy tale, befitting Halloween. They aren't really here, these hungry ghosts. You can't prove their existence by anything approaching the scientific method, so they must not exist.
And yet ... have you ever felt that hole, somewhere in your chest, that seems bottomless and unfillable? Ever had your heart cry out for solace, understanding, companionship, answers? Ever wondered why your worth is measured not by how nourished you are, but by how much is on your plate?
Can we truly say we're not hungry? Can we truly say that we recognize and acknowledge with deep gratitude the nourishment that surrounds us all the time? Ironically (as many sutras point out), the root cause of spiritual hunger is stinginess -- clinging to I and mine, protecting what's ours, and clearly delineating it from what's theirs. Fortunately, the sutras also offer a remedy: the antidote to greed is generosity, which usually connotes giving. But there is also a generosity in receiving, in accepting the nourishment in every moment, in remembering to say Thank You, in eating what's offered.
In his Pure Standards for the Zen Community, Dōgen wrote:
If you do not have a limited heart, you will have boundless fortune.
In 2012, we might say:
Let's stop trying to put everything on our tray, and instead sit down and eat.