Main Differences between Vedic and Western Astrological Systems

Different historical background

Vedic Astrology came about through the insights of seers in India called “rishis” who lived many thousands of years ago.  These rishis were great beings with special powers capable of divining the truth on spiritual matters and on how creation worked. Their knowledge and insights were passed down through subsequent ages by way of the oral tradition of learning.  Much of their knowledge has been lost, but an effective core remains that is sufficient for this age.

The origins of Vedic Astrology can be traced back to the Rig Veda which is the oldest part of the Vedas, containing the spiritual knowledge of India – the science of Self-knowing.  It has always been regarded as a spiritual rather than a mundane discipline.

As a result of this background, the principles governing Vedic Astrology have largely remained unaltered for thousands of years.  They are contained in various classical texts, the greatest of which, and most widely used is called “Brihat Parashara’s Hora Shastra”.  (Meaning: The Great Sage Parashara’s Treatise on the Science of Time).  It takes the form of a dialogue between a teacher and a student, so it provides a link with the oral tradition already mentioned.  For further information, read David Frawley’s excellent book “Astrology of the Seers”.

Often criticised and manipulated, astrology in Europe nevertheless sprang from the highest philosophical motivations.   Western Astrology goes back to the intellectual life of ancient Greece and Rome where it was a powerful force.  With the rise of Christianity it was condemned to near extinction, but was reawakened in the Middle Ages and once again came to permeate philosophy, literature, and art.  The scientific revolution of the seventeenth century condemned astrology to a second near death, from which its revival in modern times could hardly have been foreseen.

In the 20th century it has been influenced firstly by Jung so that it has tended to concentrate on the psychological nature of individuals; and secondly by the discovery of new planets, asteroids, and moons belonging to the outer planets whose influence on mankind has been determined through statistical measurements by practitioners.  For further information, read Peter Whitfield’s “Astrology, A History” published by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

Different methods are used to calculate the position of the planets

The Vedic system basically applies the same position of the planets as used by astronomers against the background of certain fixed stars (or unchanging stellar lights from our perspective).  It is called the “sidereal zodiac”. Hence, in the past, the term Astronomy covered astrology as well as the study of the physical heavens.

Western astrology is based on the orientation of the Earth to the Sun, and applies the “Tropical zodiac”.  It “assumes” that every year, the Sun at the spring and autumnal equinoxes is at the first degree of Aries and Libra respectively, and at the first degree of Cancer and Capricorn at the summer and winter solstices.  As a result of this fundamental assumption, the tropical zodiac ignores an astronomical event called the Precession of the Equinoxes.

As the Sun moves along its apparent path as viewed from the Earth, it does not return to the same position against the background of the fixed stars at the spring equinox on 21 March, where it was at the same time one year earlier.  It is short by 50.29 seconds of one degree, and this builds up to a difference of one whole degree every 71.585 years.   Over 2,148 years, the gap between the sidereal and tropical positions of the planets grows to 30 degrees, or one whole sign of the zodiac.  The whole precessional cycle takes approximately 25,800 years.

At the Spring Equinox on 21 March 2011, the Sun was at 6 degrees of Pisces according to the Sidereal zodiac and not at first degree of Aries according to Western Astrology’s tropical system.  In modern times, there is a difference of 24 degrees and one minute between the two zodiacs, which is growing by 50.29 seconds of a degree every year.  The two zodiacs were together in the year 285 AD, and since that time we have been in what is known as the Age of Pisces when the spring equinox occurs in this sign.  The Aquarian Age is not due to start until 2445 AD

The effect of the above difference between the zodiacs is that the position of every planet, which includes the Sun and the Moon, as well as the starting point called the Ascendant – the degrees of the sign on the Eastern Horizon at birth – in a Vedic Chart is 24 degrees earlier than in Western astrological charts.  This is likely to bring about a completely different interpretation of every natal chart.

One consequence of this dissimilarity is that five out of every six people were not born under the constellation they have been lead to believe by the newspapers and western astrologers.  For instance, according to western astrology the Sun is in the sign of Aries from 21 March to 20 April.  Under Vedic system, the Sun is in Aries from 13 April to 14 May – a difference of 22 days.  This positional variation also applies to all the other planets.

Different number of planets are used

Nine planets are used in Vedic Astrology viz. Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn and the two nodes of the Moon called Rahu and Ketu.  These nodes, recognised by astronomers, are points on the ecliptic path of the Sun, which the Moon cuts every month as it circles the Earth at a 5° inclination to the Earth’s orbit.  When the Moon happens to be in the plane of the earth’s orbit at the time of a new or full Moon, solar/lunar eclipses occur in an 18.6 year cycle.

Western Astrologers also use the above mentioned planets.  In addition, use is made of the movements of the outer planets – Uranus, Neptune and Pluto – as well as their moons and some of the largest asteroids, when interpreting horoscopes.  These are not used at all in the Vedic system as they are viewed as being too distant from the Earth and/or too small to have an influence on human affairs.

Different primary focus

Tropical astrology is largely “Sun” based, for the signs of Aries, Taurus, Gemini etc. may more accurately be called “solar houses”.  As such, Western Astrology is primarily concerned with psychology, the personality and character, or the “solar” side of our life and nature.

Sidereal astrology can be called “Cosmic astrology” for it measures the relationship of the fixed stars and the solar system to ourselves.  As such, Vedic Astrology covers all areas of life – our desires, talents, responsibilities, financial resources, creativity, likelihood of marrying and having children, and the potential for spiritual growth.  It can also indicate times of ill-health, failures, emotional and physical difficulties; and confinement in a hospital, prison or monastery, etc.  Ayurveda is the medical branch of Vedic Astrology; whilst Vastu is its architectural branch.

Different use of the Fixed Stars

Besides using the 12 signs, Vedic Astrology breaks down the 360º circle into 27 lunar constellations, called Nakshatras, which were originally identified with particular stars, but these days each one is deemed to cover a span of 13 degrees 20 minutes thus creating a full circle.

These Nakshatras are used by practitioners for indicating the quality of a person’s mind-set as well as ascertaining subtle qualities of the nine planets specific to each natal chart.  In addition, they can be used for determining personality types; the starting points of the planetary periods – see next section; favourable times for beginning important actions in electional astrology; and are key factors in relationship compatibility.

Thousands of stars are visible but Western Astrologers may in their interpretation of horoscopes consider the transit of the planets over 26 specific stars that have a determined zodiacal longitude.  These astrologers are not in agreement as to the significance of the fixed stars in a natal horoscope, which is the only place where they are used.

Different systems to determine the timing of events

In timing major events or changes in our lives, Western Astrology uses progressions (any method of advancing the planets and house cusps of a natal horoscope to a particular time after birth) and transits (the position and movement of the planets on a given day; used in reference to planets passing over a natal planet or crossing a natal house).

Vedic astrologers may also apply these systems, but their primary system is the use of planetary periods, called dashas.  There are 32 such systems outlined by Parashara in his treatise.  Under the most commonly used Vimshottari Dasha system, each of the nine planets is given a particular time span, periods varying from 6 to 20 years, giving a total of 120 years, when their particular influence will have a predominant effect on an individual’s life.  These periods can be divided into sub-periods and sub-sub periods to show the planetary influences operating on a particular day.

Given an accurate birth time, the dasha system in combination with the natal chart can pinpoint the time when each period of fortune or misfortune will begin and end by providing actual dates.  Two people may have indicated in their chart wonderful careers, good earnings and great accomplishments. But, one of them may find his niche early in life, while the other must first navigate difficult waters before finally achieving prosperity.  The system can indicate the timing of such events, as well as the timings of successes and failures for individuals as well as for nations

Mathematics

There is a belief amongst some western astrologers that the Vedic system is based on myth and is therefore unscientific. In fact, the foundation of Vedic Astrology is the mathematics used in modern astronomy with regard to any astronomical phenomena applied in the system. These astronomical calculations form the basis of computer software, such as Shri Jyoti Star, Parashara’s Light and Kala, used by professional Vedic Astrologers. Myths are only used as an aid to learning important astrological principles.