Jyotiṣa is a powerful and systematic method of predicting future events whose accuracy is highly dependent on the depth of the astrologer's intuition. However, it reaches its limits when it confronts adhyatmic (spiritual) dimensions of a person's life.
Rajarshi, a sadhaka and adherent of the Sanatan Dharma, is a technical writer by training, and a spiritualist by passion, currently working as a Contributing Editor for SirfNews.com
One of the six vedāṅga-s – limbs of the Vedic study – is Jyotiṣa, astrology. It has been described as the “eye of the Vedas”, and remains an independent and popular branch of study among both professionals and laymen. There have been many classics written on this subject, various schools of thought propounded. Even in the age of reason, astrology remains as popular as ever. After all, who wouldn’t love to know his/her own future?
To be clear this is not one of those articles arguing for or against astrology. The best way to reach a conclusion would be to learn the art (it cannot be called a science) for oneself instead of wasting time arguing on its validity or otherwise. But how does astrology measure up when looked at from a spiritual perspective? Do jyotiṣa and adhyatma synchronize? Can one predict from a horoscope cast at the precise moment of an individual's birth, if the said individual would go onto become a self-realized person, Sthitapragya, or brahma-jnani or any of the terms used in the shastras to describe such individuals?
Karma and Karma-phala
When we use the term Karma, we basically refer, more often than not, to the karma-phala – the results of karma. One view of this law, and the most popular view, is that there is a law of justice in Nature, which mechanically ensures that every individual will face the consequences of his actions, good or bad, at some point in the future, even if it is in another lifetime. Therefore the arrangement of the gráha-s (not planets, the original meaning is “graspers”), at the moment of birth are indicative of the karmaphala, which the soul is likely to experience as a result of its actions in previous incarnations. This then is the philosophical crux on which Jyotiṣa revolves. In theory there are further subdivisions of these karma-phalas. Some are drida – fixed, some are adrida – shifting, and some a mixture of the two. Those which are drida, according to the theory, cannot be changed and have to be experienced for good or bad, while the rest can be tampered with, if one chooses one’s course of actions wisely. Added to this, is the idea of karmic debts, curses and blessings, etc and a wide sub-range of further classifications.
For good or bad, the Indic view has been dominated by the theory of karma over a millennium now, percolating down into common culture and often degenerating into some sort of fatal resignation to forces unseen and things less understood. It is contentious and indeed debatable if this karma-phala-centric worldview really reflects the philosophy and spirituality of the ancient Rishis, or is a lateral induction into our thought-sphere from the other two spiritual philosophies that were born in this land, Buddhism and Jainism. Karma and its repercussions hold a central doctrinal position in their explanation of life and its aims, while in the Vedic philosophy, karma-phala, though important, was not the central axis on which the worldview must revolve. How else does one explain that fact that while Lord Rama had to perform penance for the killing of the Brahmin born rakshasa, Ravana, to ameliorate the karmaa-phala incurred by such an act, he displayed no trace of hesitation to fight the war on this account? Or Lord Krshna's brushing aside the objections raised by a reluctant Arjuna in the battle-field of Kurukshetra, when the later takes recourse to the logic that killing ones Guru's and kin is an act of sin. The Bhagwata Gita is undoubtedly one of the earliest and profoundest texts of Vedic spirituality, and definitely much older than the various other Gitas that surfaced during the medieval era. It gives a much better glimpse into the early Aryan mindset. Worrying about Karmaphala was surely prevalent, but it was never the central doctrine of the Aryan spiritual life; dharma and its variants (swadharma et al) were more fundamental and the true guide to life, which makes logical sense because one can never really claim to know for sure how the flow of karmas are working, unless one claims omniscience, which would of course be absurd. The Gita proclaims,
"कर्मणो ह्यपि बोद्धव्यं बोद्धव्यं च विकर्मणः । अकर्मणश्च बोद्धव्यं गहना कर्मणो गतिः ॥" [4:17]
The web of karma is too deep to be unentangled. Trying to navigate the world from this perspective creates a fear of living, with asceticism being the only logical outcome. Maybe this is why over the last 1000 years monastic paths gained such prominence in this subcontinent. Therefore, the Gita recommends understanding the nature of work, and uplifting it, instead of abstaining from performing one’s swadharma, even it were something violent and terrifying.
Those interested may read a more nuanced and layered idea of karma and karma-phala, written by Sri Aurobindo, in which he rejects this over simplified “I-kill-you-and-you-kill-me” kind of mechanical view of Nature. So, back to the original question, how does Jyotiṣa measure upto adhyatma?
An Alternate View of Jyotiṣa
(Disclosure: I have been a Jyotiṣa enthusiast for nearly a decade now. I have had my fair share of accurate predictions, like many Jyotiṣa students are likely to have, and those have personally satisfied me that this occult art is not without some basis. Indeed, in a large number of cases it works quite well. It may not be scientific as we define science these days, but there is definitely some art and rationalization and rules involved in the process of prediction. And it is certainly not a flipping-of-coin random psychological abracadabra, or whatever else its self-assured detractors imagine it to be. I am not here to argue for or establish the validity of this art, but rather to examine how far spiritual astrology works.)
While astrology books are replete with thumb rules and generic yogas, in certain instances it can be seen that one’s will power, a thing that is entirely at an individual's disposal, can be used to frustrate, defer, modify, and at times, even change, the indications of the horoscope. Unless a Jyotiṣai can find a way to ascertain the will-power of the individual, ones predictions will always contain an element of uncertainty. Also, while the graha positions at birth are indicative of past karmic results manifesting now, the horoscope says nothing about the present actions / reactions of an individual. It is assumed, by default, that the momentum of the past actions overwhelms an individual so thoroughly that s/he acts or reacts blindly, like an automaton, based on the conditions and environments set by the past. And this violates the most fundamental dictum of the law of karma.** Actions and their reactions get modified constantly based on ones current intentions and endeavors. Nature maybe a strict teacher, but it is never a vindictive taskmaster. Therefore, the bandit Ratnakara, who is said to have murdered many people, the karmic reaction to which must surely be staggering, transforms himself into the adi-kavi Valmiki through acts of contrite penance. Maybe then the grahas are more indicative, rather than being definitive or fatalistic in nature. Keeping this in mind, Jyotiṣa can be used as a great tool for divination but ignoring this nuance creates weak and superstitious men and women. Having said that, adhyatma is one step beyond even this. Let's see why.
Personally I try not to mix Jyotiṣa with spirituality. That cocktail not only does not work, but makes those who indulge in it too often into weak minds, affecting their detachment, which is why the most accomplished spiritual people we can recall never bothered much about horoscopes. Even Sri Yukteshwara Giri Maharaj, the great Kriya Yogi, who was an expert in Jyotiṣa, when his sadhana had really deepened towards the later part of his life, moved away from Jyotiṣa. Why is this so? Because spiritual predictions require tremendous amount of intuition, and if someone already has such intuition he may not even need Jyotiṣa. Mere mechanical rule following does not work in this. The 9 grahas represent almost every single possibility of the world. When a person is able to go really deep inside his consciousness, into the subtlest zones, then there is a change in the nature of influence of these grahas, something which may not be so obvious. Most astrologers work through set ideas of what happens when xyz grahas are together. That kind of prediction can work quite well in ordinary instances of life. But once a certain distance of the inner journey has been covered, the graha combinations produce results which are far more subtle and uncommon than ordinary, and quite likely to fail all standard thumb-rule kind of predictions. That is why intuition is a must. But then, developing intuition is no easy matter. The best I have seen astrologers come up with when delving in core spirituality, is post-facto justifications. That is, after they know that an individual has become a truly saintly character and details of his life is known, THEN they analyze the horoscope threadbare and come up with an explanation based on the theories they follow, explaining away everything to glory! But predicting beforehand about spirituality from a horoscope, that’s an absolutely different ball game. There is no certainty in that at all.
Adhyatma, in its truest form, is beyond mental calculations and is judged by only one parameter: transformation. A spiritual worldview teaches a person to understand, realize and accept that while the world keeps churning all the time going through unpredictable motions, sometimes profitable and sometimes less so, wisdom lies in a detached participation in this melee and realizing that no matter how hard one tries one can never control the external completely to one's satisfaction. The Samkhyas of the past, therefore, divided the human being into a silent conscious Purusha inside, who only stands as a witness to the mechanical, unenlightened nature that keeps revolving in circles, bringing alternate seasons of joy and sorrow. The aim was to station oneself inside the Purusha consciousness at all times and go through life with that attitude to an observer rather than a sentimental participant. In this way, neither sadness nor happiness would disturb one’s inner composure and eventually one will experience a constant bliss inside.
Jyotiṣa or any such predictive method is a part of the occult, while the recommendations of a text like the Srimadhagwata Gita, to remain non-perturbed in fame and ill-fame, happiness and sadness, heat and cold, praise and denunciation, THAT is the path to spirituality, adhyatma. Basically, the training and control one must undergo is inner, and not outer. If the reaction can be controlled inside, then how does it matter what conditions occur based on past actions? Krshna is the Purushottamah not because he displayed some supernatural feats, which are awesome no doubt, but his greatest miracle was his ability to remain perfectly detached and in bliss – Ananda – even in the midst of a devastating war where brothers killed brothers and disciples killed gurus. And as mentioned before, this is where normal astrology fails, when it comes to making predictions about the spiritual life of individuals because it does not factor in the individual willpower into the equation or the constantly changing karmic equations based on the tapasya and sadhana being performed. In my personal experience and experiments with learned astrologers and their predictions, I have found spiritual predictions in astrology worked only in case where the astrologer had a serious amount of intuition, and that is extremely, extremely rare. Intuition – its nature, cause, scope etc - is a byproduct of some inner change, and a subject within the larger domain of spirituality, beyond the realm of regular predictive Jyotiṣa. In short this is a terribly beautiful balancing mechanism that Mother Nature has created, otherwise where would there be fun in the divine leela if an ordinary astrologer could predict everything about our spiritual life from just a horoscope?
**To circumvent this problem, one school of astrologers never judge a horoscope without also analysing certain nimittas, signs, or the combination of grahas at the time when the query is put forth, for these can give a hint of how the actions of the present life have modified the force of karmaphala.