Juliana Swanson for the Jyotish Star Newsletter: How did you become interested in Vedic astrology?
Vaughn Paul: My journey with Vedic astrology began with an unexpected phone call in May 1991. I was teaching at an elementary school in Seattle, Washington, living in a yoga ashram, and finishing off the school year with an astronomy project, having kids stick glow-in-the-dark stickers of the zodiac constellations on the ceiling. Little did I know that my own world was about to get turned upside down, literally, with the sub-dasha of my eighth lord beginning in just a few days! Then, my mom called saying that she had just been diagnosed with cancer, and I was devastated. I immediately moved back down to the SF (San Francisco) Bay Area for the summer to help her heal, but by August she had passed away.
Juliana: So there you were.
Vaughn Paul: Yes, there I was in the middle of a major transition. I had given up my Seattle teaching job and was in limbo. It was then that a friend suggested that I get a Vedic astrology reading. Shortly into the reading, the astrologer asked me if I was involved in competitive sports between the ages nine and sixteen (Mars dasha). My jaw dropped because that was all I was interested in for exactly those seven years, as I competed on the junior tennis circuit. Instantly I became obsessed with Jyotish, thinking…”If he could know that, what else could he know?”
Over the next months, I began taking all the classes I could in the Bay Area. At one point I was enrolled in three different classes in the same week! By October of that year, 1992, I attended ACVA’s First International Symposium, for which B.V. Raman was the keynote speaker, and by November 1992 I arrived in India for a seven-month journey, eager to learn all I could. So you could say that everything developed very quickly and intensely for me with Jyotish.
Juliana: What was it like studying Jyotish in India?
Vaughn Paul: It was thrilling and fascinating to have the chance to immerse in a living astrology tradition that’s been going on for thousands of years. Where else can you do that?
Juliana: Where did you study?
Vaughn Paul: Well, I met with street astrologers as well as famous ones in both north and South India, starting in New Delhi and then on to Varanasi, Bangalore, Kerala, etc. Before I’d left the US, I made contact with R. Santhanam in New Delhi, about whom James Braha had written in Astro-Logos. Santhanam was famous for translating several classic Jyotish texts including the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra. He had cleared his schedule so that I could study with him for five straight days, six hours a day. I had brought dozens of charts of friends and family, I had cassette tapes ready, and I was all set up. So we analyzed all of these charts, while his wife brought us chai and cookies every half hour or so. So, chai went hand in hand with studying in India! One day, I counted that I had eleven cups of chai in six hours with Santhanam!
Juliana: How do you recall your first meeting with Santhanam?
Vaughn Paul: The first thing Santhanam said when I entered his house was, “Why are you here?” I answered enthusiastically, “I want to learn Jyotish!” He then shook his head and said, “Ah, it’s a vast ocean, you can’t learn it in one lifetime. It takes many lifetimes.” After twenty-two years, I continue to marvel at his statement, because I still have so much more that I want to learn. There is no end to it.
As soon as Santhanam looked at my chart he said:
So that sub-dasha of the 8th lord brought a death, a major career transition and Jyotish all at once.
Juliana: From India, where did your path lead?
Vaughn Paul: Over those seven months, all of the astrologers I studied with surprisingly suggested that I do the same thing — return to the US, get a masters degree in Counseling Psychology, and combine astrology with psychology. So that’s exactly what I did.
Juliana: Which teachers have been your most important influences?
Vaughn Paul: Well, after returning to the US in 1993, I settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and enrolled in a master’s degree program. I also happened to move very close to David Frawley, who was then the president of ACVA (American Council of Vedic Astrology). Soon I began tutoring with him and acquiring the necessary tutorial hours to get certified with ACVA. So David became a strong influence in my training, not only in Jyotish, but other aspects of the Vedic tradition like Yoga philosophy and Ayurveda.
Juliana: When did you first meet your Jyotish guru K. N. Rao?
Vaughn Paul: In November 1993, David called to invite me over to meet an astrologer from India who was visiting him. That was my first opportunity to meet K. N. Rao, who became my Jyotish guru. He had been invited to be the keynote speaker for ACVA’s Second International Symposium. I found it so ironic that I had just spent seven months in India, was actually in New Delhi where he lives, but then shortly after returning I met him in my own neighborhood!
That evening Rao talked till late into the night, and at one point picked up a cloth napkin and slowly rolled it up. As he began unrolling it he looked at me directly and said:
That moment had a big impact on me. Here was someone who had been practicing Jyotish for over 50 years. It was like Mother Theresa looking at you and saying, “Love everyone.” It holds a different weight because of the stature of the person embodying what is being said. From that point, it was his teachings and methods that have guided me in my practice of Jyotish.
Juliana: What was it about K.N. Rao’s work that impressed you the most?
Vaughn Paul: It was his Composite Technique, which utilizes multiple dasha systems to cross check predictions, especially Jaimini’s Chara Dasha alongside Vimshottari Dasha. That really impressed me. No one I’d met in India or in the US had taught that. Through Rao, I became exposed to a much more academically rigorous and comprehensive approach using rarely used dashas and all the divisional charts.
Juliana: What else resonates for you with Rao-ji’s teaching style?
Vaughn Paul: I also like how he uses many example charts in his teaching, walking his students logically, step-by-step through a prediction. He encourages his students to work hard on a horoscope, go deep, and not be afraid to look at it from many angles, both Parashari and Jaimini, and not to be satisfied with a little, meager interpretation or prediction, but to go further. His work always stretches me to reach new levels of predictive accuracy and insight. I also like how I can email him or call him and he’ll usually answer my questions!
Juliana: What advice would you give that could be helpful for students of Vedic astrology?
Vaughn Paul: Two things come to mind:
1) Establish a solid foundation in the fundamentals. It’s easy to get lost in the jungle of Jyotish with exotic techniques. These are important to incorporate, like integrating Jaimini methods with Parashari, but after getting the basics down. You’ll be more effective in the long run. It’s like learning the piano. If you practice the scales with proper technique, then you’ll excel quicker and can learn to play more complicated songs with ease. Jyotish starts as a science (logic) and ends as an art (intuition). Develop sound interpretive logic first and the rest will follow. Eventually you’re interpretations and predictions will flow like a song.
2) When giving a reading, take time to listen, don’t just talk. Listen to the client, listen to your own intuition, pray and listen to God. You’ll be more effective as an astrologer. Usually astrologers get paid to talk, and counselors get paid to listen. But astrology is also a form of counseling, so combine both. My mother was a psychologist and the best listener I’ve ever known. Her passing left me with a passion to be a good listener too, and study psychology.
Juliana: Please tell us a little bit about your writing.
Vaughn Paul: I love writing. I’m thankfully now in a Mercury sub-dasha so I’ve begun doing a lot more of it. My interest with writing is to make Jyotish clear, with minimal ambiguities, while also incorporating more complicated advanced techniques. I think my background as a schoolteacher helps me in this regard, because I had to learn to present systematic information in a way that was also fun and engaging.
Juliana: What is the greatest ongoing challenge for you in your work as an astrologer?
Vaughn Paul: I find it challenging to manage and carve out enough time to write and teach, while also doing readings. I feel committed to doing readings because I love being a counselor, and it can be a great service. I have the tenth lord Venus in the fourth house of psychology. But it’s not easy to write and teach at the same time. Some astrologers give up doing readings for this reason. I resist that, because Jyotish is a language and if you don’t use it, you lose it to some extent just like any language. I want to keep my skills of chart interpretation strong and not lose touch with clients and with what actually works in a current context. I also want to further my knowledge by incorporating more and more advanced techniques.
I have the most respect for the astrologers who, like my teacher, choose to remain in the trenches doing readings for many decades, while figuring out how to write and teach at the same time.
Juliana: We often hear that the role of astrologers in India is to predict whereas the role of astrologers in the West is to counsel. How do you see these different roles playing out in your own work especially as a student of K. N. Rao?
Vaughn Paul: I think the bottom line, regardless if we’re practicing in India or in the West, should be, “Is what we’re saying helpful?” If astrology isn’t practiced with an attitude of service then what good is it? As astrologers we’re only doing one of two things: making descriptions or making predictions. Both can be either damaging or helpful. K.N. Rao urges us to never leave a client in fear, without any hope, or caught in negative fatalistic thinking. Even in the worst of circumstances, there’s always the grace of God, which an astrologer may not see, but a yogi can. So until we’re omniscient yogis it’s better to not make negative fatalistic predictions or statements.
Juliana: Can you say more about what you see an astrologer should be doing instead?
Vaughn Paul: Sure. Our purpose should be to empower people to take positive action in their lives. That’s where the juice is – to grow and learn important life lessons, shift karmic patterns from negative to positive by making wise informed choices. An astrologer can do a lot assist this process. For instance, a prediction can be very helpful if it’s accurate. It can help to align a person to the divine flow in their lives. It can relieve a lot of anxiety when someone is expecting the worst, or prepare them for a challenging period when they’re unwittingly expecting the best. Likewise, describing psychological patterns can also be very helpful. The insights we share can help untie karmic knots that have plagued someone for a long time. Jyotish is called the “Eye of the Vedas” because it can give sight into areas where we have a hard time seeing. When someone is going through a transition, for instance, there’s nothing more valuable than to get clarity and a wise perspective. It’s a great service when it’s used for these purposes.
Juliana: Do you have your own school or are you involved in teaching for another school?
Vaughn Paul: Yes, I have course lessons, videos, and classes that I teach through my website at www.lightonvedicastrology.com. You’ll find many dozens of free articles, videos, and an active forum so it’s a pretty large resource.
Juliana: Brilliant! Thank you, Vaughn Paul, for being a true Jyotish Star.