By Abhaya Mudra Dasi
Often devotees who wish to inquire about their past karma do not like to state their questions openly. Тhe reason is because the answer to all problems is supposed to be clear for all practitioners of Krishna consciousness: chanting the Holy Names of the Supreme Lord is the cure for all accumulated karma. Nonetheless, the question of where to draw the fine line between free will and the boundaries of karma lingers in the minds of many bhaktas.
How exactly does past karma come into being and when exactly is future karma germinated?
The Journey of Innumerable Births
All of us have lived through many, many lives. In fact, all living entities that we see all around us have been in the material world since time immemorial. We all have innumerable past lives. Is it worth remembering them? Well, one past life in particular is very significant. We all came into this material world through the highest post in the universe, as Brahma the creator (SB.9.24.58 Bhaktivedanta Purport). And since we are still here, the history of our first attempt of confidential service unto the Supreme Lord while in the material world has failed. We have become entrapped by the charms of our “own” creation. We stayed on and have gradually degraded into the lower species of life. So if we think that, “Once upon a time I occupied the post of Indra”, or “At a different time I had a body of a bug”, chances are, we are describing our own history in the material world.
Untying the knots of karma can be a very difficult, if not impossible, task. The sum total of all desires, along with the reaction we receive from interacting with their gross manifestation, is widely described as karma*. Some of our karma is burned and buried in the past. The gross form of such karma is not accessible anymore. Nonetheless, the impact of its ashes may still have an undeniable effect upon our psychology. These imprints are responsible for creating our future karma. But the hypothetical past and future karma do not touch aggressively our immediate life, especially in the field of activities. For that, there is another type of karma which we are undergoing at any moment. We denote as “current life” the experience of taste derived from karmic fruit. The culprits which prolong our stay in the material world are the concealed karma from past desires still waiting to be manifested and the karma which we wish at the present for the future.
The whole problem with satisfying desires lies in the time factor. Due to the partition of time into past, present and future, everything in the material world takes an era to manifest. Our material desires are not immediately satisfied. The cunning scenario of the material nature is: that we are in a different situation and with a different mind set when the winning jackpot of fortune hits us, most habitually as a bad surprise. This severe mismatch between desires and reality is one major device in the grand design of the material world. It is meant to make the soul frustrated with the material existence, forced to reach for the real alternative of perpetual mishaps. So where does astrology come into play in this labyrinth of karma created by desires? Shri Krishna is the greatest astrologer for He knows the karma of all living entities. The topic of astrology has been honored by many great spiritual personalities like Parashara Muni, Shrila Vyasadeva, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, Bhaktivinode Thakur, Bhaktisiddanta Sarasvati and Srila Prabhupada with his wonderful Bhaktivendanta Purports.
The Load of Karma
A living enmity has a certain baggage of karma. At the time of birth his karma is registered by the star formation in the sky. Some living entities have to wait longer than others to get the exact horoscope imprint which will supervise the execution of their karma. The stars do not tell the truth about the eternal living entity, rather, they help to form a character based on the reflection coming from the personality of the soul. Sometimes twins are born only seconds apart. Yet we may observe that even though their lives may move along the same karmic lines they still have come with and maintain distinct personalities. The moment of birth puts the active parameters for a lifetime. At that time a relative freedom is given to the soul. This fact does not make an imprint on the eternal personality. By internal purification the soul can manifest his eternal qualities and ultimately override the impermanent characteristics given by the stars. How does that happen?
While the living enmity moves through life, he will encounter events predestined from previous births. The reaction or attitude he demonstrates towards this karma will form the base for his future. This meeting point of active interaction of the living entity with his karma is the playing field of free will. To Krishna-ise karma means to react in a Krishna conscious way to all situations presented in life. At the beginning of their devotional practice devotees often expect miracles and imagine sudden life changes to better their circumstances. When their material situation does not improve they often are quick to get disappointed. Krishna Consciousness inevitably brings prosperity in all spheres of live and still the time factor should be allotted for personal purification. Even spiritual activities in the material world come into manifestation slowly and patience is proven to be one the greatest treasures of a devotee. When the heart is purified by the chanting of Hare Krishna mahamantra a devotee thinks about Shri Krishna all the time. His reaction to all karma is the recollection of the name, form and activities of the Supreme Lord. This remembrance, just like a weapon, destroys the active karma, until nothing else is left but Krishna karma. What a devotee of Sri Krishna is creating for the future is devotional service. This is the only proven way for changing karma in the material world.
By observing our surroundings and circumstances, we come to the conclusion that getting rid of the material world can be an impossible task. A perfect situation where we are isolated from interacting with the material nature does not exist. Considering this fact, the ahimsa philosophy of the Jains which claims that by sweeping the ground before walking saves bugs from being killed, may seem to be at best just a good wish. How can they save the millions of microbes annihilated while breathing? Disconnecting from material circumstances and karma by artificial means is not possible.
Can astrology be useful even when we have learned how to transform material karma into Krishna karma? The science of astrology is valuable not only in a predetermination of future events. Vedic astrology is also used in averting unfavorable incidents by mapping out the different roads of personal karma. A birth chart can be looked upon exactly like a physical map with its many mountains, forests and rivers. There we can see optional roads we can follow and also the destination they lead to. With the light of astrology or jyotish we can cast illumination on the different paths a person can take in his allotted property bordered by limited free will. Taking charge, astrology can lead an individual to faster accomplishment of his desires. This remarkable ability of jyotish can be employed in serving spiritual desires as well.
At any given moment a person has the task to choose between two options. While for materialistically inclined individual those choices can seem to be very diverse, the devotee knows that the choice is basically picking between two masters: either Krishna or the material energy. Astrology does not have a real value for the materialist because he desires only to perpetuate his stay in the material world. While in his service, the invaluable astrology is minimized to a tool for diversification of karma. The most elevated amongst material sciences is truly meant to facilitate devotional service.
Astrology can pinpoint the most favorable circumstances around which the right choice of Krishna consciousness can be exercised. For example, astrology can offer a better location, choice of favorable engagements in devotional service or time frame for profound commitment in Krishna consciousness according to the personality of a particular devotee. Jyotish is a science which puts the individuality in the center of its study and there is nothing more personal than Krishna Consciousness. Personality is a fact of eternal life. Personality cannot be changed by birth in the material world. Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita that even a devotee who is self-realized still acts with his own nature (BG 3.33). Astrology places value upon the self and its characteristics. For this, jyotish best serves the individual who wants to purify his soul and engage in the eternal service of Shri Krishna.
One tremendous facility of astrology is that it can look at every individual chart as a unique yoga or formation of planets. Not a single person is ever born with a chart alike another. Even the same person gets born in different lifetimes with unlike birth charts. Material nature is fickle and likes to create different personas for the single individual soul. In this way she can keep his real individuality covered by illusion. Still there are hints to the real characteristics of the soul. Astrology can find them in the current birth chart of a given individual.
The Moon, ruling the mind, is the most important planet in jyotish for his ability to impart individuality (SB 5.23.9/10). The position of the Moon and his degree in a chart is very significant for judging a particular personality. In astrology, the 27 Moon nakshatras hold the key to individuality. With their help the foundation of a particular native’s distinct mindset is easily ascertained. The nakshatras are divided into subdivisions determined by the 2 genders (feminine and masculine), the 3 gunas, the 4 varnas, etc. Every individual is born in one of these nakshatras which are further divided into 4 padas or steps. That makes for a total of 108 padas. Every sign of the 12 zodiacal signs holds 9 of these padas. Based upon this principle of 108 basic differences, the nakshatras constitute an exceptional system for individualistic judgment.
The second most important chart in the varga subdivisions, the navamsha, is formed by calculating the nakshatra padas of every planet in a horoscope. The navamsha chart is derivative of the main chart controlled by the wives of the Moon god, the 27 nakshatras, who each have very distinct personalities of their own. Because of its special characteristics, the 9th sub-divisional chart is not supposed to be read like the main rashi chakra. An astrologer would look upon the navamsha chart like a chemist who determines the atomic composition of a given element. The navamsha chart plunges deep below matter and presents the primeval constitution of the individual mind.
But as much as we want to claim that the mind is very personal and particular for every living entity, this “master sense” has a basic function of choosing while presented with a selection. The function of the mind in the material world is surprisingly very much dictated by outside associations. The mind and its choices have been the domain of the mass perceptions about the world formed from one generation to the next since time immemorial. But even in the temporary world the preferences of the mind are best reflected in the most important selection a living entity can make—choosing a life partner. And for this reason the most popular use of the navamsha chart is in determining the characteristics of one’s “other half”. Nonetheless, not only the life partner but everything in the material world is a reflection of the original reality of the self. The mind is an easy target for astrological examination because it has a basic function which can be easily purified. Even in a contaminated condition the mind still retains its reflectivity of original function to choose the best, or ultimately Shri Krishna. But Astrology has not only one technique of tracing back the roots of the soul via his reflections.
When the nakshatra pada is looked upon like a single sign and further divided into 9 parts the result is the nava-navamsha sub-divisional chart which gives a great precision in judging the spiritual individuality as mirrored in matter. The mind is born from the satva guna (SB 3.26.25) and for this reason the sub-divisional charts controlled by the Moon have great significance in unveiling individuality. The navamsa and nava-navamsha charts look upon the individuality like a chemical composition which has basic characteristics like taste. In spiritual sense it denotes rasa. It is a fact of life that not even a single taste can be matched twice. This proves that the eternal individual soul prevails even in his reflection of matter.
Design of Desires
We all have different desires in the material world but they are exactly like the desires of one who has lost his health. It doesn’t matter how different these desires may seem to be at first glance. All the wishes of a diseased person are aimed at returning to his healthy existence. Our real desire is to get back to Shri Krishna. Desires in the material world seem to be so many and so different from their original cause. Still the design of desires in the material world is such that they ultimate lead to rejecting of matter and choosing spiritual bliss. Ultimately, astrology also comes from the desire to facilitate the individual’s return to the original cause of all causes. By pointing to the supreme choice of existence in the union with Shri Krishna through surrender and devotional service, the ultimate value of astrology is to make sure that the living entity does not misuse his free will. ·
*The word karma as it is used in modern, colloquial context is properly understood through the shastras as karma-phal, or “the fruits of our work.” Strictly speaking the work karma simply means “work” or “activities.”