One of the unique characteristics of Hinduism is that it never throws anything away. There is simply no one to do it! Hinduism has no central authority and so there is no one body that “edits” the tradition. Consequently, astrology is still a vibrant part of the tradition. In the West, with the onset of modern science, astrology became separated from both the mainstream sciences (astronomy) and the religious tradition. Descartes was an astrologer and so were Copernicus and Galileo. Today you can not find a department of Astrology in any university in the West. This has tended to be the case in other religions as well, but not so in Hinduism. In fact, I have met many Western educated and highly placed Hindus who still hold a deep faith in astrology and regularly visit astrologers for advice on important issues. Astrology is still an important requirement for a Hindu priest. Not a day goes by without members coming to a priest for information on muhurta, birth names, and other kinds of astrological advice. Nava Graha puja is one of the most popular pujas performed by a Hindu priest. Therefore, it is worth while to have a general understanding of Hindu astrology.
Western and Hindu Astrology
Hindu astrology, also called Vedic astrology, is not the same has Western astrology. In the West most people know their astrological sign and they may even check their horoscope in the newspapers, if only for “entertainment purposes.” But if you think you are an Aries, a Taurus or a Gemini in Western astrology, this is not the case with Hindu astrology. Western astrology is tropical and Hindu astrology is sidereal. Western astrology is based on the orientation of the Earth to the sun, whereas Hindu astrology is based on the actual position of the stars relative to the earth. Understanding this difference is technical and not a matter that needs to be explained here, suffice to say, that the starting point of Western astrology is not the same as the starting point of Hindu astrology. This does not mean that one form is better than the other, it just means they are different and so you cannot compare one with the other. If you are an Aries in Western astrology, in Hindu astrology you may not be the same.
The Workings of Astrology
Astrology works at two levels, one practical and the other symbolic. We already see how various celestial bodies exert unseen forces on terrestrial life and thereby influence the way we act. The best and most obvious example is the influence of the sun and moon on the tides. This is the effect of gravity. Science also shows that a planet, even as far a way as Jupiter, has a considerable gravitational influence, not only on the earth, but throughout the whole solar system. We can also see how the solar wind and storms affect the weather, satellite communications and electrical power grids on earth. Similarly, science shows the existence of unseen cosmic rays and minute particles that constantly bombard the earth from great distances, which even have an effect on genetic mutation. The effect of gravity, solar winds and storms, and particle bombardment indeed determines the way we act on our planet, so if these forces can affect terrestrial life, why not the other planets? Just because Western science has not measured the influence of Mars and Venus and Saturn on the lives of human beings does not mean that such influences are not there. Cosmic particle bombardment was only recently measured, and had someone suggested such bombardments 50 years ago it would have been dismissed as foolish by the same science that now informs us about it. Yet virtually all ancient cultures have noted the influence of the sun and the moon and the planets on the affairs of terrestrial life. They tell us that these bodies exert subtle influences on life that in turn affects the way we think and act. Modern science has just not understood and measured these influences yet. It is not unreasonable, therefore, to accept the working of astrology. This is a practical way to understand how astrology works.
Hinduism, however, speaks of the workings of astrology in an even
more subtle way, through the power of symbols. There is a famous
hymn from the Rig Veda called the Purusha
Sukta, (RV 10.90) which describes the relationship between
this universe and God. The sun corresponds to the eye of God,
the moon to His mind, space to His navel, the wind to His breathing,
the mountains to His bones, and so forth. In fact this universe
is the living body of God and all beings are existing within
this universal body. Even ourselves, the living beings, are
emanations from this God, and along with this physical universe
we are parts who have emanated from the whole. This idea of
the parts and the whole is especially mentioned in the Upanishads as a deeply mystical relationship. The Ishopanishad refers
to this relationship when it describes the Whole as complete
(purnam) and from this Whole so many other whole units emanate
and yet the Whole remains complete. This is something like
if you have a pie and you take a slice away from the whole,
the pie does not get smaller. It remains the same, and even
though we may take many slices away, the whole pie still remains.
But the matter is even more paradoxical, contained within the
individual pie slices is the whole pie. The parts contain the
whole! A way to think of how this is possible is through an
understanding of DNA. Within in a single hair strand, a tiny
part of the whole, can be found all the information to make
the whole person. The part contains the whole. Another example
is a holographic projection. Each photon of light, which is
just a part of the whole projection, contains within itself
an image of the original whole projection. This relationship
between the whole and its parts is viewed as a deep and mysterious
relationship, and one that has had profound effects on Hindu
culture, not only philosophically and theologically, but also
practically in terms of astrology and even Hindu architecture.
Once you start thinking that the whole is embedded within every part of this creation you can start seeing a relationship between the outer world and the inner world, between the microcosm and the macrocosm. This means that by measuring the outer world, one can grasp an understanding of the inner world. But even more importantly, by influencing the outer world one can influence the inner world. Thus we have the foundations of Hindu astrology. Astrology is a measurement of the outer world that allows an understanding of the inner world. The astrological chart is a snapshot, not only of the universe at a certain time and place, but also a snapshot of the inner life of an individual at a certain time and place. In other words, the planets we see in the heavens above have a corresponding set of “planets” within. There is a Mars above us and a Mars within us. Read the meaning of the Mars on the outside and you get an understanding of the Mars within. Align yourself to the Jupiter without and you align yourself to the Jupiter within.
Later Vedic works like the Puranas expand on these ideas to describe how this gross physical world is an expansion from subtle energy. From our thoughts and desires, manifests our physical existence and from our physical actions our future thoughts and desires are derived. This is, of course, is the idea of karma and how our destiny is shaped by past and future actions. Thus our desires and actions become tied to both universes, the one on the outside and the on the inside.
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