The Differences Between Eastern and Western Astrology
Jyotish is a Sanskrit word that translates as the study of light (Jyoti means light). Rooted in a tradition that can be traced back thousands of years, Jyotish has a very long history of being a tool of self discovery and awakening.
The knowledge of jyotish is among the numerous Vedic texts. These ancient texts have been largely passed from generation to generation as an oral tradition, yet were originally cognized by enlightened rishis of the past. Eventually the knowledge and wisdom of these rishis was written into the volumes of Vedic texts we know today.
Each of these ancient Vedic texts has a purpose- which is to help humans awaken and become fully realized, enlightened. Although the Hindu religion uses the Vedic texts as resources for their beliefs, the Vedic texts pre-date this organized religion. This is an important distinction to make; the Vedic texts are not in and of themselves a religion, though the Hindu religion is based on them. Thereby, Jyotish is not a religion either.
The Jyotish texts are among the many recognized Vedic texts, and are part of the Angas, or Six Limbs of the Vedas. The Jyotish texts incorporate both astronomy and astrology, and are connected to the eyes, our ability to see; Jyotish is considered the "eye of the Vedas" quite literally. The purpose of the Jyotish texts is to awaken one to their cosmic, divine existence, to truly teach the reality of "as is the macrocosm, so is the microcosm."
The recognized grandfather of Jyotish is considered to be Parashara. He was truly a sage, an enlightened being by all accounts, who lived around 2 to 3,000 B.C. according to Indian historians. It was Parashara who wrote the jyotish texts originally, into what is known today as the Brihat Parashara Hora Shastra. This has been a guiding resource for jyotishis (students of jyotish) for millenniums and is a foundational understanding of Jyotish, the principles, practices and cosmic intelligence that guides our human existence- whether we choose to recognize this phenomenon as reality or not.
The ancient tradition of Eastern astrology, or the sidereal system, has a profound lineage of masters, of seers, that is linked to it; this is unparalleled in the modern, Western astrology realms (also known as Tropical astrology). Though ancient Vedic astrologers were well aware of the difference between the fixed zodiac (sidereal or nirayana chakra in Sanskrit), versus the moveable zodiac (tropical or sayana chakra in Sanskrit), they chose to use the sidereal zodiac for reasons of accuracy. (I will discuss calculations more in part 2 of this article).
Western astrology, the way it is used today is quite new, and it cannot be linked to ancient roots like that of the sidereal approach. I believe this to be the most important distinction between the tropical and sidereal approaches to astrology. I'm a traditionalist in many regards. I want a lineage connected to my knowledge and resources. Lineage is important for me in order to trust the knowledge that I'm receiving. The wisdom and guidance of the ancient Jyotish system provides this for me.
Living in a Westerncentric society, yet having grown up in a yogic family with Eastern philosophy and spiritual ideals instilled into me, I have often contemplated the differences, the clashes, in Western ideals vs. Eastern ideals. Western ideals, in my view, are very rooted in an externalized reality- what we can see, what is "known", what can be "proven" in tangible ways. The West trusts the thinking mind, yet mistrusts the emotional and intuitive aspects of existence. Western ideals are connected to wanting tangible proofs, and there is a generalized mistrust in anything that can't be proven through the West's favorite tool of proof, science.
In general, these ideals tend to clash with what I've learned from Eastern philosophy and spirituality. The wide gap between Eastern and Western ideals, however, seems to be changing more and more as a result of Westerncentric ideals becoming globalized. However, in my experience, and through my studies of Jyotish, the East by and large accepts the senses, the feeling level of life, in a way the West can't quite grasp. Spiritual existence (not just religious) is an accepted and even essential ingredient for understanding one's life. The spiritual realms are a trustworthy resource and a valid one. Westerncentric ideals on the other hand, tend to question and doubt the unseen realms, and even mistrust the innate intuitive guidance systems hardwired into our human body.
Simply put, the West seems to be mainly concerned with the more tangible realms, that which is outside of ourselves. The West is very concerned with what effects the surface of life will have on an individual's experience in this lifetime. In contrast, the East seems primarily concerned with the intangible as a driving force for one's life experiences. The spiritual realms, one's inner reality, and how these factors will effect one's overall life (and lives) is the primary consideration for all aspects of life according to Eastern ideals. These philosophical distinctions become important when looking at the differences between astrological approaches- Sidereal vs. Tropical- as well as this idea of fixed and unfixed realities.
Essentially, Eastern astrology, the sidereal approach to studying the cosmic self, is based on the fixed reality of life, that which is unchanging. The ancient jyotishis knew that using a fixed zodiac was ideal as this mirrors the essence of our non-changing self, the Atman, or soul. This non-changing expression of reality, of our cosmic existence, is expressed eloquently in the Mahavakyas and can be stated quite simply as tat tvam asi, or thou art That.
In contrast, the Western approach to astrology, or Tropical approach, is based on the moveable, changing reality of life- as is expressed by the fact that these astrologers choose to cast their charts based on the unfixed zodiac. This is a decidedly poignant distinction that I feel truly accentuates the many differences, philosophically and otherwise, between Eastern and Western approaches. As with predominant Westerncentric ideals, there is an obsession with all aspects of life that are not lasting, that are fleeting illusions. The East knows better.
I admittedly have issues with the Western approach to astrology and I do find it a bit irksome and tiresome to be corrected by Tropical astrology followers who claim my posts are wrong. Though this is slightly annoying, the main reason that I am troubled by Western astrology is a result of its historical connections to the time of Ceasar, the Romans, and the Christian religious mandates that still predominate Westerncentric cultural paradigms. I will highlight this here, but there are in fact numerous resources that do a better job of accounting the atrocities of the Greco-Roman cultures and their lasting impact on our sense of time, our measure of time, and the effects this has had on every aspect of our human existence.
Undoubtedly, Roman rule changed the course of history, of life and cultural ideals, of our modern spiritual and philosophical understandings. We are still working with many of the failings of this historical time period in my opinion. The Julian calendar which was introduced in 46 BC (though Roman calendars were in place prior to this) is really when the recognized calendar shifted from a Moon based calendar (and in many regards a nature based calendar) to a solar based calendar. This may seem insignificant, yet the implications were very serious and lasting.
It is well documented that when the calendar shifted from Moon based, to Sun based, there was also a shift in how the divine feminine and women in general, were perceived, treated and recognized within society. A shift happened during Roman rule and it has cost humanity greatly. This is when the ultimate shift occurred between honoring feminine ideals versus masculine ideals. This is when Western values and philosophies, and the mind, the mental body, became king. This is the historical time period when women, and our innate intuitive gifts, began to be feared and made evil. This is the time when dogmatic, base religious ideals took over, and ultimately suppressed the awareness of cosmic intelligence within every human being. This is when the goddess died, and the male god came into predominant power.
As a result of this intense shift in consciousness, a deep appreciation, respect and reverence for the divine feminine, the emotional body, and women was lost. I've spent years studying the goddess and how the divine feminine was slowly killed off; killed not only within our cultural and historical understandings, but also killed within our own spirits. This absence, and Her denial, is what I consider to be the most tragic and striking loss for our Westerncentric civilization as a whole.
The issue of the goddess and the divine feminine may seem like a separate concern, not connected to the differences between sidereal and tropical astrology. I, however, see the connection as a striking and important one. The Vedic tradition recognizes that the energy of the Moon is feminine and has qualities that correlate to the divine feminine within us and also the functioning of the Divine Feminine in Nature as well. The Sun is recognized as a decidedly masculine energetic expression, which expresses itself within us and in Nature as well. (It is not just the Vedic tradition that honors the Moon as the feminine and the Sun as the masculine energy).
Using a solar based calendar and basing our sense of time on the solar aspects of life, the masculine, negates the importance and the impact the Moon has on our life and on time itself. In fact, the Moon is our most remarkable entity for marking time accurately. The phases of the Moon, the ones we see as the Moon waxes and wanes, are perhaps the most basic expression of the Moon as natural time keeper. In Vedic astrology, the understanding that Moon is our time keeper, is quite elaborate and truly worth studying.
For me, these are all remarkable philosophical distinctions between the Eastern and Western approaches to astrology. As a Vedic astrology scholar (life long student), I never cease to be amazed at the depth, the understanding and the recognition of the feminine that is interwoven into the Vedic knowledge and the understanding of our cosmic existence. The feminine is recognized in fact, as having more importance than the masculine in many ways. For without the Moon, its nurturing qualities, its ability to comfort, support and most importantly, to create, there would be no existence. No mother, no life. The feminine is who brings us life, brings us into being. It's this depth and this foundational understanding, this honoring of the Divine Feminine, that makes Jyotish a premier resource for understanding ourselves, our innate nature, the depths of our cosmic existence.
I will address calculation differences in Part 2. Leave your questions below, and I will try to address them in my next post.
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