Astrology meets Science: Planetary Aspects and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity

The title of the article seems to suggest that Astrology and Science are two mutually exclusive entities. This is perhaps a view that applies to most in Science; and the rationalists of today who believe that any attribution to the planets for what happens to human life is nothing but a celebration of victimhood characterized by the acute lack of accepting responsibility for our own actions. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. With the latest scientific discoveries, modern science has begun to acknowledge, albeit slowly, skeptically and grudgingly, that astrological principles do have basis in the physics of the universe. We are indeed influenced by the planets in our universe – whether we like it or choose to accept it.

The greatest and foremost contributions to Vedic Astrology come from Parasara. He laid the foundations for this science – describing planets in relation to the constellations, the nature of the energy they radiate and how they aspect each other. Among other things, he also described the basic nature of the planets, the nature of the twelve houses, and the system of dashas based on the constellations. These form the very basis of predictive astrology as we know it today. Specifically, with his concept of planetary aspects, he said that the planets influence each other and the degree and nature of influence is based on their relative motion. There seems to be significant credibility in this principle – especially when it is backed up by Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Einstein proposed that there is no fixed frame of reference with which objects move in this universe. Everything in this universe is moving in relation to everything else. What we know as space is actually space-time, a flexible grid that is distorted by the presence of mass. So any planet present in this space-time grid distorts or warps that grid due its mass. Imagine placing a ball in the center of a rubber sheet. The mass of the ball will push down on the sheet causing it to depress at the point and warp the sheet around it. The larger the mass of the ball, the greater the depression and warping. If you were to roll a marble along the edge of the rubber sheet, it will spiral inwards toward the ball. But if the marble was at just the right speed, it will continue to orbit the ball in an elliptical path without spiraling into the ball. Now imagine the ball to be our mighty sun and the marble to be any planet. Einstein proposes that planets are orbiting the sun due to the warping of space-time by the mass of the sun. This space-time warping is called a gravity well and the resultant force in operation is called gravity. Just like the Sun, each planet has its own mass and corresponding gravity well. So what this establishes is that everything is moving in relation to everything else. When Parasara described planetary aspects, he was probably referring to this gravity that planetary bodies apply on each other.

This also explains why Sun and Moon are given primal importance in Vedic Astrology. The Sun is the largest terrestrial body in the solar system and the moon the closest! It is not surprising that their gravity wells have the strongest influence on us.

Karma and Astrology

In Sanatana Dharma, human life is viewed as a continuous whole in which the past, present, and future are interlinked with each other. Our actions (from past and current births) determine our results (for the current and future births). Karma is defined as both action and the results of an action. If life is based on our Karma and we are free to create our own destiny, what then is the role of the planets in Astrology? Planets or Grahas, as they are referred to in Vedic Astrology, are said to only influence and not determine our life. What ultimately happens is said to be a combination of the planetary influences and our own actions. While this is helpful, it certainly begs for more clarity.

There are four types of Karma:

Sanchita Karma

The is the balance sheet of all good and bad actions accumulated over past births.

Prarabdha Karma

It is said that the accumulated Sanchita Karma is too vast to be experienced in one lifetime. Only a portion of it is assigned to the native to experience in this current life. This is Prarabdha Karma and is seen in the native’s astrological charts. This is essentially the balance sheet that one starts with at the time of birth. There are also different levels of magnitude of Prarabdha Karma. Based on planetary positions in the natal and horary charts, we can determine the strength of these influences. These are broadly classified into three types: Fixed (Dhrida), Changeable (Adhrida), Mixed (Dhrida-Adhrida). Fixed Karma represents those influences that are too strong for an individual to overcome. Changeable Karmas refer to those influences that are easily changed with effort and remedies. And Mixed Karmas, as the name suggests, is a mid-way between the two. When using astrology for predictive purposes, it is important to see if there are any Fixed Karmas in the chart. When such Karma is present, the native will experience the ascribed favorable or unfavorable results no matter what their actions are during that period. The time has come to either reap the fruits of good karma or pay off the debt of bad karma. There is no escape. In the case of an unfavorable period, the only option for the native is to surrender to the will of God and allow the Karma to burn away. Resistance will simply lead to more suffering.

Kriyaman Karma

This is the part that deals with our free will – our ability to perform new karma in our response to situations no matter what they are. Even if the native is experiencing an unfavorable period, they can still decide how to respond to it. If they continue to perform good actions, they will definitely experience the results for the same either in the current lifetime or in a future birth. If they surrender and perform actions bereft of the sense of I-doership, then they will not even accumulate karma. Because even good karma done with the sense of I-doership might require additional births so that you can experience the good results for the same. To make better predictions, the astrologer must also consider the Kriyaman Karma performed by the native. This is where the horary (Prasna) chart is useful. The chart cast at the time of the native’s query offers the latest karmic balance sheet, accounting for both the Prarabdha Karma from past lives and the Kriyaman Karma performed in this life.

Agami Karma

This part also deals with free will but represents those actions/results that are coming in the future as a result of current thoughts. For example, let’s say that you need to go shopping and it’s raining heavily which is much to your displeasure. You cannot wish this rain away. You can perform the Kriyaman Karma of taking an umbrella with you and the Agami Karma of planning to go shopping in the future only after checking the weather forecast for the day.

As such, there is sufficient free will in our lives to help us chart our journey for the present and the future. The goal of astrology is to give the native an insight into their karmic balance sheet and the purpose of their current life, all in order to lead to greater self-awareness, self-development, and ultimately self-realization.

Role of extra-Saturnine planets in Vedic Astrology

One of the most striking differences between Western and Vedic Astrology is the presence of extra-Saturnine planets (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto) in the former. Given that Vedic Astrology is vast and ancient, I find it quite intriguing that these planets have no place in our system. Should we ignore these planets because they have no mention in our classical works? Did our ancient seers not know about the existence of these planets? Does this mean that these planets have no influence on us? How is it that mathematical points in space (Rahu and Ketu) can influence us and not these real physical heavenly bodies (although they are at a great distance from us)? There is no simple answer. However, there are a few perspectives that serve as starting points for further research.

Some are of the view that since all planets up to Saturn are visible to the naked eye, our ancient seers were able to observe their movement and record the corresponding influence on human life. Planets beyond Saturn are not visible to the naked eye, and as such, they are said to be too far away to influence us. On a side note, it’s actually quite incredible that we can see these distant planets with our naked eyes! All you need to know is where and when to look. More on this later.

Another view is that the great sage Vyasa, who authored the Mahabharata, was actually aware of these extra-saturnine planets. In the Mahabharata, there are references to many planetary positions before the great Kurukshetra war. Working backwards, it is claimed that some of these planetary positions correspond to Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto. With these references, Vyasa seems to imply that these planets also influenced the war. Why then do we have no mention of them anywhere else? For reasons unknown, it looks like we were unable to pursue these planets any further. Of what little information is available, these planets are said to be (in general) violent and regenerative forces. Indra is ascribed to Uranus, Varuna to Neptune, and Yama to Pluto. It does not quite matter if this is true or if it can be used successfully for predictive purposes. It is fascinating nonetheless and should not be ignored. There is enough material to warrant further research to advance astrology into the future.

Some others are of the view that the very long orbital periods of these planets preclude them from influencing individual lives. Pluto, for example, has an orbital period of 248 years (the time it will take to transit through all the 12 signs). In the context of the relatively shorter human life, it is seen as affecting humanity as a whole but not individual lives to the same extent.

What does this mean for the future of these planets in Vedic Astrology? If you look at the classical works, there are many conflicting views regarding planets and their influences. For example, Parasara states that Rahu is exalted in Taurus. Gopala Ratnakara later assigns Gemini instead. What’s fascinating about these conflicts is that, regardless of who is more accurate, they make sense in the context of their chronology. Astrology is and has been a science that has improved with research over time. Therefore, just because these extra-saturnine planets have no mention in our classical works, it does not mean that they have no influence on us or that they will not be part of our system in the future. In this current age, it might take the birth of another great soul of the likes of Dr. B V Raman, quite arguably the modern Parasara, to reveal astrological truths that are hitherto unknown.