Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Hungry Ghost of Perfection

In Buddhism, the hungry ghost is a metaphor for those cravings to which we become attached -- most of them physical in nature.

From Buddha Mind:
Characterised by - Greed; Insatiable cravings; Addictions.
"I want this, I need this, I have to have this".

This is the realm of intense craving. The Hungry Ghosts are shown with enormous stomachs and tiny necks - they want to cat, but cannot swallow; when they try to drink, the liquid turns to fire, intensifying their thirst. The torture of the hungry ghost is not so much the frustration of not being able to get what he wants. Rather it is his clinging to those things he mistakenly thinks will bring satisfaction and relief. The Buddha in this Realm holds a Bowl from which the 'gifts of the gods' are distributed. This is to entice the hungry ghosts to desire for the Truth which is the only way that the deepest longings and hungers can be satisfied.

Consider: 'Gollum' from Lord of the Rings; The obssessive nature of Video Games; Addictions of various sorts; We can be helped in this Realm by our willingness to 'look up', to see beyond our obssessions.
In the Western World (and increasingly in other nations as well), beauty and perfection have become hungry ghosts for a lot of women and men. The quest for perfection has become a kind of addiction, a misdirected quest to fill the emptiness lurking inside so many of us.

We will never be satisfied by external things in our quest to be happy and whole, but the media, our culture, and our own internalized beliefs push us to attempt just that -- to fill the emptiness inside with external reenforcement. But no matter how many people think we are beautiful or perfect, this will never fill the holes inside of us.

On AlterNet, there is an excerpt from Courtney E. Martin's new book, Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters. The article doesn't really go into the spiritual element, but it shows how this emptiness so many of us are trying to fill manifests in a pathological need to be perfect, at least on the outside. Beauty and perfection are hungry ghosts that can never be satisfied. And the result is eating disorders, starvation, and incessant exercise -- I see it every day at the gym where I work.

There is a girl, right now, staring in a mirror in Des Moines, scrutinizing her widening hips. There is a girl, right now, spinning like a hamster on speed in a gym on the fifth floor of a building in Boston, promising herself dinner if she goes two more miles. There is a girl, right now, trying to wedge herself into a dress two sizes too small in a Savannah shopping mall, chastising herself for being so lazy and fat. There is a girl, right now, in a London bathroom, trying not to get any vomit on her aunt's toilet seat. There is a girl, right now, in Berlin, cutting a cube of cheese and an apple into barely visible pieces to eat for her dinner.

Our bodies are places where our drive for perfection gets played out. Food is all around us, as are meals and the pressure that goes with them. Well-intentioned after-school specials teach us, from a very young age, how to purge our snacks. We are inundated with information about "good" and "bad" foods, the most effective workout regiments, the latest technological advancements in plastic surgery. We demand flawlessness in our appearance -- the outer manifestation of our inner dictators.

To some degree, this makes sense. People in general like to look at a pretty face -- which means they also like to be friends with a pretty face, do business with a pretty face, and marry a pretty face. Attractive people are desired and coddled in our society; they have an easier time getting jobs, finding boyfriends and girlfriends, getting parts in music videos, simply getting the average waiter's attention.

Even smart girls must be beautiful, even athletes must be feminine. Corporate CEOs, public intellectuals, and even accountants must be thin. Lorie, an 18-year-old from Portland, Maine, wrote, "Everyone wants to be skinny, because in life the skinny one gets the guy, the job, the love." A 10-year-old I interviewed in Santa Fe, N.M., broke it down for me even further: "It is better to be pretty, which means thin and mean, than to be ugly, which means fat and nice. That's just how it is."

The body is the perfect battleground for perfect-girl tendencies because it is tangible, measurable, obvious. It takes four long years to see "summa cum laude" etched across our college diplomas, but stepping on a scale can instantly tell us whether we have succeeded or failed.

The cruel irony is that although we become totally obsessed with the daily measures of how "good" or "bad" we are (refused dessert = good; didn't have time to go to the gym = bad), there is no finish line. This weight preoccupation will never lead us anywhere. It is a maniacal maze that always spits you out at the same point it sucked you up: wanting. We keep chasing after perfection as if it is an achievable goal, when really it is the most grand and painful of all mirages.

Read the whole article.

1 comment:

Namrata Gaikwad said...

This article is really very nice. I have learned a lot from it.