Like the Buddha's Disciple Moggallana in search of his mother, I have entered the Preta Realm with a mission. oggallana entered this realm in an effort to save his mother. She had been reborn in this hell-realm as the result of greed. A spirit ever-hungry as the result of the greed-karma in her past life, she was reborn in a realm surrounded by food but unable to eat any of that which seemed so freely available. Moggallanna arrived bearing solid food from the earth-realm, thinking it might bring some relief to his beloved mother.
Having finally found her, Moggallana gave the bowl to his grateful mother then watched in horror as the food turned to ash when she put it into her mouth. Thus he discovered an essential truth of Buddhism: no matter how well-intentioned, one cannot be savior of another. All must mind their own karma in the present life -- or amend it in some future life.
He also was reminded of the wages of craving and desire. They are never sated. A caving fulfilled breeds desire for more and the fulfillment falls like ashes into a fire of forgotten memories.
Unlike Moggallanna, my mission is not so noble. I am merely in search of a packet of incense sticks.
Like Moggallana, I do not know the location of that which I seek. I must search the realm for my incense.
Odd, it strikes me -- this hell realm is not dark and foreboding. It is bright and clean and alluring. Tinkling music and sweet voices fill the air from some invisible source. Throngs of beings walk with me surrounded by row after row of bounty.
By some ironic chance, I have entered this realm in an area abounding with a bounty of food. The beings here are laden with delicious treats or staple foods. Some carry armsful of boxes. Others push carts laden to overflowing. Still others carry brightly colored baskets filled to the brim.
There are fruits from throughout the world -- deliciously common apples and oranges and berries. Pineapples, mangoes and papayas. Uncommon delicacies like kiwi, tangelos and star-fruit. Likewise vegetables from the common rice and beans to celery and spinach to strange herbs and spices.
A man over here frowns as he maneuvers an overburdened cart laden with meats -- pork and chicken and beef; fish and lobster and shrimp. A woman over there struggles with an armload of breads and cookies and crackers. A child pulls at her skirt, crying morosely and pointing toward a seemingly unending collection of sweet candies.
There is no incense in this land of foods.
Venturing into the next area, I am surrounded by kitchen goods and machines. Beautiful collections of painted plates, bowls and cups. Glittering rows of glasses. Boxes containing electric bread toasters , poultry roasters, can openers, food mixers, juice rendering devices and coffe-makers are neatly arranged in stacks that touch the sky.
A man stands here -- screaming at another man and waving an expresso maker. "I'm telling you it doesn't work!" he shouts at another man. "The expresso it makes tastes like mud."
I move along again, feeling somewhat bewildered and overwhelmed. No incense in this land of wonders.
In the next area I am surrounded by clothing. There are simple denim trousers, soft cotton shirts. There are beautiful silk dresses, beautiful brocade and embroidered blouses and alluring-to-the-point-of-embarrassing night clothes and undergarments. A trove of treasures hung everywhere in tidy rows and circles. Full displays of matching garments gathered together in their own little spaces -- but no incense.
A woman wearing a silk skirt stares forlornly into a mirror. "This is too tight," she mutters, "but I know it's my size."
Now there are rows and rows of television screens -- tiny screens barely visible and huge ones that will fill a wall. Women and men of all ages stand transfixed. They stare blankly at flickering images from movies, game shows and video game machines. A cacophony of sound mingles nearby from row upon of music devices.
Now there is an area with toys for children, an area filled with books and papers, magazines and pencils, a glittering confusion of knickknacks, useless fancies and -- oh, yes -- a packet of sandalwood incense sticks. There is an area filled with hammers, saws, light fixtures and shimmering porcelain kitchen and bathroom fixtures. Bed sheets, pillows, quilts and coverlets. Automobile needs and chromed unneccessaries. And everywhere there are differently same faces -- scowling and frowning in paradise as they struggle overburdened by their collected things.
By now, even I am transfixed by the glittering arrays, baffled by the seemingly endless surroundings and overwhelmed by crowd, smells, sights and sounds. Retreating from the overbearing bounty and the countless temptations, my mission becomes simple -- get out. Resolve the confusion by abandoning my thoughts. Foot before foot, step by step, find a door and exit this realm.
Surrounded by self-induced oblivion (and totally overwhelmed by the realm), I find solace from the surroundings. I am aware of walking -- aware of standing -- aware of moving forward single slow step by single slow step. I hear ringing bells, a chorus of grumbling voices and beeping sounds. Is that the trickling of water or the jingling of coins?
Suddenly a voice shatters the bubble of protection I have built around myself. "Sir? Sir?" implores a young female voice. "Uhhhh- what?" I hear as my own dazed reply. "Your change sir," she responds. "For the packet of incense. And thank you for shopping at Wal-Mart."
The Preta Realm is not myth or legend and Hungry Ghosts do walk the world.