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Buddhists Join Millions across North America Viewing Solar Eclipse


The 8 April total solar eclipse passed over land on Monday, visible from Mazatlán, Mexico, in the southwest to the Canadian island of Newfoundland in the northeast. Along the way, the eclipse was visible from more than 13 US states, including Illinois, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Texas. Across the “path of totality”—where the total eclipse was visible—many Buddhists celebrated the opportunity to gain heightened merit through their practice.

In Bloomington, Indiana, members of the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center and Kumbum Chamste Ling Monastery took the opportunity to hold a Medicine Buddha puja. “I go for refuge until I am enlightened,” they recited, pausing as the Moon darkened the Sun completely. (Courier Journal)


Practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism traditionally pay special attention to eclipses, believing that positive or negative actions can accumulate multiplied merit or demerit during the darkening of either the Sun or Moon.

According to the late Lama Zopa Rinpoche with the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition, both lunar and solar eclipses are auspicious occasions for spiritual practice. Lama Zopa Rinpoche has said that the merit—which represents the positive karmic results of good intentions and actions—generated during lunar eclipses is multiplied by 700,000, and during solar eclipses by 100 million. Some of the recommended spiritual activities on these days include chanting mantras and sutras.

(The Washington Post)

Celestial phenomena have long fascinated humans around the world. In her anthology on The Rig Veda (1981), Wendy Doniger writes:

In the nineteenth century, Max Müller conceived and popularized the theory that all the gods of the Rig Veda were aspects of the sun. Solar mythology has now been eclipsed, but it is certainly true that many of the Vedic gods have some connection with the sun, that many of the creation hymns involve the discovery of the sun, and that many of the closing benedictions include a plea that the worshipper may continue to see the sun. Viṣṇu is a particularly solar god (cf. 1.154), and Agni and Soma have strong solar characteristics; other gods are more vaguely solar, being described as shining or golden and dwelling in the sky.


Texts from the Pali Canon, which focus on the teachings of the Buddha along with sayings of his closest disciples, say little about eclipses. In the Upakkilesa Sutta: Obscurations (AN 4.50), the Buddha uses the eclipse of the Sun or Moon as a metaphor for the causes of moral or religious obscurations such as drinking alcohol, engaging in sexual intercourse, taking up gold and silver, or practicing wrong livelihood.

In the Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life (DN 2), the Buddha describes the forecasting of eclipses and other celestial phenomena as wrong livelihood.

In Chinese Buddhism, an eclipse plays a brief role in the life of the famous adept Pang Yun (740–808), known commonly as Layman Pang. According to tradition, Layman Pang had a premonition about his death. When he felt it was near, he sat cross-legged on his bed and told his daughter to go outside and report back to him when the Sun had reached midday, which is when he would pass away. His daughter looked out and reported to him that the Sun was being eclipsed at that moment. When Layman Pang went out to check, his daughter sat on his bed and passed away.

Pang himself lived one more week, leaving these final words: “Please just regard as empty everything in existence, but beware of presuming that all nonexistence is real. Live comfortably in the world, where all is like shadows and echoes.” (The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism 522)

The next total solar eclipse is due to occur in 2026, passing over Siberia, near the North Pole, and then going over Greenland, Iceland, and Spain. In 2027, a total eclipse will pass over much of North Africa and Yemen. And an eclipse in 2028 will occur over parts of Australia and New Zealand.


Buswell, Robert E, and Lopez, Donald E, ed. 2014. The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism. New Jersey: Princeton University Press

Doniger, Wendy. 1981. The Rig Veda. London: Penguin Group

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans. 2013. “Upakkilesa Sutta: Obscurations” (AN 4.50). Access to Insight (BCBS Edition).

Thanissaro Bhikkhu, trans. 2013. “Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life” (DN 2). Access to Insight (BCBS Edition). 

See more

Thousands gather to watch ‘indescribable’ total solar eclipse in Indianapolis (Courier Journal)
Awe and dread: How religions have responded to total solar eclipses over the centuries (The Washington Post)
Maps of the April 2024 Total Solar Eclipse (The New York Times)

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