Tibetan Astrology: Lunar Gaps

Tibetan Astrology: Lunar Gaps

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The lunar cycle has been observed for ages. The moon, from a Sanskrit term for measure, is the primary means by which the majority of the people in the world measure time and their own lives. Eastern and western astrology use the lunar cycle in the same and different ways. In the West, the lunar cycle is seen as a key to the personality and the birth chart. Although books like Dane Rudhyar’s The Lunation Cycle, William Yeats’s A Vision, and many others describe the cycle as a dynamic process that unfolds each month, their focus is more with individual snapshots (the various lunar types) taken from the overall process. The emphasis in the West has been individual birth charts that represent the various lunar phase types.

In contrast, the East seldom mentions the individual birth chart. Their primary interest is in the dynamics of the lunation cycle itself, which they divide and analyze in great detail in order to make use of the opportunities it offers for day-to-day decision-making. In other words, in the East, the lunar cycle is used as a means to determine the kind of activity appropriate for each successive lunar day. This amounts to a form of electional astrology.

In the West, electional astrology is thought of as a means to pick an appropriate time in the future for a particular ceremony or happening. Eastern astrology does the same thing, but it also uses electional astrology as a guide to day-to-day personal living and practice. In India and Tibet, it is the lunation cycle rather than the yearly sun or solar cycle that is the primary indicator used for planning activities and for personal guidance. In other words, in the East they live by and follow the cycle of the Moon.

A very clear illustration of this idea is the fact that, in most eastern countries, birthdays are observed according to the particular day of the moon cycle (lunar phase angle) during which a person was born, rather according to the solar return as in the West. Moreover, due to the fact that lunar months do not fit conveniently within the solar year, a birthday in the East for any given individual can be up to a month away (during some years) from the solar return—one’s birthday in the West. This simple fact makes it clear how important the moon and the lunar cycle are in these countries. A study of the existing literature on the meaning and use of the moon in astrology (East and West) shows much similarity but also considerable difference.

There is general agreement (in both East and West) about the nature of the lunation cycle, in that it somehow proceeds from some sort of seed time at the new moon to a fruition at the full, and so on. This is the archetype of a cycle and can be compared to any other cycle such as the circle of the astrological houses or the zodiac itself. If this is done, then the new moon is made equivalent to Capricorn (and the tenth house), while the full moon is similar in cycle phase to Cancer (fourth house).

The Moon receives more attention in Eastern astrology. And it is not just a matter of increased emphasis; there are major qualitative differences in approach. The emphasis is seldom on the type of individual that typifies a given lunar phase. Instead, it is on analyzing the entire lunar cycle in order to take advantage of its ongoing opportunities—using the moon cycle for living. This Eastern approach is very practical.

What interests Eastern astrologers are the opportunities available to them in the monthly lunar cycle. They use the lunar cycle as a way to gauge and measure their life. They have learned how to take advantage of opportunities they have discovered within the lunation cycle. This is an important concept to grasp. These lunar opportunities are sometimes referred to as gaps or openings in the otherwise continuous stream of one’s life our lives—windows. They conceive of these gaps as articulation points, much like an elbow is where the arm is articulated. They are natural joints or gaps in time/space upon which time and space turn and through which it is sometimes possible to gain access to information about the larger, dynamic life process that already encapsulates humans.

From a reading of the Eastern literature on this subject, one gets the sense that life is perceived as (on the average) being filled with the noise of one’s problems (obscurations), making clear insight often difficult. These obscurations can be many and their accumulation amounts to the sum total of one’s ignorance—that which is ignored.

Therefore, in Eastern astrology, these articulation points or windows in time/space are very much valued. In fact, Eastern astrologers analyze the lunar cycle, in minute detail, in order to isolate these moments (gaps in time/space) where insight into one’s larger situation can be gained. Much of so-called Eastern religion amounts to a scheduling of precise times for personal practice or activity built around the natural series of gaps that can be found in the continuous lunar cycle. In its own way, it is a very scientific approach. In the East, they have been astute observers for many centuries.

In India and Tibet, the 29.5-day lunar synodic cycle is divided into 30 parts, called tithis. A tithi or lunar day is the time it takes for the aspect between the sun and Moon (elongation, angular separation) to reach a multiple of 12°. Thus each tithi is 12° of solunar angular separation. (Each tithi is further subdivided into two parts, called karanas; this additional subdivision finds wide use in India, Tibet, and other Eastern countries. However, the division of the lunar cycle into 30 parts or lunar days generally suffices.)

The way tithis are measured in Tibet is as follows. The moment of the new moon (0° angular solunar separation) marks the end of the 29th lunar day and the start of the 30th. The 30th lunar day or tithi ends at 12° of solunar separation, and the first lunar day begins. And so it goes, on and around.

In India, the moment of the new moon (0° angular solunar separation) marks the end of the 30 th lunar day and the start of the first. The first lunar day or tithi ends at 12° of solunar separation, and the second lunar day begins.

Just as in the West, much is made of the new and full moon days. In fact, in many countries they do not have Saturday and Sunday off. Instead, new and full moon days are considered holy days (holidays), and normal routines are suspended at these times.

It seems that, although East and West agree on the importance of new and full moons, there is less congruence in terms of the quarter moons. In the West, the lunar quarters are next in importance after the new and full moon times. However, in the East, there are other days that are considered of greater importance, such as the 10th and 25 th lunar days.

In both traditions, there is agreement that the two or three days preceding the moment of the new moon are difficult ones, which require special observation. In the West, these days have been called the dark of the Moon, or devil’s days, days when the darker forces have power. Both traditions affirm a survival of these final days each month. The three days before a new moon can be a hard time. The East is in total agreement on this point, and the days prior to a new moon are set aside for invoking the fierce dharma protectors, those energies that ward off harm and act as protection during the worst of times.

In particular, the 29th day (the day before new moon) is called dharma protector day. It is a time given over to purification and preparation for the moment of the new moon. Ritual fasting, confession of errors, and the like are common practices. In a similar vein, the days just prior to the full moon (the 13th and 14th) are also days of purification, days in which the various guardian and protector deities are again invoked, but in a somewhat more restrained way. For example, the 14th day is often given over to fire puja—a ritual purification. In summary, during days prior to full and new moon, there is some attempt at purification, both physical and mental, in preparation for those auspicious events.

It is clear from the literature that the times of the new and full moon are considered of great importance. These days are set aside for special rituals and worship. Full and new moon (full more than new) are times of collective worship and public confession. In many traditions, the monks and priests assemble for a day of special observance. In the East, the full moon celebration and the entire waxing lunar fortnight are oriented to the masculine element in consciousness, called the father-line deities. The new moon and the waning fortnight are given over to the mother-line deities and the feminine element. The full moon completes the masculine, or active, waxing phase of the cycle, and the new moon completes the feminine, waning phase of the month. This kind of analysis does not exist in the West.

Aside from the new and full moon, the two most auspicious lunar days in the East are the 10th and the 25th. The 10th day (120° to 132°), called Daka Day, is considered auspicious for invoking the father-line deities—the masculine. The 25th day (300° to 312°), called Dakini Day, is given over to the feminine principle and the mother-line deities, in general. These two days, the 10th and the 25th, are formal feast days, days of observation when extra offerings are made and increased attention given to what is happening. There is some sense of celebration at these points in the month. In many respects, these two days even rival the new and full moon days in importance. The fact is that these four days (new, full, 10th, 25th) are the primary auspicious days as practiced in many eastern rituals.

There are many other days of lesser importance, which might also interest western astrologers. Health and healing are important in eastern ritual, and the 8th and 23rd days of the lunar month are auspicious for this purpose. These are the days that straddle the first and last lunar quarters. The 8th day (96° to 108°) is often called Medicine Buddha Day. Again this occurs in the male, or father-line, half of the month. The 23rd day (276° to 288°), occurring in the feminine half of the month, is dedicated to Tara practice. Tara is the female deity connected to health, long life, and healing in general.

The most prominent days given over to purification are the 13 th and the 29th. In addition, on a lesser scale, the 9th and the 19th days are also noted as days when the protector deities should be invoked and kept in mind. These, too, are days of purification. And there are more, still finer subdivisions that are made.

How might this Eastern approach to the lunation cycle be of value in the West? A major fact is that the lunar cycle is perceived as having a variety of gaps, joints, or points of articulation that can be used. They can be seen as chinks in the armor of one’s particular obscurations. Many Western mystery traditions also observe the times of the full (and sometimes the new) moon. Full-moon meditations are common. The quarter moons are given less attention, and few Western rituals exist for these events.

It is an intuitive fact that moments of clarity and insight (gaps) do come in the course of living. What Eastern astrology seems to suggest is that many of these gaps are not just random, haphazard events that occur in life. They are regular opportunities, joints in the nick of time, when insights are somehow more possible than at other times. Therefore, it is common practice to set aside some portion of these special days for observance, for meditation.

It is unfortunate that the concept of meditation entertained by the public in the West amounts to a type of relaxation therapy or quiet time. This is far from the truth in India, Japan, Tibet, and other Eastern countries. In fact, meditation is a form of observation of what is and of what is happening in one’s mind and environment. When the Eastern mind meditates on special lunar days, it sets aside a time to observe with great care the nature of that particular day. Meditation as taught in Tibet and Japan is a technique that increases one’s abilities to observe. Unlike in the West, the meditator is not lost in deep inner space; in the East, the meditator is right here, now, observing the mind and life.

Westerners are beginning to learn these techniques of observation. By setting aside a time on these special lunar days for observation, one can be open and aware to the possibilities of insight. This kind of awareness appears to be what is required to pick up on these natural events. If one has an insight at one of these times, one might be more willing to give it credence, knowing that it is happening on a certain a lunar day.

It is clear from Eastern teachings that the moments of full and new moon are times when the various channels in the psychophysical body are somehow aligned. This is not to say the new-or full-moon days are days of peace and quiet. Easterners are taught that, although such a day may tend to be wild or hectic, any patience or forbearance will be much rewarded. In other words, there can be deep insights available at these times. According to these same teachings, an eclipse at the full or new moon is even more auspicious. In the teachings, it is said that, during these very special events, both male and female energies (channels) are in simultaneous alignment—the ultimate opportunity. The lunar cycle and its effects and opportunities have been analyzed in great detail in the Eastern teaching.

—Michael Erlewine

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