Camp Chesterfield, Indiana 2001
I have had a lifelong interest in religions along with no small interest in the esoteric and the mystic traditions. Tibetans struck me as perhaps the most accomplished of them all. There was a time in my 30s when I was in the thrall of all things Tibetan. I had a deep, growing desire to learn more about this unique culture. As if a cloud had moved over me and settled for a period of 10 years, my craving for knowledge of this culture was boundless and insatiable. I studied both the ancient and modern history of the people and their religion. I amassed an impressive library of out-of-print and rare books. At times, I couldn't help but marvel at this strange fascination that grew into an obsession... I recognized myself in some of their experiences... Deep devotion, the importance of prayer for all beings, tummo and the gifts of celibacy, sacred sexuality and kundalini.
But then, as suddenly as the fascination began, it receded and other aspects of spiritual life came to the forefront. And yet, it held my attention in the background of my mind. In the months before coming to Camp Chesterfield Spiritualist Camp, I lived in Atlanta, Ga. I passed by Oglethorpe University many times and couldn't help but notice a sign for the Drepung Loseling Monastery. I thought to myself that I should visit, but I never took the time. To my great surprise, those same monks had just arrived for a week-long program at Camp Chesterfield...a week after I arrived! There was no mistaking the proverbial writing on the wall!
Among other things, I attended a lecture given by the Abbot that was held in the cathedral. In his talk, he gave a cultural overview of his people. He spoke about their various religious celebrations and holidays. I felt a growing excitement as he talked even though I was familiar with their festivals. When the Abbot mentioned the Feast for the Hungry Ghosts, I was suddenly galvanized! I leaned forward intently as something inside said 'You have to learn everything about this!'
The Abbot explained that human souls were on this plane to purify their souls and merge with God. We were here to learn how to overcome carnal weaknesses. Gluttony, sloth, base sexuality, cravings and distractions of all kinds. He went on to say that a great many people do not take up that work of progressing their souls. They made the mistake of indulging their appetites and bring themselves down in the process. They become enslaved to those appetites and live their lives in a state of constant craving and lust. When these people die, having left their work undone, they find themselves in the spirit state without a body. They experience their cravings more acutely than ever, but they are now without a body to satisfy them. They burn with their desires. They become 'hungry ghosts'. In that state, they will try to find a living body with which to satisfy their cravings. The hungry ghost will seek out someone with a similar weakness or proclivity or they will seek out a loved one or a friend. They try to enter the aura or energy field of that person and use their body to satisfy their cravings. A compulsion to drink or gamble or a lustful desire can come upon a living soul who lacks understanding. Once the hungry ghost has gotten what they want, they drop the human until such time as they need their body again.
So the Tibetans pray diligently for those suffering souls, knowing full well the spiritual realities. They also provide a feast for the hungry ghosts. On a particular night each year, they put tables on the street with miniature representations of all the things that those spirits crave...such things as gambling tokens, tiny cups of alcohol, naked women and all sorts of food. They invite the spirits to partake, knowing that they can live off the essence of a thing in the year to come. They lock themselves inside their gates, draw the shutters closed and spend the night in prayer for the suffering souls. Their hope is that by giving them a feast, they will leave the living alone.
There was a reason that I was supposed to hear that teaching...I had experienced such an intrusion. For many years I had been tormented by a hungry ghost. In the weeks that followed this enlightening teaching, I had a powerful lucid dream in which the person who had unwittingly passed her demon of lust to me revealed the mechanism by which it occurred. In forgiving her, I was finally released from the last vestige of the powerful entity. This story can be found here: https://eatingdisordersuntangled.blogspot.com/2012/02/dreamthe-final-piece-of-puzzle.html
The Abbot went on to share the recent history of Tibet...the genocide, the exile of the Dalai Lama and the diaspora. It is an incredibly brutal history and I winced as I scanned the room, knowing that most of these people were hearing it for the 1st time. The Abbot took the story deeper by degrees. Temples destroyed along with holy books, medicine formulas, sacred objects and relics...the legacy of a people. The audience was silent, gripped by the horrific account. The Abbot himself was fortunate to have lived through it. Most of his monastery family, most of whom he'd known since childhood had been tortured and killed by the Communist Chinese regime. He spoke of the Tibetan communities in exile around the world and the effort to maintain their culture. They sensed Divine Timing in their collective experience. Tibetans had lived in isolation for centuries, their teachings shielded from the outside world. With the forced dispersion and being thrust into the world at large, though painful and disorienting, their treasures of knowledge became available to the world. The Abbot had such a sense of repose and calmness as he told the story... It was remarkable to see. At the end of his talk, the audience was hushed. It was a lot to digest. Questions were taken at the end. A young man who was visibly moved by the telling, stood up finally. He said to the Abbot "You have just shared such painful stories about what you have been through! But you don't seem angry or vengeful. I don't understand... The Abbot closed his eyes and bowed his head for a few moments, considering the young man's question. When he looked up, he looked the young man in the eye and said simply "Me? Angry? Why should I be angry? I am not that important..."
" I am not that important..."
It was a stunning statement...perhaps the last answer one would expect. It wasn't easy to grasp his reasoning. I had to ponder it for some time. What did he mean? How does one arrive at such a place of calm and detachment? Slowly understanding came... The primary work of Tibetans is prayer. When your mind is clouded by pain or hatred or resentment, you cannot do the all-important work of prayer. Prayer is uppermost...a spiritual duty. He had set aside his ego. He knew what mattered most. Nothing would deter him from his mission. That statement has had a huge impact in my life. It showed me how to quickly find the upper road in all the various situations in life. It helps set me free from ego attachment. This valuable lesson on self-importance continues to inform my life. So much controversy stems from self-importance....road rage, clashes of opinion, rivalries, jealousy....the list is never-ending. Setting aside our notions...letting self-importance go allows us to gain a higher perspective and achieve peace and effectiveness in life.
" I am not that important..."