Friday, August 5, 2011

Discovery of the Buddha Form on the Moon

According to Lord Gautama Buddha, three facts which cannot remain hidden or be concealed are, the Sun, the Moon, and the truth.  To the naked eye, planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, and the Dwarf Planet Pluto in our Solar system, all appear concealed as stars. In light of these facts, this presentation is inspired by a koan from the Zen classic Hekiganroku (The Blue Cliff Records).

Case 3: Baso's "Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha"
Zen Master Baso (709-788 AD)

What could Master Baso have meant when he responded to a question: "How do you feel these days?". What did he mean by describing himself with planetary objects like the Sun and the Moon? Had he heard of this description from others who preceded his time? Did he see something on the Sun and the Moon which inspired him of the greater vision one can experience? These are questions which anyone can ask, and perhaps should ask. Finding answers, however, is one that can become a lifelong pursuit, and one that can bring greater understanding and awareness of the world that we all live in. Our existence is but a brief moment in time. What we see and understand is only a miniscule of what really exists. We may never be able to answer all the questions ourselves, or expect to seek the answer from others. We do, however, have the option of contemplating over what we see, attempt to perceive the truth in-depth as best as we can, and believe as much of what we see as the reality which exists in our lives. Why are things the way they are? Although we are constantly reminded that seeing is believing, why do some see what you see and others cannot? Whatever is appealing to one and which points to the truth, might appear unappealing to others and point away from the truth. It is one's own perceptions, therefore, that can guide one through a path of self-realization. This is a path which is not influenced or altered by the realization of others.
(Click on any image in this blog for an enlarged view)

The many faces of the Sun-faced Buddha
 said to live for eighteen hundred years,
and the one and only one Moon-faced Buddha
said to live for a night and a day.

Why does anyone want to see this?

Because it is there.

And here is a closeup

The 3D holographic image of the Buddha form is visible above Tycho, the Moon's South Pole, and is composed of all wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. The holographic image is located within the region enveloped by Marias Nubium, Cognitum and Insularum on the left, Mare Vaporum at the top, and Marias Tranquillitatis and Nectaris on the right. The face of a human form is located just below the Maria labeled "Mare Vaporum" in the image below.

Curiosity drove me to measure the image size. Give or take a few kilometers along each dimension, the image measured 1,190 km tall and 757 km wide, and is tilted approximately 27 degrees to the left of the pole axis. It is indeed the largest image of the Buddha one can possibly imagine.

The primary source illustrating Buddha pointing his finger at the Moon is the Bhavachakra (Wheel of Life) shown below. One could ask whether the perceptions of life forms depicted in the different layers can be seen as images on the Moon. Could this be what Buddha implied in pointing to the Moon? 

It is said that Buddha himself created the Bhavachakra. In a manner similar to modern published works that have a title, an abstract, and the details of work, the abstract of the Bhavachakra is indeed Buddha pointing his finger at the Moon. It is a gesture implying one to see the Moon in its clearest form to look at the truth. It would be analogous to looking into a mirror where we can see ourselves leading a  dysfunctional and unproductive way of life that is poisoned by ignorance, hatred, and a desire for meaningless pleasures in life. Through the passage of time, ancient Buddhist paintings depicting the root causes for human pain and suffering were recreated by word-of-mouth descriptions, and through the words of Bodhidharma and the Bodhisatvas. 

The core of the Bhavachakra illustrates the three poisons that can cause human pain and suffering. These are illustrated by a pig to convey a sense of ignorance or disregard for the truth, a snake symbolizing hatred and a sense for wickedness and ruthlessness, and an exotic bird symbolizing the desire for pleasure through non-conforming ways of life. The contents are depicted in a manner that lay individuals (individuals with little or no education) could understand the outcomes of one's Karma (ill-doing) thereby giving meaning to various forms of pain and suffering. 

The hideous face is that of Mara, symbolizing the evil side of our personality. Our mental balance, therefore, is an outcome of our individual struggle to overcome the influence of the three poisons and a push towards enlightenment. 

Why is this discovery significant, or is it? Does it provide us a better understanding of Gautama Buddha's path to enlightenment? What definitive answers can this discovery provide about a multitude of myths, beliefs and practices that have been adopted over centuries? For now, perhaps the only question I could answer with any degree of certainty is: What events led to this discovery? Anything beyond this is purely my own intuition about what this discovery could mean. Obviously it is up to any individual to perceive whatever it may be that ultimately provides a sense for appreciating the beauty that lies within our Universe. As I ponder over this, I may over the remainder of my life find out more about what this means and yet feel unable to share my experienced understanding with others.

It was the summer of 2007 when I was awarded a NASA Summer Faculty fellowship to work at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The goal of this project was to compile a set of Senior Design projects so undergraduate students at universities across the U.S. could engage in two consecutive semesters of engineering design specifically oriented towards lunar exploration. While there was considerable excitement in this project about finding design topics for manned and unmanned lunar exploration, (topics which included the design and development of lunar habitats, design of life support systems, and many others), I found all projects required the transportation of large amounts of cargo to the Moon. In this context, approaches to landing robotic platforms on the lunar surface in cost effective ways was still an open issue. It soon became my obsession to find a landing site on the Moon where a successful robotic landing might revolutionize future cargo transportation to the Moon. The search for a site with certain unique physical characteristics, and which could eliminate conventional rocket propulsion as a means for landing, was a key to this determination. Examination of several sites eventually led me to believe that lunar crater Messier in Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility) was the ideal candidate for landing a robotic device and to deploy a lunar-based telescope. Elliptically-shaped Messier crater, 8 km wide and 11 km long, offered the best possibility for a ball-shaped object ejected from lunar orbit to enter the crater and to roll towards an equilibrium point. In principle, the elliptical shape offered a Lyapunov region of stability. The idea was to package the telescope inside a soccer ball shaped inflated object so the object could roll into a location devoid of sunlight, deflate, and deploy an Earth observing telescope – an ideal location for a lunar-based telescope.  It was indeed a totally wild idea I must admit that nevertheless kept me engaged.
Photo Credit: NASA Apollo Missions: Messier crater pair

Much like a rock skipping the surface of water, Messier A and Messier are theorized to have formed when the lunar surface was impacted by an asteroid (or possibly a comet) at a low incidence angle some 3 billion years ago. On a Full Moon, the parallel rays of light emanating from the Messier crater pair (Messier and Messier A) are stunning. The rays propagate East to Southwest along the lunar surface for hundreds of kilometers. No words can describe the beauty and one can only admire this natural phenomenon and wonder about its implications. Finding the Messier crater as a potential landing site intrigued me beyond any words of description. (Pictures have been reproduced from Apollo missions).

View of Messier craters from Apollo 15
After returning back to my usual teaching and research schedule I spent all my spare time thinking about how a mission to the Moon could be conceived in its entirety. This meant the development of a complete mission plan including the design, development, and deployment, and clearly defining the scientific objectives that would be achieved. Needless to say, it was an overwhelming task to have engaged in single handedly. There was substantial amount of engineering and science that had to be integrated into the thought process let alone the justification that I would have to come up with as to why such a mission would be required as a major step in NASA’s vision for lunar exploration. I named the project LASSO for Lunar Astronomical Space and Surface Observatory. My daughter, then two and a half years old, was equally obsessed in her own way and frequently referred to this as “LASSO on the Moon”. I had just conceived a potentially significant lunar robotic mission that would soon become my dream project with a target date of landing on the Moon on or about December 21, 2012. Why I chose this specific date is in itself a separate chapter in this imaginative mission.

In the meantime, I had heard that Google had just announced the Lunar X-Prize worth $30 million. All one had to demonstrate was to land a robotic device on the Moon, traverse a short distance of less than 500 meters and transmit HD quality video back to Earth. Maybe, just maybe FedEx, DHL, UPS and other global material transportation providers could help fund this project, I wondered. The more I thought about this, the more real the LASSO project appeared. I could not help but dream about this as a revolutionary technology that someday may pave the way to transporting cargo to the Moon, and beyond.

November 12, 2007 was a special day when my brother-in-law from Vietnam visited our home in Las Cruces, New Mexico. A Buddhist monk since the age of 12 he had been in the U.S. for a brief visit to care for a monastery in Oklahoma City. He stayed with us for over two months until his departure to Vietnam in mid-January 2008. Well-versed in Mahayana Buddhism, he was extremely curious and intrigued by my work. Despite a language barrier, I could convey my ideas in ways he could easily understand. In turn, Thay Thien (as I called him) had many stories of Buddha to share including a gesture of Buddha pointing his finger at the Moon, which he said was significant among many other Buddhist beliefs.

It was in late November 2007 when I had been researching Thay Thien’s story about the gesture of Buddha pointing finger at the Moon, I found the phrase “Finger pointing to the Moon” had been a topic of discourse for over 2,000 years. There was an abundance of Internet literature providing subjective and deep philosophical interpretation in the context of the pointer and the observer. The most common interpretations suggested that while there is very little or no information at the finger tip of the pointer (a small region of low uncertainty), there is vast amount of information where the finger is pointed to (a large region of high uncertainty). Hoping to find something unique, I began to research images of the Moon posted on the Internet. The dark regions on the Moon called Marias have inspired many to sketch out shapes and forms. The most common among these was of course the Hare on the Moon that we have all seen since our childhood. Others included toad on the Moon, fisherman on the Moon, Grandma on the Moon, and believe it or not, Elvis on the Moon!! (See list of websites for such renditions at the end of this blog).

As Thay Thien and I looked at high resolution images of the Moon we also discovered many shapes that inspired us. The language barrier between us was hardly an issue as his perceptions were brilliantly transformed into art. His perceptions were vivid and telling. It is as though no words could describe better than his artistic renditions. Staring at high resolution pictures of the Full Moon, our perceptions of life bloomed right in front of our eyes. Human faces, elephants, horse-heads and ox-heads and a multitude of other shapes illuminated the lunar landscape in graphic form. Days passed by with more new revelations of shapes and forms that exist on the Moon. It is clear in the following pastel rendition that Samsara, a Sanskrit term used to describe the functions of a family unit, is vividly displayed on the Full Moon.

There are many such images on the Moon that illustrate remarkably what Buddha might have seen with his naked eye as the elements of the Bhavachakra. One just needs to have the perception of what to look for that has both meaning and a purpose in one's life, and needless to say, search for the perceived image, or images, which describe the truth that one is seeking.

In Mahayana Buddhism there are 1,193 names of the Buddha and Bodhisatvas among which the name Avalokiteshwara describes that of a knowledge giver. It is said that our environment has infinite knowledge from which one can seek to acquire as much of this knowledge as we desire. One only needs to see this in all the right places with a clear perception of what one wishes to see. Thay Thien had perceived the rays from the Messier craters as the eyes of Avalokiteshwara and his perceptions were vividly transformed into stunning art.
Sitting and standing postures of Avalokiteshwara ©

It is said, that soon after attaining enlightenment on a Full Moon night, Gautama Buddha while pointing his index finger at the Full Moon told his disciples that truth is never an illusion and can be found where one perceives it exists. But somehow, reading the Internet postings about this gesture did not strike at the heart of the matter. I wanted to know more about why Buddha could have made this gesture, let alone the philosophical interpretations. One just does not point to something and say “look where the truth is” without hinting to something that actually exists. It had become increasingly clear to me that the gesture of “Finger pointing to the Moon” conveyed a distinct message where one can find the truth about Gautama Buddha’s path to enlightenment. If there is truth in the direction of the finger pointing, then what is the perception needed in seeking this truth? What was Gautama Buddha pointing to on the Moon? On December 13th, lo and behold, after many late night searches for images, I came across an undated Tibetan fresco. The fresco may be part of a larger image, most likely the Bhavachakra.

(Reproduced under strict licensing agreement from

There was considerable excitement mixed with confusion -- excitement because I had found an ancient painting illustrating the gesture of Buddha pointing to the Full Moon, and confusion because of what I saw painted on the Full Moon. What appears to be a deer or an antelope was hardly what I had expected to see. There had to be something more revealing about Gautama Buddha’s enlightenment, and I just could not perceive what this could be.

The story goes that Gautama attained enlightenment on a Full Moon night in May, as he sat under the Bodhi tree in deep meditation and vowed not to leave the spot until he had found an end to human pain and suffering. During his deep meditative state he was visited by Mara, the evil King who viciously tried to distract him from his virtuous path. Renditions show Mara’s hideous daughters transformed into beautiful dancers attempting to lure Gautama into pleasure. Wild elephants and hideous faces all-around with bolts of lightning, wind and heavy rain, all emerge in waves threatening to distract Gautama’s focus. With no impact from these diversions on Gautama’s meditative state, Mara’s demonic armies launch attacks with weapons and flaming rocks. Through the enduring power of the Mind, and in the highest conscious state, Gautama meets the ferocious army head on with his greatest virtues and unparalleled focus on the final state of attainment, and defeats them. As the struggle ended, Gautama realized that all of human pain and suffering is caused by one’s desires and attachment to materialistic values. He had gained the supreme wisdom and understood things as they truly are. He became the Buddha, 'The Awakened One'. From then on, he was called Shakyamuni Buddha. Artistic renditions of this scene are vividly illustrated in frescos and are described extensively in Buddhist literature. An undated painting depicts the scene just described and illustrates what Gautama Buddha might have described about his enlightenment to his disciples.

Painting from a Laotian Monastery depicts Mara King attempting to distract Gautama Buddha in his meditative state.
(Reproduced under Wikimedia Commons Licensing)

Then, on December 21st around 3:00 AM, within just a few days after finding the Buddha fresco, I was awestruck to discover a near 3D holographic image of the Buddha form. I was ecstatic. Suddenly everything that I could anticipate was staring right back at me. I zoomed in and out from the image wanting to see everything, my eyes squinting, I kept clearing my eyes of the blurry feeling during the early hours and anxiously waited for Thay Thien to see it. Knowing Thay Thien woke up at 4:00 AM every morning, minutes of waiting felt like hours. I just could not believe that I had actually discovered what Gautama Buddha may have pointed to on the Moon. Thay Thien and I felt mesmerized.

The natural holographic image resembling the Buddha form is visible in the vicinity of Tycho and is composed of all wavelengths in the electromagnetic spectrum. This holographic image is perceived to be formed by directed radiation crisscrossing the lunar surface from multitudes of lunar craters that span the regions enveloped by Marias Nubrium, Cognitum and Insularum on the left, Mare Vaporum on top, and Marias Tranquillitatis and Nectaris on the right.

Photo Credit: NASA

A segment of the full Moon shows some distinct features of the holographic image. To view this, just sit back approximately (1/2) meter from the computer screen. In the image you will see what appears as the face of Mara the evil King with his crown and intimidating mustache. While Mara’s face masks part of the Buddha face, behind the mask is the Buddha face at a resolution we must contend with. It is interesting that a shade of grey-green clearly distinguishes the hologram of what appears as the form of a human with the right ear fully visible. Part of the right-side of the head, the chin and mouth are also easily distinguishable in grey-green. By tracing back from the right palm, you see the right shoulder.

Features of the Buddha Form on the Moon
Appearing in emerald green, a false color image of the Moon captured by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft from approximately 400,000 nautical kilometers clearly shows the 3D holographic quality image of the Buddha form.

Image Credit: NASA/GSFC
I instantly recalled the emerald green Buddha I had seen at the Golden Palace in Bangkok, Thailand, in August 1998. The complete sitting posture is visible in greater detail during the waxing period of the Moon as illustrated in a (3/4) Moon phase.
Image Credit: NASA
Interestingly enough, in Nakhon Pathom, one of the central provinces of Thailand where Buddhism originated, the Wat Rai Khing Festival is held annually from the 13th day of the waxing Moon to the 4th day of the waning Moon in the fifth month of the lunar calendar. Why this period of the waxing Moon until the waning Moon has significance may be answered by the Buddha image that is visible during this period. NASA video animation showing the evolution of Moon phases for a full year illustrate the beauty of the Moon swaying like a pendant in the sky. (Current Moon and video animations:

Waxing Moon                      Full Moon                      Waning Moon

It is good to know why we do things so that both the meaning and purpose of our actions can be felt and experienced. Just practicing a belief without knowledge of its meaning is blind faith and will not lead us through a path of Dharma.

During the time I had been searching for Buddhist literature I had come across a phrase “Sun-faced Buddha and Moon-faced Buddha” and read various interpretations. I asked myself if the Moon-faced Buddha was indeed what I had found. It is only in December 2010, three years later that I began to understand the meaning of the Moon-faced Buddha. Being interested in Zen since 2001 I had been seriously looking for books and other resources on the Internet. Any time I was at a bookstore, I would peruse the Eastern religion section looking for a book on Zen -- one that I could easily read and understand. Often, after reading the preface and skimming through the chapters I would put the book back on the shelf and wonder if I would ever understand how to practice this ancient approach to a philosophy of the mind. Then one day in late August 2010 as I was going through some new arrivals at Barnes & Nobles bookstore I found a book entitled: “Two Zen Classics – The Gateless Gate and The Blue Cliff Records” translated by late Katsuki Sekida. I was extremely impressed by Sekida’s translations and the ease with which I could read and understand the messages that are conveyed in these two Zen classics. The Mumonkan (The Gateless Gate) and Hekiganroku (The Blue Cliff Records) are among the two most revered and most widely cited Zen classics composed of dialogs between Zen Masters and their disciples. Known as koans, they were composed between 960 AD-1290 AD by the Sung Dynasty in China. They contain messages that are indirect and convey many different meanings. For example, Case 3 from the Hekiganroku refers to a discussion between the chief caretaker who visits the great master Baso (709-788 AD) who is seriously ill and asks “I understand you have not been well, how do you feel these days?” to which Baso replies “Sun-faced Buddha, Moon-faced Buddha”.

Sekida’s translation shed light on my findings of the Buddha form on the Moon. In his book, Sekida describes the beauty of the Full Moon as it rises majestically and lasts for a day and a night. It is my understanding now that the Moon-faced Buddha describes the attributes of a calm and serene mind in the shadow of an evil conniving mind. It illustrates the dual personality present in everyone wherein the good nature in one’s mind has the power to overcome the evil nature and generate a feeling of forgiveness and soft-heartedness.

In December 2010, NASA released new pictures of the Sun viewed from twin satellites. For the first time, we can see the Sun all around in its spherical form. With this new information and having read Sekida’s narrative of the Sun-faced Buddha I was all the more curious to discover if there is indeed a form that could be attributed to the Sun-faced Buddha. As I saw the video of the Sun I was awestruck by the emergence of a face shaped like a smiley face. I had seen similar postings on the Internet earlier but had failed to make any connection. Could this be the Sun-faced Buddha, I wondered. Hot, flaming, sun-burned, angered at times, happy at times, sad at times, is perhaps what the great Master Baso may have implied by referring to the Sun-faced Buddha.

Image Credit: Screenshot from NASA SDO movie

Case 19 from Mumonkan, for example, is a dialog between Joshu (778-897AD) and Nansen (748-834 AD). It reads as follows: Joshu asked Nansen “Show me the Way”, to which Nansen replied “Ordinary mind is the Way”. “If so, can I seek the ordinary mind?” asked Joshu, for which Nansen replied “If you do, you will be separated from it”. “Then how will I know when I have reached the ordinary mind” asked Joshu. “Knowing how to reach the ordinary mind is a delusion and not knowing what is the ordinary mind is confusion” replied Nansen. With this, Joshu attained enlightenment.

While all these thoughts were sinking into my mind, I was wondering how one could experience this in real life. What types of experiences give one a true feeling of Zen? Then, on a beautiful Spring day in early 2011, as I was walking back to my office I saw my former Ph.D. advisor and now my senior colleague standing outside and I said: “Good Morning Satish, it looks like you enjoying the Sun”. He quickly replied “I feel like a sunflower”. I could not possibly describe my sudden experienced understanding of what I had been trying to practice all along. It was a true Zen moment.  


I have wondered for a long time how to reveal what I accidentally discovered in December 2007. I had heard and read about “The Man on the Moon” (an illusion created by viewing the dark patches or Marias: See
But my finding was unlike anything I had encountered. As a researcher, my first thoughts of course were to publish this finding in some leading Buddhist journal with my own interpretations of the image contents and its relation to what Buddha might have perceived during the course of his enlightenment. Far from being a theologian, I felt intimidated to describe what this discovery meant to Buddhist scholars. While lacking the necessary theological background, experience and skills, and fearing harsh criticism of my speculative interpretations, I thought it was appropriate at the outset to directly communicate with world-renowned Buddhist philosophers and scholars to seek their advice and guidance. As I had anticipated most of my email inquiries possibly landed in the junk-mailboxes of the intended recipients and were promptly deleted as spam, and some who might have seen it as pure nonsense did not see fit to reply. However, I did receive comments from one renowned Buddhist scholar who was candid and quite sincere in his remarks. He wrote: “While I admire your enthusiasm to publish this discovery, this is a New-Age finding that would more than likely be dismissed by the reviewers of any leading theological journal as purely speculative”. The comforting part of his response was a suggestion that I could attempt to publish this if I so desired in one of several Buddhist magazines, for example Tricycle. I took his advice seriously noting that much of my interpretations were indeed speculative and hardly carried any weight from a theological perspective. After months of pondering and feeling a sense of anguish and frustration, I came to realize that all of this was indeed my own doing and that I must free myself from this feeling by creating a blog to serve as an open forum and let readers comment and contribute towards a better understanding of what this discovery means to the entire World. Through a dialog and open discussion, viewers can judge for themselves what this could mean to one of the oldest faiths in human history.

In retrospect, the discovery of the Buddha form on the Moon shows the human ability to perceive objects even if it turns out to be an optical illusion. Unlike other planets around the Sun, there is no environment on the Moon to alter any perceived object. What we see today will remain as such for billions of years. In our desire to explore the planetary system it is up to us to preserve whatever is known to exist for all time and for all future generations of humankind to enjoy and cherish.

Images seen on the Moon and the Sun confirm a fundamental notion of Buddhist philosophy that five principal aggregates of the human mind, namely, perception, thinking, understanding, gaining better knowledge, and reaching a higher state of the conscious mind, together give rise to mental form. These five aggregates, referred to as the Skandhas, are visually characterized by the images and epitomize Zen as the attainment of the "now-state" of the conscious mind.

How did the great Masters see such beauty with their naked eye at unimaginable distances that we in modern times have to use powerful telescopes and other indirect means to perceive the environment? What superhuman powers did these Masters possess that we have yet to discover and understand? History preserves the truth and it is up to us to uncover this truth in ways that bring greater understanding of our existence.

The discovery has three primary facets which have overarching implications; the first facet instantly brings forward historical facts about Buddha’s teachings and description of his path to enlightenment; the second facet shows immense technological impact in all aspects of future imaging, media and communication that can revolutionize modern technology; and finally the third facet, which is richly philosophical, and has unimaginable geo-political and social impact on Buddhists and non-Buddhists worldwide. It has the potential to bring greater understanding and awareness of the World we live in, and the mindfulness towards the well-being of human society and the environment for a sustainable and peaceful life on Earth. The overarching implications of this discovery may have immense consequences on future unmanned and manned exploration of the Moon and other planetary systems.

Finally as though by coincidence, ten days after my discovery on December 31, 2007, I saw a quote in Zen Keys from the world-renowned Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, which read:

The moment of awakening may be marked by an outburst of laughter, but this is not the laughter of someone who has won the lottery or some kind of victory. It is the laughter of one who, after searching for something for a long time, suddenly finds it in the pocket of his coat.

It had to be the epitome of my finding and no words could have possibly described this experienced feeling.

Lunar Atlas images from Apollo missions and other orbiters

Lunar X-Prize

Names of Full Moons and cultural significance

NASA animated video of Moon Phase and Libration

Internet sites listing various perceived objects and shapes on the Moon

Skandhas – Aggregates of the conscious mind

Mahayana Buddhism