What is Vedic Astrology?
How to Choose an Astrologer
"Astrology is perfect; astrologers are not." Shyamasundara Dasa
If this essay has been even somewhat successful, you now basically know what astrology is and what it can do for you. But best is to experience astrology first-hand, through a good astrologer. Only then will you realize how powerful a tool astrology is and how it apply it practically in your life; that will be possible only if you consult a good astrologer.
The good the bad and the ugly --- How to differentiate the good astrologer from the bad?
Unlike doctors, dentists, engineers, architects, or other licensed professionals, presently there is no regulating body for Vedic astrologers such as the AMA, which polices allopathic physicians. (Of course quack doctors still exist, and some people scorn the entire enterprise of allopathic medicine; but at least, to be a licensed MD the license-holder has had to pass specific criteria of rigorous educational training spanning several years.) Vedic astrology is just now becoming popular in the West; unfortunately this has given rise to a number of poorly trained persons claiming rights to the title of Vedic astrologer, and in the process giving Vedic astrology a black eye. Typically, such pretenders have read one or two books and then claim to be astrologers, or are dilettantes who have dabbled in it for years but never undergone any serious training.
I once saw an advertisement by a Vedic astrologer whom I didn't know, and because I knew most of the contemporary practitioners, I was curious as to who he was. So I telephoned him and asked if he was interested in the astrology software I had written. During the conversation I asked him whom he had studied under and for how long. I was stunned when he said that he had never learned from any teacher; he had read an astrology book only a year prior and now considered himself an astrologer. And his is not a unique case. Some tyros have even written popular texts on Vedic astrology, more like "cookbook" astrology, with no realizations included therein. (How could there be? They had just come in contact with the science only a year or two before.) Therefore it is essential for the seeker to actually find a master astrologer, not a beginner; for it is an observed phenomenon that most people when first seeking astrological consultation are very much psychologically susceptible, credulous, and impressionable to whatever the astrologer will say. The novice astrologer can thus harm the seeker and thereby bring disrepute upon the science. To aid your search for a good astrologer, I offer the following guidelines and questions that you should ask before consulting a given astrologer:
Q. How long has he studied astrology?
Was it continuous study or sporadic?
Like medicine, mathematics, engineering, or any other science, astrology is very technical, complex, and subtle, with many branches and sub-branches. In fact, the Vedas say that astrology is the most complex science of all, because of its unique interdisciplinary nature. It requires at least five to seven years of intense, rigorous, full-time study under qualified teachers. Therefore, you should be doubtful of any astrologer with less than five years of training And we must emphasize the important distinction between years of experience, and years of training. An astrologer may have ten years of experience, but that tells nothing of his training. (He may have studied for seven years and practiced for three years, or vice versa.) While field experience is very important, it is no substitute for a solid astrological education; the benefit derived from experience will be vastly different for an educated versus an ignorant astrologer.
Regarding the untutored astrologer, often the case is one of "re-inventing the wheel." He will make many mistakes, with you as the guinea pig. For the learned astrologer, experience brings polish and elegance--he also expands his knowledge, but not at your expense.
There are also persons who claim to have studied astrology for twenty years. But further inquiry reveals that twenty years ago a friend read their chart, and that over the years they developed an interest in astrology, reading a book here and there, having a chart done here and there. This rather spastic, unsystematic method of study should make you cautious, at the very least. This is like someone who had his tonsils removed when a child and then developed an interest in medicine; over the years, between occasional visits to the family doctor and reading a few elementary medical books, he decided that he was now competent to practice medicine. Would you want to be treated by such a person? Of course not. Then why consult the astrological equivalent?
Furthermore, any reputable educational institution sets time limits on its courses of study, to ensure that education is continuous, that the student is meeting course requirements timely, and that he is maintaining maximum retention of the study material. For example, if a four-year course is spread over ten or fifteen years, then by the time the student has finished he will likely will have forgotten what he learned in the beginning. (This is especially true in doctoral programs.)
Q. Where did he study? Who were his teachers?
India, especially South India, is the land of Vedic astrology. There one will find at least some recognized astrological organizations sponsoring astrological study, and some universities offering degree programs in astrology. But the best way to study astrology is the old, traditional way of guru-sisya (teacher-disciple); this is a very personal and intense way of learning from a master astrologer. While not every astrologer in India is worth studying under, still there are many eminent panditas who are recognized by their peers for their accomplishments as actual scholars and masters of astrology. Noted astrologers have written learned books on this science and/or are sought out by the elite and their own peers. Of course, being Indian is no guarantee that an astrologer is competent. There are literally millions of astrologers in India, but only a fraction of them are accomplished.
If an astrologer says that he is self-taught from a book, then remember what the wit said: "One who teaches himself has a fool for a student." And we might add that he also has "a fool for a teacher." Yes, there are many books on Vedic astrology, but they can never replace a living teacher. Vedic astrology books were meant as mnemonic guides to help the student remember lessons taught by the guru. As Varaha Mihira, a famous astrologer, has said: "Little is written but much is meant." In other words there is even more information, not in books, that can be taught only personally. And, there is also so much information within books that cannot be understood properly without the help of a guru.
At this time there are very few qualified teachers in North America, but this is gradually improving. In summary, if an "astrologer" says he has no teacher, is self-taught, or has never been to India, you should be doubtful of his qualifications.
Q. Is he certified?
This is closely related to the previous question. In India for a modest price you can purchase a certificate qualifying you in practically any subject including astrology. There are many such diploma mills. And of course some are not shy to say they have certificates when in fact they have none. (Too cheap to buy a certificate?) Since the 1990's several organizations have sprung up in USA, Britain, Australia, and other countries. that now issue certificates to their members based on different systems of pedagogy, fees paid and an examination. However a certificate is only as good as the people who are issuing it.
I was asked to be a founding member of one of these organizations but I declined because I could see that they were "Vedic" in name only. The teachers what to speak of the students had/have a meager understanding of what the Vedic world view is and how Vedic astrology fits in and is part of that world view. Vedic astrology is in fact the Vedic world view expressed as astrology just as Ayurveda is its application to medicine or the Dharma sastras to sociology, etc. Without this understanding one can not properly understand Vedic astrology and hence practice it correctly. Presently there is no spiritual or philosophical education for astrologers. There is no sadhana (spiritual training) or brahminical (priest) lifestyle for the purification of the consciousness of the astrologer.
Why is this important? Because Vedic astrology was revealed to highly purified and spiritually qualified Brahmarsis (priest sages) like Garga Rsi and Brghu Muni by Lord Krsna. An astrologer is a Daivajna, one who knows the will of God, to do that to any great degree the astrologer must engage in purifying his consciousness so that he becomes a transparent via medium through which God may speak. So one should be aware of the consciousness of the person through whom God's message will be filtered. If water goes through mud it becomes muddy, similarly if the consciousness of the astrologer is not clean then there will be anomalies in the message transmitted.
There are now many computerized tools available for the astrologer to use to make his calculating work that much faster. And, many a symposia with talented guest speakers to teach a vast array of techniques. But what is being done to purify and strengthen the one who uses the tools and learns the techniques? What is being done to conform and align the consciousness of the astrologer with the consciousness of Krsna so that he can truly understand what Lord Krsna is trying to tell him through this mystic cryptogram that goes by the name of Natal Chart? Nothing. So if someone claims to be certified by XYZ or ABC it usually doesn' t mean much. A fool with a tool is still a fool. Carefully study to find out what kind of person they are before you entrust yourself to them. See also The Philosophy of Jyotish.
While on the topic of certification, one should be aware that in almost all cases the students must pay tuition and various fees. One should know that this is totally against the Vedic world view and is in fact against the laws of the Dharma sastras to charge for teaching. However the student is expected to give the guru a donation according to his ability (no fixed fee) after all study is over. It is not a business. I was never asked by any of my teachers to pay them a fee for teaching me. I gave them dakshine (donation) only after I was finished my studies even though they didn't ask. Similarly I do not charge my students any fee for tuition. They can give me something according to their ability when they are finished study. What is amazing is that many of those who now teach for money were taught by their own teachers for free. It is a symptom of materialistic commercialization and greed. The capitalist creed run amok. This is another reason why these certificates are useless.
Q. How many branches of Vedic astrology did he study?
There are six branches of Vedic astrology: gola (astronomy), ganita (mathematical astrology), jataka (natal astrology), prasna, muhurta, and nimitta (omens). A good astrologer will have studied five of these branches. These days, with the advent of computers and ephemerides, few astrologers study gola. Expertise in ganita, jataka, and prasna are essential. Training in muhurta and nimitta is strongly recommended.
If the astrologer knows only natal astrology he is probably self-taught. Or even if properly schooled, he will likely be of limited use, for he will be lacking in versatility. Obviously the more knowledge and expertise, the better.
Q. How much experience does he have?
Generally, more experience is better. But suppose you have a choice between one astrologer with little or no formal training but ten years of experience, and another astrologer with five years of formal training and only two or three years experience. The astrologer with the formal training is most sure to be in a superior position of knowledge. Consider this: as a serious student of astrology, as he progressed to higher levels of knowledge he may have studied under two or three astrology teachers, each of them having had perhaps 50 years or more of training and experience. In other words, the formal training he has received is the distilled essence of 150 or more years of his teachers' combined experience. Also, the training period includes apprenticeship in which the student practices astrology--it is not just theory. Of course if the astrologer has both real formal training plus long experience, so much the better. But be careful of those who count their years of self-study as experience--that is not strictly honest, just as no one would count years spent in college as work experience. So when inquiring about an astrologer's experience, be sure to determine if it is experience after formal study with a teacher, after self-study, or a combination of both study and active practice time.
Q. What is the astrologer's background education?
A. Traditionally in India there was a natural screening process that allowed only the most gifted intellects to study astrology. First of all, the person had to master Sanskrit in order to read mathematical texts. After mastering mathematics, the student mastered astronomy in order to be able to calculate the planetary positions. (In those days there were no ephemerides, calculators, or computers-- only good brains.) Then only, at the culmination, would the student study astrology.
Even today in India I have seen that the most respectable and able astrologers are scholars in fields other than astrology. I have met astrologers who were high-court judges, doctors, engineers,Sanskritists, etc.--men eminent and learned in several fields. For example, my astrology teacher from Calcutta, the late Harihara Majumdara, aside from being an author of several astrology books in English and Bengali, was also a barrister and Sanskritist. And, my astrology teacher in Bangalore, Sashi Kanta Jain, was truly a versatile genius who could: read, write, and speak at least ten languages; was a qualified Ayurvedic physician; was learned in mantra-sastra, philosophy, and the Vedas; and knew mathematics and Vedic astronomy; as well as being a first-class astrologer. And, Krsnan Potti of Trivandram, with whom I studied prasna, was a well-known scholar and author of over a dozen books. So it is important to know the background of the astrologer. Is he a scholar and deeply learned? If so, this indicates that most likely he is also a scholar of astrology.
If on the other hand an "astrologer" is devoid of scholarship and mathematical ability, or his other interests center on activities such as playing in a rock 'n' roll band, surfing, or some other incompatible activity, you might want to reconsider before having him do your chart. He doesn't exactly fit the prototype of the learned Brahmana astrologer, which might even be grounds to question his competence to perform the mathematics involved in astrology.
Q. Is he an intuitive or psychic astrologer?
If he answers yes, then be careful. These days, people who are too lazy to undergo the hard work necessary for studying astrology often present themselves as "intuitive" or "psychic" astrologers, which simply means that they speak whatever notions enter into their minds--wild guessing, you might say. Would you go to an "intuitive" mechanic or dentist?
If an astrologer has undergone the austerities required of him, then naturally he develops a feel for his art. In very rare cases one may be a prodigy with a gift for such things, but they are quite rare indeed. Even these gifted persons improve still further with training. A gifted student will aspire for a gifted teacher who can inspire him to become even better; there is always more to learn. And besides, it is the Vedic tradition for everyone to accept a master as teacher.