Patrizia Norelli-Bachelet Director, Aeon Centre of Cosmology
The question of including ‘Vedic Astrology’ in the curriculum of certain universities has become a ranging topic. The reasons are not difficult to comprehend. Given this fact, perhaps it is time to clear away some cobwebs for the benefit of both astology’s detractors and its adherents. After this, whether or not ‘Vedic Astrology’ should be included in university curricula can perhaps be dealt with in a more impartial manner. For the problem lies in the fact that both scientist and astrologer harbour serious misconceptions about the subject.
This debate brings to mind a similar situation that faced the scientist universally acclaimed as the father of contemporary cosmology. Sir Isaac Newton was brought before a commission for his continued practice of astrology (and alchemy), indeed a well-documented passion that lasted till the end of his life. When interrogated, and refusing to budge, Newton finally replied, ‘Sir, I have studied the subject, you have not.’
This is the same reply we must give to astrology’s present-day detractors among the scientific community. That they have not studied the subject is evident in each argument they seek to use to uphold their theories of the ‘unscientific’ nature of astrology. But astrologers themselves may be held responsible for the onslaughts they continuously face. They too ignore certain aspects of the art and its mechanics which should be clarified if a fair and truly scientific debate can ensue.
We are not against debate; but both sides should be given a forum and the opportunity to present their arguments; and these arguments must be based on the most thorough examination of the state of astrology (and science) today. This is not the place for such an in-depth discussion. Rather, seminars could be held where astrologers may be given the opportunity to face their detractors. But for now, in clarifying just a few points, by the end of this article the reader may come to the conclusion that including ‘Vedic Astrology’ in university curricula is not such a wise move.
The Basic Premise
Astrology has been called the Mother of all Sciences. Given the high esteem in which it has been held from very ancient times, certainly a more mature analysis of its worth is appropriate, indeed, a far more scientific approach.
To illustrate, let us begin by reference to one of the most common criticisms of the art from the scientific community. It is state that astrology continues to propagate the now scientifically demolished belief that the Earth is the centre of the solar system. However, this single criticism proves that its detractors, as Newton himself was forced to state, have not studied the subject.
Let us be clear on this point: astrology is not at all concerned with the mechanics of our solar system per se. When a horoscope is drawn up, the astrologer is not making a cosmological statement about the structure of the universe. He or she is simply fashioning a map of the circumscribing heavens as those configurations converge on a specific point on Earth, a particular location in time and space, or the longitude and latitude of an event. This may be the birth of an individual, or the beginning of any event, for that matter. It may even be the formation of a nation, such as the new independent India.
This construct is not stating that the Earth is the centre of the solar system, as astrology’s detractors insist upon, but simply that at that particular point on the Earth a birth has occurred amidst a certain circumscribing configuration of cosmic harmonies.
Indeed, that point on the Earth is the ‘centre’ of the entire universe, as far a astrological calculations are concerned. This does not signify that astrologers believe the Earth is the centre around which all planets, the Sun and other galaxies revolve. It merely locates a central point on Earth for the purpose of establishing a map of the heavens as seen from that point. Yet astrology’s detractor would have us believe that this feature of horoscopic science proves the ‘unscientific’ nature of astrology!
We are forced to ask, Is this a truly scientific critique, when assumptions are made based on ignorance of the topic under scrutiny? Criticisms are welcome, for that is one’s privilege; but in doing so, scientists lamentably reveal a bewildering unscientific temper.
We find this attitude demonstrated in no less a scientific luminary that Dr Stephan Hawking, who hold the same chair at Cambridge that Newton held, by the way. In view of the above clarification regarding astrology’s so-called ‘geo-centricity’, when Dr Hawking seeks to add his weight to the debate, we realise how determined scientists are to destroy valid ancient belief systems. And we have to question their motives. In his main lecture in India during his visit this year, Hawking stated: ‘When it was discovered that the Earth was not the centre of the universe, astrology became impossible.’
Here we have one of the most brilliant minds of the century making the same blunder. Yet if an astrologer would dare point out the illustrious mathematician’s misconception, no newspaper in the country would lend his argument space on its pages. This is what is so disturbing. A ‘conspiracy’ is a foot, and it has been developing for the past 2000 years.
Dr Hawking has a total misconception about the subject. For him to make the above statement indicates that we too must state, as Newton did several centuries before Hawking appeared on the scene, Sir, you have not studied the subject; we have. It is pathetic to admit that science has not progressed much in eliminating its biases since Newton’s time. Astrology is not the only field to suffer from these rigid and unscientific postures. Within science itself ‘inquisitions’ are held to silence debate and control research. Witness the well-documented conspiracy to halt progress in cold fusion.
A horoscope is not geocentric. It is birth-centric. Thus, astrology is a valid today as it was many, many centuries before science caught up and realised that Earth and the other planets travel around the Sun.
Music of the Spheres
Together with the ‘sin of geo-centrism’, another argument against astrology from the scientific quarter concerns the question of ‘missing planets’. It is held that since the solar system presented an incomplete image in ancient times and was believed to consist of only six planets, no horoscope can be considered valid on this incomplete basis.
The earlier framework was valid in that it described the level of evolution of the human species until that point in time. As the System becomes enlarged, expands, is enhanced, it is an indication that similar changes are taking place in the evolution of consciousness from the point where that harmony is being measured.
In my book, The Gnostic Circle, I have discussed this phenomenon in depth. In addition, I have revealed a superb numeric pattern or harmony present in the discovery of the last three planets. The possibility of revealing that pattern is in itself a confirmation of this civilizational enhancement. And certainly none can deny that pari passu with their discovery, or unveiling to the eye of humanity, our global civilisation has bounded forward in an accelerated march never before experienced on Earth. The theory stands confirmed that the System’s enhancement by the three outer planets foretells a similar enhancement in many areas of life on Earth, each described by the newly-unveiled planet in question.
Let it be noted, however, that this expansion does not render invalid all horoscopes constructed on the basis of the former harmonies. It is simply a question of drawing a smaller boundary. It would be as if a cook would prefer to use a wood stove instead of a gas range while preparing a meal. The final results may be the same, but the more primitive method does entail certain limitations that may well reflect on the final product.
Time and Destiny
That India nonetheless uses a harmony of 9, which includes Rahu and Ketu, is another criticism which needs to be dealt with. The point sought to be made is that these are not at all planets, yet astrologers seem to be ignorant of this fact.
To understand the issues at stake, let me quote a verse from the most ancient Vedangajyotisha, dating back to the Vedic Age. It is stated, ‘I shall write on the lore of time, as enunciatged by sage Lagadha.’
Astrology, in its truest intent and value, is no concerned with ‘planetary influences’ but rather with Time. A sage versed in this lore does not really sustain that a planet emanates a certain influence. Of course we know that the entire System is a single unit and that each element therein perforce influences or is connected to every other element. But this is not the issue here. Astrology is concerned with Time and Destiny. As such the planets are similar to dials on a clock. They are pointers, measuring devices. What is of importance is the cycles they chart out in their revolutions around the luminary of our system. In this play of cycles, Rahu and Ketu (the lunar nodes) are of supreme importance. Regarding horoscopic analysis, Rahu and Ketu must be taken as the ‘axis’ of a horoscope.
Our solar system has to be visualised as a gigantic clock. Each planetary orbit is a number on this great Clock-Face; and the planets therein are the ‘hands’. Just as we read time from our clocks, similarly we can read Time and Destiny via these planetary orbits of the great Clock that is our solar system.
Without individualised, consolidated planets marking out these orbits/numbers we would have no means of deciphering these patterns. They would not exist. Nor would Time and Destiny be discernable for the individual born in an orbit-less system.
Planetary orbits are the issue and not any ‘influence’ therefrom. It is the position of that orbit, its distance from the Sun, the rate of movement of the planet around the luminary and its relationship to Earth that is the foundation of astrology. It is the ‘time’ the planet marks out for us that provides us with the ‘music of the spheres’, which so enthralled some of the greatest geniuses the world has known, from Pythagoras in the West, to more contemporary scientists like Galileo, Copernicus and Newton, and the great Chinese and Vedic Sag es of the East. That ‘music’, based on these orbits and the harmonies the describe, is the shruti an astrologer, if he is competent, hears.
Thus, if we listen to a system of only six planets plus the Sun and Moon, we will hear a harmony of that composition. If we add three more ‘notes’, the scale is enlarged and so is our ‘music’ enriched.
The Precession of the Equinoxes
We come now to the most important argument against astrology, insofar as it bears relevance to the so-called ‘Vedic Astrology’, and therefore directly to the present debate. This refers to the several rotations the Earth makes. One is on her axis, giving us our day of 24 hours; two is her rotation around the Sun, marking out our year of 365 days; three, the tilt of her axis north and south, describing the length of the days and the seasons; and fourth, a special ‘wobble’, if it may be so called, of her axis that, like a gyroscope, causes her Equatorial plane to trace a circle in the sky. If we measure this greater circle and the figure it traces on the backdrop of the constellations, we have what is called the Precession of the Equinoxes. For it is indeed a precessional movement. It is traced backwards through the constellations, or counter clockwise, unlike the Tropical Zodiac that is measured clockwise.
However, it has to be noted that this greater circle has no value for us if it is not combined with the smaller circle, or the Tropical Zodiac. In other words, we have to determine what the Zero Point of that larger circle is and measure that against the smaller. We need to know, with as great a precision as possible, when these two Zero Points of the Sidereal and the Tropical Zodiacs converged.
The latter is easily measured: each year we experience Earth’s days and night of equal measure and her shortest and longest days; that is, the Equinoxes and the Solstices. We know with split-second accuracy when these events occur. But the Zero Point of the greater circle is another matter. The circle that greater Equatorial plane traces takes almost 26,000 years to make one complete round. It takes 72 years to move through just one degree of the 360 of the celestial sphere. This means that if we are but one-half degree off in our calculations of that Zero Pint, we are 36 years out in our forecasts here on Earth when we use that greater circle as our measure. And we are discussing here astronomical distances and a Zero Point that has no specific location and only an approximation.
It is because of the near impossibility to determine the exact Zero Point of the circle that there are dozens of ayanamshas in the so-called Vedic Astrology. Each school will naturally have its own means of calculation this supremely important point in space. And none will agree because there is no way that we can determine with accuracy where that Zero Point truly lies. This constellational sphere is called the circle of Fixed Stars, or the Niryana zodiac. The smaller circle is the zodiac commonly used throughout the world, the Sayana. It is the latter that was used in the Vedic Age.
Not that the Precession of the Equinoxes (the greater circle) was not known in Vedic times. Indeed, it was. We have the few extant verses to Vishnu in the Rig Veda to prove that this knowledge was a part of the ‘lore of time’ in that distant Age. But those ancient sages were practical and sensible souls, and precise measurers. Furthermore, the calendar was a device to unite society in ancient times and not to divide. It would have been unthinkable in the Vedic Age to have a dozen ayanamshas to read the destiny of a society and its individuals, or to structure the life of a nation.
Returning to our debate, scientists claim that the zodiac astrologers use shifts at the slow rhythm of 72 years per degree of that greater sphere. They sustain that the so-called shortest day of the year, the December Solstice, is no longer the first degree of the zodiacal sign Capricorn, because that point out in space has shifted and is no longer ‘there’, where Sayana Astrologers throughout the world claim. Hence, they claim, astrology is using a false measure in its calculations, ‘unscientific’ in the extreme. Why astrologers in India and scientists throughout the world refuse to acknowledge that there are two circles that form the tools of the craft-Niryana (Sidereal) and Sayana (Tropical) – and not just the Sidereal is the question that begs an answer from both scientists and so-called ‘Vedic’ Astrologers alike.
This debate arose in India about the beginning of the first millennium. It was at that time that astrology and astronomy, which were always one and indivisible, parted ways. Science became a separate discipline, secular, and finally opposed to all that was held sacred. The result of this split is the question we are discussing now: the difference between Niryana and Sayana zodiacs. Science finally overpowered the pundits, who has by then lost direct touch with the Sacred Sciences, and imposed the idea that it could only be that fixed point in the heavens that was worthy to be considered the ayanamsha, or Zero Point. Based on that measurement, and that alone, all horoscopic calculations had to be done.
The reason why this argument took hold so easily is not the topic of this present study. It has been discussed elsewhere and need not detain us here. Suffice to state that all logic was thrown to the winds, and down the line of time the impossible situation arose where dozens of these ayanamshas have come into existence because accuracy is impossible to achieve. Errors of seconds translate into decades and centuries, to render the ‘music of the spheres’ a virtual cacophony.
Astrology’s Double Helix
For the full value of astrology to surface the astrologer must use both the sidereal and tropical zodiacs. And he or she must know WHEN to apply each on and how to use them in conjunction. The smaller circle, which we can easily measure by determining the Solstices and Equinoxes, is the measure of the individual, properly speaking, and all things of his world; the Sidereal Zodiac is the measure of the Astronomical/Astrological Ages, the horoscope of the Earth in toto, we may say. For example, the appearance of the Ten Avatars of Hinduism is recorded in the Sidereal or Niryana Zodiac, and can be read therein with considerable accuracy, particularly the nature of their contribution to the Earth’s evolution.
In the Vedic Age this distinction between the two was entirely accepted. There is no mention of any ayanamsha in the Vedas. Therein the only zodiac considered is the Tropical. Indeed, all the mathematics and astronomy of the Veda are concerned with establishing measurements relating to the Tropical Zodiac.
As an example, let us take the universally-celebrated Makar Sankranti. This was, and is still supposed to be, the yearly (apparent) entry of the Sun into the zodiacal sign Capricorn, or Makar. In the Veda, time and again there are references to this entry. Take, for example, the date of Bhisma’s passing, which Bhisma had the power to predetermine, He says to Yudhistir, ‘Come to me when the time of my death approaches, when the sun passes in his southern solstice and turns northward.’
Bhisma, this reveals, had chosen the solstice of 21/22 December, as the time of his passing. For it is only then that the Sun’s movement south appears to be suspended and turns northward. It is the shortest day of the year for this reason; it is the time when daylight begins to steadily increase from then onward, hence it has been known in all ancient civilisations as the Festival of Light, the most auspicious time of the year due to this increase of the Light.
When Yudhistir reaches Bhisma, the latter says, ‘I am fortunate. The sun has begun his journey north…’. It is time for Bhisma to leave on the date he had preordained, the Vedic Makar Sankranti.
Similarly, throughout the Epics and Puranas we find reference to this sacred event: the Sun’s solstice and its northward-bound journey. The Mahabharat itself begins on this auspicious day. There is only one day of the year when this solstice and increase can occur. And it can be easily measured. But today, given the split between astrology and astronomy in the first century of our era, science insists that we must find that obscure point in space, so very many light years away, and establish that, and only that, as our Zero Point (ayanamsha), from where all astrological reckonings are to be done. This imposition put the final nail in the coffin of ‘Vedic Astrology’.
We may safely call this a conspiracy. For nothing has served to undermine the ancient ‘lore to time’ as this single act of mis-measure. The sublime shruti of the Vedic Age was converted into the cacophony of ayanamshas of today.
The Age of Convergence
The detractors of astrology and the ancient Veda will claim that in the age of the Mahabharat the two circles coincided. Therefore, Bhisma was correct in stating that he was leaving this plane on the day the Sun’s motion turns northward. They claim that it was the Sidereal Zodiac he was referring to; and because the two circles coincided then, they speculate, he was able to make this statement and it was indeed the shortest day of the year of the Tropical Zodiac, or the Makar Sankranti, though he was referring to the Niryana zodiac!
These calculations are wrong. In around 3200 BC, the approximate era of the appearance of Sri Krishna and the Mahabharat War, two circles were almost 2000 years from their convergence. Bhisma selected that shortest day of the tropical year for his departure. There is no evidence at all to the contrary.
It is not that the Precession of the Equinoxes is unimportant. It is simply that it is irrelevant where the individual is concerned and the calendrical regulation of society. We can ignore the greater circle entirely and still integrate a people and regulate its social life. But we cannot do so if we use a nebulous point thousands of light years away as our Zero Point, giving rise therefore to dozens of opinions as to its accuracy, with no agreement possible on the subject. This is a true case of Divide and Rule. A civilisation thus undermined in its time measure can only experience very great confusion.
I repeat, nowhere in the Veda is this sidereal zero point proffered. All the mathematics and geometry of those ancient times centred on measurements of the Tropical (Sayana) Zodiac. Thus, to call today’s brand of astrology ‘Vedic’ is a grave error. To continue to celebrate the Sun’s entry into Capricorn 23 days late, is another grave error. To continue to sustain that we do so because that greater circle’s ayanamsha has ‘shifted’ that much in the outer reaches of space and that we MUST follow that distant point in our calculations, is a very grave error. If the ancients laid so much stress on the shortest and longest days of the year, they had a very good reason for doing so. To begin, it was a phenomenon easily measured and about which there could be no dispute. Unlike with today’s proliferation of ayanamshas.
The shortest day of the year is 21/22 December each year, the day Bhisma departed from this plane. It is not 15 January. The day and night of equal measure is 21/22 March each year. It is not 14 April. But somehow this is beginning to resemble the tale of the Emperor and his new clothes!
The ancients were practical and wise. In their wisdom they understood the difference between these greater and smaller circles, and when to apply each. Yes, Vishnu did indeed measure out space by his three steps, and these steps did indeed mark out the precessional movement of the Equinoxes. They were aware of this great circle and its implications for the Earth. Just as all ancient civilisations were. But they never made the grave mistake astrologers are making today, while labelling that mismeasure ‘Vedic’.
It is for this reason that to institute courses in astrology of this brand in Indian universities would be simply another means of prolonging the confusion of Divide and Rule, and furthering the Conspiracy. It would be playing into the hands of those ‘scientists’ who seek to demolish the cultural foundations of this ancient civilisation by furthering their false notions of the art. This is a conspiracy that began approximately 1500 years ago. The question may be posed, Have these intervening centuries been India’s finest, or her worst?
We could prolong this discussion endlessly. The topic is a vast one and covers many areas of thought. We could, for instance, discuss the very nature of horoscopic analysis and throw some light on the reasons why astrologers are at times limited in their ability to interpret a chart, another criticism levelled at the art. More often than not this is because they ignore the two dimensions of a horoscope, horizontal and vertical.
Thousands may have the same (horizontal) birth chart by virtue of being born at the same time. But superimposed on this horizontal foundation, common to all these individuals, is a vertical ladder, as it were. Each occupies a different ‘rung’ on that ladder. And it is from these varying heights that the horizontal chart has to be analysed. According to one’s level of evolution a particular position on the ladder is attained. From a higher position it is understood that an enlarged scope is one’s life experience and a broader assessment is possible of the destiny of that individual. Seen from a lower ‘rung’, a far more limited area must be covered. The scope is proportionate to this vertical positioning. And that is where astrology becomes an art and departs from science. the intuitive faculties of the astrologer must be used to determine the vertical axis of each destiny. In addition, to do justice to any horoscope the astrologer must possess a capacity of synthesis rarely encountered today. It is to approach ‘the mind of God’.
Astrologers today have lost sight of just what it is they are intended to measure. This is indeed a Sanatan Dharma that concerns us. They must be concerned with the measure of the Earth. This is her rotation around the Sun of 365 days, and her own rotation on her axis of 24 hours. This measure is determined precisely by the Solstices and Equinoxes, today as it has been from ancient times. Let any astrologer come forward with proof that this is not and was not so. Let any astrologer prove that the sidereal zodiac was the zodiac used in the Vedic Age. If they can prove that non-speculatively, based on those ancient Scriptures themselves and their companion mathematical treatises, then by all means, Dr Murali Manohar Joshi, do institute classes in ‘Vedic Astrology’. But if they cannot, then, for the sake of the true ‘lore of time’, reconsider the move.
Aeon Centre of Cosmology
at ‘Skambha’, 17.4.2001