c/o chuen seng teoh
What do you think of when you hear the word “Hunger”? That feeling when you are craving for a bite? The feeling of wanting to succeed in an endeavor you are pursuing?
In Nichiren Buddhism, Hunger is one of the life states that forms the “Ten Worlds”—a classification of ten distinct states of life. Here’s a brief excerpt from SGI USA:
The World of Hunger
The world of hungry spirits, or hunger, is characterized by overwhelming desires and the suffering that comes from those desires going unfulfilled.
The Japanese term gaki (Skt preta), translated as “hungry spirit” or “hungry ghost,” originally referred to the dead. This is because the dead were thought to be in a constant state of starvation. The world of hunger is a condition in which our mind and body burn with constant intense craving.
Nichiren Daishonin writes, “The realm of hungry spirits is a pitiful place where, driven by starvation, they devour their own children” (“Letter to Niike,” WND-1, 1026). He also says, “Greed is [the world] of hungry spirits” (“The Object of Devotion for Observing the Mind,” WND-1, 358). To be hungry to the point of devouring one’s own children is to be ruled by the misery of craving that knows no bounds.
Desire in itself is neither good nor bad. Without a sense of hunger when our bodies need nourishment, we would starve to death. Desires and wants can provide impetus for self-improvement, for human advancement. In the world of hunger, however, we are unable to use desires creatively. We become slaves to them and suffer as a result.
What I appreciate most about this expression from Nichiren Buddhism is the duality of this life state of “Hunger”. An insatiable hunger can lead to poor decisions but when harnessed correctly, hunger provides an impetus for self-improvement and advancement in our lives. Something to remember and ponder on.
To cap it off, my favorite band Florence + the Machine just released a new single which inspired this post. Enjoy!