Ghosts and Spirits

As a child, I was exposed to western shows like “Unsolved Mysteries” and eastern movies like “A Chinese Ghost Story” (“倩女幽魂”, 1987) which terrified me. I had no experience in anything spiritual. I continued exploring the world of fictional demons, vampires, and other spiritual entities by watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” in the 1990s. More recently, YouTube videos of possessions and ghost hunting are both intriguing and scary. I always wondered how the writers of TV shows and movies were so creative and how people experienced ghosts in “Unsolved Mysteries” and in some of those YouTube videos.  However, Buddhist teachings incorporate all the realms, including these ghostly realms, with demons and vampires, and even the Christian Heaven and Hell Realms. It was only in the last few years – in which I learned more about Buddhism – did I start to realize that perhaps these experiences could be real or inspired by real experiences.
In Buddhism, there are four holy realms (including the Boddhisattva and the Buddha realms) and six lower realms (including our human and animal realms, ghost realms and the hell realms), which can all be further divided into 108 levels.  And we often prepare offerings for those in other realms (for example, we have Homa offerings to the Buddhas and we also perform a deliverance for the food that we eat, and then do the Mandala offering to offer up the food).
In his 166th book, “Travel to Worlds Beyond”, Grand Master Lu documents his experiences during his 6-year retreat, in which he even interviews a ghost king about “Ghost Feasts” (Lu, 2010, p. 25). Spoiler alert: the Ghost King was Samantabhadra Buddha, who offered insight into the how beings in all the realms might consume the offerings.  Beings in the holy realms appreciate the gesture of the heart of the offerings. However, this is where the wonderful world of media can interpret the other realms. In the book Grand Master has a wonderful discussion with the Ghost King to gain insight on how the offerings are consumed by entities in all the different realms:
“Do you mean that they really could consume the food and see the flowers?”
The Ghost King answered, “Yes, spirits consume food by touch and they can see everything.” 
The Ghost King added, “Men have to sleep to replenish their energy. They consume food to maintain their bodies. All spirits eat by touch.” 
What exactly is food consumption by touch?” I asked. 
The Ghost King laughed, “Animals bite animals. One subjugates the other and animals eat each other. This is touch. Humans eat rice and flour. This is touch. As for spirits, they do the same through touch. These beings are not exactly high in the spiritual realm.” 
I asked, “You mean the act of eating can be differentiated?”
The Ghost King explained, “Those in the high spiritual realms consume by partaking in thought, consciousness and the joy of samadhi. Those in the lower spiritual realms, such as animals, bite each other for the flesh. Those in the ghost realm drink blood for food.  Those in the hell realm consume fire. Humans are not high on the spiritual scale either.” 
The Ghost King continued, “Actually, in the ghost realm the spirits consume many things. Some feed on qi or subtle energy, some settle for water, some feed on aroma, some get energized through sleep, some zap the vital energy of people.  These are considered healthy. Others feed on feces, urine, blood, meat, menstrual blood and even poisons.”
I was shocked. 
The Ghost King remarked, “You have seen it all. What is there to be afraid of? Men by touch too and they also eat indiscriminately.  These days, there are also people who drink urine and stuff themselves with toxic food.” 
I nodded. – (Grand Master Sheng-yen Lu, 2010)
As I age, I meet more and more people, I found some who interact with beings from other realms. At first, I was skeptical, because I have been blessed with a blindness to those other realms. But why would these accounts of ghosts feeding on life force, and vampires feeding on blood be like other accounts and be corroborated by the Ghost King and Grand Master, specifically stating “Those in the ghost realm drink blood for food”? I know, perhaps some of you already know of these, having been raised with faith, and perhaps some of you are still skeptical, which I truly understand, or perhaps some of you might be wondering about other experiences, in which case I highly recommend reading many of Grand Master’s books, where he travels to many different places. Regardless, it continues to fascinate me to this day.  Buddhism is wonderful because it can provide insight and context into experiences of others and helps me have compassion for those whom I did not before I found my faith.
By Yvonne Wong