Hungry Ghosts 7: Ghoul Archetypes

(Continued from Hungry Ghosts 6: Mentally Ill Ghouls)

In an attempt to unveil that which is (mostly) invisible to us, I will delve into this subject in detail. This is not because I have a morbid fascination about the afterlife.

OK, I do. But that’s not the reason why I’m digging into this subject.

In my humble personal opinion, we can’t guard against becoming––or even assist those who have become––a hungry ghost if we have no idea what it is and what we can do to help.

Ignoring this subject or pretending it does not exist does not make it go away. Although it’s not particularly pleasant, we must face this horrific subject head-on.

The material is rather disturbing. Although I wish it was all fictional, truth is, I’m not making any of this stuff up. In fact, it’s super ancient and very well documented.

All this information can be found in the ancient Buddhist scripture called The Petavatthu from Pali Canon‘s Sutta Pitaka dated to approximately 300 BC.

I will attempt to classify the ghouls according to their patterns of behavior and where they will likely to be found. Some are loners while others travel in packs which I call horde. There are also a few which defy categorization. I will identify those as well.

FYI: Images are for illustrative purposes only. I tried to find illustrations that closely resemble the descriptions but there may be some that do not quite match the gory details. In those instances, please fill in the missing pieces with your fertile imagination.

Since there are FAR FAR more than a mere 24 hungry ghosts wandering around out there in the yin realm, these are what I consider archetypes, much as a vampire would be considered a single category of what we call the undead. Count Dracula would be considered one such being.

Having said all that––here we go, in no particular order of importance:

Twenty-four Ghoul Archetypes

1. Vantàsà

Vantàsà is basically a greed ghoul who travels in a horde. It is tall, thin, and covered with scabs and it has a wrinkled face, with round eyes and protruding teeth.

It suffers from continuous hunger and thirst which nothing can slake because it has a throat that is so tiny, no food or water can pass through.

It has shaggy hair, distorted mouth, jagged hands and feet with tendons like boiled wire. Its legs are bent and its belly is swollen. It has a strong sulfury odor about its body and wherever it appears, the smell of rotten eggs precedes its appearance.

The Petavatthu documents many Vantàsà in its Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka. The Vantàsà are said to be formerly avaricious humans who did no charity work at all. This is attributed to their previous selfish, miserly nature.

Truth be told, the vast majority of hungry ghosts are of the Vantàsà variety because greed is pervasive in the general populace, especially in this day and age.

When they died, they had to experience what it felt like to be hungry and thirsty so that they can relate to this suffering and hopefully be better humans once they are able to work through their karmic debt and be reborn as human.

2. Kunapà

The Kunapàn is a human carrion––a corpse eater. It congregates in a horde and can be found anywhere corpses are found. This means battlefields, accident sites, graveyards, and places where mass burials have been carried out.

The Kunapàn eats corpses because this is the only thing that it can eat. Unfortunately, the more it eats, the hungrier it gets.

When it comes across an abandoned corpse, the Kunapàn will tear the cadaver from limb to limb and devour it, much like what a carrion such as a vulture or hyena would do.

The Kunapàn has eyes the size of a cup, teeth as big as a hoe, long hair, a very large head, a twisted body, and a bulging belly. It has a strong sulfury odor about its body, and the smell of rotten eggs will precede its appearance.

The Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka documents one such Kunapàn in its scripture. It states that in a previous life, this particular Kunapàn was a person who did not know how to do good deeds, had a bad character, was not afraid of sinning. He ate the type of meat that the Buddhas had banned according to Buddhist doctrine, the worst of which was killing humans to eat their flesh. [1]

FYI: The ten types of meat that are forbidden by Buddhist doctrines for humans to eat are: humans, tiger, leopard, elephant, horse, snake, domestic dog, jackal, bear, and lion. I would also add to this list octopus, dolphins, and orangutans due to their high level of intelligence.

3. Gùthakhad

The Gùthakhad is truly gross because it only eats blood and feces. It is another horde type of Hungry Ghost and can often be found near the toilet areas in search of food.

As with the other Hungry Ghosts, it is extremely fetid. This one stinks of not just rotten eggs but also feces.

The Gùthakhad has a strange body, with twisted eyes and mouth and a big bald head. What little hair it has grows all over his neck and shoulders. Its belly is as big as a drum, with stretched skin full of scabies.

As with all other Hungry Ghosts, this is a long-term hunger and thirst which causes extreme misery.

According to the Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka, this hungry ghost in his previous life was a cruel person who did not believe in karmic retribution. He was insolent and relied on power to bully and murder those around him. His cruelty and lack of character caused his family to starve and become homeless. 

Because of his cruelty, when he died, he fell into what is known as the boiling copper hell (I’ll touch upon the various hells in a future posting) to work out the worst of his karmic debt. After his debt had been paid, the residual karmic debt caused him to be born as the Gùthakhad.

4. Aghala

An Aghala is one of three fire ghouls that burns constantly without reprieve.

It has swollen bulging eyes that burn with a fire from within. Smoke constantly rises from all his orifices and its skin bulges and blisters due to the heat weltering from within.

It is a horde type ghoul and tend to aggregate together in a group.

The Aghala cannot eat anything because the fire that dwells within it burns any food it touches to a blackened charred mess. Its hunger cannot be sated, but even though it is starving to death, it cannot die due to the evil karma that it has created.

You can usually find groups of Aghalas wandering around in the forested mountains or in and around the seashore among the sand dunes. They may be mistaken for light orbs floating about, but make no mistake. They are Aghala.

5. Sucimukha

Sucimukha are hungry horde ghosts with large hulking bodies and a big belly. They have tiny mouths, , scaly scabby hands and feet with very long sharp nails

They feel extremely hungry and thirsty because they can not eat or drink.

The can often be found deep in the forests or high up in the mountainous regions.

One account in the Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka talks about a particular Sucimukha who, in his previous life was a person with a very avarice nature. He was quite wealthy but hoarded his money throughout his life and refused to care for his parents and family, leaving them destitute and starving.

Due to his miserly nature, when he died, he could not let go of the physical wealth he had accumulated. The resulting greed he harbored caused him to remain on the earthly realm as the hungry ghost Sucimukha.

6. Kanhaji

This specific type of hungry ghost is called a Kanhaji. It has a tall body with crooked arms and legs, and a very big belly,

Atop a long skinny neck is a distorted head with shaggy hair, large protruding eyes, a short nose, and large jagged teeth and saggy lips.

It wanders as part of a horde. You can find bands of Kanhaji deep in the forests, wandering aimlessly looking for sustenance.

Sadly, if they see water, when they reach the water’s edge, it turns into a mirage. Any food they find turns into stone or bursts into flames. 

According to a passage in Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka, there was an individual who had an insolent and disrespectful character. Because he did not believe in anything holier than himself, he took great delight in destroying the gardens and ponds of the temples, and spoke disrespectfully to the monks. 

After his death, he continued to harbor those grudges and hatred, to be transmuted into the hungry ghost Kanhaji.

7. Nijjha

This is a Nijjha. He is yet one more horde type of hungry ghost with a thin body and an inability to eat or drink due to the unfortunate fact that he has a long tail growing out of where his tongue should be.

Needless to say, his mouth stinks of feces since the tail is where his anus is located.

Luckily, he has a long upper lip which droops down to his chin, covering most of his tail. As long as he does not open his mouth, he is not horrible to look at–but he still stinks. His fingers and toes stick together in a hoof-like manner and his belly swells so much that his navel protrudes.

The Nijjha can usually be found deep in the forests, mountains, or sand dunes by the seaside. He lives with a horde of other Hungry Ghosts, wandering around, waiting for a deliverance that may or may not appear. 

The Sutta Pitaka states that in a previous life, there was a person of cruel nature. Arrogant and disdainful of those around him, he often talks bad about others and seeks to divide those around him with contentious behavior. His tongue was his downfall and relegated him into the form of a Nijjha.

8. Sabbankà

A Sabbankà is another of the many hungry ghosts that cannot eat anything. This is due to its ‘razor-hands’ affliction (think of Edward Scissorhands) which causes it difficulty every time it tries to eat.

The razor hands cut into its face as it tries to eat, and all it can do is cry and wail in pain. Sadly, the more it tries to eat, the hungrier it becomes.

The Sabbankà travels as part of a horde and can often be found in desolate craggy mountains and sparsely populated valleys.

is full of scabs and sores with flies swarming around it. Its flesh is swollen and stinking, big eyes are exposed, nose is big and long like a female drum, extremely hungry and thirsty.

According to the Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka, in a previous life, this hungry ghost was a wretched person who was ungrateful of the blessings that he had been gifted. He was unfilial to his parents and beat his grandparents any time he became enraged.

He abused his close relatives, betrayed his benefactors, and did not show respect to anyone. Because of all this evil sown, the karmic harvest came in the form of this Sabbankà hungry ghost.

9. Pabbanka

This hungry ghost is what’s known as Pabbanka. It is one of several fiery hungry ghosts, with a huge body, short limbs, and a small head on top of a stumpy neck.

It has a hard stony flesh covering its body, which is actually a good thing since it is constantly on fire, burning day and night.

Its body glows hot and it is as red as a roasting iron. This matches its hot temper and contentious nature.

These hungry Pabbankas are of the horde type, so they will often be found traveling in bands across Gridhakūta Mountain (aka Vulture Peak, India).

In a previous life, these hungry ghosts were fierce, cruel, vindictive, resentful, and belligerent. They delighted in destroying property, killing people, and burning people’s homes.

As expected, all of this degenerate behavior set into motion the sort of karmic debt that causes a human being to be turned into a Pabbanka hungry ghost.

10. Ajagara

Although the Ajagara is another of the fiery hungry ghosts, it is unique in that it is one of the serpent-type ghouls. It has a body like a python. This python is no ordinary snake, however.

It is bigger than an elephant and it possesses multiple heads. These heads change and morph into various entities, apparently depending on the whim of the Ajagara.

Sometimes one head might look like a cow’s head while another head might resemble a tiger’s or a cat’s head. At other times, an elephant’s head might materialize, alongside a chicken’s head or a monkey’s head.

It doesn’t matter what type of head it morphs to though. None of the heads can consume anything. Nothing can slake its hunger and thirst.

All around it, a constant burning fire flames bright day and night, causing all of its heads to cry and wail. It burns terribly, but it cannot die because of the evil karma it created when it was a human.

You can find this loner wandering around in the forested mountains and sandy beaches.

This hungry ghost in his previous life once lived on Gridhakūta (aka Vultures’ Peak). He had been a bandit in the time of Kassapa Buddha and had committed various heinous crimes.

Not only was this man aggressive, he was also hostile, and scolded his parents and others around him, calling them pigs and dogs.

Even worse, this man was an arsonist. He burned down houses and fields, killing many people. When he died, he had to undergo the same sort of burning hell that he had caused others to experience.  When the karmic fruit ripened, he died and morphed into an Ajagara.

11. Vemanika

This hungry ghost is called a Vemanika. It is tall but very obese, with a bloated belly that looks like a squash. Its sparse hairs grow in unsightly clumps, covering its body in odd patches.

It is the only hungry ghost that can truly be considered the least miserable of all the hungry ghosts. That’s because this hungry ghost is quite famous.

He is often called Yamaràja, which means the King of Hell. We call him Diêm Vương In Vietnamese.

The Vemanika is a loner. To be more precise, he is the ONLY Vemanika in the Hungry Ghost realm because unlike all the other hungry ghosts who suffer all the time, he only suffers HALF the time. 

This King of Hell has a happy life for half a month, and then a miserable existence for the second half of the month. He is forced to suffer this imbalance until his karmic debt has been replayed. 

Vemanika passes through his days in relative comfort, at least compared to all the other hungry ghosts. He would be relatively happy for half the month, and then relatively miserable for the other half of the month.

When things are going well and life is happy, he changes into a handsome king with many attendants waiting on him hand and foot.

When life is miserable however, he turns into the tall ugly troll-like ghoul who delights in torturing and killing the various hungry ghosts that live in his realm. During these miserable periods, it is a bloodbath. He is usually covered in blood as his rage pushes him to torment and persecute all those around him.

This hungry ghost was a deluded person in his previous life. Since he had no integrity, sometimes he would do good deeds and sometimes, he would do bad deeds.

He would kill some people but also heal other people. He would steal from some folks but then he would turn around and give others his stolen goods. And all the while, as he is doing good deeds, he would drink alcohol till the cows came home (think Robin Hood).

As a result of all these multifarious activities, he turned into a Vemanika when he died. Once he burns off his karmic debts, he has the chance to be reborn again, and when he does, another Vemanika will come to take his place.

12. Mahiddhika

When you first encounter Mahiddhika, you would not guess that he is a ghoul. He looks magnificent––like the gods themselves.

But this is a good lesson in never judging a person by only their external appearance.

Mahiddhika is dressed like a prince. He is blinged out with jewelry and carries all sorts of treasures. More than that, he has magical powers and can also fly around in the air. So what gives him away as a Hungry Ghost?

The answer is his stink. Mahiddhika is a real stinker. That famous sulfur rotten egg smell pervades the air when he is around.

Note: This is quite common with all the Hungry Ghosts, making me believe that the realm they live in is filled with sulfuric gas.

This is similar to how our realm is filled with 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, and 1% argon. If, for example, nitrogen really stinks in their world, we would really be stinky to them every time we met up with them in their world.

Given this possibility, it could be that every time they appear in our realm, they bring that stinky gas with them, and that’s what we smell. Just my guess.

Mahiddhika is a loner Hungry Ghost. He has been hungry and thirsty for thousands of years. 

When he finds something that he thinks he can eat, he tries, but the food turns into molten metal in his mouth. Should he attempt to swallow it, the molten iron flows down his throat, burning his innards.

The Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka talks about the Mahiddhika‘s previous life. This man was no ordinary mortal. He was a high level monk who did not observe the precepts properly and led his congregation to go against the teachings of the Buddha dharma

Let me tell you. There are certain types of people in the world who live their lives pretending to be monks and ministers, but they do it for the sole purpose of obtaining huge profits.

This is a grave transgression. It caused the fake monk to fall into one of the Buddhist hells. Once he had done his penance, the small amount of karmic discharge remained, so he had to finish off the debt as the hungry ghost Mahiddhika.

13. Suciloma

This one is truly a hair-raiser. In fact, a better name for Suciloma would be Pincushion because he has much in common with Pinhead, the Hell Priest in Hellraiser. He is the hungry ghost of war-mongers.

He has a lot of hair, all of it sharp like needles which pierce his entire body. The hairs, stab into him from the top of is head to the soles of his feet. Where the pins pierce, blood oozes in thick viscous rivulets.

This one is a loner. He screams endlessly as the fires of hell consume him, even as he floats in the air near Gridhakūta Mountain (aka Vulture Peak, India).

FYI: Suciloma is not the only Hungry Ghost who can be found on Gridhakūta Mountain. It is also the favorite haunt of many ghouls such as the python hungry ghost known as Ajagara. Gridhakūta Mountain was the Buddha’s favorite retreat in Rājagaha (now Rajgir, India) and it was the scene for many of his discourses.

According to the Saṃyukta Āgama Sutra [2], at one time, the Buddha was visiting the city of Rajasthan.

During his journey, one of his closest disciples, Maudgalyāyana, saw in the middle of the road, what seemed to be a living being with a large body covered with quills. Upon closer inspection, it seemed to be tufts of hair, sharp like a knife.

The being was covered in flames that caused the sharp hair quills to continually poke and penetrate its body. Its crying was tortured and piteous from the pain, but to no avail.

The Buddha then explained to Maudgalyāyana that this creature was a hungry ghost named Suciloma. In its past life, it lived in the city of Rajasthan and loved to wage war, killing untold numbers of people with swords.

Because of this sin, he fell into hell and suffered immeasurable suffering for a very long time. Once he finished serving his time, he was transformed into a Suciloma to finish out the remnants of his karmic retribution. [2]

14. Kumbhanda

The Kumbhanda hauls two large bags of rocks on his back everywhere he goes. As if this is not bad enough, wherever he goes, he is constantly bitten by vultures, owls, and kites.

He is a loner, wandering around by himself with his packs looking for a place to rest and drop his load but he cannot find anywhere safe to do so because the vultures and kites continue to hound him.

Unable to lessen his load, the Kumbhanda must continue to haul these two rock loads on his shoulder and wander endlessly, miserably trying to evade the vultures and kites.

The Sutta Pitaka mentions the Kumbhanda‘s lifetime as a human. In his past life, this Kumbhanda was a judge who took bribes and subverted the laws for personal benefits. His actions caused many people to be wrongfully convicted and even executed.

Once he died, he fell into the Avīci, which is the lowest level of hell (there are 28 hells, by the way). This is the sort of hell that you do not want to ever visit because once you get stuck in there, it takes a long, long time to work your way out.

He was in the Avīci for a very long time. When his karmic debt expired, he was transformed into a Kumbhanda to finish of the remnants of his karmic debt and to await rebirth, to try again to learn the lessons of samsara.

15. Ahi

This hungry ghost is another of the serpent type of ghoul. As with all serpent ghouls, it is a loner. It is known as an Ahi.

The Ahi has a snake body with a human head. It slithers around the volcanic mountains, burning in the fires that spew from the earth all around it.

No matter where it runs, it cannot escape the fire because it is the entity that causes the fires to start. It constantly burns, suffering incessantly.

This hungry ghost in his previous life was an arsonist. He was full of anger at the world, turning his dark rage into a destructive force.

He destroyed those around him with a lack of discrimination, burning people’s houses and setting fire to the shrines and temples, killing many innocent souls.

Once he died, he entered the Avīci, and there he stayed until he was able to repay that terrible karmic debt. At the end of his penance, he was transformed into the Ahi to await his eventual return to the human realm.

16. Nicchavi

Nicchavi is an interesting sort of hungry ghost. It is what’s known as an emotional cheater. This is karmic retribution for emotional and mental pain that has been caused by its action.

The Nicchavi is another one of those ghouls whose body is falling apart and oozing with pus. Its rotting flesh attracts the vultures, owls, and kites which crowd in on the Nicchavi as it hovers along on the winds.

The Nicchavi fights and claws, crying bitterly and trying to fight off the vultures, but the birds continue their torment. Unfortunately, the more they peck and tear at its flesh, the more it heals and becomes whole once more.

And the cycle starts again, whereby the Nicchavi is torn apart by the vultures.

The Nicchavi is a loner hungry ghost and can often be found floating in the air in and around the Gridhakūta Mountain (aka Vulture Peak, India).

According to the Sutta Pitaka, one particular Nicchavi was a woman in her previous life. She was married but carried out many extra-marital affairs with others.

Although she did no physical harm to him, her scheming and deception caused him emotional and mental damage causing him immense grief.  Make no mistake. Mental and emotional distress is also karmic damage.

Once she died, she was assigned to one of the Buddhist hells consisting of boiling copper water. Over time, her karmic debt was discharged. She was eventually transformed into a Nicchavi to work off whatever leftover karmic debt that was still remaining.

17. Nimugga

This is a Nimugga. It is a rapist ghoul. Its body is ugly, with tough flesh that is rotten through.

It looks to have been rolling through the raw sewage because its body is covered in feces. This is because, similar to the Gùthakhad, it is also a feces-eater.

It is a loner and can be found in the depths of the sewers, hunting for feces to eat. It is one of the few hungry ghosts that are actually able to eat and drink…but feces and urine is all that it can stomach.

Once the Nimugga has eaten its full of feces and has drunk as much urine as possible, it is then able to leave the sewers. Sadly, its intense pain stems from its swollen stomach full of excrement, but it is only able to leave the sewers once it has eaten its fill.

The Sutta Pitaka speaks of this hungry ghost as being a man who previously had a vile and evil disposition. He was a sadist and would often seek out and rape the females he encounters regardless of age. From young girls to the elderly, he committed atrocities on them all.

He would also torture his family, abusing and raping his own wife. Yet, this man looked as if he was upstanding and full of integrity. His pretension fooled many people into thinking he was a pure and honest person.

Once this man died, he fell into one of the Buddhist hells where he was forced by the hell demons to climb up and down a red-hot iron pole with many sharp thorns which tore his body to pieces. This is so that he can experience what it feels like to be physically raped.

After a very long time of this penance, he was finally allowed to be transformed into the Nimugga hungry ghost.

18. Sukara

The Sukara is very similar to the Nijjha in that it also has a tail that grows out of its mouth in place of where its tongue should be. This is because its tongue is the source of its sins.

It has a human body with a pig’s head, and like most hungry ghosts, it suffers from great hunger and thirst.

The difference between the Sukara and the other hungry ghosts is the cause of its inability to eat. The tail that grows from its mouth takes up all the available space in its oral cavity so that it cannot eat.

If that wasn’t bad enough, its mouth has decomposed to the point that it is filled with squirming maggots, causing a terrible stench to emanate from its mouth.

It is a loner and can often be found in deep forests, or near Gridhakūta Mountain (aka Vulture Peak, India).

In a previous life, this hungry ghost was a person who did not know morality, had a cowardly character, did not have a sincere heart, often lied, spoke harshly to divide people. sometimes slandered them to cause harm, sometimes speak cruelly, curse without respect for anyone. 

Because evil has been sown, when he dies, he must fall into the hell of Api, and be burned by fire for a long time; when the fruit is left, reborn as this hungry ghost.

19. Manguli

This one is called Manguli and it is a doozie of a loner. Even before it makes an appearance, you know it has arrived because of the unique but unmistakeable Manguli-esque, scurvy-tinged rotten egg smell that no one can stand,

Once the Manguli appears, it flails about in the air with its gnarled and bent arms and legs covered with rough skin that is afflicted with scurvy.

The vultures and kites (Kites are carnivorous birds of prey) flock and swarm around it, attracted by the scent of death. They bite and peck at it even as it howls in rage and bats at them with its useless limbs.

The Manguli has messy hair that frames a face with that was once beautiful but is now dominated by eyes as large as saucers and a snaggletoothed mouth that can do nothing more than cry and wail with pain and misery.

According to the Sutta Pitaka, in a previous life, there was a woman who went around, falsely claiming to be a sacred medium (see my previous posting on Lên Đồng) in order to scam people to take their money.

She also introduced and advocated people into taking psychedelics and alcohol, and encouraged the killing of animals as burnt offerings in various worship ceremonies to a host of demons and gods. 

Due to the evil that has been sown, when she died, she fell into the hell of acid water. When the water touched her, it caused her to die repeatedly, but because she cannot die, she continually came back to life.

In this manner, she suffered for a long time until she had done enough penance and her evil karma was able to be repaid. She was then allowed to be reborn as a Manguli to work out her remaining karmic debt before she could come back into the land of the humans to hopefully be born as an animal.

20. Chataka

This hungry ghost is called Chataka. Its emaciated body is nothing but skin and bones. As with all other hungry ghosts, the Chataka also experiences extraordinary hunger and thirst. 

The Chataka is a loner. He possesses nothing, has no clothes, no food, no place to rest his bones. He wanders everywhere–alone, starving and crying bitterly.

The Pali Canon’s Sutta Pitaka‘s account talks of the Chataka‘s previous incarnation in the time of Buddha Vipassì. It was at this point in history that the three Princes of the region had assigned an Assistant, charging him with preparing food for the Buddha Vipassì and his ten thousand monks.

Once the food was cooked, but not yet time to be served, his children began crying and asked to be fed. To keep them quiet, he took a bit of the food and fed it to the children.

Over a period of time, as the Assistant continued the assignment he had been given, the tiny portions that he fed to his children to keep them quiet became an entire large meal that he served to his family before the main meal for the Buddha and his ten thousand monks began.

At first glance, the crime of eating consecrated food before it was even offered to the Buddha and the monks does not seem to be a major offense. However, this indicates a presumptuous arrogance that the man harbored within his psyche.

Firstly, the food was not his to freely take. It was an oblation that was offered by the three Princes of the realm to the Buddha and his monks. Secondly, the food would have been shared with the Assistant and his family once the consecration and the offering had been placed before the Buddha.

His was the sin of pride and greed and lack of respect to even the Buddha. When he died, he was sent to the fire hell and burned for awhile until there was nothing but leftover karma which he was able to work off as a Chataka.

21. Kukkuta

The Kukkuta is a horde type of hungry ghost that afflicts a huge number of people–too numerous to count. This is because the Kukkuta is a gambler ghoul.

Kukkuta has a smooth round bald head. It is thin but has a bulging pot belly, with twisted deformed legs.

During the day, Kukkuta carries a huge hammer. It hobbles about looking for others of its kind to start fights with.

When two Kukkutas meet, they swing their hammers at each other and try to bash each other’s heads in. Not a day goes by that the Kukkutas’ skulls do not get smashed and bloodied and their bodies do not get bruised and battered.

When night comes, an internal fire burns them, causing blistering sores all over their bodies. All they can do is wail and scream piteously for their parents. 

But then daylight would arrive, the fires would die down, their burns and blisters would instantly heal and they would be back outside with their hammers, looking for more Kukkutas to fight with and to beat each other’s heads to bloody pulps.

The Kukkuta, in its human lifetime, was a gambling addict and a drunkard. Instead of doing constructive work or doing good deeds, he spent his days drinking alcohol and fish-fighting, buffalo-fighting, or cock-fighting.

Note: These are blood sports held in a ring called a cockpit. The game fowls (or fish, or buffalo) have been bred for high levels of aggression toward each other, and bets are often made on the outcome of the match. These hapless animals may endure significant physical trauma and even death.

These gamblers engage in and gamble on these fights for money which they squander on drinking and raising more fighting animals to be used for fighting. In this manner, they killed so many animals for sport and without any compassion. 

Because of the evil sown, when this man died, he was sent to one of the levels of Buddhist burning hells to work off his karma. Once he was deemed ready to try again, he was transmuted into the hungry ghost Kukkuta.

22. Asisa

This is a unique hungry ghost among other hungry ghosts. It is called Asisa.

It has a body but no head. Its eyes, nose and mouth are located in the middle of its chest. Its arms and legs are gnarled and twisted, and it has a pot belly.

Similar to the Manguli, it is constantly beset by kites and vultures, Oh, the kites fly again, they bite and peck all the time, their blood flows red and they overflow, floating in the air, crying in pain, the sound is disgusting.

There was an Asisa who was in a past life, a person with a fierce temper. He was so hot-headed that if something were to set him off, he had no compunction in killing people without hesitation.

The Sutta Pitaka account of this particular Asisa takes place during the reign of King Rājagaha, in the city of Rājagaha (modern-day Rajgir, India) of the 7th Century BCE.

If this place sounds familiar, that’s because it is a very famous place. It was the old capital of Magadha Kingdom where Prince Siddhattha left his kingdom and began his serious pursuit for liberation from Samsāra.  During the reign of King Bimbisara, it was one of the largest cities in the world [4]. 

At any rate, this city was where this particular Asisa once lived. He was the king’s executioner and beheaded countless people with no sense of compassion. 

Because of the horrific magnitude of evil that was sown, when he died, he fell into the Avīci, which is the lowest level of hell (there are 28 hells, by the way). This is the sort of hell that you do not want to ever visit because once you get stuck in there, it takes a long, long time to work your way out.

Once he managed to repay the bulk of his karmic debt, he was left with the residual debt, which he had to try and burn off as the headless hungry Asisa.

23. Satthikutà

Satthikutà is a giant hungry ghost that has a huge body. He has 60 fiery red iron hammers that constantly flies around, aiming for his head.

When the iron hammers strike, his skull cracks, swells, and breaks apart only to heal immediately whereupon it would be attacked by yet another flying iron hammer. His torturous attacks never cease, causing him great suffering.

Satthikutà is a loner and can often be found deep in the forests and craggy mountainous regions.

According to the Sutta Pitaka, in a previous life, this hungry ghost was a person with a swaggering boastful temperament. He was a high level sniper who was an expert marksman and never wasted any opportunity to show off his skills.

One day, upon meeting one of the Solitary Buddhas (a Pratyekabuddhayāna) who was begging for food. Instead of offering the Buddha sustenance, he used the Buddha as a living target. This resulted in the Buddha’s ear being pierced by one of his well-aimed bullets.

Because of this evil deed, when the sniper died, he fell into one of the burning hells and remained there until he was finally able to shed most of his karmic debt. When only the residuals remained, he was allowed to return to the world of yin to finish out his penance as a Satthikutà hungry ghost.

24. Pabbajita

This is another loner hungry ghost. It is called Pabbajita and wears the uniform of a monk because it was once a monk.

This is yet another hungry ghost that constantly burns with a fire from within. It floats aimlessly in midair, writhing and wailing as it is consumed by the flames of its own making.

The Sutta Pitaka states that in his previous life, the monk Pabbajita was alive in the time of Kassapa Buddha in the 5th century BC.

This monk looked like a monk but he did not act like a monk. He was immoral, lazy, and excessively greedy.

He made money through nefarious means including those that were sinful and harmful to others. His methodology gained him money and fame but this was all he gained. Since he did not follow the practices of the Buddha, he gained nothing that lasted.

Once he died, he found himself in one of the Buddhist hot hells, and there he stayed for a very long time. Once most of his karmic debt had been burned off, he was allowed to return to the yin world as the Pabbajita hungry ghost.

  1. The Petavatthu
  2. Saṃyukta Āgama Sutra
  3. 24 Loai Nga Quy
  4. Sutra for the Dead
  5. Rājagaha – Ancient Capital of Magadha
  6. Chuyện Ngạ Quỷ
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