Fate or Free-Will

The Ever Continuing Puzzle of Our Being!

Astrologers get embroiled into debates over the issue of fate vs free-will. Basically, three views exist, the first one holds that there is only free-will, the second maintains that there is only destiny, while the third view concedes that there is room and justification for both possibilities. 

From the perspective of the first two views, one deduces that there can be no pragmatic purpose for astrology. If free-will is what drives our reality, then nothing is determined a priori; so how can ones life-journey be reflected in the frozen snapshot of the heavens at the moment of birth? This kind of thinking is what gives the rationalists reason to decry the veracity of astrology. On the other hand, if destiny is supreme and inescapable, then what would be the benefit of knowing ones future – for it cannot be changed having been already destined and cast in stone even before the child is born! The third view is more inclusive and allows for personal responsibility, yet makes astrological predictions plausible because of the element of predestination in terms of trends if not specific events, and it allows some room for modifying or atoning Karma through the remedies which are essentially acts of personal choice and hence represent free-will. Here are those who would say that even opting to go for remedial measures is predestined, but then life becomes a helpless game with no control or incentive for acting and astrology is reduced to being a game of wit! What then is the purpose of the remedial ritual, really?

The camp that subscribes to the coexistence of fate and free-will also makes it possible to accommodate into its framework the karmic hypothesis. Now, yesterday's free-will becomes today's destiny and would address the personal 'responsibility' factor. This also reduces the sense of chaos in this universe which now appears to be a fair universe, although the fairness emerges only if we accept an extended time scale of things. Suggestions based on anecdotal experience have come forth that there might be some charts which show that some nativities are more resistant to the vagaries of destiny. Obviously, these are the cases where the astrologer's reading or predictions fail consistently. Assuming that the astrologer/astrology variable is functioning as it should, certain proportion of these charts are probably victim to inaccurate birth times. It is amazing how mistaken people's memories can be after many years since an event. Parents forget the exact time of their children’s birth, or sometimes remember it inaccurately and vouch adamantly in favor of the incorrect epoch. Times off by minutes and sometimes by hours have been provided by unsuspecting individuals. No wonder their horoscopes did not match their life-experiences, with astrology and the astrologer unfairly bearing the blame.

Even if we subscribe to the line of thinking which maintains that destiny rules supreme, one wonders about the chicken and egg aspect of it. How did the first destined event in the existence of any soul come about? On the other hand, those who march to the free-will drum do not fare well when working within this set of presumptions either, even those who acknowledge reincarnation. How did the first act of free-will get committed (please spare me the Adam and Eve myth)? What was there before that? Of course, the 'free-will' camp has a way out! They do not believe in rebirth or continuity of experiences in the soul's journey. They don't believe in the existence of the soul (chemicals thou art to atoms returnest)! Those that have sold their souls to destiny, do not have an easy out. They need to evoke religious thought and simply say that the rest of us infidels cannot understand God's will and that is that! The uncertainty and debate continues.

Many a jyotishi can suspend judgment on these philosophical matters and just go on with perhaps the more useful business of erecting charts, reading those, giving astrological and remedial advice and letting the intellectuals and philosophers 'duke' it out in clubs, associations, conferences, and on newsgroups or mailing lists. Perhaps postponing judgment would be a useful strategy for many beginners. However, the questions do continue to nag and simply would not go away.

Personally, I see no human or divine purpose in having a complex world like ours and all that we call "human experience" and base it purely on either destiny or free-will. There is more to our lives than {Physics + Chemistry = Biology} and neither do we come from 'elsewhere' nor is there no magic at all in this world! Perhaps it all started with some accident of nature but it certainly evolved from there until it enveloped the creation – so much so that enormous paradigms of synchronicity somehow came into being and led to the evolution of a framework which on the one hand allows us to see the mirror image of our lives in the disconnected and distant music of the spheres, while on the other, it threatens to feed our ego with a megalomaniac fantasy that evolved which makes us believe that somehow we control the entire universe, the fruits of which were created for our picking.

With all due respects to Seymore and his hypothesis of cycles and periodicities of the heavenly spheres underlying the modus-operandi of astrology, perhaps the astrological experience, the geo-cosmo-biological phenomenon is not just physical and tangible. Perhaps there are indeed energies and elements of nature that the ancient Hindus chose to call 'Devas' and intuited that these energies may be reflected in the heavenly journey of the lighted bodies, the planets. The devas and not the globes of cosmic dirt and gases (planets) hurling through space are directly connected with the astrological influences. Whether one calls this a product of the yoked interplay between the macro cosmos and micro cosmos or simply some benevolent God's act of amalgamating (pun unintended) the deva mercury and the planet mercury (and similar others) simply to provide us mortals with some direction and hints about how best to make our choices (a rather egocentric and thus human presumption, by the way!), we need to separate the hands of the clock (planets) from the 'time' that these show (influence of the devas).

If we keep thinking of devas as some sort of godly figures clad in gold and silk with a radiant halo shining around their heads we quickly risk alienating the 'professors' from amongst us. Even when these figures are reported to have been visualized by some, they represent a form of conceptualization, really. There is nothing preventing us in thinking of these as forces of nature or some form of energy that is non-physical, probably related in some ways to the non-physical ‘thought’ energy. A certain major portion of this deva energy would serve to act as triggers, possibly in our minds which then can lead to physical things happening, be that an accident as a consequence of a transit hitting and derailing our consciousness and attention or judgment, or a direct influence that leads to something physical such as a natural calamity, an earthquake or hurricane that has the power of changing our lives forever. Effects on nations and politics are still combined influences on groups of human beings since the trigger acts on a collective mass of people rather than one individual.

These deva energies are not dumb like the physical energies with which one cannot interact intelligently and cannot communicate or negotiate let alone control. Being physical, energies such as heat, magnetism and electricity can only be modulated and steered into desirable applications and directions through using physical objects (light pipes, prisms, magnets, coils, transistors, silicon chips, resistors), in an analogous manner, the devic energies can be influenced by using appropriate tools and approaches which they respond to. I am thinking here of subtle influences such as mantras, penance, etc. Gems would not fit in this analogy well, being physical objects; however, who is to say that gemstones act through their physical presence, alone? After all, not everyone who has bought or worn a gem has necessarily been benefited or even affected by wearing those. Their influence is hardly physical, for all purposes, it seems and may well resonate with the deva energy in compatible manner.

Remember that what I am developing here is all a product of the mind, perhaps involving some imagination. I do not know this for sure, and certainly I have not channeled any of this! What I am asking from you is to remind yourself of the possibility that astrology is different from astrophysics and to not fall in the trap of looking at the astrological phenomenon as if it was a body to body interaction between the planets and us through their rays, be those gross or subtle. Once we do that and move away from the mathematical model we begin to loosen our clutches on the nearly physical and tangible factors such as relative motion of the bodies, the exactness of an aspect and even the position of the planet down to the nearest arc-second as these become a bit tenuous because the 'deva-energy' exists perhaps as a halo around the planet itself, a corona or zone of influence. Deva could have the planet's position as its central point, but its orb of influence might be wider, and for all purposes, perhaps it is also variable in more ways than one!

For instance, does the Jupiter deva when in cancer (exaltation) have an expanded globe of influence vs Jupiter deva in Capricorn (debilitation)? I think it is an interesting possibility. Perhaps this underlies the usefulness and functionality of cosmo-biological midpoints or Arabic sahams where the influence of one deva blends or separates from that of another deva. Perhaps a horoscope is not a map made of discrete lights but a rainbow of distinct yet blending orbs of influence and energy. This, to my mind, is a rather important concept and possibility. It is always tempting to lay out astrology into neat but discrete piles of attributes and influences, but for many, such an approach does not work well and certainly is not enriching from a synthetic sense. Through visualizing and conceptualizing the planets as energies and personalities, as indicated in ancient texts, we breathe more life into such a reading. Some people hastily dismiss ancient texts with their archaic symbology as products of simpler times or even of superstitious and magical thinking, however, it is quite possible that the reader was supposed to have read the message between the lines!

While each of us might be drawn to astrology for different reasons, the ultimate aim is to tap into and understand the cosmic cycle of this experiential journey of human experience. Perhaps some of us would end up trying only to understand our own horoscopes or of those near and dear to us, while others among us would extend their help externally in trying to help a fellow-human being to understand themselves and their personal journey better. There will be times when we would be tempted to or forced to assume the role of counselors. Understanding our roles and boundaries is very important at that point. Sometimes we will be approached by individuals who are genuinely tormented by the rigors of time and need a bit of support and encouragement. While being empathic, we must not cross the boundary of being an astrologer and enter into that of being a soothsayer unless we are trained or capable in that area. Those who approach us for seeking astrological counseling must always be told about and reminded of our boundaries.

Regardless of their infectious but at times exaggerated faith in astrology or in us, we must spell out the findings just as we see them while honestly making them aware of the uncertainties and limitations of what we see or say, as best as is possible. There is no pressure to feel that we need to turn a cartwheel or two simply to please them or the need to justify the reason for being for astrology or of our interest in astrology (unless you have assumed the role of a professional, paid astro-counselor -- in which case you are not very different from other similar professionals to a certain extent keeping in mind the somewhat different nature of the craft of astrology much of which is empirical and thus observation-based).

Astrological rules often are based on straight-forward logical principles, given certain assumptions; however, this must not become a sine qua non and a mandatory requirement. There is much in astrology that falls within the purview of what we would call primarily axiomatic principles, as elaborated earlier. Much of the original ‘logic’ underlying these is unknown or perhaps unfathomable to most of us. Given the more or less 'logical' reason-based overt construct of Jyotish, it is difficult to not get drawn into the presumptive position that everything that is not logical is not astrology. It is well-known that not all rules, yogas etc. are applicable in all horoscopes. Even something as straight-forward as Mahapurusha Yogas (certain exalted planets in angles) or combinatorial Raja Yogas based on the association of trines and angles, do not always work out in the ways expected.

It is useful to very quickly move out of the one factor-one reading mind set into an approach that is based on multiple factors contributing to a weight of evidence approach (an outcome depending on the resultant of many balancing, congruous and opposing factors). When faced with a horoscope, it is tempting and perhaps a natural human inclination to tune into and give dominance to certain well-known combinations or apparent dignities (in rashi). Sometimes this works while at other times it does not. However, with a large number of factors and rules staring at us in our face, it becomes a non-intuitive astrologer's nightmare to figure out which of these tassel (and sometimes a tangle) of leads to pick up and follow. Quantitative weighting (balas) helps to a certain extent in some cases, but for the most part, absence of clear instructions in classical or contemporary texts makes it difficult to figure things out. Experience and intuition sometimes help by drawing our attention to the more 'significant' set of rules, but this does involve dipping into a mixture of method and magic.

The magical part comes from not so much absence of logical underpinnings, but from our lack of understanding of the process underlying such inner help. I believe that what we call intuition or better still informed intuition (which occurs in all trained professionals) is perhaps a higher logical process which works so rapidly that it appears to be non-sequential and alogical. This is the kind of stuff that happens when people sleep over a problem and wake up in the morning with an answer. Some astrologers almost abhor being labeled as intuitive since this implies an innate and therefore uncontrollable gift or strength. Astrologers, more than any other sect of divinators tend to not like being lumped with psychics and their genre. This is unfortunate and perhaps unnecessary. Those who do not lose sight of the primary fact that astrology is being used to help others, end up being more helpful than those who make an academic pursuit of it. But, as they say – to each his own.

There is something that is mystical if not magical about astrology in action. On some days, a chart reveals more and on other days a lot less. There is a certain degree of finely-tuned meshing that goes on between a horoscope and the astrologer. This is all anecdotal obviously, but a pattern that I have seen repeatedly in many astrologers. It might appear too esoteric to some, but there must be a karmic basis for one becoming an astrologer and then drawing (for the most part) a segment of charts or a sub-population of nativities for whom the given astrologer holds the 'answer'. Incredible and even improbable as it may seem, but the fact remains that most of us as astrologers sample only a small sub-set of the entire population of some 7 billion charts (many more if counting the departed souls over centuries) that exist in this world.

On an average a typical student of astrology who can devote only a part of his or her time to astrology during the study period as well as later, probably sees on an average less than two new charts per day. Even that may be an overestimate. This amounts to about 500 charts per year and over 20 to 30 years, ones experience is based on 10 to 15 thousand charts, most of which are derived from a segment of population that one is surrounded by (unless one migrates a couple of times during this period). Compared to the close to 7 billion strong human population, the average astrologer’s experience represents a sampling rate of a paltry 1 out of 466667. Given that most (if not all) of us are individual nativities, for each chart that we see, there are 466666 charts that we have not had an opportunity to study. The sampling rate in part-time astrologers would be at least an order of magnitude lower (1500-2000 charts properly studied). Even those that claim to have seen 50000 charts over a lifetime have not really covered much ground (they have seen 1 in 140000 charts and missed out on seeing the 139999 charts for each chart studied). Yet, it is comforting to observe that despite such a meager spectrum of experience, most astrologers seem to perform well and even on occasion manage to be helpful to their clients through their advice.

To me this seems to corroborate that there are few absolutes in astrology and perhaps there are more than a few deductive paths that lead to the answer. Even technical discrepancies such as widely diverse ayanamshas, different sets of preferred mixes of dashas and many other variables do not necessarily prove to be obstacles in ones path. This is very mystifying and yet heartening and we must remain grateful to the Wisdom that makes such performance possible. The downside is that if one tries to accommodate the different uncertainties too much into ones routine work-protocol (to appear to be scientific or neurotically comprehensive) or even jumps from one set of parameters to another without fully assimilating it, there is potential for confusion and loss in accuracy. It is wise to keep the mind open and to remain vigilant and to change ones approaches, especially during the initial learning phase, in tune with actual performance while combating the tendency to alter the toolbox out of panic or after an impressive and rather strong claim from even some famous astrologer.

Astrologers, even accomplished teachers, tend not to give all the steps and details of how they reached a conclusion (a prediction that proved to come true afterwards). This is not from any desire to remain evasive, but because it is difficult to 'regenerate' all the steps that went into a chart delineation after it has been done. When we are looking at a given combination, the obvious and dominant theme remains established in our mind but there are other nuances of factors being taken into simultaneous consideration which leave a not too strong imprint and constitute missing but important gaps in the reconstructed analysis and synthesis of a reading. This varies from individual to individual and is a shortcoming that must be kept in mind. There is always more that goes on in a reading than is revealed or can be revealed. The ‘can be’ does not refer to the secretiveness openly confessed by some but in the obvious problem of trying to slow down a fast train so that movement of each spoke in the wheels become visible and each stroke of the piston can be accounted for. Reconstruction of the mental trace in a complex process, after the fact, is a major challenge as few realize.

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