In the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts
This world of Time and Death, which we call the secular order, is the dark side. It is the domain of the hungry ghosts, and we are those hungry ghosts in both life and death. We are the depraved ones. That is the meaning of samsara and of samsaric existence. We must be clear on this before we can even hope to understand the first Noble Truth of Buddhism — life is dukkha — let alone hope for emancipation from samsaric existence. That is to say, what the Church calls mysterium iniquitatis — the mystery of iniquity — is samsaric existence. Samsara and the mysterium iniquitatis are the same.
Bear in mind, too, that “samsara” has the meaning of “wandering” — the lost — and thus with the fuller meaning of the parable of the Prodigal Son.
I read, recently, a quote from the Russian philosopher Vladimir Solovyov (1853 – 1900). It speaks to what I have called the problem of human narcissism.
“As long as the dark foundation of our nature, grim in its all-encompassing egoism, mad in its drive to make that egoism into reality, to devour everything and to define everything by itself, as long as that foundation is visible, as long as this truly original sin exists within us, we have no business here and there is no logical answer to our existence. Imagine a group of people who are all blind, deaf and slightly demented and suddenly someone in the crowd asks, “What are we to do?”… The only possible answer is “Look for a cure”. Until you are cured, there is nothing you can do. And since you don’t believe you are sick, there can be no cure.”
Solovyov has also given one of the most thorough characterisations of the meaning of samsaric existence and of mysterium iniquitatis I have read anywhere, which I will quote here at length:
“Evil is a universal fact because each natural life begins with struggle and hatred, continues in suffering and slavery and ends in death and rottenness…. The first law of nature is the struggle for existence. All the life of nature in the raw takes place in an incessant enmity of creatures and forces…. Every creature in this natural world beginning with the smallest particle of dust and ending with man tells by its whole natural existence one and the same thing: “I am, and the rest of the world exists only for me as a mere means,” and colliding with others, it says: “If I exist, you cannot exist, there is no room for you with me.” Each creature in brute nature says so, each attempts to fight all the others, wants to destroy them, and is destroyed in turn by the others. In so far as it is based upon egoism, life in brute nature is evil life, and its law is the law of sin. By the same law sin inevitably causes its own retaliation, one evil calling forth another. For if one creature inimically acts against the others, these others act inimically against it. Such an enmity is suffering — another form of the world evil. Since everything in nature sins one against another, everything suffers from one another.
Owing to this egoism, which separates one creature from all the others, each creature is a stranger living in an inimical environment which presses and attacks it from all sides…. All its natural life consists in a struggle with this inimical environment, in self-defence against the rest of the world. But it cannot defend itself against the pressure of all these inimical forces; a given creature is one while its enemies are many. They naturally overcome it. This conflict between each and all the rest inevitably leads to the destruction of each creature; the overwhelming inimical forces finally destroy its life, and the struggle ends universally by death and rotting. Death makes only explicit the secret brute of nature’s life; it shows that life in nature is a hidden death. Such is the fiery wheel of natural existence. Such is the universal evil, one in its nature and triple in its forms. Such is the tree of life in disintegrated nature: its root is sin, it’s growth is sickness, its fruit is death.”
This is “natural existence” as such, and natural existence is samsaric existence, and it is very bleak. A world without love, without compassion, without empathy would be a world of utter depravity. It is the zombie-like world of the hungry ghosts. But it is also a very apt characterisation of what William Blake calls “the Ulro” — the shadow world we are busily creating for ourselves because of “single vision”.
We are confronted by an enigma. In “this world”, lies and falsehoods come easy while truth comes hard and with difficulty. Everything comes wearing a mask. Truth discovery is often very hard work. Why should that be unless in some fundamental sense this world of Time and Death is itself a fiction, a fraud, a hoax, a lie, a mirage and a camouflage? The “Prince of Lies” is said to be The Lord of This World. And the “Prince of Lies” is none other than the very same egoism named by Solovyov — William Blake’s “Selfhood”, who is also the Buddhist demon “Mara“, the Architect (whose name, by the way, means “to die”).
What Solovyov has described in such bleak terms is the realm of the hungry ghosts. The ego-nature is the hungry ghost.