Moksha Yogas: Paramahansa Yogananda
Does astrology show enlightenment? The horoscope of any spiritual master poses this inevitable question. Moksha, or spiritual liberation, is one of the four Purusharthas, or Vedic aims of life, and is ruled by the water houses in the horoscope: the fourth house showing the end of life, the eighth house showing death, and the twelfth house showing after death. A variety of ‘moksha yogas’ promise liberation in this lifetime, which mostly describe combinations of the 12th house lord, Ketu (moksha karaka) and to some extent Jupiter and Pisces, in both the Rasi and D9 charts. These yogas may also be read in the Punya Chakra, or death chart, which determines the destination of the soul in the afterlife and beyond.
The declarative tone of Jyotish classics must also be understood: what reads like a nailed-on certainty may be balanced by equally unequivocal opposing influences in the same chart. Parashara, for instance, says “If there is a benefic in the 12th house and its lord is exalted, or conjunct or aspected by a benefic, the native will achieve final emancipation” [BPHS: 23.10]. This yoga in fact is a standard description of a strong house – benefic, good sign, lord well aspected – and means the Twelfth House will deliver if other factors agree and also assuming the individual puts in thousands of hours of meditation. No guarantees.
There is also debate about what constitutes enlightenment and whether it can be achieved instantly or only after strenuous effort. For most people it is the latter. Spiritual geniuses like Mātā Amṛtānandamayī Devī (‘Amma’) or a Westerner like Eckhart Tolle, who arrive spontaneously at an enlightened state, are exceptions, where enormous spiritual credit (purva punya) has accrued from their karmic past. When asked about ‘instant enlightenment’, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said, “First it is slow, then it comes quickly”, meaning the awakening experience itself may be very sudden, but comes only once the individual is thoroughly prepped with years of yoga practice.
Paramahansa Yogananda’s chart does not contain classical Jyotish moksha yogas, though he was undoubtedly a jivan-mukta. He was also exceptional, according to his Autobiography, in that he had a fated spiritual mission from birth and all through his early training, to bring yoga to the West. Yogananda worked hard to achieve enlightenment, though if anyone seemed destined to get there, it was he. Noteworthy is his powerful Jupiter, swakshetra in the eighth house, which proved highly influential in his life and death.
Leo rising, with the Moon in Magha in the first house, shows a healthy ego and sense of life mission. The ninth house of dharma contains Rahu, which makes for an unusual spiritual path, while ninth lord Mars in the eighth, aspected by Saturn, also shows someone of a sceptical or questioning nature. His training in Swami Sri Yukteshwar’s ashram was strict, and one wonders besides the reverence in which he held his guru, about some difficulties in their relationship. Yet Yogananda recounted that he was eternally grateful to his Guru for dealing blows to his spiritual pride and bringing him down to earth.
January 5th 1893, 20:38pm, Gorakhpur, UP, India
Mars, yogakaraka for Leo ascendant, rules Yogananda’s all-important fourth and ninth houses. He had little use for conventional education, but became a teacher in his own right and founded a unique system of yoga schooling both in India and America. Venus in the fourth also shows his close bond with his mother, though its aspect from Saturn along with fourth lord Mars also in the eighth foreshadows the tragedy of her passing when Yogananda was 11 years old (Venus-Mars dasha). Venus is also his third lord, and with Ketu in his third house, aspected by Mars, sheds light on an occasionally difficult relationship with his siblings. Despite coming from a devout orthodox Hindu family, Yogananda’s choice of the monastic life made him a black sheep, certainly in the eyes of his influential elder brother. Saturn-Mars across the second-eighth house makes difficulty with the family, and also Yogananda’s attitude to money: he was a renunciant, but believed strongly in the power of will to overcome all obstacles and to manifest one’s destiny. This outlook lay at the heart of his objection to superstitious fortune-telling, though under the guidance of his guru he came to respect astrology, when ‘properly understood by men of intuitive wisdom’.
Jupiter in Pisces in the eighth house is a clear sign of a mystic, and Yogananda had visions and supernatural experiences throughout his life. Key events also occurred in his Jupiter dasha periods: he first met Sri Yukteshwar, aged 17, during Venus-Jupiter, and the resurrection of his guru recounted so vividly in Autobiography of a Yogi, occurred in Mars-Jupiter (June 19th 1936, at 3:00pm). There was a solar eclipse in Gemini/Ardra on this day, three months after Yukteswarji’s passing, and one can only guess its emotional impact. Transiting Saturn was also on the cusp of Yogananda's eighth house at this time, giving a symptomatic life-and-death experience, like walking a path between the worlds.
In his Autobiography’s chapter, The Science of Kriya Yoga, Yogananda also relates the karmic short-cutting effect of yoga meditation on the usual life span, and says "The ancient rishis discovered that man's earthly and heavenly environment, in a series of twelve-year cycles, push him forward on his natural path", and "a number of yogis achieve emancipation in six or twelve or twenty four or forty-eight years”. This relates principally to the six bodily chakras (twelve by polarity), but also to Jupiter’s twelve-year cycle, a metric that is bound up with the moment of awakening. Jupiter transiting the eighth - in any chart, at any time – is also a trigger for powerful mystical experiences, with the potential for spiritual rebirth up to and including a full kundalini awakening. It is like a light going on in the darkness of the eighth, which can otherwise feel like a haunted house.
Yogananda’s strong natal Jupiter also augered well for a good death: his final conscious exit from his body (mahasamadhi )came on March 7th 1952, precisely at his fifth Jupiter return - and second Saturn return. Yogananda was in his sixtieth year at this point, which is also significant for being the halfway point in the Vimshottari dasha sequence, and for all these reasons is celebrated with a special Vedic ceremony, the Shasti Purti yagya. For a man who began life as a convinced astrological sceptic, there are powerful testimonies to the influence of the planets in Yogananda’s life.
“My body shall pass but my work shall go on. And my spirit shall live on. Even when I am taken away I shall work with you all for the deliverance of the world with the message of God”. - Sri Paramahansa Yogananda