Many years ago, soon after acquiring a reasonable level of familiarity with the alphabet and syntax of jyotish, questions arose in my mind. Is jyotish intended for the householder, the common Joe and Sally? Or is it the recipe for eternal salvation?
In the Indian setting of 60s, a tendency to ask too many ‘philosophical’ and esoteric questions was discouraged by astrology teachers and therefore seldom asked by neophytes, and if asked, generally risked remaining unanswered. Thirty some years later, still searching for answers to these and many more questions, I am beginning to comprehend why those wise individuals adopted such a close-mouthed attitude towards the esoteric aspects of jyotish! Questions of this genre do not have concrete or pat answers and certainly are not entirely convincing when coming from someone else’s frame of reference, even if the source of these answers is a revered and trusted teacher. Such questions that reach the very core of our raison d’être are best cooked on theslow fire of personal experience by the person asking the questions himself. The answers to these questions unfold gradually as the mind growingly prepares itself to receive the message that had perhaps been lying within all this time, as is the case for most spiritual solutions.
It all centers around the intriguing issue, whether ones life-experience is a product of free-will or fate. Simply put, if our lives were supposed to be predestined to the very last breath, then astrology loses its meaningfulness. Why even bother knowing about something that cannot be changed? If this is the case and destiny prevails unconditionally, then muhurta (electional astrology: when to start a new project, when to build a house, when to approach for some particular task, etc.) is without any practical utility. The same also would be true for remedial procedures which are, after all, acts of freewill that are attempting to change ones karma and thereby eventually altering ones destiny. Now, some would argue that even the coming upon successful remedials is a phenomenon that is destined (if one is destined to be relieved, remedies would appear and become available, otherwise not!), but that kind of circular logic merely serves to overcomplicate a situation which might actually be simpler to explain if we accept an alternative explanation.
The alternative explanation, of course, is that life is not entirely predestined but allows for series of acts of free-will. While some old school astrologers would call this kind of thinking a reflection of modern newage (the “dirty” word of the spirituality of the 90’s) influence on their ancient craft of astrology; however, if one steps back, the concept of free will is not all that far-fetched or silly. After all, if astrological influences are meant to portray ones karma or as some call it, our karmic ledgers, one cannot avoid conceptualizing a “primal” act that must have started the cart of karma rolling. Also, how else would religions take into account the concept of responsibility that emanates from ones actions (which generates karma).
Each action, over time, matures and bears fruits (not necessarily sweet) that must be experienced or somehow ‘consumed’. Karma is definitely not a simple eye for an eye consequence of ones actions and, we can view our life as one in which we are held on a karmic leash. It follows, then, that we enjoy a smaller perimeter of free-will operating within the larger boundary of destiny, which in turn is a product of our personal actions performed earlier. How rigid these boundary walls are and whether these are applicable to some individuals or uniformly for all, are matters of debate beyond the current scope of this article, but certainly important points for personal contemplation and, hopefully satisfactory resolution.
Focusing on the contrasting paradigm, if ones life were purely an experience in free-will then again astrology becomes a futile pursuit, for in that scenario a reading or a prediction cannot really be foreseeable or ‘predictable’ but can be considered as an entity that is readily alterable and fluid, subject to vagaries of ones character and ones ability to exercise free-will. While serving as a very convenient cop-out for times when ones predictions fail (!), pure free-will as a sole factor would not serve to explain the basis of natal astrology too well.
What actually happens in our life and experience? In the lives of most of us, there are identifiable instances where we can pin-point an experience as being predestined, one over which we had no control whatsoever; there are also those moments when free-will seemed to carry the day. Only when the two influences: fate and free-will, are accepted as being capable of being jointly operative in a mysteriously dove-tailed manner can the full spectrum of astrology seem to fit the picture, and to jive with actual experience.
Through the creative privilege endowed upon carnate human souls (albeit to varying degrees among individuals), it is conceivable that acts of free-will can indeed be generated. These may be small acts performed by us daily or major decisions that have a lasting impact on ourselves and on those that surround us or even entire communities and nations. With each of these volitional acts and decisions, we create a perturbation in many realms of existence that we inhabit and in a sense create for ourselves and for others a trace of destiny. Mind-boggling as it might appear, our small and not so small acts and decisions may shape our life-plan in this lifetime and the next several ones as well. The symbolic signature and records of this process is what we astrologers strive to study in a birth chart. These influences shape and define who we are and how we express the light of life as human beings. So, in a sense, we live in a fixed-yet-dynamic system -- fixed for the most part -- but with inherent potential for change.
For most of us, individual actions make small changes, but collective actions have the potential for changing the picture more dynamically as we generate through this process collective destinies which shape the paths for communities, nation and in some cases even the world. Armies of ants marching up the hill of spiritual evolution is the imagery I view. The relative dominance of fate or free-will is not constant in any given individual’s lifetime or even through several such periods of existence while the soul travels forward in its sojourn through earthly existence. In this framework, these two dichotomous but coexisting realities: fate and free-will, interact, stir and blend in order to generate seemingly complex patterns of experiences. The end-result of this perhaps is to gradually and increasingly enhance “our” identification with the ‘witness’ self (that is always in TAO) within and to move away from the relative illusion of being a participant in everything that goes around us.
Before we attain such a lofty detachment, though, lie many miles of terrain which most of us find ourselves entrenched in. We can increase our awareness and understanding through astrology by using it as a tool that would enable us to differentiate to some extent between fate and free-will, the binary forces that are supposed to teach us and to bring us to the realization of what our true place is in this creation. And to remind us that we are both creations and creators, if for no other reason but simply because a creation always carries a piece of the creator within it, as we all do.
In jyotish parlance, four houses are related with ‘growth’, the 3rd, 6th, 10th and 11th. These are known as the upachaya houses and are generally connected with earthy, practical areas in life, namely, personal efforts belong to the 3rd, ones livelihood and serving others through 6th, main occupation and general culmination of ones tasks from 10th and ones earnings and gains from 11th. However, other matters are also ascribed to these four houses (e.g., siblings, sicknesses/enemies, fame and elder sibling/friends are also studied from these 4 houses in a horoscope) and this must not escape ones attention when focusing on a chart.
Everyone has these houses in their charts, some even have the very same planet ruling a given house in their charts (nominally about 1/12th of the population would share the rulers of a given house), and yet, we have different types of tasks and experiences in life, making us in true sense of the term - individuals. The connection between the ruler of a house and personal planets in a given chart and the strength and quality of the indicators concerned are the factors that make the difference.
These four ‘nodes’ when well-connected and prominent in a chart can be viewed as hints or keys that lead to matters which are prominent in our life-plan, are our karmic curriculum for this birth time and worthy of study. These represent areas where free-will has a stronger rein in our lives. Growth or stagnation, one would say, lie in our ‘hands’.
The signature of destiny in our charts is revealed in the trines (1st, 5th and 9th) as well as the kendras or angles (1st, 4th, 7th and 10th). Trines deal with our karmic balance and indicate our poorva punya, bhagya; these being fruits of karma that are maturing or have ripened. The angles also represent surroundings and close others who would be partners in the unfolding of our karmic lessons and dramas during this lifetime.
Most have noticed, I am sure, that some of the houses seem to be shared between the different categories. The 10th shows up in the zone of effort as well as zone of destiny, as does the 1st house. Astrologers of all cloths and types have always held the 1st and 10th houses in high esteem and of significant importance in a chart. All for very good reasons. The 1st house represents us, the carnate self that experiences it all and that is the executor in this lifetime. It receives as well as gives. The 10th deals with the products that are received and that are given – not only material gifts or earthy products but ones life-product, the sum-total. It amalgamates the free-will and destiny and little wonder that it is often considered as the ‘bottom line’ in ones lifetime. Will one rise to the heights that one is capable of through the destiny and surroundings that one brings as destiny for the most part, or will one pull back and wait for things to happen?
The ‘dasha’ periods of planets associated with the ‘growth’ houses bring about opportunities (destiny) for one to exercise free will (the leash variable!). One should not take home the message that only during these periods (often lasting years) can one exert self-will or volition or make responsible decisions, but the scales are tipped in favor of such activities! The periods of planets that signify destiny, particularly the trines, on the other hand, bring about changes that seem to be more imposed (happily or otherwise) on one rather than having the semblance of being products of planned effort. The basic rule of jyotish must be remembered through all this: strong planets give strong effects, weak planets do converse; benefic and malefic qualities of planets impart similar characteristics to the qualitative nature of effects.
Ones lifetime, and particularly ones life plan revealed through ones horoscope is a very wonderful and useful map to study and watch unfold with useful nudges from the ‘leash’ factor where opportunities exist. While a segment of astrologers, particularly in jyotish urges upon people to focus on the practical matters as revealed through jyotish, and primarily so in response to consumer demand underwritten by the “being forewarned is to be prepared” theme, there is nothing that is stopping one from taking up a continuing interest in studying ones chart (or of others) from a wider perspective. A perspective that allows one to see ones tendencies, ones nuances and opportunities for growth over a long period of time, all as a connected theme. Unfinished milestones of growth of the soul that lie just beyond the transparent walls of ones horoscope, waiting to be discovered, energized and brought to fruition through our focused and responsible acts of volition.
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