Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Many Faces of the Moon and its Rabbit

In many legends around the world, the rabbit leads a busy existence high up on the lunar plains. In Chinese folklore, the rabbit pounds away continually with a mortar and a pestle, making the elixir of life for the moon goddess Chang-E. In Japanese and Korean eyes, it is forever seen pounding the ingredients for mochi (rice cake). 

Life is not any idle for our furry friend over in the Western hemisphere either. Native American legend has it that a young rabbit had a wish to ride the moon but could not jump far enough. Yet the birds –large and small– were all unwilling to take it there. Seeing the rabbit’s disappointment, the crane finally agreed to take it there. During the trip however, the heavy weight of the rabbit strained the crane’s legs so much that they became elongated and remained so to this date. So does the rabbit continue its ride on the moon.

Even when the rabbit can rest its paws, life has not been easier for it. In the Buddhist tale Śaśajâtaka, an otter, a monkey, a jackal and a rabbit resolved to practice charity on the day of the full moon. When the day itself arrived, they met an old man begging for food. The otter caught fish; the monkey plucked fruits from the trees, while the jackal wrongfully pilfered a lizard and a pot of milk-curd. Knowing nothing other than gathering grass, the rabbit lurched into a fire the man had started, offering its own body for food. Miraculously, the rabbit was unscathed. The old man then revealed himself to be Śakra, ruler of the Trāyastriśa Heaven. Moved by the rabbit’s nobility, Śakra drew the image of the rabbit on the moon for all to see. It is said this lunar image is still thinly veiled by the smoke that rose when the rabbit threw itself into the fire.

Similar stories to the legend of the rabbit in Śaśajâtaka are also found in Mexican and Japanese folk canons.

Whatever the rabbit’s ventures though, all the legends sung of courage and self-sacrifice, a theme resonant with Easter. On this Easter Day, let us think of the rabbit (and its poor crane buddy) and keep their virtues in our hearts as we munch on the Easter eggs from our lovely bunny friends.

Happy Easter, everyone!

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