My first brush with jyotish was a disaster! I was about 14 or 15 then and had already spent a couple of years dabbling in palmistry that had drawn me to itself in a most unusual manner. I was brought up in rather modern, scientific surroundings and did not experience a lot of traditional Hindu cultural milieu that is often taken for granted while growing up in India. There was no one in my immediate family who had introduced me to occultism, although I had heard stories about my grandfather who lived in Bangladesh and had never visited us (until I was about 18 after they were thrown out of their home and homeland), and his interest in homeopathy and occultism (he did séances and auto writing, etc. which he had given up after some scary experiences!).
I still vividly recall how I was taken by the small pocket book written by one Cheiro. Count Louis Hammon (I came to learn later) was his real name and he had written books on palmistry and one giving some of his prophetic predictions which I never managed to lay my hands upon. After Cheiro's books came a few more, in English and Hindi, and then I managed to read a book by one Cmt. De Saint Germain who opened a new dimension in palmistry for me, way beyond Cheiro could.
I was beginning to feel frustrated with my lack of intuitive abilities which it seemed were essential for making palmistry tick! A childhood friend Suresh with whom I shared many pleasant hours discussing occultism, and philosophy (sometimes to the detriment of the math and science that I should have devoted my time to, instead!) was beginning to dabble in jyotish and enticed me into trying it, as well. Jyotish, at first seemed too cerebral and too calculation-based. Moreover it had a rather complex structure which V.A.K. Ayer's "Everyday Astrology" (hope I am recalling the title correctly) simply did nothing to make more comprehensible or me less apprehensive about. After a couple of weeks of intense frustration, I gave up on ever being able to understand this complex subject and devoted time to more useful pursuits (which still bring home the bacon).
A year later, I found a western book named The Dictionary of Astrology, which had an abridged ephemeris and a very lucid and non-threatening style of presentation. I went through the book with great ease and at the end of the exercise even managed to draw up my own chart for the first time in my life (my parents did not believe in astrology and no horoscopes were erected for myself or my brothers by them). With some knowledge and the basic lingo under my belt, I approached "Everyday Astrology" with a lot less fear and lo and behold - jyotish was miraculously not that difficult any longer!
Timing is everything, as they say; I was fortunate to find out that a series of books written by one Professor Raman existed and using my very meager allowance I acquired some of his books, gradually one by one. The learning curve was very steep but not as insurmountable as it had appeared during my first encounter. My experience with astrologers was limited and almost entirely negative. I found them evasive and defensive, if not always superstitious, generally ill-read, often haughty and insecure and unsure inside which was shielded by their scholarly demeanor and their engaging in drama most of the time and seemingly oblivious of the problems that astrology and astrologers faced. If they got something right, they made all efforts to deny and forget the rest of the 70% of their output which was often way off. Their general lack of sincerity and of transparency - which still continues to sadly plague many astrologers and teachers of astrology - felt abhorrent and I was quite happy to go my merry way even though the way of being self-taught was very difficult and frustrating at times. I am glad I did it this way and would recommend this approach to any and all.
Being on ones own in the long and weary path of jyotish at first glance does seem to have its downside. When confusions arise or the half-said cryptic statements in translated and original texts make less than perfect sense or worse and raise conflicting thoughts -- then what is one to do? On the other hand, having a guru is no guarantee, of course, because of the nature of astrology in which a rigid pattern or combination of factors does not always apply verbatim in all cases. But often, a teacher can be quite helpful. The same conclusion or perhaps a better conclusion can be reached if one is prepared to spend time and energy and try to test out the combinations in a series of charts to see if the astrological rule withstands the test of reality.
At this point one faces a big problem which used to loom even larger in my younger days: absence of reliable and readily available horoscopic data! A good teacher can provide this very useful service and can serve as a repertoire of good quality birth data. Only in recent times have people began to keep good records, though. Also, some significant bodies of charts (such as Lois Rodden's Databank and IDEAISAR collection, TAEGAR collection, PENFIELD collection) are becoming readily available (though at a substantial cost), so there is really no need for the loner to lament about the lack of good data.
Although software packages tout and make claims about their 'research' tools, what is available in most programs is less than adequate. Perhaps someday the programmers would consult a researcher and together would bring about a tool that really carries out research and is helpful to researchers. Until then, it is not at all a waste of time if tyro and pro alike, set a goal for themselves to study at least one chart in great detail daily, for ones education.
If one sees a single chart in details daily (and it can take a significant amount of time, a couple of hours on an average per chart) then they would be mastering 365 charts in one year and over 20 years would have seen in great depth close to 7000 charts! Impressive as this huge number might sound, it represents only a miniscule percent of the population of human beings at a given instant (and a lot more over the span of 20 years). It is true that in astrology there are patterns that repeat but with so many nuances and permutations and combinations once all factors are taken into account that a resume boasting of having seen 7000 charts is not really all that impressive. It is a long journey, in other words, guru or no guru!
Given my circumstances which include the blessing of not having to earn a living by astrology and due to a certain degree of mobility throughout life, much of my astrology, particularly in the last decade or two, had been conducted in a relatively direct contact-free manner as opposed to the typical face to face setting where a lot of astrological and non-astrological factors come into play and impressive readings often entirely attributed to astrology are not exclusively based on astrological interpretation! Having been forced to read 'cold' has quite suited my temperament and added a dimension to my abilities. I will recommend to any beginner that they should try to read based on only the birth data to build confidence in their own ability as well as to chart the capabilities of astrology.
With a little organization and dedication, internet can provide such opportunities aplenty and also is a good source for learning by doing, in addition to a convenient low cost way of building a database of ones own. While it is quite illuminating to read articles and books written around political figures and celebrities, many of these dazzling interpretations and well-touted "effective" rules fail when tested in the "field". If 98% of the charts you are going to see in your life come from regular, common people, would it not make sense to learn your ropes through using that very cohort of individuals for your astrological education? And these people abound in the Internet. You will be surprised to see how helpful, how forthcoming they are with very personal details of their life - something that no book or teacher can provide but which are the most important learning tools and aids for you as future astrologers. You must work hard at gaining their trust, obviously, and you must abide by the strictest professional and ethical code of conduct.
Being the faceless milieu that internet is, you must exercise caution regarding the quality of information that you are receiving. Quantity often runs counter to quality and it is easy to run into sources of misinformation, as well, some provided accidentally or carelessly while others maliciously too. This teaches one to be cautious and prudent and one avoids hastiness, checks out data more carefully and learns to pick out discrepancies in charts and other details and such caution is a valuable asset to any astrologer.
Once in a while, one also runs into a swarm of "Ask the astrologer of this week" or more directly known as "gimme a reading" crowd. People approach astrologers with a variety of reasons for readings. There are those that are really at the end of the rope and looking for helpful advice. Some of these are really in need for a friendly shoulder for counsel. Then there are those that have a bit of a narcissistic flair and want you to tell them something more that the 101 jyotishis before you had not told them or sometimes just to hear again (and again ...) what many have told them about their exalted Hamsa yoga or whatever. Some are marginally interested in jyotish, academically, and become quite skilled at posing a request for reading in the garb of technical curiosity. Other than gaining an ability to identify such tendencies, there is not much help that you can provide to these people. Some astrologers prefer to ward them off by one of many ways while others politely oblige and move on. It is a delicate decision because you don't want to judge hastily and shun someone who genuinely needs help. There are also those that I call fence-sitters. These individuals are quite materialistic but also have begun to sense the importance of being spiritual and actually would love to be highly spiritual at the same time without giving up their security blankets. Some have taken mantras and meditate every other day but in reality are only going through the motions of spiritual rituals.
Nothing is wasted of course but what they expect may not be achieved in this lifetime. These tend to look at astrology as a spiritual aid and indeed are fully convinced that that is what it is supposed to be. They would ask you about the type of spiritual practice that would best suit their charts or the deity that they should worship for maximum and accelerated ascension. They want to carry over concepts of total quality management and business efficiency into the field of spiritual progress! What can you paltry astrologer do or say to make them see the light? I have been often approached by such individuals who ask me to give them the best way of becoming rich and pious at the same time. I ask these kinds of individuals for a fee! Often, the response is very materialistic: Would I guarantee my readings, would I be able to tell them from their chart how many legs their dog has or if they have a red or yellow car! Many never get back to me - obviously to my loss! Perhaps someday they would get the message and look at themselves - hopefully not too reluctantly -- as spiritual beings trying so hard to climb out of the sweet and sticky molasses of materialism! Who can blame them for wanting to have their cake and eat it too at the same time at this early stage of growth?
Then there are those that are simply testing the waters. Testing astrology and testing you as an astrologer particularly if it costs them nothing but costs you in time and energy. Nothing wrong with all this bit of game playing and a bit of drama, I suppose. I find it most useful to be simply responsive to these with utmost sincerity and I treat them as examiners that God sent to me for testing my wakefulness in matters astrological. I learn if I make mistakes and they learn if I do not.
There are too many rather stern, somewhat rigid grooves and paths that have been created in the universe of jyotish. There would be many more like these coming across our path as we progress. It is not required to adopt such a demeanor and perhaps it would help you and the individual you are reading for to show the impermanence of it all and to treat karma as a threat to the ego but not to the soul. And to show that the illusion of control that we all crave and think we exercise is like the leash that allows the goat its freedom of movement around the central pillar it is tied to.
One will also run into individuals who are interested in astrology as an intellectual pursuit - for them it is a stimulating discipline that has enough logical links and uncertainties built into its framework to invoke discussions and to engage in endless mental calisthenics. There is always room for providing a fresh and new view, a reinterpretation of things as they stand. This sometimes develops into a battle of wits and showmanship but then as they say, "to each his own!" In all fairness, at times, true gems do emerge from this kind of engagement and through this style of looking at things with a fresh eye, so it pays to not close ones eyes and mind to this kind of exchange without getting dragged into it emotionally.
All the dazzle and sensationalism aside, much of astrology and astrological discussions would appear to the aware observer to be a rehashing of topics and views. Over time, old material finds new readers and so there is a lot of recycling that goes on in jyotish - some of it even visible in the so called 'classics'. In more modern times, with the 'net' becoming tighter and its reach wider, material at times gets translated and disseminated with due acknowledgment and sometimes even clandestinely from one language to another (so, what is new?) and the word spreads around and that is what matters in the final analysis. After all, the pioneers who truly held copyrights to jyotish are long gone!
Over time, confusingly and continuingly more so in future, there would emerge all kinds of teachers, institutions, schools and certifying bodies in all forms of astrology and particularly jyotish. There is a minor degree of semblance of organization that the field is going through and will continue to in future. When all is said and done and the dust settles down, in theKarmabhoomi of jyotish ultimately each jyotishi will find him/herself alone with the jaatak; and see him/herself as an oracle who must strive to look with his mind and soul deeply into a natural phenomenon between something almost tangible: the periods and cycles of astrological bodies and patterns and their mysterious and mystical linkage with the destinies of human beings in their surroundings. This is the part of jyotish that requires that one suspend anxiety and all type 'A' behavior and apply oneself to the Saadhanaa whole heartedly. This is what leads one truly to the "illuminating" and glowing hall of jyotish where one journey ends so that another may begin leading one even higher towards yet another spiritual pinnacle.