The Astrology of Ancient India
- By Dennis Flaherty
Upon discovering the world of astrology, the public reading audience is often amazed at first to find that the local Sun-Sign column is but the most visible tip of the proverbial, vast astrological iceberg. There are many systems of astrology, from many cultures the world over. The Babylonians, the Chinese, the Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Hindus all have developed extensive systems of Astrology. This article will concern itself with the astrology of the Hindu culture. It is known as Hindu Astrology, or Vedic Astrology, for it springs forth from the ancient Vedas, the spiritual Bible of ancient India, reputed to be over 5000 years old!
The astrology of ancient India comes to us originally from the Rig Veda, the oldest of the four Vedas. The Vedas were originally an oral tradition that was passed down from family to family, generation to generation, reputedly over thousands of years. Along with the Vedas are ancillary texts known as Vedanga, or limbs of the Vedas. One of these limbs specifically explains astrology. It is called Jyotish Vedanga in Sanskrit, meaning "the limb of astrology." The oral traditions of this sacred knowledge were called Shruti in Sanskrit, meaning "that which is heard." Latter the oral traditions were written down, and referred to as Smriti in Sanskrit, meaning "that which is remembered." The astrology of ancient India draws a distinction between the knowledge that is directly transmitted orally from teacher to student, and the knowledge that later was written down in books. The consciousness of ancient India acknowledges the often sharp distinctions between that which has been heard, and later, that which is remembered!
About the 5th century AD many of the previous oral teachings were put into written form. Many of India’s greatest astrologer-sages appeared in this period of time. Such personages as Parasara, Vaharamihira, Kalyana Varma, and Mantreswar are known by their written masterpieces on Vedic Astrology; Hora Shastra, Brihat Jataka, Saravali and the Phaladeepika are all still readily available today.
In our time such prolific Indian authors as Dr.B.V. Raman, and most recently Bepin Behari, Dr. K.S. Charak, and K.N. Rao, have popularized Vedic astrology in western culture. In the last decade there has been a resurgence of the Vedic sciences in western thought largely facilitated by the writings of Deepak Chopra. Dr. Chopra’s popularization of Aryurvedic medicine has gone a long way in opening the western mind to eastern systems of healing and psychology. Aryurveda in Sanskrit means, "the science of life." Astrology in Sanskrit is known as Jyotish. Jyotish means, "the science of light." Both these Vedic sciences are limbs of the Vedas. But astrology holds a special consideration. It is known as "the eye" of the Vedas, for Jyotish gives light, and where there is light one can see the way ahead clearly. This is why the ancient Vedas say, "a King without an astrologer is like a man who is blind in his own home!"
Many western students of astrology commonly ask two pressing questions about Vedic astrology. They want to know how Vedic Astrology is different than Western Astrology, and why there is such a resurgent interest in this astrology at this time?
Firstly, Vedic Astrology is different than Western Astrology in that Vedic Astrologers use a different Zodiac. There are two Zodiacs, called the Tropical Zodiac and the Sidereal Zodiac. While Western Astrology uses the Spring Equinox as the fixed point of Aries, in the month of March, to start the Tropical Zodiac, Vedic Astrology uses the actual precessed constellation point of Aries, currently in the month of April, to start the Sidereal Zodiac. The difference between the two Zodiacs is currently 23 to 24 degrees. Planets in your Tropical astrological chart below 23 to 24 degrees of a particular sign, say the sign of Aries, will now become recognized by the previous sign, in this case Pisces. In this manner all the planets in your Tropical astrological chart will move backward into the previous degrees of the same or earlier sign.
This major difference between the two systems shocks many new and old comers to astrology alike. They often ask: How can there be two Zodiacs? Which one is correct?
The answer, of course, depends on your perspective. Relative to your point in the universe, the world reveals itself to you. For instance, viewed from the earth, the planets have a particular order, and appear to be moving through the zodiacal signs very differently than if viewed from the Sun. This is the difference between geocentric astrology, from the Greek meaning, "earth-centered", and heliocentric astrology, from the Greek meaning, "sun-centered". Your vantage point can be said to determine your perceptual reality. This is also true of the two Zodiacs, depending on the vantage point of the seasonal equinoxes, or the vantage point of the fixed stars. Reality is indeed a relative construct that can best be described in the old adage: What you see is what you get! It all depends on your vantage point!
Another vantage point that Vedic Astrology has, is the cosmological, psycho-spiritual viewpoint of the ancient Hindu, or Vedic culture. The sacred writings of ancient India are embodied in the Vedas, Brahmanas, Puranas and Upannishads. Their spiritual psychology and philosophical precepts are deeply ingrained in the concepts of Jyotish. The value system of ancient India is part and parcel of Vedic astrology. It is very different in its conceptual view of life than our modern western cultural viewpoint. For example, the four pursuits of life, as outlined in the Vedas are: Dharma, Artha, Kama, and Moksha. The Sanskrit word Dharma reflects the purposeful unfolding of self in life. The word Artha, reflects our attitude toward the accumulation of money and the resources necessary to fulfill the self. The word Kama, refers to the rightful fulfillment of the desires of the self. Lastly, the word Moksha, reflects the desire of every soul to enlighten the self from the confinement of this world. These pursuits are qualified and reflected upon in consulting the Vedic astrological chart. The sacred infrastructure of the Vedas can lend a different perspective to a Vedic astrology reading that is not to be found in current western practice.
Perhaps, our second question is more challenging to answer. Why has there been such a renewed, intensified interest in Vedic astrology? Currently, it appears the western mind is going through a crisis, questioning the very values of today’s modern western society. The growing discontent has been echoed from Bosnia to Palestine, from Beijing to Tehran, and from Moscow to the Heartland of the USA.
Richard Tarnas, talks of this developing crisis in western thought in his masterpiece The Passion of The Western Mind (Harmony Books, 1991). He chronicles the developing western mind from Plato and Aristotle, and from Kant to Einstein. The pertinent question being: Has our materially prosperous culture given the western Psyche any peace of mind? He and others thinks not. There is a restlessness today in the western mind that is looking for answers beyond the scope of our material and technological breakthroughs and achievements. The search for answers in a time of crisis takes many western minds back to the eastern mind of the rishis and sages of ancient India. Their ancient eastern view of the cosmos is finding renewed interest in our time. The growing popularity of Deepak Chopra’s writings, as previously mentioned, are exploring an east-west synthesis, cross-fertilizing the ancient wisdom from India with today’s western know-how and technology. Likewise, a growing number of western-minded astrologers are embracing the ancient eastern-mind, in an attempt to answer the deeper questions that astrology poses concerning the purpose the soul has come to fulfill in it’s earthly sojourn. . The renewed interest in Jyotish, with its ancient, fecund spiritual heritage, can only enrich the passion of the western minded individual to more fully explore the very meaning of each and every life from an astrological perspective that asked those very same questions some 5000 years ago!
Dennis Flaherty is a certified practicing vedic and Western astrologer, author and popular lecturer. He directs the East-West astrological curriculum at Greenlake Metaphysics in Seattle, Washington. Dennis holds degrees in English and Sociology from the University of Massachusetts. He is past president of the Washington State Astrological Association and currently serves on the Steering Committees of ACVA (American Council of Vedic Astrology) and AFAN (Association for Astrological Networking). Dennis co-sponsored the Sacred Astrology Symposium, the first coming together of eastern and western astrology, in Seattle.
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