This article appeared in Journal of Astrology – Winter 2004 issue
Vaughn Paul Manley, M.A.
Learning astrology is usually a private hobby, or for some – a private obsession. Once you’ve learned enough to realize that astrology is a sacred science that can give you reliable insights into your life and other’s lives you’re at risk of becoming obsessed. You’ve entered the minority of people on the planet who have seen beyond the all-too-common notions of astrology as foolish hearsay and astrologers as fortune telling charlatans. You’ll likely find yourself buying more books than can fit on your shelf and spend many late nights trying to make sense of the puzzle of existence. However, the path of astrology is typically a solo journey. You may get readings, take local classes, or eventually attend an annual conference but basically you’re on your own. There are self-study certification courses available but astrology is generally not recognized as a valid science. It is not taught at colleges or universities (except in some parts of India) even though long lists of famous scientists believed in astrology.
This is all quite ironic because archaeologists have found ancient records of the study of astrology in the ruins of almost every ancient civilization – Greece, Babylon, China, Rome, India. It is the oldest science in the world and the mother of astronomy. Many of the great Western astronomers, like Copernicus and Kepler, were also astrologers. In the East, the great astronomers were always knowledgeable in astrology. There is also, of course, the biblical reference of the three wise men being astrologers from the East. However, astrology today is assigned an undignified place in the scientific and academic world. Students of astrology sometimes feel ashamed of admitting they’re studying or practicing astrology for fear of ridicule by reputable professionals or academic scholars. When the famous Swiss psychologist, Carl Jung, told Sigmund Freud of his professional use of astrology in his psychiatric practice it represented his break from Freud and the conventional scientific community.
Without support from the scientific community astrologers have had a difficult time generating substantial research. Without substantial research astrology has not been able to gain the recognition it deserves. It’s been a catch 22 situation. The popularization of astrology through columns in newspapers and magazines hasn’t helped in this regard and has further removed it from science into the realm of fanciful superstition. Today astrology is an unrecognized, virtually unregulated profession without any licensing requirements to speak of. Anyone can claim to be a professional astrologer, hence the opinion that astrologers are quacks and charlatans is not without substantiation. And now with the explosion of the Internet, and worldwide unregulated advertising, anyone can represent astrology in any manner whatsoever.
Sri K.N. Rao was all too aware of these problems with astrology. He saw the great need for scientific, replicable research to help restore astrology as a sacred science. Even though he had a full time government position he spent his evenings doing his own research into the ancient principles of Parashara and Jaimini – the great sages of Vedic astrology. He published these finding in astrological journals and publications across India. He became well known as one of India’s most brilliant astrologers and made many dazzling predictions that gained him recognition.
Yogi Moorkhanandji and Sri K.N. Rao in 1981
Even with increasing recognition Rao developed a distaste for astrology. He saw that most people were just interested in mundane concerns like money, job, marriage, etc. instead of using astrology to understand their karma and grow spiritually. He decided to give it up altogether. However, in 1980 an event happened that changed all that. A great yogi, Yogi Moorkhanandji (a.k.a. Swami Vidyaranya), told Rao:
Mookhanandji forbade him to give up astrology saying that he could not avoid this mission. It was his karma. About Yogi Mookhanandji’s words Rao writes:
With Moorkhanandji’s encouragement Rao continued with his astrology work, always giving readings without charge, and focusing mainly on his research and writing. Even though he had little time for teaching, Rao naturally attracted students around him. He is charismatic, articulate, possesses a wealth of classical knowledge, combined with a modern, systematic approach based on original research. Teaching was inevitable. Gradually the vision of creating a school of astrology took shape in the late 1980’s after Rao’s job was transferred to New Delhi. This gave him the opportunity to submit a proposal to begin an astrology school at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, a worldwide institute devoted to the preservation of India’s culture, based in New Delhi. The school began accepting students in July of 1987 and was designed as a two-year course of study offering Jyotish Alankar and Jyotish Acharya degrees.
I first met my teacher, K.N. Rao, in the fall of 1993 on Rao’s first visit to the US. He was talking at an informal gathering at the home of Vedic scholar, David Frawley, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His school had already become highly successful and had attracted the attention of the American Council of Vedic Astrology (ACVA). Frawley, the president of ACVA, had visited Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan and invited Rao to be the keynote speaker at the Second International Symposium on Vedic Astrology in San Rafael, CA that fall. K.N. Rao’s mission had begun to take on a global influence. Never had an astrologer from India captivated a Western audience like Rao. His visit to the US represented a landmark in the study of Vedic astrology in the West to the point that David Frawley summed it up as, “Vedic astrology in the US before Rao, and after Rao.” Even with increasing global recognition, Rao preferred to remain in India and focus on developing his school. In April 1997 he launched the first issue of the quarterly magazine called the Journal of Astrology, which was created in order to publish the ongoing research produced at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. They have since published more than 25 issues, which are currently distributed worldwide.
A typical classroom of students at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan
In the spring of 2000 I had the great privilege of spending a month in New Delhi studying at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan with K.N. Rao and the other knowledgeable teachers of the school. For many years the school had been recognized as the largest astrology school in the world. Today there are over 850 students and 26 teachers! For me, it was like an International Symposium on Vedic Astrology every weekend. I was thrilled. Under K.N. Rao’s guidance many of the teachers had written their own books that had not only become required course reading but had also become unique contributions in the field – M.S. Mehta, Col. A.K. Gour, Manoj Pathak, Naval Singh, Deepak Kapoor, K.K. Joshi, Dr. K.S. Charak, Shiv Raj Sharma, Vinay Aditya, V.P. Goel and more. Nowhere had astrology reached such a high level of academic and scientific excellence. What I’ve always appreciated is that Rao and his student’s books are always filled with many practical examples showing how the classic principles can be applied in a modern context.
Some of the teachers in the lounge between classes
Soon after arriving I learned that this was definitely an advanced course of study. K.N. Rao’s approach to teaching is systematic, practical, and rigorous. He requires that everyone learn to make many calculations on the spot, preferably without the use of pen and paper, let alone computers! He also requires that students learn through practical application and not just through theoretical knowledge. Students are required to produce papers showing the application of classical principles on a regular basis. It was obvious to me that even many of the first year students knew more than some of the professional Vedic astrologers in the West.
Author Col. A.K. Gour teaching a second year class
I had never been in such a dynamic learning environment for astrology. Producing the quarterly research journal was a brilliant part of the system. The kinds of researches that K.N. Rao used to do on his own in the evenings could now get the additional collaboration of hundreds of students and teachers. Publishing the journal also brought excitement to the research projects that many classes were engaged in because of the possibility of being published later. Individual students were also given the opportunity to have outstanding research papers published. For instance, one student, who was a veterinarian, was doing research into the common astrological combinations seen in a cross section of many veterinarians.
Sri K.N Rao teaching an advanced research class
It was academically satisfying to be in the midst of such excellent teaching. During one class K.N. Rao showed with remarkable ease how the same events in the life of Rajiv Gandhi, India’s former prime minister, could be seen from several different dasha or predictive systems. In fact, Rao always promotes what he calls a “composite approach,” which utilizes many dasha systems side by side in order to confirm accuracy in chart interpretation. Rao has also revived the use of many obscure dasha systems, written about in classical texts, and proven their validity with modern research.
Astrology may still have a ways to go in order to become recognized as a valid science and academic subject in the scientific community. But without a doubt, K.N. Rao and the faculty and students of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan are in the process of making a significant contribution towards this end. Arguably his school has produced the finest replicable, scientific research on astrology ever. They are also setting an example for other institutions to follow by teaching astrology with such a high degree of academic excellence. I can’t help but think that Yogi Moorkanandji and the great sages would be pleased with the great strides that are being made towards restoring the ancient tradition of Vedic astrology as a sacred science, or perhaps better yet, establishing it as what Rao likes to call “the super-science of the New Age.”
Vaughn Paul and Sri K.N. Rao. May, 2000 in New Delhi
Vaughn Paul (VP): Tell me the history of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan institute of astrology. What year did it begin? How did you get the idea to start it? What was your original intention?
K.N. Rao (KNR): In 1972, when I was in the eastern state of Bihar in Patna I had to teach the nephew of a lawyer friend of mine who picked up some astrology very wrongly, took disastrous decision and landed in serious trouble. I scolded him and told him not to misapply the knowledge of astrology from some books available in the market. Other students also joined and I experimented with a non-Sanskrit style of teaching as is done in Indian universities in teaching other subjects. This direct method of teaching, without having to learn anything by rote, was an instant success. I continued it in my subsequent posting in new stations like Calcutta, and Delhi. In every station I had small group of students from five to fifteen coming to me. In 1985, when an all India body of astrologers was being formed, I was unwilling to join it. When persuaded very strongly, I laid down the condition that we should introduce the teaching of astrology as its main or a very important activity. In 1987, when I was transferred back to Delhi from Bhubaneshwar, I decided to introduce this in an organized way and thought of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, which believes in the ideal of encouraging Bharatiya or traditional Indian vidyas (knowledge). In July 1987 the school began. The intention was to teach it systematically, with different branches, after an introduction of astronomy relevant to astrology.
VP: How many teachers and students do you now have? What is your role today?
KNR: We have now, eight hundred and fifty students and twenty-six teachers. I now teach only three research classes, which are the higher classes and make the students do research and write articles, present them in our monthly workshops and six monthly seminars. I also take them to different places, mainly pilgrimages where we combine pilgrimage with astrology seminars. I do not think about any role. I leave it to God, something comes up and I find myself in the midst of it. It is a new experience, which is both exhilarating and disgusting. For instance, in the year 2000, astrology was introduced as a course of study in Indian universities though it has been there always in Sanskrit colleges and universities. Some leftists and scientists opposed it and filed cases in courts of law. It reached the highest court of India, the Supreme Court and was heard on 4 November 2003. Under the Indian law a non-lawyer can intervene in such cases as petitioner-in-person. I did it since I am a non-lawyer and I was the only astrologer fighting this greatest battle for astrology. Other astrologers stayed out of the fight totally. A fairly crowded court heard me and I was told by senior lawyers present that I had made a very impressive case. One such senior lawyer told us privately that he could infer that the court (meaning the judges) were in our favor. The judgment has not come out yet. It may come after some weeks or months. (The court did rule in favor of the study of astrology in Indian Universities thanks to K.N. Rao’s petition).
VP: Where did you get this drive to preserve the ancient systems of India’s astrology?
KNR: In 1980, a great Yogi Moorkhanandji (Swami Vidyaranya) told me that I would do it and would have to do it. I never had any bank balance (which I do not have even now), no house, and no car. He told me that if God willed it the institution would spring in spite of these handicaps. That has happened.
VP: Who has been the most instrumental in instilling this passion of yours?
KNR: My mother initially, later my Jyotish Guru Bhaskaranandji and last Swami Moorkhanandji encouraged me in original research. Once started, it continued in spite of the burden of office work, which continued till 1990 when I retired. After my retirement I have been doing it individually and now, with groups of students collectively.
VP: Did you intend to publish a journal based on your research from the beginning or did that evolve?
KNR: No. I had been contributing articles on astrology, popular and technical articles for various astrological journals both in English and Hindi for many years. The idea of having an astrological journal for the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, New Delhi, was that of the authorities of the Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan. The entire burden had to fall on me, guidance, editing and even rewriting some articles. And on popular demand, we had to make it bilingual, with English and Hindi sections.
VP: What are some of the latest researches that are being carried out by yourself or your faculty and students at BVB?
KNR: In various dashas, for example books on Dwisaptati Sama Dasha, Chatursheeti Sama Dasha, Yogini Dasha have come out and the book on Sthira Dasha is also completed. Then a collective research on Varanasi Hora is being completed. Besides, there are many small researches.
VP: What are your future directions for the school?
KNR: Continuing to do statistical, replicable researches as we have done in recent years and making it a tradition. I know that only a few will stick to this line of painstaking research but I know that some will.
VP: What is left to still accomplish?
KNR: There is so much left to be accomplished because in the constantly changing society new challenges keep cropping up. For example, the subjects of study now available in educational institutions are so many that to do research on them, our students have been working hard and we are to going produce a book initially. It will help many astrologers do sound educational counseling. Psychologists cannot find out the correct combinations of subjects for students. The book will contain horoscopes of Americans and Russians and of different non-Indian countries to show how the combinations we are working on apply universally.
VP: What are you most proud of in regards to what you and students and staff have been able to accomplish and how the school has evolved?
KNR: It is a weekend school and therefore meeting only twice a week creates some limitations which I overcome by calling some of the students to my house on different days for in depth discussion. Yet, we have produced now more than forty books publishing our researches, thirty-two of them being mine. The students producing fine researches gives me pride and joy. But really I am proud of nothing. You are a nobody. What God wills alone happens, and you are onlythe instrumentality through which HIS will works.
VP: What is your most important advice to students of Vedic astrology?
KNR: Do not take what is given in books literally but interpret them liberally as in changed times. Newer applications of ancient principles will have to be done constantly.