We will start discussing this topic by going back to the roots of Jyotisha-not in the Jyotisha texts themselves, but In related thought and other important texts.
Vedic Astrology, or Jyotisha is considered one of the Vedangas or "limbs" of the Vedas. As a matter of fact, it is considered the "eye" of the Vedas. The legends of the Vedas do represent the chief gods of the Vedas as being omniscient beings, such as Varuna, the lord of dharma who encompasses the night sky and who judges everyone's actions, and Indra (who succeeds Varuna as chief deity) as having a 1,000 eyes:
Indra and Ahalya …An agriculture story?… An interpretation!
Ahalya means unploughed and Indra is the God of Rain. Gautama was devoted to the devas. So Indra rained on Gauthama's fields. When Gautama came back to see his fields at the time of Sri Rama's visit, all the fields had come to life! And Sahasraksha is a not a curse, but a praise! Only God has a thousand eyes with which He keeps watch over the entire universe. The Purusha Suktham describes God as Sahasraksha and Sahasrapad, with a thousand eyes and a thousand feet, who sees everything and is present everywhere. Even Varuna is described as Sahasraksha in some suktams of the Vedas. Durvasa complained that Gauthama and Vasishtha overly praised Indra and made him arrogant.
As per the Kautilya Arthasastra "One thousand sages form Indra's assembly of ministers. They are his eyes. Hence he is called thousand-eyed though he possesses only two eyes."
Varuna was ancestor to both Bhrigu and Shukra and Indra was father of Agni, father of Brihaspati; these are the two great teachers of the Vedic astrology tradition. Shukra, known to those in Greece as Aphrodite and those in Rome as Venus, was the preceptor of the Asuras, their mentor and teacher in all matters, including yoga and the knowledge of the stars. Brihaspati or Guru, also known as Jupiter to those in the West, is the preceptor of the Devas, or the preservers of order in the universe. All of these beings represent the forces of the universe that work to bring us closer to divinity; for the Asuras act to set up obstacles to life that cause us to turn inward, and the Devas light the path to the greater light beyond.
The term jyotisha comes out of the term jyothi which means light. This light illuminates all life, all death, all transformation, and reveals the pattern of previous karmas which will or may manifest during this lifetime. It is a simple matter, complicated unnecessarily by levels of discrimination that obscure the meaning of Karma.
Karma is action, pure and simple. The only thing that is somewhat mysterious about it is why it manifests the way it does.
What is our motivation? Modern thought considers two major motivations-biology (genetics) and breeding (environment).
Astrology, particularly Vedic astrology, reveals life to be a joining of both biology and breeding, as one can look at a chart and see the predispositions in a chart-the manifestation of previous lifetimes' acts, after a manner-and can see how these have manifested for the person in terms of his or her height, overall appearance, hereditary diseases and gifts, and, of course, parents and intellectual predispositions. These are the results of our biology, and some of the environmental factors, that are set before we are born. These are the patterns of life we cannot change, because they are set before we become conscious beings. However, we are born as conscious beings as well, with an intelligence In us and a right to choose, even if within a limited range of options. Even when we do not seem to have an option to choose, we have an option to determine how we react to our circumstances. Do we react with anger, with virtue, with humor, with renewed determination or with resignation? All of these choices are available to us. Some are easier for us, some harder, because of our predispositions. And these predispositions are shown in the Vedic chart.
What does this have to do with yoga and personal growth? Virtually everything….
The concept of yoga is connected with relaxation, happiness, but mostly, spiritual growth. What does the chart have to do with spiritual growth? Basically, the chart reflects the potential karmas and the challenges we have In this lifetime to progress or tread water. The chart shows ways in which a person can live a balanced life, but can also show ways in which a person can accelerate spiritual growth, through adherence to certain behaviors and practices. A bold claim? Not necessarily, once you understand that a chart contains inherited karmic results, but also allows for a person to engage in actions not yet taken, called agama karmas.
Agama karmas are, essentially, actions taken to alter direction in life…deliberate actions can really make a difference in a person's life.
Let's look at some examples: Suppose a person is born with a speech impediment. That individual has a choice as to whether he or she can work to correct or minimize that speech impediment, or let it linger and not address it. Many of us know the person who has chosen not to address a problem. Less commonly do we run across someone, such as Demosthenes, the great Greek orator who became tyrant of Athens through his oratory, or James Earl Jones, who had a stammer in his youth, yet who went on to become one of the most recognizable voices in modern entertainment, noted for roles as diverse as Jack Johnson and Darth Vader.
So, while some factors in a chart are given, so are our chances of changing life patterns for the better. A Vedic chart can indeed show a pattern of difficulty, but they can also show a pattern of opportunity connected with that difficulty.
One of the simplest methods a person can use Vedic astrology for is to determine which kind of yoga they are best suited, temperamentally, to pursue, as different types of Yoga correspond to the strengths of different planets. For example, a person with a strong Sun or Moon tends to do well with Raja Yoga, which is a yoga that combines a variety of spiritual paths. People with a strong Sun will do well with Yoga that requires a great deal of personal discipline or self-control and will power, as the Sun excels at these things. The Moon is better for people who have a very compassionate or devotional and nurturing nature. Helping people or charitable work may be a great supplement to spiritual practice for these people.
For people with a strong Mars, which is active energy, some of the more energetic yoga patterns, like the various forms of vigorous asanas, might hold the most promise. These people have a lot of energy, that must be controlled and channeled for effective spiritual growth.
Individuals with a strong Mercury may be drawn to studies like gnana yoga, which emphasizes meditation and spiritual discrimination, sometimes learning languages and astrology.
Jupiter is the Guru or teacher planet of the devas, so individuals with this pattern may do well with a strong, lengthy, systematic form of yoga, emphasizing a slow but traditional yoga path with great support and communication with the teacher.
Those with strong Saturn's in their chart may be best served by a path called karma yoga. Karma yoga is essentially a path of selfless service in which the person works without regard for reward.
Strong Venus types are best served by devotion to music or art as a form of worship or even simply through devotion to God, as the love of one's life. Venus types often make good priests because of this natural devotion.
Rahu is a critical part of Jyotisha and spiritual life as sometimes he will provide frustrations with the material world and incline a person to keep searching for a solution until the person turns towards the spiritual life. He also promotes interest in foreign lands and teachers. This can be a critical point in spiritual evolution for a person. Individuals who are under the extreme influence of Rahu (people with Rahu in the first house or with Rahu and Moon in the same sign) can pursue spiritual life through exotic teachers, magical practices and visiting sacred sites around the world. These individuals will need to feel spiritual energy and may soon experience boredom with spiritual techniques, so they need a variety of spiritual experiences to keep themselves interested.
Ketu is a planet which leads naturally to union with everything. The challenge with Ketu is to avoid confusion and descent into mysticism as the person is naturally inclined in a spiritual direction. Also, Ketu can cause depression or even feelings of hopelessness or laziness if not watched, so the challenge for Ketu is not to lose entirely interest in the material world, because we still need its gifts to function and support ourselves.
All of the planets have a function to fulfill in promoting or obstructing our spiritual path. Ultimately, each planet is capable of performing both functions and can promote or restrict our spiritual or material development. Also, it should never be assumed that spiritual development and material progress are mutually exclusive. They are also, it should be recalled, not necessarily tied together either. Material security is, for some people, a necessity for spiritual development because its lack produces anxiety which obstructs spiritual development. Alternately, some people never feel materially secure, and their obsession with this part of life mitigates against spiritual progress. The chart which allows a person to feel secure, without anxiety, is the chart which is the most conducive to spiritual progress. Those who feel no anxiety about this part of life have an advantage, but even so, a lack of anxiety alone is not the sole determinant, as one's life will be disrupted if the person does not fulfill financial responsibilities. So, resources, peacefulness of mind, and appropriate attention to spiritual life should complement each other.
How does astrology fit into all of this?
Basically, astrology in all its forms, provides a viewpoint of the potentials and challenges in a chart. Jyotisha, in particular, uses a chart that 1) fits the chart to a zodiac that is more astronomically correct than other systems of astrology currently practiced and 2) sets the time for karmas to manifest with accuracy that is easy to see.
Many of you who come to Jyotisha from Western forms of astrology may view these statements with some surprise, as you have probably been told that the Indian system is complicated. It is-at first-but it is because of two things. The first is reorienting one's self to the Indian system of a sidereal zodiac. This is a huge psychological adjustment if one is used to looking at one's self as let's say, an Aries and one becomes a Pisces. However, there IS a difference between how the two systems interpret signs, and also, what they emphasize in chart interpretation. We will get on to this later.
The second big complication in Jyotisha for Westerners, is, obviously, the use of a different language to represent chart terms. This may seem complicated, unless one understands that most of the terms in the Indian system are descriptive. When one understands the translated term, the person will realize that these are very simple terms, actually intended to aid in chart interpretation. Vedic astrology, in its best sense, is clear and obvious. There is no searching the chart for clues. Everything is laid out clearly for you. The learning environment is longer, but once you see a chart in action, it is (or should be) very obvious what is happening to the person in the chart. That is how you know you are grasping the chart, and also, to be honest, whether you have the right teacher. This should not be complicated; this should be evident to the person who studies and applies the principles taught. If not, the person is not studying or the principles being taught or flawed.