No matter how much you take it’s never enough, there is no satiation. There is only constant yearning for more. These are hungry ghosts, the notion occurring in Indian religions, Chinese and Vietnamese folklore and Taoism. In Hinduism and Buddhism they’re known by their Sanskrit name as Preta, denoting a ghostly creature stuck somewhere between the veil of death and karmic reincarnation. One can become a Preta if they lived corrupted, compulsive, deceitful angry and vengeful lives, if they deviated and distorted their humanness, gave in to their lowest urges or can emerge as unsettled spirits of those who died brutal deaths so they come back with some form of constant insatiable yearning. They‘re depicted as being in never-ending agony since thy have big large bellies, thin necks and tiny mouths which can never get enough.
This is a symbolical representation of what can through psychology be described as a sort of subpersonality that dwells in us, the emptiness that lurks and yearns to be filled with things from the outside. It acts like its own personality with its own agenda independent of yours. These are all of the desires we have a need to fulfil, those under the surface things that draw us to some form of degeneration. Hungry ghosts are a great way to explain addiction We tend to view addiction as a weakness, shunning the addicts and judging their lack of self-control, secretly despising them because we see in them the full blown manifestations of our own darkness. Someone may choose a mind altering substance to fill the void while you may max out your credit card buying porcelain kittens, binge eat or spend 12 hours on the internet.
The poisons we choose may vary but the mechanism is the same. The moment you start lying to cover your tracks you have an unhealthy attachment to something – an addiction, a hungry ghost that you can’t shake. It may demand a bigger house, more money or power, obedience, Oreo cookies by bucketfuls, shiny things or a gallon of beer each night while someone else’s may search for relief from the self in crystal meth, cocaine or heroin. You’re not that different, you’re both searching for something and despising yourself after the temporary relief evaporates and the full condition of being you hits once again. Addiction is wrong, yet there’re reasons that it’s so common. People get an escape, a relief from weltschmerz, sense of peace and calm, they feel loved and not isolated for a moment, they get a sense of control and soothing of the pain they can’t put a finger on, they get a break from being themselves no matter how short lived. The psychiatrist R.D Lang said: there are three things people are afraid of – death, other people and their own minds”. So we numb in order to not be left alone with our minds as a short term survival method and search for release from suffering, and we’re not that different from the addict.
The cure for addiction is not shunning or judgement but connection. They are people searching for something that is missing trying to fill the void with what seems as relief or at lest a sufficient enough numbness , just as we are. We need dopamine to be motivated to move and do things, to strive towards something and we get dopamine hits on the way to our goals. What indulging in nay addiction does is it gives us a temporary shot of dopamine and we feel normal and motivated to get unstuck. Dopamine equals motivation. If you produce suboptimal levels of endorphins you can’t build connections with others and drugs work because they act on the endorphin system, substituting the underdeveloped systems which failed to get set up because love and connection were missing in the formative years. There is a reason why you feel love for everyone in the room if optimally drunk.
Addiction is complex, it’s not just a stupid decision to destroy your lives and pull your families into the deep gloomy chasm. Once you understand the dark place of lack in you, you can have compassion for others fighting their own (not so) different battles. If you have someone battling addiction among your loved ones the next time you speak try not to judge but understand. This new closeness will do more good than judging condescension. They’re not the problem as a person, the insatiable hungry ghost is, and we all have them in one form or another. Your socially approved killing of a whole chocolate cake when feeling unloved and then promising you won’t do it again, until you do, is no different than their failed attempts to get clean. Voids can rarely be filled by something form the outside and the ghosts in us are very hungry indeed.