The Western astrologer’s trepidation on first confronting Jyotish is understandable on several counts. Despite much common symbolism, the experience combines learning new techniques with learning a new language or dialect. ‘Lagna’, ‘Gochara’, ‘Drishti’, what are these strange-sounding terms? Nothing more than ‘ascendant’, ‘transit’, ‘aspect’, yet adapting to square charts and a new astrological reference point is at first like learning to write with your left hand.
The sidereal zodiac, however, is the main adjustment for those who are already quite comfortable with their sign language: “I’m Gemini, not Taurus, what’s all that about?”, and it doesn’t help that adjacent signs are so different. People who readily identify with their tropical sign placements often claim they don’t feel the same intuitive fit with sidereal. However, this is a matter of conditioning. Take two people who have, say, tropical Aries rising; one with 28 degrees, the other with 10 degrees. The first person will have Aries ascendant in both zodiacs; the other’s ascendant will move back into sidereal Pisces, and it is perfectly evident which is which.
The blunt, declarative style of Jyotish is another culture shock. Dire pronouncements on disease, poverty and death are Western taboos that our astrology left behind before the turn of the 20th Century. ‘Fortune-telling’ represents everything that our present hands-off, humanistic astrology is against. Still, in the bargain we have lost all notion of assessing a personality’s intrinsic worth and personal good fortune. Does the astrologers’ art not lie, after all, in judging a horoscope? A little learning is dangerous, and discretion, as ever, is vital. There is no excuse for being a stupid astrologer and using your new tools to make reckless, naive forecasts.
In any case, giving a planet or house ‘malefic’ status, simply points out that it carries the potential for experience which most people prefer to avoid: debt, pain, illness, loss. 'Learning experience' for sure, but tough: why is this taboo? Life is not a bed of roses, and any language of life that excludes these experiences is not worth the description. Astrology loses its clarity and power if the text is already set out in shades of grey. Balancing a chart’s conflicting testimonies, weighing the evidence, is where the astrologer’s skill lies. By contrast, the current New Age attitude is that we only have to think positively and our lives will never be touched by illness or tragedy and we will all live forever.
We are not intended to take classical Jyotish aphorisms too literally in any event, but to blend black and white statements in our interpretation. Intuition is vital as always, and it is also recommended to study Jyotish with an experienced teacher, in the context of a spiritual practice. Symbolic insight grows out of the astrologer’s relationship with the planets and our Jyotish-Mati Pragya, or cosmic awareness through astrology, is a quality to be cultivated positively. Most Vedic astrologers practice yoga of some sort, being engaged in a parallel program of self-development over and above the ‘talking cure’ (they drink a lot less, too). Mantras and invocations to the planets, for example those ruling the days of the week, are a part of the astrologer’s lifestyle and the experience of studying the stars takes on an interactive, Shamanic quality.
The Western astrologer, particularly one versed in traditional and horary techniques, will recognize many of the Jyotish fundamentals. House Lords play a more central role in interpretation and define the myriad planetary combinations, or Yogas, that are the jewels in the crown of the Vedic system. One tends not to analyse a planet’s sign qualities per se, but rather checks which houses it rules and its dispositor. Analysing house rulership comes into sharp relief with Whole Sign houses (a system now championed by many Western astrologers), and that system’s elegant simplicity is particularly evident using the sidereal zodiac. In any case, combinations of certain house lords may denote wealth, fame or influence, and make an altogether auspicious chart; a central notion that Western astrology seems to have lost.
Whereas Tropical astrology sees ‘luck’, good karma or God’s grace as imponderables, insight into this area is at the heart of Jyotish. Yoga philosophy declares that good fortune comes from past-life credit, and the astrological technique holds true whether or not karma is a meaningful concept for you. One can spot straightaway individuals with political clout or a wealthy family, or those who have the power to rise beyond their origins. How useful is this? Without this radical dimension, charts are ‘flat’, with no way to tell whether the subject will be a leading figure in their field, be it CEO, movie star or head shoe salesman. Not everyone with Raja Yoga – a ‘king maker’ - in their chart will become a superstar, but superstars’ charts invariably possess potent Raja Yogas.
This fatalistic outlook is a cringe for many Western observers, with the implication that the wrong chart dooms us to a life of mediocrity. Yet basic experience tells us not everyone will become a big shot: take two people of the same age, similar background and intelligence, who both leave University the same year. One person finds influential contacts, gets the job and gets the girl. The other, while at least as able, has a greater struggle and works twice as hard for twice as long to achieve a fraction of his friend’s impact. Nobody gets a perfect life, but some people are very lucky: this is the perennial story which astrology is supposed to say something about.
In any case, a successful, integrated life doesn’t depend on worldly status. Jyotish is highly revealing about this too: we can see people who struggle all their life for outward influence, yet make great spiritual progress. Some people have a happy temperament, others fall in the mud and end up smelling of roses, and this too is shown in Vedic astrology. Money and influence are useful – vital - but the pressures of being a world leader or cultural icon are enormous, and material distractions beyond a certain point may become a positive curse. Fulfilling one’s own destiny (dharma) and becoming self-realized is the only thing that ultimately matters. Lucky are those who are content with their lot and ask for no more.
Far from lamenting that we cannot readily spot an eminent person’s chart, Western Astrology has made a virtue of necessity. It claims astrology is not solely about prediction because it is increasingly beyond the scope of its technique. Our modern mantras are: “We have infinite choice, everything is relative; knuckle down, network and think positively and you too can have it all”. Western astrology talks about ‘easy’ or ‘difficult’ charts, usually based on the predominating aspects, and it can spot vocation, relationship preferences, good and bad times, and all manner of psychological syndromes. It's good stuff, but too often like reading a page full of adjectives describing someone’s style without any details of what, when, where and how much. “This person could be an artist”, whereas the Jyotish chart says, fairly, “This person could be a successful, celebrated artist”. Qualitative and quantitative.
it is common to hear, ‘Tropical astrology is good for psychology while Jyotish is better for prediction’. I always thought this was a curious statement, does it not depend on the astrologer; why should this be so? Even a cursory acquaintance with the main Vedic planetary period system, the Vimshottari Dasas, makes one appreciate how much more closely accounted for fate is than Western astrology allows. It’s not fatalistic, it’s realistic. Dashas give us not only sporadic and intermittent transits and progressions, but whole periods of time ruled by specific planets and their aspects. We then look at transits and progressions in a more specific context, which helps to explain why a major event; a Jupiter return, say, might bring very different results from the one twelve years previously, or hence.
In Western natal astrology, Exaltations and Falls have become increasingly meaningless, to the point where some authorities question their provenance or discard them altogether. Whether it is because four-fifths of the time we are not using its actual astronomical placement, the power of an exalted or fallen tropical planet is rarely self-evident. In Jyotish, we can see the quantifiable effect of a strongly or weakly placed planet, to the point where its power can be expressed in percentage terms. Tropical reveals the style, sidereal the substance.
Take a tropical chart with Moon in Sagittarius, which may be considered fairly blessed – a buoyant, positive inner life that finds its emotional centre in a philosophical outlook. Yet this usually translates to a sidereal Moon in Scorpio, an altogether different proposition. A Western astrologer might describe the Moon in Scorpio as ‘passionate, secretive, compulsive’. True too of sidereal, but it also describes the debilitated Moon as a material influence on the individual’s health and happiness, affecting the success or failure of the Moon’s mundane house matters, plus those houses it rules and aspects. Sure, there is mitigation - to the point where this Moon can work as a quasi-benefic - but the picture in any event is more detailed and factual.
A question I have had put to me more than once by Indian astrologers is: “What do you use to remove obstacles?”, and it’s hard to know how to reply. Astrological magic and elemental/spiritual correspondences were once part and parcel of Western Mystical tradition, but who uses any of its methods today, reliably? Jyotish is so often described as fated and deterministic, but the Upayas, or planetary remedies, are an integral part of it. The ubiquity of electional astrology in India, along with practical measures such as mantras, yantras, gemstones and charitable donations argues against claims of karmic quietism. Fate is ever-present in Jyotish, but eminently negotiable. Jyotish is the aspect of the Veda which deals with knowledge of the future, and the whole of yogic wisdom is about alleviating pain and speeding the path to enlightenment.