The Moon Rabbit

by Harry Miller October 09, 2016

Teaching morals through myth

Moon Rabbit

The Rabbit or Hare is a popular companion in the DM Collection but how did it its imprint come to be on the moon's surface? We need to look to myth and its origins for the answer. Mankind, (the ultimate adapter), studied the behaviour of their fellow forest dwelling animals, and learnt many invaluable survival skills from them.  They made up stories involving the beasts, and many tales were passed from generation to generation, teaching man what to look for in nature, and most importantly what to avoid. 

The more man learnt about himself and the world around him, the more questions he had, and with an innate desire to make sense of this ruthless but beautiful world, they searched for reason, meaning, and signs.  Certain animals were revered, put on pedestals, and were even given grandiose ethical and moralistic positions in the imaginings of the man.  Over the years these tales evolved, were entwined with religion, and became myth.      

In Buddhism they have the Jataka tales.  These are Indian stories written about Buddha's previous lives - both in human and animal form.  One particular story involving a well known woodland animal is 'The Moon Rabbit', or Selfless Hare

It describes how an otter, a monkey, a jackal, and a rabbit once dedicated themselves to honour a day of charity during the full moon; known in Buddhism as Uposatha.  In return they would have rewarding karma.  Encountering a hungry old beggar the animals decided to help: the monkey collected fruits, the otter went fishing, whilst the lazy but cunning jackal stole a lizard and some milk curd.  The rabbit, who's only skill was collecting grass, made the ultimate sacrifice and threw his own body in to the old mans fire. 

However, the rabbit was miraculously unharmed as the beggar revealed himself to actually be the heavenly God, Sakra.  Sakra was so impressed with the rabbit's efforts that he imprinted the image of the rabbit on the moon; of which you can still make out to this very day.    

Another interesting Jataka tale is the 'Four Harmonious Animals'.  In this story a hare, a monkey, a bird, and an elephant are trying to work out who's the oldest.  Upon encountering a well known tree, the elephant says that he has only ever known the tree to be fully grown, the monkey declares that the tree was definitely smaller when he was young, whilst the hare said he knew it as a sapling. 

The bird however, stated that it was he who carried the tree as a seed, and so the bird was certifiably the oldest.  Once this matter of age was sorted out, the animals lived happily together and helped one another to enjoy the fruits of the tree. 

To this day, many Tibetan religious buildings have wall paintings of an elephant standing under the fruit tree with the other three animals upon its back: no doubt a symbol of harmony.

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Harry Miller
Harry Miller

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