Question 1: Lately I can’t get past the fact that you pointed out: Vedic astrology was originally just time keeping for Vedic rituals. So, does that mean that we aren’t really even using astrology correctly, with all this psychological or predictive stuff attached to it?
Keeping track of time means keeping track of cause and effect, because that’s what time is. Time is the fundamental thing that enables causes to generate their effects. “Cause and effect” is karma, which is “destiny.” So, keeping track of time means keeping track of destiny. So psychological and predictive implications are inherent in time-keeping itself.
I explore this more fully in my book, Beautifully Rational Philosophy of Astrology.
The original “Vedic” astrology didn’t really focus much on prediction and so on, because they had access to much easier, better, clearer means of comprehending destiny. The yoga disciplines, for example, grant siddhi (amazing abilities) which far surpass what astrological charts offer. If people claim that today’s “Vedic astrology” is a part of the Veda (vedāṅga) they are misleading people, or just revealing that they themselves have been misled. It is true that the sixth of the six vedāṅga is astrology, but this astrology is expressly for timing the Vedic rituals. Therefore it’s closest analog in modern “Vedic astrology” is muhurta (electional astrology).
However, this doesn’t mean that using astrology for psychological or predictive purposes isn’t valid! It simply means that its not the original, Vedic use. That’s fine. Things change. Circumstances, assets, and abilities change. These days yoga siddhi is a thousand times more unlikely to achieve than a sound working knowledge of predictive and psychological astrology. So I personally think that astrology, in the right hands, is remarkably valid and useful for predictive and, especially, psychological and developmental use.
Question 1b: I want to study astrology more deeply, but I feel that would be like specializing in oncology before I ever learned biology. So, where should I really begin my study?
I also believe very strongly that using astrology without understanding the context of Vedic knowledge is like knowing how to use a machine, but not knowing why to use it, or what to use it for.
Especially in this day and age, when the Veda are scattered and lost, we understand Veda through the Purāṇa, Brahma-Sūtra, and ultimately the Mahābhārata (Gītā) and Bhāgavata Purāṇa. Without deeply understanding the Bhāgavata Purāṇa (or at least Bhagavad Gītā) we can’t really help ourselves or anyone else, at least not reliably or fully. Really, without this we can’t even really comprehend the basic meanings of the planets, what to speak of anything else.
Bhāgavata Purāṇa is very long, 18 thousand verses in 12 sections. It is a lot to ask people to study all of that. But at least study Bhagavad Gītā. “Study” is not the same as “reading.” If you simply read something you will only understand your own viewpoint. Veda must be studied from guru, someone who has gotten the meaning very deeply from their own guru. Study the Gītā from someone who has studied it deeply from someone who has realized it, at least. This should be required for all Vedic astrologers.
At the very, very least, read my short book, Beautifully Rational Philosophy of Astrology. I’ve summarized the key principles of Bhāgavatam and Gītā in it, in a way that is directly relevant to astrology.
Question 2: I am doing Vedic astrology and starting to do readings for people. Some people I know use tropical signs and others use sidereal signs. Which one is better?
Tropical signs are correct.
But good work can still be done with sidereal signs, just like you can still build a lot of stuff with semi-broken tools.
Question 2b: Did you ever use sidereal signs?
Yes, from 2007 to 2012.
Question 2c: So, you find the tropical signs work better?
Yes, I do – but that is not a very important point.
Everyone talks about what “works” for them. But, honestly, this is all like a bunch of pre-schoolers talking about which types of calculus give us the most accurate results.
What is really important is what the established experts, āpta-puruṣa, have passed on to us. By “established experts” I don’t mean the currently popular crop of preschoolers, no matter how big or impressive their names or titles or “how long their beards.” We are all beginners, and some of us just have a bigger vocabulary and much more complicated misunderstandings than others. By “established experts” I mean śāstra – the Veda itself, or at least authors of the likes of nearly ancient source books such as Sūrya-Siddhānta and Bṛhāt Parāśara Hora.
Those authorities very clearly define the rāśī as tropical. For a full disclosure on that, please see my Tropical and Sidereal index. In summary, the 14th chapter of Sūrya Siddhānta, 5th Canto of Bhāgavata Purāṇa (and others, like Viṣṇu Purāṇa) unequivocally define the signs as measurements of the Sun’s movement north and south of the equator (tropical).
If we say that these sources are irrelevant we reveal our childish ignorance. Even then, Bṛhat Parāśara, in the beginning of Chapter 2, says that the lights in the sky are of two types: planets and stars, and the signs are something else – they are not stars.
Some say that too is irrelevant, only our experience should be consulted. This sounds so modern and scientific, but in truth it is complete tomfoolery and baffoonery; like self-taught brain surgery. It most certainly is not “Vedic” by any means. “Vedic” means to be based on the paramāpta-puruṣa-pramāna – Vedic text.
Question 2d: So, why are sidereal signs a tradition in India?
What has not been a tradition in India? What will not happen in kali-yuga? Krishna says in Gītā, yadā yadā hi dharmasya glāniḥ, so why should we be surprised that dharma (Vedic paths) regularly degenerate and become weird (glāni)? It happens everywhere, all the time, in every field.
Historically speaking, Vedāṅa Jyotiṣa is primarily sidereal, because it is primarily concerned with nakṣatra (stars – the very meaning of the Latin word, “sidereal”). Rāśi (signs) were also calculated, but for mostly practical matters of farming. Most of the very important rituals and ceremonies were timed by the lunar sidereal calendar. The tajjika (Persians) and yāvana (Greeks) had an impact on India during India’s decline, and one of the things India picked up was their way of using the 12 signs (rāśī) for prognostication (prediction). India preserved those systems better than the Persians (tajjika) and Greeks (yāvana) themselves, added an incredible amount of detail to it, and incorporated it into their existing frameworks and made it something all their own (much like the harmonium, a musical instrument of German origin, but so distinctly Indian). In the course of this incorporation, it seems that they correlated the 12 signs to their 27 nakṣatra with the impression that they were measurements of the same space. Thus although the really ancient Vedic Indians evidently knew of equinotical precession between raśī and nakṣatra – that detail seems to have been lost in India during the dark ages, which is not surprising, since so much of practically everything was lost throughout the world at that time.
In truth, there are three zones of space. The seed-words of the famous Vedic Gāyatrī illustrate them perfectly: bhu, bhuva, sva. Earthly space is bhu, the houses. The local space above the earth is bhuva: the signs. The deep space far beyond our local realm, where the gods themselves reside is sva: the stars (nakṣatra).
Sva, the nakṣatra, are most definitely sidereal!
Bhuva, however, (the signs) most definitely is not. It is “local” space, and “local” means relative to the earth (which is exactly what “tropical” means).
The idea that the stars and signs are different may be a little difficult to grasp at first, so take your time to digest it.
Ayanamsha is for calculating the nakṣatra zones relative to us on earth. Sūrya-siddhānta is very clear about this. Ayanāṁśa is therefore the code for correlating bhu and bhuva to sva. So, apply ayanāṁśa to the nakṣatra, but do not apply it to the rāśī (signs).