Astrology has always tugged at the heart of mankind and regardless of their overt opinions, individuals have often toyed with the possibility of there being a destiny and a way to decipher its often mysterious code. Carl Jung, a well-known mystic-psychologist was a believer in astrology and some of his concepts have been used by modern astrologers giving rise to what is dubbed as "Jungian astrology" in the western tradition. His famous statement, "That which is born in the moment has the characteristics of the moment" sums up in a simple statement what astrology is about. The moment when someone is born is a key-point in ones life and a horoscope cast for the birth-moment is not a random point, but perhaps a capsule, a snapshot of the trends that the individual would experience.
This is not fatalistic since there is always room for free will within the broad trends that surround one as one progresses through life. It is unfortunately wrongly misunderstood that jyotish or astrology promotes fatalism and the incontrovertible nature of life. If such was indeed the case then what would be the purpose of reading a horoscope, a script that one cannot modify. Through penance as well as acts of charity, one can work within the framework of karma and yet lead life in a meaningful, purposeful way with some control over ones destiny. Whether this is attained by all is an individual issue that each of us must ask of ourselves and to rectify and benefit from.
The basic premise of astrology is simple. There are 12 signs that are formed by the apparent path of the sun in the sky. The path is actually described by the earth going around the sun. The 12 signs are ruled by the two lights, sun and moon and the 7 visible planets from mercury to Saturn. Sun rules over the sign Leo while moon rules over the adjacent sign cancer. The other planets rule a pair of signs each in the order of their orbits in the solar system, one sign on each side of the cancer/Leo pair. We therefore have mercury ruling over Gemini and Virgo, the next planet Venus ruling Taurus and Libra, the next planet mars ruling Aries and Scorpio, then Jupiter ruling Pisces and Sagittarius, and finally Saturn ruling Capricorn and Aquarius.
The way these planets interact and connect with each other in individual charts holds the key to the personality and experiences of the nativity (owner of the chart or horoscope). The point of zodiac rising in the east at the moment of birth is the orientation point in the chart and is known as the ascendant (rising) or first house. The remaining houses, 2nd to 12th hold sway over different areas in ones life, including family, education, siblings, parents, progeny, wealth and earnings, sicknesses, occupation and spiritual state, etc. With 12 signs and 9 planetary indicators, the permutation and combinations would be rather limited; however, there are many other levels of viewing these astro-indicators which can lend greater complexity and richness to a delineation.
Many western astrologers find their first brush with jyotish or Vedic astrology somewhat unsettling. Although it uses a symbol set (alphabet) with the same 12 signs and planets (only the visible ones up to Saturn) as its tropical counterpart, and attributes similar significances to the houses and signs, jyotish is different in many respects from tropical western astrology. Firstly, it uses the sidereal zodiac. This results in the sidereal signs being almost 23 to 24 degrees behind their tropical equivalents at the present time. The tropical signs are oriented from the equinox (the day when the night is equal in duration to the day, during spring in the northern hemisphere and autumn in the southern hemisphere), taking the position of the sun on that day as the Aries 0 position. The sidereal zodiac, on the other hand, utilizes the constellation of arise that is up in the sky and uses that to orient the zodiac. This should sound fairly reasonable and easy, however, there is a catch. There is no specific star that visibly marks for us Aries 0! So, one cannot point at a mark in the sky up there and say conclusively that that is the orientation point for the sidereal zodiac.
The two zodiacs, sidereal (of the stars) and tropical (of the earth/seasons) can be visualized as two rings occupying the same space with one of them slipping forward by approximately 50.3 seconds of arc each year. If we had a telescope aimed at a fixed point in the east and looked through it at exactly the moment of spring equinox, each year and recorded the star images, we would find that the stars shift very slowly eastwards from year to year at the rate of 50.3 seconds each year. This is what is known as the error due to precession of the equinoxes, which is generated by the wobbling motion caused in the earth's axis primarily due to the gravitational interaction between the earth, moon and the sun.
Every 26000 years or so, the two zodiacs line up precisely and there remains no difference between the sidereal and tropical placements. However, there is controversy regarding the exact date when this happened the last time. This date of coincidence of the tropical and sidereal zodiac is an important consideration because the orientation of the sidereal zodiac depends on it! This uncertainty in pinning down the date has given rise to a series of values for corrections for the precessional error.
The different fiduciaries, known as ayanamshas often go by the name of their proponents and so we have the Fagan-Bradley value used exclusively by western siderealists (this is a different system from jyotish though using the same zodiac) and other values that are used by jyotishis all over the globe, such as Lahiri's, Raman's, Yukteshwar's, Krishnamurthi's, Usha-Shashi's and Bhasin's values, etc.
The question legitimately arises: Why so many and how can they all be justified or even work well at the same time? This, while true, gives the skeptics a big bone to chew on! One would imagine it should be possible to test the different ayanamshas and see if the planetary periods lined up with the events or traits in an individual or something like that.
However, fact is that in astrology there is no cut and dry 'rule' that would fit in each case or even operate in an isolated fashion. The multifactorial nature and intertwining of rules makes it a bit difficult to test one or the other value conclusively. Moreover, things get a bit more complex because of the use of a system for timing of events known as dashas; these are somewhat similar to the system of progression used by tropical astrologers.
Of the many dashas, vimshottari is popularly used but is by no means the only one. This dasha system is based on the progression of the natal moon through asterisms ruled by different planets. Though called asterisms (Nakshatras), these are really finer divisions of the very same 360 degree zodiacal circle. The moon is progressed through the equally spaced Nakshatras divisions of the zodiac (13d 20m each) at varying rates (in contrast with the one degree a year or similar fixed rate of progressions used in tropical progressions). This arrangement leads to ones life being under the domain or signature of different planets for periods ranging from 6 to 20 years each. Lest someone misunderstand, the planets probably do not 'influence' our life and events directly, but represent trends, influences and circumstances that we would be more susceptible to during a given period. An interesting analogy would be that of the clock at noon. The coming together of the two hands of a clock at noon is not what makes most individual hungry for lunch, but certainly predicts the probability of a lot of people feeling hungry at noon. The astrological planets probably are akin to the hands of the cosmic clock, which governs our lives and phases or periods in life.
Other distinct features of Jyotish are, the scheme of planetary strength determination, planetary combinations (yogas and arishtas), the concepts of executor (karaka) and obstructive (badhaka) planets, and unique techniques such as ashtakavarga (a system for assigning points based on the actual position of the planets in a horoscope, primarily used for gauging the effects of transits) and the reliance on sign-dispositors, etc. There are several texts available these days in English that present the concepts of Vedic astrology in a simple manner that is a bit easier to understand than the often very poignant and pithy verse and complex translations that are seen in the case of most original Vedic jyotish texts.
The main body of Vedic astrological knowledge has not changed very much over the years, although many contradictions and different nuances of the same rule can be observed when comparing texts from different time periods. The core manual of natal Vedic astrology is Parashara's magnum opus, "Brihata Parashar Hora Shashtra". Several translations / transliterations are available. Most original texts on Vedic astrology are collections of verses that describe the different areas of astrology and give endless combinations of planetary positions, often without going into the modus operandi or defining the common basis of prediction. Examples and illustrations in the form of charts and horoscopes are nearly non-existent. The students are often left on their own to figure out the meaning, similarities etc.
It must be remembered that when the original texts were written (after generations and generations of oral tradition, with knowledge being passed from teacher to student), these were perhaps intended to be notes and references and the practical training of an astrologer based on a mentor-apprentice relationship was supplemented by these texts, hence the absence of illustrations and practical discussions of horoscopes from these is not unusual. Stylistic and connotational differences that have crept-in since the time of the original writing have resulted in higher demands on using discretion while interpreting these books and then applying the techniques to horoscopes.
A major consideration in Vedic astrology involves the study of dispositions. For example, when studying the third house, the planets associated with the third house are important, but perhaps even more important is the lord of the third house and its dispositor (the planet whose sign/star the third lord is placed in). In most combinations, one would notice a common pattern. In order to gain in strength and beneficence, a planet should not only be placed in a benefic house (angles or trines from the ascendant) but also be associated and aspected by other benefic planets. Such 'joining of hands' is very important and is emphasized repeatedly in many ancient texts. A chart with strong planets (in own or exalted signs) would perhaps indicate a good beginning, a childhood well provided-for, but unless these planets are well connected and prominent in relevant Vargas or divisional charts, the potential may not be realized in one's future life.
Lunar nodes are extremely important in Vedic astrology. Although different significances and attributes had been attributed to these, their propensity for producing sudden, unexpected and unwanted effects with a karmic twist invoke terror in many a heart. That mere mathematical points could have such profound effects is incredible. The nodes form many combinations such as the "chandal yoga" (nodes conjoining Jupiter), which essentially are claimed (a bit too dramatically) to render Jupiter bereft of all good. Another one is the "kalasarpa yoga" when all planets are flanked between the nodes, leading to major doom and gloom and severe constraints upon everything that the person attempts. There are of course several modifiers that reduce the effects of both the good and bad combinations and these need to be noticed and taken into account as well in order to mete out a balanced and helpful reading.
There are many factors and considerations that must be utilized in the practice of Vedic astrology, such as the concept of personal planets, secondary houses, natural or intrinsic, static and dynamic significators or indicators of various things, people and circumstances that together form part of the 'human experience'. In future articles, I would be touching upon these areas in greater details.
There are, therefore, interesting differences in the way that Vedic astrology works in contrast to other forms of astrology and, hopefully we would be able to explore some of the issues pertaining to this unique body of astrological knowledge in coming issues.
a) Ancient Hindu Astrology for the Modern Western Astrologer by James Braha, Hermetician.
b) Fundamentals of Vedic Astrology by Bepin Behari, Passage Press.
c) Elements of Vedic Astrology by K.S. Charak, Vision Wordtronic.
d) Hindu Astrology Lessons, 36 Teachers Share Their Wisdom edited by Richard Houck, editor, Groundswell Press.