There are many ways of determining strengths of planets (and houses) and fairly elaborate methods are available in most of the computer programs, available today. These reduce the enormous tedium and time that used to be required to calculate all the different factors by hand (Whew!). For a snapshot, quick glance judging of planetary strengths, one can utilize a simplified system that I teach my students. This was first described by me in articles that I wrote for The Astrological Magazine in late 70s and in NCGR publications later on. The basic premise of this system is to study a planet on two scales that are based on signs and two based on houses. A planet is strong or weak in certain signs and a planet has a positive or negative, strong or weak resonance with certain signs. This is the basis of exaltation, debilitation, ownerships and friendships. Likewise, a planet is stronger in certain houses which represent certain directions, also, a planet is stronger in certain classes of houses, angles, for instance. An examination of these leads to delineation of four scales of strength for each planet, namely, the exaltation, directional, angular and friendship-based strengths. Each of these four can be assigned an equal weight, so, if we assign 25 to each of these, the sum of the four sources of strength would attain a maximum of 100. The strength can now be used as a percent value which is a lot easier for most of us to grasp. Or one could use a range of 0-6 for each strength, since this is easier to use it with the 12 signs (for exaltation strength, for instance, by going from 0 = debilitation to 6 = exaltation, one unit of strength per sign and then going down one unit per sign. The four are described below, briefly:
Each planet gets a 0 when it is in its sign of debility and gains one unit per sign till it attains a score of 6 in its exaltation sign and then goes down one unit per sign. In some cases, it would be a bit off, where the maximum exaltation degree is very early in a sign, as is true for moon and Jupiter. One can adjust for it by paying attention to the degrees. Or, since this is a cyclical strength, one can use the exact degrees to calculate the exact strength.
Mars and sun in the 10th house, Saturn in the 7th, Jupiter and mercury in first, moon and Venus in fourth house (use whole sign as house) get 6 units of strength. If they are in 9th, 6th, 12th or 3rd house respectively, they get 5 units of strength, losing one unit per sign, until they get a zero when mars or sun is in 4th, Saturn is in 1st ... and so on.
Kendra or angular
Planets in 1,4,7 or 10th (angles) get 6 units of strength, those in 2nd, 5th, 8th or 11th get 4 units and 2 units of strength in the remaining houses.
This is a bit involved and requires that you know about the moolatrikona position and ownerships of planets. From the moolatrikona and exaltation signs, you can determine which planet is friendly to another and based on the different combinations, a planet could be in the sign that is moolatrikona, own, belonging to great friend, friend, neutral, enemy or stark enemy and the scores would be again 0 to 6. In essence, one is scoring the relationship between a planet and its sign dispositor in this strength.
Together, these four can address the important areas of strength that a planet can be attributed with and although a bit onerous-sounding, now, with practice, one can attain such familiarity that the assessment of these strengths becomes natural and almost second nature. This is a useful skill to acquire!
YOGAS and ARISHTAS in Jyotish
Often sooner rather than later, the student jyotishi runs into these. Practically any old or new text on jyotish lists hundreds and hundreds of combinations between planets, planets and houses and sometimes in nakshatras which typically describe the astrological factors, combinations and conditions and their results. A very good compendium on many of these is Late Dr. B.V. Raman's "300 Important Combinations", a handy little pocketbook that is highly recommended. In addition to his scholarly and experienced commentary on these combinations, we get glimpses of Dr. Raman's simple humility as he gently reminds often that readers must experiment and make up their own mind about the usefulness of this or that yoga and many hints dropped here and there that could trigger some more thoughts and useful advice applicable in other areas of jyotish, as well.
There is a tendency one often risks falling into for looking at a yoga (or arishtas, which are the negative yogas that are associated with confinement, ill-health, penury and so on) in isolation. The often cryptic and terse statements of combinations and their effects, in classical texts, if applied verbatim lead nowhere. Practically for each combination one must judge at least the following:
= The strength and beneficence or maleficience of the planets concerned.
= The participation or association of other planets with the yoga-forming planets particularly the moon, the lagnesha and the lords and karakas of relevant houses.
= The simultaneous operation of dashas and transits conducive to the fruition of the yoga.
= More than one combination corroborating a certain effect (additive weight of indicators).
= Presence of opposite combinations that would reduce or nullify the effect.
Many intellectuals often get *shocked* by the rather terse labels that jyotishis seem to utilize when calling a planet or a combination as malefic or benefic. Sometimes these sound ominous and give a sense of finality, inflexibility of roles and even strike fear in some hearts. This is completely uncalled for. These 'terms' are used in the sense of not only good/bad, but also positive/negative, propelling/retarding, and any of the many similar connotations that one might choose. Any given jyotish reading or combination in a chart is an interplay of cosmic energies, some of which symbolically oppose the others; the relative strengths and quality of the influences indicating whether one would fare a smooth-sailing or obstacles, and whether one would benefit or learn from either of these situations. Moreover, there is nothing ominous or 'cast in stone' about most of these readings based on the indications and rules given in jyotish books, old or new. Unless we (paradoxically) choose to be fatalistic or choose to focus on the wrong way of dealing with these indicators.
It is very rare that a yoga would operate in vacuum or that the planets/houses concerned would not interact with other factors in the chart. The current simplistic feature present in commercial software of identifying a yoga in isolation and churning out canned phrases from a 'look-up table' with absolutely no provision for other considerations (weighting, judging the quality of the planets etc. involved) makes the feature practically useless for readings. The feature might have some use for students in helping them identify the yogas, etc., but making these readings useful certainly would require a lot of further work. Computers are great at rapidly identifying combinations and patterns, but people are faster and better at taking that information and looking at it all in a multi-factorial blended manner.
If you follow the general course of astrology over the last several hundred (more!) years and are objective, rational and honest in your assessment of the same, you will soon realize that despite some very illustrious teachers that have been placed before us, and what sounded at first like dazzlingly reproducible techniques, when applied consistently by different people, have simply failed, or varied in their performance in different hands! There is perhaps something very karmic about it all, as has been hinted in ancient texts and by contemporary pundits and gurus. An extreme version of what they are saying would be, “Astrologers are born not made”. Ayanamshas have come and gone and have worked in some hands but failed in others, other factors have behaved similarly, as well! Those of us who have braved (some would say, "strayed into ...") to experiment with different ayanamshas, seriously and sincerely, have experienced that different ayanamshas indeed do work! This is mysterious, perhaps even mystical and intrigues those who are bent upon squeezing the body of astrology (as we know it today!) into a box named Science. Why they are trying to do this is outside the scope of this article! An open mind when studying and practicing astrology is a major asset and the best yardstick to go by. Truth be told, not a single astrologer basing his or her predictions purely and entirely on a rational basis has been even close to 100% correct!
It is hard to separate all of the rational and irrational (suprarational, intuitive, etc.) processes that play a part when doing a reading properly in a fully engrossed manner (as opposed to situations where one is either showing off or being challenged in a testing situation, though the individual responsivities may vary). All kinds of subtle cues, inner and external play a part, some consciously others subconsciously and it is difficult to be able always to analyze the process accurately.
Astrology and astrologers must do a lot more homework before they should even focus on starting yet another "Ivy League College or Nalanda of jyotish"? We are at a very preliminary stage of probing, proving and demonstrating the facts about (rational) astrology and need not feel any urgency, unless we feel in our bones that we are the chosen Messiahs of Astrology and have a mission or something. We need to actively ignore slanders and quips against astrology and simply work at what is in our hands, charts of people seeking help, and while helping them, let us continue to document the facts and rationale, our successes and failures so that later on we or someone else can figure it all out in due course. Fruits are sweet and satisfy ones hunger, but only after they have fully ripened!
There are several differences in 'scholarly' opinions that students of Jyotish are likely to encounter, sooner or later during their learning. There are differences of opinions even in classic texts regarding the derivation of units of strength, ways of dealing with ashtakavargas, annual horoscopes, on the treatment of planets as benefics or malefics for certain lagnas. And, of course, there is the little matter of whether to take a year for vimshottari dasha determination as the solar 365 day one or the civil (savanamana) 360 day year. Adopting either creates an incremental discrepancy between the dasha periods used by proponents of either, this can amount to more than six months by the time one is 40 years old, this being typically the period when many individuals begin to face climacterics of all kind and often seek astrological help. One would think that such a glaring difference should be one that can be easily figured out with a set of charts viewed side by side and seeing if the events match up with the dashas etc. or not. However, there are multiple dashas and multiple ayanamshas in vogue and these tend to make the situation somewhat murkier.
Usha-Shashi in their "Hindu Astrological Calculations" indicate that the astrological year that is to be used for year lord and dasha determinations is one that has 12 months of 30 days each. They quote this as Surya Siddhanta's recommendation, however, there are some who hold the view that the 360 refers to the degrees of motion of the sun through the zodiac and not the number of days, sun moves 360 degrees in 365.25 days.
The vimshottari dasha cycle is of 120 years duration. In terms of solar years this would amount to 43830 days, whereas, using the 360 days years, this amounts to 43200 days. This number has resemblance to the smallest of the four yugas, kaliyuga that lasts for 432000 years, the next three, dwapar, treta and krita being twice, thrice and four times as long as kali. The total of these four yugas comes to be 4320000 years, whereas, one kalpa is 4320000000 years. It is interesting to see the recurrence of the exponents of 432. Though, I may add that this numeric 'coincidence' is hardly proof of the 360 day year being the correct one for vimshottari dasha!
There is a popular ready-reckoner which is used in calculating bhuktis in a dasha. Multiply the number of dasha years assigned to the dasha lord with the dasha years assigned to the bhukti lord. Take the right most digit of the product and multiply it by 3, call that the number of days in the bhukti, take the remaining digits to the left (the more significant digits in computer parlance!) and treat them as months. This system works only if you consider the months as being 30 days long, each. If not, one must convert the months into days and add to the calculated days to get the solar year equivalent from there.
By way of an example, if we wish to calculate the bhukti of mars in the dasha of sun, then we would multiply the dasha years of sun (6) by dasha years of mars (7), and we would get:
6 x 7 = 42
We multiply the right most digit (2) by 3 and get 6 days We treat the remaining left digit (4) as months (of 30 days each) and get 4 months. The bhukti of mars in the dasha of sun, therefore, is 4 months and 6 days long, or of 126 days in duration. If one looks up most published vimshottari dasha tables in ephemeris and texts, the authors of which have been brave enough to place these tables, would readily see that implicitly, the 360 day year has been favoured by most.
This is not proof, per se, of vimshottari dasha working best with the 360 day year, certainly! Nor is the rather 'bold' statement in Usha-Shashi's Hindu Astrological Calculations, 1978, page 174, "A [dasha] year consists of 12 months of 30 days each", and refers to art.111 in the same book where Surya Siddhanta is quoted, either! That this gives the days in a vimshottari cycle as 120 x 12 x 30 = 43200 days (which is 1/3600th of 432000 years, the total duration of kaliyuga) could be a coincidence, perhaps! There are very good jyotishis, who use different kinds of ayanamshas and dasha years and come up with very good analyses and predictions. The controversy is definitely not over.
Whether it is ayanamsha, or the 360/365 day controversy, or the rashi vs bhava issue, common sense would dictate that these should not be so difficult to resolve! Take a few dozens or so charts with clearly defined events, such as marriage date, child-birth, a significant promotion or acquisition of a job, etc., and see which set of parameters fits! So, despite many attempts, why has this not been done over the decades that this controversy has existed? The difficulty arises from the fact that there is not a set way of determining the 'readings'! Often, tremendous amounts of interpretational overlaps are observed when viewing these charts! The fewer rules or indicators one takes into account, the simpler and more clear-cut the decision appears! The situation is somewhat like scanning a photograph using an 8-bit depth vs a 30 bit depth! The former is more cut and dry with sharp areas of demarcation, but does it give an image that is more realistic than the 30-bit scanned one?
KAAL-PURUSH'S CHART AND BEGINNINGS:
In jyotish, one often comes across references to the Kaal-purush's or time-incarnate or Universal horoscope. In this, Aries or mesha is considered as the first house, Taurus as the second and so on. Whole signs are used for each house. It has implications in medical astrology, such as a malefic in Aries pointing towards a problem in the head region, one in Pisces leading to trouble in the feet, and so on. Many other applications, particularly in conjunction with significators or karakas exist for this scheme. I sometimes wonder why the zodiac is believed to begin with Aries? To some extent it might be one of the many axiomatic truths used in astrology or perhaps there could be some room for thinking.
Some tropicalists have wondered if it has to do with Spring and the beginning of life, theme, but that is only true for the Northern hemisphere. If we are talking of something as global (if not universal) as the Kaal-purush's horoscope, it must at least accommodate the two hemispheres of our world, I think. If the source of life is to be used as our orientation/beginning point, then the signs ruled by the lights would probably qualify better, particularly Leo - being the sign ruled by the sun. One may say that the arrangement of signs represents the order of planets in the solar system, hence the solar/lunar signs have to remain in the centre. If that is the case then symmetrical distribution of signs around the lunisolar centre would mean that the zodiac should begin and end with the signs of Saturn (Aquarius, Pisces, Aries ... Leo ... Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn) to capture the order of orbits in the solar system. If equinoctial point or ayanamsha (first point of tropical Aries and seasons) is to be the driving factor, then Pisces would be the starting sign because that is where the current point is (I am not comfortable with this concept of shifting beginning-points, but that could be a personal bias).
If going by Frawley's scheme of sign representations of the vital centres (chakras) based on orbital distribution of planets, with moon and sun governing the region of eyes and the time-sensitive pituitary pineal axis, again, the most primordial and basic (beginning) first chakra would be ruled/represented by Saturn signs. I am not certain if Dr. Frawley's classification is based on scriptural evidence, deductive, inductive or experiential. Or is Aries chosen as the initial point in the circle of zodiac (which begs the question; Can a circle have a beginning?) because it is the sign of exaltation for the giver of life (symbolically and literally), Sun, at the same time also being the debilitation point for the 'taker' of life, Saturn? Aries would therefore serve as the logically suitable point for representing the beginning of life. In the current system with kanya and tula forming such a centre, one gets a sense of refinement and balance being the key driving factor. With reason developed to near perfection (Virgo) and emotions refined to their highest (Libra) so that a fine-balance is created between reason and emotions, humans can view things with a calm mind that is not furiously looking for one or another way of defining the basis of creation and all the 'reality' that surrounds. From such a refined and calm mind only products of the finest quality can ensue.
In the current system, both Aries and Pisces represent the extremes of imbalance or polarity. Aries represent the need for the physical/tangible and the need to force action, to project, to show presence and leadership while Pisces serves to symbolize the converse for many of these, through passivity, to receive, through an exclusive leaning towards being able to comfortably exist in the (mental) realm of symbolism and much that is ethereal, not tangible and in the worst case illusory.
(Caveat: Please do not interpret the above to mean that we see such polarized extremeness of traits in all those who have a strong presence of Arian or Piscean influences in their charts. In a horoscope, there are many factors that shape and modify each other).
The article must, but does learning ever end ... ?