The ceremony of Segaki is when we, as Buddhists, take time to offer compassionate respite to the restless spirits or “hungry ghosts” that surround us through the offering of chants, prayer or physical items. The Halloween season seems to provide the requisite amount of spirits, energy and atmosphere so it is as good a time as any to practice. Also with a tidal wave of candy-snacks rolling in, perhaps feeding my pretas beforehand may lead to less gorging.
According to Buddhist myth, hungry ghosts are creatures with large distended stomachs, small mouths and pencil-thin throats that are never able to satisfy their hunger or thirst. While these sorrowful and troublesome entities can be taken in the literal, figurative or metaphysical, I see the hungry ghost as symbolizing my own karma of the past, present and (probably) future. Whether by hook or crook, actions taken in the past have a tenacious ability to show up again in the present. By participating in this ceremony, I am able to engage my willingness to atone, bring resolution to and work towards a peaceful acceptance of the actions on which I stand.
What frightens me most about his time of year? More so than ghosts, goblins, spooks, specters and naughty maids are the actions that I have taken in the past that have caused some harm to others. But it is not a simple correspondence. It isn’t that one foul equals one harm. Like interest on a defaulted loan, my actions have the potential to continue to cause harm to others and to myself. One statement or action, while fleeting in my memory, may not be so transient for someone else. Like a worm burrowing deep into the heartwood of a tree, one time harmful actions or words are easily forgotten but continue to rot away at the substance around them.