The Rabbit In The Moon
The Rabbit in the Moon is a part of folklore in many cultures throughout the world: Buddhist, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Aztec, Mesoamerican, and Native American.
The earliest stories come from the Chinese Chu Ci (written between c.300 BCE and c.200 CE) in which a rabbit in the Moon using a mortar and pestle constantly pounds the elixir of life for those here on Earth. Sometimes called the Jade Rabbit or the Gold Rabbit by Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220CE) poets, these phrases were often used in place of the word for Moon. In his poem, “The Old Dust,” Li Bai, a poet of the Tang Dynasty (618CE-907CE), said, “The rabbit in the Moon pounds the medicine.”
In the Buddhist Śaśajâtaka, when a hungry old man begs for food the rabbit offers its own body, throwing itself into a fire that it had built for the man. The rabbit, however, was not burned. The old man then revealed himself to be Śakra (a god) and, touched by the rabbit’s virtue, drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see. “‘There, noble hare. You shall not be forgotten for as long as the Moon shall shine in the sky.’ All that was long, long ago, but the rabbit on the Moon shines just as brightly today as he did when Śakra first put him up there. If you don’t believe me, just go out some night and look! There he is—a sign for all to see that compassion is the light that illumines our darkness.” (R. Martin, Yellow Moon Press, 1999)
A different version of this story has the kind rabbit aiding lost travelers until one hot day a starving tigerdile (a fearsome mythological beast with the head of a crocodile and the body of a tiger) and her children happen upon him. Not having enough food to prevent the mother and children from dying, the rabbit makes the ultimate sacrifice and jumps into the tigerdile’s slack mouth expecting to be devoured. At that moment, the tigerdile changes form and reveals to the astonished rabbit that it is actually the god Brahma. And for the rabbit’s selfless act of generosity, Brahma paints the noble rabbit’s portrait on the face of the Moon for all of us here below on the Earth to see. (W.W. Rowe, Snow Lion, 1996)
Another version of this tale is found in the 12th century Japanese anthology “Konjaku Monogatarishū” and based upon this story, the 19th century Zen monk-poet Ryokan wrote the following beautiful verse (translated by Burton Watson, Columbia Press, 1977):
“From that time till now
The story’s been told,
of how the rabbit
came to be
on the Moon,
and even I
when I hear it
find the tears
soaking the sleeve of my robe.”
In the Western Hemisphere, similar stories are also found in Mexican folklore, where people identified the markings on the Moon as a rabbit. According to an Aztec legend, the god Quetzalcoatl, then living on Earth as a man, and after walking for a long time, became hungry. With no food he thought he would starve. A kind rabbit grazing nearby offered herself as food to save his life and Quetzalcoatl, moved by the rabbit’s offering, elevated her to the Moon and told her, “You may be just a rabbit, but everyone will remember you; there is your image, for all people and for all times.” (Wikipedia)
A Cree (Native American) legend tells of a rabbit who wished to ride the Moon. However, only the crane was willing to take him, and as they flew the heavy rabbit holding on to the crane’s legs stretched them so that they were left elongated. Then upon reaching the Moon, the rabbit touched crane’s head with a bleeding paw, leaving the red mark that the cranes wear. And, according to this story, the rabbit still rides even today on the face of the Moon.
The Moon can be seen by every person on planet Earth. And as we gaze upward at the Moon’s face, each one of us can see the generosity and selflessness of the kind rabbit shining down on all of us. The Moon’s nocturnal beams touch both our eyes and also somewhere deep and primordial inside of us and we know that we are connected to one another.
“Then he raised his hand and pointed at the Moon. ‘Do you see what I’m doing?’”
“‘You’re reminding me to practice kindness and generosity in my life, and that those qualities are in all of us.’”
“‘Yes. Go on.’”
“‘I don’t know what else.’”
“‘Sometimes the Moon can be hidden by clouds, but she lets them pass by. The Moon doesn’t cling and neither should you. So don’t hold on to the disturbances so often mistaken for life itself, and don’t let your happiness be clouded by expectations and dissatisfactions. They arise, drift over you, and pass leaving your radiance untouched.
“‘And finally, remember to keep your eyes on the truth and on your path because as you point the Moon moves on, and if you don’t stay aware you’ll soon be pointing to an empty sky.’” (J. R. Maxon, ReBecoming, Dassana Press, 2012)
The ReBecoming logo is the kind rabbit outlined on the face of the full Moon. Above is written: “Choose Kindness” and below is written: “Over Rightness.” Choose Kindness Over Rightness. This sounds simple, but putting this potent tool for harmonious living into practice in our hurry-up world requires alertness to what you know, especially about yourself, and an ongoing awareness of how your words, actions, and thoughts affect others. Eliminating the poison of always needing to be right and choosing kindness in word and deed instead, yields happiness and security. It also infuses the mind with the most important and sought after quality of life: Peace of Mind. So, if you’re feeling a bit dissatisfied or disturbed, look upward at the glowing Moon and the rabbit painted on its face, and then choose kindness toward yourself as well as toward others. You will be filled with the loving light of peace and satisfaction and everything in your life will ReBecome.