“Strange” I think. I am standing by a small shelter. Under fed and over heated the sight of the climb ahead has stopped me in my tracks. The shade of the thatched roof on the edge of a banana plantation is too inviting to resist. I lay down and for half an hour and I sleep. When I stand up it has cooled. I walk to my bike and that is when I hear it, the sound of heavy rain falling on leaves. Odd, it is dry. I look out over the jungle, I focus on the valley’s edge and there it is, a wall of water, a tropical deluge heading right for me. “Lady Luck’s light is shining brightly upon me today” I say to anyone who may be within earshot, and head to the same shelter for the second time in thirty minutes.
As I sit there my hunger grows. As I am back in Thailand now I foolishly decided not to carry any food with me, relying instead on the many noodle joints along the way. Now though, caught in what has become a torrential thunderstorm the all too familiar lethargy and nausea of an empty fuel tank has set in. Such is the lot of the long distance cyclist whose calorific needs can never quite be satisfied. In an effort to keep dry I shuffle across the shelter to the furthest point from the wind and my mind wanders of at a tangent to the thorny topic of The Hungry Ghosts.
Siddartha Gautama was a prince of the Sakya Clan of Northern India and arguably the greatest man ever to have lived. Two thousand six hundred years ago he taught that the universe is made of atoms. He did not call them atoms but he understood that particles that once made up parts of the pyramids the tail of a tyrannosaurs rex or part of a planet far off in space and time and now extinct, are in you and I. His understanding of science was far advanced. He also realised that life, the life we are leading now, the life that he and his contemporaries were leading then, is an endless succession of death and rebirth. Birth is suffering, life is suffering, death is suffering. On and on the circle goes until, as he did, one manages through tremendous understanding and control of ones own mind to escape this circle and become liberated, He did not insist that others follow his teachings, he simply said “look, you have a problem and I know how to escape this problem; do not blindly follow me though. If you are interested in what I have to say then as a gold smith will test gold please, you test my words. If what I teach seems to make sense to you, if you wish to learn from me the way to escape suffering then follow me and I will tech you how; for I have escaped. I am a liberated being, enlightened, a Buddha.
Following the teachings of the Buddha is not always easy The path, as it is known, calls for great concentration and for most will take many lifetimes but in its purest form it is, as I understand it, wonderful. Of course, as with all religions Buddhism has been abused and miss used as a form of social control.
Tibetan Buddhism has an impressive and imaginary verity of suffering in the afterlife for wrong doers. Not wrong doers from the point of view of the teachings of that prince from 2600 years before, after all, his was only an invitation to those wishing to escaping the sufferings of this earthy existence. The walls of Tibetan temples are awash with images of great and eternal suffering endured by those who do not do as they are told by their rulers, the high monks. One of the realms of suffering depicted in these images is a group of oddly shaped fellows with very big bellies and very small mouths and throats. These beings are The Hungry Ghosts. Due to their disproportions they are incapable of eating enough food to keep themselves from suffering constant hunger, and this, dear reader, is the fate of the long distance cyclist.