Jyotish is a controversial subject in Indian English language press. On the one hand, it is usually denounced as bogus by self appointed secularists. The usual reason for denouncing Jyotish is that it is impossible for inert material bodies like planets or eclipses (Rahu and Ketu) to influence anything. On the other hand, its popularity remains undiminished even when eminent astrologers make contradictory predictions. I would like to discuss here the relationship between Jyotish and Hindu dharma, the existence of various planetary Deities, speculate on the principles underlying Jyotish and the reasons for failures in prediction.
Jyotish and Hindu dharma
Jyotish or Astrology is a Vedanga. Ancient Hindus certainly felt that it is possible to predict the future. They also felt that planetary deities exist. The planetary deities are mentioned even in the Upanishads. Upanishads even warn that these deities are displeased when man tries for liberation as is clear from the following quote:
"This (self) was verily Brahman at first. It knew only itself as,’I am Brahman’. Because of that it became all (the universe). And whosoever among the deities realised It became Brahman. Similarly among the sages, and among men. The sage Vamadeva, realizing his own self as That (Brahman), knew,’I was Manu and the sun’. And even now whoever knows That in a similar way, viz., as ‘I am Brahman’, becomes this universe. Even the deities are powerless to prevent his becoming the universe, for he becomes their self. On the other hand, he adores another god thinking,’He is different from me and I am different from him’, does not know. As is an animal (to man), so is he to the deities. As many animals serve a man, so does each man serve the deities. If even one animal is taken away, it causes unpleasantness, what should one say of many animals?
Therefore it is not pleasant to the deities that men should realize this Self." (Brihadaranyaka Up I.4.10)
The deities mentioned here are not just Indra, Varuna etc but include the planetary deities. The deities mentioned here are NOT Brahma or Vishnu or Shiva or Devi. In fact Sridhara Swami, the author of the famous gloss on the Gita known as Subodhini, advises aspirants for liberation to worship deities in order to stop them from putting obstacles to man’s progress as is clear from the following commentary on Gita III.18:
"…’Therefore these deities do not like that men attain to knowledge’ (Brihadaranyaka Up I.4.10), one finds that there is a chance of the deities putting obstacles in the way of liberation; so for preventing such obstacles the deities should be worshipped by ritualistic work".
Thus the idea of the existence of planetary deities is deeply rooted in the Upanishads and the Gita.
Speculation regarding the principles underlying Jyotish
How can planets be used to tell about our future (and past)? Before I can even start my explanation I need to clarify one point — the contradiction between Jyotish and free will. The oddest thing about Jyotish is that it is considered to be Vedanga. Why is it odd? It is odd because it seems a priori that if Jyotish is correct and if it is indeed possible to predict the future then there is no such thing as free will. Of course if there is no free will then there is no Karma and no moral order or rita and the Vedas are then completely wrong. Can both Jyotish and the Vedas be right at the same time. The answer is yes! From our perspective there is indeed free will and things happen to us quite at random. However, since God is omniscient, there is no free will from the view of God. Thus we have free will from our perspective while there is no free will from the Divine perspective. Jyotish and Vedas can be reconciled only if Jyotish is giving us the Divine perspective which is exactly what
Even if what I have said till now is true, still it does not explain how planets like Jupiter and Saturn or eclipses like Rahu and Ketu can be used to foretell our future. It is absolutely certain that a gas ball like Jupiter can not affect us in any non-material way. Jyotish is, however, not making such a claim. It is saying that the deities associated with these planets affect us.
If rivers like Ganga, Saraswati, Narmada can have associated deities then why can’t planets have deities? How do these deities affect our lives? A possible explanation is as follows: It is stated in the Brahma Sutra Bhasya that Ishvara dispenses the fruits of Karma to jivas. So it is entirely possible that deities associated with these planets dispense the fruits of Karma. One can think of these Deities as assistants of Ishvara.
It is still not clear, even after this explanation, why the exact position of planets should yield the intention of the Deities. The answer to that question lies in the idea that these planetary Deities, while more powerful than us, do not have infinite powers. They can only dispense their fruits, sweet or bitter, when their position relative to our planet allows them to dispense the appropriate fruit to jivas. This is the reason why only planets cloes to the Earth affect us.
The reason for failure of prediction using Jyotish
If Jyotish is true then why do so many astrologers make mistakes? The reason is simple. Jyotish shastra tells us what happens when only one deity is involved. Real life is of course more complicated. In the real world one finds that many planets (i.e. deities) are influencing man’s life. It becomes very difficult to interpret when several deities are interacting. When there is multi-body interaction then one can at most talk of trends and not make any accurate prediction since one does not know which planet will win in the battle for influence. In such complicated cases only a spiritually advanced person can know.
More posts by this author:
- Schrödinger’s cat or shut up and calculate!
- The problem of evil in the presence of a loving God
- Buddha and the Upanishads
- Why did an advaitavadi like Adi Shankaracharya compose hymns to Saguna Brahman?
- Shiva lingam and its meaning
I did my school, college and parts of my University education in Kolkata. I got my M.Sc degree from Kolkata University. I went to USA in 1979 and got my M.S and Ph.D in Physics from University of Pittsburgh in 1984. I did my Post Doctorate in University of Southern California, Los Angeles and then worked as a Research Scientist in the Department of Physics, Astronomy and Space Sciences Center of University of Southern California. My scientific work includes heavy ion-atom scattering, multiphoton ionization and heliosphere data analysis of Pioneer 10/111 and Voyager 1/2 deep space spacecaft and analysis of solar extreme ultraviolet data obtained from SOHO spacecraft. I have been a National Aeronautics and Space Adminstration (NASA) Principal Investigator from 2002 – 2007. I have been a member of a NASA awards committee to decide allocation of money to different scientists. I have also refereed scientific articles submitted to Journal of Geophysical Research and Astrophysical Journal.