The "hungry ghost" idea is rooted in Buddhist and Taoist scriptures. These ghosts are believed to be the spirits of those who, due to their greed, jealousy, and other negative traits, have been reborn into this realm of existence as a form of karmic retribution.
In this realm, the hungry ghosts are condemned to suffer insatiable hunger and thirst, but they can't consume regular food or drink. Their throats are described as thin and almost needle-like, making it impossible for them to eat or drink. Their world is barren, with arid landscapes devoid of sustenance.
There are various causes believed to lead to rebirth as a hungry ghost:
Severe greed or stinginess during one's lifetime.
Dying from starvation and thus having a lingering attachment to food in the afterlife.
Misdeeds that haven't been atoned for, especially those related to food or sustenance.
The Hungry Ghost Festival: To alleviate the sufferings of these wandering spirits and to prevent their malevolence, the living perform various rituals during Ghost Month, with the 15th day, known as the Hungry Ghost Festival, being particularly significant. On this day, families prepare food offerings, burn joss paper (representing money), and conduct other rituals. It's believed that these acts provide the ghosts with sustenance, helping to satiate their eternal hunger and thirst temporarily.
Performances and Ceremonies: In many parts of Asia, especially places with significant Chinese communities, stages are set up for live performances to entertain these spirits. The front row seats are often left empty, reserved for the invisible ghostly audience. As the night progresses and the performances conclude, it's believed that the ghosts return to their realm, leaving the living to enjoy the remaining shows.
The legend of the hungry ghosts underscores the significance of leading a righteous life and emphasises the interconnection between the living and the spiritual worlds. By understanding and participating in these age-old rituals, people not only show compassion to the suffering souls but also seek to maintain a harmonious balance between the realms of the living and the dead.