A leading astrological researcher, based in Hyderabad, India.
"I was born a human
In the family of a Brahman
Childhood aspirations were a plenty
To become a yeoman, a swordsman, a bowman
And I dreaded perchance becoming
A conman, a doorman or a barman
Youth had its own delusions and dreamt
Of being an airman, a seaman or a showman
A few talents raised visions of life as a craftsman
Middle age found me slotted in a niche
And rose up the ladder to be a helmsman
But was otherwise essentially a layman
At times to frighten children, a bogeyman
Then astrology called... and I realized that
I was just a point of consciousness and no man
And this insight made me a new man
Glimpsing a realm that was
Beyond god and mammon
Now some call me a madman
While others believe I am a shaman
Being neither, I am just me, a man".
Astrological Living in India The Pursuit of a Just Life
Ram looks at the pursuit of a Just Life, via the codes of conduct laid down in the Indian Scriptures. These scriptures feature a great deal of astrological content, which is taken instinctively to heart by the majority of the people in that vast country. Indeed, as Ram points out, astrology permeates the basis of living in India.
People pursue any subject of interest only when they perceive some benefit from doing so. This would apply to the study of astrology too. To write about astrology in India can be quite a daunting task, for it is quite deeply intertwined with the philosophy on which Hindu thought and hence social practices, are based. To say it in a sentence, a Hindu lives astrology. Most people would use astrological terms regularly without knowing exactly what they mean. But the fact that they use these terms creates this constant impression in them that every person is somehow linked to the celestial entities and their movements.
Hindu philosophy lays down a code of conduct for 'Just' living. Living is perceived as a chain of thoughts and actions. Actions are performed, measured and assessed in Time. Time itself is perceived to be an endless chain of moments each with its own unique set of characteristics. Actions imbibe the characteristics of the moment of time in which it is begun and the time in which it is executed and lead to results commensurate with these characteristics. To live 'Justly' would mean doing 'Just' actions. As actions imbibe the charcteristics of the time in which it is begun and executed, the time too should be 'Just'.
The Hindu Almanac
The Hindu almanac is used for selecting a 'Just' time to perform 'Just' actions for 'Just' living. A brief description of the almanac would be appropriate here. The five parameters for describing a day are Vaara — day of the week; Tithi — the lunar day; Nakshatra — the lunar 'mansion' in which the Moon is posited; Yoga — a period of time considering simultaneously the motions of the Sun and the Moon; and finally Karana — which is half a lunar day.
There are 7 Vaaras, two sets of 15 Tithis — one set each for the waxing and waning phases of the Moon, 27 Nakshatras, 27 Yogas and 11 Karanas. All these parameters have specific names that are suggestive of the quality of the time span described by them. As the almanac uses five parameters to describe time, it is referred to as the Panchaanga — 'Pancha' meaning five, and 'anga' meaning part. All the five parameters are either Lunar or Luni-Solar derivations.
Another scheme for measuring time within the day as well as the duration of each of the above parameters is the ghatika. This entity corresponds to the hour in the ratio 60 ghatika = 24 hours. Each ghatika is further subdivided into 60 vighatika. There are further smaller subdivisions as well. From the point of view of what is being discussed — time as understood, delineated and used for the purpose of astrology — the smaller subdivisions may not be relevant.
There are definite regulations for every genre of action, linking each to the five parameters that describe a day. If practically possible, a practising Hindu will not travel in certain directions on certain days, will not perform actions that in his perception will lead to his well being on certain days and certain times of a day because they may prove detrimental.
Every traditional Hindu household would have a copy of the year's almanac. These almanacs are computed each year according to the vedic doctrine described in texts. In addition to the divisions of a day in terms of the five parameters, the almanacs also mark the daily movements of the celestial bodies, the sunrise times, the durations of day and night and other details.
The birth of a child too being the culmination of a series of actions resulting in the event and the event itself being the cause of a series of actions to come, these five-some are mentioned in horoscopes too, along with the planetary longitudes and other details. In addition to the dominant influences due to the positions held by the planets in the natal chart, each of the above parameters that describe a day will contribute their characteristics to shape the destiny of the individual represented by the horoscope.
The Role of Karma
So much has been said about 'Just' living and the means to do so. Despite this however, reality presents quite a different picture. There is as much unjustness all around us as there is justness. To account for this, Indian thought views the scene from another level.
If one of the uses of astrology is for regulating our actions towards 'Just' existence then what is it that can be described as existence? Is it just this life that seems to have been granted to us with a limited span? Or does 'after life' too come into its ambit?
Existence is viewed as a life-continuum sustained by karma. It describes an association between all life forms where an individual consciousness develops or mutates from one life form to another across innumerable cycles of birth and death. The ultimate destination of an individual consciousness is to merge with the supreme consciousness — the timeless, spaceless, nameless One.
Why an individual consciousness emerges at all from the supreme in the first instance to start its countless cycles of birth and death only to merge back into it, is described to be the Will of the incomprehensible supreme. This reasoning seems to be the weakest of them all, but it stands to reason that the weakness lies with the individual consciousness in understanding it, rather than the reason itself, because a consciousness that is confined within limits cannot comprehend something that is limitless.
There is however a parallel here between the philosophical idea of the cyclic emergence of the material universe from a primordial ball and its eventual collapse into it at its appointed time and the emergence of a consciousness from the supreme and its merger back into it. If the material universe is time bound, the separation and merger of an individual consciousness from and into the supreme should be so too. The interplay between the material universe and the realm of consciousness could perhaps be described as existence.
Levels of Existence
Further, Indian Philosophy also speaks of many levels of existence. Seven above the level that we perceive in our present form and seven below. The words 'above' and 'below' here are very relative though. An individual consciousness develops or mutates according to its karma to one of these levels.
The idea of karma can have two different connotations. It could either put karma in the domain of an individual consciousness' capacity of choice, or it could relegate karma to be merely an instrument that guides the enactment of the script of destiny. Viewed from whichever perspective, karma powers the actions of an individual consciousness in the material universe.
As this dissertation is essentially my viewpoint of Indian Astrology, I should perhaps mention here that I tend to take the latter view. The reason for this being the deduction that if the separation of the individual consciousness from the supreme that defines the moment of our individual existence and our being bound by the law of karma is beyond our control, then how can anything that follows be? What kind of karma could an individual consciousness have accumulated at the moment of separation from the supreme by its 'independent' actions to sustain its onward journey along the path of time?
Planets Mark Our Karma
Regardless of the view taken on karma, the planets are said to regulate the consequence of karma upon life forms on earth. The planets by themselves do not possess any independent ability to confer or take away benefits from an individual. They are only indicators of the script that the individual has to enact as composed by karma. The planets are the nine dials of the earth clock that mark time as well as describe events that happen at every moment. Each of the nine entities symbolize a set of principles, the coalescence of which give rise to the myriad of thought processes in individuals — that in turn germinate into actions that lead to events.
The planets too are viewed as conscious entities with the physical planets themselves being merely their material forms. A planet is referred to by the Sanskrit name Graha which means something that holds you. That is, these entities hold an individual life-form along the path described by its karma.
Knowledge Is All Around Us
Another point that needs mention here is that Indian astrology is not considered as an experimental science — from the point of view of the basic edicts. It is seen as an absolute one. The science is not attributed to any individual. It is attributed to knowledge itself. Astrology, as well as every branch of knowledge, is considered to be 'seen' by seers who then pass it down to posterity. Knowledge is all around us — seen, unseen and everything in-between, imperishable and eternal. Each life form is endowed with receptors to tap into this knowledge pool. These receptors too seem to get activated only during certain times and certain frequencies and consequently can access only a certain bandwidth of knowledge. The question of when, how much and what range of knowledge we assimilate seems to be beyond our control and the function of laying down these parameters is attributed to destiny or karma.
The subject of astrology is seen as a part of that vast body of knowledge referred to as the Vedas. Indian astrology or Jyotisha as it is called, can be divided into three sections: the section that deals with astronomical and mathematical computations necessary to derive the Panchaanga (almanac) for each year, the section that deals with computing appropriate times for appropriate actions (Muhurtha), natal astrology (Jaataka) and Horary astrology (Prashna) and the section that deals with mundane predictions. Being bound by philosophical thoughts, the study and practice of astrology was traditionally confined to those persons who took to the study of philosophy. Astrology was seen more as a tool for understanding existence rather than as a tool for advancing individual interests. This class of people were referred to as brahmins. They were to dedicate their lives to study, teaching and adherence to 'Just' living without aspiring for material and monetary benefits.
Astrology in Universities?
The scene is a bit different now. Perceptions have changed with time. Astrological courses are offered by many institutions. These courses did not have official acceptance until last year, when the Government of India decided to grant recognition to the subject. This development has led to some of the universities introducing astrological courses (and a section of the intelligentsia vociferously opposing this move).
The question however would be, would those who undergo formal training in astrology as it is offered in the universities and other institutions today, use it for understanding existence or would they use it as a means of existence.