Thursday, March 24, 2016

The Intermediate Beings & Ghosts (中阴身与鬼)

In fact, there is no notion of ‘ghost’ in Tibetan Buddhism. The next close idea of a ‘ghost’ is the ‘intermediate body’ which can refer to a potential being of deva, asura, hungry ghost, hell being, human or even animal.

After a dead spirit experienced 3 to 4 days of long slumber, it awakes to go through the actual dying process of about 14 days and then if this spirit is not liberated; it will enter a stage of ‘becoming’ of its future body e.g. a human etc.

Contrary to common understanding of Tibetan Book Of The Dead. Not all dead spirits will be reincarnated within 49 days period. Only a handful especially those who have created severe karma or extremely good karma will be reborn instantly. For majority of folks, they must wait for a particular period of time. The period can range from a few weeks to hundreds of years.

This is same as when you are changing your job. When you have tendered your resignation to your current boss, you normally give 1~3 months’ notice. The time between the beginning of resignation to the beginning of a new job is the ‘honeymoon’ period. i.e. you only wait for your time to start the new work while passing down whatever left in your hands to your colleagues.

Likewise, an intermediate being is a free body until it is time for its reincarnation. If you have psychic eyes, then you will notice that this intermediate body looks like a blob of grey mist measuring about 3 feet height. This intermediate body can move about freely and it can pass through walls. It can also have certain magical powers such as predicting the future and mind reading. However, this intermediate body lacks the ‘seeds’ of father and mother; it has no form and this intermediate one cannot withstand the blow of winds and it is afraid of strong lights.

In another way, intermediate body behaves like the common notion of ‘ghost’ as it needs to seek shelter from elemental forces and lights. It also needs to feed on energy to survive. So until these intermediate beings are reborn, they shall attach to human, animals, trees or electrical appliances for energy.

The conditions of these intermediate beings vary: for example an intermediate body of a deva or an asura (demi-god) will have more magical power and happier than the ones destined to become an animal or hungry ghost. Perhaps we can categorize the common ‘ghost’ as those intermediate beings of lower classes: animals, hungry ghosts or hell. Because these beings from lower realms cannot own food and shelter, they depend very much on their human hosts to supply. Hence, theoretically speaking only lower class beings would dwell in a shrine to serve our human world. Higher beings would not like to stay in filthy human realms.

Of course, the above discussion centred on what is told to us by the book of dead. Traditionally, the Chinese believe that all human will become ghosts when they passed away. All ancestors must be remembered and worshipped so that they will protect the descendants.

If people died outside of their house and no one would pray to their spirits, they shall become wandering spirits and haunts anyone who is in bad luck. So you will find the Chinese give sumptuous food offerings during the famous ‘ghost month’ to appease these good brothers and sisters so that they will not create trouble.

Of course, theoretically speaking, ghosts should not exist in the West where all dead are laid to rest in peace until the judgment day… Unless people there refuse to give out the ghost figuratively speaking.

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