There is no other subject or field of knowledge which is looked down upon with such contempt, ridicule and scorn by the scientific world and rationalistic mind as the science of astrology. Is there a nucleus of truth in astrology or is it entirely a pseudo-science of the charlatans exploiting the gullible public? To answer this question, we have to examine the fundamental postulates of astrology with a deeper and broader scientific outlook and in the light of Sri Aurobindo’s insights.
The Ancient Origins
Before coming to the main theme of our discussion, we have to understand some facts about the origins of this ancient science of astrology. Whatever may be the present condition of astrology this field of knowledge was created by seers and sages who lived in the spiritual consciousness or by people who are able to perceive the deeper, inner and invisible truths and sources of nature, which the average human mind or the scientific and rational mind can not see or perceive. So if I deny their perception because I don’t have the faculties they had and can not see or feel what they were able to see or feel, I am like the cave dweller in the Plato’s story, who never saw the world outside the cave but deny the existence of Sun and Moon. Keeping these facts in our mind, let us now examine the basic postulates of astrology.
Planets and Facts
We have to set aside the popular belief about astrology that planets determine our fate or destiny. This can not be the original conception of Indian astrology because according to Indian thought, our present state or destiny is the result of our past Karma, actions, and not that of planets. The stars in heaven do not determine our fate but only indicate it. For example, in palmistry, lines in our hands do not determine our fate but only indicate it. The Horoscope, which is a chart made on the basis of conjunction of planets during the date and time of our birth, gives an indication of the nature and course of life in this birth, not in a rigid form as in ineluctable fate, but as possibilities or to put it more precisely the most probable possibilities.
This brings us to the question if out present fate is the result of our Karma how planets can indicate our Karma? The seer and sages of the world perceived an interconnected and interdependent unity as one of the fundamental laws of life. Everything in the world is connected together and influence each other. Our modern climatologists talk about the “butterfly effect” which means fluttering wings of a butterfly in a tree can create a storm in the ocean. The outer world is an expression of inner realities and forces and the movements of the visible world outside can be symbolic indicators of corresponding movement in the inner world. Our Karma is a bundle of psychological energies released by our past actions and its consequences. This Karmic energy or to be more specific, that part of our Karma we have to undergo in this birth, may have something like a butterfly effect on the planets, attracts a conjunction of planets with a corresponding psychological characteristics.
Here comes another important perception of this ancient science: planets are not just physical entities. In their inner origins, they are living, conscious forces of Universal Nature. So, as forces of Nature, planets are not only indicative but can also be instruments or transmitters of Karma. The other significant point to note here is that destiny indicated by the horoscope is not something fixed or unalterable. It can be modified by two factors: by our human will or bringing a higher spiritual force. Our Karma indicated by our horoscope is a child of past energies; it can be altered by present actions or in other words by our human will, if it is sufficiently strong, powerful and persistent. This is recognised in Indian astrology. The second factor is bringing down a higher spiritual force into our life, which can happen, when we pursue a spiritual discipline and open our consciousness to the higher force. In the following passage Sri Aurobindo sums up masterfully and succinctly the truth behind astrology and whatever we have discussed so far;
“Many astrological predictions come true, quite a mass of them, if one takes all together. But it does not follow that the stars rule our destiny; the stars merely record a destiny that has been already formed, they are a hieroglyph, not a Force, — or if their action constitutes a force, it is a transmitting energy, not an originating Power. Someone is there who has determined or something is there which is Fate, let us say; the stars are only indicators. The astrologers themselves say that there are two forces, daiva and purushartha, fate and individual energy, and the individual energy can modify and even frustrate fate. Moreover, the stars often indicate several fate-possibilities; for example, that one may die in mid-age, but that if that determination can be overcome, one can live to a predictable old age. Finally, cases are seen in which the predictions of the horoscope fulfill themselves with great accuracy up to a certain age, then apply no more. This often happens when the subject turns away from the ordinary to the spiritual life. If the turn is very radical the cessation of predictability may be immediate; otherwise certain results may still last on for a time, but there is no longer the same inevitability. This would seem to show that there is or can be a higher-power or higher-plane or higher-source spiritual destiny which can, if its hour has come, override the lower power, lower-plane or lower-source vital and material fate of which the stars are indicators.” (CWSA, Vol.28, Pgs.516-517)
We may now move to the more “practical” aspect of astrology: predictions. Many predictions come true and many fail. The accuracy of predictions depends on the competence of the astrologer. There re competent astrologers who can predict with a fare degree of accuracy. As Sri Aurobindo explains giving the example of predictions of his own life by a practitioner of astrology:
“On the other hand, with capable astrologers the results have been often of such a remarkable accuracy as to put quite aside any possibility of chance hit, mere coincidence, intelligent prevision or any of the current explanations. I may instance the father of a friend of mine, a deep student of the science but not a professional, who predicted accurately the exact year, month, day, hour and even minute of his own death. In my own case accuracy was hampered by the inability to fix the precise moment of my birth; still some of the results were extraordinary. Two may be mentioned, from one and the same astrologer, which related to my public career. One, given when I had not yet plunged into the political vortex and my then obscure personality was quite unknown to the astrologer, predicted as an inevitable certitude of the future a political struggle with powerful non-Indian adversaries during which for a time even my life would fall under the shadow of danger. The other, given at the time of my first prosecution in the Bande Mataram case, predicted three successive criminal trials in each of which the prosecution would fail. I may instance also two predictions by the book in which slokas from Sanskrit astrological writings indicating the results of certain conjunctions or planetary positions were shown to be applicable to my horoscope. One foretold specific chronic illnesses for the body of which there was no sign at the time, but long afterwards they put in their unexpected appearance and persisted. Another indicated very precisely that one of my future activities would be to found a new spiritual philosophy and its discipline; at that time, I had no knowledge of philosophy or Yoga and no turn or inclination in my mind which could make the realisation of this prediction at all probable. These are only the most precise examples out of a number. Supposing all well-authenticated evidence of the kind to be collected, I am convinced there would be an overwhelmingly strong prima facie case and even a body of sufficiently strong empirical proof to establish at least a nucleus of truth in astrology.” (CWSA, Vol.1, Pgs. 600-601)
What constitute the competence of a good astrologer? Expertise in traditional knowledge given in the old books is not enough. He must have a deeper intuition. An intuitive astrologer may make use of the traditional chart, computations and the rules as initial indicators. But he doesn’t depend entirely in them. With an intuitive comprehension, he assesses the net result or consequences of the various planetary combinations or conjunctions viewed not as material entities but as psychological forces.
Before concluding our discussion, we may discuss briefly two more questions; Can astrology be made into empirical science? Sri Aurobindo answers in the affirmative and describes how it can be done;
“if astrology is a science and is to take its proper place, the first necessity is to dissipate by an appeal to the empirical mind of the general public as well as of the sceptical thinker the great mass of unenquiring prejudice which now exists against it. To publish the text and translation of the best authorities, as Mr. Iyer is now doing, with illuminating introductions is a preliminary need in this case so that we may know what we have to go upon. The second is to mass evidence of the empirical truth of the science, giving in each case the prediction in all its details, the more detailed the better, the astrological rules on which it was based and the event, each detail of the event being compared with the corresponding detail of the prediction. Only then would there be a clear field for the consideration of the scientific and philosophical doubts, questions and problems which would still arise;”
(CWSA, Vol.1, Pg.601)
The second question is on the “use” of astrology. The answer to this question depends on the attributes, values and aims. For a seeker of truth, usefulness is of secondary importance. He seeks the truth for its own sake irrespective of whether it is useful or not. If he studies astrology, his aim is to know the truth behind it and not its “use”. In a higher spiritual perspective or in general, for the right conduct or management of life, astrology or knowing the future is not necessary. On the contrary, we are perhaps better without it. As many spiritual teachers have pointed out, to live in the present and dealing with life as it comes us, without caring for the past or the future is perhaps the most efficient and effective way of dealing with life. If we can add to it a perfect faith, trust and surrender to God, then we need nothing else to go through in life.
However, there is also a pragmatic view-point which also has its validity. For example, when we are travelling to an unknown land, if we can know what are the difficulties or dangers which lie ahead in the various stages of our journey we are forewarned and prepare ourselves for it. Similarly, if astrology can give an understanding of the various possibilities which we are likely to encounter in different stages of our life, it heaps in our life-journey. As we have discussed earlier, our horoscope is not a chart of unalterable fate, but indicates life-possibilities, which can be altered by human will or invoking divine Grace. For example, if a planetary combination indicates the possibility of mental degradation at a stage in our life, we need not accept it as our fate and go mad! We can prevent it by making a conscious effort to bring inner peace, relaxation and greater self-control to our mind, inner detachment from our thought and feelings and praying for divine Grace.