By Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda Maha Thera
The Moon and Religious Observances
The outstanding events in the life of the Buddha took place on full moon days.
Many people would like to know the religious significance of the full moon and new moon days. To Buddhists, there is a special religious significance especially on full day because certain important and outstanding events connected with the life of Lord Buddha took place on full moon days. The Buddha was born on a full moon day. His renunciation took place on a full moon day. His Enlightenment, the delivery of His first sermon, His passing away into Nibbana and many other important events associated with His life-span of eighty years, occurred on full moon days.
Buddhists all over the world have a high regard for full moon days. They celebrate this day with religious fervor by observing precepts, practising meditation and by keeping away from the sensual worldly life. On this day they direct their attention to spiritual development. Apart from Buddhists, it is understood that other co-religionists also believe that there is some religious significance related to the various phases of the moon. They also observe certain religious disciplines such as fasting and praying on full moon days.
Ancient belief in India says that the moon is the controller of the water, and circulating through the universe, sustaining all living creatures, is the counterpart on earth of the liquor heaven, ‘amrta’the drink of the gods. Dew and rain become vegetable sap, sap becomes the milk of cow, and the milk is then converted into blood. Amrta water, sap, milk and blood, represent but different states of the one elixir. The vessel or cup of this immortal fluid is the moon.
It is believed that the moon, like the other planets, exerts a considerable degree of influence on human beings. It has been observed that people suffering from mental ailments invariably have their passions and emotional feelings affected during full moon days. The word ‘lunatic’ derived from the word ‘lunar’ (or moon) is most significant and indicates very clearly the influence of the moon on human life. Some people, suffering from various forms of illness invariably find their sickness aggravated during such periods. Researchers have found that certain phases of the moon not only affect humans and animals, but also influence plant life and other elements. Low-tides and high-tides are a direct result of the overpowering influence of the moon.
Our human body consists of about seventy percent liquid. It is accepted by physicians that our bodily fluids flow more freely at the time of full moon. People suffering from asthma, bronchitis and even certain skin diseases, find their ailments aggravated under the influence of the moon. More than five thousand years ago, people had recognized the influence of the moon on cultivation. Farmers were very particular about the effect of the moon on their crops. They knew that certain grains and paddy would be affected if blooming took place during a full moon period. Medical science had also ascertained the different reactions of certain medicines under different facets of the moon, because of the influence of the moon on human beings.
In view of the possible influence of the moon, the ancient sages advised the people to refrain from various commitments on this particular day and take it easy for the day. They are advised to relax their minds on this particular day and to devote their time to spiritual pursuits. All those who have developed their minds to a certain extent can achieve enlightenment since the brain is in an awakened state. Those who have not trained their minds through religious discipline are liable to be subjected to the strong influence of the moon. The Buddha attained His Enlightenment on a full moon day for He had developing and attuning it correctly for a long period.
In days gone by, full moon and new moon days were declared public holidays in many Buddhist countries and people were encouraged to devote their time to spiritual development. It was only during the colonial period that holidays were switched over to Sundays. In view of this, some Buddhist countries are now trying to re-introduce the former lunar system of holidays. It is advisable to observe full moon day as a religious day to concentrate on peace and happiness by calming down the senses. Many Buddhists observe the eight precepts on full moon days, to be free from family commitments and to keep away from worldly pleasures in order to have peace of mind for their spiritual development. The effects of the moon on life and earth has been analysed scientifically.
One writer says:
‘I have been reading an article in an American science magazine recently where the writer brings together the present on the subject of the moon to prove how decisively this age old object of the skies influences our lives, particularly at each of the four phases it passes through in its 28-day cycle.’
This research, by the way, was done at the American Universities of Yale, Duke and Northwestern and they have ‘independently’ come up with the astonishing evidence that the moon plays a big part in our daily life and indeed, in the lives of all living things.
We are assured that there is nothing very occult in this phenomenon put that the phases of the moon do in fact stimulate various bodily actions like modifying metabolism, electrical charges and blood acidity.
One of the key experiments performed to establish this fact was on fiddler crabs, mice and some plants. They were all placed in chambers where weather conditions could not affect them, but were subjected to air pressure, humidity, light and temperature under controlled conditions.
The hundreds of observations made showed a remarkable fact, namely that all the animals and plants operated on a 28-day cycle. Metabolism which was found to have dropped at the time of the new moon was twenty percent higher at the time of the phase of the full moon. This difference is described as a striking variation.
Once a nurse in Florida told a doctor that she noticed a lot more bleeding occurred when the moon is full. Like all doctors who are skeptical about such beliefs, he laughed at this statement.
But the nurse, undeterred, produced records of surgical operations which clearly showed that during full moon, more patients had to be returned to the operating theater than at any other time for treatment for excessively bleeding after operations. To satisfy himself, this doctor started keeping records on his own and he came to a similar conclusion. When we consider all those occurrences, we can understand why our ancestors and religious teachers had advised us to change our daily routine and to relax physically and mentally on full moon and new moon days. The practise of religion is the most appropriate method for people to experience mental peace and physical relaxation. The Buddhists are merely observing the wisdom of the past when they devote more time to activities of a spiritual nature on New Moon and Full Moon days.