Saturday, February 11, 2017

On the powerful pretas (hungry spirits) who wish to dominate other beings through religion


“Those who take refuge truly and wholeheartedly, freeing themselves from all delusional attachments and all concern with the propitious or unpropitious, must never take refuge in spirits or non-Buddhist teachings.”[1]

Unenlightened beings are the karmic cause for the existence of unenlightened samsaric realms. Their individual and collective karma actually manifested the realms, worlds and universes in which they live. Contrary to this, Enlightened beings or Buddhas, naturaly and karmically manifest Pure Lands or Enlightened realms. If a so called "supreme being" created a world like ours that means he is not enlightened, because if he was enlightened this world would have been perfect and inhabitted by perfectly enlightened beings. Amida Buddha (and any Buddha!) does not pretend to be the creator of this samsaric world, but only of His enlightened Pure Land, where He vowed to bring all samsaric beings for their final liberation (attainment of Buddhahood/Nirvana).

Any person who pretends to be the creator and owner of this world or any samsaric world is afflicted with arrogance and is hungry for power - a feature which is often found in some gods and especially in some powerful pretas (hungry spirits) who have connection with the human realms. The attitude of such spirits or gods is an imperialist one, that is, to receive the praise and submission of as many beings as possible. I already gave the example of Baka Brahma in my article, There is no supreme Creator God in the Buddha Dharma, who was mislead by Mara into believing that he was "the Omniscient, the Omnipotent, the Lord God, the Maker, the Creator, the Chief, the Ordainer, the Almighty, the Father of all that are and that will be" and was corrected by Shakyamuni Buddha. However, those who have such imperialist tendency are not only from the realms of gods, but from the preta (hungry ghost/spirits) realms, too. My opinion is that most of the gods who live way beyond our human realm are more busy with enjoying their beautiful long lives, than dealing with the affairs of the humans. So, I think that the pretas are more connected with us, and more involved with our plane of existence.

As I explained in my article The Six Realms of Samsaric Existence (section on the pretas), there are various types of pretas, and not all of them are weak or tortured by mere hunger or thirst. Some pretas have great powers due to a previous good karma and merits,

"The pretas differ much one from another; certain of them possess supernatural powers and enjoy a glory similar to that of the gods”.[2] (Bodhisattva Vasubandhu)

but also great arrogance and pride.  

Among the pretas, the category called gyalpos in Tibetan are the most powerful. Gyalpo means "king" or "royal" and it indicates the various leaders of the preta plane of existence, so they are from the same category Vasubandhu reffered to in the above. It is said that in their past lives they were great practitioners who accumulated merit, but were not able to overcome pride and arrogance, or they died with thoughts of hate, vengeance, etc.
Generally speaking, all the pretas have the tendency to influence others. They are all eager for attention, offerings, etc, but the gyalpos have the best power to put this wish into action. They can be masters of deceit[3]; they can disguise in various ways, even take the appearance of masters of the past or Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and they like to impart various so called "teachings". There are some stories of advanced Buddhist practitioners who were tricked by gyalpos. This category of pretas can also perform miracles and offer visions to make people entrust and obey to them.

Into my opinion, the abrahamic/monotheist religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) were caused by such powerful pretas with imperialist tendencies. All of these religions were founded arround visions, miracles and a central authoritarian "divine" figure who pretends total subsmission from his believers. The jealousy of the "god" of Old Testament is clearly expressed in the first of the ten comandments and in other passages of the same text. This is also accepted in Christianity:

"I am the Lord your God, who brought you out  of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments."

Also in the Quran there are many passages like that, but I quote here only a few:

“Follow what thou art taught by inspiration from thy Lord: there is no god but He: and turn aside from those who join gods with Allah.”(Qur’an 6:106)

"The worst of beasts in the sight of Allah are those who reject Him: They will not believe." (Qur’an 8:55)

“Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. And those with him are hard (ruthless) against the disbelievers and merciful among themselves" (Qur'an 48:29)

I will cast terror into the hearts of those who disbelieved, so strike [them] upon the necks and strike from them every fingertip.” (Qur’an8:12)

Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (Jews or Christians), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.” (Qur’an 9:29)

As we can clearly see here, such a "god" is clearly NOT an Enlightened being, but a person dominated by jealousy, frustration and anger, who shares his so called "love" only with those who love him or follow his instructions, and punishes the lack of obedience of fathers to the third and fourth generations. Also, in the case of the Quran, he encourages his worshippers to be ruthless with non-believers, whom he himself regards as "beasts" and does his best to terrorize them!

What a difference between such angry spirits dominated by the need for attention and a Buddha who has undiscriminative Compassion for all beings, no matter they accept His teachings or not! A Buddha does not need the attention and worship of others, He is not affected if beings love Him or despise Him. Praise or critic do not influence Him. All He does for unenlightened beings arises from His pure Wisdom and Compassion:

"The Buddhas of the ten quarters think compassionately on sentient beings just as a mother thinks of her child."[4]

Also, how do all Buddhas try to convince us to entrust to Amida Buddha? Clearly, not by force, nor terror, and not by threatening to destroy us and our children to the third and fourth generations:

"Sakyamuni and all the other Buddhas
Are truly our compassionate father and mother.
With various compassionate means they lead us to awaken
Supreme shinjin (faith in Amida Buddha)
that is true and real
."[5]

Clearly, no good can come from entrusting to some worldly jealous and vengeful spirits, no matter if the teachings associated with them do contain some good elements, too. Powerful pretas (and their followers, too) can have their own spiritual evolution, some may be better than others, but certainly, not one of them is enlightened and none escaped from the slavery of the three poisons: ignorance, greed/attachement and aversion. Contrary to this, taking refuge in a Buddha will lead us, sooner or later, to Enlightenment. Thus, one must be extremely careful to whom he is entrusting oneself to, as the effect is simmilar to the cause. If we take refuge in samsaric spirits, no matter how powerful they are, we will never escape samsara; if we take refuge in the Buddhas, and especially in Amida Buddha, we will ourseles attain Buddhahood.

Namo Amida Butsu

- fragment from a letter to a friend who wanted to mix faith in Amida Buddha 
with belief in a monotheistic religion and who thought that the "god" of these religions 
is the same with Amida Buddha - 

related articles (please read carefully!):

There is no supreme creator god in the Buddha Dharma
Some Buddhist explanations on the origin and existence of the universe
Two questions on Buddha-nature and Samsara
The six realms of samsaric existence
Belief in a creator god is an obstacle to shinjin (faith in Amida Buddha)





[1] Shinran Shonin quoted this passage from the Sutra of the Ten Wheels of Ksitigarbha.
[2] Abhidharmakosabhasyam, English translation by Leo M. Pruden; Berkeley, Calif, Asian Humanities Press, 1991; vol 2
[3] However, not all gyalpo spirits manifest a negative and imperialist attitude. There are also some gyalpo who can show interest in the Dharma, but as they have an inconstant character and pride and anger are some of their main features, they can be easily offended and manipulated by the Maras.
[4] The 'Chapter of Mahasthamaprapta' of the Sutra of the Samadhi of Heroic Advance.
[5] Shinran Shonin, Hymn of the Two Gateways of Entrance and Emergence, The Collected Works of Shinran, Shin Buddhism Translation Series, Jodo Shinshu Hongwanji-ha, Kyoto, 1997, p.629

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