Why Are There Few New Buddhist Ghost Stories? 为何新的佛教鬼故事不多?

spooky ghost
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一念[阿弥陀]佛,胸辄舒五色光十余丈,眩[鬼]心目,不能复近… 鬼不种善根,不闻佛名,故惊怖。

— 净土宗九祖蕅益大师

Once reciting the Buddha’s name [Āmítuófó], from your chest, suddenly extends five-coloured (i.e. varicoloured) light, that radiates for more than 10 zhàngs (33.3 metres), that dazzles… [ghosts’] minds and eyes, to not be able to again come near… Ghosts who did not plant good roots, not having heard the Buddha’s name before, thus become surprised and fearful.

— Pure Land Tradition’s 9th Patriarch Great Master Ǒuyì
(Spirit Peak Tradition’s Treatise)

Why are there relatively fewer new Buddhist ghost stories? To answer this, let us define what is a ghost story first. It is record of an encounter with one or more ghostly beings. What makes a ghost story Buddhist in nature is whether there was a Buddhist involved in the experience. Who is a Buddhist then? He or she is one who understands and puts the Buddha’s teachings in action. This is not a nominal Buddhist who is ‘Buddhist’ in name only, without actual, what more adequate learning and practice. A new Buddhist ghost story is contemporary; not an ancient classic case.

We hear many ‘fresh’ horror stories of folks from seemingly ‘all’ walks of life, who encounter the supernatural. However, these cases tend to be from the faithless, or those who subscribe to other belief systems. That is, mostly from non-Buddhists. These true stories might be terrifying, incredible and intriguing, with the more interesting tales having thrilling elements of insidiousness versus helplessness. There might be one or more methods used in attempts to fend off the fiendish, but often to ambiguous, limited or no avail, thus with increasing scariness. Such are the ‘juicy’ stories.

The answer to the opening question is surprisingly simple. There are relatively fewer new Buddhist ghost stories because good Buddhists would have learnt from true cautionary tales already, thus knowing how to avoid supernatural disturbances by observing the precepts well. They also should already know how to protect themselves with the great efficacy of sincere mindfulness of Buddha (念佛) (such as Āmítuófó [阿弥陀佛] or Bodhisattva (念菩萨) (such as Guānyīn Púsà [观音菩萨]), which connects to the Buddha for blessings instantly. Thus, most Buddhist ghost stories do not even start, and even if they do, before you know it, they are ‘over’!

Beyond mindfulness of Āmítuófó for mere personal protection during supernatural disturbances, those with more compassion (and courage) can also offer guidance (开示), to introduce Faith(ful) (信) mindfulness of Āmítuófó with the Aspiration (愿) to be reborn in his Pure Land (净土) to ghostly beings, followed by support-chanting (助念), to exemplify and inspire the actual practice by them. With adequate sincere practice, thus connecting to Āmítuófó and reborn in his Pure Land, this is deliverance of sentient beings (度众生), to be liberated from the cycle of birth and death (了生死). This is surely the most fruiful ‘closure’ for any supernatural experience!


— 释迦牟尼佛

If the three-thousandfold great-thousandfold world, is full within with yakshas and rākṣasas, desiring to come to trouble people, hearing them recite that Guānshìyīn Púsà’s name [which is usually expressed as ‘Námó Guānshìyīn Púsà’: Homage to and refuge for life in Guānshìyīn Púsà: 南无观世音菩萨], all these evil ghosts, will yet, be not able to, with their evil eyes see them, moreover to do harm. [Mindfulness of Āmítuófó is likewise thus.]

— Śākyamuni Buddha
(Guānshìyīn Bodhisattva’s Universal Door Chapter)

Related Sūtra:

Contemplator Of The World’s Sounds (Guānshìyīn) Bodhisattva’s Universal Door Chapter

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