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".
The Tale of Two Testimonies Spirituality vs Materialism: do both paths logically lead to liberation?
Astrology deals with the forces governing the conditioned, material world. Spirituality seeks to express the world of the Divine energies that underlie our being. Vedanta is the Indian school of thought that holds that only the spiritual essence (brahman) is truly real and all else is an illusion (maya). Ram Ramakrishnan, our regular commentator, here outlines his thoughts on the measurability of the spiritual qualities and the idea that both spirituality and materialism logically lead to liberation. In the light of the Vedantic school of Indian thought, it seems inevitable. Can this be so? Read on, and decide.
Often we find our conscience presenting testimonies to our subconscious on a certain slant of thought, or a certain set of actions. Apparently this process should stem from a lack of conviction behind those thoughts or actions. Otherwise where is the need for a testimony?
Not long ago, I found the above happening twice, in quick succession within a span of a few hours following a couple of visits to the homes of relatives. The first of these visits was to an elderly person nearing his eightieth year of existence, who was steeped in the idea and metaphors of Vedanta – the line of spiritual thought that summarises Vedic ideas about existence.
His reaction to my work with astrology with the intent of proving or disproving the notion that life in all its diversity could be expressed in terms of mathematical equations, was the articulation that spirituality cannot be quantified. His definition of spirituality was that it was the pursuit that led to the understanding of the nature of consciousness. As consciousness cannot be quantified, spirituality too cannot be – was his contention. I had no ready or convincing answer to counter this argument.
However being well versed in the subject of astrology also, he was open to a discussion on his belief. We discussed the charts of some of the holy men of our land in the context of the planetary combinations that are said to confer upon the native a spiritual bent of mind. One such was the combination of the nodal axis being on the sixth and twelfth houses, with the south node being in the twelfth. It was agreed that it could be a logical progression of thought that, within this general combination, the placement of the south node in the different signs and the aspect and conjunction of other celestials upon it will result in this combination finding expression in different categories of spirituality. It was agreed too that the incidence of manifestation of perceptible spiritual inclinations in persons without such planetary combination in their charts was substantially below those with them.
Paradox of Manifestation
And here was the beginning of a paradox. If classification could be considered as the first step towards quantification, here were we attempting to classify spirituality – or at least its manifestation. But is it not a fact that the concept of spirituality is explainable only in terms of its manifestations and not as an absolute entity?
Just as energy cannot be explained in an absolute sense, but only in terms of its kinetics and potentials, so seemed the demeanour of spirituality. And perhaps just as energy can be expressed in the manner of a mathematical function of matter, so can spirituality be expressed as a function of material life. We concluded our ponderings in a friendly disagreement, with his moorings still firm in the belief that spiritually could not be quantified, despite the above arguments that were essentially of a speculative nature and to which he was willing to accord a fair degree of possibility. The most that he was willing to concede was that the combinations in a chart defined the broad contours of life's possible directions and that it still depended upon an individual's aspirations and endeavours to realise them - be it spirituality or anything contrary to it.
As I left his home, I found myself presenting a testimonial to my subconscious on the possible correctness of his arguments and those of mine.
Spirituality vs Materialism
The next stop was at the door of another relative, not much older than myself and not particularly inclined towards the subject of astrology. But the situation there was in itself a ready instigator of an internal debate.
I was seated next to my relative's wife's brother. Aged about fifty, he had been physically and mentally challenged from birth. With very restricted bodily movements, speech and other forms of thought articulation, he had lived his lonely life day after day, perhaps cared for, but without anything to look forward to – anything to aspire for. Except maybe looking forward to death and deliverance.
In the event that his mind was incapable of thought processes like ours as a result of which he was devoid of aspirations, then the purpose of his life seemed to be more for inflicting misery on those around him than on himself.
My thoughts were debating at two different levels. One was centred on this individual and the other around those looking after him. One hears of children being abandoned by parents immediately upon birth, or shortly thereafter, on the grounds of their being perceived to be detrimental to the aspirations of the parents. One also comes across many instances such as the one I was witnessing, where a person is looked after all through life.
The theme of the first debate was an extension of the earlier one. Maybe this person was more spiritually advanced than any of us, but we had not the wherewithal to recognize or understand its expression. But within the confines of how we defined and understood the idea of 'spirituality' or 'materialism', there seemed to be no scope for this person to aspire for, pursue or realise either. The questions that demanded reasonable answers were: if these were denied to him, then why? And if it were denied to him, then why was it not to others? Why this selectivity? The fact that he was disabled was reflected in his chart with afflictions to his first and fifth houses and also to the Sun, Moon and the first house and its dispositor.
The Driving Force
The issue of the second debate was the matter of the driving force that makes some abandon those in need and some to look after the needy. Generally, the quality of 'selflessness' is attributed to the latter kind. And generally again, 'selflessness' is linked to 'spirituality'. But is it not a fact that each kind acts in a manner that pleases them and their respective aspirations, their respective notions of right and wrong at that point of time – and hence essentially with a selfish motive?
It is one of the mentioned astrological edicts (and also seen to manifest so) that when Saturn and Mars are conjunct in a house, there is a lot of turmoil in those aspects of life represented by that house. If this combination were to be associated with any of those factors in a chart that is concerned with 'spirituality' and also if calmness of thought and a balanced approach towards all situations is a direct consequence of a person with a spiritual disposition, these two mutually contradictory causal combinations and effectual behaviour cannot follow each other.
Coming to the concepts of Vedanta, it is a logical deduction that astrology or for that matter all existential endeavour is effective in and confined to the realm of duality. They have no meaning in the domain of singularity or Advaita. If that is so, then both spirituality and materialism should lead to singularity. And spirituality too should be quantifiable and computable.