Pleasing the planets
Pleasing the planets
Astrology must be viewed as an adventure in human quest, with no obligation to crave the indulgence of academic science – or science must enlarge its vision to embrace it.
The controversy on the Indian Science Congress Association deciding to bestow an award for proficiency in astrology on a researcher at its Panaji session early this month ( see the Hindu, 5-1-1993) accurately reflects an interesting aspect of a typical Indian situation – the anxiety of a section of scholars to authenticate certain ancient Indian disciplines in terms of modern science and refusal of the orthodox (no offence meant) votary of science to concede them the patent:
We can appreciate both the attitudes. Once we have had a look at the vast literature on Jyothisha – loosely translated as Astrology but which includes astronomy and much more – the knowledge not only of the planets directly influencing our earth but also of remote constellations as we find in the Garuda Purana – their interactions – their nature and functions described symbolically through the character of their presiding deities, such as Agni standing behind the constellation Krittika, Brahma behind Rohini, Aditya behind Punarvasu, so on and so forth, indicate a profundity which it will be imbecile to dismiss as a fable.
This author wonders if the ancient Indian concept of time – 432,000 years consisting a Yuga, 4,320,000 years making a Mahayuga, 71 Mahayugas amounting to a Manvantara, 14 manvantaras making a Kalpa and a staggering 14 Kalpas constituting a day of Brahma – was not a figurative projection of the relativity of time, the physical corollary of which is to be read in the astronomical light years fathoming distances between planets and constellations.
The part of Atharva veda speaking of astrology has hardly been deciphered. The work (Samitha) ascribed to the mythical sage Bhrigu and a short collection of enigmatic verses entitled Jyothisha – vedanga apart, perhaps the only work extant on astrology dating back to a pre-Christian century is Yuga-purana. But that, as scholars have found out, is the Sanskrit rendering of a Prakrit text, suggesting that once there could have existed more works on the subject in that extinct language.
Restoring and interpreting these texts and discovering more works of this genre await zealous attention, but the lamentation often heard that no adequate research is being done to earn for astrology the status of science is unwarranted. No research along the conventional academic lines can prove the bonafides of astrology, for , its principles would not fit into the scope of scienctific research which has to be limited to pragmatic, factual, objective and sensory verifications.
As a mystic put it, “The astrologer is born not made. It is as impossible to manufacture a perfect astrologer by education as to manufacture a poet.” True astrology combines in it mathematics and mysticism. It would not ordinarily claim infallibility in matters of prediction in regard to an individual, because it embraces the theory of Karma and Karma is not a steal frame but a flowing force with several possibilities. An accurately drawn horoscope is a rare exercise indeed, for the astrologer must know the exact time, to the point of the second, of his subject’s birth and must possess along with a vast knowledge of astrology a highly developed intuition. Even when such a horoscope exists, its predictions are only possibilities, because astrology admits (i) the role of freewill in changing one’s destiny during a life-time, (ii) one achieving a reversal of consciousness – say through Yoga – thereby altering one’s ordinary destiny chalked out at one’s birth and, last but not the least (iii) one’s future being remoulded by the intervention of a sublime power – the Divine grace.
The flexibility of astrological laws is thus explained through the following parable belonging to the folkore of the mystic:
Once upon a time there was an astrologer whose correct predictions attracted such unmanageable curious crowds to him that he withdrew into a forest. Nevertheless, two young friends, Raghu and Raman, found him out and insisted that he read their horoscope and reveal to them their future. Reluctantly the astrologer told Raghu that he was to become a king in a year’s time. His sad revelation for Raman was, he was to meet a violent death, also in a year.
Back in their village the would-be king behaved like a king, ordering about people and threatening those who disobeyed him with dire consequences in the future.
Raman, on the other hand, devoted every moment of what he thought to be last year of his life to pious thoughts and actions.
One day Raghu and Raman were passing through a meadow when Raghu chanced upon a potful of gold ingots lying half buried. He picked it up and exclaimed, “My good and glorius days have begun!”
A bandit hiding behind a bush sprang up and tried to snatch the pot, but Raman intervened and in the process received a stab from the bandit. The wound luckily was superficial.
But a year passed and then two years. Neither Raghu become a king nor Raman died. Both sought out the astrologer and demanded of him an explanation for the failure of his predictions.
“They have not failed,” he explained after a meditative study of the horoscopes: “They have only been modified because of the revolutionary change in the consciousness of each of you in your own way.” He then told Raghu, “As you grew terribly proud and cruel, your kingly luck was reduced to your receiving a mere potful of gold.” Looking at Raman, he said, “Death was necessary for your certain spiritual experience for your soul planned to derive in your next incarnation. But it received the same experience in this life itself because of the radical change in your attitude. This new phase of your life is equivalent to a new birth.”
So strong has been the Indian’s faith in astrology in whatever bit of the lore that has been available to him and however distorted and weakened in the hands of petty professionals and charlatans – the collective faith itself might have become a force to mould his attitude and action. But one vital truth is often ignored: the philosophy of astrological prediction basically had only one aim and that is to help one lead a righteous life, to determine auspicious moments for actions that were beneficient in a healthy sense. The complex relation between human life and nature, between man and cosmos which astrology sought to stress was based on the basic truth of a subtle consciousness pervading the entire creation. Astrology, like the Tantra, weakened because of man’s eagerness to take advantage of propitious moments often for unworthy causes. At a popular level, “Pleasing the planets” became a synonym of astrology.
But if ever astrology will be restored to its pristine glory, it will be a lore by itself, independent of the academic world of science. Alternatively, the definition and scope of science must expand to accommodate it.
Till then astrology will remain a riddle for the most, a sacred discipline for a few, a matter of debate for the academics and an opportunity for the fake, the last case exemplified in the following piece from the Venetian traveler Nicolo Manucci’s memoirs (1656):
“Data was also possessed with the craze of putting faith in astrologers, of whom he entertained a considerable number. The chief of them was called Bhawani Das, who had a great liking and affection for me, because he enjoyed drinking my wine. This man had placed his head in danger by a paper, in which he declared that without the slightest doubt the said prince (Dara) would become king. I asked him in familiar conversation how he could have had the audacity to sign such a paper, and what excuse he had ready to produce if did not happen accordingly. The astrologer laughed and heartily at my question, and said to me that if the said prince should come to be king, he would accord to him the greatest credit; if not, the prince would be sufficiently busied in saving his own life, and not likely to have time to seek that of an astrologer.”