It was the moment I realized I had cancer. The TV newscaster reported that Mars was the closest to Earth it had been in thousands of years. Out of curiosity, I pulled out a book of planetary tables to see where the malefic planet was situated in the sky. Mars, it turned out, was right on my Ascendant degree, the most critical point in my Vedic horoscope—and was going to stay there for three weeks. I’m no master astrologer, but I know a potentially deadly planetary transit when I see one.
The results came back: stage 3 osteosarcoma. If I had ignored my Vedic chart and listened to the doctors, the bone cancer would have quickly spread through my body, and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
My mind began to race. Mars was in the Vedic constellation Shatabhishak, which rules the jaw. Some months earlier I’d noticed a small lump in my jaw and mentioned it to my dentist. He explained lumps like that were common in women my age and I shouldn’t worry about it. But now I knew I was in trouble. Over the next week I saw three physicians, including an oral surgeon, all of whom assured me that my dentist was correct. Still, I insisted on a biopsy. The results came back: stage 3 osteosarcoma. If I had ignored my Vedic chart and listened to the doctors, the bone cancer would have quickly spread through my body, and I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
Of course, not everyone who has the same Ascendant degree I do was diagnosed with cancer that week. But my chart showed I was in a particularly vulnerable period that left me prone to health problems. Mars symbolically signaled exactly when the crisis would occur.
There’s a reason I took Mars’ placement so seriously that day. Several years earlier when I was first learning Jyotish, or Vedic astrology (a science developed by yoga masters in India thousands of years ago), I noticed that my husband was about to enter a disastrous Mercury cycle. I marked the date it would begin on my calendar but didn’t say anything to him because I wasn’t sure yet how seriously to take this yogic system. But on the very day I’d noted, when Johnathan got home from work, he told me he’d stopped by his doctor’s office to complain about a pulled groin muscle. Checking closely, the doctor discovered a tumor in his left thigh. In my husband’s horoscope, Mercury sits in the Vedic constellation Purva Bhadrapada, which governs the left thigh.
The Karma Connection
Friends often say how unfair it is that both Johnathan and I got cancer. My familiarity with Vedic astrology gives me a different perspective. When I can see these health crises so clearly in our horoscopes, I’m forced to recognize that at some level these experiences were destined to occur. Karma is no longer theoretical to me; it’s a real force playing out in our lives.
As yoga students, many of us talk about karma casually: “I got that great job in spite of every obstacle; it must be my karma,” or “I always have problems with cars; it’s got to be my karma.” What if the events happening in our lives, for good or ill, aren’t merely random but really are based on how we thought and behaved in previous incarnations? What if the events of this life were laid out for us from birth like a curriculum we have to master in order to graduate to the next level of consciousness? Could it be that the challenges we meet in life are a series of tests we’re predestined to face?
Skeptics argue that the correspondences between our birth charts and the events in our lives are just coincidences. But from a yogic perspective, the world is a projection of our active awareness and operates according to the laws of consciousness.
Skeptics argue that the correspondences between our birth charts and the events in our lives are just coincidences. But from a yogic perspective, the world is a projection of our active awareness and operates according to the laws of consciousness. This is why no matter how many scientists insist the universe is nothing but the random play of atoms and energy, we sense there’s an underlying purpose in our lives. We feel a certain fatedness when a new love interest walks into our world at a particular time, or we lose our job just before a much better opportunity appears, or we barely avoid an accident, or a book falls into our hands that happens to answer the very questions we’ve just been wondering about. It feels as if these things were supposed to occur.
According to the yoga tradition, we’re not imagining it: there really is an underlying plan to our existence. But what is it? Spiritual masters like Buddha or Krishna may be able to remember their past lives and understand their karmic path, but what about the rest of us? Often we feel like we’re stumbling in the dark, unsure why particular events are happening to us and uncertain which direction we should take in the future. Thousands of years ago yoga adepts developed the science of Vedic astrology so that we could understand the karmic factors at play in our lives, and begin to work with them consciously.
In India, astrology is called divya chakshu, or “divine eye,” because it helps people see the route ahead. Traditional astrologers spend many years mastering this science and start each day with hours of spiritual practice to purify their minds so they can advise their clients wisely. Jyotishis, as such astrologers are called, will look over a person’s horoscope and numerous subcharts to foretell which planetary cycles will be favorable for marriage, business investments, conceiving children, or purchasing a new home. Periods when health problems or financial challenges are likely to occur will also be noted. If a couple is planning to marry, the jyotishi will compare their charts for compatibility—an important service in a country where, traditionally, many young people barely know each other before their parents arrange their nuptials.
My fascination with the karmic process led me to become a Vedic astrologer myself, after training in a formal Jyotish sampradaya (guru lineage). In my experience examining thousands of Vedic horoscopes, major events in people’s lives often seem predestined. But there is a huge “fudge factor” every jyotishi has to deal with: free will. Every time an individual makes a conscious decision to act against their internal conditioning (called their samskaras in yoga), he or she is in effect rewriting their birth chart. I’ve seen numbers of cases where a horoscope reveals that a woman is extremely unlikely to bear a child. Yet after going from one fertility clinic to another, or seeking the blessing of a great saint, she finally conceives. I’ve also seen charts which show long cycles of financial hardship. Yet through hard work and determination the individual ultimately creates a comfortable life for himself.
People like these intuitively understand what the yogis have always taught: that destiny is not something that simply happens to you—it’s something you actively create through your own thoughts, words, and actions. However, we don’t always see the results of our actions, according to classical yoga, because it may take more than one lifetime for them to bear fruit. The stars signal when our karmic fruits will ripen, just as their celestial cycles signal the start of winter, spring, or summer.
The ancient yoga masters also taught that we are subject not only to our personal karma, but to collective karma as well. For example, the victims of crimes don’t necessarily “deserve” to suffer; they may simply have the misfortune to live in a culture where criminals thrive. A woman’s innate capacity for professional success, reflected in her birth chart, may be circumscribed if she lives in a country where opportunities for women are limited. Acting together, we generate group karma that can impact our lives as much as our individual karma.
Vedic Astrology Q & A
How can I get a reading of my Vedic horoscope?
Start by contacting the Council of Vedic Astrology at 888-990-0031 (toll free) or firstname.lastname@example.org. The staff will be happy to refer you to a Vedic astrologer in your area. Readings typically cost between $150 and $200.
You will need to tell the astrologer your birth date, birth time, and birth place. Check your birth certificate if you don’t know your birth time.
Be advised that few Vedic astrologers in America are classically trained, so finding a talented, thoroughly qualified astrologer is more difficult in the West than in India. Can I read my own chart?
Without training, no. Vedic astrology is a yoga science that takes years to master. Traditional Vedic astrologers in India study, then apprentice, under a guru for years and perform many specific spiritual practices to purify their intuitive skills. The amount of information they memorize is easily the equivalent of a doctoral program in an American university.
Your Vedic chart is completely unique to you. Getting a generic reading over the Internet or from a computer printout has little more value than reading the horoscope column in your local newspaper, which offers generic advice based on one factor alone—your Sun sign—rather than your chart as a whole. Where can I learn more about Vedic astrology? There are many fine introductory books on India’s science of the stars. A few of these include:
Astrology of the Seers by David Frawley
Light on Life by Hart deFouw and Robert Svoboda
The Nakshatras by Dennis Harness
Path of Light (2 volumes) by James Kelleher
A Thousand Suns by Linda Johnsen
Your Vedic Chart
How do jyotishis read horoscopes? The first thing I discovered when I set out to learn Vedic astrology is that it’s very different from Western astrology, even defining the zodiac differently. Both systems split the zodiac into 12 constellations (rashis), but jyotishis do not use the same 12 signs that Western astrologers use. In addition, Vedic astrology uses 27 other constellations called nakshatras, corresponding to the 27 days of the lunar month. It’s important to know which nakshatra the Moon was in at the moment of your birth because it marks the point from which your karma for this life begins to flow. This was considered such important information in ancient India that children were assigned names based on their birth nakshatra.
Each nakshatra is associated with a particular mythological figure. If your nakshatra is Pushya, for example, your Moon takes on the qualities of Brihaspati, the archetypal wise and benevolent teacher. You’re likely to be a warm- hearted person who instinctively offers sound advice to others. If your nakshatra is Jyeshtha, your Moon takes on the characteristics of Indra, the courageous warrior king. You’re likely to have strong leadership abilities—unless other indications in your horoscope show an obstruction. If your Moon is astrologically weak, for example, you may feel like there’s a king inside you, and dream of becoming a leader, but something always seems to hold you back.
The Vedic chart is so complex that even though it contains only nine planets, they can combine in literally billions of ways.
The Vedic chart is so complex that even though it contains only nine planets, they can combine in literally billions of ways. Each person’s chart is unique; even the horoscopes of identical twins born seconds apart show their separate, special destinies.
While reading your horoscope, the jyotishi notes what cycle you are presently running and how long it will last. You may be in the middle of a 7-year Mars cycle (dasha), or be starting a 10-year Moon period. Depending on how Mars or the Moon are configured in your horoscope, the types of experiences that come your way may vary dramatically. Mars could be inauspicious for finding a spouse but superb for career success. The Moon could signal a period when you are prone to accidents or suddenly develop an intense interest in spirituality. Many of us have noticed that our lives seem to unfold in chapters, with one overarching theme prevailing for a few years. Then there’s a dramatic change and a whole new theme (raising a child, launching a new career) takes over for the next decade or so. Even people who don’t believe in reincarnation are often surprised at how closely the karmic cycles revealed in a Vedic chart seem to match their shifting concerns and experiences.
Some upcoming cycles promise success and prosperity. Others signify financial difficulties or health challenges. (In India, medical astrology is a major part of Jyotish. But in the West it’s often considered legally suspect since it involves “diagnosing without a medical license.” Therefore most jyotishis in the West avoid offering medical advice.)
Not only individuals, but groups of individuals, are subject to planetary cycles. For example, Americans collectively are being influenced by the economically calamitous Mars cycle the United States entered in September 2008. The future of organizations, cities, and even nations can be loosely predicted based on their Vedic horoscopes.
How Karma Operates: Types of Karma
The Vedic tradition teaches that your life is impacted by five types of karma:
Prarabdha - The consequences of actions you performed in previous lifetimes, destined to play out in this life.
Kriyamana - The karma you’ve generated since taking birth in your present body.
Adhyatmika - The karma you create as an individual.
Adhibhautika - The karma created by groups of people (e.g., your family, community, nation).
Adhidaivika - The cyclic destiny of the Earth itself and its natural forces (e.g., volcanoes, tornadoes, earthquakes).
Your Vedic birth chart primarily reveals your prarabdha karma. Even the best Vedic astrologer is rarely more than 70 percent accurate because your horoscope only shows the status of your karma up till the moment you were born. Your kriyamana karma, or focused efforts in the present, alter the flow of your destiny. Also, at times individual karma is overridden by collective forces, like the current global financial meltdown (adhibhautika karma) or tsunamis (adhidaivika karma).
Your Vedic horoscope reveals how likely it is that a particular event will manifest in your life, and when it’s most likely to occur. According to the yoga tradition, the results of your past actions return to you in three different strengths:
Adridha - Possible karma. These events are somewhat likely to occur. You can easily stop them from happening by taking preventive action.
Dridhadhridha - Probable karma. These events are very likely to occur. You can prevent or modify them by making a strong, sustained effort.
Dridha - Definite karma. These events will occur. No human action can prevent them. Only divine grace can forestall dridha karma.
Fate vs. Free Will
When sages like Parashara (who, according to legend, lived 5,000 years ago) offered the gift of astrology to humankind, they did so not to make you feel fatalistic about your future, but to help you understand the status of your karmic account so that you can take action and improve your karmic balance sheet. Your Vedic chart may show, for example, that due to unwise choices in past births, you tend to attract hapless business partners or unhealthy romantic relationships. The jyotishi will note this granth, or knot, in your karma and help you untie it by recommending an upaya. This is a spiritual practice that gradually dissolves the samskara, or karmic tendency in your unconscious mind, that keeps driving you into unsatisfying partnerships.
Perhaps you urgently need to find a job but your best efforts are getting you nowhere. The astrologer will look to see if you’re in the midst of an obstructive cycle that’s about to end. Hopefully you’ve learned something from the difficult experience of being out of work, in which case the cycle has served its purpose in educating your soul. But sometimes the challenging cycle is a long one, and now that you’ve been made aware of it, you want to change it.
Very few events are completely inevitable; the vast majority of potential outcomes shown in a horoscope can be modified or even nullified completely once we become conscious of them and make a sincere effort to change.
Very few events are completely inevitable; the vast majority of potential outcomes shown in a horoscope can be modified or even nullified completely once we become conscious of them and make a sincere effort to change. The jyotishi will assign you a technique such as a specific meditation practice (dhyana), chanting a certain number of mantras (japa), donating a certain amount of money to charity (dhana), going on a pilgrimage (yatra), or performing a religious rite (puja). This helps to burn away the obstructive karma that’s preventing you from finding work. You pay your karmic debt through your spiritual discipline rather than through continued unemployment.
Students who’ve studied Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras know that deep meditative states can “roast the seeds” of karma, so they don’t need to sprout in the form of painful life experiences. In the second chapter of his classic work, Pantanjali explains that due to our virtues and vices in previous lives, we are born in particular circumstances, have certain pleasant and unpleasant experiences, and live for a specific length of time. By wisely managing our karmic account we can take control of our destiny, avoiding unnecessary crises.
Did you know?
Vedic Astrology is one of the six sacred sciences of India, called Jyotish (“science of celestial light”) in Sanskrit. It is an important branch of the yoga tradition.
We can also take advantage of our positive karmic cycles to share our good fortune with others and devote ourselves to spiritual growth. In addition, through the practice of yoga and meditation we develop the wisdom and equanimity to face the painful experiences that simply can’t be avoided. My husband and I both were destined to face cancer during specific planetary cycles, offering us a dramatic opportunity for assessing our level of spiritual maturity. If the universe is a university, karma is our greatest teacher.
Vedic astrology is a tool that can help us understand our karma. But managing our karma—and the future it shapes—is up to us.