Jyotish, as its dabblers and students soon discover, is fraught and even riddled with pot-holes! This poses bigger problems for the smaller or thinner tires of bicycles and scooters, but only a mere inconvenience to the large trucks and ‘tanks’ passing over these! However, one cannot stop a speedily moving commercial truck to ponder and explore. In order to remain productively efficient, the gigantic vehicle must keep going, keep running, controlling such a beast of a vehicle while simultaneously enjoying the scenery can be a challenge too! On the other hand, scooters and bicycles allow one to take in the observed reality more leisurely and the rider can stop anytime, even dismount, sit by the lake, listen to the music of the spheres and the refreshed soul can then continue, even on a budget. Try doing that when driving a truck, with a commercial payload of horoscopes and readings riding on your back, to be delivered or risking clients breathing down your neck, emitting sounds expressing their displeasure. After all, the era of ‘fast-astrology’ serving McHoroscopes is finally here. With its inevitable consequences!
There are many a software available these days as are writings on and about different techniques that have been somewhat tersely, or even cryptically described in the reference tomes such as those left as inheritances to us by Parashara, Jaimini and others. Compounding the complexity further is the fact that there exist many attempts at decoding the wisdom of the ancients, some with very creative and imaginative approaches at deciphering the timeless verses. Human brain being not without its limitations, and human heart and emotions playing a large part in the modern jyotishi’s cognition and learning, it is not unusual to see impatience bubble up in individuals when they talk about certain techniques, sometimes unfortunately dismissing those rather hastily after a superficial, if even that, review and testing. When such statements of disqualification come from individuals who are otherwise erudite, it puts the neophyte student into a confused dilemma. Such is the vastness of jyotish and such is the preponderance in jyotish of part-timers (in jyotish; even experts and professionals who cannot for the most part earn enough to make a living from doing straight jyotish, let alone, from teaching and researching jyotish) that there is not enough time for one or even a small group of individuals to really examine the ins and outs of any given jyotish technique and declare it once-for-all to be useful or not. Use of different ayanamshas and different ways of calculating and interpreting dashas or other factors further leads to perplexity if not outright confusion.
I have generally tried to be cautious about not judging a technique or approach or factor in jyotish too hastily. Students, generally prefer black and white answers and it might also have to do with their background. Someone coming from a technical, materialistic background would be more inclined to believe in clear-cut attributes, however, in the end, what is critical is to realize that a multifactorial system as jyotish would rarely have such polarized structure. The multifactorial nature of astrology also makes it more difficult to do research. The variables interact wildly and passionately with each other and are difficult to tease out. Misinterpretations can abound. It reminds me of the story of a professor who was demonstrating to his biology class the effect of nerve injury. A frog was kept on the table. The professor clapped and the frog jumped. The professor clapped again, the frog jumped again. The professor then severed the lower part of the spinal cord of the frog, just above its tail-bone. Next day when the frog had recovered from the surgery, the professor clapped, the frog did not jump. Clapped again, the frog just sat there rolling his eyes, breathing as usual. The professor looked at his students with a quizzing look. One of his students said, “Sir does this prove that the spinal cord when cut really low down in the back, in a frog, interferes with its ability to hear your clap?”
Recently, more than before presumably due to increased access by individuals to internet, a lot of information, facts as well as casual opinions, some cursorily researched, while others not at all – have emerged and have included the topic of vimshopaka. Until the advent of windows jyotish software in the days when MS-DOS was the king, PC-jyotish and Visual jyotish introduced a lot of new factors to the users, casual and professional. With time-consuming calculations in their past, this cyberrevolution gave a shot in the arm to the somewhat marasmic state technical jyotish was in for decades. The rekindled fire of learning, teaching and experimentation continues at an irregular and somewhat erratic pace. The formation of modern gurukuls, cyber and otherwise – led by well-organized jyotishis is expected to continue unabated and can only benefit jyotish in the long run. I do feel a bit of pity for the newcomer of today who is suddenly thrown into this huge play-yard full of toys, so many of which come without instruction manuals. After all, calculations even when tedious are but the beginning and numbers and scores mean little if the application of these numbers continues to remain a mystery. Sadly, however, such a plethora of information also leads to confusion, after the moment of awe flees. The adventurous persist and proceed, but often hit a wall or two and sometimes turn away cursing or (accidentally) stumble across that very ladder that would have enabled them to climb the wall!
Through the minds of many a students of astrology, there seems to run at least a faint vein of magical thinking. They believe or are led to believe by others that there is hiding behind in the treasure house of jyotish techniques which will bring about uncanny revelations, leading to a perfect and accurate reading that reveals all details in the human experience. Sometimes it is the child within them that arouses such hope and wishful thinking. Sadly, some, if not many articles and books in jyotish start out with such promise that it is hard to blame when the readers comes out of the book with a glint in his eye and a renewed belief that ‘this’ is going to be the real thing! And the cycle of experiences, with its highs and lows continues.
Vimshopaka is a way of attributing numerical values to planets based on their placement in the different vargas or divisions and whether those divisions are signs friendly to, inimical to, own, etc. It has been described in Brihat Parashar Hora Shastra (BPHS) in the chapter on divisional considerations (Chapter 8 in the edition commented upon by G.C. Sharma, Sagar Publications). Divisions also are given consideration in the ‘varga’ bala (divisional strength) component of the shad-bala determination in a later chapter (Chapter 29, ibid.). Seven divisions are utilized in the saptavargaja bala component of positional strength (sthana bala), planets getting a score ranging from 45 to 2 units in rashi, hora, drekkana, saptamamsha, navamsha, dwadashamsha and trimshamsha each, based on whether they are in moolatrikona (highest strength; 45 units) all the way down to extremely inimical sign (atishatru’s rashi using panchadha maitri sambandha; lowest strength; 2 units). Note that exaltation and debility and rashi varga do not play any role in this consideration. Note also that all seven vargas are weighted equally. If a planet is in moolatrikona in any of these vargas, it would get a strength of 45 units in that varga. Note also that due to the varga scheme as followed in a conventional manner, some of the planets would never attain all the values in the scale. Hora, for instance, only has two rashis, cancer and leo and so would cause some problems when assigning strengths to many planets who do not have their moolatrikona in any of these two signs. Food for thought for considering alternate schemes that also exist and utilize more than just two signs for laying out the hora chart, perhaps, or drekkana for that matter!
Vimshopaka, on the other hand, uses a weighted system wherein certain divisions are considered to be more important than the others, and are accordingly weighted. Unlike sthanabala which uses only the 7 divisions known as saptavargas, vimshopaka utilizes four series of vargas:
shadvarga (rashi, hora, drekkana, navamsha, dwadashamsha, and trimshamsha; weighted: 6,2,4,5,2,1)
sapthavarga (above plus sapthamamsha; weighted: 5,2,3,2.5,4.5,2 and 1)
dashavarga (above plus dashamsha, shodashamsha and shastiamsha; weighted - 3 for rashi, 5 for shastiamsha and 1.5 for the remaining 8 vargas in this series)
shodashavarga (above ten plus the V20, V24 and higher vargas; weighting can be studied from Sharma’s commentary on BPHS.
In each of the above four series, the maximum value for each series is 20 (vimsha, hence vimshopaka). If the values of in the four series for the shadvargas are added across the series, an interesting pattern emerges.
A planet in own varga (ruled by it) in all vargas (divisions) in the series under consideration (out of four) gets 20 points, in varga of atimitra - 18 points, in varga of mitra - 15, in varga of neutral - 10, in varga of enemy - 7 and of extreme enemy - 5. These fixed values are known as varga vishwas (worlds, domains).
So if Saturn is in own sign in all six vargas in shadvarga series, it gets 20, if in atishatru’s vargas (signs) in all six vargas, it gets 5 in that series, etc. In practice, it is more likely that it would be in different types of signs and would get a varga vishwa value accordingly.
Moreover, from above table it must emerge that rashi, navamsha and drekkana in the shadvarga series will add more weight to the varga vishwa value for a given planet. Accordingly, for other series as per above table. Notice also that rashi placement remains the greatest contributor in all series, except for the series using 10 or 16 divisions where shastiamsha (V60) gains an inch (value of 5 and 4 respectively). Overall, rashi and navamsha remain the two significant players in the two series and this underscores the importance in jyotish of these two vargas, with drekkana (V10) and shastiamsha (V60) following these.
The product of swavishwa (score in a given varga) and vargavishwa divided by 20, followed by adding the scores for the 6, 7, 10 or 16 vargas yields the vimshopaka balas for the four series. The scale of vimshopaka score has 8 categories, each having an interval of 2.5 units, ranging from ati-heena (worst) to ati-poorna (very full). Those who are seeking details about calculation and the influence of considerations such as rising and setting, etc. are directed to G.C. Sharma’s commentary on BPHS, as quite frankly I do not want to take away from the effort that he has put into a mammoth opus that is commercially available and must be acquired and read in the original by readers and students.
It is important to note that vimshopaka does not take into consideration the exaltation, debilitation, and moolatrikona placement of planets but takes into consideration rulership and friendship (permanent and temporary) of its sign dispositors in different series of vargas while assigning different weights of contribution to the vargas or divisions.
The important messages or hints that emerge from this are:
- All vargas are not quantitatively equal in their impact and influences on the human experience (life experiences).
- Certain vargas, notably, rashi and navamsha have a significant say in the horoscope of the nativity.
- Vimshopaka is a weighted system for scoring a planet based on its relationships with its dispositors in different vargas and its ownerships of signs.
- Vimshopaka is a reminder for the need to treat exaltation and debilitation as a separate quality/attribute very differently from sign-ownership and panchadha maitri (friendship etc) and hence must not be lumped with the rest as is usually done as if exaltation is on the same continuum as friendship and ownerships.
- Why the four series of vargas are chosen must not be an arbitrary choice. Do these four series represent the four classes of earth experiences that a soul is capable of. No, this is not the caste system that has plagued indians but the class and ‘age-category’ of experiences that the earth-bound soul can come here for. The basic six-fold class, focusing on self-development, self-awareness, then moving on to the 7-fold category where one begins to influence others and to be really responsible for others, in a worldly framework but not just in a rigid sense. Moving on to the 10-fold classification where one begins to deal with karma and expansion of awareness begins which all finally blossoms (potentially! One still needs to make effort!!) in the 16-fold state where one can begin dealing with finer aspects of being. If one is still living in a very materialistic, worldly, selfish, self-focussed plane, there is little point in getting too excited if we see a high vimshopaka score in the shodashavarga configuration!
- Vimshopaka opens a meaningful window when considering dasha effects of a planet. Like other factors, it is a single indicator and so resist the tendency to run with it, particularly when other influences are looking down. For instance, a planet might have a high score in vimshopaka but not so high in shadbala and might be influenced by malefics or is in a difficult house. These other indicators and factors are trying to tell you something. Please pay attention to those!
- The system along with the rest of jyotish even if developed only a few thousand years ago, as some modern astro-historians proclaim, indicates the complex level of thinking and cognitive powers of the individuals who documented this system. As modern historian tell us, those were less developed times with travel difficult if not impossible. Yet for them to know that the poles have days and nights that are six months long, tells me the level of their knowledge and awareness, whether they experienced it directly or through their superior cognitive abilities.
- In this context, despite what some modern ‘scholarly’ astrologers have tried to force a view upon us behind the shroud of history, namely, that Varahmihira was older than Parashara because Varahamihira did not talk about vimshottari, did not talk about nodes (wrong!), had a different ashtakavarga system (only very minimally different from Parashara though), etc. The fact is that Brihatjataka by Varahamihira was a very small booklet compared to what Parashara created and if one carefully reads through the Sanskrit text in even that small booklet of verses, Varahamihira talks about not only Parashara but also Satyacharya (who had been kind of clocked by similar experts and “historians” to have existed in the early A.Ds, late B.C.s, around Gautama Buddha’s era. Varahamihira talks about Yavanacharyaa who might have been a predecessor, like Parashraa and Satyacharyaa, naming these three specifically in Vrihatjataka. Varahamihira in his ‘jataka’ was obviously taking a reductionistic approach, unlike his samhita (mundane) a creation beyond parallel! It is all there, one has but to look! Twisting that into some sort of evidence that reflects historical time-lines is confused and confusing.
Vimshopaka is a fine consideration. Particularly for the beginner, it might be something to eye carefully, not letting it out of one’s sight but not for using rashly or in a black and white manner. Be aware of it, let it grow as you do and soon patterns would begin to emerge. I always suggest that this is the best way to familiarize yourself with all fine points of astrology. Do not force your way in, do not get disappointed just because something does not work in a chart or even a few but ask, what are you missing? Revisit the ‘problems’ again and again and remember, it takes a long time, some say lifetimes, to master the ancient craft. Why be in such a hurry?