What is Vedic Astrology?

By Shyamasundara Dasa - 18.2 2020

This article is a consumer’s guide to Vedic Astrology. It will explain in simple terms what Vedic astrology is and what it can do for you. The following is an appreciation of this article by a reader in Ukraine:

“Your presentation about this problem was very wonderful. It is so deep and explains not only some particular case but an astrology ethics in general. I don’t know anything about astrology but nowadays there are so many talks about astrology everywhere and on every level that we (non-astrologers), not knowing how to look at it, become very confused and disturbed. Then by chance I was given to read your paper What is Vedic Astrology? and everything has become so clear. Actually, this article is so nice that I think that every one should read it before going to an astrologer. I would like to thank you again for giving proper understanding about astrology to all seekers.” Kancanetra, Ukraine

A horoscope in your hands is a map of destiny. The secrets that it contains can be revealed only by a Vedic Astrologer.

Now you may be wondering “What is Vedic Astrology?” You probably have heard of astrology--who hasn’t? Most people know what their Sun sign is in Western Astrology, but very few know about Vedic Astrology, the subject of this report. Even people who have only the slightest smattering of knowledge about astrology want to know what is Vedic Astrology and how it differs from the Western Astrology that they are accustomed to. To answer these questions I would first like to very briefly explain a little about Vedic Astrology and how it is different from its Western cousin.

Vedic versus Western Astrology

The Vedas are the oldest scriptures known to exist, being well over 5,000 years old. The vast ocean of Vedic knowledge encompasses both material and spiritual knowledge; it is perfect knowledge that was revealed by Sri Krsna (The Godhead) to the Rishis, the sages of Vedic culture. Astrology is part of the Vedic literature, and has been preserved and handed down in the guru-parampara, the chain of apostolic succession, since time immemorial. Vedic Astrology is the original form of astrology that existed thousands of years ago in what is now known as the Indian subcontinent. It gradually spread by diffusion into other cultures such as the Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Chinese, etc. The major differences between Vedic Astrology and modern Western Astrology are threefold:

First of all, Vedic Astrology is technically termed a sidereal system whereas Western Astrology is tropical. What this essentially means is that up in the sky there are stars which make up the various constellations of the Zodiac such as Virgo, Aquarius, etc. Vedic Astrology is based upon the actual stellar constellations (sidereal), whereas Western Astrology is based on a fictitious zodiac that slowly moves backwards in space as a function of time (“tropic” in Latin means “to turn”). These definitions can be found in any good dictionary. As of this writing (October, 1993), the beginning of the Western imaginary zodiac--their first point of Aries--is at 6.25 degrees of the constellation Pisces. This is called the Age of Pisces in Western Astrology. This first point will move in a retrograde (backward) motion at a rate of about 1 degree per 72 years until it enters into the constellation of Aquarius. That will be the beginning of the famous Age of Aquarius that we have all heard about. At the rate of motion of 72 years/degree X 6.25 degrees, it will take 450 years before the so-called Age of Aquarius takes place. Out of ignorance of astronomy, the New Age community has “jumped the gun” by almost half a millennia in declaring that we are already in the Age of Aquarius.

Secondly, as already mentioned, Vedic Astrology is based on a very old, unbroken tradition since time immemorial whereas Western Astrology has had a very checkered history. Astrology virtually disappeared in the West during the Dark Ages (circa 500-1000AD); it resurfaced during the Renaissance, only to fall out of favor during the so-called Age of Reason. In fact, it totally disappeared from the European continent until the late 19th century. It had been kept barely alive in England during that time. Western Astrology as we know it today (in its modern form) has existed for only about 130 years since it began a resurgence in the late 19th century. The point is that the Vedic tradition is very strong and vibrant, with the heritage of many millennia of accumulated knowledge, whereas Western Astrology does not have the advantage of an unbroken tradition.

Thirdly, Vedic astrology, being an appendix to the Vedas, is thoroughly steeped in Vedic thought and philosophy. This means that the serious practitioner of the science must have earnestly assimilated the Vedic philosophy and lived the life of a Vedic Brahmana, with all its attendant spiritual practices. By contrast, modern Western astrology is a reflection of permissive Western culture, in which “anything goes.” Western astrology has no real or consistent philosophical basis; what passes for a basis is watered down, distorted, third-hand Vedic philosophy. The Western Astrologer has (in comparison to the Vedic Astrologer) no philosophical training, nor does he know what it means to follow a spiritual discipline. The combined effect of genuine philosophical knowledge coupled with an authentic spiritual lifestyle cannot be overestimated when it comes to developing the divine vision and ability that is so necessary for enabling an astrologer to properly guide others. See also Philosophy of Vedic Astrology.

[Update 2007, most of those who practice so called Vedic astrology outside India and many of the Westernized younger ones in India are ignorant of Vedic culture and philosophy and are in the same boat as Western astrologers. They are Vedic in name only.]

I have hardly done justice to the subject of comparing and contrasting Vedic and Western Astrology, but hopefully what I have said will give the reader an inkling of the differences. These are not just technical differences but depend on an entirely different worldview. Now that we have completed our digression, let’ s return to the main objective of this treatise.

The birth-map, or horoscope, is a symbolic representation of the Earth, planets, and stars at the time of one’ s birth. It is a divine language, a mystic cryptogram by which God has communicated what a person’s destiny will be, knowing which a wise person will exercise his free will to optimize the result.

Fate Free Will and Vedic Astrology

The viewpoint of Vedic Astrology is that life is an interplay of both fate and free will--fate being the reaction to our previous exercise of free will. In our lives we are often faced with choices presented to us by our environmental circumstances. We have the freedom to chose “a” or “b,” but once that decision is made we must accept the reaction to our choice. The reaction may be immediate, or it may be delayed by thousands of lifetimes. In any case, the reaction, pleasant or unpleasant, will come at the appointed time determined by higher authorities. As Canakya Pandita says,

“Just as a calf can find its mother in a herd of 10,000 cows, in the same way your [re]actions will find you.”

The reactions to life’s actions are inescapable by everyone except those who are completely devoted to God (via Bhakti-yoga). When a karmic reaction ripens and fructifies it creates a new situation, a new environment that presents us with more choices upon which to exercise our free will. Thus, life is an interplay of both fate and free will as previously stated.  

Let’s consider an example of how this works. Suppose someone is born into a poor family because of his bad karma from a previous lifetime and so is raised in a ghetto beset with crime and poverty. Let us say, hypothetically, that he has two choices. He can blame society for the evils he faces and thus try to victimize society by taking to a life of crime to acquire wealth; or he can take responsibility for his situation and try to better himself by education and honest endeavor. Suppose he chooses the first option of crime and robs several establishments. Eventually he will get caught (if not killed first) and sent to jail, a natural reaction for his criminal behavior. But even while in jail he still has options, though more limited than those of a free man. He can choose to be a hardened criminal or to be a model prisoner and reform himself. Each choice will have a reaction. Thus we can see that life is an intricate interplay of fate (karma) and free will.

Astrology as a Language

Getting back to the horoscope: Looking at a chart, the Vedic Astrologer studies the interaction of the planets, signs, houses, and the aspects between them. This is the language of the stars. Everything known is in the portfolio of one or more planets, signs, or houses. And, it is by studying the interactive trends in the chart that the astrologer can ascertain so much information about a person.

The various elements in the chart--planets, signs, nakshatras (lunar mansions), houses, elements, modalities, polarities, and aspects--are the components of this divine celestial language and act like nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc., with rules of grammar and syntax just as in a regular language, but far more complex, as one might assume. To give an idea of what we are dealing with, consider the following very cursory meanings of the planets and houses. And, please note that complete books have been written about any given planet, sign, or house; so what I am presenting only skims the surface yet does give a fair picture of what is transpiring.

The planets represent the following:

Sun☉: Atma (soul), self, self-realization, influence, prestige, power, valor, health, eye, general well-being, heat, splendor, father, king, royalty, royal favor.

Moon ☽: The heart, understanding, inclinations, emotions, sleep, happiness, good name and fame, facial luster, mother, royal favor, affluence, travel, water reservoirs.

Mars ♂: Stamina, courage, desire, anger, scandal, diseases, enemies, opposition, controversies, weapons, commander of an army, land, immovable properties, younger brother, relations such as cousins.

Mercury ☿: Intelligence, discrimination, speech, expression, education, learning, mathematics, logic, astrology, medical knowledge and profession, writing, publishing, acting as a middleman in trade or politics (diplomacy), dancing, mixture of things, leafy trees, testing of precious stones, charms (amulets), maternal uncles, friends.

Jupiter ♃ : Wisdom, learning, corpulence, acts of religious merit, devotion to God, ancestors and superior beings, holy places, scriptures, proficiency in learning, philosophy, giving alms or donations, benevolence, wealth, respect, sons, religion, preceptors, fruit, fruit trees.

Venus ♀: Spouse, marriage, sexual matters, pleasures of the senses, singing, poetry, scents, ornaments, jewelry, all articles of luxury, cooperation with and from others, flowers, flowering trees, beauty, buying and selling, cows, watery places.

Saturn ♄ : Longevity, life, death, adversity, calamities, disrespect, diseases, poverty, livelihood, servility, unrighteous conduct, learning of sciences and foreign languages, agricultural pursuits, minerals, oils, things buried deep in the ground and coming out there from, servants (male and female), service, theft, cruel deeds, malice, lameness, very old, persons.  

Rahu ☊: (North Node of the Moon) Paternal grandfather, fallacious argument, harsh speech, gambling, movement, travelling, outcastes, foreigners, snakes, snakebite, theft, wickedness, widow(er), intrigue with a widow(er), skin diseases, itches, eczema, acute or sharp pain in the body, hiccoughs, swelling in the body.

Ketu ☋: (South Node of the Moon) Maternal grandfather, consumption, pain, fever, wound, witchcraft, causing trouble to enemies, horned animals, dog, cock, birds with spots or of variegated colors, philosophy, salvation.

The meanings of the signs of the Zodiac are well known to most everyone and can be researched easily, so we will not explain them herein. The following brief meanings for the twelve houses of the horoscope are suitable for our basic educational purposes: 

First House: self, head, body, personality, mental temperament, health.

Second house: eyes, face, teeth, upper part of the throat, speech, wealth, family.

Third House: arms, lower part of the throat, shoulders, brothers, sisters, valor.

Fourth House: chest, heart, mother, landed property, friends, conveyances, happiness.

Fifth House: stomach, education, intelligence, sons, daughters.

Sixth House: the region of the navel, illness, enemies, debts, distress.

Seventh House: partnership, sexual relations, spouse, the part of the body below the waist and down to the genitals.

Eighth House: genitals, anus, death, legacies.

Ninth House: hips, thighs, religion (dharma), devotion to God, prosperity, religious preceptor (guru), father.

Tenth House: knees, back, status and position in life, activity, honor from government.

Eleventh House: calves of legs, friends, income.

Twelfth House: expenditure, loss, sexual enjoyment, left eye, feet, confinement.

The above information is grossly simplified but gives an idea of what we are dealing with. Considering that there are nine planets, twelve signs, and twelve houses, one can easily imagine the extent of possible combinations and permutations of these. (And, this without taking into consideration the individual degrees and varga charts.) The energies of the planets, signs, and houses interact with each other in myriad ways. By studying the combinations, a well trained astrologer can know an amazing amount of information about the subject of a chart--a remarkable feat, considering that the original input data consisted of only the date, time, and place of birth.

Natal Reading

The natal chart is the birth chart. The reading of this chart is what most people consider to be the sum total of astrology. With regard to Vedic astrology, the metaphor I like to use is that of photography. In photography there are different kinds of lenses that one can use. A wide-angle lens lets one see the big picture, the whole panoramic view, but will not allow one to see much detail. It does, however, give one the general scenario, from which one can see interesting points. If one wants to scrutinize further, he would use a zoom lens, which focuses on a much narrower field of vision but with the advantage of greater depth and detail. And one could go even finer into detail by using a microscopic lens. Vedic astrology has similar tools that can take us from the macroscopic to the microscopic level of inquiry.

The general reading of the natal chart would be like the wide-angle lens in our photographic metaphor. In it, the astrologer is able to paint your life with broad brush strokes, showing the general aim and trajectory of your destiny, the field in which you will exercise your free will. In this initial reading one should expect to be told who he is, where he has been, what his potentials are, and where his current actions will take him. Depending on what that destination is, one may want to change course.

In truth, most people do not understand themselves, and in fact are quite confused about who they are, how their mind works, why it works that way, etc. The vast majority of people don’t really know who or what they are, on either the psychological or spiritual plane. Therefore, the first thing the Vedic astrologer does is analyze the general configuration of the chart.

This analysis will give a good indication of the person’s psychology, character, and life potential. The astrologer will discuss the person’s qualities, intellectual abilities, and aptitude; people skills and relationships with family, friends, and loved ones; financial acumen and status; education; travel; health; etc. Life potential indicates a person’s predisposition and predilection in certain areas. For example, a certain combination of planets may indicate a person with acute intelligence and love of knowledge; this would give a strong potential for academic achievement or a career in research, teaching, scholarship, etc.

This initial analysis serves several functions:

To bring the seeker a big step closer to achieving the Socratic ideal of “Know thyself.”

To verify the accuracy of the birth time and the horoscope. A good astrologer will be able to paint a picture that should be instantly recognizable by the seeker. The seeker should feel illuminated by the knowledge, as well as secure and confident that he is dealing with a qualified astrologer. This is especially important, since in most cases this will be the first time that the seeker will have met the astrologer.

The astrologer will also understand the psychic nature of the seeker and be better able to guide him.

Depending on the situation and needs of the seeker, the astrologer will usually begin to read the timeline of the person’s life, from birth up to the recent past and on to the present situation which caused him to consult the astrologer in the first place. This will put the original analysis into greater perspective. Then the astrologer will proceed to discuss the upcoming future trends and planetary periods that the seeker can expect to experience, both externally in the world and internally in terms of psychological attitudes. The internal and external realities are both very intimately related, for a negative mental attitude can attract, and often is the precursor to, equally negative experiences in external reality. The converse is also seen, that reverses in life can instill a negative and depressed worldview in the seeker, thus creating a vicious cycle of gloom and doom.

Note: We should explain that reading a chart is a process of discovery, much like an archeological dig; as we read the chart, planetary combinations representing various things present themselves. As he goes deeper into the reading and becomes more familiar with the terrain, the astrologer gathers more and more bits of information, which he pieces together to solve the puzzle. It will often be that a consistent pattern emerges and that the data reconfirms this pattern. But sometimes new information will present itself, prompting the astrologer to reassess the situation. He may then have to withdraw a previous statement. One should not mistakenly think that the astrologer is contradicting himself - instead, through the process of discovery he has found new information which supplants a previous conclusion.

This is where the real skill of the astrologer is tested. A real Vedic astrologer doesn’t just make some predictions and then stand aside. Rather, he is a Vedic Brahmana who has been trained in yoga, philosophy, niti sastra (wise conduct, prudence, polity) and dharma, etc. If he foresees difficulty ahead, the astrologer should be able to provide the seeker with strategies for meeting the difficulties in a mature and wise way. This, after all, is the essential benefit of Vedic astrology and the proper use of our free will: to act with wisdom, as opposed to reacting in ignorance. Simply knowing that difficulty lies ahead may be sufficient to avert real danger. One might still be influenced by the problem but will know what to do, not taken by surprise. In cliche terms, “Forewarned is forearmed.”

In 1992 Hurricane Andrew destroyed a large area of Southern Florida. There was massive physical damage to property, but considering the horrific nature of the storm, the loss of human life was practically nil. Why? Because the National Weather Service had warned residents of the approaching storm and so they had had sufficient time to prepare for the inevitable. They evacuated dangerous areas, boarded up windows, cached food and water, sought high ground, and took shelter. They acted with wisdom. We can imagine what the death toll would have been if Andrew had pounced on Florida with no warning at all. The carnage would have been astronomical, and the people would have been reeling from that death blow, not knowing what to do next. That scenario is one of ignorance--that is, reacting to a situation after it has already struck, without foreknowing that it would happen. Generally there are much fewer casualties from hurricanes as compared to earthquakes, because presently hurricanes can be predicted by the weather service whereas no government agency can predict earthquakes--which strike without warning. (There is branch of astrology that deals with weather forecasting as part of Mundane Astrology, it is not much practiced these days because governments no longer patronize such astrologers as the kings of the past once did.)

The above discussion should not unnerve one into thinking that the astrologer will read only dire predictions of impending ruination and existential calamity. This is hardly the case. (We simply have considered a worst-case scenario first.) Just as often, and much easier and pleasant for the astrologer, are predictions of upcoming periods of good fortune and happiness, free of difficulty and full of opportunity. People love to hear about good fortune. And speaking frankly, it is much easier for this astrologer when I have to report predominantly good news. (You perhaps know what would happen in ancient times to the bearer of bad news!)

It is commonly said: “Make the best use of a bad bargain.” Often, hardship will bring the best out of a person. It has been observed that the only difference between the carbon in a diamond and that in a graphite lead pencil is that the former has been subjected to tremendous heat and pressure for a long time, then chiseled and polished to perfection. So while giving people bad news is not so pleasant, they often take it more seriously than when given good news.

The opposite of “Make the best use of a bad bargain” is “to squander a good opportunity” or “to rest on your ‘future’ laurels.” Surprisingly, people often think that if good times are ahead they don’t have to do anything. Wrong. When an astrologer indicates that there is smooth sailing ahead, it is not time to take it easy but rather to strive harder. Because resistance is lower, one is more likely to succeed; yet he must still endeavor with determination, although now the going will be easier. And, who knows -- the cycle may change. So it is the practice of a wise astrologer to advise his client to maintain and even increase his momentum in good times. In that way, if events should turn for the worst, the seeker will easily be able to overcome the problem. (For example, if one is driving on the flats and approaching a hill, he speeds up; the momentum of the car will carry him over the top with less effort.)  

 The usual situation among the vast majority of people is that their future karma will be a mixture of good and bad. So it is up to the astrologer to sort out, as much as possible, which is which, and then advise how to minimize the negative and maximize the positive with suitable strategies.

The process described above is how the astrologer tells the seeker “who he is,” “where he has been,” and “where he is going.” 

How Long Will it Take?

You should be prepared to spend from one to three hours (or in some cases longer) with your astrologer for the initial reading. The length of time will be determined by the subjects covered, questions asked, and the intricacy of the case. I have described a general first reading. Sometimes a person has a specific problem he wants to deal with, such as career, marriage, health, etc. The astrologer should adjust to fit the needs of the seeker. In so doing, however, several of the items described above may be omitted.

 If the birth time is not accurate or is unknown, the astrologer may have to rectify it by asking certain questions and adjusting the time according to the answers. This requires extra time. Another factor that will vary the length of the reading is the particular kind of reading the seeker wants: predictive, spiritual-psychological, or a combination of both.

Predictive Reading

In this kind of reading the emphasis is solely on prediction, without any explanation as to underlying spiritual or psychological causes that may exist. This is most useful to people who just need to plan for the future.

Spiritual-Psychological Reading

In this type of reading we try to understand more about the mentality of the individual, why he is the way he is, and also the deeper, esoteric meaning of why he has taken his present birth and what he is meant to learn in this life. Each element of the horoscope--sign, planet, house, etc.--has a deep spiritual significance. By analyzing these elements the astrologer can help the seeker to understand what it is he should learn in this lifetime, and how he must act to accomplish that mission. This kind of reading is most useful for those who are on a spiritual quest, trying to find a deeper meaning to their life, seeking self-understanding, etc.

Predictive and Spiritual-Psychological Reading

This is a combination of both types of reading, predictive and spiritual; it is a much more complex and lengthy reading, because both elements are combined. It is also the most useful of all. 

Your Part

Thus far we have discussed procedures that the astrologer is likely to employ, and what subjects he will speak on. But what about you? What should you say or do? Should you say anything, or just listen? The following recommendations will help you to benefit the most from your reading:

Before going to the astrologer find out if he is going to record the session. If not, request permission to record it yourself. Bring an MP3 recorder with enough charge to adequately cover the meeting.

Before starting the session pre-arrange with the astrologer to turn off the recorder when you make a particular signal; this indicates that you wish to discuss something off the record.

It is good to prepare any questions or aspects of your life that you want covered in the reading. It is generally best to let the astrologer know this in advance so that he will be able to focus extra attention on those areas. Some topics may require extra research.

Avoid breaking his train of thought while the astrologer is speaking. Bring a note pad, and if you have a question write it down; if it isn’t resolved in the course of the reading, then you should ask it at the end. Breaking the astrologer’s train of thought will cause digression; similarly, asking another question before the previous one has been answered will be distracting.

Of course the client should offer feedback, both positive and negative, so that the astrologer knows that he is on the right track. Astrology is, after all, a difficult science. If the astrologer makes a mistake, let him know--he will adjust his calculations. If he is right, confirm it by a nod or simple gesture so that the astrologer may continue in confidence.

Whatever the case, don’t just sit there like a piece of wood. Interact. But do so in such a way as is conducive to the reading. This may mean that you have to go into a long explanation of your situation, or it may mean that you simply listen while he explains. The point is that both of you should stay on track.

Be honest with your astrologer. You wouldn’t lie to your physician, would you? If you don’t feel comfortable telling the astrologer the truth about your situation then find an astrologer whom you can trust. Misleading your astrologer could have serious consequences. And don’t try to trick or test him. If you intend to have a long-standing relationship with anyone, what to speak of your astrologer, it wouldn’t be good to start out on such a footing. The astrologer will be able to tell that there is something afoot, and that will only hamper the process.

What has been said about your part in a natal reading similarly applies, with specific adjustments, to other kinds of readings.