by His Holiness Bhakti Vikas Swami
(This is the first of a series of essays meant for eventual publication in a book about Vaiṣṇava culture and etiquette.)
Astrology (jyotiṣa) is described as “the eye of the Vedas.” The Vedic version (not the Western type) is a bona fide science, and is considered essential in Vedic society, so much so that even the Supreme Lord, although beyond all astrological considerations, nonetheless adheres to them while performing His humanlike pastimes. For example:
The supremely auspicious Lord then married Kālindī on a day when the season, the lunar asterism, and the configurations of the sun and other heavenly bodies were all propitious.1
An example from Lord Caitanya’s pastimes is that He began His return journey from East Bengal to Navadvīpa at an astrologically auspicious moment.2
In traditional Vedic society, working knowledge of astrology was essential for brāhmaṇas, who employed it in their day-to-day dispensing of advice to others on all kinds of matters. And no one would make an important decision without consulting an expert astrologer.
Being a gift of Bhagavān, astrology is inherently sacred. Although some people dismiss astrology as superstition or a pseudo-science, the Bṛhat Parāśara Horā-śāstra (2.13) states that anyone who, lacking knowledge of śāstra, censures astrology, goes to hell and is thereafter born blind.
Is Astrology Suitable for Devotees?
Although Śrīla Prabhupāda, in his books and elsewhere, repeatedly recommended astrology, sometimes devotees quote him as being disparaging of it. For instance:
Regarding astrology, you should not listen to any of these so-called astrologers—strictly avoid. Don’t even see them. What is the use of seeing them? Astrology is meant for the materialist, but a spiritualist does not care for the future. Everything is dependent upon Krishna. So where is the necessity of astrology? The devotees’ principle is, let there happen anything as Kṛṣṇa desires. Let me remain a sincere devotee, that’s all. A pure devotee is never interested in this astrology.3
The history behind this instruction is that certain devotees were consulting nondevoteeastrologers regarding favorable and unfavorable times to go out for preaching. Instead of trusting in Kṛṣṇa’s will, the devotees were becoming confused and reacting on the mental platform. In this situation, a devotee wrote to Śrīla Prabhupāda to inquire whether devotees should seek such astrological advice, and the above was the reply.
Nevertheless, if a devotee, for the sake of serving Kṛṣṇa and His devotees, has acquired competence in astrology, that should be understood as a gift of Kṛṣṇa. Because his knowledge of astrology is dovetailed in the service of Kṛṣṇa, devotees who approach him will not get the same kind of advice as given by those whom Śrīla Prabhupāda referred to as “so-called astrologers.”
Once an astrologer in Vṛndāvana gave Viśāla Dāsa, (who was going through a Rāhu period) a yantra to wear around his neck to counteract the negative influence of the stars. The astrologer told him to dip it in the Yamunā and have an ārati performed at midday. When Śrīla Prabhupāda’s secretary Brahmānanda Swami saw it, he told Viśāla that Śrīla Prabhupāda always said that devotees do not have to add anything to the Kṛṣṇa conscious process. Viśāla consulted Śrīla Prabhupāda about this, explaining that he thought the astrological guidance would aid his Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked who the astrologer was and how much he charged, then quoted the full verse sarva-dharmān parityajya… and said, “Kṛṣṇa consciousness is beyond astrology. If you just surrender to Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa with a slight kick can annihilate one hundred thousand Rāhu planets.”4
In the above instance, the astrologer had prescribed a non-Vaiṣṇava remedy. Devotees should reject non-Vaiṣṇava remedies, as in most cases they involve demigod worship or other formulas meant for nondevotees. But there are also Vaiṣṇava remedies. Although astrology is mostly practiced by nondevotees for nondevotee clients and for nondevotional purposes, it is also practiced by devotees who are competent to guide other devotees for devotional purposes. If properly understood and applied, astrology does not conflict with transcendental devotional service.
Another negative statement by Śrīla Prabhupāda regarding astrology is:
You should not bother with all this nonsense. Astrology will not save you at the time of death. My Guru Maharaja was a great astrologer and astronomer, but he gave it all up. It is meant for the karmīs. We have no interest in such things.5
This comment can be understood to pertain to the elevated platform of indifference to worldly affairs. As Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura noted, “there is no inauspiciousness for persons fully surrendered to Kṛṣṇa, and such pure devotees do not attribute much importance to worldly auspiciousness or inauspiciousness.”6 Still, most devotees are not sannyasis or advanced transcendentalists. Like other people, they struggle to balance their worldly duties, particularly those of caring for their family and working to earn money. Astrology can help them optimize their physical and psychological strengths and be better aware of their weaknesses, and thus help them find direction, handle problems, and lead a healthier and more productive life. As Śrīla Prabhupāda said (regarding astrological considerations), “We are not very much concerned with these things, but when it is going to rain you should take an umbrella.”7
Śrīla Prabhupāda’s endorsement of astrology is apparent from his regular consultation of astrologers during the several months of sickness prior to departing from this world.[viii] Conclusively, Śrīla Prabhupāda was not against astrology per se, but against the misuse of it, as is clear that from the following:
Astronomical calculations of stellar influences upon a living being are not suppositions, but are factual, as confirmed in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.… The law of nature is so subtle that every part of our body is influenced by the respective stars, and a living being obtains his working body to fulfill his terms of imprisonment by the manipulation of such astronomical influence. A man’s destiny is therefore ascertained by the birthtime constellation of stars, and a factual horoscope is made by a learned astrologer. It is a great science, and misuse of a science does not make it useless.[ix]
In a nutshell, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s outlook was, “We believe in astrology, but because it is a difficult science, people do not understand it properly.”[x]And therefore Śrīla Prabhupāda wanted the Bhaktivedanta Institute to study and present astrology in a scientific manner.[xi]
Haṁsāvatāra Dāsa recalls that when he first asked Śrīla Prabhupāda about studying astrology, Śrīla Prabhupāda dismissed it as unimportant. Later, when Haṁsāvatāra Dāsa told Śrīla Prabhupāda that he wanted to study astrology for the sake of preaching, Śrīla Prabhupāda enthusiastically endorsed it.[xii]
When asked, “Is astrology of any importance to a way of life?” Śrīla Prabhupāda replied:
Yes. This is a science. That science is acceptable by the human society. Medical science, legal science, engineering science – similarly, astrology also, another science. But the astrology is simply useful so long you have got this body. But as soon as your body is finished, there is no more use of astrology.[xiii]
Although astrology is concerned with matters of this world and is not necessary in the practice of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the same is true of medicine, law, engineering, and all other among the innumerable fields of knowledge that devotees utilize while present in this material sphere. Certainly, the holy name is the only ultimate shelter in this inclement and unpredictable place. Yet just as an unhealthy devotee may be advised to consult a doctor, when facing complex or risky situations in his personal life he may likewise benefit from approaching an astrologer.
Like a good map on a long and difficult journey, an astrological chart can help one to identify the best path to follow, the hurdles ahead, when to be especially careful, and when it is safe to speed up.
Nowadays, astrology is mostly utilized for guidance in domestic matters, such as marriage compatibility, to indicate favorable times for business investments or weddings and other important events, and determining suitable occupations for various individuals. Astrology is also used in ascertaining a child’s varṇa and a man’s eligibility for acceptance of sannyāsa.
Devotees who do not regularly consult an astrologer should nonetheless not fail to take – and follow! – astrological advice for compatability matching prior to marriage. In Indian society, a major factor in the stability of arranged marriages is the assistance of qualified astrologers in making compatible matches. It is foolish to choose a mate simply by “falling in love,” with little foresight concerning the future of the relationship. Expert astrological advice should be sought, for that can make the difference between a life of suffering and a settled, contented platform from which to prosecute Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
According to the Vedic system, the parents would consider the horoscopes of the boy and girl who were to be married. If according to astrological calculations the boy and girl were compatible in every respect, the match was called yoṭaka and the marriage would be accepted. Even fifty years ago, this system was current in Hindu society. Regardless of the affluence of the boy or the personal beauty of the girl, without this astrological compatibility the marriage would not take place. A person is born in one of three categories, known as deva-gaṇa, manuṣya-gaṇa, and rakṣasa-gaṇa. In different parts of the universe there are demigods and demons, and in human society also some people resemble demigods whereas others resemble demons. If according to astrological calculations there was conflict between a godly and a demoniac nature, the marriage would not take place.[xiv]
In Vedic society, upon the birth of each child, every high-class family would consult an astrologer:
According to the Vedic culture, immediately after a boy’s birth astrologers should calculate what category he belongs to. Astrology can help if there is a first-class astrologer. Such an astrologer can tell what line a boy is coming from and how he should be trained.[xv]
Whether one has a short life or a long life, one must suffer the threefold miseries of material life. Therefore any gentleman, dhīra, must be interested in jyotiṣa, astrology. Nanda Mahārāja was trying to take advantage of the opportunity afforded by Gargamuni’s presence, for Gargamuni was a great authority in this knowledge of astrology, by which one can see the unseen events of past, present and future. It is the duty of a father to understand the astrological position of his children and do what is needed for their happiness.[xvi]
Another important use of astrology is for ascertaining the best time for performing garbhādhāna-saṁskāra to produce good progeny.
As a platform for preaching, astrology reinforces the Vedic worldview, including the principles of karma, and thus presupposes reincarnation and the understanding that planets, controlled by demigods, subtly map human lives.
Astrology is not a panacea for all troubles. Like anything else, without Kṛṣṇa consciousness astrology is ultimately of no value. Although it can offer guidelines to help maximize one’s endeavors in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, it cannot give love of God. Attainment of Kṛṣṇa-prema is dependent upon the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa, and personal sincerity is also essential. Astrology may show that a person has spiritual tendencies, but that does not forego his need to develop those tendencies by painstaking endeavor in devotional service. In short, astrology is a guide, not a shortcut or a substitute.
A common misunderstanding is that the stars influence fate. But factually, they do not cause anything to happen. Astrology is rather a descriptive language, applicable even to persons who are not subject to karma, including the Supreme Lord, Kṛṣṇa. Just as the Sanskrit language can describe the position, personality, and activities of both the Supreme Lord and also of persons bound by karma, so too can astrology.
Devotees know that fundamentally everything is controlled by Kṛṣṇa, and not by demigods. Although astrology is generally considered a means for managing the influence of the demigods, it is better understood as a system given by Kṛṣṇa for understanding specific workings of the universe. For one who is knowledgeable of astrology and related disciplines, the world imparts information at all times. To illustrate, at the moment when Rāma and Sugrīva made their alliance, the left eyes of Rāvaṇa, Vāli, and Sītā twitched, which signaled the destruction of Rāvaṇa and Vāli and the rescue of Sītā. According to the science of omens, twitching on the left side of the body is inauspicious for males but auspicious for females; and twitching on the right side of the body is auspicious for males but inauspicious for females.
A danger for devotees is of seeing everything in terms of planetary influences and not recognizing the hand of Kṛṣṇa in the life of His devotees. This can lead to seeing devotional service in mundane terms. For example, a self-made astrologer once told me that in my name, Bhakti Vikāśa, bhakti is ruled by Jupiter and vikāśa by Venus – thus demonstrating his ignorance of the basic principle that bhakti received in the Gauḍīya paramparā is under the protection of Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī and that the vikāśa (luster) of such bhakti has nothing to do with the material enjoyment presided over by Venus.
Although astrology is a perfect science, the majority of astrologers are far from perfect in their knowledge and insight of the subject. Certainly the Vedic astrological discipline is superior to the Western, as it is grounded in Vedic culture and spiritual understanding, and was originally designed to help guide the seeker onto the path back to Godhead. Yet much of what is practiced in India today would better be termed Hindu astrology rather than Vedic astrology, because over the centuries the pristine science has become obscured by accretions from Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, Māyāvāda, and other apa-siddhāntic sources.
Advice from an insufficiently qualified or ill-motivated so-called astrologer is liable to be useless or worse. The Ayurvedic authority Caraka repeatedly warns against quacks, considering their treatment more dangerous than poison. As with medicine, astrology is too complex to be mastered simply by self-study of textbooks. Just as no one today is allowed to practice medicine without being duly certified, no one in Vedic culture was allowed to practice Ayurveda, astrology, or any other important discipline without first being fully trained and authenticated by a recognized master. Without such training, even an astrologer who has been practicing for many years is liable to commit basic errors. Simplistic readings, such as those available from several websites, often miss important insights that can be revealed only by the probing of an experienced astrologer.
Vedic astrology is a multifaceted interdisciplinary study of the human situation, and it therefore calls for judicious analysis. To properly discharge his service, an astrologer not only must be well-founded in jyotīṣa, but his spiritual understanding should be clear and he should have good knowledge of Nīti-śāstra, history, and other subjects, so as to be able to draw on a wealth of source material. To become a competent astrologer requires intelligence, protracted sādhana, perseverance, experience, intuition, and sensitivity to the highest needs of the individual. Furthermore, the astrologer should be self-controlled and of exemplary character.
One danger in consulting a spurious astrologer is that when he sometimes gets things right – as he surely will – the client is likely to develop great faith in him and therefore is liable to be seriously misled when the quack gives advice based on improper understanding. Astrologers are often approached by persons who are about to make decisions that will seriously affect the course of their life. Thus it behooves clients to seek out the most reliable astrologer they can, carefully investigating the credentials of an astrologer before consulting one, and to beware of hobbyists in this profound science. The would-be client must also be wary of cheating in the name of astrology – for instance, the selling of expensive talismans or gems that ultimately render little or no benefit to the buyer.
It is certainly preferable that devotees consult an astrologer who himself is a devotee. Only persons who possess devotional insight, whose lives are directed toward and by Kṛṣṇa, and whose aspirations are therefore quite different from those of ordinary people, can properly advise devotees. Unlike nondevotee astrologers, a consummate Vaiṣṇava astrologer has clear philosophical understanding of destiny, free will, the supreme control of Kṛṣṇa, and also of his own dependence upon Him. He sees astrology as a tool given by Kṛṣṇa to help people live within yet also get out of this material world, but he does not consider astrological advice to be a substitute for the instructions of higher-order gurus and sadhus.
Mundane astrologers often recommend worship of a particular demigod for the removal of particular obstacles that are perceived in one’s chart, but each principal demigod is overseen by a specific Viṣṇu form, by worshiping whom such obstacles can be overcome. (For instance, Mars is overseen by Nṛsiṁha-deva.) Therefore, Vaiṣṇavas should consult Vaiṣṇava astrologers and not become entangled in demigod worship. Putative devotees, who in the name of astrology introduce demigod worship by way of remedial measures, should be known as enemies of the śuddha-bhakti movement. Devotees should also beware of astrologers who, although well-versed in the discipline, nonetheless ascribe to Māyāvāda or other anti-devotional ideas, which they will tend to impute even unconsciously to their clients.
Nevertheless, widespread misuse of this great science does not make it useless.[xvii] Astrology is an important aspect of the social infrastructure that must be revived for reestablishing varṇāśrama. We look forward to the day when there will be sufficient qualified devotee astrologers to competently guide devotees in their worldly affairs.
 Rāhu period – an astrological term to denote a phase generally marked by pronounced difficulties.
[i] SB 10.58.29.
[ii] Cb 1.14.155.
[iii] Letter, 9 Jan 1975.
[iv] See Śrīla Prabhupāda Nectar, 3–47.
[v] Letter, 10 Jun 1975.
[vi] Gauḍīya, 17.480.
[vii] Told by Pradyumna Dāsa.
[viii] See multiple quotations in TKG’s Diary.
[ix] SB 1.12.12 ppt.
[x] Conversation, 29 Dec 1973.
[xi] Told by Bhakti Svarūpa Dāmodara Swami.
[xii] Memories of Śrīla Prabhupāda, DVD 47, Haṁsāvatāra Dāsa.
[xiii] Lecture, 3 May 1969.
[xiv] SB 9.18.23.
[xv] JSD 7.1, “Plato: Goodness and Government.”
[xvi] SB 10.8.5.
[xvii] See SB 1.12.12, purport.