(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.” It (the Vedic version, not the Western type) is a bona fide science 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 human-like 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.[i]
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.
Although Śrīla Prabhupāda repeatedly in his books and elsewhere 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.[ii]
The history behind this instruction is that certain devotees were going to karmī astrologers who were telling them when they should go out for preaching and when they should not. Resultingly, the devotees were becoming confused and on the mental platform rather than that of dedicated service to Kṛṣṇa, trusting His will. In this situation a devotee wrote to Śrīla Prabhupāda, inquiring if devotees should seek such astrological advice, and the above was the reply.
However, if a devotee for the sake of serving Kṛṣṇa and His devotees has acquired a workable knowledge of astrology it should be understood that this is the gift of Kṛṣṇa directly. He is no longer a so-called astrologer and his knowledge of astrology is dovetailed in the service of Kṛṣṇa. A devotee who approaches him will not get the same kind of advice as is given by so-called astrologers.
Once Viśāla dāsa consulted an astrologer in Vṛndāvana regarding the Rāhu period he was in. The astrologer gave Viśāla dāsa a yantra to wear around his neck to counteract the bad influence of the stars. The astrologer told him to dip it in the Yamunā and have an ārati at midday. When Brahmānanda Svāmī, Śrīla Prabhupāda’s secretary, saw it, he told Viśāla dāsa that Śrīla Prabhupāda always said that we don’t have to add anything to the Kṛṣṇa conscious process. Viśāla dāsa asked to see Śrīla Prabhupāda about this, and when he did, he explained to Śrīla Prabhupāda that he thought the astrological help would be an aid for his Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Śrīla Prabhupāda asked who the astrologer was and how much he charged, then quoted the whole verse, sarva-dharmān parityajya… and said, “If you just surrender to Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa with a slight kick can annihilate one hundred thousand Rāhu planets.”
In this instance, the astrologer gave a non-Vaiṣṇava remedy, but there are also Vaiṣṇava remedies. Devotees should reject non-Vaiṣṇava remedies as in most cases they involve demigod worship or similar formulas meant for karmīs.
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.[iii]
This comment by Śrīla Prabhupāda can be understood to pertain to the pure devotional 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 give much importance to worldly auspiciousness or inauspiciousness.[iv] However, most devotees are not sannyasis or advanced transcendentalists. They have worldly duties to perform, such as caring for their families or working to earn money. Like other people, many devotees have difficulties in balancing different aspects of their lives. Astrology can help them understand their physical and psychological strengths and weaknesses, and thus help them find their direction in life, handle problems, and lead healthier and more productive lives. Thus it may be beneficial for householder devotees to consult a qualified astrologer. As Śrīla Prabhupāda said in regard to astrology, “We are not very much concerned with these things, but when it is going to rain you should take an umbrella.”[v]
Thus it is not, as some devotees presume, that astrology conflicts with transcendental devotional service. Astrology is relevant to devotees because it reinforces Vaiṣṇava philosophy and demonstrates how to utilize the knowledge of the Vedas through practical application in advising and directing devotees. Some major areas of application are in arranging marriages, advising in domestic matters, determining a child’s varṇa, and in considering eligibility for acceptance of sannyāsa.
Astrology can also be a platform for preaching, for demonstration of its utility will substantiate the Vedic worldview, which includes karma, which presupposes reincarnation and planets controlled by demigods who subtly influence human lives. Ultimately everything is controlled by Kṛṣṇa (not demigods). Rather than considering astrology as a means to invoke the influence of demigods, it is better understood as one of the systems given by Kṛṣṇa for understanding specific workings of the universe. For one who is knowledgeable of these sciences, at all times the world imparts information. To illustrate, at the moment when Rāma and Sugrīva made their alliance, the left eyes of Rāvaṇa, Vāli, and Sītā twitched; it signaled the destruction of Rāvaṇa and Vāli and the rescue of Sītā. 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.
From the following quotation, it is clear that Śrīla Prabhupāda was not against astrology per se, but against the misuse of it.
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.[vi]
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.”[vii] Śrīla Prabhupāda thus wanted that the Bhaktivedanta Institute study and present astrology in a scientific manner.[viii]
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.[ix]
Astrology is not necessary to become Kṛṣṇa consciousness; but then neither are medicine, clothing, or education. But as long as we are in the material world, all these are useful for daily life. Knowing this, in Vedic society every high-class family would consult an astrologer on the birth of each child.
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.[x]
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.[xi]
An astrological chart may be compared to a road map. A person with a good map can set out on a difficult journey, knowing the best roads to traverse and the dangers to expect. Therefore he knows when to go slowly and when to speed up. Similarly, a horoscope shows times that may be difficult, so that a person may know when to exercise caution. It can also indicate best times for activities like business investments or marriages, and which occupation would be most suitable for a certain individual to successfully earn an honest living.
Astrology is particularly important for arranging marriages. A major factor in the stability of arranged marriages in Indian society is the assistance of qualified astrologers in making compatible matches. It is foolish to choose a mate by “falling in love,” with no foresight concerning the future of the relationship. Also by astrology can be ascertained the best time for performing garbhādhāna-saṁskāra produce good progeny.
Yet astrology has to be understood in proper perspective. Astrology is not a panacea for all troubles; like anything else, without Kṛṣṇa consciousness it is ultimately of no value. Although astrology can offer guidelines to help maximize endeavors in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, astrology cannot give love of God. That is dependent upon the mercy of guru and Kṛṣṇa, and one’s own sincerity. 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 short cut or a substitute.
A common misunderstanding is that the stars influence fate, but actually they do not cause anything to happen. Astrology is just a descriptive language. It can describe anything, even about persons not subject to karma including Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes, just as Sanskrit can describe His activities as well as the activities of persons bound by karma.
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, for instance, ascribing material causes to events in the lives of devotees, or of seeing devotional service in mundane terms. For example, a self-made astrologer once told me that in my name, 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 (development) of such bhakti has nothing to do with the material enjoyment presided over by Venus.
The Ayurvedic authority Cāraka repeatedly warns against quacks, considering their treatment more dangerous than poison. A similar observation could be made about astrologers. In Vedic culture no one was allowed to practice astrology or any other important discipline without first being fully trained and authenticated by a recognized master, just as nowadays no one is allowed to practice medicine without being duly authorized. To become an expert astrologer is not an easy task. It requires intelligence, protracted sādhana, and implacable perseverance. A true astrologer in the Vedic tradition must also be experienced, intelligent, intuitive, and sensitive to the highest needs of the individual, and should himself be self-controlled and of the highest character.
Unfortunately, although astrology is a perfect science, the majority of astrologers, especially in the West, are far from perfect in their knowledge and insight of the subject. Certainly the Vedic astrological discipline is far superior to the Western, being grounded in Vedic culture and spiritual understanding, and originally designed to help guide the seeker onto the path back to Godhead. Yet Vedic astrology is a complex interdisciplinary study, that to competently practice it requires substantial knowledge and experience. The complexity of astrology, or rather of the human situation that it maps, calls for judicious analysis. The astrologer should not only have a firm foundation in spiritual understanding and jyotīṣa, he should also have good knowledge of history, Nīti-śāstra, and other sciences so as to be able to draw on a wealth of source material in order to properly advise his client.
As quoted above, “Astrology can help if there is a first-class astrologer.” Simplistic readings, such as those available from several websites, often miss important insights that can only be revealed by the thoughtful probing of experienced astrologers. Thus a true astrologer must be highly trained before he dares give advice to others. Also, much of what is practiced in India today would better be termed Hindu astrology rather than Vedic astrology, as over the centuries the pristine science has become obscured by accretions from Buddhist, Jain, Muslim, Māyāvāda, and other apa-siddhāntic sources.The advice of an insufficiently qualified or ill-motivated so-called astrologer is liable to be useless or worse. Without being fully trained and duly certified, even one who has been practicing for many years is liable to make basic errors. And guidance based on incomplete understanding can be counter-productive or even dangerous.
A danger in consulting a spurious astrologer is that when he gets some things right—as he surely will—then the client is likely to develop great faith in him, and is thus liable to be seriously misled when the quack makes mistakes and gives advice based on improper understanding. Astrologers are generally approached by persons about to make decisions that will seriously affect the course of their lives. It thus 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; and to be aware of and not fooled by cheating that goes on in the name of astrology—for instance, the selling of expensive talismans or gems that render little or no benefit to the buyer.
Certainly it is preferable that an astrologer advising devotees himself be a devotee, for only persons with devotional insight can properly advise devotees, whose aspirations are different from those of ordinary people and whose lives are directed by Kṛṣṇa. A consummate Vaiṣṇava astrologer has clear philosophical understanding of destiny, free will, the supreme control of Kṛṣṇa, and dependence upon Him. He sees astrology as a tool given by Kṛṣṇa to help people live in and get out of this material world. But he does not consider astrological advice a substitute for the instructions of higher-order gurus and sadhus.
Mundane astrologers often recommend worship of a particular demigod to remove particular obstacles perceived in one’s chart, but as each principal demigod is overseen by a specific Viṣṇu form, such obstacles can be overcome by worshiping the relevant Viṣṇu form. For instance Mars is overseen by Nṛsiṁha-deva. Thus it is recommended that Vaiṣṇavas consult Vaiṣṇava astrologers and not become entangled in demigod worship.
Sometimes even devotee astrologers recommend their followers to worship demigods, including the nava grahas, to alleviate their problems by way of remedial measures—despite the fact that Srila Prabhupada has in many places deprecated demigod worship. Putative devotees who in the name of astrology introduce demigod worship, act as enemies of the śuddha-bhakti movement.
Devotees should particularly beware of astrologers who, although well-versed in the discipline, nonetheless ascribe to Māyāvāda or other anti-devotional ideas which they are likely to impute, even if unconsciously, to their clients.
Nevertheless, such misuse of this great science does not make it useless.[xii] Astrology is an important part of the social infrastructure that must be revived for reestablishing varṇāśrama. We look forward to the time when there will be sufficient qualified devotee astrologers to guide devotees in their social and economic affairs.
 Much of the material for this essay came from Syāmasundara Dāsa. www.ShyamasundaraDasa.com
[i] SB 10.58.29.
[ii] Letter, 9 Jan 1975.
[iii] Letter, 10 Jun 1975.
[iv] From Gauḍīya magazine, Volume 17, p. 480.
[v] Told by Pradyumna Dāsa.
[vi] SB 1.12.12 ppt.
[vii] Conversation, 29 Dec 1973.
[viii] Told by Bhakti Svarūpa Dāmodara Swami.
[ix] Lecture, 3 May 1969.
[x] JSD 7.1, “Plato: Goodness and Government.”
[xi] SB 10.8.5.
[xii] See SB 1.12.12, purport.