One notable aspect of Buddhism is the unusual role played by strange creatures called Hungry Ghosts. These are phantom-like creatures, only half-alive, who are constantly tormented by an intense hunger. Their bodies are so starved that their arms and legs have shriveled down to mere skin and bone. But they can’t eat anything, because their mouths are the size of a pin hole, and their necks are extremely long and thin. The only part of their bodies that isn’t thin is the huge bloated belly. But this belly is always empty, and because it is so big, it produces intense hunger pains.
Buddhists believe that a very greedy man will be punished in his next incarnation by being reborn as a Hungry Ghost. This punishment can result from various kinds of greed, such as a gluttonous appetite for expensive food and drink, or an obsessive lust for money and power, or a hedonistic quest for sensual pleasures. Harmful emotions such as anger and hate can also cause a person to be reborn as a Hungry Ghost. But in Buddhism no punishment lasts forever, and after a Hungry Ghost has endured enough suffering, it will be reborn into another life form.
Hungry Ghosts live in a kind of shadow world that is sometimes described as a hidden reality. Because they live in this hidden realm, they normally can’t be seen by humans. However, some sources say that they can become momentarily visible under certain circumstances. They have supposedly been seen trying to nibble on corpses, or wandering around in deserts and waste places.
Note: Beliefs about Hungry Ghosts vary slightly from one region to another. Also, imaginary beings that resemble Hungry Ghosts can be found in several other religions besides Buddhism.