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Buddhism and Astrology

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Joined: 30 Sep 2005
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Posted: Sun Jan 23, 2011 5:47 pm    Post subject: Buddhism and Astrology Reply with quote

It has been suggested in some quarters that the Buddha disapproved of astrology and condemned it as 'a low art.' This would have been a fairly rudimentary astrology before the introduction of Greek horoscopic astrology to India. Nevertheless, the Indian lunar zodiac known as the Nakshatras would probably would have been known in some form in this period (c 500 BCE).

Here is a well researched article by our moderator Garry Phillipson which challenges the view that the Buddha condemned astrology outright and describes the context of divination in early Buddhist teachings.

‘’As thou conversest with the heavens, so instruct and inform thy minde according to the image of Divinity…’’ William Lilly
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Posted: Sun Feb 27, 2011 12:10 pm    Post subject: Re: Buddhism and Astrology Reply with quote

Mark wrote:
It has been suggested in some quarters that the Buddha disapproved of astrology...

Interestingly according to Ronnie Gale Dreyer's - Vedic Astrology (don't mind the title). p.15 the buddhists' as well as the hinduist anti-buddhists' rejections appear to have had philosophical reasons similar to the christians to reject astrology.
Despite their cultural flowering, the Indians’ hostility toward the Greeks was especially prevalent under Buddhist King Asoka (262-232 B.C.), during whose reign a great portion of the population, adhering to Buddhist tenets, disavowed belief in predestination and, ultimately, astrology. Even those Hindu political leaders who were anti-Buddhist were opposed to astrology, as the felt it discouraged people from showing any personal initiative. The Indians accepted these condemnations and continued to reject astrology as a belief system.
Unfortunately the book doesn't explain why the Buddhists (and the Hindus) changed their mind and adopted astrology a few centuries later.
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Posted: Fri Mar 04, 2011 5:14 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Hi to both of you!

If i'd have to make a list of my 5 favourite topics ever, Astrology and Buddhism would certainly find their place in it, so i feel challenged to add y few words to this discussion and thank you for opening it!
I would also like to thank Mark for the link to Garry Phillipsons's article- I haven't had time to read the full article but I will surely read it this weekend; it looks like a very in-depth and serious analysis.

"Does Buddhism support Astrology" is one of those questions that make your mind spin before you can come up with a, more or less, satisfactory answer. The reasons: moral issues, doctrinal facts, beliefs...and many, many more. Still, many people (even teachers) often mention that, no matter how big the differences between religions are (if 'religion' is the right word when it comes to Buddhism, anyway)- they all eventually encounter very similar obstacles! And that is exactly what you're mentioning in post, Eddy!

So, in order to keep it as simple as possible, I will try to simply list the things that i think should be taken into account when 'determining' as to how appropriate an astrological reading is from the perspective of a modern Buddhist!

As Eddy already (rightly) pointed out, certain forms of Astrology ARE indeed present among Buddhists and even practiced and taught by Buddhist Monks. Tibetan Astrology, strongly connected to Buddhist tradition, is still cherished and nourished by Tibetan Mahayana Monks. His Holiness Dalai Lama himself wrote a preface for a recent edition of a book called "Buddhist Astrology". Naturally, this system drastically differs from Western astrology (in method and in purpose) which alone isn't sufficient to bring a universal conclusion that Buddhism supports all branches Astrology.
Another interesting fact about Tibetan Astrology is that it is not a well defined system but rather a combination of two main approaches - one, influenced mainly by Chinese astrology and the other, influenced by Vedic astrological scripts. I am not familiar with the technique of either of the two but, according to some authors who themselves are Tibetan astrologers, this quantity of influences does not only cause confusion but the differences can actually result in two (if not more) completely different (and sometimes opposite) readings.

Back to the original subject, original Buddhist thought is presented in what is nowadays considered "the largest book in the world"- Tipitaka (a gigantic collection of scriptures). Going through all the doctrinal facts would be impossible. A top of that, we have more then one school of Buddhism.
On the other hand, we can approach it as a unique philosophy (which, regardless of all the differences, it is and should be) and examine the fundamental doctrines that all schools of Buddhism adhere to. But,even if we did that, in order to discover as to how well Astrology fits in the whole story, we need to know what branch of Astrology in particular we are talking about (and that is exactly when the mind starts spinning like mad!) Smile

I am pretty sure that i have a nice and simple explanation about why astrological analysis should sometimes be avoided by Buddhist layman and monks in one of the books written by late Master Sheng Yen, only, unfortunately, in real life, there is no Ctrl+F option and I haven't been able to locate the desired quote today. hopefully I will find it these days and will surely post it here. But, even without the quote, I can say that the 'highlight' of moist such explanations provided by Buddhist teachers is that the danger lies in the idea of predetermination which, as you're both probably aware of, is completely unacceptable from the Buddhist point of view. All things are changeable and the idea of 'fatum' (nowadays commonly referred to as 'destiny' in English) represents an 'outer path' idea that has no grounds in the Buddhist teachings.
Since I have already been going through Shifu Sheng Yen's book, I thought I would quote a few passages in which he talks about The Law of Karma and explains this very phenomenon in a very simple and comprehensible way:

"...the law of karma is not the same as fatalism or determinism, as many people wrongly imagine. Buddhists believe that, except for certain heavy, unchangeable karma, people can change karma from previous lives by their efforts in following lives. For example, if in previous lives someone acted in a way to cause himself to be poor in this life, he can still work hard and thereby change his financial situation in this life. In other words, causes from the past plus causes (behavior) in the present jointly determine results in the present. This is why the law of karma is not fatalism or determinism, but rather one hundred percent "endeavor-ism". If Buddhism were to fall into the quagmire of fatalism and determinism, then the theory that sentient beings can attain enlightenment could no longer hold.

So, obviously, here we encounter basically the same question the Astrologers themselves often dwell upon - to what extent is an astrological reading fatalistic? And should we strive to present it as a helpful tool or a "death sentence" written in a magical chart wheel divided into 12 houses?!

(at this point, we could almost say that Modern western astrology fits better than Traditional astrology:D )
I don't have the book at hand but I can remember John Frawley's ironic remark on this subject in which he says that we can't really expect the stars to wipe our noses- some things we do have control over.

So, if we do agree that we still do have control, we have removed one obstacle already.
Another question is- how much do we depend on cosmos?
I'd say that the answer to this question from the Buddhist point of view is very simple- we do completely! In accordance with the Idea of Conditioned arising, all things are mutually dependable and connected!
In his explanations on the law of karma, Shifu goes on to say:

(...) We see that the law of karma does not deviate from the principle of conditioned arising. From causal seeds sown in previous lives, to the fruits harvested in this life, many auxiliary factors play the role in determining results. Examples of these auxiliary factors include one's striving or sluggishness and one's good behavior in the present life. As an analogy, although sugar-water is basically sweet, if we add lemon or coffee to the glass, the taste will change."

So, we indeed are dependent upon all sorts of 'outer' influences. Every single thing (or thought) in universe is connected.

Should we know all that and is reading the skyscript a justified mean of improving the quality of our lives? Here, I'm pretty sure that Christian philosophy sees this as a much bigger obstacle then Buddhists do- while the former assume or believe that the ways of the Lord are (by default) mysterious and that one should not try to peek into the future but should instead wait until the lord decides that he is ready, for Buddhists there is no such thing as a god creator hence reading signals that can help us to build our lives and create good karma should be acceptable. After all, astrology does not only help us to learn the facts concerning our future but it also helps us to understand the present moment better. And to be able to use it in the best possible way! (Zen/Chan school of Buddhism emphasis the importance of the 'present moment' in particular).

As an example of a such approach, i have found a quote of Jampa Shaneman, a contemporary Buddhist Astrologer (who practices Western astrology from Buddhist point of view):

For the Tibetans (and Indian Buddhism) Astrology is part of the medical tantras. It is used to help doctors diagnos illness when other treatments don't work. It is also used to pick dates for marriage, funerals, naming babys, starting business deals, etc. The reason being one wants an auspicious date. It is not predetermination, rather just setting up positive circumstances for success. (...)Not predetermination. The bottom line is that Buddhism believes in interdependence and we are part of the world and the energies therein. So astrology has its relevent position. We should always remember that the more aware and wise one is, the less astrology effects them. Their wisdom gives them freedom from all influences, thus the possibility of liberation.

I don't know this approach is perceived by contemporary Buddhist teachers but it does appear to logical and even 'buddhist'.



Last edited by aglaya on Sat Mar 05, 2011 8:07 pm; edited 1 time in total
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Posted: Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

In Tibetan Buddhism there are a number of practices which are done like clockwork every month at particular phases of the moon - Mahakala puja is done on the day before the New Moon, Medicine Buddha on the Full Moon and many others at other points in the lunation cycle. If that's not astrology, I don't know what is.

Also my lama told me that the merit from doing puja during an eclipse is multiplied a million times. Again, astrology.

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Posted: Sat Mar 05, 2011 4:51 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thanks a lot for this interesting input, Aglaya. Since the Buddhism in Phillipson’s article with the communication with spirits didn’t correspond to the view of Buddhism I always had, I almost was about to conclude that I had made a mistake and Buddhism wasn’t really my thing. Now you mention the different directions in Buddhism, I realized that Zen Buddhism was rather my thing. When I was 15 I started practicing karate, for an important part because of the philosophy related to it and in the same period (I don’t recall in which order) I read Karl Dürckheim’s ‘Hara’. The more sober Zen/Japanese way combined with the view of the center in the abdomen being essential also in martial arts appealed to me and moreover it brought balance in my somewhat obsession like studies in occult matters since I was 12. In a brief comparison (in Dutch: ) of the different directions in Buddhism, Zen-Buddhism is presented as a direction in which the zen practices aim to release oneself from of the limitations of thinking with its prejudgments and conditioning and therefore experiencing life differently. In Phillipson’s article I didn’t really find this view and the ritualistic approach with spirits and the example of the snake in the village and the cookies seemed the opposite from what I understood of (Zen-)Buddhism.

I share those other Buddhists’ view that there’s a danger involved in astrology related to predetermination. However unlike Aglaya says, I think the danger is also present in modern astrology. Instead of tangible physical events of the traditionalists, the prediction of emotional stress or problems with ones parents or partner of the psychological view can be just as dangerous. However the latter could give the person give the feeling that it’s possible to cope with or control the emotions. I therefore too incline to the modern. Anyhow both risk to be just different aspects of the ‘outer’.

It is because of this that I don’t object to a physical explanation of astrology rather than a theurgic/symbolic. Since astrology deals with tangible objects that strictly obey natural laws in a sense that orbits and positions can be predicted for thousands or millions of years, making a worm with its unpredictable wriggling an even more free independent mind than the planets, materialism in my opinion is inextricably bound up with astrology. To my sense therefore it’s impossible to relate a deeper spiritual experience with the planets. Neither a divinatory nor a modern symbolical (which to me in fact appears as a psychologised person to person divination) view towards astrology doesn’t change this in my opinion, since every kind of astrology deals with the same physical objects. What I present here as the ‘tangible’/’physical’ should not only be limited to the view of planets as rocks obeying gravity laws in their orbits but also in the concept of the measurability through the senses through aspects, progressions and coordinate systems. Even the Pythagorean related use of musical intervals for aspects etc can be placed under the physical. Normally the hearing of music is because of the waves of the tones that travel trough air and reach our ear in order to affect our mood, like everybody can experience when comparing punk to classical music. Similarly Kepler views the aspects as inciting people to act being moved by the positions related to their natal planets like music ‘makes us dance’. I also see this as part of the physical or the outer realm.

I therefore feel inclined to the Zen view of attempting to reach a state of mind in which the inner self isn’t affected anymore by these outer issues. Not through denial, apathy or simply closing the either the inner or the outer eyes and ears to the effects of the planets but through the insight that these don’t belong to the true spiritual realm. I think this lies at the core of spiritual views like Gnosticism as, to say in a simple way, in getting liberated of planetary effects in life instead of applying them.

Several methods are possible to do this. Knowledge of astronomy lead humanity to a liberation of a primal fear of solar eclipses and retrograde motions, because of explaining it by occultation by the moon and with the heliocentric perspective respectively and Kepler’s announcement of Mars as his ‘noble prisoner’ after having discovered the causes of the anomalies in Mars’ movements through using elliptic orbits is significant. Testing/research is another one, just like self examination of our views of reactions to the charts. Although the first two (knowledge, test/research) are attractive from an objective point of view they may not be sufficient to serve us entirely since they are methods of ‘reasoning’ over the subjective. Likewise locking all our doors and windows may not always remove our fear of the idea that someone might break into the house at night. Notwithstanding how astrology effects us, a concept of a natal chart as idée fixe could help us cope with the problems emerging from the chart. This might become apparent through idiosyncratic reactions to directions, transits or whatever prediction technique is used.

It doesn’t mean we have to reject these techniques. It still could serve us. Studying the planetary positions in hindsight related to difficult periods were convincing and also made me wonder how this could be if an entirely symbolic/psychological/imaginary explanation is to be given. Perhaps it’s hindsight bias, or something really affecting us although we don’t know how. The astrological method of keeping up with the positions and holding an eye on them gives a sense of control. It can also be seen as a ‘measure’ of our attachment to the outer. However this also inclines to the former two methods because the astrological method concentrates on the chart/planets which feels like concentrating on the outer. Moreover the symbolic methods of association might lead away from the original aim of living the inner life.

To me these three (probably there can be more) views all have their attractive sides. I’ve defended them all. The problem though is that the first two objective methods can collide with the latter more subjective one. Moreover the second can also collide with the first if some astrological effect is proven despite the lack of an astronomical explanation. In my recent defense of the second method I may have appeared unpleasant from time to time. I hadn’t in mind to destroy the astrological view though. I therefore feel indebted to a closer explanation of the deeper background of my view and my inclination to opposing views. These ways form part of the broader discipline of studying of the tangible to explain and coping with the intangible. However this is largely an illusion and in this the three are united in their futility to embrace the spiritual. This means that any dissension among these or within these is irrelevant from the spiritual point of view. Moreover too much clinging to one of these views because it ‘works’, whether it negates the other(s) or not, involves the danger of guiding away from the spiritual purpose.

So perhaps the Zen-Buddhist method could be practiced like looking at the planets, and looking at them from these three different points of view (and also from the differences within these three different points of views) yet with the aim releasing ourselves from the associations we make with them. Where the astronomer sees the planets as things subject to physical laws, and the statistical researcher seeing them as right or wrong correspondences and the astrologer them as associations in the mind, the Buddhist view could observe them without these added ideas and, to speak in the sense of the Patanjali sutra 1.43 the things appear as they are.
Is the memory no longer; and the mind empty; and the things appear as they are; then it is becoming One; free from reasoning
sutra 1.43.

Therefore I’d say enjoy the practice of astrology but moderately. Besides if the practice turns out to be too effective, that would be the best reason not to practice it. Just like drugs; they work but it doesn’t follow that one has to use them.
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Posted: Sun Jul 14, 2013 8:29 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

I have decided to revive this old thread to share the link below which contains a fascinating article by Bill Mak on the corpus of ancient Indian Buddhist Jyotisa texts that have been preserved in China.

This name may be familiar to many of you already since Martin Gansten recently gave a link to Mak's article The Date and Nature of Sphujidhvaja’s Yavanajātaka Reconsidered in the Light of Some Newly Discovered Materials

I discovered the article below about 6 months ago but just never seemed to find the free time to share it before now.

The article reveals several remarkable facts:

The existence of a distinct Buddhist tradition of Jyotisa. This corpus refutes the commonly expressed opinion that Indian Buddhists were not interested in astrology. However, it does seem this was more a development in the later Mahayana and especially Tantric Buddhism.

A preserved collection of Chinese Buddhist translations from c. 250 – 1000 CE capture the evolution of Indian jyotiṣa in three stages – old, transition and new. Hence this corpus gives us comparative insights on the astrological texts preserved in India.

Mak's summarises this by stating
''Thus the Chinese Buddhist translations serve as a time capsule of Indian jyotiṣa materials throughout a large part of the first millennium of our era''

Bill Mak detects three phases in the texts preserved in China:

Broadly speaking, we can see that jyotiṣa materials are often incorporated into Buddhist texts somewhat apologetically in the early phase.

In the Mahāyāna case, jyotiṣa knowledge is often considered a form of
expedient (upāya), employed for the benefits for the sentient beings though they are not considered genuine Buddhist teachings per se.

In the late stage, in particular among the so-called Tantric works, they are seen as authentic Buddhist teachings and are often employed directly with no justification given or required.

Up to 6th century CE, the Chinese Buddhist texts preserve the oldest type of lunar astrology (28 nakṣatras) in India.

The texts provide definitive evidence that the order of the sidereal naksatras gradually changed over centuries in India. In particular the most ancient texts show the naksatras beginning at Kṛttikā, one later text starts at Bharaṇī while only those texts dated from the latest period have Aśvinī as the first Nakshatra. This seems fairly strong evidence that the naksatra order changed due to seasonal shifts caused by precession of the equinoxes.

The analysis of these texts is a treasure trove for students of ancient Indian astrology since the Chinese preserved material lost in India itself. Moreover, unlike the Indians the Chinese also dated their texts so we can gleam far more historical insight into when they actually date from.

It seems that this research into the corpus of Chinese Buddhist Jyotisa will resolve many long standing disputes on the history of Indian Jyotisa. Bill Mak’s ongoing work looks well worth keeping up with.

Details of Bill Mak's publications: pending and published are in the link below:

An expansion of this article appears in Mak, Bill M. 2012 “Silk Road Transmission of Astrological Lore to China -Indian, Chinese and Central Asian elements in Mahāsaṃnipātasūtra (T397). Silk Road: Interwoven History. Cambridge, MA: Association for Central Asian Civilizations & Silk Road Studies.

This article is also quite interesting in providing an overview of Indian astrological influence on Buddhist East Asia:
‘’As thou conversest with the heavens, so instruct and inform thy minde according to the image of Divinity…’’ William Lilly
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Posted: Tue Jul 16, 2013 5:32 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote

Christmas Humphreys was a very prominent Buddhist in the 20th century and wrote a very popular book, "Buddhism", in 1951. He relates how he tried to create a creed for Buddhists, a statement of what Buddhists believe. This creed - Humphreys hoped - would unite all the different branches and schools of Buddhism in the world in one statement of their shared ideas and ideals.

Humphreys was almost successful. Using his skills as a lawyer, he managed to unite all the various Buddhist communities in an agreed text - all except the Tibetans.

The Tibetan faith - for that is what it is - is a fusion of Buddhism and the animist religions that existed in Tibet before Buddhism infiltrated its borders. Tibetan Buddhism is not 'main stream' Buddhism, despite the prominence of Tibetan leaders and establishments in the media. We should therefore be careful in deducing that because astrology is an accepted part of Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhism is accepting of astrology. The later may be true, but not necessarily because of the former.
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