III.6. Vedic Astrology: Space Age Science or Superstition
Vedic Astrology: Space Age Science or Outdated Superstition
������ The government of India recently (2001) decided to reintroduce the subject of Vedic astrology into the schools and to teach it at a university level in non-Sanskrit courses. Naturally, this movement has met with tremendous opposition by a number of so-called modern or secular thinkers. They see the introduction of astrology as returning India to the dark ages and the harbinger of creating a Hindu religious state in the country. They would equate astrology with all the social evils and superstitions that the West associates with India.
However, astrology remains popular worldwide and is not limited to religiously conservative people (most orthodox Christians and Muslims have always been against it). In the West, it is common among the New Age and futuristic groups, though most scientists are opposed to it. In England, however, there is also a move to teach astrology in the schools and do scientific research on it.
������ The question arises: What is Vedic astrology and how important is it to understand India and its venerable traditions? The answer is simple: Vedic astrology is an integral part of Indian culture, as commonly used today as thousand years ago in the country. In fact, the computer revolution has made Vedic astrology, which requires detailed calculations, more accessible. Schools of Vedic astrology can be found in the major cities of India, offering in depth two year courses on the subject. Regular new books on Vedic astrology are coming out every year through the main publishing houses in the country and these continue to sell well. There is no region of India where astrology in one form or another is not popular or not part of older traditions.
Astrology is an integral part of the Hindu tradition, which most Hindus still use on a regular basis. Buddhists and Jains also have their traditions of Vedic astrology, which is the basis of Tibetan astrology and the Tibetan calendar. A number of scientists in India follow Vedic astrology and find it to be scientific. This includes physicists, medical doctors and engineers, several of whom are well known writers and teachers of Vedic astrology. Of course, all Indian politicians use Vedic astrology, so deep seated is its usage, even the ones that publicly deny it, including Pandit Nehru.
We should note that traditional Vedic astrology includes astronomy (its mathematical side), meteorology, and astrology per se (its predictive and interpretative side). It reflects a yogic or integrative approach to the universe that studies how the individual and the cosmos are related, and how biological forces and celestial phenomena mirror each other. It fits in well with the other yogic sciences and spiritual pursuits that have long characterized Indic civilization.
Great yogis and sages of India up to modern times have followed Vedic astrology or written about it. These include Sri Aurobindo, Paramahansa Yogananda and his guru Sri Yukteswar (who was an astrologer), and Ganapati Muni (chief disciple of Ramana Maharshi). Astrological works have been ascribed to great Hindu sages like Vasishta, Parashara, Bhishma, Kalidasa and Madhvacharaya. Great astrological thinkers like Varaha Mihira have been placed among the great sages and poets of India. Indian philosophy, literature and religion commonly use astrology and refer to it.
The Value of Vedic Astrology
What is the value of Vedic astrology that has kept it alive for so many centuries? First of all, Vedic astrology is the basis of the Hindu calendar that is still followed throughout the country and used for determining national holidays like Ram Navami, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivarati, Navaratri and Diwali. From it arises the designation of the Hindu months as Chaitra, Vaishakha and so on. To understand this calendar requires a knowledge of Vedic astrology. Such dates are not arbitrary but reflect the celestial influences in operation on them.
������ Second, Vedic astrology is a limb or branch of the Vedas, a Vedanga. It is said to represent the eye of the Veda. After all, everything in life depends upon timing. In the Vedic view, timing is not simply a matter of keeping in harmony with business and political trends but requires attunement to the celestial influences that create time and dispense the forces of karma. Vedic astrology is used for determining the right timing of Vedic rituals and for the right timing of all events, spiritual and mundane, including Vedic sacraments and Yoga practices. It is also used for naming of children in India, using sounds that reflect the moon�s constellation at the time of birth.
������ Third and most importantly, the Vedic astrological birth chart is a crucial document for understanding our karma. It is like a road map for our entire nature and life experience. Interpreted properly it provides keys to our unfoldment on all levels from physical and mental health, to education, career, relationship, family and the spiritual path. In this regard the Vedic astrologer is like a scientist or a doctor, uncovering the deep currents of our destiny.
������ In such interpretative usages, we must note that Vedic astrology is not a kind of fatalism. Vedic science is first of all the science of karma, which means action. It teaches us that we create our own destiny in life by the nature of our actions. But there are two qualifiers with this process. First, our action occurs over time. This means that who we are today is a result of what we did yesterday, including our actions in previous lives. In order to change what we are now takes time. Previous wrong actions can still affect us today, though we can alter our future. Second, our action occurs in the field of cosmic law, which is connected to cosmic forces of time through the stars and planets. We must consider the forces of the world and the laws of nature in which we act, whether those of health and disease or ignorance and enlightenment. We can�t change our destiny in such a way that requires altering the laws of the universe or the functioning of the cosmic mind!
������ Vedic astrology shows us the basic karmic pattern that we have to work with in life. But it also shows us how to modify and optimize our karma both for the present and for the future. Towards this end it uses various remedial measures like gemstones, mantras and yajnas (rituals). These help us draw in the benefic energies of the cosmos and ward off those that are destructive. A good understanding of ones birthchart and how to rectify the planetary influences within it is a great aid to help us get a handle on our karma in life. This means that Vedic astrology has a practical relevance for improving our lives. It helps us optimize our life-potential, not reduce it to some preconceived pattern.
Vedic Astrology and Science
Vedic astrology is a system of great complexity and intricacy that few that criticize astrology are aware of. A well-trained Vedic astrologer must examine the planets, signs, houses and nakshatras (constellations), along with their permutations and combinations (aspects and yogas), as well as means of various means of determining their strengths and weakness (shadbala). A Vedic astrologer takes into account sixteen divisional (amsha) charts, ashtakavarga (benefic planetary points), several dasha (planetary period) systems, the annual chart or solar return (varshaphal) and transits, if not additional factors. The Vedic chart requires a very multilayered and comprehensive approach that necessitates deep thinking and patient analysis. When examining group or national events, rather than just individual charts, the considerations must be yet more detailed, plotting national currents and sub-currents.
Just as a scientist must conduct many experiments before coming to a conclusion about the laws of nature, or as a medical doctor must do special testing before confirming a diagnosis, the Vedic astrologer must examine a good deal of information in the birth chart, subcharts and current planetary influences before arriving at a solid determination of what is likely to transpire. This type of astrological research, like that of science, takes time and is not a simple matter of quick predictions.
Such a vast system of astrological examination is very different than the common stereotype of astrology as reflecting twelve sun signs (which Vedic astrology does not follow at all). Reducing astrology to it would be like reducing science to what is taught in a child�s first grade class. Vedic astrology also remains based on the fixed stars unlike western astrology that follows the equinoxes, and so the charge of no longer accurately mirroring stellar positions, which scientists raise against western astrology, cannot be lodged against the Vedic system. Unfortunately, most people condemning Vedic astrology have never really studied the system and are unaware of its complexity (seldom have they read even one serious book on the subject!). They judge it by stereotypes or by its popular appearances, reducing astrology to what is found in the newspapers. We must look beyond popular distortions in the field of astrology, just as in other fields.
Of course, bad astrologers are partly responsible for the disrepute that astrology is often held in worldwide. Astrology, particularly when not honored as a science or philosophy, can easily get confused with crude fortune-telling. Yet just as traditional medicine is being vindicated today, so too traditional astronomy (which includes astrology) may regain its place in the world mind. In fact, traditional medicine and astrology always went together, not only in India but also in Europe. Both were linked to spirituality and mysticism and gained the attention of great minds.
The Universe in Science and in Vedic Astrology
������ In the Vedic view the universe is the very breath or prana of the Absolute (Brahman). The breath of God creates the force of time on a cosmic level, just as our inhalations and exhalation create the experience of time on an individual level. Time, therefore, is not a mere material force but is a manifestation of Divine will and energy.
������ The universe of Vedic astrology and that of modern science are no longer far apart and are getting closer every day. Both have a vision of a vast universe of space and time that is part of a greater infinite and eternal reality. Both recognize the existence of many universes and many cycles of creation. Both recognize subtle forces connecting all objects in the universe in various energy fields. Both regard each atom in its movement as affecting the entire universe. Both are trying to unlock the consciousness that such a magical universe must depend upon for its mind-baffling workings.
Vedic astrology teaches that we live in a conscious universe interconnected by mind, life and energy on gross and subtle, inner and outer, individual and cosmic levels. The individual human being or Purusha has his counterpart in the universal being or Purusha, of which the outer world is his body. This universal Purusha is time (Kala Purusha) which works through the Sun and the stars. The basis of astrological thinking consists of drawing connections or inferences (bandhus) between the individual (adhyatmic) and the cosmic (adhidaivic). In this regard, astrology is part of the science of Yoga. It reflects the same understanding of the unity of the individual and the cosmos.
������ We should note that teaching Vedic astrology in schools in India is not like the insistence of Christian fundamentalist groups in America that evolution be banned and the Biblical account of creation taught instead. Teaching Vedic astrology does not require that modern science is not taught, nor does it necessarily go against the findings of modern science. It adds an Indic perspective to science. It also opens the door for greater scientific study to validate this ancient wisdom. There was a time when Yoga was dismissed as superstition just as astrology is today. Some medical doctors are taking up natural forms of healing that the previous generation of doctors dismissed and backward or superstitious. Clearly, astrology is not far behind in this new adaptation of ancient wisdom.
Astrology and Civilization
������ One can understand a civilization by the form of astrology it employs, which reflects its cosmology and its understanding of time and eternity. In the modern world, our time is told by clocks and our calendars have no spiritual meaning. They are just a convenient system of enumeration that has no real connection to the living universe. Nor surprisingly, our time has little meaning for us, unless we are sick or dying. We usually count our time in dollars and are otherwise bored if we are not either making or spending money. Our lives are not connected to the greater universe or even the local field of nature. We are not part of the rhythm of the cosmos or connected to great cosmic cycles. We have often lost track even of the seasons, the phases of the moon or the rhythm of the day.
Astrology teaches us that time is part of the sacred movement of the cosmos, linked with eternity, and reflects a cosmic intelligence present in the stars. The movement of time is a progressive manifestation of the Divine, an evolution of consciousness on both individual and world levels. Our current civilization has banished the sacred from time and has no sense of the eternal. Even western religions are mainly historically based, not extratemporarily aware, which is why they have largely remained extroverted and aggressive, rather than introverted and meditative like their eastern counterparts. They too have had little place for astrology, which in the West has been mainly a legacy of classical Greek and pagan culture.
Clearly, modern civilization can be enriched by ancient spiritual sciences, just as these spiritual and occult disciplines can be made more dynamic through a modern and global application and proved with scientific research. During this age when we are looking to travel to the stars, we should not forget that the stars, like the entire universe, dwell within us. The universe is not apart from us or alien to us but is fundamentally part of our own nature.