Especially among Westerners, there is a basic misunderstanding of what karma is and how it relates to the zodiac and planetary positions in their Jyotiṣa (Jyotisha) natal chart. In this article, I will explore a more proper understanding, but not a complete explanation (as it is a vast topic requiring a teacher's guidance).
The Sanskrit word “Karma” means “action”. The effects of your actions and desires, others actions and Natures action (Acts of God), can all be thought of as karma. Karma can result in experiences thought to be generous or lucky life circumstances or their opposite to varying degrees. Most people will encounter a mixture of positive and challenging experiences in all areas of life (health, wealth, family, relationships, career, spirituality etc) sometime in their life.
There are four types of karma:
- Sañcita (Sanchita) karma is the storage of our amassed actions across our many lifetimes.
- Prārabdha karma is composed of the fructifying actions ready to be experienced during our lifetime.
- Kriyamāna karma is composed of inaugurating actions one takes during our lifetime. is everything that we produce from our desires and actions in our present life. This karma flows into the Sañcita and consequently shapes our future.
- Āgama karma is composed of impending actions during our lifetime. (For example; one "plans" to get married or buy a house).
Note: Āgama karma is technically the same as Kriyamāna karma but many separate them to emphasize their individual importance. Ultimately they are all addressing the Prārabdha karma experienced or created in one’s lifetime.
There are three sources of karma:
- Ādhyātmika (involving oneself) comes from our past and current life actions and desires.
- Ādhibautika (involving others) comes from our family and society. It is not easily observed in our natal charts but becomes more visible when viewing multiple family members.
- Ādhidaivika (involving natural forces) comes from Acts of Nature or God that often affect masses of people. They are predictable to some extent by analyzing the capital city, eclipses, birth time of the country or its current leader's natal chart. In the cases of extensive damage and death from floods, fires, earthquakes, tsunami, etc, it is not likely to be revealed by everyone's individual natal charts.
Prārabdha karma can be evaluated by a natal reading. In Vedic philosophy, it is believed that at the perfect time, God pushes souls out of heaven to take a new birth. God has been tending to our garden of Sañcita karma and choosing which karmic fruit must be experienced in the new life. The all-knowing Divine only selects the ripened Prārabdha karma and directly maps it to the planetary cycles used by Jyotiṣa. Upon taking the first breath at birth, that Prārabdha karma is attached to our subtle body. It is a very specific but only a minuscule amount of our Sañcita karmas that become Prārabdha for a given life. Much of this karma will directly relate to other connected souls from previous lives who will also take birth overlapping our lifespan (often as a relative).
Your natal chart becomes a "karma roadmap" of your life. The planets themselves do not actually create your karma or make you do or experience anything; rather they help map what and when specific life karma's are likely to be experienced. If you are born at a different time, or even moment, you will have a different, but perfectly timed set of planetary cycles that your karma fits into. This is one reason why Vedic astrologers focus on getting an accurate birth time by rectifying it to match their clients history of key life events. The better the historical match, the more reliable the predictions for the future will be,
Jyotiṣa was made available to us through the great vision of ancient Sages from India who cognized or discovered these patterns and passed them on to later generations. They did not pass on a complete flawless set of instructions and students cannot attain understanding only from books. Jyotiṣa is an orally transmitted knowledge. It requires a master of Jyotiṣa to properly train the student in the deeper meanings of the Jyotiṣa Śāstra (Shastra) texts along with knowledge orally passed on to them from their teacher. This has been the tradition for thousands of years.
Vedic astrologers are not God. They are humans who have been trained in this ancient wisdom. They apply their own personal understanding of life experiences and intuition in order to interpret a myriad of input and come up with a prediction. Some astrologers are better at it than others. Very few have truly mastered it.
There are 3 different intensities of Prārabdha karma elements.
- Aḍrdḥa (non-fixed) Existing karma has very little strength and one can easily redirect their effects to fulfill our desires. Maybe you experience a desire to eat an unhealthy food but you have the will power to easily reject it without much mental or emotional resistance.
- Ḍrdḥa-Aḍrdḥa (changeable) is much stronger but, if one puts in firm effort, they can reshape the results to meet their desires. For example, one might have a learning disability, yet they can employ tutors or special techniques or apply extra efforts to excel in their studies.
- Ḍrdḥa (fixed) is so strongly set, that any positive or negative effects from that karma must be experienced. Maybe someone is unfairly convicted of a crime they did not commit. Nothing goes right for them in the process. To us it may look unjust, but it is their past life actions that created the need for them to have this experience. Others may seem to have undeserved or unexplainable luck and fortune. This is due to the ripened fruit of past life good deeds which must be experienced in this lifetime.
It is worth noting here that, even though we may encounter others experiencing difficult Ḍrdḥa karma, it does not relieve us of the responsibility to help them by just saying “It’s their bad karma" or "It's their own fault.” It is our Dharma (duty) to help the poor and sick no matter what karma brought them to that place in life.
One of the gifts of Jyotiṣa is that it provides a road-map of these intensities so one can make good choices on how to respond to them. For example, if our chart indicates reduced income in the future, we can start saving and being more frugal in our spending today.
“Astrology is a fact, in most instances. But astrological aspects are but signs, symbols. No influence is of greater value or of greater help than the will of an individual.... Do not attempt to be guided by, but use the astrological influences as the means to meet or to overcome the faults and failures, or to minimize the faults and to magnify the virtues in self.”
- Edgar Cayce
Through our desires and actions, one creates new karma. The karmic effects can be experienced during this lifetime or remain in the storehouse of Sañcita karma for future births. This is what is often referred to as the “Wheel of Karma”. It is believed that the goal of life is Moksha, (enlightenment). Upon attaining Moksha, one breaks free from the Wheel of Karma, ending their continuous cycle of rebirth and death and merging with the Divine.
To do this one must live a dharmic (righteous) life focusing on all of one's actions being performed for the Divine. One must neutrally treat the effects of all karma, pleasant and unpleasant experiences as equal, and remain unattached to the outcome. Living life in this way, one will not create new karma’s while fulfilling the experience (burning off) of their Prārabdha karma's. The great saints (historical and current) show us the way. Many have suffered greatly with no complaint or loss of attention to the Divine. It is also believed that they have taken on some of the Prārabdha karma of their devotees and of the world out of great acts of compassion. In Christianity, it is believed Jesus died on the cross to relieve man from the "original sins" of the past and even for future generations.
This gives clue to why in the Vedic philosophy; a realized master (Satguru) is required for an individual soul to attain full moksha. One may burn off all of the Prārabdha karma without creating any new karma in this lifetime but when they die, a vast Sañcita storehouse of karma remains. Only a Satguru can navigate our soul across the “Ocean of Samskara” which is made up of our Sañcita karma. Upon crossing, our soul merges and becomes one with the Divine. This is why in the Vedic traditions, it is generally considered foolish to think that you can attain total enlightenment on your own. It may be possible, by living a dharmic life and performing intense austerities and spiritual practices (sadhana) to burn off one's remaining Sañcita karma during the current life time, resulting in self-realization. But this is extremely rare. There are many who claim to be doing this but usually this is ego-based. Just the claim itself indicates the unlikelihood of them being able to achieve it.
In astronomy, the physical universe runs in cycles which are built into the foundation of astrology. The ancient Sages studied these astrological patterns and made note of the effect on humans and nature. One simple astrological cycle understood by most everyone is the seasonal cycle. Most people are all familiar with the cold, wet, warm and dry times of year. Likewise, there are larger cycles of droughts and flooding. These cycles affect us all and are generally predictable, determined by the position and angle of the earth to the sun.
Ancient scholars studied the movement of the planets and stars in relationship to the earth. Most of them also studied the subtle and substantive effects of these cycles on the earth. They did not distinguish astronomy and astrology as different sciences. They were different aspects of the same science interwoven within their daily social and spiritual environment.
Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s forefathers, made his fortune through the publications of Poor Richard’s Almanak (sic, farmer’s almanac). He personally calculated daily planetary positions and used the information to predict droughts, floods and determine proper planting times for crops. Poor Richard’s was second only to the Bible in sales during its publication years. In more modern science, Astronomers have measured and named thousands of cycles of planetary, astral and galactic movements but have mostly disconnected them from the observation of how these cycles appear to affect us here on earth. One of well-known exception is the 11 year solar cycle of Sun spots. Even today, scientists are researching their effects on Earth for future predictions.
Other types of Jyotiṣa are commonly practiced. They are analysis of the planetary and star cycles but not specifically related to the birth time. They are helpful in gaining more insight to what the natal chart reveals.
Praśna (Prashna) (Horary astrology) allows one to ask a question and measure Kriyamāna karma (inaugurated actions). It is very useful when supplementing a natal chart reading to get more specific on a personal issue in life. It can help understand if it will be good or bad to take a certain action in the future such as “Should I buy the house?” or “Should I accept the job offer?”
Muhūrta (Electional astrology) measures Āgama karma (pending actions). It can help us determine when the planets and stars are supportive for future actions. In India, virtually all Hindu marriages will start at time prescribed by Muhurta. I advise using Muhūrta for anything important such as buying or selling property, beginning an important journey, applying for a job etc. Initiating actions at the optimal time is like establishing a solid foundation to build a house on.
Nimitta (omens) is where time, direction, nature, simple actions and intuition combine to reveal the previously unseen Prārabdha karma into the view of an attentive Jyotiṣi. For example, if a person is rubbing their right cheek, it may indicate they are having relationship issues. Seeing a dead crow before a reading may mean there are big debt or health issues involved.