This is our third Hungry Ghost retreat with Vince Cullen and it certainly started off rather stormily, with intense winds, rain, and even marble-sized hail battering the foundation over the past couple of days. Although the fruit and veggie farm has seen better days, cows, ducks, humans, dog, and cat are safe and well, and our buildings sustained very little damage, unlike during last year’s storm season.
Although today is only the first full day of the retreat, we’re diving straight into the material, exploring concepts such as the “Realm of the Hungry Ghost”, “Sajja”, and the Buddhist Path to Recovery.
The Realm of the Hungry Ghost refers to “the condition of insatiable craving as experienced by alcoholics and drug addicts”. Rather than being a physical place it is a state of being in the world, and applicable not only to those afflicted with substance abuse issues but to all of us who suffer from attachment. This is summed up by Vince as a craving for life to be other than the way that it is. Definitely something we can all relate to.
The concept of Sajja is also central to the teachings in the retreat. It is a not only a promise to cease taking intoxicating substances, but a commitment to starting a new life of truth, honesty, abstinence, freedom, and responsibility for our own actions.
Sajja is the first stepping stone on the Buddhist path to recovery, which is also comprised of the other stages: Generosity, Five Precepts, Loving-Kindness, Forgiveness, Meditation and Mindfulness, Fellowship, and a Relaxed and Happy Recovery.
Generosity can be seen as the antidote to the selfishness of the addict self and gives rise to ethics, kindness, and the other stages of the path. Ethics is the aspiration to live according to the 5 precepts:
1. Not to harm ourselves or others
2. Not to take what has not been freely given
3. Not to cause harm through our sexual behaviour
4. Not to speak untruthfully
5. Not to take intoxicants
The practice of loving-kindness meditation uplifts the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Forgiveness meditation allows us to examine and let go of the past, heal the present moment, and embrace the future. Meditation and mindfulness support and protect our recovery. Not least, fellowships provide us with strength and support during our journey.
The path is by no means straightforward or without struggle, but it does a bear a simple reward: the gift of being at peace today, here, and now – with the sun shining brilliantly after the storm.
For more information about the material discussed in this blog please download the booklet “Taking Sajja Beyond Thamkrabok” by Vince Cullen.