In many cultures throughout the world, eclipses were viewed as important astronomical events, often associated with ill omens and misfortune. Many cultures believed that the sun or moon was being devoured or eaten by dragons or demonic planets (rahulas), and that this had negative effects for all life on earth. This comes from the basic understanding that the planets, particularly the sun and moon, have definite energetic effects on all living things. The microcosm of our bodies is intimitely affected by the macrocosmic movement of the celestial bodies. This is especially demonstrated by the tantric view of the solar and lunar radiations governing the movement of energy within left and right subtle energy channels in our bodies. In addition, it is beleived that the sun and moon radiates many kinds of subtle elemental energies that help to sustain life on earth.
When there is an interruption of these energy radiations, as during an eclipse, its effects can be observed and felt. It is a cessation, or a cutting off, of these vital energies. We can see this concept expressed by the word ‘eclipse;’ a Greek word that means ‘abandon’ in the sense that the sun ‘abandons’ the earth during that time. Where there was light filtering through the elemental forces of the zodiac into the earth’s aura, there is suddenly darkness, a cutting off from the source of life. When these solar or lunar radiations are cut off, it creates an energetic stress on the planet and all life on it. This can be observed by the rise in disorders such as epilepsy and mental illness, the strange behaviors of animals – both land and sea, by the way the birds become silent, by the shift in the gravitational pull, and the arising of earthquakes, volcanos, and other terrestrial phenomena.
The stressors are strongest on the areas that are directly affected by the eclipse – in other words, the areas on the planet where the eclipse is visible. The upcooming eclipse on Jan. 15, will be visible in parts of Africa, India and China. Although the energetic disruption will affect the entire planet, it will be particularly strong in these areas. According to Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, many beings – beings with forms and without forms – die during eclipses as a result of the stress or the ‘abandonment’ of the solar rays, especially if their life force is particularly weakened or they have certain astrological alignments that are in conflict with the planets involved with the eclipse.
According to tantric Buddhist cosmology, the energies that are lost during eclipses, cannot be recovered. This means that every time there is an eclipse, there is a gradual diminishment of energy on the planet. Over the course of decades, centuries, and millennia, this gradual decreasing of energy is what is known as ‘the degenerate age.’ This manifests as the gradual lessening of the power of the five elements – food and herbs loose their potency, there is less oxygen in the atmosphere, diseases and pollution increase, there is a worsening of natural disasters and suffering. This process of elemental degeneration is largely created as a result of these continual cycles of eclipses, until finally we reach the end of the kalpa when only one element predominates and consumes what is left.
For this reason, in the Buddhist tradition, much emphasis is placed on engaging in Dharma practice on these days. By generating merit and reciting prayers, we can lessen the overall diminishment of energy and slow down the process of degeneration. We can help to preserve the continuity of the elemental energies, and by doing so, it may be possible to save the lives of those beings who may die as a result of the stress caused by the eclipse. Some Buddhist sources say that during a solar eclipse the effects of positive and negative actions are multiplied by 10,000. What this means is that if you engage in virtuous practice it will be more helpful than usual. However, if you engage in non-virtue, it will further the process of degeneration. During an eclipse, Dharma practice is the special method to not leak away the element’s energy that is the support for all beings.
There are some special prayers, such as the ‘Kunzang Monlam’ (Aspiration Prayer of Samantabhadra) that state very specifically that the prayer should be recited during eclipses. However, any Dharma practice – whether it is prayers, mantras, sadhanas – will be helpful in preventing the loss of the vital energies provided by the sun; in particular, the mantra for Medicine Buddha, Amitayus, Tara, Vajra Guru, or reciting the ‘Tse-Do Tse-Sung’ Sutra.