Explaining an Eclipse to Tibetans, 1933

Translated from Tibetan by Paul Hackett

In 1933 the Tibetan-language newspaper, the Me long (The Mirror), produced in Kalimpong in Northern India from 1925 to 1963, published an article announcing a forthcoming eclipse. The article illustrates the attempt of Tibetan modernizers to synthesize scientific theory with Buddhist understandings of cosmology.

For details about the Me long, see the Me long and  The Tharchin Collection at the Columbia University Library. For introductory articles to the Me long, see also Paul Hackett,  Kalimpong, Gergan Dorje Tharchin, and his MIRROR newspaper” and Isrun Engelhardt, “Reflections in The Tibet Mirror: News of the World, 1937-1946”.  Source:  Yul phyogs so so’i gsar ’gyur me long (The Mirror of News from All Sides of the World), [no title], vol. 7, nos. 7-8 (23 July/22 August, 1933), pp. 11.


Understanding the Eclipse of the Sun


[Caption in original:] A correct understanding of how a solar eclipse occurs is shown in the above illustration.

[Caption in original:] An illustration showing the different changes in the sun during the upcoming solar eclipse: starting at 9am, at 9:15, at 9:30, at 9:45, and at 10am.

There will be a solar eclipse on Monday, on the 30th day of the 6th Tibetan month, or the 21st day of the 8th Western month. Although we will be unable to see the changes in the sun in Kalimpong due to cloudy skies, in several cities across India the changes in the sun as illustrated above will be seen. Now, the causes and conditions for a solar eclipse to occur are made clear in several Indian and Tibetan treatises: the sun is swallowed by the demon, Rāhu, an avatar of Viṣṇu. This, however, is how a solar eclipse is expressed in poetry, but nowadays a more clear expression is given by scholars. When the moon comes between both the sun and the earth, the profile of the moon obscures the sun, and hence because the profile of the sun cannot be seen, a solar eclipse occurs. It is explained that this is when the moon moves along its orbit and the profile of the sun occurs at a similar position. If you look at the illustration above, you will understand a little bit of the conditions for a solar eclipse to occur.

According to the Indian system, it is said whatever virtuous actions or non-virtuous actions are done on the occasion when a solar eclipse or a lunar eclipse occurs, their effect is multiplied 100,000 times. Consequently, on this day in particular, you should make effort to engage in virtuous activity. Indeed, at all such times, if you make effort at virtuous activity, how could a beneficial result not arise? Now, on this occasion, the path of the solar eclipse will cover Varanasi, and so should one enter into and bathe in the river Ganges, it will be like doing so countless hundreds of thousands of times, and by having thus bathed in the river Ganges, sinful deeds will not ripen, and having generated regret in your mind, and confessing them, if you have faith in God, you will be purified.