Figurative Imagery of the Full Moon

- through Francois Leclercq

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We sometimes wonder about the figurative meaning of the full moon in the use of symbolism in Buddhist texts.

Siddhartha Gautama was born on a May day at noon about 2 years ago in Lumpini, Nepal, as a human being – not as a god or deity, but as a prince who left his palace in the age of 600 in search of understanding. Going into the desert, he practiced as an ascetic for five years, until, on a full moon day in May, he finally achieved liberation and enlightenment at the age of 29.

The Buddha could have chosen to remain alone and enjoy the happiness he had discovered, but out of compassion for humanity, he made the decision to share his insight with those who were able to understand the steps he had taken. to achieve such mental purity. He thus remained a kind and compassionate teacher for the next 45 years, until he finally passed away on a full moon day in May.

As a prince, Siddhartha had been well educated and familiar with the teachings of the contemporary schools of thought of his time, but he had never found answers to certain personal and internal dissatisfactions that had long bothered him, and which could be "expressed with questions such as: “Why do we have to suffer” and “Why do we feel unhappy, even when we seem to have it all?”

On the full moon day of May, when the Buddha finally achieved enlightenment after a long process of development, he realized the following formula that was always at work in his own mind/body: (1) There is suffering; (2) There is a root cause of suffering; (3) There is a way to eradicate the root cause of such suffering; and (4) There is a path of development and cultivation to follow that will lead to an end to the irritation of mind and body and the stress and suffering associated with it.

During his years of austere practice, the ascetic who would become the Enlightened One, the Buddha, looked into the workings of his own body and mind, and discovered things that no one had ever talked about before: he found answers that had not been discovered and shared in his culture. Namely, that there were indeed answers to questions like, “Why am I not happy?” “Why do I feel mental stress? » “Why do we feel desire, aversion and greed? » “How can I feel satisfied? » “How can I be happy? and “How can I feel at peace?” »

Once we understand this context, we can explain the symbolism of the May full moon a little more closely.

The birth of the Buddha also means that when we are born as flesh-and-blood humans, we have the unique opportunity to understand the broader workings of the cosmos and our place in it; and how only human beings, when born into the cosmos under such conditions, have the opportunity to continue to cultivate and purify their thoughts and intentions, and to develop the power and potential of their minds in the same way that the Buddha did, which ultimately brought him to liberation and enlightenment under the full moon of May.

Thereafter, the Buddha taught his disciples with benevolence, compassion, sympathetic joy and serenity from his maturity until his death under the full moon of May. It also represents the symbolism of liberation from not having to be born again, from the sublime extinction of bodily energy, and from no return to this world – a freedom beyond all the suffering of the world.

We still have the Buddha's teaching because his monks memorized it and passed it on until it was finally written as we know it today. We cannot explain everything here as it is a gradual and detailed process, perhaps taking years to cultivate individually, but the initial teaching is this:

There is suffering and there is the eradication of suffering. Where there is craving, there is the cause of the craving, so we can eradicate and replace the cause:

Where there is greed, it can be replaced by generosity.

Where there is selfishness, it can be replaced by morality/virtue.

Where there is attachment, it can be replaced by renunciation.

Where ignorance reigns, it can be replaced by wisdom.

Where laziness reigns, it can be replaced by energy.

Where there is impatience, it can be replaced with patience.

Where there is falsehood, it can be replaced by truth.

Where there is uncertainty, it can be replaced by determination.

Where there is ill will, it can be replaced by good will.

Where there is anxiety, it can be replaced by serenity.

We see an impure thought arise, we prevent it from happening and replace it with its opposite. We see a harmful thought arise, we prevent it from happening and replace it with its opposite.

It is a way of cultivating the functioning of the mind so that we do not suffer the consequences of our own misdirected, unnecessary, unconscious and unhealthy intentions.

The secret is: (1) detect negative and harmful intention as it arises; (2) to nip it in the bud; and (3) then replace it with positive, useful and healthy intention and action.

For more details on practicing the practice, see the Noble Eightfold Path. With few exceptions, following the path is gradual and requires concentrated practice and ardent energy. It can take years.

So, for now, let's look more at the symbolism of the moon. We can also compare our practice to that of a developing moon. In the beginning there is no moon, which means our ignorance, our ignorance in the beginning. Then there is a small burst of light on the face of the moon, which means we are starting to see light. Then there is some growth, a quarter crescent of light, which means we see and develop more. Then there is a half moon, which means we are developing even more light and insight. The three-quarter moon means that we are moving further and further and finally filling the full moon in the bright light of final liberation and full enlightenment.

In the Buddha's time, time was measured in lunar cycles, so using the moon symbolically in the language of the Dhamma would probably have seemed entirely natural. The teaching of the Dhamma was still only an oral tradition when the Buddha taught, and he expected that his teachings would be corrupted by incompetent teachers within 500 years. So it’s a good thing that his teachings were finally written down in the second century and we still have them today. It would be difficult to find another ancient literature that delves into psychology and the workings of the mind in such detail in the way we see it used in traditional Buddhist imagery.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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