Sugar Cane Ghost

Pv 4.5 Ucchu Sutta: Sugar Cane Ghost


Bhante, as a result of my meritorious deeds, a large farm of sugar cane has appeared for me. Unfortunately, I am unable to eat from it. Please tell me why I cannot eat them. Even though I try very hard to pluck out a stalk, I fail every time. Leaves of the sugar cane cut my body and I become very weak and faint. I am suffering very much. Please tell me what bad deed I did in the past.

With a weak body I collapse on the ground. I tremble like a fish thrown to the hot ground. I am crying. Please tell me why this is happening to me.

I am starving, thirsty, and weak. Overcome by extreme thirst, I have never experienced any happiness. Please Bhante, tell me how I can eat the sugar cane.


You have done an evil deed when you were in the human world. I will tell you what that is.

One day, you were going somewhere while chewing a sugar cane. Another person came up behind you with the idea that you would share with him. But you did not pay attention to him. Then he begged for a sugar cane saying, “Good sir, please give me some sugar cane.” With an angry mind, reluctantly, you passed back a sugar cane without looking at him. That is the karma that you are experiencing now. Therefore, now you should also turn your back to the sugar cane and try to pluck it. Then you will be able to eat as much as you wish. In this way you will be happy and satisfied.

So the ghost turned his back to the sugar cane and plucked it out of the ground. He ate as much as he wished. In this way he became happy and satisfied

Hi everyone,

I just read this a few times but I think it’s not my day today. I just can’t seem to get the teaching in it. He turns the back to the sugar cane and is then able to pluck it?

Thank you for helping my brain out :slightly_smiling_face:


There’s a teaching that when you give or do a good deed, you shouldn’t be angry or regretful. The idea is that you’ll get merit for giving, but you won’t be able to enjoy the merit. So it’s a mix of good and bad kamma.

Imagine a very wealthy person who is very stingy and too nervous to get any nice things. Here, it’s someone with lots of sugarcane they got from giving, but they can’t easily enjoy it because they gave with anger and regret about their generosity.

I think it’s important to highlight that these stories are often very simplistic with kamma. They’re meant to teach general lessons and inspire (read: scare :laughing:) people not to do bad things. But they’re not the best place to predict what the process looks like in real life. That’s just my opinion. :slight_smile:


SN3.20 gives a similar teaching, but without the “ghost-hack”.


I think I can explain. To give to someone when not facing them is an act of reluctant giving, and it is disrespectful to the receiver to give reluctantly when asked (and not facing them). That pāpa act had karmic consequences as he was about to discover.

When the giver died, he becomes a preta (a dead spirit) waiting for his next birth. The petavatthu is all about pretas (the spirits of dead people) facing the consequences of what they did before they died.

It is a belief that while a preta, one still feels hunger (being accustomed to hunger while being alive) although one has lost one’s body at death. So this preta goes about trying to find something to eat. He gets a sugarcane orchard (the fruits of some puṇya he had done while alive). But when he tries to take a sugarcane to eat from there, he is unable to. Confused he seek’s a Buddhist monk’s help to identify the reason behind his sorrowful situation.

The monk tells him not to face the sugarcane when taking it (as was his right being its owner) but face away from it (like a thief who steals something and runs away with his back to the place from where he stole it). So the preta had to act like a thief (and face the ignominy/shame of acting thief-like) as the karmic consequence of turning his back to the other person and giving reluctantly when asked, instead of giving it willingly and cheerfully of his own accord before even being asked.


This is a great explanation. I’d like to make a few small refinements, though since I believe there can be some confusion…

This is not quite true. There are also texts that give teachings on grief over departed relatives who are not necessarily petas. E.g. Pv1.8. There are even cases where the being appears to be a deva and not a ghost, e.g. Pv4.13

To be clear, ghosts are no more waiting for their next birth than any other being. I mention this since in the west ghosts are sometimes understood to be an in-between state. This is not the case according to the Buddha.

Ghosts do have bodies, just not the same kind as humans. So we can’t say that they have “lost their bodies” any more than any other being who has passed away. And stating that “it is a belief” obscures the fact that according to the text beings do very much feel hunger. And as ghosts they are just as much alive as they were in their previous birth.


@Snowbird @srkris @Vaddha

Thank you so much! I really felt like my brain was blocked yesterday (maybe Khamma? :rofl:)
Now it’s clear and makes much more sence and I will also enjoy reading the SN3.20 now


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It sounds like a logical and compassionate teaching from The Buddha residing in that realm. No shaming, get the meal done and continue to learn the lessons as a bit wiser ghost.


Nature always finds its ways :+1:

I didnt say it means ‘ghost’, I used the word dead-spirit i.e. the spirit of a dead/departed person, which is the literal translation of preta. So all departed relatives would be pretas regardless of whether they thence got reborn as devas or not.

Pretas are an in-between state (what one is after death but before rebirth in another world), whether in early buddhism or Hinduism/Jainism etc. I didnt use the word ghost as it could have other connotations that are unrelated to pretas.

Where do you find this being expressed in EBTs?

I’ve mentioned that they do feel hunger, just that it is a hunger without a physical body.

Sorry, this is flat out wrong, at least when it comes to the EBTs. The ghost world is just one of many places one can be reborn. It is possible to feel both pleasure and pain there. And beings are specifically born their because of their bad karma.