Jyotish remains a whispering giant no more! Its message is loud and clear. Prevailing myths such as, "Jyotish is good for predicting events" or "Jyotish does not have tools for describing an individual qualitatively, or psychologically," are being laid to rest every day by jyotishis from the west and the east. Despite all these efforts, there still remain quite a bit of misinformation and misunderstandings in the minds of those seeking a jyotish reading or those desirous of learning this ancient form of eastern astrology.
During the development of jyotish centuries ago, life was probably simpler, more harmonious and balanced than it is now. There was perhaps less of a need to separate the spiritual aspects of life from the mundane. Earning of a livelihood did not have to be divorced from ones core values and spiritual existence. Moreover, the cultural and religious backdrop was relatively homogenous, and the scribes of jyotish texts did not feel it necessary to explicitly state what was obvious and was taken for granted in the times prevailing then.
The present scene, however, is very different. Jyotish is not confined to India or within the Indian culture (which itself can hardly be expected to continue to be the same as it was in Varahamihira's or Parashara's times). It is true that many very fine jyotishis hailing from India and abroad choose to resist changes and do not feel it necessary to modify the focus or context in which jyotish must be applied now, any differently from those early days. Their support and belief in the eternal truth of the timeless statements emanating from the ancient sages is understandable and the essence of what they stated eons ago has probably not changed. However, modifications and some reexamination may not be entirely out of place. This is particularly true when jyotish is expected to encompass all the different aspects of life and work that exist in today's very different times and styles of living.
A fundamentalist or even moderately rigid stance can only serve to confuse and in some cases even alienate individuals who wish to explore jyotish further as a practical aid in guiding their lives and not necessarily as a spiritual tool for personal and eternal emancipation.
The fabric of jyotish is woven in the thread of karma. These days, the overused term 'karma' is understandably beginning to sound a bit tired. A term that incorrectly invokes negative feelings in some, but which represents neither an exclusively negative, fatalistic, doom and gloom philosophy, nor an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth kind of rigid and punitive law.
The concept of karma merely underscores the fact that we remain responsible for our actions; hence, "as we sow, so shall we reap!" From such a perspective, destiny is indeed not something that is beyond our control but rather, it is the outcome that would be experienced tomorrow as a result of actions carried out today. Our act of free will today determines our destiny of tomorrow.
A very significant limb of jyotish deals with remedial procedures. This comprises the determination and characterization of the energies and influences that underlie much of our ailing in life, and recommends products (gems, herbs and yantras), procedures (worships, yagyaas and hawing, mantras, ayurvedic remedies) and acts (charity, spiritual and austere living, fasting, kindness, compassion and love, etc.) that may reduce and discharge some of the karmic debts that our actions have incurred so far. It is true that in terms of procedural details, some of these measures are very directly related to orthodox religious Hindu practice and are quite different from the modern normal practices in life prevailing even in much of India and certainly elsewhere. This is also the area where 'magical' thinking blends very strongly with mundane pragmatism in astrology and this can create certain conceptual problems in those who are coming into jyotish from a more modern, rational-logic-based background and perspective.
Many very accomplished, spiritual and religious individuals happen to be strong spokespersons of and teachers in jyotish. Their achievements in jyotish and spiritual philosophy are phenomenal. They in no uncertain terms recommend the importance of a spiritually pure way of living and how it enhances ones ability to perform as a jyotishi. Their advice is well meant and efficacious, even if initially somewhat difficult to connect to or even all that appealing to all beginners.
There comes a point in ones spiritual quest when the superficial fiber of societal norms and practices becomes too transparent and one begins to realize that the superficial worldly reality that most of us live and function in is not the ultimate. In order for the karmic paradigm to work helpfully in our lives and for astrology to continue to make practical sense, there is the need for the acceptance of a continuity of existence that must span time periods that are wider than the duration between the last birth and the next death! Hinduism and Jyotish support this view for the most part.
The sense of fair and unfair, decadence and deprivation take on a new meaning, when viewed through such a timeless continuum of existence. Such an outlook may also enhance ones tolerance and patience, because there is no finality, no limit, no urgently finite time in which experiences must evolve. Some see in this a harbinger of passivity and an ode to inaction. Others view our entire perceived reality as a dream, a marionette show created by the Supreme Creator for His personal entertainment. Rightly or wrongly, the modern rational mind balks at such concepts. Moreover, like it or not, the purpose of astrology is to provide practical guidance in daily living and to introduce a modicum of certainty into our otherwise uncharted, unfathomed life plan that exists beyond this moment. Matters such as health, comfort in life, work, relationships, children, financial state, an explanation behind the difficult times one is going through and how long these will last are some of the issues that astrologers are approached for advice most often. If renunciation of worldliness is the aim, if transcending the treadmill of karma and destiny is the ultimate achievement of being human, then one wonders if astrology even has a place in such a philosophical paradigm of life.
There are a few astrologers who grew up in families with a strong astrological tradition and accepted astrology in their early years almost through involuntary conditioning rather than a voluntary choice made through a personal rational process. Many more, on the other hand, were brought in contact with astrology through a negative experience in life. Be it sickness, loss, inevitability of a situation beyond control, there was a wake-up call involved in these cases. They hail from all walks of life, and their common link is misery and a desire to remedy it, to find a way out, to seek a ray of hope for the future, all of which are essentially expressions of optimism.
This is not a comprehensive scenario, obviously, and there can be several other reasons for one getting attracted towards astrology, but in most cases, there is a worldly, tangible reason. Even those who seek through astrology a gateway to spiritual experiences and a spiritual direction, are typically individuals who are not ready for moving into the spiritual realm of experience completely and not yet prepared to severe their ties with all that is materialistic and worldly. Telling these people that the entire human experience is a mere dream and to try and push them into spirituality is neither the purpose of an astrologer nor of jyotish as a discipline!
For the seekers of ultimate salvation and nirvana, jyotish is of limited help. It is a bridge, however, that can tide one over karmic crises while one is trying to gain a better understanding of the reality around and is gradually finding ones footing in a more spiritual realm of existence. For one who has shifted his awareness completely to a predominantly spiritual state of being, astrology has about as much use as a Rolls Royce! Astrology is for the worldly, a gift from the Universal Wisdom to us for making us prepared for better and more permanent realms to come.
With questions such as, "When will I get a job?" or "What would be the best and worst periods in my life?", "When will I have children?", "Who shall I marry?", the motive is simple. One wishes to reduce the element of surprise and uncertainty in life. Hardly unusual, this is basically what has driven much of our worldly progress. The indoor plumbing in our bathrooms, the weather and the traffic status reports, the fixed working hours, social blankets, democracy, indeed most of our modernized life is geared towards predictability and reducing the element of surprise! It is an extension of this thinking that brings most individuals to the astrologer from whom they seek a reading. Astrology can be very helpful in answering such questions.
There are also those who seek answers to questions such as, "When should I start worshipping?", "Which deity does my chart indicate I should pray to?". Jyotishis typically oblige such queries with well thought out answers with an astrological rationale to go with it! Isn't there something inherently wrong if not out rightly droll, in this picture? It almost seems as if one is approaching spirituality and devotion but does not want to make a wrong investment decision! How is "Whether to pray to Shiva, Krishna or Jesus?", different from another person wondering, "whether to go with EXXON or SHELL, to buy a Nikon or Minolta?" I don't think spirituality works quite that way! Some questions do seem to signal lack of readiness if not outright misunderstanding.
There are spiritual aspects to jyotish, but the new age trend seems to have affected it and it is hard to miss the rampant 'showcasing' of the spiritual underpinnings of jyotish as products and devices, almost with an implied but never explicitly stated guarantee of performance! Is the run-of-the-mill astrologer misinformed, misguided or is he merely trying to please yet another customer? These are taboo areas and it is considered by many individuals, almost tasteless to bring these up for discussion. But, these represent serious questions that astrologers and their clients must ask of themselves and of others. What, after all, is the scope of astrology? It is futile and even improper to assume that astrology has an infinite reach and can answer all the questions and issues that impinge on human consciousness.
There is a confounding aspect about spiritual practices and austere living! These enhance ones perception, these heighten ones sensitivity enabling them to reach beyond time and place to obtain answers. Though the primary launching platform might be astrology, a spiritual seer begins to receive information from realms beyond the reach of astrology. While the information is useful, uncannily accurate and very helpful, the process utilized for seeking such information is divinatory and wider in scope than astrology. On no account must the success and efficacy of such an approach be attributed to astrology, which is essentially a rule-based, intellect-based divinatory method.
For carrying out astrology, a logical brain, good background knowledge of the rules and exceptions is all that is required. It must be noted, however, that most astrologers bring a lot more than this basic requirement to a 'reading' with their other human capabilities, qualities and experience. My purpose in bringing this up here is not to diminish the importance or the usefulness of spiritual living or devotional practices but to define the limits and boundaries to make sure that Peter is not getting credit that is due to Paul! Also we must realize that there is neither straight and narrow approach nor a really objective way of examining the outcome of spiritual remedies as a class.
There may be a significant role played by supernatural elements in these and in that sense they are probably in a class by themselves, quite separate from deductive aspects of astrology. Individual efficacy may vary, in other words, both when the jaatak (nativity) carries out the procedures or if a priest handles the operational aspects of the same. As far as learning the ancient craft of astrology is concerned, there are no rigid and specific spiritual requirements, really, that are essential for becoming a good astrologer. As is true for most professions, a high level of moral and other qualities would help in determining the worth of advice given, but by themselves these have not much to do with the acquisition of the technical aspects of jyotish or putting the learned material to use.
Saints and realized beings have expressed different views on the utility of astrology. Yukteshwar was in favor of astrology, amulets and gemstones and has even provided us with an ayanamsha to work with (this is mere arc-minutes away from the one that was used by Prof. B.V. Raman whose ayanamsha had created quite the controversy in recent years). Yukteshwar's disciple, Yogananda, clearly states in his autobiography that astrology does not have much usefulness for a saint. Rajneesh was not much in favor of astrology, but Maharshi Mahesh Yogi has given astrology his blessings and Maharshi Jyotish (TM) is actively taught as part of the Vedic curriculum in his institutions along with other Vedic disciplines.
It does make good sense to view astrology as something that applies only when one is within the karmic cycle of worldly living. As one moves towards being and living more in the TAO or in a state of harmony and attunement with nature, the grip of the grahas loosens on ones consciousness and although the perturbations and cycles of the heavenly bodies in the inner cosmos continue to be felt, these can be accepted, tolerated and even overcome more readily by the saint or one on a dedicated spiritual path, than perhaps the great unwashed householder! However, without such a spiritual commitment - and this better be more than the weekly ride to the temple and back - simply assuming that the rules defined in jyotish would have no impact in ones life, by sheer force of will, can be a misconception. There could be times when one who has strong morals may overcome a weakly operating planetary influence and an iron will; however, this will vary from person to person.
In reading this article, hopefully, the sense is emerging that jyotish is primarily intended for the worldly individual who is not quite certain about his future steps, or the direction he should take but would like to be enlightened about the same. There will always be those who would deny that Jyotish has any role in their lives, and boldly state, that, jyotish is simply not for them! There will also be those who would aspire to go beyond the illusion that this reality supposedly is a realm where the glitter is often misplaced and the orientation distorted. These individuals, obviously, are primed to go beyond Jyotish and its karmic weave. Jyotish can help them understand and unravel their karmic hindrances but what they truly need is an immersion of their being in the nectar of higher spirituality. Jyotish is not for them either! This leaves the rest of us bumbling individuals who are uncertain, who want desperately to reduce the sense of chaos in our lives and to move gradually towards that point in our growth and existence where we are ready to let go of the illusions that surround us and discover our true natures and purposes. Jyotish is certainly intended for us - the majority, in order to ease our uncertain path, for the time being!
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