Moon Lore, by Timothy Harley, , at sacred-texts.com
When the moon is waxing, from about the eighth day to the full, it requires no very vivid imagination to descry on the westward side of the lunar disk a large patch very strikingly resembling a rabbit or hare. The oriental noticing this figure, his poetical fancy developed the myth-making faculty, which in process of time elaborated the legend of the hare in the moon, which has left its marks in every quarter of the globe. In Asia it is indigenous, and is an article of religious belief. "To the common people in India the spots look like a hare, i.e. Chandras, the god of the moon, carries a hare (sasa), hence the moon is called Sasin or Sasanka, hare mark or spot." 75 "Max Müller also writes, "As a curious coincidence it may be mentioned that in Sanskrit the moon is called Sasānka, i.e. 'having the marks of a hare,' the black marks in the moon being taken for the likeness of the hare." 76 This allusion to the sacred language of the Hindus affords a convenient opportunity of introducing one of the most beautiful legends of the East. It is a Buddhist tract; but in the lesson which it embodies it will compare very favourably with many a tract more ostensibly Christian.
"In former days, a hare, a monkey, a coot, and a fox, became hermits, and lived in a wilderness together, after having sworn not to kill any living thing. The god Sakkria having seen this through his divine
power, thought to try their faith, and accordingly took upon him the form of a brahmin, and appearing before the monkey begged of him alms, who immediately brought to him a bunch of mangoes, and presented it to him. The pretended brahmin, having left the monkey, went to the coot and made the same request, who presented him a row of fish which he had just found on the bank of a river, evidently forgotten by a fisherman. The brahmin then went to the fox, who immediately went in search of food, and soon returned with a pot of milk and a dried liguan, which he had found in a plain, where apparently they had been left by a herdsman. The brahmin at last went to the hare and begged alms of him. The hare said, 'Friend, I eat nothing but grass, which I think is of no use to you.' Then the pretended brahmin replied, 'Why, friend, if you are a true hermit, you can give me your own flesh in hope of future happiness.' The hare directly consented to it, and said to the supposed brahmin, 'I have granted your request, and you may do whatever you please with me.' The brahmin then replied, 'Since you are willing to grant my request, I will kindle a fire at the foot of the rock, from which you may jump into the fire, which will save me the trouble of killing you and dressing your flesh.' The hare readily agreed to it, and jumped from the top of the rock into the fire which the supposed brahmin had kindled; but before he reached the fire, it was extinguished; and the brahmin appearing in his natural shape of the god Sakkria, took
the hare in his arms and immediately drew its figure in the moon, in order that every living thing of every part of the world might see it." 77 All will acknowledge that this is a very beautiful allegory. How many in England, as well as in Ceylon, are described by the monkey, the coot, and the fox--willing to bring their God any oblation which costs them nothing; but how few are like the hare--ready to present themselves as a living sacrifice, to be consumed as a burnt offering in the Divine service! Those, however, who lose their lives in such self-sacrifice, shall find them, and be caught up to "shine as the brightness of the firmament and as the stars for ever and ever."
Another version of this legend is slightly variant. Grimm says: "The people of Ceylon relate as follows: While Buddha the great god sojourned upon earth as a hermit, he one day lost his way in a wood. He had wandered long, when a hare accosted him: 'Cannot I help thee? Strike into the path on thy right. I will guide thee out of the wilderness.' Buddha replied: 'Thank thee, but I am poor and hungry, and unable to repay thy kindness.' 'If thou art hungry,' said the hare, 'light a fire, and kill, roast, and eat me.' Buddha made a fire, and the hare immediately jumped in. Then did Buddha manifest his divine power; he snatched the beast out of the flames, and set him in the moon, where he may be seen to this day." 78 Francis Douce, the antiquary, relates this myth, and adds, "this is from the information
of a learned and intelligent French gentleman recently arrived from Ceylon, who adds that the Cingalese would often request of him to permit them to look for the hare through his telescope, and exclaim in raptures that they saw it. It is remarkable that the Chinese represent the moon by a rabbit pounding rice in a mortar. Their mythological moon Jut-ho is figured by a beautiful young woman with a double sphere behind her head, and a rabbit at her feet. The period of this animal's gestation is thirty days; may it not therefore typify the moon's revolution round the earth." 79
SÂKYAMUNI AS A HARE IN THE MOON.
Collin de Plancy's ''Dictionnaire Infernal.''
In this same apologue we have doubtless a duplicate, the original or a copy, of another Buddhist legend found among the Kalmucks of Tartary; in which Sâkyamuni himself, in an early stage of existence, had inhabited the body of a hare. Giving himself as
food to feed the hunger of a starving creature, he was immediately placed in the moon, where he is still to be seen. 80
The Mongolian also sees a hare in the lunar shadows. We are told by a Chinese scholar that "tradition earlier than the period of the Han dynasty asserted that a hare inhabited the surface of the moon, and later Taoist fable depicted this animal, called the gemmeous hare, as the servitor of the genii, who employ it in pounding the drugs which compose the elixir of life. The connection established in Chinese legend between the hare and the moon is probably traceable to an Indian original. In Sanskrit inscriptions the moon is called Sason, from a fancied resemblance of its spots to a leveret; and pandits, to whom maps of the moon's service have been shown, have fixed on Loca Paludosa, and Mons Porphyrites or Keplerus and Aristarchus, for the spots which they think exhibit the similitude of a hare." 81 On another page of the same work we read: "During the T'ang dynasty it was recounted that a cassia tree grows in the moon, this notion being derived apparently from an Indian source. The sal tree (shorea robusta), one of the sacred trees of the Buddhists, was said during the Sung dynasty to be identical with the cassia tree in the moon. The lunar hare is said to squat at the foot of the cassia tree, pounding its drugs for the genii. The cassia tree in the moon is said to be especially visible at mid-autumn, and hence to take a degree at the examinations which are held at this
period is described as plucking a leaf from the cassia." 82
This hare myth, attended with the usual transformation, has travelled to the Hottentots of South Africa. The fable which follows is entitled "From an original manuscript in English, by Mr. John Priestly, in Sir G. Grey's library." "The moon, on one occasion, sent the hare to the earth to inform men that as she (the moon) died away and rose again, so mankind should die and rise again. Instead, however, of delivering this message as given, the hare, either out of forgetfulness or malice, told mankind that as the moon rose and died away, so man should die and rise no more. The hare, having returned to the moon, was questioned as to the message delivered, and the moon, having heard the true state of the case, became so enraged with him that she took up a hatchet to split his head; falling short, however, of that, the hatchet fell upon the upper lip of the hare, and cut it severely. Hence it is that we see the 'hare-lip.' The hare, being duly incensed at having received such treatment, raised his claws, and scratched the moon's face; and the dark parts which we now see on the surface of the moon are the scars which she received on that occasion." 83 In an account of the Hottentot myth of the "Origin of Death," the angered moon heats a stone and burns the hare's mouth, causing the hare-lip. 84 Dr. Marshall may tell us, with all the authority of an eminent physiologist, that hare-lip is occasioned by an arrest
in the development of certain frontal and nasal processes, 85 and we may receive his explanation as a sweetly simple solution of the question; but who that suffers from this leporine-labial deformity would not prefer a supernatural to a natural cause? Better far that the lip should be cleft by Shakespeare's "foul fiend Flibbertigibbet," than that an abnormal condition should be accounted for by science, or comprised within the reign of physical law.
Even Europe is somewhat hare-brained: for Cæsar tells us that the Britons did not regard it lawful to eat the hare, though he does not say why; and in Swabia still, children are forbidden to make shadows on the wall to represent the sacred hare of the moon.
We may pursue this matter even in Mexico, whose deities and myths a recent Hibbert lecturer brought into clearer light, showing that the Mexicans "possessed beliefs, institutions, and a developed mythology which would bear comparison with anything known to antiquity in the old world." 86 The Tezcucans, as they are usually called, are described by Prescott as "a nation of the same great family with the Aztecs, whom they rivalled in power, and surpassed in intellectual culture and the arts of social refinement." 87 Their account of the creation is that "the sun and moon came out equally bright, but this not seeming good to the gods, one of them took a rabbit by the heels and slung it into the face of the moon, dimming its lustre with a blotch, whose mark may be seen to this day." 88
We have now seen that the fancy of a hare in the moon is universal; but not so much importance is to be attached to this, as to some other aspects of moon mythology. The hare-like patch is visible in every land, and suggested the animal to all observers. That the rabbit's period of gestation is thirty days is a singular coincidence; but that is all--nay, it is not even that, for "the moon's revolution round the earth," which Douce supposed the Chinese myth to typify, is accomplished in a little more than twenty-seven days. Neither is much weight due to the fanciful comparison of Gubernatis: "The moon is the watcher of the sky, that is to say, she sleeps with her eyes open; so also does the hare, whence the somnus leporinus became a proverb." 89 The same author says on another page, and here we follow him: "The mythical hare is undoubtedly the moon. In the first story of the third book of the Pancatantram, the hares dwell upon the shore of the lake Candrasaras, or lake of the moon, and their king has for his palace the lunar disk." 90 It is this story, which Mr. Baring-Gould relates in outline; and which we are compelled still further to condense. In a certain forest there once lived a herd of elephants. Long drought having dried up the lakes and swamps, an exploring party was sent out in search of a fresh supply of water. An extensive lake was discovered, called the moon lake. The elephants with their king eagerly marched to the spot, and found their thirsty hopes fully realized. All round the lake were in
numerable hare warrens, which the tread of the mighty monsters crushed unmercifully, maiming and mangling the helpless inhabitants. When the elephants had withdrawn, the poor hares met together in terrible plight, to consult upon the course which they should take when their enemies returned. One wise hare undertook the task of driving the ponderous herd away. This he did by going alone to the elephant king, and representing himself as the hare which lived in the moon. He stated that he was deputed by his excellency the moon to say that if the elephants came any more to the lake, the beams of night would be withheld, and their bodies would be burned up with perpetual sunshine. The king of the elephants thinking that "the better part of valour is discretion," decided to offer an apology for his offence. He was conducted to the lake, where the moon was reflected in the water, apparently meditating his revenge. The elephant thrust his proboscis into the lake, which disturbed the reflection. Whereupon the elephant, judging the moon to be enraged, hurried with his apology, and then went off vowing never to return. The wise hare had proven that "wisdom is better than strength"; and the hares suffered no more molestation. "We may also remark, in this event, the truth of that saying of Euripides, 'that one wise counsel is better than the strength of many'" (Polybius, i. 35).