Intro to Vedic Astrology: A Living Tradition
India’s Living Traditions – Interesting Facts
Vedic astrology is the traditional astrology of India and is some 4000-5000 years old. This is no fly by night tradition! In fact, the remarkable thing is that it’s a living tradition. If you’ve been studying Western astrology it’s not like you can simply fly to Greece and find astrologers sitting in the streets practicing in the manner of the great early Greek astrologers. But in India you still can.If you’re really serious about learning Vedic astrology, one day you should travel to India. Yes, it’s a country with over a billion people in a country not much bigger than Texas, most of whom are just trying to survive in highly polluted, impoverished conditions. But what we see today is not what India’s been. For instance, did you know:
India was once the richest empire on earth, at about 3000 BC, with cities more technologically advanced than most in Europe till the time of the Renaissance! The early Vedic sages invented the number system, the decimal system, algebra, trigonometry, calculus, and the value of pi.
Albert Einstein said:
We owe a lot to the Indians, who taught us how to count, without which no worthwhile scientific discovery could have been made.
In recent history: the creator of the Pentium chip was Vinod Dham; the co-founder of Sun Microsystems was Vinod Khosla; the creator of the hotmail email system was Sabeer Bhatia; and the GM of Hewlett Packard is Rajiv Gupta – all from India.
Will Durant, the Pulitzer Prize winning historian, said:
It is true that, even across the Himalayan barrier, India has sent to the West such gifts as grammar and logic, philosophy and fables, hypnotism and chess, and above all numerals and the decimal system. India was the motherland of our race, and Sanskrit the mother of Europe’s languages: she was the mother of our philosophy; mother, through the Arabs, of much of our mathematics; mother, through the Buddha, of the ideals embodied in Christianity; mother, through the village community, of self-government and democracy. Mother India is in many ways the mother of us all
In addition, legendary writer and humorist Mark Twain said:
India is the cradle of the human race, the birthplace of human speech, the mother of history, the grandmother of legend and the great grand mother of tradition.
By knowing some of these facts and quotes you realize that India is not just a country of slouches. India definitely has an illustrious past which can be seen by the living traditions that still exist in Vedic astrology, ayurvedic medicine, vastu (architecture), Sanskrit, music, dance, yoga, systems of worship etc.
You can find living masters today in each of these traditions who will give you a curriculum that will keep you busy for the rest of your life. These traditions can be traced to long lineages back to revered sages or rishis who formulated their respective systems directly from intuitive knowledge gained from meditative insight.
Sage Parashara – Father of Vedic Astrology
There are two main systems of Vedic astrology practiced today: Parashari and Jaimini, which were developed by the sages Parashara and Jaimini respectively. The sage Parashara is said to be the ‘Father of Vedic astrology’ who recorded the main principles of vedic astrology or Jyotish, the science of light, into the classic Sanskrit text known as the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra. This forms the basis for the entire Parashari system, which is by far the most widely used in India and the world today.
R. Santhanam and Vaughn Paul, December 1992
Journey to India – R. Santhanam
In 1992, on my first trip to India, I studied with the late R. Santhanam in New Delhi who translated the classic text the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra of Sage Parashara into English.
Since you’ve probably heard horrifying tales of travelers abroad to India I’ll spare you a lot of the unnecessary details of trying to get around in India. However, I will say that even though I had made contact with R. Santhanam before leaving the United States and was given detailed directions to his house it still took me a hair raising 3 hour rickshaw ride fighting through unbelievably noisy and chaotic traffic and getting lost repeatedly to find it! (See pic to left of unmarked intersection to R. Santhanam’s house)If I hadn’t called James Braha, who wrote about his experiences with R. Santhanam in his excellent book Astro Logos, before leaving I would not have been prepared.
Fortunately, the ordeal was worth it. Santhanam had cleared his schedule for four whole days so that I could study with him and I was thrilled! I had brought blank tapes, notebooks and about 30 charts of people I knew well and we spent about 8-10 hours a day together.
The first thing he asked me was, “Why are you here?” I said enthusiastically, “I want to learn Vedic astrology!” Then he said, “Ah! It’s a vast ocean. You can’t learn it in one lifetime. It takes many lifetimes. Anyway, let’s begin.”
While his wife came in and poured endless refills of chai, he easily described past events with each chart and told me how he had come to those conclusions. He knew my brother was in space engineering and a comedian, my sister was a school teacher, and my parents divorced when I was 6. He knew one my friends had difficulty trying to conceive a child, and he knew my sister in law was just about to have a child! He told me that my dharma was to be a Vedic astrologer. He also predicted that I would later get a degree in psychology, which I had no plans to do at the time, and integrate Vedic astrology with psychology. Both of these predictions, as well as others, have come to pass.
The most astonishing prediction was the one he made regarding my best friend who at that time had just become a monk in the Mata Amritanandamayi mission. He said that he would be getting married by 2002, which was the farthest thing from his mind in 1992! It wasn’t till he met his fiancée in 2000 that I realized Santhanam could be right! They later got married just as he had predicted almost 10 years in advance!
Ganganani hot springs with Sage Parashara temple above
Discovering The Sage Parashara Temple
Later, during a more recent trip to India in 2000 I had an unexpected glimpse into the ancient Vedic astrology tradition when I was on a pilgrimage in the Himalayas en route to Gangotri, the source of India’s holiest river – the Ganges. We were staying at a hot springs called Ganganani, which is a popular resting stop along the way towards Gangotri. I decided to have a look around and came across a very small temple just up the hill from the hot springs pool. Since I could read the Sanskrit script I was amazed to read, ‘Parashara Ashram.’
I asked whoever spoke some English about the origins of the place and found out that that very spot was where the great sage Parashara, the father of Vedic astrology, had lived the last 30 years of his life, many thousands of years ago! The little temple had a stone that was said to have been the one he sat on during meditation and a small statue of the sage.
Sometimes when you read about these great sages who are said to have intuited entire complex systems in meditation it’s easy to feel as though they’re more like mythic characters than real people. But to have been able to sit in that temple and pick up on the feeling of reverence that the priest and local people had for the sage it somehow became real that India does have an incredibly vast and vibrant living tradition.