The Hungry Ghost

Third article in a series . . .

The great religious systems of the world – and many regional indigenous strains – weave a harmonious montage against greed and materialism. This blog post is the third in a series highlighting religious unity against the type of values seen in the dominant religion of the land: the confluence of commerce, materialism, and consumerism. These posts are adapted from the book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, available online and in your local bookstore. Ask for it!

Sikkim - Land of Discovery
The Hungry Ghost


The hungry ghost forages for desired consumables – its pinhole mouth and pencil thin neck feebly servicing its oversized paunch and ravenous appetite. Yes, it might get its hands on something to consume, but the consumable is immediately belched out as fire, smoke, and ash. Satisfaction continually distances itself, and the hungry ghost bewilderingly looks for more. Not fully alive, present moment surroundings mean nothing to the ghost – attainment of the next (supposed) fix trumps all other considerations. Constant craving from within dominates; the striving for more and more that satisfies less and less cycles onward ad infinitum.

One of the six realms or mind states within Buddhist understanding, the hungry ghost aptly depicts greed, addiction, and compulsive behavior in metaphoric brilliance. We might also contemplate the meaning of the ghost as we consider the embattled American economic landscape.

Most all agree that the economy is not as good as it used to be. What might be the solution? Ample opinions abound: cut taxes, invest in green energy, eliminate burdensome regulations, renew an emphasis on job training, raise the minimum wage, “drill, baby, drill”, and so forth. All these and others are, perhaps, worthy of consideration. Yet a common assumption behind all these proposed solutions lurks unawares: greater and greater economic growth. More and more growth is assumed without question – as if the limits that are part and parcel of the universe don’t apply when the issue at hand is the economy and our standard of living. Good golly, it would be nice for the incredible economic expansion of the last 200 years or so to continue ratcheting through the stratosphere . . . but available energy supply, increasingly complex pollution, and a burgeoning world population make for a system that can’t go on unquestionably as it has before.

“Just a little bit more” beckons – but when does enough get to be enough? Our credit card payment schedules, predicated on future income, in turn predicated on further economic growth, may well outlast us into the future: credit card debt as our touchstone to immortality. Economic growth has its limits, but debt does not. Buddhism teaches contentment with what one possesses today; contentment and gratitude for things like food, clothing, shelter, community, and purpose in living. Striving for much more? Beware of the ghost . . .


Click here for second article in series and here for first article in series. (This series of articles was originally posted in March 2014.)


 Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available on Amazon as a paperback and ebook, and on iTunes and Nook as an ebook. Published 2014 by Blue Ocotillo Publishing, Austin, TX.


6 thoughts on “The Hungry Ghost

  1. Norb and Geanie Firnhaber

    A descriptive graphic! Tim, this needs to be said, and you have a special credibility coming from your context. The god of growth – goodness! Have appreciated Paul Krugman – have you? Your voice is prophetic – thank you. Those late nights have been productive… Norb Date: Fri, 28 Mar 2014 19:59:45 +0000 To:

    1. Your comments are appreciated, Norb; thank you. I’ve not read lots of Krugman – columns and articles here and there . . . from what I have read, it seems that he is a bit of a growth disciple as well. not sure about that entirely – perhaps you have some additional insight on that . . .

  2. Carl Anderson

    It seems that we have bought the gospel of growth as the way to lift the poor and disadvantaged, assuming that redistribution of existing wealth or doing with less is not a viable option. Are there some economists who have explored these options? Is there a way to put more on the table for all without consuming more of the limited resources? I suppose the real challenge is can we enlarge the table without any negative repercussions for me?

    1. Yes, there are other economists who don’t buy into the gospel of growth – Clive Hamilton is a good one from Australia . . .one of his books is entitled “Growth Fetish.” There you go – the title says it all! I cover some of his stuff in the final chapter of Just a Little Bit More. He and others do not get the time of day from the usual publication streams for the obvious reason that their critique goes against the grain – in this case, the grain of growth above all things.

  3. Pingback: A Love Supreme – A Tribute to John Coltrane | Just a Little Bit More - Book Blog

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