Published On: Thu, Apr 11th, 2013

Perspectives on Astrological Determinism

April 11, 2013 (VNN) – By Dean Dominic De Lucia/Dharmapad Das

An Excerpt from Astro Vedica, Chapter Three


The theme of astrological determinism has been in existence for as long as astrology itself. They go hand in hand, for although one may be bound by karmic reactions, one still has some free will upon which to call. And God’s will must be factored into the equation, too. So naturally, a question arises; up to what degree are we bound and at which point does free will or divine intervention come into play? Unfortunately, the answers to these questions are not always understood properly in relation to the science of astrology.

Typically, there are various grounds upon which the authority of horoscopic indications are mistakenly minimized. For example, some feel that free will reigns supreme in its contest with karmic and horoscopic indications.

But it must be kept in mind that the soul is not possessed of absolute free will. In his writings, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, the founder-acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, typically makes reference to the ” minute free will of the living entity.”

The disciples of Swami Bhaktivedanta give an appropriate analogy to describe how the living entity bargains away his free will and becomes karmically bound in their commentary to the 12th canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam. It is similar to boarding an airplane, they write. When an individual boards an airplane, that person is bound by such action. One cannot capriciously decide to change one’s fate and walk out the door. The person becomes bound by his or her former decision and must remain aloft for a while.

Furthermore, they explain that this decision opens up a whole new array of choices. For example, one may choose coach fare and then decide to upgrade to first class. Or one may decide to view a film or not to do so. The point is that the exercise of free will is never negated, but still karmic environments and specific reactions will manifest. There is choice, but not as much as we might think.

Others feel that by taking initiation from a bona fide spiritual master one’s karmas are accepted by him and that afterwards, the supersoul takes responsibility for guiding one’s life from within. Still others feel that through spiritual practice ( sadhana ) one’s karmas gradually melt away such that one no longer is bound by them. In all such cases, the horoscope would come to have less and less validity.

The example of a fan may be appropriately applied. When the plug of a fan is pulled out the blade continues to rotate because of the momentum. This is true even though no new impetus is received. Similarly, a practitioner of sadhana ( spiritual life ) may incur no new karma, but he will continue to receive karmic reations from before. Thus it’s true that new karmas are avoided though responsibility must be taken for old karmas.

This actually occurred in the case of the Avanti ( district of Malwa in India ) brahmin mentioned in the 11th canto of the Bhagavat Purana. This brahmin had been materialistic but renounced the world to practice sadhana on the banks of a holy river. For all his efforts he was rewarded by being beaten up and tormented by hooligans. He was not sorry for that, however; he blamed it on his previous impious activities and the root cause of these, his mind. The point is that although he was engaged in spiritual practice, not all of his karmas dropped off immediately.

This seems to be in stark contrast to the instructions of the Vishnudutas to the followers of Yamaraj. While snatching the soul of Ajamil from their grasp, the Vishnudutas explained that even casual mention of the name of Narayana can relieve a soul of more karma than a soul could possibly commit. They also mentioned that Ajamil’s utterance of the Holy Name was especially efficacious because he did so without offenses and in a pitiable condition.

There are many other statements such as this in the Vedic literature. One nice example may be found in the Bhakti-Rasamrita of Rupa Goswami. In the ninth chapter of this work Shree Rupa quotes Narada Muni in the Dvarka Mahatmya as saying ” From the body of any person who claps and dances before the diety, showing manifestations of ecstacy, all the birds of sinful activity fly away.”

Does this mean that just by attending religious ceremonies such as the aroti ceremony that all of one’s karma is negated and that horoscopic indications become negligible? Certainly not, but the answer to this conundrum must be fully understood before one can have faith in one’s horoscope and make use of it.

First of all, it should be understood that astrology is not simply a study of karmic reactions. Rather, astrology indicates the will of the Supreme expressed through his agency of Time. Astrology is principally a study of time.

The point being that the will of Vishnu\Krishna is indicated by astrological phenomena which should not, then, be considered as some kind of separate power from the will of God. The idea is not similar to the Christian concept of God and the Devil. According to the Christians, the Devil exists as some kind of separate power outside of the framework of the Lord. Astrology should not be seen in that way. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna explains in the first person that ” Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds ” ( Kalo ‘smi Loka Kshaya Krit Pravriddho ). Actually, the phenomena of both the illusion of the soul and the passage of time are both indicative of the will of God; illusion and time are both carried out by his manifold agencies.

Time’s role as a beginning and end is generally well understood, but there is another, less understood aspect of Time which has been pointed out in the 11th chapter of Gita (Texts 33 and 34): ” Conquer your enemies and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. They are already put to death by My arrangement, Oh Savyasachi, and you can be but an instrument in the fight. Drona, Bhishma, Jayadratha, Karna and the other great warriors have already been destroyed by me.”

A deeper understanding of the involvement of thinking, feeling and willing on the occurrence of any action helps us to understand the nature of time and chronology. Any action must be first initiated on the mental platform, which is an ethereal, platform; sometimes the word ” astral ” is used to indicate this platform. For example, in the 33rd text of the 26th chapter of the third canto of the Bhagavat Purana, His Divine Grace A C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Prabhupada, confirms this: ” Subtle forms are generated from the ethereal element, … mental activities are also on the platform of ethereal existence.”

It is only after an action occurs on the subtle, etheral platform that it actually takes place in the gross material sphere. This is the understanding behind Shree Krishna’s words ” They are already put to death by my arrangement.” A certain chain reaction occurs culminating with the final manifestation of an action on the gross material platform. The successive, trickle-down manifestations of an action in the various realms, subtle then finally gross, is actually an exhibition of the chronology of Time, comprehended now in a more complete way. For this reason it is useless to resist one’s destiny as destiny has already occurred on subtler planes; it is just a matter of time before the played-out fate manifests on the material plane. Astrological symbols indicate these “ days of the future past “ on the subtler, ethereal planes.

And although it is true that karmas fall off for one who utters Hare Nama and engages in spiritual practice otherwise, the confusion actually has to do with which karmas are the ones that are cancelled.

A year or two back an essay was generated by the philosophical research committee of the Hare Krishna movement, penned by Shyamasundara Dasa, which shone some light on this question. It was entitled “Fate, Freewill and the Law of Karma.”

This essay began by explaining divisions of karma because not all karmas are of the same nature. Kriyaman karma is defined as newly created karma and sanchita karma as stored-up karma. Sanchita karma is further divided as anurabdha karma, or reactions which have not yet manifested and are lying in a seed-like state, and prarabdha karma which refers to karma which has already begun to manifest.

Then the Vedantra Sutra is quoted which states: ” Upon obtaining Vidya there takes place the non-clinging of works done in the present life, and the destruction of karma stored up which was done in the past life. This is so because it is declared in the Upanishads.” This seems to support the idea that one gets off Scot free by chanting Narayana’s name or clapping his or her hands in front of Shree Murti.

But the 15th verse of the same chapter seems to put everything in its perspective. There it is stated that “… only the immature karmas of former lives, namely, those karmas whose effects have not begun, are destroyed by knowledge.” This verse tells us that the prarabdha karmas, the ones depicted in the horoscope, remain even if one were to obtain Vidya.

The horoscope is actually the wheel of time which was set into motion at the moment of birth. The prarabdha karmas it represents have already manifested; it is only a matter of time before they come to pass. And according to the above verse of Vedantra Sutra, these karmas will come to pass even if one takes up religious practice (sadhana) or obtains Vidya (knowledge).

As explained in the paragraphs above, this truth is reminiscent of Shree Krishna’s statement to Arjuna in the Gita (11th chapter) wherein He instructs Arjuna that “These soldiers and kings have already been put to death by my arrangement, Oh Savyasachin, and you can be but an instrument.”

For further understanding we can refer to the narration of the birth of Maharaj Parikshit in first canto, twelfth chapter of the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Parikshit Maharaj was an exalted soul because he was protected by Vishnu in the womb of Uttara (from the Brahmastra of Ashvattama). The brahmins of the court of king Yudhistira referred to him as a maha-bhagavat, a pure devotee of the lord; Parikshit Maharaj was a pure devotee from his very birth.

Even so, the Bhagavatam states that ” Thereupon, when all the good signs of the zodiac gradually evolved, the heir apparent of Pandu, who would be exactly like him in prowess, took birth.”

(1.12.12) In his commentary on this verse, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami states that ” Maharaj Parikshit, or even the Personality of Godhead appear in certain constellations of good stars, and thus the influence is exerted upon the body thus born at an auspicious moment … a suitable moment was choosen when all good stars assembled together to exert their influence upon the king.”

The question of whether or not the king carried with him prarabdha karmas when he took birth becomes immaterial when the following point is understood; that even though Maharaj Parikshit was a maha-bhagavat, a pure devotee of the lord, his horoscope still corresponded to the events which unfolded in his life. This practically suggests that astrological phenomena will remain valid for all beings, in spite of one’s exercise of free will or one’s level of spiritual attainment.

As an example of the validity of the king’s horoscope, the jataka vipras (astrologers) predicted that King Parikshit ” would be true to his promise like Rama, the son of Dasaratha…exactly like King Ikshvaku in maintaining those who are born … a munificent donor of charity and protector of the surrendered like the famous king Shibi … amongst great bowman the child will be as good as Arjuna …, ” and even more (IBID).

Besides these general predictions, the brahmins foretold specific incidents about Parikshit Maharaja’s future life. For example: ” After hearing of his death, which will be caused by the bite of a snakebird sent by the son of a brahmin, he will get himself freed from all material attachment and surrender to the Personality of Godhead, taking shelter of him. After inquiring about proper self-knowledge from the son of Vyasadev, who will be a great philosopher, he will renounce all material attachment and achieve a life of fearlessness ” (IBID).

All of this came true in the life of Maharaj Parikshit from which we may conclude two things. First of all, the astrologers of the court of Maharaj Yudhistira mastered the Vedic system very well. This had to be so in order for them to predict so accurately. Contemporary astrologers should take a lesson from the astrologers of old; half-baked interpretations from astrologers who don’t have a good working knowledge of the system, nor sufficient experience are not acceptable. At the present time, as Vedic astrology is becoming transplanted to the West, it is seen that immature practitioners read three books and hang their shingle, so to speak.

Secondly, we can conclude that astrological indications strongly correspond to the lives of pure souls, Godhead himself (Shree Krishna), and Vishnu expansions. What then, can we say of souls who are still in the conditioned state, even if they have begun to tread the path of self realization.

At this point, we have a basis for understanding Vedic astrology. We have seen from whom to understand, how to understand, and we have also seen that astrological influences will be indicative in all cases, beginning with Shree Krishna and his pure devotee down to the common man.

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