Is Astrology Useful in Krishna Consciousness? Part One – The Panchang
By Patita Pavana das Adhikary
The sacred teachings that Shrila Prabhupada called Krishna Consciousness are all transcendental to this material world. Shrila Prabhupada never gave material advice for those who would try to live comfortably here in this temporary world. Rather, His Divine Grace encouraged his disciples to employ whatever material things they have at their command in Krishna’s service. This, the pure devotee promised, would “spiritualize” or “Krishna-ize” whatever we “possessed”. Although today the Society owns thousands of vehicles, even big trucks, in the early days of ISKCON we did not even have a single automobile. Temples were storefronts and sankirtan parties would march out the front door, loop around town chanting and singing the mahamantra and return tired yet blissful many hours later.
Sometimes devotees would ask an “affluent” guest (described as a “car owner”) if they could borrow his or her vehicle to greet Shrila Prabhupada at the airport. Often this would be an old Volkswagen bug, as old photos testify. Thus, when the movement expanded to the point of vehicle purchase early in 1969, devotees sought Shrila Prabhupada’s advice on cars. Our Guru Maharaja sometimes instructed, “If you buy a used car, then you are purchasing another man’s headache.” To an ordinary karmi, this elementary guidance may appear like material advice. But the devotee recognizes that since a car or van will be used for sankirtan, the vehicle thereby becomes “spiritualized” as Krishna’s energy in the service of Krishna. Now only an illusioned disciple would mistake that because the pure devotee has given some general advice about vehicles, buying new rather than used, that the disciple has now become an authority on automobiles. A Vaishnava accepts whatever is useful to the service of Shri Guru and the Supreme Lord, and rejects all things that are useless. The devotee’s focus remains on Krishna.
Some years after Shrila Prabhupada had been preaching in the West, there was a pretender claiming himself “Bhagavan” who taught his own form of nirvishesha and shunyavada which was so shamelessly bent out of shape even other mayavadis of the day rejected him. Now this imitation “god” was a collector of Rolls-Royce automobiles, and his “disciples” (their “discipline” was extreme sensual indulgence) had bought him dozens and dozens of Rolls-Royces. Hence, press reporters often plied Shrila Prabhupada with questions about how many vehicles he owned. Often chuckling—and drawing out their mistaken intent—Prabhupada would oblige them with a straight-forward answer, which would run something like, “We have thirty centers and they all have five or ten vehicles, so he have minimally well over a hundred vehicles.” Then, if the reporter was receptive and not challenging, Shirla Prabhupada would explain the renunciate’s approach to owning vehicles or other material items. At times he even argued the opposite point of view: that everything should be utilized in Krishna’s service and thus all the other cars in the world were actually stolen property!
Now, this same simple principle can be applied to any material thing beginning from this body itself to those things that are extensions of the body. This world, the brahmanda, is Krishna’s property. Even Lord Brahma, the creator of the planetary systems, admits that he acts only under the jurisdiction of Lord Shri Krishna. As devotees, we are under orders to renounce all sense of false proprietorship and use everything in Krishna’s service. It was this principle that has attracted so many people in India to Krishna consciousness. When the Indians saw Shrila Prabhupada’s American and European disciples rejecting materialism to chant Hare Krishna in Bombay, Vrindavana and Mayapur, they also gradually became attracted. Thus Prabhupada showed that either by accepting material things or by rejecting them, Krishna’s service is the key.
The worth of any material item is not intrinsic in that thing because it is temporary; rather value is seen in its use. The Paramhamsa has even referred to gold, which all materialists crave with a passion, as “yellow stool”. Astrology, therefore, is no different. It is a mundane and material discipline which can certainly find a place in Krishna consciousness if correctly used, like a car or a computer or a printing press. Jyotish shastra, the most subtle of mundane sciences, can be spiritualized if utilized in Krishna’s service. True, there are many renounced devotees who could care less for stellar guidance, preferring to rely only on Krishna’s direction by the blessings of the spiritual master. It is undeniable that they are on the highest platform. How then can jyotish be useful for devotional service?
Although astrology may be useful in Krishna consciousness, one who overrates its importance—for example, by calling himself “astrologer” first and “devotee” second—is misguided. He could be compared to a fool who thinks that he has become an automobile expert because the guru has told him which car to buy. That astrology can be used in bhakti-yoga is simply an extension of the devotee’s underlying principle of service that “utility is the principle”.
An Introduction to the Panchanga or Panjika
Astrology is the basis for the calculation and timing of events, the branch of jyotish shastra which encompasses the science of the panchang. Shrila Prabhupada carried a panchanga—or panjika as they are known in Bengal—wherever he went, which he used for timing the observance of festivals. Panchanga means “five limbs” because a panchanga looks at every moment of every day through five different perspectives. Of these five the first three are most important, namely: (1.) tithi (lunar phases like ekadashi, etc.), (2.) Moon’s nakshatra (the twenty-eight constellations, and the source of the English word “star”) and (3.) vara (the week-day, such as Sunday as ruled by Sun, Monday by Moon, etc.). The panchang also determines movements of grahas or planets through the signs or rashis; grahans or eclipses, sankrantis or the beginning of solar months; the Sun’s northern or southern movements or ayanas, etc.
Solar months are calculated by the Sun’s movement through the twelve signs of the zodiac with the new solar year occurring when the Sun enters Aries or Mesha each year on March 14th or 15th. However, Vedic festivals are calculated by the lunar calendar. There are twelve lunar months in a lunar year, with an extra month or adhika–masa added every third year. Vedic festivals are timed according to particular lunar phases of each particular month, and a lunar month equals one waning and one waxing phase. As explained by Shrila Prabhupada in his Chaitanya Charitamrita commentary, the dark and light fortnights of the Moon are compared to the two wings of a bird. These wings are (1.) the waxing portion or shukla paksha (lit. “bright wing”) and (2.) the waning cycle or the krishna paksha (lit. “dark wing”) of a lunar month or masa. Shrila Prabhupada often pointed out, for example that Sunday came before Monday because, “first the Sun then the Moon” (meaning the Moon is farther from Earth than the Sun. Here is a chart of the Vedic weekdays, which is the origin of the modern concept:
DAY VARA PLANET DEMIGOD
Sunday Ravivara The Sun Surya or Ravi
Monday Somavara The Moon Soma or Chandra
Tuesday Mangalvara Mars Mangal
Wednesday Budhvara Mercury Budha
Thursday Guruvara Jupiter Guru or Brihaspati
Friday Shukravara Venus Shukra
Saturday Shanivara Saturn Shanideva
Specific masas (months) and tithis (days) have bearing on observances of fasts and festivities. The Moon circles the twelve rashis or signs of the zodiac in just under a month, while the Sun passes the twelve signs in a year. Thus a lunar month also means the Moon’s transit of twelve signs, while a solar month means the Sun’s transit of one sign. His Divine Grace Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura named each Vedic month or masa corresponding to the placing of tilaka as seen hereunder:
VEDIC MONTH GAUDIYA MASA
1. Chaitra Vishnu
2. Vaishakha Madhusudana
3. Jyeshta Trivikrama
4. Ashadha Vamana
5. Shravana Shridhar
6. Bhadrapada Hrishikesh
7. Ashwin Padmanabha
8. Karitk Damodar
9. Margashirsha Keshava
10. Pausha Narayana
11. Magha Madhava
12. Phalguna Govinda
The Moon’s tithis are measured in increments of twelve degrees each, and the significance of these lunar days during the twelve lunar months is described in many places by Prabhupada in his writings. For every twelve degrees that the Moon moves one tithi is measured. When the Sun and Moon are conjunct, that is called the amavashya-tithi or the dark of the Moon. Then, when the faster Moon moves ahead of the Sun up to twelve degrees of a circle, it is called first day of the Moon or pratipada-tithi. As the Moon continues to wax or move ahead the Sun—from twelve to twenty-four degrees— the second day of the bright half of Moon or dwitiya-shukla tithi comes into effect. There are fifteen tithis of the waxing or shukla-paksha fortnight (including purnima or full Moon), and fifteen days in the waning fortnight (including amavashya). These are useful in observing the Vaishnava festivities during the correct lunar months throughout the year. Along with amavashya and purnima, there are a total of thirty tithis each lunar month as follows:
TITHIS SOME CORRESPONDING HOLIDAYS
2nd Dwitiya Yama Dwitiya
3rd Tritiya Parashurama Tritiya, Akshaya Tritiya
4th Chaturthi Ganesh Chaturthi
5th Panchami Vasant Panchami, Nag Panchami
6th Shashti Skanda Shashti
7th Saptami Adwaita Saptami, Ganga Saptami
8th Ashtami Shri Janmashtami, Radhashtami, Gopashtami, Durgashtami
9th Navami Shri Rama Navami, Sita Navami, Prabhupada Navami
10th Dashami Ramachandra Vijaya Dashami
11th Ekadashi Jaya Ekadashi, Nirjala Ekadashi, Putrada Ekadashi
12th Dwadashi Vamana Dwadashi, Varaha Dwadashi, Rukmini Dwadashi
13th Trayodashi Nityananda Trayodashi
14th Chaturdashi Nrisimha Chaturdashi, Ananta Chatrudashi
Amavashya Shani Amavashya, Mauni Amavashya
Purnima Shri Gaur Purnima, Narada Purnima, Sharada Purnima
Both Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati made tremendous contributions to the Vaishnava calendars used in guiding the activities of ISKCON and all Gaudiyas today. It was Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakur who pioneered the Gaudiya panchang by first pioneering the Chaitanya Era beginning from the Holy Appearance Day of Mahaprabhu. Shrila Siddhanta Saraswati was the innovator of the Nabadwip Panjika, the first to record in one place the yearly birthdays of many of our Gaudiya saints. As servants we do not seek to become learned pandits by simply knowing the Vaishnava calendar; rather knowledge of the workings of the panchang is a devotee’s duty. By following the fasts, functions and festivities according to the natural movements of the Moon, Vedic culture is assimilated as we move in harmony with the cycles of the Universe. Through understanding the panchang we appreciate better the Lord’s creation—and how we are affected by the natural measurement of time as Shri Krishna intended.