Jyotisha: The Science of Light, part 2

The Six Branches of Jyotisha—

Jyotisha, the Science of Light, the astrology of India, is comprised of six branches or categories. These branches are each clearly defined, but also intermingle to help us more fully understand how nature interacts with humans in a deep and profound way.

It is said that any astrologer who has mastered all six branches of Jyotisha will never go wrong in his or her predictions. Jyotisha, after all, is “the Eye of the Vedas.” However, mastery of even one of these branches takes intense dedication and determination.

We can begin to understand the depth of Jyotisha in a whole new way when we study these six branches and the interconnections between them. Together, they enable us to see where karmas are fixed in life, where they are changeable and how to work within these two extremes to create a more meaningful life.

Jyoti is a Sanskrit word meaning “light.” The light by which we see the planets—observational astronomy—is outer light. These visible things are fixed in nature, reflecting more the principle of what we might call fate. Inner light can be thought of as cognition or intuition—the elements beyond astronomy and mathematics that make up astrology. This inner light helps us perceive our true nature and activate our free will to see and shift obstacles in our path. Jyotisha gives us tools to cultivate our understanding of both inner and outer light.

Of the six branches of Jyotisha, the first two branches primarily relate to outer light. The third branch begins to merge both inner and outer light. While the last three branches help us foster the ability to use our inner light and our free will to positively change our lives.

The first branch is Gola. Gola is observational astronomy. Understanding and using gola involves calculating the speed of the planets, the brightness of the planets, the constellation a planet is in and for what length of time, the orbital motion of the planets, eclipses and similar astronomical themes, and more. This branch is purely scientific, based on direct observational astronomy.

Ganita is the second branch of Jyotisha. Ganita is calculation. The ancient seers are frequently acknowledged as being brilliant mathematicians. Ganita incorporates Gola (observational astronomy), using mathematical principles to calculate things such as how planets will move over time. Without Ganita, we could not make accurate predictions. The Ephermis and Panchanga come out of this branch of Jyotisha.

A study of Gola and Ganita begins to reveal why Jyotisha is both a science and an intuitive art. Many of the methods of astrological prediction have a direct connection to the scientific principles of observation and calculation. We can imagine the brilliant seers of old observing the night sky and, through science and cognition, developing this beautiful system known as Jyotisha.

Jataka is the third branch of Jyotisha. This is natal astrology; it is the calculation of a birth chart of any given individual born at a particular date, time and place. Here we begin to focus equally on inner and outer light. Through horoscope examination, we begin to see areas of life where our karmas appear to be quite fixed and acceptance may be the best route; and there are other areas of life that may be changed through focus, sincere practices and remedial measures. Understanding Jataka is also about understanding the proper time to influence change, and the proper time in which to begin or focus on important human endeavors. Jataka measures the karmas we are born with and gives us a map of how these karmas are likely to unfold throughout the course of a lifetime. This branch is probably the most commonly practiced form of Jyotisha both in the West and in India today.

Prasna is the fourth branch of Jyotisha. Prasna is a Sanskrit word that means “question” and its practice entails treating a question put to the astrologer as the moment of inception, similar to the moment of birth for a person. Prasna, used properly, requires the coming together of three things: the individual asking the question, the astrologer and the question. The astrologer is reminded to be very alert to the nature of the question and how the question is asked. Then a chart is cast to answer the question. Many of the principles of Jataka are brought to bear on this branch of Jyotisha, as well, yet Prasna also has many of its own unique principles and sets of rules. Prasna can enable the astrologer to read how a person has worked with their karmas from birth. It brings us up to date on how a person may have used their free will in this lifetime to begin to alter their karmas.

In the time I spent with my teacher, Hart deFouw, I came to realize that he frequently used the principles of prasna to make numerous profound, and fun, predictions. Prasna can be used on a day-to-day basis to address questions without the need to know an individual’s birth chart. One memory that stands out for me of seeing prasna in action with my teacher is as follows. A friend stopped by, sat down at my kitchen table and was chatting with my teacher. Using prasna, he asked her, “Are you going on a trip abroad in the next month?” “Why, yes!” she said. My teacher then identified the exact date she would be leaving and also that she was going back to her homeland, the birth place of her mother or father. Indeed, she was going back to Croatia, the birth place of her mother, to visit long lost relatives.

At another time, a young lady came over to the house. My teacher immediately took a liking to this lady and asked her if she loved horses. She was quite surprised by this question, and it was delightful to hear that she was studying to train horses. He then said, “But don’t introduce me to your father.” We all laughed because the young lady has quite an argumentative father.

Both of these insights happened upon my teacher’s first meeting these individuals, without ever having heard anything about them before and without having seen their birth charts. He was using the principles of prasna. Prasna is widely practiced in India, where people from small villages often don’t have records of their birth time, yet profound and accurate predictions can be made nonetheless.

Muhurtha is the fifth branch of Jyotisha. Muhurta is the Sanskrit word for “moment,” and is focused on picking an auspicious moment in which to begin a new endeavor. By picking the best moment, we can infuse the birth of the endeavor with the best possible astrological energy for success. Some of the things that Muhurta is commonly used for are marriage, the launch of a new business, the conceiving of a child, beginning a trip, taking a new medicine, beginning a spiritual practice and the initiation of a mantra. Muhurta gives us the tools to bring our free will to a moment to improve our lives, and work with our karmas in a more useful and meaningful way. In and of itself, a muhurta is a uppaya—a remedial measure taken to improve our lives.

Nimitta is the sixth and final branch of Jyotisha. Also called omenology, it is the art of studying and reading phenomena that occur at the time of a question, usually related to nature. Nimitta can also be referred to as the art of interpreting Om. The world is alive and so much richer than we generally allow ourselves to see. Signs and symbols are everywhere if we but take the time and have the wherewithal to notice them. When an astrologer doesn’t know which way to turn on an important matter and grace is present, Nimitta allows the astrologer to be guided to the correct answer. Nimitta reminds us that grace exists, that not everything can be interpreted through a chart and that any individual can transcend the astrological influences of the planets.

Again during my time with my teacher, I was able to observe many delightful moments of his reading nimitta. One experience I remember in particular was when a woman asked him if her daughter would be able to marry soon. At the moment, he looked out the window and saw a lovely blonde woman coming together with an African American man. Hart took this as an omen and said he saw her daughter marrying soon, probably to a man of African American descent. The woman said that it wouldn’t surprise her as her daughter only dated African American men. Later it was confirmed that the woman’s daughter did indeed marry an African American man a short time later.

A few years back, I was giving a client a reading. She asked me if she was going to be moving soon. At that very moment, a moving van came into my driveway by accident. Taking this as an omen, I said yes, that she would be moving very soon. A year later, when she called for a follow-up session, she confirmed that she had indeed moved within a month of our last reading.

When beginning to understand the six branches of Jyotisha, it becomes clear that there are many layers of how an astrologer can employ Jyotisha on an ongoing basis to facilitate positive change in an individual’s life.

The Nakshatras and the Six Branches of Jyotisha—

Nakshatra is the Sanskrit term for a lunar constellation. The zodiac contains twenty-seven nakshatras, in which the Moon resides for approximately one day each.

The nakshatras were recognized in India in ancient times, perhaps even before the solar constellations (rashis). Indeed, both the Atharva and Yajur Vedas give a complete listing of the nakshatras, and associate each with a Vedic deity. Also, according to Vedic lore, the nakshatras are the twenty-seven wives of the Moon. Rituals, ceremonies and Vedic holidays are all set according to the nakshatras, and these lunar companions also play a key role in horoscope interpretation.

When analyzing an individual’s character, traditional Jyotisha teachings seem to put greater weight on the influence of the nakshatras than the influence of the constellations.

The nakshatras are an intimate part of each of the six branches of Jyotisha: Gola, Ganita, Jataka, Prashna, Muhurta, and Nimitta. Starting with gola (observation), watching the night sky and following the course of the Moon was quite obviously a primary marker. The Moon is the fastest moving planetary luminary, visibly changing position daily, and it is also generally the brightest, the most riveting to the naked eye and the easiest to observe of the heavenly bodies.

For ancient astronomers/astrologers, ganita (calculating) the movement of the Moon in the circle of the zodiac would perhaps be the next logical step following gola. Hence the early discovery that the Moon completes an average of 13 degrees 20 minutes of movement per day through the zodiac. Observation and calculation would then reveal that the Moon travels the entire zodiac (360 degrees) in 27 nights (or occasionally 28), thereby establishing the lunar month.

The role of the nakshatras in jataka (natal interpretation) may then well have been developed through observing qualitative patterns in individuals born on a given day or night. The seers seemed to put primary value on the rising sign (by degree and considering the rising sign ruler) to determine the outer manifestations on a person’s life, including health and physical stature. The nakshatra placement of the Moon is also the key in setting up the Vimshottari cycle system, (a unique cycle system of Jyotisha) in a person’s life, as well as revealing additional personality traits.

Using the nakshatras in horoscope interpretation goes well beyond the formation of personality at birth. Noting the nakshatra of the planet activated in the Vimshottari cycle of an individual at any given time in their life provides a key for understanding the primary themes one is likely to experience at a particular time.

Prashna (question) interpretation also relies heavily on the nakshatras, using them to understand the possible outcomes proposed by the question asked. For instance, it is ill-advised to loan money to anyone when the nakshatra of Mula is operating. So if a client came to me and asked if he might double his money through investing in a friend’s business and Mula nakshatra was operating at the time of the question, I would advise that he not invest in the business. It is likely I would further advise him that any return on such an investment, any financial gain whatsoever, would be unlikely.

In muhurta (electional astrology), the nakshatras are perhaps the most essential interpretive key. Of course, the strength of the rising sign, significant planetary combinations and the planetary hour are also important in this context, but note that muhurta is very much based on the nakshatras. Certain nakshatras are favored for the timing of marriage, travel, breaking ground for a new home, beginning a new endeavor or taking medicines, for example.

As for nimitta (omens), they are often more readily apparent throughout life once you observe the nakshatras on a daily basis. The nakshatras can magically and divinely display certain messages for us during any day.

To offer an example of how the nakshatra qualities can inform and inspire, I offer this brief story. I prepared this article on Maui at the home of dear friends. The nakshatra operating on that day was Chitra, the brilliant one. Chitra’s presiding deity is Tvashtar or Vishvakarma, the celestial architect of the universe. As it happened, one of my friends and I spent that morning looking at the architectural plans for a new home he is building on his land, and I was giving him feedback according to information I had learned about Vastu (the science of architecture, form and placement). My friend then had to go into town for a meeting with his architect. Further, the woman next door popped over for a visit and as our conversation unfolded, she revealed that her husband is an architect, so we spoke about his work for a time.

For me, observing what unfolds on any given day in relation to the nakshatra of the moment is one of the most enjoyable ways of watching Jyotisha as a living, breathing entity in my everyday life.

I am deeply grateful to Hart de Fouw, my Jyotisha teacher, for illuminating my understanding of Jyotisha, demonstrating its moment-by-moment wonders and helping open my eyes to the wisdom this knowledge gives us in our lives.

I would also like to thank Danielle Williams for her wonderful editorial advice.

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