The Retributions of Hungry Ghosts


Translated By Tara Lau

Venerable Moggallana, a disciple of the Buddha, is “the number one in supernatural power”. When he attained his arhatship, he had already obtained six psychic powers: 

the heavenly eye, the heavenly ear,  power with regard to post lives , power with regard to the minds, the spiritually based power and the power of the extinction of outflows. 

The master has access to all realms without hindrance, and can use his supernatural powers. He can travel to the hell and communicate with the ghosts and observe how sentient beings receive good and evil retributions.

One day, Venerable Moggallana was wandering on the banks of the Ganges River, waiting for an opportunity to teach Buddha ‘s Dharma. It was at dusk and people on both sides of the Ganges gradually evacuated and returned home. Venerable Moggallana thought that it would be inconvenient to preach Dharma at night, so he meditated on the shore. At this time, the warm evening breeze gently blew the palm trees on the shore, the sky was twinkling with stars, and the earth that gave birth to all things began to return to silence. Soon, with the Taoist eyes of Venerable Mahamoggallana saw many hungry ghosts gathering on the banks of the Ganges, wanting to get water to quench their hunger and thirst. But there was a ferocious river-watching ghost who came to drive him away with an iron stick in his hand, so the hungry ghosts did not dare to get close to the water. Venerable Moggallana was sitting upright. Seeing the miserable situation of the hungry ghosts wailing, he called them over and started to talk about the Dharma. The ghosts also asked the Venerable one by one about their karmic consequences and their sins.

The first hungry ghost asked: “Honorable Sir, we were born as humans, fell into the realm of hungry ghosts after death and became the bodies of hungry ghosts. In the realm of hungry ghosts, we often suffer from hunger and thirst. We see that the water of the Ganges River tastes cool, but when we came to fetch the water it became boiling hot and was difficult to drink. Even if we managed to take a sip, our internal organs were instantly burnt. There were ghosts guarding the river who chased us away with iron rods. May I ask, Your Majesty, what crime did we commit?Why did I receive such a miserable retribution?”

Venerable Moggallana used his magical power to observe the cause and effect of his three lives, and told the hungry ghost: “In your previous life, you were a fortune teller. When predicting good or bad fortune for others, you spoke falsely and told many lies. You spoke illy of others anc ruined their reputations as you please. Claiming to be able to predict the future is all but a lie. You did not hesitate to mislead people and harm them if you could gain benefits from it. This is the retribution of your karma.”

The second ghost asked: “I am often eaten by some ferocious dogs. They ate my flesh and the wind blew chilly to my bones. That happened recurrently. I don’t know what is the cause and why I had to suffer so much.”

Venerable Moggallana replied: “Because you slaughtered many chickens, ducks, pigs, and sheep in your previous lives as used them as sacrifices to the gods. So you received the retribution from your evil acts in your past lives. 

The third ghost asked: “My belly is as big as an urn, but my throat and limbs are as thin as needle points. I am hungry and thirsty all the time. When I see food, I cannot eat them. If I lift my hand, it turns into charcoal. I cannot eat anything.” Why do I suffer this miserable retribution?”

Venerable Moggallana replied: “You were a senior official in your previous life. You abused your power, indulged in excessive pleasures and cruelly exploited the people. You took possession of other people’s hard-earned property by force. You were corrupted and violated the law, so you are receiving your punishment and bitter retribution now.”

The fourth ghost asked: “Sir, my head is as big as a bucket, my body is covered with tongues, my blood vessels are broken, and blood often flows out from my tongue. My life is like a gossamer, and I am in excruciating pain. I don’t know what is the cause and why I am suffering from this?”

Venerable Moggallana replied: “In your previous life, you liked to gossip about people, abuse and hurt others with harsh words.  You had no intention to use your words to benefit the sentient beings but you inflict sufferings to others. Now it’s your turn to taste the bitterness.

“Dear friends, many people who have fallen into the realm of hungry ghosts are mostly those who used to abuse their power, greedy, stingy, dishonest, unkind, deceitful, and indulged in lust and killing. They sowed bitter seeds from their karmic consequences of their body, speech, and mind.

We must pay close attention to our thoughts and actions, and stay on the right path to avoid committing bad karma and suffer from the retribution of bad consequences.

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