Co-ordinating Practice with the Moon
In most (but not all) cultures, the sun is considered male and the moon, female. In Japanese mythology it is the reverse, and it is the same in the Vajrayana. Here, the sun stands for Wisdom (Skt.: prajna) portrayed as a female deity, and the moon is Method (upaya, "skillful means.") This tradition bears some relation to the celestials bodies as they are associated with the Indian gods, Shiva and Parvati. So the round sun sitting in the curve of the new moon, a motif often seen as the finial or peak of a stupa, conveys that tantric meaning which concerns the union of Method and Wisdom. Both celestials appear at the top of many tangkas -- the moon is to the main deity's right and the sun to its left.
Besides this, in lunar phases there is an obvious association with the monthly cycle of fertile women. In many cultural traditions, the lunar cycle is believed also to affect everyone in subtle ways. Within the yogic or vajrayana system which concerns the "aetheric" or Vajra body, different times of the lunar cycle have different benefits relating to the circulation of the winds in the channels.
Khenpo Karthar Rinpoche says, about practice at the new and full moons:
From the Vajrayana [Buddhist tantric] point of view, the change of the sun and the moon produce a change of the elements and thus a shift or change in the elements/planets. While there is a shift in the more physical sort of gross level (the physical elements of the body), there is also a shift on a more subtle level, a shift in the wisdom mind -- potential enlightened mind ... . There is a push that is in some sense taking place ... . Being able to engage in the practice of the Dharma is very very important on such occasions. There is a shift. There is a change ... for a practitioner who uses this time for practice, this kind of intense time for practice can be of the highest benefit, of greatest benefit.
During these times, access to potent qualities are at your disposal more than
on regular occasions. If you put them to wholesome use, then greater benefit."
Shiva the Indian "Hindu" god who is a yogi himself, and the patron of yogis is sometimes depicted with a mala or garland of a month of moons around his neck. He wears a crescent moon as an ornament in his hair.
Full Moon and New Moon times, the appearance of the first crescent and so on,
have been marked probably since time immemorial, by the performance of various
rites of confirmation or spiritual re-dedication and purification.
These are the Uposatha days that are observed by Theravadin Buddhists,
both ordained and laity. Householders and other non-monastics undertake
the observance of the eight lay precepts or vows for the night and the day that
they are at the monastery or temple. People of all Buddhist traditions can
occasionally decide to do that; some keep these vows for periods of up to a
Most other Buddhist traditions are also determined by the phase of the moon. For example as in Laos, Pavalana or The Prior Notice ceremony is on the evening of the full moon of the fifteen day in the eleventh month. This is one day before the end of the monsoon (Indian rainy season) retreat, or what some call "Buddhist Lent."
Pavalana means "giving warning, or notice" and that is the time the community expects to hear from the monastics whether they need any of the "4 main requirements": food, clothing, bedding, medicine, plus any other thing. This giving notice includes the monastics' duty to warn and advise each other of unmindful behaviour and infractions of the rules before they leave again to wander for the rest of the year.
The oldest member asks for advice first, and they all take turns using the Pali formula that, translated says: "All the monks, please listen to me. Since today is full moon day, we give prior notice that we have completed our practice according to the Buddha. Please advise me since there is no doubt that I have made mistakes and breeched monastic rules; please warn me so I can change my bad behaviour and act in the proper way." ~ Mekong Centre
The two "tenth" days (the 10th and the 25th which fall at the time of the moon's crescents) are considered conducive to the gathering of dakinis. Practitioners of Mother Tantras and some Nyingma traditions hold a tsok or feast. (Nyingmapas focus on Guru Rinpoche surrounded by his dakini retinue on those lunar days.
Full Moon is Amitabha Day. The 29th (the dark of the moon) is Protector Day, and individual yidams [preferred or assigned meditational deities] can also be honored on their special days.
In former times, a gunachakra in Sanskrit -- complete tantric ritual
gathering (Circle of Substance) or in Tibetan, tsog.khor could take
place. Nowadays there is usually held only a group offering ritual or
guna puja (tsog.ky chopa.)
Science of the Moon's Phases
Since the moon rotates once on its axis every 27.32 days, but also circles the earth in the same amount of time, we only get to see one side of it. Therefore, the "dark side of the moon" is not really dark (like the earth, it reflects the sun;) it's just that there is a whole side we never get to see from Earth.
The moon exhibits different phases as its position relative to Sun and Earth changes. It appears full when the sun and moon are on opposite sides of the earth, and becomes invisible, or New Moon, when the earth blocks out the sun's light preventing it from shining on the moon. The period of time between two Full Moons is 29.5 days. Since this is about 2 days longer than the time it takes the Moon to orbit the Earth, the day that it appears full does not always correspond with the same calendar day.
The lunar phases (crescent, half, full, half, crescent) are not created by the shadow of the Earth on the moon. They are due to our being able only to see part of the illuminated face of the Moon at a time. Therefore, in the Northern hemisphere when the right side of the Moon is dark, the light part that reflects the sun is apparently shrinking. We say the Moon is waning (shrinking, moving towards New Moon.) Similarly, when the left side is dark, we say the Moon is waxing (increasing, moving towards Full Moon.)
If we live in an area that is overcast we may not be able to see and so, keep track of where we are in the lunar month, but if we get an occasional glimpse in the week, we can figure it out. The mnemonic device, DOC, can be used as an aid. D is the shape of a waxing moon; O is the full moon, and C the waning moon. Speakers of Romance languages say the Moon is a liar; it uses C (crescere: Italian to grow) when it's waning but D (decrescere) when it's waxing ! However, in the Southern hemisphere the moon is truthful as the experience of lunar phases is reversed; (the mnemonic is COD.)
~ more on the nature of the moon at http://www.wikipedia.com/wiki/Moon
Naming the Eight Phases
Every month, the moon is considered to go through eight phases:
Times of Day
Liminal [border] times have always thought conducive to reaching other levels of existence -- therefore dawn and dusk are considered times of opportunity when gaps between the worlds are narrower, as it were:
Tarthang Tulku, in Footsteps on the Diamond Path, vol. I - III
(Dharma Publishing, Crystal Mirror series, 1989) says about the spiritual
practice of Guru Padmasambhava (23) that it is "especially important and
effective in times plagued by excessive materialism and strong desires, such as
the present age. By practicing his teachings, we can benefit ourselves and
others. It is the Precious Guru's promise:
"I am never far from those with faith;
Pointing at the Moon
In tangkas of the Wheel of Becoming (or, Rebirth) there is often an image at top right, of the Buddha pointing at the moon. This is partly in reference to a traditional Indian teaching method in which the moon represents a truth (Skt. vidya, knowledge.)
In cases where the knowledge to be imparted is not self-evident, the student
must be led to the inescapable conclusion. It is often done through
negation; the student is directed by means of reasoning into a spot from which
she or he cannot miss the fact. This is called the branch-moon-realization
-- the analogy of [seeing] the moon [through] a branch (Skt.: shaaka-chandra-nyaaya.)
"Oh!" And there is usually a kind of amazement in that "oh" -- an expression of enlightenment. And in that awareness, the tree and all the rest are no longer necessary -- they can be forgotten. (But they are still there, to be used as cues whenever they might come in handy.)
The Moon on Water
A favorite metaphor used by the Buddha and other teachers.
In Korea there are good examples of the belief that exposure to the first
full moon of the year will have a positive influence on the "fullness"
of the next harvest. Taeborum is the full moon that occurs fifteen days
after the first day of the lunar year, and it marks the start of the farming
season. There are several traditions associated with the day of the first
full moon that are intended to prevent misfortune, and also to ensure a good
harvest and health and happiness in the new year.
Prayers to the Moon
Every now and then, two full moons fall in the same month of our solar calendar; the second, rare one, is called the Blue Moon.
The various aboriginal peoples of North America designated the months by what was going on in the world around them at the time. Therefore, the names for the months change not only according to the culture but also the location of a people. Here is an Algonkian tradition (northeastern America:)