November 04, 2011

Buddha Buzz: Monsters, Vampires, and Ghosts, Oh My!

Happy (late) Halloween! Did you dress up? Did you go trick 'r treating (or take your kids)? Did you...use Halloween to further your Buddhist practice? At first it seems like Halloween might be the antithesis of Buddhism. I know when I was a kid Halloween was the best excuse in the year to flex my greed-and-attachment muscles. All that candy was just too much for me to handle...

But John from The Dharma Folk blog had a great post yesterday called "The Dharma of Trick or Treating," in which he talks a bit about how "Halloween secretly teaches awesome Buddhist principles." He continues,

Think about it: Halloween is the only holiday celebrated in the US in which we do not give exclusively to our family or loved ones, but to complete strangers. We give unconditionally. This is carried even further in the symbolism of Halloween through the use of costumes, for even if our loved ones arrive at our doorstep to trick-or-treat they would be shrouded in disguise.

This unconditional giving is a major component of the Segaki ceremony or festival, which many sanghas who practice Japanese Buddhism celebrate around Halloween. The Segaki festival feeds the hungry ghosts (gakis)— one of the beings of the six realms, who are insatiably hungry and thirsty but cannot eat or drink because their mouths are miniscule. The Dharma Rain Zen Center has a good explanation of the kids' part of the ceremony here. As for the adult part, there's a talk by Zen teacher Laren Hogen Bays on Sweeping Zen here. As the summary says, Bays talks about how the ceremony "ends a month of calling in the hungry ghosts or darker parts of our own nature," and "the need to integrate all of ourselves into life and to know the shadow parts of ourselves so we can help ourselves and others."

Both Halloween and Segaki remind us of the darker sides of ourselves. We dress up as monsters once a year, but as David Chapman discusses on his website Buddhism for Vampires, we are all monsters...all year round. Chapman recently gave a Halloween-themed interview with The Secular Buddhist, which you can listen to here and find out just what exactly Buddhism has to do with vampires at all. During the interview Chapman elaborates on the "we are all monsters" idea that he presents on his site, as well as methods of dealing with our inner monstrosity. From his site:

Here are three attitudes we can take toward our own monstrosity:

Rejection. We can try to pretend we are not monsters, and try to not be monsters. Unfortunately, we are monsters, so this often doesn’t work well.

Inversion. We can revel in our monstrosity and give it full rein. We can rationalize and pretend not to care about the harm that does to other people.

Incorporation. We can embrace our monstrosity while retaining our human nobility. We can allow each to transform the other, so we become cheerful, kind, useful monsters who are also overpowering, unpredictable, and dangerous heroes.

Surely there are days when we are monstrous. But there are also days when we are heroic, as well—like on Halloween, when we hand out gifts to perfect strangers.

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