Dear Members of the Awakening Heart Community,
Doug DeStafano, the creator of this site, is a long time friend and someone who has participated for years in a weekly satsanga that I host in my home on Thursday nights. One of the subjects I’ve taught there is Jyotisha, or Vedic astrology. After seeing first hand the amazing ability of this form of astrology to reflect timing in a person’s life, ( it predicted when a significant relationship would come into his life), he’s invited me to blog here on the topic. To begin with I thought I would start just by defining what Vedic astrology is and giving people a sense of how it differs from the more familiar western form.
What is Vedic Astrology?
Many thousands of years ago, in what is now northern India, there existed a very advanced civilization—advanced not in a technological sense as ours today with its cell phones and space satellites, but advanced in the sense of the extraordinary inward, spiritual development of its scientists/sages. These ancient scientists didn’t explore outer space, but the inner realms of spirit and soul. From their enlightened states of consciousness, these seers produced a legacy of knowledge known as the Vedic tradition (from the Sanskrit word Veda, meaning “knowledge.”)
Some branches from the tree of this tradition may be more familiar to you than you might realize. Yoga, for example, originated in this culture, as did specific meditation techniques now taught in the West, such as Transcendental Meditation. Ayurveda, popularized recently through the work of Dr. Deepak Chopra and others, was the health science created by these enlightened beings out of their profound understanding of the body/mind/spirit connection. The system of astrology that developed from this tradition, call Jyotisha (The Science of Light) is now making major inroads in the west.
Part of its appeal seems to lie in its overt spirituality. Vedic astrology is based entirely on a spiritual point of view. Succinctly stated, this view is that each soul is moving along an evolutionary pathway through a series of reincarnations, each determined by the thoughts and actions of prior lifetimes. The accumulated residual effect of each lifetime is an individual’s “karma” and this is what an astrological birth chart reflects. A more contemporary seer of India expressed this concept in the following way:
“A child is born on that day and that hour when the planetary influences are in mathematical harmony with his or her individual karma.”
Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
The emphasis therefore in Vedic astrology is on understanding the soul’s karma in terms of four primary motivations underlying all human endeavor. According to the Vedic sages these consist of:
- Kama, or the desire for sensory enjoyments of all kind
- Artha, or the impulse to accumulate wealth and acquire possessions
- Dharma, or the wish to do ones allotted duty for the benefit of society
- Moksha, the impulse towards spiritual liberation from the cycle of death and rebirth
In the Vedic tradition, astrology is considered a sacred science and is referred to as Jyotisha (pronounced joe-teesh), which in Sanskrit means “the Science of Light.” By revealing to an individual the state of their soul, Jyotisha can serve as a guiding light in a person’s life and ultimately light the way out of the illusory world of forms and back to the Divine, “the abode of bliss.”
How does Vedic astrology differ from Western astrology?
While there are many basic similarities—both use the familiar planets, signs and houses, ascribing to each many of the same meanings—there are also substantial differences.
For example, although Jyotisha uses the familiar twelve Zodiacal divisions—Aries, Taurus, Gemini—the beginning point, zero degrees Aries, is marked by reference to a “fixed star.” This is the so-called “sidereal Zodiac,” meaning “by the stars.’ In contrast, Western astrology uses the so-called “tropical” Zodiac in which the beginning, or zero degrees Aries, is defined by the vernal equinox.
The main thing you need to remember is that the Zodiac used in Vedic astrology is based on the actual constellations of the stars and is currently about 24 degrees different than the one you might be use to working with. In practical terms, it means that in your Vedic chart every planetary position and the degree of the Ascendant will shift back 24 degrees. But this doesn’t mean that the Western interpretations of your Sun sign and other planets are now somehow “wrong!” You probably got interested in astrology in the first place because you found great validity in them. In Vedic astrology the signs are used more to determine what is called the “strength” of a planet.
Jyotisha also makes use of a much more ancient division of the celestial sphere, referred to as the nakshatras. These are the 27 “Lunar Mansions” based on the average daily motion of the Moon, and are an important factor in birth chart interpretation.
Planetary placement in the nakshatras also plays a key role in pinpointing the timing of events in a person’s life, which is the real power and efficacy of Vedic astrology. Based on the Moon’s nakshatra position at birth, a person will begin life in a “period” of a particular planet. Each planetary period is of a fixed duration and these periods unfold in a set sequence, ranging from the 20-year period of Venus to the 6-year period of the Sun.
Perhaps the major distinction of the Vedic system rests in the fact that the ancient sages did not give mankind Jyotisha solely that a person’s karma could be known, but as a means for doing something about it. Though all too often astrology becomes a mere fortune-telling device, its original and best purpose is as an instrument for alleviating suffering.
Within the tradition of Jyotisha are methods for effecting change on the spiritual or energetic level of the individual, and for transforming your relationship with the forces of the cosmos. Through these methods and divine grace, positive karmas can be enhanced and negative karmas can be modified, softened, and in some instances totally neutralized.
What about Free Will?
People’s normal objection to the idea of a predictive astrology is that it seems to take away from them the issue of self-determination and deny the idea of free will. If you truly understand Vedic astrology in terms of its philosophical underpinnings, however, it is saying that people create their own reality through their thoughts, words, and past actions, and in that way we are one hundred per cent free—but free within the law of action and reaction. To me, that is a very empowering message.
It is also important to remember that the whole idea of Vedic astrology—the reason Jyotisha came into being as a science—was to serve mankind. The sages of ancient India cognized this knowledge so that a man or woman could know what karmas are likely to manifest when. Why? So that specific remedial measures could be prescribed in order to modify, alleviate, or overcome negative karmas. In its highest and best use, Jyotisha is a powerful tool for alleviating suffering and for guiding us toward enlightenment.
Why study Vedic versus Western Astrology?
If you have already learned some Western astrology, or if you are considering studying one or the other, or considering having a consultation, the question naturally arises, “Why this system?
Let me answer that question by sharing personally that before learning the Vedic system 20 years ago, I was a Western astrologer for 20 years. And to this day I continue to love and use the many marvelous insights and techniques of Western astrology.
But from the standpoint of being able to actually see and predict probable events, I find the Vedic system to be very powerful. Have you ever had the experience of going from a typewriter to a word processor? This is how I felt when I went from Western astrology to Jyotisha with respect to diagnosing an individual’s karma in each area of their life, and when it is likely to manifest. This is done through the use of the dashas or planetary periods, an incredible predictive tool that is unique to this system of astrology.
Until rather recently, this powerful form of astrology has not been accessible because the classic texts were mostly in Sanskrit and one had to go to India to study the subject. This has changed in the last 20 years since master jyotishis from India have been coming to the U.S. and training people like myself. It has been my great good fortunate to become a favored student of Shri K.N. Rao of New Delhi, one of the most renowned masters of this science, who has mentored me both in the U.S. and India.
I would like to conclude this brief introduction to Vedic astrology by giving you an example of its extraordinary predictive tool, referred to as “dashas” or planetary periods.
Below is the South Indian style birth chart of Dr. Deekpak Chopra, best selling author of books on mind-body medicine and new age spirituality.