On the Tibetan Moon & Dreaming

When we look up at the moon, we can think of loved ones near or far seeing the same moon, its soft glow, a unifying factor. These days, it is not just the moon, but the pandemic that has us thinking the same things from every corner of the world; suffering the loss of loved ones, keeping children busy and educated at home, rediscovering each other and ourselves, or equally struggling with separation and longing.

In our busy pre-pandemic lives, we probably didn’t think much about the moon, a fixture in the sky to be admired on a clear night, a romantic touch to an evening walk, the stuff of legend. We forgot how much the moon impacted the lives of our forebears, and how it still does in many parts of the world.

On the Tibetan Plateau, the moon is omnipresent; central to the Tibetan lunar calendar, it orchestrates the life of nomads and farmers, telling them when to change pastures or plant and harvest their crops. They follow its trajectory in the sky, and act accordingly. In the religious sphere, new and full moons mark important dates for events such as initiations and vow taking.


The Moon and all the other planets indicate to astrologers auspicious dates for new beginnings, those of weddings, journey beginnings or enterprises, and trace paths that help them map our future. Some believe a rabbit lives on the moon, and children love playing at seeing its clear shape outlined on the moon’s full golden disk on a clear night. For poets, the moon is a metaphor for beauty; ‘her face is bright and clear like the autumn moon’.

The moon is also the stuff of dreams, which for many of us feel especially vivid these nights. Dreams are an important element in Tibetan Buddhist spiritual life, populating the clairvoyant dreams of Tibetan mystics. And that of practitioners, who liken their minds to a lake, where the moon can only reflect when its surface is calm and free of ripples.

Dreams come under several classifications. Most common are the ordinary dreams that reflect the preoccupations of the dreamer, a time where the subconscious speaks and offers insights for the waking dreamer to ponder and reflect on.

More noteworthy are clairvoyant dreams that indicate events to come or reveal things unseen that come to certain people who are considered gifted. These dreams are subject to interpretation with whole volumes dedicated to lists of standard symbols and how to decipher them in context; climbing a hill is a sign of success, losing teeth or riding a donkey backwards is one of imminent death, the list goes on.

Then there are the ‘Dream Body’ dreams that are induced by outside forces that can be positive, emanations of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, or negative, brought on by malignant spirits. Dream Body dreams transport the dreamer to another, real, place while leaving his or her body behind, and make the dreamer perform acts that have consequences. In Tibetan Buddhism, dreams can also be used as indicators of a practitioner’s progress, with the dreamer increasingly controlling the dream and using it for spiritual gain.

The grounding cycles of the moon coupled with insights from our dreams can help us to replenish the spirit. During these restless and uncertain times, consciously cultivating peace in our homes can act as an especially nurturing practice as we drift off to sleep - from cleansing bedrooms with purifying incense, drawing a bath to quiet the mind or wrapping up in a warm shawl for meditation. Crafting our own night time rituals helps us not only to connect more deeply with ourselves, but also all of humanity basking under the same soft glow of the moon.