Vedic Astrology is much more than just predicting timing of events. It’s true physical, mental and spiritual benefits are revealed when it is used primarily as a tool for self-knowledge and self-discovery. When used in this way there is no other modality that can match the speed at which we can gain inner guidance and inner empowerment. This model is empowering and puts the authorship of our life’s journey in our hands rather than the stars alone. Most importantly this can help us develop skills and dedication that we will need to become the hero our life’s journey.
So, let’s begin our journey …
A thought, or a desire appears in our head…. Where does it come from? Can we be sure that it belongs to us? Are we alone in our head? Are we truly captains of our own ship, or are there forces beyond our control steering the ship?
Who is this thinker “I” “me” or “self” that we identify with and why is Yoga’s main goal to be liberated from this limited aspect of the personality.
Let’s look briefly first at where 21st century science stands on this question. A few years ago, Professor Kerry Ressler, a neurobiologist and psychiatrist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, became interested in intergenerational trauma. Ressler and his colleague Brian Dias set up an experiment to expose male and female mice with the scent of cherry blossom, while giving the mice small electric shocks. Eventually, as expected, the mice learnt to associate the pain of the shocks with the smell and began shaking with fear just with the smell alone.
What was most unexpected was the discovery that up to four generations of the offspring of these mice, even those conceived through in vitro fertilization, were born sensitive to the cherry blossom smell and demonstrated fear in the presence of the smell.
This study was published in the most prestigious scientific journal Nature Neuroscience in 2013. The revelations of this study certainly had scientist scratching their heads. Brian Dias noted “The overwhelming response has been 'Wow! But how the hell is it happening?'
These types of experiments are leading the way in the new science of epigenetics, and a new understanding of the importance of environmental influences, both good and bad, such as trauma, diet, lifestyle changes etc., that can modify gene expression without altering the gene code itself, and then pass on the changes to future generations as well.
Ancient Vedic Knowledge
While the scientist might be looking at these new discoveries with awe and surprise, this powerful link between our self-hood and personality and the experiences of our ancestors and their memories, has long been understood in most ancient cultures. As well as the influence of environmental factors, which are in our control, that can potentially turn these influences of off or on.
In the Vedic culture it is said that we inherit our consciousness from our ancestors. Therefore, there is lot of emphasis on honoring the elders in the family member as well as those who have passed on. For thousands of years in Vedic culture worship and veneration of the family lineage played an important role in spiritual practice. Interestingly, the Vedic texts recommend at least three generations be honored.
Samskara – Inherited psychological imprints
In Sanskrit these inherited psychological imprints are called samskaras – which are the accumulated experiences from present and past lives, ancestral memories and our cultural heritage, that are deeply rooted in our psyche. Positive Samskaras lift us up and negative Samskaras are the reason for much of our suffering, as well as the collective suffering of society.
Indeed, the whole system of the Vedic/Yogic culture in India as it has evolved over thousands of years, which includes spiritual practices such Yoga, Mantra, Meditation, Vedic astrology and lifestyle practices like Ayurveda, as well as the prescribed social and cultural norms and rituals, was designed to aid in the transformation and transcendence of our negative Samskaras.
Jyotish – Illuminates our Samskara
The sanskrit word for Vedic Astrology is Jyotish, which means to illuminate or shine a light upon. So you could say that the Vedic horoscope illuminates our samskaras, or the physical, mental and spiritual consciousness of our family, ancestors and culture that we inherited. Our past life memories that are influencing us in this life are also embedded here.
Ancestral fears such as those carried by the cherry blossom mice will show up in the horoscope and surface in more extreme ways during certain dasha/bhukti (planetary and sub planetary periods) or during certain transits such as sade sati.
It is these strongly entrenched tendencies that make certain life events fated to occur and make Vedic Astrology such an amazing predictive tool.
Samskara and Karma
The actions that we must perform as a result of our samskaras is what is called karma. Karma in Sanskrit means “what I must do”, So in that sense the word karma is often used interchangeably with duty and obligation, because performing action, burden or Karma that we have no choice but to endure, without feeling like a victim, is probably the most significant spiritual message of the Yogic/Vedic system of knowledge.
While the concepts of samskara and karma are very deeply rooted in the Indian culture, in the west they are often seen with a little suspicion or misunderstood. However, much of what we are talking about here is not exclusive to the Vedic culture.
Freud, Jung and Joseph Campbell
Let’s look at the intellectual giants of the 20th century like Freud, Jung, and Joseph Campbell who have had a tremendous amount of influence on our culture. They also theorized that we are neither completely transparent to ourselves nor alone in our head. They suggested that our perceptions, actions and thoughts are not always voluntary but rather they may be the result of the workings of the unconscious mind, which accesses stored personal experiences and memories, especially from our childhood. Finally, they brought to light the influence of the collective unconscious, which includes memories and impulses that may not belong to us, much like the mice in the experiment.
The Hero’s Journey
Jung and Campbell studying mythology, comparative literature and astrology saw a similarity of narrative shared by cultures across the world and over thousands and thousands of years. This Jung and Campbell described as being part of the collective unconscious or “timeless truths”, which serve as a template to assist us in our psychological maturation.
Jung suggested that when these collective unconscious contents of the personality are integrated into the conscious personality, then and only then a true personality can emerge.
Because Samskaras or the unconscious reflect our deeply entrenched tendencies that cannot be easily uprooted, we must be careful not to look for quick easy solutions to our predicaments.
Samaskaras are not just our thoughts, but rather they are the thinker itself. In the thinker, they are the one who thinks. In other words, Samskaras run so deep in our mind that they may just be the very spirit and essence of what we consider to be “me.” It’s here that we must wrap our mind around the blurry lines between freewill and destiny.
The Power of Myth
Campbell coined the term monomyth, the common template for a broad spectrum of stories through out cultures and history. He called this universal myth as The Hero’s Journey and structured it as a circle or a cycle divided into three phases: departure, initiation and return, with several sub stages.
Campbell explained the power of myth as “It would not be too much to say that myth is the secret opening through which the inexhaustible energies of the Cosmos pour into human cultural manifestation.”
Jung was also very interested in the power of story and myth and he suggested that “the reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.”
Kierkegaard, the famous Danish theologian, poet and philosopher, also saw the power and weight of our history and said “life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.”
The challenging Hero’s Journey
What Jung called psychological maturation, so our true personality can emerge, or what Yoga philosophy calls transcending and transmuting “the self” is a challenging and difficult hero’s journey.
If you take your favorite modern myths like Star Wars, Harry Potter, or Lord of the Rings, these are stories depicting the difficult journeys we all must undertake to work through our samskaras– we cannot not bury them, avoid them or escape them – we must take them head on. Otherwise, we risk turning our negative Samskaras into what Jung referred to as our “shadow”, which he described as “the part of our psyche that an individual would rather not acknowledge, or the denied parts of the self.”.
Myths and stories across cultures reveal the yearnings fears, aspirations and struggles common to every individual. They also provide the roadmap for ways out of our predicament. The dragons and villains the heroes confront in stories are our difficult samskaras that result in angst, bullies, health problems, failed relationships, jealousy, failures and unfulfilled desires. On his journey the hero also encounters many guides, mentors and supernatural aids to lift him up – these are our positive samskaras. From the astrological perspective the friends and foes the hero encounters show the condition of the planets in our horoscope.
Vedic Horoscope as The Hero’s Journey
It should come as no surprise that the hero’s journey monomyth is also present across cultures in the ancient science of Astrology.
The long and difficult but most rewarding journey we all must take is that of the cyclical zodiac, Aries – Pisces and the houses 1-12, which is the process of evolution inherent in nature.
The planets show us the skills the hero will need to acquire and perfect along the way.
The planetary periods or Dasha system of Vedic Astrology gives us the roadmap of how our unique story will unfold.
Healing is Messy
Now in the monomyth like most healing modalities a sequence of stages such as discovery, healing and transformation is suggested. In real life though healing does not come in neat stages, it is messy, disordered and complicated. We may stay in one stage for decades, skip some stages completely or in times of emergency go through all the stages in a matter of days, weeks or even minutes.
All of us will go through numerous hero’s journeys in a lifetime. Furthermore, each of us will have our own distinct rhythm in how our story unfolds.
Having a deep and unbiased understanding of our story and myth, we can embrace this rhythm, and acknowledge our unique path to self-discovery.
Our unique heroes journey.
In future articles we will look at the 12 main stages of a Hero’s journey using Campbell’s template and how it overlaps with the Zodiac, houses and planets and how this sheds a light on your horoscope