This next-to-final issue of Inquiring Mind is dedicated to hunger in many guises and manifestations. The journal comes into your hands in formidable times of war, famine and climate disruption. Each day of this season, from the autumnal equinox on September 21 and continuing to the winter solstice on December 21, the hours of daylight shorten and the descent into darkness beckons. Solemn holidays commemorate this dark time: the ceremony of summoning and feeding Hungry Ghosts and the Day of the Dead, when the veil between worlds is stretched thin and the dead dance with the living.
On the autumnal equinox of this year, hundreds of thousands of citizens converged in New York City for a peaceful march to the United Nations calling for attention and direct response to global climate change. This march occurred during the peak of farm harvest season, with improbable bounty being gleaned from North American fields of plenty while millions of people in the richest country on earth, most of them children, went to bed malnourished.
As dharma practitioners and concerned citizens of this era, how do we take in and respond to the deep-rooted causes and conditions of hunger? What teachings and practices help to build resilience in the intensity of these times? These questions inspired the collaboration evident in this issue on hunger.
A story often told by vipassana teacher Jack Kornfield helped us to focus on the different kinds of hunger and response available to an inquiring mind. In the refugee camps of Cambodia, Kornfield witnessed immense suffering among the survivors of the Cambodian Holocaust.
He describes tiny vegetable gardens planted in the raw earth in front of crowded huts. To sustain these gardens, refugees walked a mile every day and waited in long lines for pails of water. In the parched heat of the camps, vigorous squash seeds germinated and bean plants twined up slim bamboo stakes. As they watered their gardens, the war-shattered families awakened to the unstoppable force of life.
What nourishes this force of life in a world where 25,000 people die every day of poverty and hunger? Venerable forest monk Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, in his dharma teaching “Hunger and Happiness,” reminds us that there are two levels of hunger: physical and spiritual. Physical hunger is satisfied by the gift of food, shelter, clothing, medicine and protection from bodily harm. Spiritual hunger is harder to satisfy. It includes the hungers of attachment, craving and grasping. The more we consume, attempting to fill spiritual emptiness, the more we hunger.
Both levels of hunger are addressed by the artists and contributors in this issue. In these pages, a fresh coolness of mind is invoked, arising from grounded practice infused with the unstoppable force of engaged meditation dedicated to meet the challenge and opportunity of a hungry world.
—Wendy Johnson, Guest Editor