[PureInsight.org] One day, Maudgalyayana, one of Buddha Shakyamuni’s famous ten disciples, saw a miserable hungry ghost when he was about to have a meal. The ghost’s body seemed like a burnt stick; its stomach was swollen like a drum, and its throat was as thin as a needle. The ghost was blowing fire from its mouth, and the fire burned the ghost’s own face. Whatever food the ghost picked up and tried to eat would immediately turn into hot iron liquid. The ghost was constantly in extreme hunger, and was crying loudly all day long, seeking food everywhere.
Maudgalyayana asked the Buddha, “Honorable Master, can you tell me the cause and effect of this ghost? What kind of a life did it have in its previous life cycle?”
The Buddha began to tell his disciples a story.
A long time ago, there was a rich man in the city of Sravasti who hired many workers to help squeeze syrup from the sugar cane that the rich man planted. The rich man sold the syrup as his business and the business went very well. At that time, there was a self-enlightened being that approached the rich man for some syrup. The rich man was in a great awe of the enlightened being and was ready to donate some syrup. Suddenly though an urgent matter required the rich man’s attention, so he asked his wife to help donate the syrup.
The wife of the rich man agreed without hesitation. When the wife was about to go fetch the syrup, she suddenly thought to herself, “It’s not easy to produce syrup. We’ve never given away any before. If I donate some syrup today, what happens later on if more people come asking for it?” The woman began to develop a stingy heart and decided to cheat the enlightened being by pouring dirty water mixed with a tiny bit of syrup into the enlightened being’s alms bowl. Of course, the enlightened being immediately recognized what had just happened and emptied his bowl right away.
This stingy woman died soon afterwards. Due to her disrespect to and humiliation of an enlightened being, the woman was sent to the Preta realm or Hungry Ghost realm right away. Once in such a realm, a ghost would remain hungry all the time and its body would be constantly covered by burning fires.
The Buddha concluded the story by saying that the woman would have to suffer in this way for 90,000 years.
Translated from: http://www.zhengjian.org/node/118832